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Harmony Gardens

July 21, 2012

So I have officially joined the ranks of shape-note geeks by adding three more shapes to my bookshelves (who wouldn’t want a shape that looks like a slice of pie?). This thoughtful gift from my dad and stepmom in Germany arrived with a cute handwritten note by one of the publishers. My mind’s eye is filled with images of someone sitting on their hot and humid summery porch in Alabama printing my name by hand on the envelope, wondering who I might be, in the far Northwest. And I wonder the same as I hold this black book of heartwarming tunes in my hands, the sword fern and red cedar outside being washed clean by a warm summer rain.

What is a garden? According to our tour guide at the Portland Japanese Garden, we rearrange Nature when we garden. A few years ago, tending an herbalist’s garden as a study contract with Evergreen, I asked the question that the tour guide answered for me yesterday. Is gardening unnatural? Is nature something to be left alone? Who do I think I am, plucking all these green gifts that erupt from the ground with shining happy faces, eager to soak up the sun and rain? Though as I listen to teachings of plants and teachings of the plant people, I learn to overcome the illusion of a pristine natural state to be kept separate from human intervention. Is not our interaction with nature essential for our survival? For her survival?

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An Immunological Fairy Tale

June 29, 2012

By popular request, here is the story that earned me honors in immunology class:

In a far away kingdom, not much different from other kingdoms you may have heard of, there lived a people, happy, strong, and peaceful. Day after day, year after year, citizens tended their fields and their animals, came together to celebrate the seasons, and they were thankful.

Then, early one spring, it happened. They had known it would happen eventually, and they were prepared.

Crickets! One was seen in a tree, then others came, no one knew where they had come from. They multiplied and multiplied and developed a taste for their crops, especially their staple crop, beets.

The people started swatting at the crickets, beating wildly in the air, even throwing stones. They tried to keep everything under control but they knew it wasn’t enough, they knew they needed professional help.

Thankfully, some of the villagers were known as guardians, one of whom by the name of Sir Phageus. An agitated group was gathered near a swarm of crickets devouring the swiss chard when Sir Phageus rode by on his horse. He dismounted and struggled to squeeze himself through the inflamed crowd to see what the matter was. Struck by the vision of a lost crop of swiss chard, he took a deep breath and let out a long sigh.

“There is a town over the seven hills, I hear they have wise ones that can help. I must now follow the path, farewell.” He snatched a cricket out of mid air before mounting his horse and riding off into the hills.

After a long journey that seemed to perpetually take him uphill, Sir Phageus arrived in the magical town. There he met a young child.

“Can you help us?” he asked the child in desperation. It looked as if it had been expecting him, as if it had known he would come some day. “Shhh” it hushed, “hold my hands,… both of them.” Closing its eyes it held out its hands. When he reached for them, the child turned into a beautiful tall woman, and when she opened her eyes, they sparkled.

“What can I do for you?” “We have had tragedy strike our village, we don’t know how to help ourselves, please help us!” He handed her the dead cricket and that’s when he knew everything would be okay.

The woman turned around and walked a little into the distance. Whenever she came across a child just like she had been, she gently touched their heads and they would also grow into beautiful tall women. And they flocked towards the path into the hills.

As Sir Phageus mounted his horse to follow the women, he turned around to catch a last glimpse of the magical place. He struggled to understand what he saw. The tall woman was tying little bundles to small birds and sent them flying into the sky.

Meanwhile, a sense of fatigue had spread over the landscape. The fields remained untended and the animals were hungry. Even the sun seemed to be shining less brightly. People from nearby villages had heard about the tragedy and they came on the rivers, they came on the paths, and they came across the fields to offer their help.

When the women arrived, they taught some of the wise villagers how to catch the cricktets more effectively. They gave them the proper tools, swatters and nets. They even taught some of the villagers how to prepare crickets as food. Unfortunately some of the villagers passed away, they had eaten too many crickets.

Many years did the villagers struggle to contain the cricket infestation and save their crops and their lives. They had almost given up hope when finally things seemed to turn around. Then, one morning, as some of the villagers were frying crickets for breakfast, cries of children were heard coming from the fields. Where they cries of pain? No, they were cries of joy. The chirping that had colored their lives for what seemed like an eternity had finally ceased. When the cries of joy subsided an exhausted, yet
relieved silence spread over the land.

Slowly the weary people returned to tending their fields, and when the crops came in that fall, you could hear laughter and joy once again from the cottages and meadows.

Many hung the swatters and nets in their homes, and vowed never to forget what came to be known the Tragedy of Crickets. The memory of the event faded into the background, but was never truly forgotten as stories of it were told to the children as I am telling you now.

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Alchemilla – a Mantle for all Ladies

June 25, 2012

Let me revive this blog by sharing one of my favorite plants. There’s a good chance I say this about every plant at some point, but maybe sharing this publicly will inspire someone out there to make friends with their own yard’s fuzzy-leaved lady.  Aptly named after the ancient tradition of Alchemy, this friend of ours is known to do much more to help than just astringe you like any of your YARFAs (Yet Anther Rose Family Astringent, so named by herbalist Micheal Moore).

While I could tell you much about this, I am not fond of having digital monologues, and besides, the more time you spend reading this blog the less time you have going out to meet your own Alchemilla friend. Where might you find this fuzzy beauty, you ask? Try the Min Zidell garden at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR. Fortunately you don’t actually need to go far out of your way, as Alchemilla vulgaris grows in many public gardens and private yards.

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Blueberry Almond Biscotti

December 19, 2007

I got the recipe off VegWeb and slightly modified it because I had no cranberries and no cashews. They are a gift for my biscotti-loving dad who lives in Germany.

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Crusty Creations

November 30, 2007

I made bread! I didn’t exactly follow a recipe but just used what I had and my limited knowledge of making pizza dough. I leaned the amounts of flour, water, and yeast on recipes on VegWeb, and used the baking time, temperature, and technique from a bread baking book my mom gave me.

Multigrain Bread

• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 cups white unbleached flour
• 1/2 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 cup rolled oats (+ 1 Tbsp for sprinkling on top)
• 1 Tbsp poppy seeds
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 cups warm water
• 2 tsp dry active yeast
• sprinkle of oil
• about 2 Tbsp agave nectar (reserve about 1 tsp for glaze)

Stir the yeast and agave into the warm water and leave to rest while you combine all the flours, oats, seeds, and salt in a large bowl. When the yeast has been sitting for 10 minutes, stir it into the flour and form a dough. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes on a floured surface with flour-dusted hands until the dough is smooth and springy.

Form into a ball and leave, covered, in a lightly oiled bowl at room temperature to rise until about double in size. Depending on the ambient temperature this might take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 8 hours (if you leave it in the fridge for example).

Punch down dough with kuckles and knead lightly before shaping into desired shape (braid anyone?). Place on lightly oiled baking sheet and leave to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425° F and place a baking sheet or other container with water inside the oven to increase humidity (will make for a crispier crust). Mix a few drops of water with a bit of agave and brush the loaf with this liquid. Sprinkle some rolled oats on the loaf. Place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°-400° F (depending on your oven). Check back after 30 minutes. You can turn off the heat a little bit before the bread is done, the residual heat can finish the loaf. Test if the loaf is done by taking it out of the oven, holding it in a dish towel and tapping the bottom with your knuckles. It should be firm and dry, but not burnt.

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Balsamic Tomato Pizza

November 19, 2007

I have never made my own pizza. I’m always scared of working with yeast, thinking it won’t rise or something else will go wrong. I’m proven wrong every time.

Balsamic Tomato Pizza

• One pizza dough recipe from “Garden of Vegan” (I used whole wheat flour)
• 1 large tomato
• 3 cloves garlic, mashed
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 1/4 tsp oregano
• 1/4 tsp marjoram
• 1/4 tsp thyme
• dash of sweet paprika
• dash of ground cumin
• salt to taste
• 1 Tbsp tomato paste
• 1 tsp nutritional yeast
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• One half of a green bell pepper, sliced
• 3 beets, steamed and grated
• handful of fresh basil leaves
• freshly ground black pepper

Make the pizza dough according to directions. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic. When garlic is starting to brown, add dry herbs and spices. Chop half of the tomato finely and add to the pan. Now add tomato paste, nutritional yeast, balsamic vinegar, and bell pepper. Cook until the sauce turns thick (this may take a bit). Add the grated beets and spread the sauce on the pizza dough. Slice the other half of the tomato into thin slices and layer with the basil leaves on top of the sauce. Add pepper.
Bake at 350°F for about 30-40 minutes.

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Garden Plot Bounty

August 26, 2007

Fall is coming and I wonder, have I ever understood the meaning of Erntedank the way I do now?

Wax beans galore, fat cucumbers by the dozens, the last cherry tomatoes of the summer, and soon an abundance of potatoes and squash for the winter.

Excuse my forgetting what I put in this. But trust me, it’s delicious.

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