Pickles, Wonder Food of the Future; or all about carflickles

I thought pickles were a nothing food, no value, no calories, not really food, just salt. I thought they were just there on my plate in a restaurant for the crunch and the pucker, you know? Something sorta green on the plate to make it look like there’s more variety? Turns out I was wrong.

According to an old book my mom sent me called All About Pickling (Ortho Books, 1975): “The art of pickling predates recorded history. It’s roots probably go deep into Chinese culture. We know that laborers on the Great Wall of China ate lunches of salted vegetables…. Cleopatra valued pickles as a secret of beauty and health. She introduced them to Julius Caesar and soon he added pickles to the daily diets of the Roman legions and gladiators, thinking pickles would help keep the men in top physical condition…. The ‘new world’ was even named after a Spanish pickle dealer ‘Americus Vespucius.’… Early Puritan settlers believed that pickles should be served daily as a ‘sour’ reminder to be thankful for the ‘sweet’ gifts of the land.”

I had no idea America was named after a pickle dude. How weird is that?

So I just had to make some!!

I made a few other food items this weekend, too, actually. From left to right: six cups of cooked down strawberry puree sweetened with maple syrup to use as flavoring for homemade yogurt (I bought a yogurt maker to start cookin that treat myself!), eight pints of strawberry jam (only three left from the first batch I made in late June), a jar full of apricot fruit leather (yummo!!), a half-filled jar of dried blueberries (eight cups of fresh berries made only THAT much? SOOOO not worth the effort), three quarts of a pickled vegetable medley which I like to call carflickle (carrots and cauliflower, in a pickling brine with purple onions, garlic, and dill), and dilly beans (pickled green beans). Whew! And if you think I’m tuckered out…yup, you’d be guessin right!

But all the produce is local and mostly organic, and I’m trying hard to do what I can within my current means (financial and time) to preserve some of this summer bounty for the long winter ahead when the cool, crisp crunch of pickled cauliflower might bring us back to that lovely Saturday in August when we spent the day at J and S’s house puttin’ up our veggies. (J and S went to Peru in Jan. on the same trip as I did — they are good people, those two.) Ah, but do pickled veggies really have any food value?

On this count the book shared some interesting nutritional facts that surprised me. For instance, the brining solution is high in potassium. The “vitamin A content of fresh produce is actually increased through the pickling process. Even though some of the vitamin C is decreased, pickles still retain richer deposits of the vitamin than other processed foods. … Vinegar prevents oxidation which allows the vitamin to escape from cut surfaces.”

Who knew? Well, other than my grandma, and pretty much all the immigrants who came to our country and homesteaded, and well, most people throughout the world. Ah, yes, well, okay, so I’m late in coming to this but at least I’m gettin there! I’ll be sure to report how they came out when we crack ’em open in November or December. Hope it’s worth the wait. 🙂

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On Gratitude…

I’ve read two unrelated articles in the last day that have really made me stop and think. I’ve been in mega self-improvement mode for the last year, and two weeks from tomorrow my sabbatical ends and I go back to teaching full time, so I’m trying to tie up some loose ends.

Looking back over the last year, I can see that I’ve made a lot of progress in several areas of family and personal life. There have been some lingering issues that are unresolved, of course, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve/we’ve come:

1) My husband and I have a one-on-one meeting each Sunday to discuss any relationship or personal issues and devote some time to maintaining the health of our marriage.

2) On Saturday mornings, the three of us (me, hubster, and son) hold a family meeting to give each of us, and especially our son, a chance to air concerns or make requests. We also use that time to go over our week’s schedule.

3) I lost twenty-five pounds and have kept it off for months now. I have finally recognized that I have a weight problem whether I am currently overweight or not. So I need to be vigilant and keep my physical health front and center. Stress eating is most likely to occur if I do not take time to plan and cook decent food. So I absolutely must make time for planning and preparing. So far, so good. But I continue to go to weight Watchers each month and weigh in and attend a meeting.

4) I started reading again. Not for my job. I read as an English Professor a lot. But I mean reading for pleasure and for enlightenment. I started a book club at my church, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone by forming this club within our “Women’s Group.” There was such a women’s group at our church in the past, but right now our book group is it. The best things about doing the book group this year are getting to read and discuss some terrific books and getting to know these awesome women. I’ve never belonged to a book group before. I highly recommend it!

5) I am exercising more. Okay, not as much as I’d like to or need to, but more than before. And I’m okay with that. It’s improvement. I’ve added regular walking into my fall schedule (along with time to plan, prep food, and read), so I am sure to have the time to exercise if I merely stick to the plan.

6) I have become a writer. Early on in this blog I wondered if I were a “real” writer if I did not write every day. The funny thing is that the more I wrote on this blog, the more I felt like a real writer. The more I wrote, the more I thought of my life in terms of what I would write about it. I love writing now as never before. I’m not sure how I’ll fit blogging into my schedule this fall. But I’m going to try to find a way because it keeps me thinking in terms of words on the page and helps me produce raw material. I have not scheduled time in my week this fall for blogging, but I have, however, scheduled in time for my creative writing. I’ve NEVER done that before. When school started, I used to stop all creative or scholarly writing. I’m not willing to do that anymore.

7) Most recently I’ve also gone a long way toward helping my family to reduce its ecological footprint in terms of food consumption. We had already joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm a couple of years ago. We enjoy getting a share of fresh veggies direct from the farm each week of the growing season. Now I’ve also signed us up for a pasture-raised meat CSA and a fruit CSA. I also just discovered that not five miles from us there is a local dairy (with organic cows) that delivers milk in those old-fashioned glass milk bottles! I still haven’t figured out a good source for other food products like grains, but I’m getting there. It feels SO good NOT to feel guilty about contributing to global warming by eating non-local, highly processed and over-packaged food. We’re not yet where I want us to be, but much improvement on this front!

Now, back to some things left unfixed and the two articles I read.

A lot is unfixed. Such is life. But one thing that I have noticed this year and that really bothers me is a certain bitterness I have been feeling about some things that have happened to me and to loved ones in the last few years. I have also, the more I learn about the state of the world, become more anxious about our planet’s future than I ever have been before. I have been working hard this year to try to find a way to let go of the rancor and fear and to embrace a sense of peace. I am naturally optimistic and positive, but I’ve become less so in recent years. This sabbatical year I have been looking for a way to regain my healthier outlook on life, to restore balance.

So, anyway, yesterday I read this article in the Sept. 2008 issue of Body and Soul magazine: “Thank-You Therapy” by Terri Trespicio. The title may sound like it’s a trite essay, but it contained the right info to help me. Here’s what I learned:

(a) A study showed that people who wrote five things for which they were grateful each week in a journal felt better about their lives than people who kept track of their problems or just kept a record of events. The gratitude group also was healthier physically and, get this, spent more time exercising — up to 80 minutes more a week! Further, people who kept a daily gratitude journal for two weeks were more likely to “offer emotional support and help to others” than those keeping the other journals.

(b) A study showed that the earlier truism that people have a set point for happiness (a predetermined level of happiness that pretty much stays the same over the long term regardless of circumstances) is not exactly true. In fact, they found that about half of a person’s happiness comes from genetics (their set point) and 10% from circumstances, but a full 40% comes from “intentional activity,” our habits, essentially. The author makes the point that you can actually “bump up your happiness set point” if you commit to a regular practice of gratitude. Gratitude can be learned. We get better at it if we practice it. Hmmm.

(c) The article gives a lot of examples of how to practice gratitude. Here are some of the ones I most liked: “enjoy a mindful meal,” reflecting with gratitude on the people who helped bring that food to your table; “start a gratitude wall” by writing things for which you’re grateful on stickie notes and putting them on a wall (I’m thinking of doing this on my office window); “pay a thank you visit” to someone you appreciate ; “flip your complaints” (i.e., every time you complain stop and think of something for which you are grateful); “set an alarm” to go off during the day and when it does, stop what you are doing and focus on something for which you are grateful; “count blessings, not sheep” before bed; for five minutes write “a bliss list” of as many things that you can remember for which you are grateful and keep the list in your purse or pocket to look at when you are waiting in lines.

The other article appeared in the UU World in Spring 2007, but I just got around to reading it this morning: “The Heart of Our Faith: Gratitude Should Be the Center of Unitarian Universalist Theology” by Galen Guengerich. This article clinched the whole gratitude thing for me, providing another reason for cultivating gratitude in my own and our family life. Here’s an excerpt that hits at the heart of gratitude as a religious principle:

… A sense of awe and a sense of obligation, religion’s basic impulses, are both experiences of transcendence, of being part of something much larger than ourselves.

The feeling of awe emerges from experiences of the grandeur of life and the mystery of the divine. We happen upon a sense of inexpressible exhilaration at being alive and a sense of utter dependence upon sources of being beyond ourselves. This sense of awe and dependence should engender in us a discipline of gratitude, which constantly acknowledges that our present experience depends upon the sources that make it possible. The feeling of obligation lays claim to us when we sense our duty to the larger life we share. As we glimpse our dependence upon other people and things, we also glimpse our duty to them. This sense of obligation leads to an ethic of gratitude, which takes our experience of transcendence in the present and works for a future in which all relationships—among humans, as well as between humans and the physical world—are fair, constructive, and beautiful.

Gratitude. Yup. That’ll work, I think. When one is filled with gratitude, there is no room for bitterness. When one is deliberately grateful, one turns away from fear. When one feels ones extreme good fortune, one works willingly and gladly for the good of others. When one is thankful, one is FULL of thanks, not rancor or fear. Not that I am FULL of rancor and fear, but I’d rather squeeze out those emotions and make room for thanks.

Now, I’ve got two weeks before school starts to try to get a habit of gratefulness started!

Adventures in Buying Local: Visiting the Fishmongrel

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  A fabulous read, I thought, as did my book group from church.  I knew that there were good reasons to buy local and all that, but it was inspiring reading about how Kingsolver’s family spent a whole year trying to eat only food grown by people they knew (including themselves).

Okay, in a nutshell, here is the point:  trucking and training and flying and shipping food from thousands of miles away to our grocery stores just so we can have asparagus in September or raspberries in January is taking a huge toll on our planet.  For one thing, look at how much oil it takes to transport those foods so far.  And another point, the kind of super-agribusiness it takes to actually pull that sort of thing off is resulting in an alarming reduction in plants and animal varieties, and that is dangerous because a nasty bug that is resistant to chemicals meant to kill it can come along and wipe out 25% or more of a certain type of food in the blink of an eye.  Plus, food from far doesn’t taste as good as fresh food.  So there.

There’s more to it than this, but you get the basic idea.  Now, here’s the reason I recommend the book.  I KNEW about the importance of local and sustainable food systems and all that, but I didn’t really KNOW it in any way that translated the big issue into my own life.  Reading about Kingsolver’s family, helped me to truly understand.  I read and actually felt hopeful.

So my book group, which is comprised of women from my UU church, read the book and discussed it at a potluck on Sunday night, and we are very excited about working together to help our own families, our church, and our community to be better stewards of the earth, to enjoy healthier and more satisfying food, and to reverse the trend of borrowing from tomorrow for the food whim of today.

For the past month, as I’ve been reading, I have started making changes.  We already belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  But I never gave a thought to where the rest of our food came from.  For the first time, I went to our city’s farmer’s market this week and got the best heirloom tomatoes and cantaloupe I’ve had in a long while.  I also ran into a ton of people I know (wish I’d taken a little time to freshen up a bit before going!)  Ah, I thought, I can supplement whatver I do not get each week from my CSA with the farmer’s market offerings.  Good.  But…where can I get locally made bread, cheese, and most importantly, grass-fed meat? Cause I ain’t goin back to no feedlot beef never never never.

Well, I’ve been trying to find out about these and other options and it’s like a full-time job.  I will persevere, but I wish it were easier to make the switch.  And that leads me to the title of this post.  Today I finally got around to checking out a local fishmonger’s shop.  Okay, so that’s what I call it.  Is that because I study British literature of the 19th century or do people here in 2008 USA also call a person who sells fish a fishmonger?

My son, whom I dragged all around town on errands today, got a little mixed up by the word, saying fishmongrel instead.  Cutie!

Unfortunately, the place didn’t actually sell fish except fully cooked on a plate and all that. I thought for sure that was a fishmonger shop.  Nope.  No such luck.

Back to more research, I guess.  School starts very soon, though.  If I don’t have my suppliers figured out by then, I’m afraid I’ll not be able to follow through as well as I’d like once I’m back to teaching.  At least I’ve discovered the Lowell farmer’s market.  Can’t wait until Friday when I can get some more of that delectable cantaloupe!

Miscellaneous Meme

Praying to Darwin tagged me (well, anyone who was reading her, actually!) and I promised a response. Here goes:

What I Was Doing 10 Years Ago

June 1998: Living in Palouse, WA, a town of 1,000 people located about 17 miles from Pullman, WA, a city of 35,000 and the metropolis of the region. I was on unofficial leave from my Ph.D. program, having postponed finishing my dissertation due to a difficult pregnancy. I had been home caring for our eight-month old and having a blast. He was a great baby who took naps, laughed a lot, and was endlessly curious! But by today’s date in 1998, I had embarked on a marathon revision session to finish the dissertation over the summer so I could graduate and work as an adjunct professor in the fall. I made it. On this date ten years ago, though, I didn’t know if I’d make it. I didn’t know that I’d eventually publish that dissertation, that I’d get a job as a real live professor, that in ten years I’d be scrambling to finish another manuscript over the summer….

Five Things on My To-Do List Today

  1. Go to my office to meet up with the tech guy and receive my new laptop computer and laser printer! Yee haw — wireless and wonderful! My old one is a 2001 model. 😦
  2. Finish the laundry. (Why is that item always on my list?)
  3. Help my son revise and edit his letter to IHOP complaining that their kid’s meals come with styrofoam cups. (I’ve got him started on a summer home school program of my own design to help him improve his writing process, spelling, and punctuation skills. He’s fine for his grade level, say his teachers, but I’m an English Professor. I can’t have a ten-year-old son who spells dinner: chicen. Also, I’m a sadist.)
  4. Start the rough draft of an article I was commissioned to write.
  5. Bring the piles of stuff in my bedroom up into the attic for the “one day I’m going to have a garage sale” pile.

Things I Would Do If I Were a Billionaire

Buy my sister a house and pay for her to go to grad school full-time.

Quit our jobs and move back to the Pacific Northwest, where we would buy or build a totally green home.

And with the bulk of the money, I imagine we’d start a charitable foundation and my husband and I would run it. We’d give grants to worthy projects to save the world and all that. Not sure how far a billion dollars would go, but we’d do what we could to help.

Three of My Bad Habits

  1. talking too much when I’m nervous
  2. laughing too much when I’m nervous
  3. saying stupid things when I’m nervous

Five Jobs I’ve Had

  1. “Receptionist” (AKA babysitter) for a home office. What a joke. This was merely a glorified (hardly) babysitting job. The house was so filthy that I spent most days cleaning. Ugh. Kids were not too bad. Oh, and I learned how to fry an egg cause that’s all they’d eat for breakfast.
  2. Worked for a department store called Weinstocks in their lingerie department. Stapled my thumb one day. Still gives me the creeps.
  3. Janitor, cleaning up the dining hall at my college after dinner. Amazing what I found on the floors — used to dread spaghetti and meatball days. I guess those pesky meatballs just roll off the plates all by themselves. Oops!
  4. Door-to-door sales. Yeh, that’s even worse than stapling your own flesh. I sold books in Alabama one summer for the Southwestern Book Co. Part of the way they are successful is they make their sales help (all college students) drive clear across the country to an alien world. That way it makes it a lot harder to give up and go home when it gets tough. I did okay at this job, but I wasn’t quite bold or enthusiastic enough to be a star.
  5. Library assistant — I shelved journal articles and books in the reference section of my college library. Great job to help pay the bills for school — clean, quiet, and no knocking on doors.

Five Books I’ve Recently Read

  1. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Still a great read after a dozen times reading it!
  2. Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal by Diana M. Raab. I thought this would be a help for me as I write my Grandma’s memoir. It was. It showed me that I can do a lot better than stuff that’s already published.
  3. Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. This book taught me that I have a long way to go to really write well. Beautiful and engaging. How can this be her first book?
  4. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. A MUST READ! Awesome book, a real page-turner. I reviewed it earlier. See my Good Books category on the sidebar.
  5. Tales From Nowhere: Unexpected Stories from Unexpected Places edited by Don George. I absolutely loved this collection of travel essays. a fun and intriguing read. Still thinking about the stories…

That’s it! I’ll follow Praying to Darwin‘s lead and leave it up to readers to decide to do this meme themselves.

Clinton Landed Here???

For a while now, I’ve been puzzled by a monument at the soccer field where my son practices. I (soccer mom that I am!) often pull into the parking spot right in front of this rock with a plate commemorating an auspicious occasion. Recently, however, I began to think more deeply about this monument….

So what exactly is being commemorated? Bill Clinton “Landed” here in 2000. LANDED? Ah, my husband tells me that President Clinton was attending a fundraiser at the Tsongas Arena in our town that day in 2000, and his helicopter landed on our soccer field. He was whisked away by car to the fundraiser, returned to his helicopter a couple of hours later, and flew away.

WOW. This really is such an important occasion that we absolutely MUST tell the world about it on a bronze plaque attached to a big boulder in our parking lot.

Reminds me a little of other famous people who visited Lowell, MA in very brief but highly touted visits. One such occurred in 1842 when the famous novelist, Charles Dickens, arrived in Lowell by train and toured the local mills (factories and insane asylums were mighty tourist attractions back then — seriously!) Dickens stayed in town only a few hours, but at least he actually came to Lowell to see it! Clinton came to, what…, grab some cash and fly away?

Dickens was kind to the city, too, in his travel book about his trip to America, devoting a whole chapter to the worker paradise he thought he saw in the mill city. His book is called American Notes and is an interesting read.

Meanwhile, our grand monument to Clinton’s historic touchdown, as it were, on the playing field of history…. Well, you can see this famous site next time you’re in the Northeast.

Hobbes; or, On Tigers and Boys

As requested by struggling writer, I am posting about my son’s stuffed animal, Hobbes, today. Here is a picture of him (Hobbes, not struggling writer!) in the back seat, where I tossed him Tuesday when I was rushing to go see vomit-boy at overnight camp. Since I never actually made it to camp (see yesterday’s post), Hobbes is still in the back seat, awaiting his boy’s return this afternoon.

Of course, he named the tiger after Hobbes from the popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. One Christmas (was it two or three or even four years ago…?) my in-laws gave him a complete set of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s a set of three massive oversized books (I thoroughly recommend this set as a special gift for kids). I recall many times seeing him trying to maneuver these books into his lap to read comfortably. Now that he’s bigger it’s easier, and he still goes on Calvin and Hobbes binges. He’s also moved onto the Far Side now, though he does not own a comparable set, only second-hand and much smaller books.

Clearly my son wants to be Calvin.

He isn’t.

My child is far too concerned about what other people, especially parents and other adults of note, think of his behavior to act up the way Calvin does. But reading the comic strip gives him, undoubtedly, a chance to live vicariously through the little rebel boy and his wily tiger. Here, Here!!! Everyone needs such opportunities, right? And isn’t that one of the greatest things about reading — to get the chance to live other lives and see other places and experience other times, all through exercising our imaginations?

I can’t wait to pick my son up from school today. Hobbes is pretty excited, too. I caught him doing flips earlier when he thought I wasn’t looking.

Camp for Kids: Not the Way it Used to Be…and That Is a Good Thing!

No electronics. No food from home. No parents. YIPPEE, the kids squealed. The parents smiled in the back row of the informational session about the Nature Camp where our children are heading for a week in May. Hmmm. No kids for a week. Hmmm.

This morning after a great presentation to the kids with slides and all, Heather, camp counselor extraordinaire, answered the children’s questions.

“Can I bring my video camera?” No, nothing expensive or fancy — it might get ruined.

A different child pipes up, “What if I have more than one video camera and one is old, can I bring that?” No.

“What about allergies?” says the daughter of the woman sitting next to me. A long explanation followed that basically meant, you will be accommodated. No worries.

“Can we bring a fishing pole?” I’m not going to say no, but there probably won’t be a lot of time for fishing.

“Can we choose our own bunkmates?” No. Smile. She must get this one a lot.

“What time to we have to go to sleep?” We wind down with evening time together and you’ll be back in your bunkhouses by about 9:15 to start getting ready for bed, but it’s common not to get to sleep until about ten. (Oh, my son will be thrilled, I thought. Lately he is lobbying hard for a later bedtime!)

“Can we write home to our parents?” Yes, you can bring pre-stamped envelopes and everything, but if you forget, I have supplies, too.

And then my son pipes up: “Can we bring a book and a reading light?” Book yes, light no. When it’s light’s out, it’s light’s out. But you can read in your bunk in the morning if you wake up before the others. My son throws me a look — he wakes up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. most days, so a book in the bunk will be helpful.

After the kids went back to class, the parents got to ask all the scary questions about medical emergencies and bullying and oh, my goodness, whatever you can think of that nervous parents ask. Then Heather left and the parents all stood around chatting. We all agreed that we are REALLY looking forward to the kids getting the chance to enjoy this educational opportunity. 🙂

I, for one, am particularly pleased about this camp’s approach. Some camps, I’ve heard, so over-schedule the kids that there’s no time for exploration. This camp has transition time throughout the day. Some camps leave the kids to their own devices at night or other times when they can get into mischief, the kind that’s NOT harmless. This camp builds conflict resolution practice into activities throughout the week and constantly supervises the kids. Some camps let parents visit or call the kids. This camp bans parents in the flesh or on the phone, though letters pre-sent are okay, and I’m thrilled, really. The teachers are going to be there. What do WE need to go interfering for? It’s good for kids to gain confidence and become more independent. Parents can be a real drag on developing these traits, in my opinion.

I think the only thing likely to bother my son at Nature Camp is that he might run out of books. Then again with that later bedtime, maybe he’ll start sleeping in and they’ll have to drag him to breakfast!

Nah. Never happen!