Monday, February 18, 2013

Kids hate vegetables for the wrong reasons

My ten year old has explained to me in her words the reason kids do not like vegetables. She insists the majority of kids she knows is being raised on a diet rich in artificially flavored fast food meat and sugar laden snacks that come from a box. Once they taste and sometimes just smell real vegetables they immediately demonstrate disdain using words like blech and gross with extra syllables.

My daughter learned at a young age she would starve if she didn’t eat the meals prepared for her that included many vegetables. Perhaps she has acquired a taste for vegetables and likes most of them even weird varieties like artichokes, mushrooms and cabbage.

There are various theories as to why kids do not like vegetables. Kids have more taste buds than adults so maybe vegetables are overwhelmingly flavorful to them. Kids do not like bitterness. This one puzzles me because there are only a handful of bitter vegetables. My favorite has to be the scientific research; yes scientists have researched this pressing issue and have detected a gene that gives the carrier a heightened experience of bitterness. They have named this remarkable gene TAS2R38. It’s not likely to be easily recalled.

It’s back to bitterness. Kids that don’t like bitter foods can easily avoid kale, broccoli and dandelion greens along with black coffee and craft beer while still eating nutrient rich carrots, mushrooms and sweet peppers which are technically fruit.

Getting kids in the garden helps them to gain a finer appreciation for vegetables and fruits they might otherwise avoid. Asking kids to remove sod or spread manure is not the way to get them interested in growing food, however. Nor is asking them to turn compost or work amongst the bees acceptable.

Kids like to plant seeds and water the garden. They like to dig holes that don’t always have a purpose. Kids especially like to harvest vegetables and fruits from the garden.

Armed with properly fitting gloves and a bin or basket, kids make great harvesting companions and can get to the low-growing peas, beans, tomatoes and peppers virtually eliminating the need for us older folks to bend over, something that becomes increasingly difficult with each growing season. They can fit between rows and spot the splash of red in the strawberry plants. They can find every last potato deep in the soil and meet many an earthworm along the way.

Getting kids in the garden can often begin before the garden is even growing. Now is a great time to share seed catalogs or make a trip to the local garden center where seed packets are colorfully displayed.

Allowing kids to choose what they grow will make them much more interested in eating the vegetables or fruits the plant produces. While not as exciting as getting a new puppy, kids appreciate the time it takes to nurture the plants, water the plants and protect them from high winds or an unexpected frost.

There are no pizza seeds but there are seeds that will grow the numerous toppings that can turn a junk food into a nutritious and delicious meal. Just the same there are no chicken nugget seeds but there are plenty of seeds that would make a complimentary side dish to a roasted chicken you bought from one of many fantastic family farms in our region.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It is never too early to plan a new garden....

With a new year come plans for a new garden. The chance to begin again is reassuring because as we resolve to be healthier, happier or both we can also seek to avoid the mistakes made in last year’s garden that resulted in too few tomatoes, too many weeds and not enough time to fix either one of them.

The seed catalogs are trickling in earlier than ever before. Glorious examples of impossibly perfect plants set me up for failure before the ground is even broken. I have been gardening for way too many years to believe perfect tomatoes don’t have cracks and are certainly not susceptible to disease or blight.

For me perfect tomatoes are the ones I grow myself. I can cut the ugly parts off before they reach the salad or the salsa.

While the seed and garden catalogs might be unrealistic there are ways to improve the garden before the garden is planted. Taking the time to figure out why plants performed poorly will allow a mediocre garden to be one that produces bumper crops and hours of therapeutic enjoyment for the gardener.

Solutions might be as simple as correcting soil pH or watering more often at the correct time of day. The novice gardener might make the mistake of thinking if a little is good a lot must be great. Wrong. Too much of anything whether it is fertilizer, pesticide or even water can cause a host of problems that might not show up until it is too late for a second chance.

Remember why you garden and if you’ve never gardened before consider the purpose of taking on such an endeavor that could make you the happiest person on the planet or dip you into a world of madness. Effective communication begins with listening. Listen to your garden. Listen to what it is telling you.

January is a great time to plan and dream and a great time to resolve to be realistic about the garden and what you hope to get from it. If you are a busy person and rarely home except to eat and sleep a big garden might not be the best idea.

Big gardens take time and energy, lots of energy. Big gardens also take money. Unless you have resources, tools and time you will need a way to finance the garden that was supposed to bring healthy food to the table at a cost lower than that from a supermarket or farmers’ market.

A small garden that is well tended will be more productive, look better and benefit you and your family a lot more than the south forty gone wild.

Plant what you love and in amounts that can be eaten or preserved for later use. This is a concept I cannot stress enough. The seed catalogs will seduce you with eggplants in a variety of sizes and colors that have never before been seen in nature. If you do not like eggplant do not plant eggplant.

If you love peppers plant peppers but unless you have a cannery, a family of 16 or a full time staff there is no reason to plant 72 pepper plants. Monoculture can and does take place in agriculture as well as in some backyard gardens. The problem with planting too much of one thing is that one pest or disease can wipe out your entire garden.

Another problem with planting too much of one thing is the alienation you will experience from friends, neighbors and coworkers who don’t want any more of your vegetables!

2013 shall prove to be a good year. My daughter turns 10, my house turns 146 and once again I am after the perfect tomato from my backyard garden.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Turning 10

I don't know if it is true for boys but for girls the right of passage as one enters the realm of double digits is important. Turning 10 is not as important as say turning 16 or 18 or 21. It might not be AS important but to a girl who has had nine birthdays the tenth birthday is one to remember.

I can remember my own. It was a warm November day, one that would be called Indian Summer by TV weather reporters or readers of the Farmers Almanac or Yankee.

I wore a long-sleeved striped v-neck sweater on a day that was filled with the smell of autumn brought on by wind gusts that travelled across a former corn field that was now home to a real estate development that displaced numerous four-legged creatures while creating a forbidden playground for me and my brothers.

I stood beneath the maple trees in the front yard of our rented house glowing in my 10 year old skin as I posed with my new 10 speed bicycle while my dad snapped a picture with the Polaroid camera.

Immortalized forever. 10!

It was a glorious red bicycle that would carry me to the pool and the houses of friends. It was 1979.

Everything about the bike was perfect.  It was red and it had the curled handle bars and gears that would make climbing the hill to the pool easier and coming down the same hill faster and more exciting than the purple banana seat bike I once thought was so cool.

I was tall for 10 and it wouldn't be long before I was trailing nervously behind my mom as she bought me my first bra at Montgomery Ward or Penney's at Miracle Lane Shopping Center.

Good Lord.

Now my own daughter is turning 10. 

Francesca was born just before 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a cold January day. A dusting of snow blew about on the dry parking lot I could see from my window at the hospital and reminded me of powdered sugar.

On January 9 Francesca will turn 10.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Year Off

I didn't intend to stop writing SIFT but I did. I think it is time to get back to it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Refrigerator Pickles

Many of you asked for my refrigerator pickle recipe. Despite my pension for being a fly-off-the handle, vicious liberal with extremist tendencies...I still like to share.
This is a super-easy, basic recipe that can be adapted in many ways.
Get creative and add whatever you like to flavor your cukes.

1 1/2 c water

1 1/2 c cider vinegar (no need to get fancy...the cheapest vinegar will give you the best flavor)

1 Tbsp Kosher salt ( I like Morton's, that other stuff just doesn't cut it)

3 sprigs fresh dill still hot from the garden sun

6 gloves garlic, crushed but left whole (squoosh them with the side of a chef's knife...make sure you know the chef)

1 Tbsp peppercorns

1 small onion, sliced thinly

cukes..little ones left whole or big ones cut into spears

1 cool, vintage Mason jar or something along those lines


Stuff everything into the jar except the water and vinegar. It doesn't matter if you layer it or just manage to get it all into the jar. The pickles will look prettier if you use some form of rhyme or reason when placing all the ingredients into the jar.

Place water and vinegar in a small sauce pan. Heat until just before boiling. There is no reason to worry if the liquid actually reaches a boil. It won't make a lick of difference in the long run.

Pour the liquid into the stuffes jar. it should just fit.

Put the lid on the jar and leave it on the counter until it has cooled. Place in the fridge for 24 hours. Eat your pickles as needed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I finally took a day off and went to the garden. Today I planted radishes,Walla Walla and red onions and cabbage. The chives are abundant. Some garlic is coming up but it doesn't look so good. Oregano is spreading everywhere. The tarragon over-wintered and so did some English lavender.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mud Season...

The spring thaw seems to be coming and going and coming back and then going. Needless to say…we’ve got some mud out there. With mud season upon us it is easy to jump the gun and want to get the garden ready for planting cool weather crops. There are several that can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.

I suggest waiting. The ground can certainly be worked. All I have to do is stand in my rubber boots and I begin to sink in. It is still too wet to do much in the garden. Tilling or turning of the soil too soon will result in poor conditions later. Wet soil will compact easily and plants will have a difficult time getting established when planted after the fear of frost has passed.

Brussels sprouts, onions, rutabagas, carrots, spinach, turnips, cabbage, peas and broccoli can all be planted two to six weeks before our region’s frost date but until some of this mud dries up you don’t want to get ahead of yourself.

Soil can only take in and hold certain amounts of water. Recent snowmelt and heavy rains have saturated my garden, yard, driveway and pretty much every surface I need to walk on. Even the deck and porches have a nice covering of mud thanks to the four legged creatures I so graciously allow to live indoors with us humans.

I don’t pay much mind to the groundhogs in captivity. They are just an excuse for men to don a top hat and get on television. I know spring is just around the corner as the musty, putrid scent of skunk is apparent every morning. Skunks don’t actually hibernate in winter but they do get very lazy. Once they emerge from their dens you know spring is near as they begin their breeding season.

So March brings us mud and skunks? Sounds like a winning month. It’s not as bad as it seems. There is much to be done to prepare the garden and armchair gardening is just a small part of it.

Indoors you can repot houseplants that will eventually make their way outside in two months. You can also start feeding houseplants at this time. If you overwintered any herbs indoors you can repot them unless, of course, you plan on putting them in the garden. Don’t despair if they look really lousy. I have a 13-year-old lavender topiary that comes in every winter, mutters insults under its softly scented breath all winter and then thrives the moment I put it back in the garden in May.

If you mulched the garden, now is a good time to start peeling that off. Pull any weeds you see now before they go to seed. Trust me, you’ll see some. Don’t walk in the garden while it is wet if you can help it. Tools have long handles for a reason. You don’t want to compact the soil.

Cut back ornamental grasses left from last year. They have proved to be great hiding places for wildlife all winter but it’s time to give them a haircut. Compost the cuttings or scatter them about the yard if you want to provide material for the numerous birds beginning their nest building season.

Finish pruning trees. Bring some inside for forcing. Pussy Willow, Crab Apple and Forsythia will bloom in short order when placed in a large vase of water. What better way to get in the spring mood.

Invest in a good boot scraper. Trust me, mud season doesn’t pass quickly.