Thursday, August 27, 2009

Its the Start of Junkfood Season

Well I have been back to work for about three weeks now. For those who don't know schools are a warehouse of sweets, junk food, and all the extra pounds you could want. The first week of school I had a bag of bite size candy bars dumped on the table I was working at. Without thinking I had about 8 bites before I noticed what I was doing. In the past two weeks there have been boxes of donuts, chocolate covered peanut butter, cookies, and much more left in the teacher's lounge. All of this food is left as either gifts from parents for what we do or staff members bring them in to share with their colleagues and friends.

Well this year I am going to try to steer away from all of the mass produced junk food like the candy bars and the donuts. However I feel that there will be days that I am pushed beyond my ability to resist and indulge in those 9 or 12 bites.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Masters

Well I have a confession to make. I am a Top Chef junky. Yes I have to watch it and I even watch the reruns from the past seasons. Last night was the finale for Top Chef Masters, where the winner took home $100,000 for their favorite charity. The challenge was for the finalists, Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless, and Michael Chiarello to create a four course meal that described their life's journey through food. Each and every dish was an artful story that left me wishing that I could just have even just a whiff of each course. The contest was close but in the end Rick Bayless, restaurateur from Chicago won. The prize money will go to Rick's own charity Frontera Farmer Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to helping out small family farms with sustainable innovation and to help save the small family farm. The small family farm is an endangered species and needs all the help it can get. So congratulations to Rick for his accomplishment and for putting his prize money back into the small farms of the Chicago region. So once again congratulations to Rick Bayless.

Side note: Five Crows children after watching the final episode stated that they wanted to go to Frontera and help support Rick Bayless due to his use of local crops and his support to local farmers. Way to go Mouse and Squirrel!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer, Food, and Friendship

Over this past summer Naomi and Five Crows have worked hard together to battle the oncoming of winter. In an a process that has for the most part fallen to the wayside in this age of refrigirators and produce on demand. Together they have taught each other the ways of canning and preserving. Together they have given each other the confidence and the collective knowledge (especially in the area of converting cups, pints, and the such) that has allowed them to succeed. Together they have preserved strawberries, pickles, peaches, salsas and more.

Throughout this summer we have had each other over for delicious local meals and other times we have just found time to sit and chat. We have been around each other so much that if a couple days go by I find myself wondering when are we going to see Five Crows and her family next. Yet, it hasn't always been this kind of friendship. A year before we had never been to the roost that Five Crows calls home and she had never been over to our house. So I believe we all have gardening and the love of fresh food to thank for our new found friendship.

So I say let the canning and the celebration of good local food continue.

The End of Blossom End Rot

Well in the last three days Naomi and I have harvested about a half dozen of her aunt's family heirloom tomatoes. Their flirtation with blossom end rot has ended hopefully due to our application of bone meal and some calcium water solution. There are several more tomatoes with that promising orangish hue. It appears that my worries of no tomatoes were just a bit over blown. I will take some of the bigger ones and harvest it for its seeds so that we can plant more next year. This variety appears to be a bit like a roma but much larger.

Unfortunately not all tomato stories are end so well. Our local CSA's tomato plants developed late blight. For any who do not know this is the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine, which ended with approximately 1.5 million people dieing of starvation. Many other farms have had this disease attack their crops as well. In the New England states many farms have had to destroy entire fields of tomatoes. Luckily our CSA has only had to get rid of 600 of their 4000 tomato plants. This cool wet summer has not been beneficial to the tomato crops and I can only hope for hot weather for the rest of August.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Manors of Somerset-Lytes Cary

Lytes Cary was the second manor house that we went to. The house itself was not as big nor the gardens, however the gardens were packed with beauty and inspiration. Lytes Cary was the home of herbalist Henry Lyte. He is the author of A niewe Herball and an antiquarian book, The Light of Brityane. Henry Lyte transformed the gardens around his home to reflect his profession as an herbalist. The garden was established in the 14th century and was thoughtfully improved throughout the intervening centuries.

The garden is broken into several sections the Apostle Garden, the Main Border, the Orchard, the Long Walk, the Pond Garden, the Seat Garden, the Croquet Garden, the Hornbeam Arch, the Vase Garden, the Sunken Garden and a few more that I can't remember.

The Apostles Garden: These shrubs were shaped in a very interesting way and create an interesting area for a good game of chase or tag.

This is the family chapel where Henry Lytes and his descendants held their Sunday mass. This chapel was draped in gorgeous colors by the clematis and other vines growing on its walls.

Naomi shows us the elegant doorway to the Main Border, which had plants arranged by hues. The colors slowly drifted from one shade to the next.

Here is one view of the Main Border.

This picture was taken just through the door. That is Naomi's dad and myself in the background.

One of the vibrant colors seen in the garden.

An interestingly shaped flower from a plant I do not know.

If any of my readers know this one please let us know.

I love this color it is so alive that I felt as though I could swim in it.

The Long Walk-These hedges were kept in immaculate shape and definitely gave you the feeling you were going somewhere important.

The Pond Garden at the end of the Long Walk.

Naomi and I under one of the hornbeam arches. Which lead the way to the Vase Garden.

One of the vases in the Vase Garden.

Here is the Orchard Garden and just below this picture some of the fruit that was becoming ripe.

The borders of the Seat Garden made for an attractive backdrop.

Some other beautiful pictures and plants from the garden:

I just loved this stone entrance way.

Here is an unknown plant that as you can see has some very large leaves. It also had some wickedly thorny stems.

Those wickedly thorny stems. Ouch!

If you happen to know this one please respond and let me know.

The Croquet Garden.

The door leading from the crochet garden to another section of the gardens.

Another unknown plant that I thought had an interesting form and color.

Once again if you know this one let me know. I need to expand my plant knowledge.

Another garden...there was quite a bit packed into the grounds of this manor as you can tell. It was much smaller than Stourhead.

A large thistle that I thought might be an artichoke.

I love the vibrantness of this yellow I feel as though I am looking a a child's coloring page.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Manors of Somerset-Stourhead

On our third day in England Naomi's dad drove us to Somerset. Now at this moment I need to say a little bit about driving in England. First I was glad that it was not me in the driver's seat. Second navigating English roads, especially in the country side is feat upon itself. I am truly amaze that we didn't get lost in the maze of roads that criss cross England. So my hat is off to Naomi's dad for facing that task and getting us to where we were going and back again to Bournemouth with only a few small adventures in between.

In Somerset we went to three English mansions/manors Stourhead, Lytes Cary, and Montacute. All three were magnificent in their own right. But, I am going to start with Stourhead since it was the first we visited and our group's favorite of the day. Stourhead's has a superb landscape garden, which was designed and built by Henry Hoare II. After his tour through Europ, he was inspired by the nature paintings of Italian artists. Henry Hoare II goal was to bring art to life at Stourhead through a landscape garden. Here are just a few of the pictures that Naomi and I took of the grounds around Stourhead.

The kitchen garden of Stourhead. One interesting fact is that some of served in the cafe comes from these gardens.

This is the walled flower garden and part of the kitchen garden.

A butterfly that I cannot identify at this moment due to having only North American Field guides.

The green house

This beautiful fern was growing on a rock ledge in the green house.

The entrance into Stouhead mansion.

Stourhead itself.

The beginning of the landscape garden walk.

Now this is one big tree to hug. This tree had the leaves of a tulip popular, however I have never seen one this big before.

This is some type of exotic tree that I saw a few times in England but never got the name of.

Stourhead's parthenon

The view of the Temple of Apollo from the Shades at Stourhead The temple to Apollo (This picture is from the National Trust website the temple was being restored during our trip there)

Just one of the many scenic veiws.

Looking out of the grotto to the stone bridge.

Another view of Stourhead's stone bridge.

The Stone bridge and a view of Stourhead's parthenon.

Well after my walk through the garden I think I got the feel of what Henry Hoare II was trying to achieve. I hope that the pictures gave you a similar feeling as well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

England! What can I say but...

Brilliant! The trip to England was truly a remarkable trip. I had a wonderful time in southern and southwest England. Seeing Durdle Door and Corfe Castle was rich in breath taking scenery. The little villages were quaint and magnificent. Naomi and I were able to visit a couple of farmers' markets here and I was surprised by the slight differences. There the farmers or vendors call out much like a hot dog or beer vendor at a baseball game. The markets were full of new and interesting vegetables such as the broad bean and a few others. I quickly learned that some new veggies were just different names. I found England to be a much friendlier place to small farmers and local food systems. This may be in part due to the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles seems to be a champion of local farms and good food. His influence can surely be felt throughout England. In grocery stores veggetables and meats will proudly claim where the food came from and who grew it if it originated in England. This is a wonderful small gesture that I am sure helps to encourage locavorism.

Back From England and Quite a Bit of Work to Do

Well Naomi and I got home yesterday around 4:00 and found out that it was a bit warm here in Chicago. We had constant 20 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Farenhiet) weather in England and arrived in Chicago where it is now finally Summer 90 degrees. The garden has been producing and many plants are ready to harvest. Today I will harvest some of my potatoes and the onions. The melons have started to claim the bed the onions are in. They have also claimed the adjoining area around the raised beds outside of the garden plot. I will have to check to see if any melons are starting to form.

In bad news the heirloom tomatoes that we recieved from Naomi's aunt have blossom end rot. I came home and found 7 tomatoes afflicted by this serious disorder. I found this fact sheet at the OSU Extension website, , and will try to adjust the soil. The wierd thing is that both of these are my container garden tomatoes. The ones in the raised beds are doing well so far (crossing my fingers). If you have any suggestions or advice with this please let me know. Would greatly appreciate all the help.

These are a family heirloom that have been passed down. I do not want to lose all of the tomatoes and therefore all of the seeds.