Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goodbye, Bananas

Yesterday, I finished up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book chronicles her family's journey to eat local produce and meat for one year, growing it themselves or buying it from her community. It includes small essays written by her husband, Steven L. Hopp, as well as essays and recipes by her eldest daughter, Camille Kingsolver.

Kingsolver wrote the book not as a lecture about the dangers of industrial eating, but rather as a celebration of good, locally-grown food. It's about having a relationship with what we eat, about having the chance to see it as emerging from vibrant earth or from a living creature, instead of carefully packaged and tidy products to be purchased whenever and where ever. It flips the idea of convenience and availability (the "I want it now!" mentality) on its head as she joyfully moves through the season and the fruits of that particular time and place. Strawberries and asparagus are all the sweeter because they emerge for a short period; tomatoes full of flavor are those that are not shipped from California, but picked from the garden, still warm from the sun that draws out their juicy sweetness. Food that's not eaten in its proper time and close to its source just isn't as good.

I love that this book shuns the impulse to become a bitter tirade against the industrial agricultural system; instead, Kingsolver weaves her family's story in with the story of small farmers that she meets and with facts about the current state of food in the US. She visits Quebec, Italy, and seeks out the local in those places and finds it delicious. The work takes a didactic turn every so often, but inevitably she returns to her goal in writing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: to show that eating locally is beneficial, fun, and not that difficult. It's not for an elite few, but it can be for everyone if we'll stop allowing our government to support big agriculture at the cost of small, productive farms.

The illustration above is a "vegetannual," which envisions a return to the relationships between vegetables and fruits and their season. We've lost a fundamental connection between seasonality and locality in selecting what we eat. Hence, I'm saying goodbye to bananas. Bananas are not grown in the U.S., and where they are grown, banana companies were (are) responsible for the exploitation of South American peoples and governments*.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an inspiring work. I felt compelled (and hungry) while reading it to grow a garden, support local farmers (which I do already! yay Farmers' Market!), can and preserve my own produce, and shun processed foods and unseasonable fruits and vegetables. It was a fantastic read and ultimately hopeful that we can return to a simpler (and healthier for body and land) way of eating.

*For more interesting stuff on bananas, their origins as the possible fruit of Eden, and how the mass production and transit of them shaped South American politics, check out Dan Koeppel's book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. A hint: we might not even have bananas in a few decades.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shot in the Foot

Remember how I hurt my leg, but it was getting better? It's pretty much healed except for some lingering soreness, which makes me very happy.

What doesn't make me very happy is now that I'm nearly ready to lunge into my various athletic pursuits without worrying about my leg getting worse, I go and twist my foot. Yesterday, while playing our first game of Ultimate Frisbee, I twisted it. I limped back to the sideline, took my shoe and sock off, wiggled it a bit, and (as the pain subsided) figured I just sort of popped it or something. No biggie. It felt better, so I played the rest of that game and the next, relishing that my legs felt fast and strong.

This morning, I wake up and can hardly stand on it. It takes me a bit to get going (and a bit of painkillers), until it loosens up enough to only twinge every now and then. (Things always hurt worse first thing). So--I'm going to have to take it easy again to see how it fares. Bah. It was the left foot too, just as my right leg was healing up.

Luckily, I have a shiny new bike named Alice to transport me to places I'd normally go to on foot, hence saving my poor foot undue walking stress. I'm extremely happy with my bike, though I'm operating on the PHA* until I can build up the strength and endurance to not feel like I'm going to die when I pedal up a hill. I even wore a skirt yesterday!** Alice rocks. This bike is perfect for me and my desire to move more and consume less.

*Principle of Hill Avoidance. I've altered my way to work because even though the new route is slightly longer, its hill is less steep.

**Which ended up being dumb because it was a fitted, knee length skirt, which meant it hiked up to my thighs when I hopped on the bike. You can make the necessary leap in logic. It was then too late to go back for shorts or a different skirt, so I pedaled on, keeping my knees close together when I could.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Me-Powered Transportation

A few days ago, Tim posted about wanting a bike. I'd been thinking about getting a new bicycle* for a while now, but it was just contemplating. Meanwhile, Tim talks about buying one, and I started hearing several of my co-workers talk about how they were riding their bikes more and more. One guy even rides his in to work and back, which is a good 35-minute ride.

Fayetteville is fairly bike friendly for a southern town. I usually see several bike riders rolling around on the streets alongside vehicles, and we are blessed with an ever-expanding paved trail system. However, Fayetteville is also in the hills. Meaning there isn't much flat space to ride a bicycle around on. Therefore, I continued to hesitate on investing in a bicycle--I didn't like the idea of having to pedal myself (and any stuff I might be carrying) up a hill!

Well, today that changed. I have been driving my car excessively short distances that are easily accessed by a bicycle. I would walk to these places, but I usually don't have enough time. (For example, the gym is a good 20 minute walk away, which doesn't give me much time to get there and back if I've only got an hour for a workout.) It doesn't use a lot of gas, but it does put wear and tear on a vehicle that I would like to last me the next six years or so. The idea of a bike--even a nice, new expensive one--seemed better and better. Not to mention that it'll help me get in better shape! And improve my running! I went down to Lewis and Clark, and (with the help of their friendly staff) purchased this lovely lady:

Her name is Alice**. She's a Schwinn Voyageur GS, specially built for a girl who likes to wear skirts. Which is me--I even test rode it this afternoon in a skirt, which was lovely. It's a "hybrid" or a "comfort" bike, which just means that it's studier than a road bike, has bigger tires that have less tread than a mountain bike, and has a cushy seat--no bike wedgie for me.

Upon getting her home, I rode down to the HPER to see how the ride was. It's definitely harder than using the car, but I hear that after a month my body will adjust and I'll be able to handle Fayetteville hills. (I came home panting, but exhilarated.) I have visions of riding everywhere within a smallish radius of me that I'd ordinarily use my car to get to.

Next phase--get Lance to find a bicycle so we can ride places together! (Like the grocery store. That would definitely save on gas...)

*I had a cheap-o from Wal-Mart that I never rode and that eventually rolled away because I forgot to lock it up when I moved it one day. I hope the new owner had a heavy dose of guilt and then used it a lot. I then borrowed one from a friend which I rode once, then locked to a fence and proceeded to lose the key. I found the key on Friday, so that one is now in a sheltered place until the original owner decides its fate.

**Lance ended up naming her^, not me. I said, "I need to figure out her name." He said, "It's Alice." I paused and looked at Alice, and that was that.

^She's a lady, of course. Very demure.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Joy of Trees

A front passed through our area on Tuesday, leaving us with moderate summer temperatures and me with a strong desire to be outside before the blinding heat returns. July and August are usually the hottest months, so 85 degrees with a light breeze and little humidity feels like heaven. Especially when I think about how hot and muggy it usually is this time of the year.

The university abounds with stately trees and lovely well-tended lawns, and so the past two days I've spent my lunch hour on Old Main Lawn, under the gently waving arms of a large tree. In the sun, the heat still has intensity, but under the shadows cast by green leaves, the air is cool and friendly, especially with the gentle wind singing through the leaves above me. I ate my homemade pizza* and read my book as a bumblebee buzzed near by and the surrounding trees dampened the noise of traffic and passing pedestrians. The hour passed in quiet joy.

I gathered my things to return to my desk** feeling tranquil and well-rested. As I walked away, I thought about being like a tree: digging toes deep into cool grass and damp earth, stretching arms out to catch the bright sunshine. I felt whole, alive; I was connected to the world around me.

How sad for my fellow office-dwellers that they don't come out to experience this vibrant place, the scent of green and the songs of insects. They are content to eat their lunches at their desks, to only walk from car to building and building back to car, afraid to get a little sweaty because the temperature is higher than the artificial chill of their climate-controlled spaces. I wonder if they feel the lack, or if they are content? I would die like a plant in a too-small pot that never tastes the sun if I couldn't walk a bit each day, even if it is just to home and back, and a little during lunch.

The outdoors have been calling me stronger this spring and summer. Maybe it's because I felt like I didn't get to go out much last year. Maybe it was the resolution that I made that I would go outside more. Maybe it's that I can't stand the frigid air conditioning in my building. Either way, I've been craving it and being satisfied by it as much as I can. It's so simple, but so profound, the feeling that I'm a part of something greater, and that I get to participate in this great, beautiful world, even with the threats of climate change and knowing how much my actions--and the actions of my species--are threatening to destroy that exquisite beauty. I also have hope that more people will wake up to the missing connection with their environment (and communities), and start making small actions*** to make sure that beauty is secure for centuries to come.

*Leftover from last night--a homemade whole-wheat pizza crust topped with pesto, bell peppers, shrimp, and mushrooms, and cheese. I know...delicious, right? If you are not making use of leftovers because you "don't like leftovers," you are missing out on one the greatest advantages to home cooking: not having to do it all the time. As well as being healthier and knowing exactly what you're eating at lunch. Claiming not to ever eat leftovers is almost as bad as refusing to drink tap water in my book: both are wasteful, poorly excused actions on the part of lazy individuals. Tap water is safer than bottled water^, and leftovers freakin' rock.

^It's true! The EPA strictly regulates tap water, while the FDA looks the other way as bottlers pour tap water into petroleum-guzzling bottles. For more reasons to eschew bottled water, visit

**At which I shall likely freeze to death. How much does it cost the university to keep the buildings at a steady 65 degrees?

***Shopping at the farmers' market. Buying from local businesses. Planting a garden. Walking or riding a bike short distances. Composting and recycling. Bringing reusable bags. Buying organic produce. Eating in-season. Participating in community. Volunteering. Becoming involved in change. Turning off the TV. Sitting outside and appreciating the wonders of the small.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old Advice, Mostly Useful

Recently, I've been bombarded with information about how wasteful, indebted, and damaging our culture is. On the flip side, I've also seen a lot on people who are trying to do their part to change that, to help Americans see that they can live frugally and happily without buying into consumer culture. Are people waking up and realizing that buying tons of stuff isn't so good?

This weekend, Lance's mom brought out an old book (possibly from 1889 or 1892, but certainly from before 1908) called The Every-Day Cook-Book by Miss E. Neill. It's a neat volume, with interesting recipes and home health remedies, as well as sound advice. Take this passage, for example, listed under "ITEMS WORTH REMEMBERING":
Pictures are both for use and ornament. They serve to recall pleasant memories and scenes; they harmonize with the furnishing of the rooms. If they serve neither of these purposes they are worse than useless; they only help fill space which would look better empty, or gather dust and make work to keep them clean.

A room filled with quantities of trifling ornaments has the look of a bazar [sic] and displays neither good taste nor good sense. Artistic excellence aims to have all the furnishings of a high order of workmanship combined with simplicity, while good sense understands the folly of dusting a lot of rubbish.

A poor book had best be burned to give place to a better, or even to an empty shelf, for fire destroys its poison, and puts it out of the way of doing harm.

Better economize in purchasing of furniture or carpets than scrimp in buying good books or papers.

Our sitting-rooms need never be empty of guests or our libraries of society if the company of good books is admitted to them.
I love the last bit about books. But the part that caught my eye was the emphasis on not having things if they serve no purpose. And not cluttering up the home with "trifling ornaments". I've been on a quest for some time to shed some of my more useless belongings, so Neill's words resonate across a century. Good sense is good sense, no matter the time I suppose.

I'll talk about The Every-Day Cook-Book more because it contains some gems of good sense, and some passages that are mildly amusing as relics from a time gone by. It's also a book repair project for me, since the volume I have is falling apart. I have plans to read it all, though, and maybe find someway to make an academic paper out of it...and try a few of the recipes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible

From the mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, emerges Dr. Horrible. So you better go watch it. Why? It'll be gone tomorrow at midnight, and then you'll be one of the few not in the know.

Some choice quotations:
  • "Like Bad Horse." "The Thoroughbred of Sin?" "Uh...I meant Ghandi."
  • "The hammer is my penis."
There are many more, but I don't want to give anything away. Go, go. You'll love it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Eats, Veggie Style

I don't eat a lot of meat. While I'm not a vegetarian* (I'm one of those newfangled flexitarians, if you want an official word for it), I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes. Because they're delicious. And because I strongly believe that reducing the consumption of meat in one's diet is a way to improve both the body and the environment. Meat, particularly industrial, is unhealthy for the animals, unhealthy for humans, and definitely unhealthy on the environment. By reducing our consumption, we reduce consumption of corn (and corn subsidies), fossil fuels, and send a message to the food industry.

Anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a rant about meat. I still eat it occasionally and enjoy it when I do--because I typically buy locally produced, grass-fed (and ethically-treated!) meat. I may pay a premium...but damn. That's tasty. Because I don't want to buy cheap meat, I buy vegetables because they're cheap and really, really good. Especially when I buy them fresh from the Farmers' Market that's just down the road from my house.

I'm figured I'd share some vegetarian recipes and tips in case you're feeling the itch to try eating less meat in your own household. Last night I made this maple grilled tempeh recipe--if you want to try something unusual like tempeh, this is a good recipe to try because it's so good. I served it on a bed of brown and red rice with green beans and grilled zucchini. I just ate leftovers for lunch, and I was amazed at how good the simple marinade was on the tempeh**. Yum.

There are now many websites dedicated to making delicious meat-free recipes. One of them (the source of the maple grilled tempeh), is 101 Cookbooks. I've made many, many of her recipes and they're superb. And usually very simple for the inexperienced cook.

Another source that I turn to for recipes is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. A gift from a dear (and generous!) friend, this cookbook has been my guide for when I need some inspiration. The recipes are simple and easy, but they offer a host of variations that encourages playing with flavors and colors, as well as experimenting and substituting. Even if you're not a vegetarian, this cookbook is a valuable addition to any cookbook collection.

*Every time I seriously contemplate completely becoming a vegetarian, Lance waves a tasty bit of meat under my nose. Like lamb. Or venison. Or even buffalo. But if were just chicken and beef? Eh, not that interested.
**I realize tempeh, like tofu, is not for everyone. Heck, the first time I had tempeh, I was a little leery. It can be strange stuff, and hard to prepare properly. But the marinade and the grilling makes tempeh extremely palatable.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Poetry Brings Folks Together

My coworkers are smart. One especially loves to talk to me about books and good food and crafting--she's fun to work with and hang out with. Today, we began discussing this NY Times article about the new poet laureate. I'd never heard of Kay Ryan, so I read the article with some interest, and flipped through a few of her poems they included with the article. I liked them; they were pretty good. I prepared to not think about them again.

It wasn't until I started discussing them with my coworker, however, that these poems came alive. They held a richness I hadn't discovered until I reread them and talked about them. For me, literary analysis (especially on poetry) always emerges after I talk about the work. I shouldn't be surprised that Ryan's poetry would be any different, but I was amazed at the meaning I was able to dig out of her words just by having a conversation.

Here was the one we discussed in particular (I read it out loud for my coworker, which led to further discussion--Ryan's poems are rhythmic, and that rhythm is inherent to what the poem is, but it's hard to hear rhythm unless you physically hear it.):


Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the languour of their
rolling over.

The poem rolls like hills, and the images it evokes are wonderful. I'm fond of poetry that has a certain physical feel, and Ryan's work is often about the physical and the material, like "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard," which longs for physical indications of an individual no longer present, but things are too hard, too durable, for one person to leave their mark upon them. It's beautiful.

Okay, enough gushing about poetry. My main point is that I'm now a fan of Kay Ryan, and that discussing poetry with other people makes it alive in my mind. I need to remember that when I go to teach kids how to read poetry... I'm such a verbal person that it's often not until I've talked about something that I understand it fully.

If you're interested in more of Kay Ryan's work, go here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One of Those Days...

I woke up feeling woozy this morning. I managed to get dressed, after dragging excess chairs back to their homes to help me wake up a bit. Then, on my walk to work, I discovered the lid of my once-full water bottle was slightly ajar, meaning the book*, notebook, journal, and planner in my bag were now sitting in water. To make matters worse, my skirt was not staying put, so I was having to tug, readjust, and otherwise deal with it while fretting about the wet paper in my bag.

All of this meant that I was a little grouchy when I walked into the office. But instead of losing my temper, I pulled the books out, dried out the bag, and realized that the damage could have been much, much worse. My impulse was to call the beloved filler of said water bottle and chew him out...but I didn't. And I was glad. Acting (instead of giving into anger) cheered me up.

Thus, the rest of the day has passed in relative calm. I've been dealing with my blood sugar bouncing all over the place, but I've successfully avoided eating sugar. I've already eaten four servings of veggies and two servings of fruit today**. The day has been lovely, and I ended up taking a longer walk over lunch than I usually do, since I forgot my ID and couldn't use my extra time to go to the library.

And I get to go to a swim lesson tonight, not to mention bowling with teachers from Mexico who I'm partnered with. So, really, a day that could have been potentially very, very foul has been quite fine. Life is better when you concentrate on the good, even when it's drenched by the bad.

*Which belongs to my thesis adviser.
**Usually it's two servings of veggies and three of fruit. Fruit is good for you, sure, but it's important to not eat too much of them too!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Injury Update

So, I've been taking it easy on my leg, for those concerned that I might make a dumb decision and ignore the strange pains. In fact, I took it a little too easy, and discovered not being active enough makes it hurt worse*. So I've been trying to strike the right balance between active and not active.

Swimming feels pretty good, so I've been doing some of that. In fact, I'll probably head to the pool tonight for a bit of a cardio workout as well as practicing my strokes**. Light yoga is also good.

Sunday, I decided to lace on my running shoes and run around Stillwater, OK for a brief run. The morning breeze and singing birds made me do it. But, surprise--I felt great afterwards. No pain at all--though I took a little preemptive anti-inflammatory medication.

I'm thus moving forward cautiously, adding a little activity and making sure to not overdo it. It appears that I'm on the mend! *Knocks on wood*

*Go figure. I'm just ready for it to be completely healed so I can go on with my life and run lots.

**I've enrolled in a swim class to help me improve my swimming. I'm decently confident in the water, but I still feel a little anxious or tense, and I expend too much energy instead of relaxing and stroking slowly and reasonably. I hate that I can run 3 miles and feel fantastic, but swimming two laps leaves me completely out of breath.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Et cetera

  • Cream of chanterelle soup is of the gods. Chanterelle mushrooms are delicate little things, and paired with a simple mixture of cream, onion, butter, salt, and pepper, they are to die for. If you're envisioning condensed cream of mushroom, flush that naughty thought right out of your head. My stomach is so happy right now. And I have more mushroom dishes to look forward to*!
  • I finished Lost and Found on Saturday. It's so good. Post coming shortly about it. (And also Lady of the Snakes).
  • Thanks to Facebook, I'm in some hot water with my parents. We'll see how long it takes to blow over. Lesson learned: never refer to your family as racist on Facebook**. Especially if they are sensitive to being called racist.
  • I missed Ultimate Frisbee last night. It made me sad, but I was tired, depressed from dealing with my family, and dealing with stomach cramps. But I got to swim on Monday! And I'm sure the time away from frisbee will be good for my leg.

*Lance scored a bag full of dried morels from his brother. Yum. I love having a mycophile for a boyfriend.
**So stupid. I don't mind if they find my blog post about it, but Facebook status remarks offer no explanation. I'm going to stay off of there if I'm angry. Stupid, stupid.