Friday, February 25, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is creeping in here in Tennessee. We had a very cold winter with higher than average snowfall and it seemed like it was dragging on and on, when suddenly the cold snap broke and my daffodils are surfacing! Happy sigh!

This year, my husband and I are tackling something I've wanted to do for years and can finally do, thanks to the wonders of being homeowners and having a decent yard: we're going to start growing FOOD in significant quantities. The thing that really mobilized us to undertake food growing was the recent decision by the government to deregulate GMO alfalfa, which is likely to have far reaching repercussions on our food supply, including our organic food.

Apparently, we're on the same wavelength as a lot of other folks: several of my friends are starting veggie gardens, my mom signed up for a plot in a nearby community garden and Robb Wolf recently had a great post on Liberty Gardens. I've been really inspired by my pal Anthony Anderson, the Raw Model, who has dedicated his life to spreading the message of empowerment through food growing!

So, we've got the beds plotted out and we've got the seeds ordered and now we just have to figure out how to do all of it, since we're total novices! All I can say is THANK GOODNESS for the internet! I have a number of online friends who have experience growing food and I've found so many great websites and books, not the least of which is the very handy site GrowVeg.com

We checked out some books from the library, including Lasagna Gardening, since I want to build healthy, low maintenance soil. I'm going to be reading up on soil enriching methods as well as permaculture, food forests, companion planting and seed saving.

We're going to be growing a variety of foods, all from heirloom seeds purchased mostly from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, including several tomato varieties, lettuces (including Miner's Lettuce), root veggies such as the fun, yellow Jaune Obtuse du Doubs Carrot, parsnips and white salsify, belgian endive, fennel, celeriac (which I love to make soup from), swiss chard, kale, a few cucumber varieties, vegetable marrow (instead of zucchini), leeks, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
Later we will plant winter squashes (I LOVE hubbard and butternut squash!) and fall/winter greens.
We plan on planting flowers like candytuft and marigolds, as well as fragrant herbs to help with pest control, as well as beautify our beds. My yard is a rabbit haven, so we want to protect our lettuces with "cages". I wish I could train my cat to go on rabbit patrol, heheh.

We also have several blueberry bushes that should be ready to start bearing fruit this year and a solitary plum tree, which I'm pretty sure needs a friend. We want to add some more stone fruit trees like apricots or peaches, as well as bushes with edible fruit, such as elderberries. In the wooded portion of the yard, we will plant raspberries and stinging nettles.

We have one rain barrel already and we're going to set up more so that we have a natural watering system. My hubby has his eye on one of those round compost tumblers with the hand crank. Down the road, we intend on installing a greenhouse to extend our growing seasons. I think I see chickens in our future, too... that's the beauty of having a ginormous yard. Why not take advantage of it?

I can hardly believe it's really happening. I feel intimidated but so excited! I'm excited about having fresh food that I have total quality control over and I'm excited at all the money I'll save, not having to spend 3-4 bucks on a bunch of chard or several bucks on an expensive (and heavy) heirloom tomato from the farmer's market or Whole Foods.

Wish me luck (and pass along any great garden tips you have;)
-Erin (the soon-to-be "Urbane Homesteader";)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweetheart Thumbprint Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers!

Here's a really easy recipe for jam filled thumbprint cookies. I actually recorded my recipe, for once (a miracle, I know!) I've made them twice and they've turned out excellent both times. The texture is chewy with slightly crispy edges. You can bake a little longer if you like crunchy cookies. It's a rather flexible recipe, so you can experiment if you like.

Makes 10 cookies

1 lg. beaten egg
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs almond butter (I used raw almond butter)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs sugar (I used evaporated palm sugar) - more could be used, but I also added a bit of stevia pwd. (Nu Naturals No Carbs Blend). Don't use liquid sweetener, though. It does weird things to the texture!
Organic raspberry jam for filling. I prefer real jam to "fruit spread" because it sets up better.

Mix into a non-sticky dough (if the dough sticks to your hands, add just a little more almond butter) and roll into 10 balls and shape into indented hearts, fill with jam and bake on a greased cookie sheet (I use my Silpat instead; nothing sticks to it!) at 350º for about 12 min. Cool before eating.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

February Is For Lovers (and sleeping)

I'm a little overdue for a new post. I got a bit of a cold at the end of January (good thing I was eating so cleanly or I think it would have been much worse than it was) and it gave me an excuse to be extra lazy for the last week. I'm pretty much better, so no more excuses. Or, as Fidel, the Cuban dishwasher I worked with years ago in a macrobiotic vegan restaurant used to say, "No eh-cuses! NO MAS!"

Now that my Whole30/Paleo challenge is up, I'm having challenge withdrawal. It went pretty well and I think it's time for a new challenge (maybe I'll just keep coming up with a new monthly challenge for the rest of my life. That could be interesting...) So, now that my diet is improved, the next thing that could use some improving are my sleep habits.

I think I was born night owl. As a kid, I never woke up at the crack of dawn like my younger brother did and I remember often playing in the dark in my room (or reading De. Seuss books by the light from the hall) when I was supposed to be sleeping. Can a night owl become a lark (or at least a robin?) Can we reprogram our sleep preferences? I sure hope so!

In the past I've had jobs that started at 7am and I lived in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, since I could never discipline myself to be in bed on time (I wasn't a coffee drinker, so I can't believe I even managed!) I was in my early 20's then; my body would NEVER let me get away with that crap now! All those years of inadequate sleep didn't do me any favors and set me up for adrenal fatigue.

I've been thinking about attitudes toward sleep and it seems that in the U.S., we don't value sleep as much as we ought to. It's like an endurance contest attitude or something. I envy countries where night owls have a chance to make up for lost sleep during siesta time. That would probably be my ideal (maybe I need to relocate to España where they value their siestas and even have championships!) I probably wouldn't have had adrenal fatigue if I had been siesta-ing all those years;)

Sleep Quality

In my younger days, despite my lack of sleep, I had no sleep issues. Then, in my mid-late twenties, I developed insomnia, where I would wake up repeatedly throughout the night or just once but not be able to fall back asleep for hours. I tried a lot of things, but in the end, acupuncture and blackout shades were what worked (there was way too much light coming in through my windows, which really disrupts melatonin production).

In recent years, I've had intermittent issues falling asleep, largely due to bad habits like staying up too late and also computer usage at night (the blue light from computer screens also disrupts melatonin production and being online at night is also mentally stimulating. Bad combo.)

My recent sleep issues have also been of another variety: sleep wave cycle imbalances. I spend too much time in REM dreaming and not enough in slow wave sleep:
Slow Wave Sleep: The final stages of non-REM sleep, Slow Wave or Deep sleep, are marked by very low heart and respiratory rate, extremely slow brain waves and a complete lack of eye movement or muscle activity. Arousal from slow wave sleep is difficult and can result in disorientation and confusion. Slow wave sleep allows the body to direct its resources to regenerate tissues, build bones and muscle, recharge energy stores and strengthen the immune system.

Although REM sleep is vital to healthy brain function, including memory and task performance, spending too much time in it and too little time in slow wave makes you feel like you've been out partying all night long (can you say "vivid dreams all night long"??) and you end up feeling like you've been hit by a truck when you get up in the morning! You need that slow wave sleep for tissue repair and good hormone production.

Sleep Challenge:

I'm dedicating the next 6 weeks to healthy sleep habits (I figure that should be long enough to get things rolling). So, my sleep challenge is all about cultivating good "sleep hygiene" habits such as:
-earlier bedtimes (like, by 10:30).
-shutting the laptop off earlier in the evening (by 8:30) and turning the lights down.
- getting natural light first thing in the morning.
- practicing qigong for mental relaxation and also for better hormonal regulation (these methods work on the "kidney meridian" which, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, regulates hormone production). I'm convinced that qigong can cure most ills, but consistency is the key (and the thing I lack!)
-drinking mineral rich, nervous system supporting teas like nettle, oatstraw, rooibos, chamomile and horsetail throughout the day and evening.
-keeping caffeine minimal and only consuming it before noon (caffeine has a half life of at least 6 hours- and much longer if your liver is slow at clearing it- which means that the afternoon cup of coffee is still in your system in the evening, albeit at half strength, but that's enough to affect sleep quality.
-getting consistent moderate aerobic exercise (for me, brisk walking), which improves sleep.

I encourage you to join me, since good sleep is probably the most neglected thing we can do for our wellbeing (that and deep breathing, but that's another post:)