Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Food and Mineral Point..... a lesson in community development.

As I said in my previous post, it was the Cornish Fest in Mineral Point this past weekend.

Southwest Wisconsin was quite the mining area 170 years ago. Unlike the area where I grew up that was full of soft coal mines...... Mineral Point and surrounding areas had lead mines. This mining boom led to the immigration of miners from Cornwall, England.

A traditional Cornish food was the pasty. Basically, a hand-held meat pie that would be tossed into a metal bucket and taken to work. So ... when in Mineral Point .... do what the Cornish do. I had to enjoy a pasty. Besides meat, this was filled with turnips, potatoes and rutabagas. It was delicious.

Actually, I got a taste from two different restaurants. The one pictured above was from the Red Rooster Cafe. But I also had to bring a pasty home for Honey......... and that one came from one of our favorite brewpubs.

(This leads me to nice!)

This town is filled with the nicest people around. Laura and I were purchasing a little yarn (!) and asked when the Brewery Creek brewpub closed. The owners of Set in Stone picked up the phone and discovered it closed at 3:00.

It was now 3:06. But they said -- Come on down! So Honey got his growler full of Brewery Creek Porter. And they wouldn't serve us but they told us, they had pasties to go. Two growlers ... two pasties and we were off to find a pasties for lunch.

That led us to The Red Rooster. The pasty was good. But the figgyhobbin!!!!

Raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and brown sugar...... wrapped in pastry dough and smothered in caramel sauce. A little whipped cream or ice cream and yummmmm, just comes through!

(Note to Weight Watchers --- I was in Mineral Point, I had to do what the Mineral Pointers do!!!)

OK -- this brings me to the soap box moment.

Mineral Point is what a community should be. Why is this community vibrant and lively and fun, when so many other communities have faltered and failed? Why, with only 3100 people, was it picked to be one of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America?

This is my theory ........

1) They have embraced their history. As early as 1936, they were restoring and saving old homes and buildings. In 1971, the entire town received National Registry of Historic Places status. For a gal that loves old houses......... this town is heaven!

2)They embraced their ethnic past. When, have we in the Midwest, known anything about Cornish food? Seriously, would you order a pasty at a restaurant? In Mineral Point .... it is the thing to do.

3) They have embraced local food. Restaurant after restaurant are members of Buy Fresh-Buy Local. They serve locally-made cheese, fresh greens, local meats. Even my pasty was served with sliced garden fresh tomatoes. And yes, they were real tomatoes with real flavor. And they do it without thinking ..... it is real food and it is what people should be served.

4) They have embraced the arts. Without a strong artistic community, they might have failed. But they gathered potters and spinners and glass-makers to fill their store fronts and have promoted classes and festivals all summer.

I see so many communities passing up the opportunity to flourish. Why, here in Davenport, historic building after building has been torn down or allowed to decay to the point of no return. History, arts and local foods go hand-in-hand for economic development. When artists and farmers thrive ... so does the community. We see it in Fairfield, IA. We see it in Galena, IL and we see it in Mineral Point.

And its time to see it locally.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fiber, Food and so Forth ... my Adventures in Mineral Point. Part One.

Yesterday, my friend and adopted-daughter Laura went to Mineral Point. I know -- we have two daughters already .... why do I need more? Well, neither Eldest Daughter or Youngest Daughter knit. And I live in fear that my bamboo and wooden needles will end up at Goodwill when I go to the big fiber fest in the sky! So I can will my stash and my Peace Needles and my Addi Turbos to Laura and then rest in eternal peace!!!!

So Laura and I took off for the Driftless Area Fibre Arts Faire. Seriously, how can you pass up a festival that uses old English??? And there were pasties being sold in all area restaurants. No!! Not stripper attire!! Think of it like a deceased country-western singer if her mother couldn't spell her name..... Pasty Cline! But more about that tomorrow.

Back to fibre.

OK -- this is a small fiber fest. About 10 vendors... but 10 awesome vendors. And they are all local to the Mineral Point area. Most raise and spin their own product. You know, I love buying what I call, Cheers yarn. Yarn that you know what sheep it came from and who's hands created it. Its like walking into Cheers ..... warm, friendly and everyone knows your name!

Can you say that about your acrylic Sayelle????

First, I bought some merino/tencel roving from Sandy's Palette
If it is dark enough, it will be socks for Honey. If it is too pastel after spinning, it will be socks for me.

So then Laura and I ventured to Argyle Fiber Mill's booth.
First of all, I really really liked these gals. Funny, cool, hip ... and one of the gals lived in Davenport and remembered the Fiber Shop that was in the Village of East Davenport.

I did some serious damage here. They had incredible yarn. And yes, Laura and I will be taking another road trip to Argyle WI to visit them. Too cool!

All wool -- 100 yd skeins. For .... get this! .... $4 a skein. So a pair of socks ... $8.00!! This is for me.

And the blue .......... socks for Honey.

Ok -- and then, my splurge! Big time. No ..... I will not tell you how much this was!!! 100% alpaca -- tightly twisted just for socks. I would have loved a sweater in this. But the poor checkbook could not have handled it. So socks, it will be!

There were more purchases. Some cream colored Shetland from Sarah at The Willow Homestead. I like Sarah .... I think she is shorter than I am. I didn't know that was possible!!! But she is very cute and had an adorable apron on ..... with little sheep all over it! Too cute! She was spinning on (be still my heart!) a Jensen! Yum.....

Then, back to La Bella Vita Fibre Gallery!

This (take note, my LYS!!) is what a yarn shop should be. Warm ... Friendly.... and you are allowed to have a cup of coffee. Cuz there is a coffee shop and a book store directly to the left! They also have food from across the pond (Michigan!!)

It was a wonderful day! And after the zoo I call my life last week .... it was a wonderful break.

So tomorrow (or so!) I'll tell you about the great local food and the effect arts and food can have on a community. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Liking Lentils...........

Ok -- this is for all you people that claim to hate lentils. Or maybe you have never tried lentils.... now is the time.

Lentil salad is nothing like over-cooked, way-too-mushy lentils that some of us have had. I will admit .... lentils weren't always one of my favorite foods. In fact, if it could possibly be classified as a legume, I would not eat it. But Honey's heart attack and my pledge to keep him healthy, changed all that. It was time to try it.

So here we go with a simple, delicious lentil salad. It will keep for days in the fridge. This is my version .... I'm pretty certain I stole this from somewhere. Change it around a bit and call it your own.

First of all -- there are many types of lentils. I think the best variety for a salad is a French Lentil. A little smaller and dark green, they hold their shape well and cook quickly. These are usually found in a health food store or a larger grocery store.

Lentils (like beans) double in size when they are cooked. Serving size is 1/4 cup uncooked. So one cup of uncooked lentils will make 4 side-servings. You decide if you want this for a side dish or a main dish. Let say you are cooking 1 cup of lentils.

Bring unsalted water to a boil. You want to season the lentils after cooking as salt will make them tough while boiling. The french lentils will take 5-10 minutes to become al dente..... a little resistance to the tooth. Soft but just a bit of bite.

Drain and rinse with cold water and let drain.

Now ..... for the good part!

Add 1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 of a onion, diced
(I like using red onions)

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 med diced sweet pepper (any color ... but red or yellow are pretty and remember, you eat first with your eyes)

1/2 can drained quartered artichoke hearts (not marinated)

1/4 c Kalamata olives, chopped

1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes (if packed in oil -- just chop away. If they are dry packed -- re-hydrate them by pouring boiling water over them and let them sit until plump. Like me!!)

And its time to dress those bad girls!!! A very simple vinaigrette works great. I use 1/3 c of red wine vinegar and 2/3 c of a great olive oil. A little basil, a little salt and a little pepper and you whisk away!

Mix everything together and let the flavors come together over night.

I will serve this as is .... or maybe use it for a side dish with a grilled salmon steak. It is awesome with some shrimp or chicken mixed in it. Maybe add a little feta or shave some Asiago cheese over the top.

The big thing is to make it your own. Peas, a little steamed broccoli or asparagus is wonderful in this. Make sure you have enough seasoning and vary it depending on the mood your salad takes. Change the vinegar to your favorite and add the veggies you love best.

I did a demonstration today at Generations --Area Agency on Aging and showed how to make this salad. Lot of skeptical people in the audience were pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed it. Give it a try ...... and you may be liking lentils too!

Monday, September 21, 2009


OK -- I apologize for my salty language. But seriously............. THREE trees in one summer????

Honey and I returned from a shopping spree at Menards to find this! Yep -- we were thrilled to finally be purchasing 2- 50' rolls of fencing and some fence posts for the up-scale chicken complex ........ only to find this!!!

So ......... in spite of a farm inspection for Animal Welfare Approved next week, 2 food demonstrations at Generations Area Agency on Aging, two cider pressings at the farm and 2 speeches this weekend....... we get to find time to clean this up!!!

We could deal with it a bit better if it was a good burning wood. But willow is very soft and so it will become a quick burning bonfire.

I'm thinking Honey is wistfully reminiscing about the years before Miss Eff arrived on the farm. Remembering the times he was totally bored. But very well rested!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fresh ......... the movie

Wow! Life has been a zoo! Most of the time I don't know if I am coming or going. And I am pretty certain this post will go kind of the same way........ all over the place.

Last night, Buy Fresh, Buy Local and Progressive Action for the Common Good sponsored a showing of the movie Fresh.

Personally, I loved the movie. Unlike many other movies out there, it seemed fairly balanced. Even the traditional farmers in Fresh understood the dilemma of conventional agriculture and sustainable agriculture. You know my position on sustainability. However, I do understand that not all farmers want the lifestyle.

We have had a joke for years in the Midwest. CB&M farmers. Corn, Beans and Miami. Joel Salatin does not go to Florida in the winter. Livestock production (like Salatin does) is too labor intensive to shut down the farm and take off for a month. Who is going to feed the livestock? Who do you hire to clean the barns?

Now -- only 7% of our nation's farm families derive over 75% of their income from on-farm income. In 1980, it was almost 20%. Bottom line ....... 93% of farmers have to work off the farm to survive. For the last 30-40 years, it has been impossible to have multiple generations and siblings living off the income of one farm.

So monoculture agriculture and confined feeding methods were devised. All in the name of a cheap food system.

Here comes the jumping-around-point!!!

I have been asked to teach some cooking classes at Scott Community College. Because I do not have a degree in education nor a chef, I wanted to observe a class before I had to present one. I sat in on a class on Mexican foods. In the chef's defense -- he did clearly state that this was an Americanized-version of Mexican foods.

But we started making salsa. It is September. In Iowa. The bread basket of America. And every kitchen I know is over-flowing with tomatoes and peppers.

So to make salsa --- we opened a jar of canned diced tomatoes. (Political truth .... these tomatoes contained high -fructose corn syrup!) We added an onion, jalapeno, bottled lime juice, salt and cumin.

And I was personally appalled.

Now back to our featured film............

So last night, I am in a room of foodies and political activists. I had made cider earlier in the day to serve with popcorn grown locally. And over and over and over again, I was asked if the cider came from a local orchard. "No, I made it". "Do you own an orchard?"

(Ahhh ... interesting question. What defines an orchard? I have 6 apples trees and only 2 are old enough to produce apples. A cherry tree that has produced one cherry during its lifespan. An apricot tree that tries to produce and every year gets knocked out by a frost. And two pears trees that gave us 3 pears....... that someone else ate!)

No .... I do not own an orchard. But I was amazed about the lack of knowledge about something as basic as cider. Cider was the premier beverage of choice in colonial America.... ok, after beer. Every farm had apple trees and a cider press. And now ......... no one knows how cider is made. Even foodies............ and I had a number of people want to come to the farm to see cider pressed.

To me ... that was like asking me .... How do you make bread???

We talk about sustainable agriculture. We talk the Food Network. We talk about the upswing in farmers markets. And I thought progress was being made. The blogs I read are full of tales about chickens and eggs and canning tomatoes and freezing sweet corn.

And this week ...... happened.

And I realized...... Micheal Pollan was right. We don't know real food. We don't cook. We talk food. We talk about learning about food. And in September, we open a can of tomatoes to make salsa. We don't know how to bake, how to cook, how to preserve ......... or even how to eat.

And until we eat real food ......... changing the food system is a dream for many of us. We are too many generations from the farm. Education needs to start on a VERY basic level. But I think the focus of my classes has changed. Real food ...... Right now.

Hmmmm? Do I need another soap box?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Squeezin' .............

This is one of my favorite things to do as a small farmer. I love sharing the history of farm life to young children that may never have the chance to run through their grandparents' farm. And cider pressing is one way I can do that.

Yesterday, Heritage Christian School brought their pre-school and first grade classes out to make cider and spend a few moments on the farm. If you have never seen 2-year-olds trying to grind the apples ...... it was worth the price of admission!

First of all -- like a good cheerleader (mind you, I never was a cheerleader!!) you have to get the crowd psyched for an event like this. So we go through the instructions on how we make cider.

"We mash 'em! We smash 'em! We squeeze 'em! We squash 'em!".

Seriously ....... How can kids make cider like that????

"We mash 'em! We smash 'em! We squeeze 'em! We squash 'em!".

That's better.

So we grind and grind. And squeeze and squeeze. And that beautiful dark amber liquid emerges. And as it drips into a pan, the children beam with pride, knowing that they had made the sweet delicious beverage.

Fortunately, this was a private school group so the students could enjoy the fruits of their labor. Public schools have banned unpasteurized cider for their students. When we do a public school -- we have to bring commercial bottled apple juice for them to taste.

Of course, then I get all the cider!!!! Which works fine with me!!!

After dining on snickerdoodles and cider (Really, is there a better combination that that??) ..... the kids are ready for a chicken lesson!!!

This is what always amazes me. Where did people get the idea that chickens will bite??? They don't have teeth! And my girls have been handled .... a lot. So on a whole -- they are pretty durn docile. So we held big chickens ........ like Mama, my Golden Laced Wyandotte. And we held little chickens ........ like Josephine and Napoleon, my silver silkie bantams.

But the real treat this year was holding one-week old chicks.

The students took small bouquets of flowers home to their mothers with the instructions to tell their mother's about their day.

There were lots of memories made yesterday. Most of them are etched in my mind but hopefully, there will be some in a little 5 year old boy's memory.

Yea .... it was a good day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life .... by the numbers.

When you get to a certain stage of life, you are often reduced to conversations about two things .... grandchildren and cholesterol meds.

Grandchildren are interesting enough .... but I do become bored with hearing about Johnny's latest toilet training antics or how cute it was when he locked the dog in the dryer. Grandchildren are incredibly fascinating .... when they are yours. Otherwise, I can only say ....... "How cute" so many times!

And as we all know.... It is a short trip from cute to brat.

So ..... then I am forced into discussions about cholesterol medications. Zocor. Lipitor. Crestor.

And I don't find that particularly stimulating. Fortunately, my cholesterol numbers on this chubby little figure (Honey calls it voluptuous! I love that man!!!!) have always been great. But my darling Honey........... not so much!!!

Not long after we were married, I drug him into the doctor for a full round of exams. Yep. He was thrilled ....NOT!!! But one of the tests was the typical lipid test. I was shocked when it came back with a total cholesterol number of over 220. The doctor wasn't too concerned. I was!

So I sprang into action and quickly changed Honey's eating habits. I couldn't get him to eat breakfast before he went to work. But I did start packing lunches and eliminated the Hostess fruit pies that he had eaten for decades! Yea ... those babies have over 500 calories of fat! And let's not talk about trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup.

But as you know, the damage was done. And since Honey's heart attack and surgeries, he has been on Zocor.

Several weeks ago .... Honey had the numbers checked again. Total cholesterol number ...... 137!!! 137!! Obviously, we were thrilled.

And now ... we are even more thrilled. The Zocor has been eliminated.

Yea .... the doctor says it is temporary. They have Honey scheduled for blood tests in three months. But we know.... it is a permanent change.

BUT healthy eating is the key. And its not that difficult. A little planning ... a little work .... and we can improve the health of our loved-ones.

So for all my friends that say it is just too much work....... here are 5 simple keys to start the healthy eating regime.

1) Eliminate soda from the diet....... too much high-fructose corn syrup, empty calories, too much sodium. And regardless what the president of Coca-Cola says, soda is not a staple food. (Nor is our President of the United States a Communist .... but that's for another post!!!) And that includes diet soda. Yea .... it has been a tough one for me but see #2.

2) Eliminate fake food. If you can't easily pronounce the ingredients.... you shouldn't be eating it. Carrots = easy. TetrasodiumPyrophosphate = not easy. (used as a thickening agent)

3) Whole grains. Hey -- forget that Wonder Bread builds strong bodies twelve ways! Change your bread to whole grains ... even if you have to make the mini-step to whole wheat. It really is a change that works. And then move on to brown rice and whole grain pasta.

4) Veggies - Veggies - Veggies. If your family can't look at another plate of broccoli -- hide it! Stretch your tacos by added pinto beans, diced potatoes and corn to the ground beef. Add zucchini to pasta sauce. Chop up kale and add it to soups. Just get more servings into your diet.

5) And buy your meat from a good reliable source....... and in most cases, that's not the grocery store. Personally, I would like to see you find a local farmer and buy it off the hoof. But that may not be possible ... so check out the butcher shops in your area. Ask where they get their meat. How is it raised? Yes ... it may be a bit more expensive than the discount case at the supermarket. But the taste of great beef and pork is worth the expense. Hey! You have eliminated Hamburger Helper (see rule #2) so there is a savings there!!!!

This is Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food week at the USDA. I love this! Personally, I think if we spend more time talking to each other about good food ... we will be a politer society. Its hard to be rude to friends now, isn't it? And good food brings people together to eat.
What is nicer than that???

And healthy eating is the first step in health care reform. We have proven we can't build a healthy society by drugs alone. We have a personal responsibility to exercise and eat a healthy diet. And its our responsibility to change the environment around us....and that starts at home.

Gees.............. if I get this all changed, what will I have to rant and rave about?????

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where did you go, Emily Post????

After the last few days of total incivility being bounced off the airwaves 24-7, I am fed up with rudeness of our society. Seriously, an elected official heckles the President of the United States in the House of Representatives? Then refuses to publicly apologize??

Serena threatened to put tennis balls where the sun don't shine? And who knows what Kanye West was up to?????

So really .......... why am I surprised?

We talk about rude behavior of our teens. We talk about an isolated society where we don't know our neighbors. But the trouble is .............. we talk. Or worse......... we yell.

My winter-time persona is that of a lowly cashier at a small retail store. Yep ..... not many opportunities much lower than that. And often .... I am treated as such.

I am pretty up-beat, smile, laugh and say "hello!" 90% of the time, when a customer walks in the store .............. they are on the phone. And I am interrupting their call .... by saying "hello!"

That used to be a customer-friendly thing to do. Now .... I am rude because I say "hello!"

I have stood at the register, waiting for a customer to finish their call so that I may really do my job. And be friendly. I have been told to go ahead cuz they are in a hurry. Yet.... when I ask to see an ID or ask a question, I am rude for interrupting their call.

We are so busy talking ...... we don't see what is around us. We are so busy talking .... we don't see who is around us.

I am a country girl ..... and country girls wave. Not Miss-America-twist-at-the-wrist wave. But a good old-fashioned Gosh-It's-Nice-to-See-You-wave. With a smile! Ya gotta smile!!

But now .... even my neighborhood is losing its wave ........ cuz everyone is talking. Kind of hard to wave .... when one hand is plastered against the ear.

We have the right to Freedom of Speech. As you can tell (if you have ever read this blog), I'm kind of fond of it. But we really need to be observing the Right to Listen. The Obligation to Smile. The Need to be Cordial.

Put down the phone. Go talk to your neighbor. Say hello to a stranger in the street. And smile.

And maybe ... just maybe .... one random act of kindness may stop this epidemic of rudeness the media delights in displaying.

In the 60's, young girls were taught when to use a seafood fork instead of a fish fork. And Ada Gaffney Shaff taught me to cross my legs at my ankles, not my knees. I wore my sparkling white gloves with my purse that matched my shoes. And I could walk up and down stairs with oh-so-straight posture by balancing a stack of books on my head.

We were polite. We were courteous. We were friendly.

I think it is time for a refresher course.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Extreme canning continues.............

It's September in Iowa and its harvest season. Everyone in our neck of the woods is "putting up". And since it seems to be a neighborhood competition ......... "Well, I put up 17 qts of tomato juice." "I finished 25 jars of grape jam". "Yesterday, after working an 8 hour day ... I canned 38 qts of pickles".

Its like fish-tales ............ first liar doesn't have a chance!

Except ... its all true. And we all should be certified. (That's our mental state ..... not our kitchens! Yes, Honey, I know. I already have my papers!) But I digress............

I've been neglecting the tomatoes here at Miss Eff's this week. Now you know, I planted fewer tomatoes this year. Last year ... I planted 72 plants. This year..... 54 plants. And so far, nary a tomato seemed to be showing up. Oh ... there were these green hard round things ... but no juicy sweet vine-ripened tomatoes.

So last Saturday -- I get a call from my favorite produce man, John. I had ordered some blueberries from him and they were ready for pick-up. John does brokered produce and had a deal on grapes. "Cathy ... I have 3-3/4 flats of seedless concord-type grapes and 3/4 flat of seeded Concord grapes. I'll make you a deal -- $50 for all and a jar of jam." DEAL!!

*Note to self .......... ask how many pounds are in a flat next time!

87 pounds of grapes!!!!! That's sh*t load of grapes! Fortunately, I pawned (scratch that!) traded a flat to Sheepie Neighbor for a few chicks. Certifiable, I tell ya. We are all certifiable!!!

So I have spent the week making grape jam. Blueberry jam will follow. Fortunately, they were easily frozen so that will happen later.

But in the meantime, those green hard-things in my backyard, decided to ripen. Holey Smoke! You can get a lot of tomatoes off of 54 plants!!!

Yesterday, I canned 15 qts of tomatoes. Today it is pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce. And more tomatoes tomorrow.

But here is my favorite recipe for spaghetti sauce.

1-1/4 c. chopped onions
1-1/4 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped carrots
1/2 c. olive oil

Cook the onion, celery and carrots in the olive oil until tender ... about 20 minutes.

Add 1 clove minced garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add 8 pounds of ripe, peeled, chopped and seeded tomatoes (I always use something meaty for this ... like plum or Roma tomatoes) and 1 tsp sugar (optional) and fresh ground pepper.

Simmer over low heat until tomatoes are soft .... about 15 minutes.

Put the sauce through a food mill if desired. If you like a chunkier sauce ... eliminate this step.

Add 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp oregano and simmer, stirring often until it reaches sauce consistency ....... about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Add 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of lemon juice for every qt. and pack into clean sterilized jars. Process in a hot water bath for 45 minutes.

And notice, gentle readers........ I did not mention the fact that there is not one little drop of high fructose corn syrup to be found in that recipe! Well ............... maybe I didn't!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Laying the good life..............

I don't know if I have ever told you how much I love having my girls around me.

On Sept. 11, 2001 ..... as Honey and I sat on the porch swing and watched Air Force One fly over our Midwest sky ..... I told him I wanted to "hunker down in Donahue with my flowers and my chickens."

Now .... there was one problem about "hunkering down in Donahue with my chickens". I didn't have any. And until then, Honey wasn't too keen on the idea. Ok -- the answer was always "no." Chickens just didn't fit his plans. And he wasn't too sure about them fitting my plans!

So Honey gave in and gave me "chickens" for Christmas. We were going to have 10 hens. Ten. He built a little coop and run. And didn't tell me that he thought the chicken-idea would quickly run its course.


Eight years later..... there are still chickens. Black chickens, white chickens. brown chickens, yellow chickens. There are chickens with top-knots on their heads and chickens with fuzzy feet that look like they are wearing pajamas. Lots of chickens. Almost 80 some chickens.

There are light brown eggs and dark brown eggs. There are sage green eggs and pale blue eggs. There big eggs and little eggs. And occasionally, a white egg!

The girls are not relegated to the soup pot as they age. They lay when they can. And they hangout and gently cluck throughout the runs.

This weekend, the potting shed will be moved to a new slab of concrete to become (as we call it)... the up-scale poultry complex. Two coops .... larger runs... more space ... more grass. Unfortunately, because I insist on having flowers to sell, they can't just roam the gardens during the spring and summer. And because our local fox population seems to be increasing ... larger enclosed spaces seem to be the right option to prevent an all-you-can-eat chicken buffet for those critters!

So to celebrate the new facilities and my continuing love-affair with feathered friends..... guess what I got? Cute, aren't they??? Araucanas.

Hey! It wasn't my fault. I met an enabler. Ok -- I have met a couple of them and I quickly fall under their spell.

Friends don't let friends buy chickens alone.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

One Nation .......... under God??

Sometimes, I just don't understand politics. And sometimes, I don't understand religion. And I realize, I often see life in black and white. Yes -- No. Right -- Left. Up -- Down. (Oh yea. Those are my cats' names!)

To me, the health care debate seemed like a no-brainer. Lots of people without access to health insurance and therefore, health care. Ok -- Let's get them health insurance .... then, they will have health care.

It's similar to the fight for healthy food. Our homes, our schools, our food pantries cry out for fresh, nutritious foods to fight obesity and diabetes and heart disease......... so let's make sure everyone has access to those foods and how to prepare them. Evidently, its not that easy. Lots of shades of gray there. And still ..... lots of hungry people without healthy nutritious meals.

So I came out of the woodwork, to tell our health care story. I have had to deal with the private humiliation of publicly admitting that we are no longer middle class citizens. I have had to publicly admit what we can afford -- and what we can't because of the hospital and medical bills. I have been honest with the public when sometimes, I haven't been honest with myself about our situation.

But I thought .... when people hear my story .... they will understand the need for health care reform. Because we are one nation ....... under God.

But that hasn't been the response. Friends have accused me of trying to force their small businesses into bankruptcy because providing health insurance to all, will cost them too much. These are the same people that voted to keep the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance .... one nation, under God. These are the same people that sit in church on Sunday.

And I wonder ..... are we one nation, under God?

Then today at church .... we went over a very simple verse. This was probably the first verse we memorized in Sunday School as a child .... Matthew 22: 35-40.

35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love your neighbor as yourself. Pretty simple language. Nowhere did I find .... Only if they are living the life I want them to live. Only if they play by my rules. If they work hard enough. If they do what I think is right. Simply .......... Love your neighbor as yourself.

The health care debate is not about me. Its not about you. Its about our neighbors, where ever they may be. Its not the health care that we want to give them, its about giving them health care. Being neighborly ..... what a concept.

Pretty simple ...... Love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Getting my ducks in a row..........

I envy all you organized people. I am sooo not organized. I sooo don't have my act together. But for one very brief moment, I have my ducks in a row.

OK -- You wanted to see the mini-ducks. Well, these are the worst ducks in the world to photograph. Only thing you see are their little duck butts scurrying away. Little duck butts are cute...... but not so photogenic.

So from the left .... the mini silver applewood duck (female) then there is Lorax (runner) Horton (ancona) Yertle (ancona) and the famous Cindy Lou Who (Blue crested).

I do have a pair of call ducks ..... very camera-shy little birds!!!

Life moves forward at Miss Effie's. The flowers continue to bloom .... sort of. For all of you Midwesterners that have been lovin' this weather........ let me say a few words to you..... corn, tomatoes, flowers. Yep .... this summer has been great for the utility bills but not so good for many Midwest crops.

Corn loves heat degree days. And yes, the USDA is predicting a record corn crop. But farmers that I talk to aren't as certain. Its waaay too cool and waaay too wet.

And my 54 tomato plants are feeling the same. Those that didn't explode from too much rain ... are still sitting on the vines .... in all their green glory. So there has been no nearly-naked canning going on. The neighborhood is grateful........ but its sad to have to can, just to keep from turning the furnace on!!!

I have tried to turn my attention to things that may make a difference. I spoke again at a small rally at Congressman Braley's office.

I'm the very short gray-haired gal in the center.

Besides having our very own health care horror story, I am focusing my vision for change in the health care system with the availability of fresh, healthy food for all. In the school lunch program, at food pantries and in our homes. And I want people to have the knowledge to prepare healthy nutritious meals for a family. So I am really trying to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.

This fall and winter, I am teaching several classes on food preparation from making your own baby food to quick easy meals for senior citizens that use some of the Super foods.

Tomorrow -- I will attend a local food conference in Fairfield, IA with other Buy Fresh-Buy Local board members. Its kind of a precursor to the Local Foods Summit that Buy Fresh - Buy Local and the Progressive Action for the Common Good are sponsoring on September 26. At Augustana College -- we will meet and hear an inspirational speech from Kamyar Enshayon from Northern Iowa University. Then later in the afternoon, I will discuss the economic impact of local foods.

I am certain I will walk away with new ways to affect food policy in America.

And now.... I have to work on the Lafrenz family food policy and not burn that loaf of bread that is in the oven!