Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ma wheat done sprouted!

Unfortunately I also noticed a whole bunch of these guys:

Apparently, they like to eat nice, tender sprouts.  A LOT.  I do have to say that they are kind of the big, dumb, slow specimens of the insect world.  I made a trip to my local Intermountain Farmer's store and found a pesticide that's safe to use on edible plants.  I felt sort of defeated, though, having to resort to a pesticide.  Maybe I could have stood out there all day and hacked them to death every time they came near my wheat sprouts.  But who would watch the baby?  Plus, that got old after killing the first one.  The dumbest part was that I literally felt guilty.  And then I asked myself how I possibly think I could kill a chicken when hacking a grasshopper had my gut clenched with guilt!  Yeah, good luck with that one, crazy.

Anyway, my wheat sprouted!  It's ALIVE!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cottonelle's "Get Fresh With A Friend" campaign

I'm not sure this campaign was well thought out. I can't think of any friends that I'd want to "get fresh" with. And aside from the terminology, what would a friend think of me if I sent them wet wipes? I think I might lose that friend right there.

It would be one thing if the commercial sort of acknowledged that the phrasing is a little... suggestive. But it's just taking itself so seriously, I feel embarrassed for it. I want to pull it aside and explain why everyone in the room is snickering.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Phone Conversation

Patron: Yes I'm looking for a book.  It's called itbiguky.

Me: Sorry - what was the title?

Patron: It's itbigooky.

Me: I'm not quite catching that title.  Can you say it again?

Patron: Eet.  Bigookie.

Me: Can you spell it for me?

Patron: Yes.  E-a-t.  That's the first word.  Then t-h-e.  The last word is c-o-o-k-i-e.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Great Wheat Experiment, Part 2

(Read Part 1 here)

I would just like to point out before we get started that my mom is mad at me for growing something that she and all of my sisters can't eat.  Sorry, guys.  But it's the staff of life, baby!  Well, not your life.  But mine.  And lots of other people's.

As I started looking into growing your own wheat, I found that there are two types of wheat, spring wheat and winter wheat.  Winter wheat you plant in the fall and it sprouts, then it lays under the snow during winter and grows back in the spring.  You harvest it in June or July.  You're supposed to plant a few weeks before the ground actually freezes, so by the time I got this crazy notion into my head, it meant it was time to plant already.  Yikes!

So it looks like for every pound of seed that you plant, you get about 8 times that amount when you harvest.  I read one site that suggested starting with a small amount, like 6 pounds of seed.  I called my local IFA store and asked for winter wheat seed.  The guy on the phone said, "Oh, I only have a little bit left.  Just two 50 pound bags."  I laughed and told him it was more than enough.  Apparently, people planting wheat around here do a much larger-scale operation.

I went and bought one of the bags, which cost about $13.  Except that they gave me a discount, because he said the seed was a little older and not every seed would sprout.  So the 50 lb bag cost me about $7.50.  I had the seed.  Check.

The harder part was getting the ground ready.  I had an unused part of my backyard that had been overgrown by weeds, so we had those weed-whacked and then I had to rake the remains out.

I discovered some things about this area of the yard.

1. It used to be a lawn with grass.
2. Grass is hard to pull up.
3. There used to be a massive tree in this area, as evidenced by the large trunk and even larger root system running through where I wanted to plant.
4. Tree roots suck.

A lot of my time was spent pulling out the green bush that you see on the left in the photo.  That's where I found the tree trunk.  Also digging up the clumps of grass was challenging.  I finally got it to this point:

I like to call that thing in the middle there the Giant Root of Death.  It had to go.  I tried making a furrow with it in there, and it was totally uneven.  So I got out the hatchet and chopped, chopped, chopped at it (what I would have given for an axe.  Or a CHAINSAW).  Michael helped me pull it up, and after a sunburn and a few blisters, the ground finally looked like this:

The whole process of clearing this space out was done over a couple of weeks, during Jane's naps, by me, me, and ME.  I felt like the little red hen ("Will no one help me plant my corn?") and kept getting the Disney song stuck in my head while I hacked away at the soil.  Not that I had asked anyone for help.  And Michael did help me with the large roots.  I was also stressed out trying to get the seed in the soil fast enough to give it a chance to grow a little before the ground freezes, and I did the best I could and we'll just have to see what happens next year.

So what about the actual planting?  It sounds like you can just throw the seed out in the area, and then rake it into the soil.  It should be covered by 2 to 2 1/2 inches of soil, and it didn't seem like raking could do that very reliably.  You can also plant it in rows.  One site suggested that you make holes every six inches and put seeds in.  But the IFA Store Guy told me to plant my seed twice as thick as I normally would (hah, normally would?  If I had ever done it before) because the seed was older and not all of them would sprout.  So I decided to go with rows, and instead of spacing things out every six inches, I just laid down a line of seed in each furrow.

Check out ma rows:

And ma wheat:

Like I said, it looks like for every pound you plant, you can harvest up to 8 times that amount in the spring.  But then again the IFA Store Guy told me that not all of my seed would sprout.  Tricky.  Here's how I laid it down:

Looking at it now, it looks pretty dense.  But what do I know?  I'm no farmer.  I'm just some schluck who decided to try planting wheat.  Maybe next spring it'll all crowd and smother each other.  Maybe the grasshoppers will eat half of the stems that come up.  Oh well.  It's my first try and I'm not really stressed about it coming out perfect.  If I had to guess how much went in, I'd say maybe 10-15 lbs.  Will I have 80 lbs of wheat next summer?  We'll just have to see what happens.

What about watering?  Apparently, wheat likes dry weather.  I've read that you water it when you plant it, and then only water again if it's looking parched, even in the spring.  I guess whatever rain it might get is enough?  At any rate, I'm glad that it's in and can start growing.  I'm actually just happy with what I've done so far.  Sometimes life feels like I'm accomplishing nothing.  But it's been really satisfying to look at those photos, before and after, and see that I really did this, and almost completely by myself.  Big pat on the back for me!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Food Revolution: The Great Wheat Experiment, Part 1

Last year I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, which largely discusses processed food and how we get fewer nutrients and less overall goodness the more our food is processed.  He encourages his readers to eat food (real food, not unrecognizable processed inventions), not too much, and mostly plants.  I had never really thought about the processing our food goes through before I read his book, and I had never really cared.  But in the months afterward, I thought more about it and looked with more scrutiny on the things that I was getting from the grocery store.

Another book that has had an interesting influence on me is Life As We Knew It, a young adult novel about a teenager living a normal high school life when the moon is struck by an asteroid and knocked closer to earth, causing the tides to turn into tidal waves, volcanic magma to be pulled up through the earth's crust into volcanoes, crazy storms, and all sorts of mayhem.  The book follows this girl as she and her family try to survive inside their own house while the rest of society basically breaks down and their electricity, gas, and food sources slowly dwindle off.

So what does that have to do with food?  That book really freaked me out, and for several days afterward I kept trying to figure out how Michael and I would fare in a similar situation.  My conclusion: we'd be screwed.  I realized how much I depend on the grocery store and large companies to produce, create, process, and package things I use everyday.  Necessities.

Self-sustainability isn't something I ever really cared about before, until I realized that I can't really do it.  I thought about starting a vegetable garden, but on a practical level it seems a little silly when I am inundated every week with a large basket of produce that I try my best to use every piece of.  Plus, my now paranoid brain told me, if I was truly forced to be self-sustaining, I'd probably go nuts on only vegetables.  Meat production is something that I've honestly thought about, wondering if I could really kill a chicken.  I think I'm content to leave that as a speculation for now.

So I started thinking about flour.  Wondering what I am really getting from the store.  The flour is processed (who knows how?), bleached, and then nutrients are added back into the bread.  One point in In Defense of Food is that for some reason, people who had a whole food (rather than a food that had been processed and had nutrients added back in) fared nutritionally better.  Even if, as far as science can tell, they are getting the same nutrients.  For some unaccounted for reason, the whole foods nourish better than foods that are broken down and then put back together in terms of separate nutrients.

For my birthday, I received a grain mill from Michael's wonderful parents.  I'd been intrigued by the prospect of grinding my own wheat, even though I can't remember where to get wheat for grinding.  So then I thought - what if I made bread from scratch?  Like, really from scratch.  As in: grow the wheat myself?  Because really, what do I even know about seed that I'm getting from the store?  What fertilizers, pesticides, gathering methods, kind of storage has it gone through before it got to me?  As you can tell with my investigation into meat, I'm really starting to wonder how foods are produced and brought to us, and the less I understand about that process, the more helpless I feel.

So, in the interest of experimentation, I started researching how to grow wheat.

Now I will tell you all the edible plants that I've grown before: basil.  That I bought pre-grown from the store.  I bought some seeds, too, and planted those, and they are sort of thinking about growing up.  I manage to water the large basil and the seedlings most days.  I use them in cooking a lot and it has actually saved me a bundle because buying fresh herbs from the store is highway robbery.  That's pretty much it.

So am I crazy for thinking I can grow a crop?  Yup.

Bring it on.

Also, is it unpractical?  Pretty much.  I'm certainly not doing it for the money.  Flour is just about as cheap as the dirt you can buy in the store.  Maybe cheaper than dirt.  I'm not really doing this to try to save money.  I think it's more about the challenge.  I want to see if I can really do it, if it's possible (and maybe sleep better knowing if an asteroid hits the moon, I might have a backup plan).  Also, I'm starting to really value knowing exactly what has gone into my food and how it got on my plate. 

So that's the why.  Part 2 (and the following parts) will be about the how.
Part 2 will be coming very soon.  Because guess what?  Planting season is NOW.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Food Revolution: Meet your meat

One day while I was standing in line, waiting for my produce basket, I started chatting with the woman next to me.  We talked about how we enjoyed Bountiful Baskets, and she said that was just the beginning of the changes she had started making.  She told me that she was now buying her meat from a local farmer who lived just down the street from where we were.  In fact, you could see his silos.

I was pretty stunned when I heard this, because - wait, you can get meat from a farmer?  Like with actual cows?  I thought you just had to get it wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store and that was your only option.  She told me that she had watched Food, Inc. which had really motivated her to find some alternative sources for her food.  So I went home and watched it, and - oh boy.  Not for the faint of heart.  One interesting thing that I learned is that since corn is so easy to grow, most cows raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are fed corn.  But sadly, corn isn't natural at all to a cow's stomach, and E. Coli gets into the meat.  So the food industry adds ammonia to the meat (rather than just pasture-feeding them which would take away the E. Coli, but isn't cost-effective).

Now, I'm dancing dangerously close to the line of making this post all about the evils and politics of the food industry, but I honestly don't want to go there.  I just wanted to point out a few of the things that motivate me to make changes.  And if I'm not quite accurate on the whole E. Coli issue, please feel free to comment.

Anyway, I contacted this farmer who my friend said she buys from, and we had a really interesting discussion.  Their cows are pastured down in the next county south of here for most of the year, and in the winter they're brought back to their farm until the spring.  I'd read about this online - a lot of cows are brought back to the farm for the winter and are fed hay while they wait out the season.  It sounds like that's how organic beef are raised.  But my nice farmer lady told me that their beef isn't certified organic because they grain feed them in the winter.  I asked if there was corn in their winter-feed, and she said there was along with several other grains.  I had done some research online before she told me about this, and I knew that while purely grass-fed beef is sure LEAN, cows that are grain-fed part of the time have more marbling.  And I'm definitely not above marbling.  NOPE.  Plus, if I'm going to have marbled beef that's been fed grain, I'd rather have it at least pastured some of the time, rather than raised on a CAFO.  Aside from what makes up their feed, they don't use any pesticides on any of their property (despite great personal inconvenience, she told me - the weeding! good golly), and the cows aren't given antibiotics or any growth hormones.  All things I was hoping for!

So, am I cooking up steaks every night with my new-found beef gold mine?  Sadly, no.  Because you want to know what the catch is to buying from farmer John rather than SuperMart?  You have to buy A LOT of beef.  As in, a whole or a half a cow.  The Nice Lady at my produce co-op told me she found a deep freezer online, and stores all her beef in that.  She buys half a cow and it lasts her a year.  Farmer Lady told me that they have all of their beef butchered by a local guy, and when it's all done and wrapped up, it comes to about $2.50 a pound.  Across the board.  For the roasts, steaks, and hamburger.  So what does that add up to for a half a cow?  About $700.  We're talking about A LOT of meat.  Unfortunately, we don't have the means to invest in a freezer and a half a cow, though we wish we did.  Also, we probably only eat one or two pounds of beef a week as a family, so I'm not sure we could go through that much meat in a healthy amount of time.

On the bright side, Farmer Lady told me that I could come buy a few pounds out of her freezer if I wanted to try out the meat, so I zipped over there and picked up some hamburger and a few steaks for the $2.50 price (bonus!).  What was it like?  It tasted like beef.  It wasn't like I experienced any kind of life-altering cosmic meat experience, although I really did like the texture of the hamburger - not all mushy like I get from the store.  It tasted like beef normally does, but for me personally, there are definitely some peace-of-mind elements to this kind of food that make it worthwhile.  Knowing WHERE my meat is coming from, for one.  Seeing the faces of the people who produce it and shaking their hands, learning about what's actually going into the meat from the horse's -- or cow's? mouth.  Not to mention supporting local farmers, and getting a deal on the per-poundage price.

For now, we are eyeing the cellophane-wrapped offerings from the store with suspicion, and waiting for the day when we can make a deposit in the tasty beef bank.  I know that what I've learned here is really just one perspective on beef, or meat in general, and that there are lots of other things to learn.  Does anyone else out there have some beef insight?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Food Revolution

I've been meaning to do this post for awhile now.  For the past year or so I've been trying to heighten my basic understanding of food as well as altering some of my eating habits.  Back in early 2009 I started watching the Food Network a lot, because I was in bed so much for sickness, and I got tired of watching stressful, vain, immoral TV.  So I started watching people cook a lot and I realized, "Hey, I know next to nothing about food."

So I started reading some books, and trying to cook a little more often.  I think that has been my number one goal for the past year or so, to make dinners and cut down on the amount of restaurant food I was eating.  I've been trying especially hard since Jane was born, because it's important to me that she has a mom who knows how to cook and does it fairly frequently.

About six months ago, I was introduced to Bountiful Baskets by my sister.  It's a food co-op where you go once a week and pick up a produce basket of vegetables and fruit.  The food is purchased as locally as possible, or at least regionally (south western US/ a lot from California, and sometimes Mexico), and they support smaller farms.  Each basket is $15.00, and their website says the amount of food you get is worth about $50, but when I compare it to Walmart I'd say what I get in each basket is worth about $25 or $30 from the store.  So it really does save me some money.

The only drawback is that you don't get to choose what's in your basket.  You get what's in season, and there's no warning ahead of time what you will be getting.  Some people see this as a real negative, but I absolutely LOVE it.  First of all, I love knowing that what I'm eating is in season and not grown on the other side of the world, picked prematurely, and ripened the rest of the way en route with polyurethane gas or whatever they use.  Second, it forces me to explore food, try new things, and most importantly, learn how to cook it!  A few examples of foods that I would have NEVER bought at the store, but received in my baskets and learned how to cook are: brussels sprouts, green beans, figs, blackberries, coconuts, baby bok choy, fennel, and many more.

The third reason that I love doing this is that it gives me SO MANY fruits and vegetables each week, I am forced to eat them.  Rough, I know.  But seriously, vegetables were not a huge part of my diet before this.  But I get so many each week, and I really hate wasting things, that I try very hard to consume everything before I pick up the next week's basket.

I've been doing this almost every week since April, and it quickly became the highlight of my week.  I took a few photos of what I brought home on a few occasions.  Each photo is represents a different week:

Check out that sweet corn in the last couple of photos.  Man, just looking at that stuff makes my mouth water.  The things I get almost weekly are romaine lettuce and bananas, but they usually have six or seven fruits and six or seven vegetables.  

So, for instance, today I picked up my basket, and I got a head of romaine lettuce, two heads of what are either iceberg lettuce or cabbage, and I have no idea which, celery, tomatoes, yams, prunes, nectarines, bananas, strawberries, grapes, green bell peppers,  and this:

They said it was a watermelon, but check out what it looks like inside:

That's no watermelon, my friends.  It tastes like honeydew.  Any experts out there?

I plan on doing more posts in the future about other things I'm trying to do to change my food habits and learn more about food in general.  If you're interested in some recipes that I've discovered with my new food loves, you can see what I've done with green beans here, or blackberries here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Anyone who has ever given or asked for help on the computer MUST read today's post from Miss Nemesis:

A Little Tiny Request

Do it for me.  Do it for all of the librarians out there.  We need you.