Thursday, December 31, 2009

REmarkable REsponses REgarding REsolutions REgister

Just saw a sign on a church: RE-connect, RE-focus, RE-new---PK (REsponding to my own post)

Just ran across these 10 ideas of how to RE-use plastic bottles --- PK (REsponding to my own post)

Thanks for this excellent piece. You've done a lot of the legwork for someone who wants to do the right thing regarding the environment (and society). Oh, and REgarding the RE's, I'll second the RElax. Since I've been laid off, my back pain has virtually disappeared. Stress really does go straight to your spine. Also one might think about REinvesting  in local businesses, farms, banks, services. Arianna Huffington had a post about moving your money from a big financial institution (Citibank) to a community bank or credit union. Keeping the money local helps. Also, REad. Does that count? I got a kindle last year and have never read more.--- Eric

I found your post to be motivating (and inspriational) -- we’ve tried many of the things in your list in the past but tend to drift away from them.  Now is the time to make them permanent habits.--- Andy

Yes, yes and yes! Thanks Peter!
On the subject of food; I just received my pea-patch lot, and want to find the best guide on growing vegetables. Do you have any favorites? ---Vicki
( Yes, Vicki: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is the best by far. You can buy it from the Urbal Tea Store.)

I find myself thinking about your resolutions often.  Indeed, I've started my own "compost stock" bag in the freezer, and am actively looking for ways to reuse plastic containers.  Now if I could only figure out something to do with those NYT delivery bags...---Tom

In her comment below, Nancy G said...
How about RElax? Have a look at another blog and this posting in particular. Ruth Stout's book is worth looking for.

Bravo! Peter---Ching

how bout REinvent?
of course, I also have to REedit.  40+ times.
and then there is REthink.
and REmarry.
(35, this coming year)
REfinance also.
REact or not.

and a happy New Year that is hopefully not REally REcycled except the good way.
Amen----Stephanie Palewski

I'm a bit stuck on Re-al which would be good if I had a buddy named Al. I'll keep thinking.---PEE

How about REinvigorate the environment. All it takes is REthinking our daily consumerism and REeducating ourselves and our communities about REspect for the environment. Collectively, we can undo some of the environment damage and turn this thing around. Love to all, keep up the urban farming.---Lana and Artis Yopp

A few notable omissions:
How about RE-volt!
                    RE-distribute (the ill-gotten wealth of America's banks, investment institutions, etc.)
                    RE-frain from participating
                                  ----Will Brumbach

REally agree with everything you've said.  And I've been REinspired to do more and better!!!--- R. Bahr

Pete, as I was REading this message, David was sorting and carting all our recycling so we could go together to the Enfield transfer station, which unlike Thetford's 3 hours on Saturday morning set-up (with some hefty fees) is open four days and two NIGHTS a week.  New Hampshire may not be all bad, I'm thinking.  So on the way to recycle before supper I tell him about your REsolutions and he tells me -- God's honest truth, now --that while setting aside my father's blue plastic gin bottles, which cannot be recycled here, he was thinking about whether he could make them into some kind of wall or table, sort of cobalt stained glass effect, and was actually fitting them together to see how they'd go....  I guess REtired Kelman men think alike and a good thing it is for Planet Earth. ---M. Rich

Nice suggestions, Pete. Working on some of them. Those blue bags are my un-favorite.
  • REusing paper is really important too!  
  • Weight REducing is so so painful tho.. food is so good, bad-for-us food is at least as good as any good-for-us food is, but we will do it!
  • and REmember: use your coffee grounds to clean your cast iron pans, any other pans that are grotty, and it deodorizes your sink as well. --- E. Cohen

Here are two I personally have started to do that I would like to add to your comprehensive list:
  • REfrain from eating meat products, especially beef.  Cows are a huge contributor to carbon in our atmosphere. 
  •  REduce purchases of books/magazines when we can borrow the same titles from the library.  We need the trees to provide us with our supply of oxygen. --- D. Radtke

RE-RE-RE-RE: The Decade to Come (Part 3)

  • to this list again and again to add other ways in which I can REawaken my sense of REsponsibility for the world in which I live.
  • my friends, relatives, and social media contacts likewise, to REturn again and again to this and/or their own list of REsolutions to REstore and REmake our world; see ya on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Linked-in, and on this blog, as well as on whatever other new social media will emerge over this next REmarkable decade
Please add your own ideas to the above and/or to the RE list below, as well as adding any RE words you’d like to this list.















































RE-RE-RE-RE: The Decade to Come (Part 2)

  • Plastic containers that are not accepted anywhere in NYC for recycling (e.g., most take-out containers) by using them to sort and store: small REcovered hardware supplies such as nails, screws, tacks, nuts, bolts, mollies, etc. as well as miscellaneous REcovered desk supplies such as rubber bands, paper clips, pencils, etc. as seed-starting containers. I also plan to REuse some of them for indoor seed starting.
  • older appliances with energy efficient ones; we’ve been doing this but have a few more to go in our tenant apartments.
  •  older windows and exterior doors with new energy-saving windows and doors; we’ve been doing this, but have a few more to go in our tenant apartments and one in our own; there’s even a tax credit for this now!

Stay tuned for more REsolutions and some REmarkable Responses Received already!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RE-RE-RE-RE: The Decade to Come (Part 1)

(After Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT”)

Probably enough has already been said in the media about the decade of EXcess now coming to a close. Instead of EXcoriating that EXecrable and EXcruciating period, my REsolution for the new decade is to REdedicate myself to RE-claiming the political, cultural, and personal high ground in an effort to REconceive our world and REshape our lives for our children and their children.

Please join me in REjecting the decade of EX and REplacing it with the decade of RE by adding your own REsolutions to the growing list below.

I REsolve that in the next decade I’m going to RE-RE-RE-RE-RE-RE

  • our consumption of plastic, especially bottles, bags, pre-packaged goods. 
  • my weight, so after the holidays, it’s back to the South Beach Diet for awhile.
REfrain from:
  • buying goods that have likely been shipped long distances by air or truck such as fruits and vegetables from Latin America, Florida, and California; shipments by ship are OK (e.g., olive oil from Italy) 
  • accepting plastic bags from merchants; we need to be more vigilant about always having RE-usable sacks .  
  • eating empty calories, especially those containing corn and refined sugar.
  • every plastic container that comes into our house, such as cottage cheese and yogurt containers, which we already use to freeze Therese’s excellent compost stocks and which we use at the homeless shelter (where we are overnight volunteers) to pack up left-overs for the guests lunch the next day.
  • those damned blue New York Times home-delivery bags; currently, we use them to collect and transport unusable vegetable waste to our backyard compost bins before throwing them away in garbage, but in future we will try to RE-direct them to our friends/relatives who have dogs to use as pooper-scoopers. Although both these uses mean the bags ultimately go to a landfill, supposedly they are bio-degradable (a few months outdoors, 3 years in a landfill.
  • our plastic freezer storage bags, which we currently RE-use in the freezer until they are no longer airtight at which point we RE-use them whenever we buy produce, including at: our local Greenmarket and the Park Slope Co-op.
  • all other transparent plastic bags, which we already use to bag recyclable paper and/or metal, plastic, and glass per the NYC Sept of Sanitation rules.
  • all opaque plastic bags that we’ve gotten from merchants who don’t provide paper bags when we’ve forgotten our reusable sacks; currently we use them as garbage bags (so we don’t have to buy plastic garbage bags) and to put out RE-turnable bottles for trash scavengers to take to REdemption centers. (Yes, I know trash scavenging is illegal, but here in NYC it’s a fact of life, and putting out the REturnables seems to dissuade these scavengers from going through one’s trash.
Stay tuned for more REsolutions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Moving On

Unlike Peter, who ponders his panties as a measure of time, I find that each year around this time is when I have my greatest reflections (and they has nothing to do with what's hanging on the line). This is the time when I come to terms with the fact that another year has passed. It isn't the start of the holiday season, but rather the end of my gardening season. This is when I'm forced to move through the rows, raised bed by raised bed, untying wires, collecting tomato cages, composting some plants, while disposing of others in the trash, picking up pots and stakes, lots of stakes, and discovering lost trowels. I dread this time of year. I hate cleaning up and shutting down. (I haven't mastered the art of winter gardening. Yet.) It makes me feel sad.


I am nearly a year older.

I rip up the tomatoes. I think about all the salsas I didn't make but all the sauce I did. Did I eat enough tomato sandwiches? Farewell peppers. You were too good to us. Broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, peas, and beans, you gave it a good fall attempt but the caterpillars and visiting human guests did you in. See you in spring strawberries and asparagus.

But wait. Hellooo, garlic. I see you. Your bright green shoots have turned my mood around. Sure, it's the end of one season, but the new season is already starting. Time to start planning.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Houston, We Have Lift Off

A couple years ago my parents gave me a brown paper bag filled with some funky-looking tubers. "Plant these someplace where it doesn't matter if they take over," my mother said. "You'll never get rid of them." She left me holding the bag and walked into the house. I looked inside. Coolsunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes or Helianthus tuberosus. Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers, so a perennial bunch of sunchokes seemed like happiness in a bag. And if I could eat part of them, bonus! I planted. Years passed. I never harvested a single tuber.

Until this past Sunday.

After spending a little too long in the garden with Graham (planting around 425 million garlic cloves), I walked past the drooping sunchoke stalks and decided it was finally time to harvest (my timing had everything to do with the fact that I had a garden fork in hand). I unearthed over 10 pounds of golf-ball-sized tubers. Of course, now that I had them, I had no idea what to do with them. The last time I had eaten a sunchoke, I was a kid. My grandmother had sliced them into a salad and I remember liking them. I turned to my shelf of gardening books for help, because I also needed to know how to store such a bountiful harvest. Whoops. It turns out it wasn't necessary (or smart) to harvest them all at once. They don't stay firm for very long once they're dug up. Every single book mentioned this. After I stopped cursing, I turned to the Google for help. I started typing, and, by George, the Google held many answers.

I discovered that the bumpy little balls are chock-full of goodness. There was loads of information out there about how they are the perfect substitute for potatoes. Words such as inulin, prebotic, and vitamins kept popping up. After losing myself in several blogs that practically held these guys up as a food of the gods, I decided that sunchokes were going to save my family from the flu, improve our cholesterol counts, lower our blood glucose levels, make me thin, and straighten my hair after just a few carefully prepared meals. I would slice them into salads, roast, mash, and even whisk them into soups. My eyes were spinning and my fingers twitching. I was ready to tackle the tubers. Although I had to go about it quickly—before they spoiled—I also had to be careful: I didn't want to scare off the family. I would start slowly, get everyone hooked, and reel their taste buds in with delicious, nutritious dish after dish.

Sunday night. I scrubbed and thinly sliced two small sunchokes and placed them on a plate for everyone to try. Mmm, was the response from the family. Sort of like jicama but nuttier and crunchier. "Can I take some for lunch?" asked Katharine. This was good.

Feeling charged (no doubt a side-effect of the mighty chokes), I did the Google again looking for recipes. Move slowly, I reminded myself: The goal was to work up to a creamy, health-packed soup. As I searched around, I noticed the occasional mention of how a very small percentage of the population may experience a slight gastric reaction to sunchokes—those inulins, again. One guy even referred to them as fartichokes. I cast these concerns aside; my family was made of tough stuff.

Monday night. I decided we would have burgers (thank you, Ferdinand, our friends' bull), a salad made from the lettuce that had re-seeded itself all over our garden, and roasted sunchokes. Graham, the prince of roast potatoes, instructed me on the proper roasting technique. After scrubbing away all the soil, I tossed the chokes in a little olive oil and popped them in the oven. About 40 minutes later they were done.

They did look like roast potatoes, but they smelled different. Katharine gave them a side-long glance. Uh-oh. Graham poked them with a fork. It wasn't looking good. They were mushy. I took the first bite.

"Mmm, interesting. I think they need more salt."

o, that wasn't it. Maybe a little of Andrew's homemade ketchup. "Oh, that's the ticket," I shared with the family. "Mash them up like potatoes and add ketchup."

The kids looked at me strangely: "Mom is adding ketchup to roasted vegetables," I could hear them think, "they must be awful." OK, so they really weren't very good, but I ate them anyway because they are so good for you. Andrew had two servings. Graham quietly pushed the chokes to the side of his plate, while Katharine said she preferred them raw.

The kids went to bed. I noticed that Katharine was unbuttoning her jeans and rubbing her belly as she climbed the stairs. Not long after their departure, my stomach started rumbling. I, too, found myself unbuttoning my jeans. I changed into my elastic-waisted PJs in an effort to accommodate my now bloated belly. This is what Sigourney Weaver must have felt like in Alien, I thought. I was certain some gnarly headed sunchoke-like creature was going to pop its head out of my belly button. I felt awful. Andrew laughed. I checked the kids. Fast asleep. Maybe it was just me. Figures.

Tuesday morning. Let's just say today is payback for Andrew laughing at me last night. Sure, my stomach is still rumbling a little, but for Andrew, well... Houston, we have lift off!

Thank goodness I didn't feed any to the dog.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Pleasures of Urban Living

I'm fairly certain that if my husband had not gotten together with me when he did (his early fifties, after splitting up from a long marriage), he would have moved back to the Vermont or perhaps Connecticut country. Even though he was born in Manhattan, Peter is not, at heart, a city guy.

I, on the other hand, am a city girl. (My friend Maggie once gave me one of the greatest compliment of my life: she said that even though I'm not originally from New York, I was "a New Yorker waiting to happen.") I love the art and culture and diversity and the food! And I love being the only white person on my subway car. (I should say here, because I can hear his protest, that Peter loves these things too; but there's a city temperament that I possess and a country temperament that he has, and they are just not the same thing.)

We moved from the upper west side of Manhattan to Brooklyn in 2002. I wasn't sure I was going to like it. I loved where we lived, but the landlord would just do these crazy rent hikes on us, and I agreed that we should buy a house in Brooklyn, which seemed like a compromise between Manhattan and the country. People would ask me: Do you miss Manhattan? I did -- for about 40 seconds. And then I became a Brooklyn convert.

We have the diversity of an international city and the luxury of having a garden. What could be more perfect?

But, here's where Brooklyn (at least, my little corner of it, called Windsor Terrace) has failed me: no good neighborhood restaurants or bars. Oh, wait. Let me reclaim that statement a bit. We have a fabulous Dominican/Mexican restaurant on our corner, Elora's, that I hope will never ever ever go away. But that -- until lately -- has been it.

The other week, Peter and I were coming back from a long walk in Manhattan and I said, "My life would complete if we had a really good neighborhood bar." We came up from the subway and there on Prospect Park West Avenue (what we refer to as "Main Street") was a brand new bar: The Double Windsor. They sell fabulous and diverse beers on tap. And it's cozy and it's not some place where females or people of color would feel out of place (which describes the other bars in my neighborhood).

Then, just last week, Peter comes home with a menu for the newest restaurant in our neighborhood: a French bistro!!!!!! Have I died and gone to heaven?

Today we had a just about perfect urban Sunday: the Times and coffee and Don't Cry Over Sour Milk Apple Cake for breakfast (even thought they left out the magazine section when they delivered the paper, grrr!); a little bit of work for me on my magazine and Peter in the garden; then a long six-mile walk from our house through several Brooklyn neighborhoods (where we stumbled upon a craft fair and I bought some beautiful earrings), across the Brooklyn Bridge, to Washington Square Park (where we attended a Meditate New York event at Judson Church); then on the subway back to our neighborhood, where we had a beer at the Double Windsor and ate at the new French bistro (Le P'tit Paris). Mussels and a hangar steak and a lovely conversation with our sweet waiter who is newly imported from Sacramento CA (one our favorite cities in California; he was so delighted we knew it).

I love this city. I love my life.

The Zen of Hanging Out the Laundry

It's been 50 years since I first read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," as a callow youth in my high school A.P. English class, but much of it resonates with me today, as I lead my retirement life, far more than it did then. One line, in particular, came back to me this morning, as I noticed my thoughts while hanging out the week's laundry in our backyard:
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."

Hanging out the laundry has become almost a meditation for me. As I carry out this nearly mindless activity, my mind wanders and I follow that wandering with interest, noticing where it takes me. Today, I noticed that, as I often do after I've hung all the laundry, I was counting how many of my T-shirts and underpants I'd hung out, in this case, it was seven of each. Usually when I do this, I remark (to myself) on how many days it's been since we last did our laundry, but this morning, I found myself instead thinking that a week of my life had passed since I'd last hung out the laundry. From there my mind went to the line from J. Alfred Prufrock and I thought: am I measuring out my life with laundry loads?

Perhaps. For years, I've experienced a similar feeling of time passing every Fall and Spring when switching out storm windows and screens: "Another spring is here and a winter gone; didn't I just do this? Has it really been six months?"

Ironically, I've never really experienced the passage of time on those official occasions when we note them: birthdays and anniversaries. No, it's these periodic details of everyday life that seem to remind me that my life is passing.

On a more practical note: weather permitting, we actually hang out our laundry throughout the year, even on dry, sunny winter days. As the laundry hamper begins to fill, we check out the next few days' forecast and if it looks like we're going to have a mostly sunny day with a low likelihood of precipitation, we plan to do a laundry on that day. TIP: We actually hang our socks on an indoor drying rack, which is less time-consuming than pinning each sock on a clothes line. This has the added benefit of making it easier to match pairs and spot that a sock has "gone missing" and search for it right then and there.

We take great satisfaction in using solar and wind energy to dry our laundry instead of using our gas-dryer. (See The Clothesline Revolution.) And, I appreciate the opportunity to meditate, noticing where my mind takes me at these peaceful and otherwise mindless times.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How We Compost

I used to be just like Therese and Peter, never wasting a bit of food. That is until we started keeping laying hens. Now, we toss them the potato and carrot peels, sandwich crusts not eaten by our children's friends, eggshells, and even coffee grounds. In the old days, I would have felt guilty for not turning that last slice of bread into breadcrumbs. Now I just think about how that slice will turn into an egg.

Before: Scraps from cooking and meals.
Giving our chickens coffee grounds with the hopes of creating the first Egg McZoomZoom.

After: It took our girls 10 minutes to peck the ground clean.
We use this "composted" soil in our garden.

Nothing is wasted.

Give Her a Foot

It has been documented that (while traveling) our children are adventurous eaters. Give Katharine a plastic baggie filled with fried pig bits and hominy and she'll be silent for 20 minutes. Fluorescent-colored foam in a cone? Graham is there. Their eating of the unusual extends to animals and insects that the rest of us might cuddle with or step on. Their been there, ate that list includes such creatures as, guinea pigs, ants, and termites, as well as whole lambs, cow innards, and various pig parts. When we returned home from our travels in South and Central America I had to set some boundaries, so to speak, that included no eating of residential ants and termites (who knows what poisons they're filled with) and the refusal to start raising guinea pigs for home consumption. Needless to say, I was a little taken aback during dinner the other night when Katharine put down her fork and said, "That's it. I'm not eating anymore. There is a caterpillar in my broccoli." Drat. I thought I had found them all.

In between bites, Graham says, "You know, I ate a worm once. It really isn't such a big deal"; and then resumed eating his dinner. Huh? OK, now I remember us eating all that other stuff, but for the life of me I couldn't remember ever eating a worm.

"Really? A worm? Where?" I asked.

"Oh, when Jack and I went fishing at the pond. We had one left over, it was little and pretty clean so I ate it. I think Katharine should eat that caterpillar. It's from our garden and it's cooked."

"No, I don't feel like it."

"I think you're chicken."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not! I just don't feel like eating a caterpillar now. Leave me alone!" And so went our quiet dinner.

Since returning home we've noticed that Katharine has turned into a picky eater, refusing to even try some foods based on nothing we can figure out. And I'm not talking about anything weird either. Roasted or mashed butternut squash receives a big 'no way, no thank you' yet she loves sweet potatoes. Green peppers cooked with tomatoes (both her absolute favorites as individual items) gets a fork poke and a squint-eyed once over. We're not sure if this is a phase she's going through or not. Although we don't pressure her, we can't help but ask how she could lick up lemon ants and devour guinea pig ears yet refuse to eat cooked zucchini.

Was it travel and our pronouncement before we left that everyone had to try the different foods we would encounter—no wrinkled noses or "eeww" noises—that caused her to taste and eat everything? Was it her shear competitive nature and desire to beat her brother in everything? Maybe this return to picky eating is her way of taking back control? Maybe I shouldn't be so hung up about this. Maybe this is a control thing and I'm the one with the problem? If that's the case, tough cookies. I will continue being in control and cooking the foods she refuses (we harvested over 100 pounds of squash this year, what choice do I have?) and will continue giving her a few bites of each (minus the caterpillars, of course). I'm sure one day her taste buds will turn.

Which brings me back to dinner last night. Katharine came into the kitchen to help cook. I let her poke around the broccoli looking for caterpillars while I prepared the chicken that Andrew and Graham had butchered earlier. Katharine stopped searching the broccoli for a moment and looked around the kitchen, "Hey, where are all the feet? There should be 12, right? Is Dad grilling them?" she peeked outside to check. "Oh good, I'm so in the mood for some grilled chicken feet." Okay, I surrender.

For more on our family and food, visit our South American travel blog.

Don’t Cry Over Sour Milk Apple Cake

I’m totally phobic about soured milk. I must have repressed memories of my mother forcing it on me as a child (“It tastes fine!”) because I practically convulse if I even think the milk suggests that it might in the next few days start to turn perhaps just a bit so that it may need to be replaced three days hence. Given the psychic/political/emotional/spiritual trauma I go through trying not throw out anything that remotely qualifies as food (see Saved From the Scrapheap), I have looked for ways to use the sour milk, rather than toss.

This recipe combines one I found googling “sour milk recipes” (here’s a link to the original recipe) with one from An Apple Harvest, a book my friend Barb gave me a few years ago, which has some nice recipes in it. One other reason I like this recipe is that it calls for vegetable oil vs. butter—which means you can make it on the spur of the moment. I can't tell you how many baking impulses have been thwarted by the fact that my butter is frozen solid (which maybe is not such a bad thing). This cake—sans nuts—is a baby-pleaser (if Paloma, my granddaughter, is any gauge).

Don't Cry Over Sour Milk Apple Cake 
1 cup + 1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice or pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil
1 cup sour milk*
1/2-1 cup chopped walnuts or other kind of nut (depending on how nutty you like your cake; can be omitted altogether)
1 apple**, any variety, peeled, quartered, cored, and then thinly sliced  
*Note 1: If you don’t have a full cup of sour milk, put whatever amount you have in a measuring cup and then drop in spoonfuls of plain yogurt until the liquid reaches the one-cup measure 
  **Note 2: You can use pears, peaches, plums, blueberries. Honestly, just about any fruit would work.  
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9x9 inch baking pan (or just spray it with a vegetable oil spray, which is what I do).  
2. Sift together: 1 c. sugar; all the flour, soda and salt; 3/4 tsp of cinnamon; and the all spice or nutmeg into a large bowl.  
3. Stir the sour milk into the flour mixture by hand, then mix in the vegetable oil until all the liquids are thoroughly integrated. The batter will be thicker if yogurt is part of the sour milk mixture. 
4. Fold in the nuts, if you are using.  
5. Scrape into the baking pan and smooth the top. Then layer on top the fruit slices in any pattern you wish. Mix the remaining 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. sugar together and then sift over the top (I use a tea strainer for this).  
6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. It will be done when the middle of the cake has some spring to it when you tap it, or if a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  
7. Serve warm, if you can, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saved From the Scrapheap (a Mild Obession)

I’ve said this before, but I grew up in a household where it was a sin—and I use that word with all the force of it behind it—to throw away food. That didn’t stop me (I was especially discreet at tossing the shoe-leather liver we were forced to eat once a month on the premise that it was good for our blood), but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel guilty about it. That guilt followed me into adulthood, where for the first twenty years of it, my way of dealing with food I no longer wanted to eat was to leave it to rot and mold away in my refrigerator so that I would have no choice but to throw it away—no guilt! (Ha ha! says the psychotherapist.)

In my 40s I married Peter, whose childhood lessons about not wasting food (we were both raised by people who had lived through the depression and a world war) dovetailed neatly with his propensity to be obsessive-compulsive about almost everything he does, and I found myself living with not only the ghosts of my Catholic childhood but also the Felix Unger of leftovers. Peter goes after saving food with the urgency of a medic on a battlefield. (Earlier this week he got me, protesting at first, to rinse all the mold off some olives that had been left festering in the back of the fridge. I have to admit that they were fine once washed, but I would never have done this on my own.)

Then I started seriously cooking and paying serious attention to food as a political issue, and the non-productive guilt I felt about wasting food turned into a creative drive and a personal imperative to use food wisely and respectfully—not just in the buying and cooking of it, but in the aftermath of the buying and cooking of it. The fact that we have two compost bins means that we are virtually assured of putting almost all our food matter to use versus waste. But the barrels get amazingly full very fast. And truly, if I put into the compost a potentially edible morsel of food, it bothers me. Couldn’t I have done something with that?

It would be inaccurate to say that guilt isn’t lurking as an underlying emotion here. And I will never be as zealous as Peter, who will try to save the one teaspoon of flesh from a tomato that has nearly completely rotted on the vine. (Sam was down here last week and saw me, in a fit of spouse-infection, actually trying to do this myself; he arched an eyebrow and said, “Therese — compost it.” Whew! Thanks, Sam for rescuing me from that vortex.)

But I’ve come to understand my save-the-food mentality as a kind of moral and political stance that I have chosen for myself: never take food for granted. In a practical sense, what I have done is turn the whole issue of food-use into a kind of cooking game: What do you do with [fill in food scrap name here]? (You can sing this to the tune of What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?)

So, from time to time, I’m going to use this blog to share some of the ways that I reuse food that might otherwise be headed for the compost. (I’m hoping Louise and Andrew will contribute their uses as well; and of course, readers of this blog are most encouraged to share their saved-from-the-scrapheap recipes.) I’ve already posted one recipe for what I call compost stock. Here’s one for the moldering food stuff that I hate the most: sour milk.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November Gardening in Brooklyn

Visits this past week from my son, Sam, who runs Poor Farm Farm in Vermont and our friends Otto and Olive, who live in Minneapolis, reminded me how relatively temperate our climate is here in New York City. Our visitors all gaped with wonder at ripening Roma, Beefsteak and cherry tomatoes still on the vines in our garden, not to mention the last of some of our other summer/early fall crops: peppers, eggplants and lima beans (which are still filling out).
Meanwhile, I’ve been monitoring the slow progress of my experimental plantings for late fall: several varieties of shell beans (for soups), Swiss chard, kale, carrots, turnips, cilantro, lettuce, mesclun mix, and a second planting of shell and snap peas. I’ve never before planted this late (mid-September and early October), so I don’t know if the combination of shorter and shortening daylight hours and overcast days will permit enough sunlight for these plants to mature before we get killing frosts (probably in early December).
Inspired by Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, I’ve also begun my experimental plantings for early winter: some winter-hardy kales, collards, arugula, lettuce, and other greens. Some of these are already planted in regular garden rows, which I plan to cover with Reemay “garden blanket” when hard frosts begin. I’ve also planted some of these in the boxes in the wind-protected alley, where I’ll experiment covering with Reemay and/or Plexiglass.

Re-reading Coleman, I am struck again by the realization that so much of vegetable gardening is experimenting to see what works in one’s particular garden with its unique soil conditions and microclimate. I suspect that results also depend a great deal on annual variations in weather, plant diseases and pests, and even seed germination.
Stay tuned for the results of my experiments.

Getting Here From There

So our friends (the ones with the now dead chickens) were traveling in California for 10 days in October. The first four days they spent in and around the Mohave Desert driving motorbikes and camping. I received a crackBerry message from one of them that sounded like she was close to having a come to Geezus moment but the lack of private showers (she was the only woman) kept her on this side of sanity. From the desert, they flew north to San Francisco, where they rented motorbikes and tootled around northern Cal. I was jealous. Not of the motorbike part, but of the traveling in and around San Francisco part. Their trip got me thinking about how we arrived here—thousands of miles from the city I love the most—on this little farm, on a tiny spit of land between two waters.

It was a joint choice to leave SF, but mostly mine to head east. We were renting a house in the fog belt and were totally ready to buy, only there was one tiny problem: We didn't have enough cash to get us a place in the neighborhoods we liked. We're talking Riviera tastes on a Six Flags budget.

I had given birth to Katharine months earlier and was not in the best frame of mind. While Andrew trotted off to work on the other side of town basking in sunlight, the kids and I spent the summer in dreary fog, bundled up in turtlenecks and fleece. So one September morning, when I woke to see the sun shining brightly, I bounded out of bed and told Andrew I was going for a quick walk to the bakery and would bring back a fresh baguette. It was a glorious morning. Brilliantly clear, crisp and unusually quiet. I returned home by 6:30 am to the sweet sounds of Andrew and Graham chatting in the kitchen and the phone ringing. I was so high from my walk that the early morning call didn't phase me. I picked up and found my sister on the line. "Turn on the TV," she said, "a plane flew into the World Trade Center. The buildings collapsed." What? The sun was shining. It was a perfect morning. This didn't make sense.

As the week progressed and we learned that our cousin, who we were heading east to see in three days, never made it out of the building, I suddenly started feeling very far from home. I wanted to be back east where our families were. It was a decision totally based on emotion. A month later Andrew made another decision: He was quitting his job and would join me working from home. Scary thought, but the extreme politics and greed in his dot com office had finally gotten to him. Plus, he really wanted to spend more time with the kids. After some careful thought, we decided we could make the necessary sacrifices, learn to live with less, and be our own bosses.

But where would we live? I had proven that one could work from home successfully as long as there was an Internet connection. For several years I had worked with a company based in New York while I was surrounded by San Francisco fog. Moving back to New York City didn't interest either of us—we wanted our kids to grow up with some space. Neither did moving to Cape Cod where Andrew's parents were (winters and tourist season would be hell) or upstate New York where my parents were (winter, again). So Andrew starting googling and found a house that seemed to fit all our basic desires on Virginia's Eastern Shore. It didn't seem to matter that neither of us (in spite of living a year in DC) had ever heard of the Eastern Shore. The house called to us. So we checked it out. We spoke to the previous owners. We poked around the area. Next thing we know we were moving to the country. So here we are, seven years later. Our kids have space. They are learning about where their food comes at this very moment. And now I suppose I'll come clean. I'm writing this as a way to remove myself from what's going on outside. That would be the Frankenbirds meeting the machete. I'm clearly not as brave or right-minded as Therese (see Killing Chickens At Home: Would You Do It? (PHOTOS). I couldn't end a bird's life, but I will cook her later. I'm just happy that the kids are out there helping. That should count for something. Right?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

At Last: Pumpkin Seeds Worth Eating

I had given up on saving and toasting pumpkin seeds. The hard, tasteless things never did it for me. Until now. I feel like I've stumbled on a secret long after everyone else. All those seeds from our pumpkins past tossed out while people around the country were munching away. No more. The secret? Boil first before toasting. We tested our toasted seeds by tossing them with different spices: Curry powder, cumin, or powdered habanero.

Recipe discovered on

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


  • One medium sized pumpkin
  • Salt
  • Olive oil


1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut open the pumpkin and use a strong metal spoon to scoop out the insides. Separate the seeds from the stringy core. Rinse the seeds.
2 In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, about 2 cups of water to every half cup of seeds. Add a half tablespoon of salt for every cup of water (more if you like your seeds saltier). Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.
3 Spread about a tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a roasting pan. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan, all in one layer. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 10-20 minutes. When browned to your satisfaction, remove from the oven and let the pan cool on a rack. Let the seeds cool all the way down before eating. Either crack to remove the inner seed (a lot of work and in my opinion, unnecessary) or eat whole.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Favorite Cookbooks

I basically have put a moratorium on new cookbooks. I just don't need anymore. I'll make an occasional exception (my stepdaughters have each given me EXCELLENT cookbooks I didn't ask for: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables) but mostly I just stick to what I have and they all have plenty to teach me.

My two most instructive books are Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (that includes meat) and Julia Child's The Way to Cook (which, rather than Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is my Julia bible). If I'm encountering a new cut of meat or some other new element in my cooking, I always consult both of them ("What would Mark and Julia do?") to understand the principles of the challenge in front of me.

But the cookbook that I turn to over and over again that has never failed me -- especially for dinner parties -- is Patricia Wells' Bistro Cookbook. (By the way, all of these books are available in the Urbal Tea Store.)

I was reminded of how much I love this book last night when I made her tarte tartin aux poires (a tart tartin with pears instead of apples) for my stepdaughter and her 16-month old who came to dinner last night. It was an amazing tart, I must say, and even though Paloma was very busy bouncing balls and running back and forth, she still had the wherewithal to return to her mother for "more" bites of tart.

Wells gives you really great guidance (for instance, on how to get the pears nice and brown and carmelized without burning them) and she makes things easier rather than harder (for instance, she has you pour the pears into a casserole for baking in the oven with the crust, rather than in the cast iron pan, which is so heavy to flip over when the time comes).

I have never done a recipe in that book that didn't work, which I think is highest praise for a cookbook: her leg of lamb roasted over a gratin of vegetables (I've modified the recipe so that it's root vegetables) is the surest dinner party winner I've made; her golden cream and apple tart is the best apple pie I've ever had; the pissaldiere comes out perfect each time; and her recipe for Madame Cartet's potato gratin is as good as you'll get if you go to the bistro of the same name in Paris (which I did and, while being in Paris definitely improved the dish, Wells' recipe is astonishingly true to the original).

My dearest friend from high school, Barb, who is the best entertainer I know, swears by Wells' creme brulée, which I haven't made (yet). Barb, in many ways, was my first inspiration for wanting to cook. I recall being at a party she was giving, and she looked at people devouring the offerings on her buffet table and said to me, "God, I get such pleasure out of watching people eat my food." I caught the cooking bug, I think, at that moment. And when I make something from Bistro Cooking, I know exactly what Barb meant.

P.S. I think the other best cookbook I own came from Barb, years ago: Marian Morash's The Victory Garden Cookbook. It is my bible on vegetables: how to freeze or otherwise preserve them; understanding yields; basic treatments for them (for instance, how many minutes to steam a green bean vs. a lima bean). If you have an urban or suburban vegetable garden, this book is indispensable.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are You a Shouter?

I forwarded this article (For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking) to Andrew, who deleted the email after reading the headline. "Hey! What gives?" I, ah, said sort of loudly.

His reply, "I'm a shouter. I've come to terms with it. I'm probably not going to stop." And then he looked down his nose at me, over his half glasses, and said in an accusing tone, "The sooner you come to terms with it and accept that you're a shouter too, the more relaxed you'll be." Grrr. I hate it when he's right.

I am a shouter. But now I wonder after reading this article, if shouting is so bad, what should I be doing? I have tried a low growl, it works, but sometimes, this bear can't take it and must let loose with a full yowl. Do the kids respond to our shouting? Umm, they used to. Our 10-year-old seems to be going through a trying phase or else he's ready for juvie. Although, unlike some of their friends, both our kids tend to be pretty good around outsiders. In fact, we love having weekend guests just so we can enjoy our children.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meat the Frankenbirds

This summer I finally read The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Ethics of What We Eat. I was temporarily put off my feed. Yes, I know I read these books long after everyone else. I kept shelving them because, I guess, I knew how they would end — the girl is put off the corn chips and is totally denied the cow. There could be no happy ending unless a state of pure vegetarianism was achieved. Talk about off-putting.

Seriously, I get it. The way our food is produced is atrocious and I understand that most Americans don't have a clue. It's sad. When our children's friends come over and they look at a fresh egg as if it were poison I begin to wonder about where they are coming from. Anyway, both Andrew and I read these books and then spent a weekend on a farm that is part of an international agritourism business (we were invited—read free—guests of the company owner). This particular farm was located in upstate NY. It's a cool place and we were totally into what the couple were doing—farming and raising kids sustainably. It was a lovely organic picture that I am most certain did not include Tyson chicken fingers in the freezer or Ho-Hos in the cupboard. Don't get me wrong, our kitchen contains neither as well. Hey, do Snickers count?

Anyway, aside from their grass-fed, free-range cattle, sheep, and pigs, they also had an assortment of fowl. After reading the two books mentioned earlier, raising our own meat birds was high on our list. So we (Andrew) asked about the butchering of the chickens and was then taken step-by-step through the process. Fascinating. Yeah. I'm a total hypocrite when it gets right down to it. I will raise the animals, cook them, and talk up a storm about the importance of eating locally and if possible, organically, but really have no desire to ever butcher an animal. This is up to Andrew, who proclaimed seven years ago that if he couldn't kill it, he didn't deserve to eat it. This is why I love the man.

When we got back to our own small farm I started to investigate meat birds and called my favorite chicken place: Murray McMurray Hatchery. Turns out I was looking for the Jumbo Cornish X Rocks. So I placed an order for 10 (combining it with some Rhode Island Reds to help boost the kids' egg business). Before hanging up, I asked the operator if there was anything special I needed to know about the Jumbos. Her instructions were straightforward: separate them from the other chicks after two weeks because they are mean. Start them on a finishing feed, and then, very nonchalantly, she slips in that I should place their water at one end of the pen and their food at the other, so, you know, they would be forced to get up and move. She wrapped it up with: They'll be ready to butcher in about eight or nine weeks. WTF?

Over the last six years we've raised a number of egg layers, none of whom would have been finger lickin' good at eight weeks. Even after a year our egg layers were not something you'd plan a meal around. It suddenly dawned on me: I had ordered Frankenbirds! My summer reading horror list mentioned these birds, and now here I was, buying them. What had I done? I wanted to call Murray back and cancel my order, but a little voice in me clucked, "Oh c'mon, don't be chicken. It's not like you're going to pump them up with hormones and antibiotics. Let 'em ride..."

The day the chicks arrived we compared them with the reds. Aside from their color, they looked just like any other day-old bird. The first sign we had that they were different was about four days into the project when they started feathering—it was as if they hit puberty at age 6. By a week, the Frankenbirds were remarkably bigger. By two weeks they were easily double the size of the reds. Six weeks later, they are plump and round making the reds look undernourished. We tried separating them with straw bales but they hopped over powered by their big legs. When it's cold, the reds nestle under the Frankenbirds' wings. It's kind of creepy but they all seem quite happy. It's nearly time for the reds to move outside and be with their sisters. When we do this I'll start the Frankenbirds on the finishing feed (a high-protein, all vegetarian pellet). Yes, I know I haven't followed Murray's instructions but they're looking good. Stay tuned, butchering day is in two weeks (Andrew bought a knife from the local bait shop): Will the Frankenbirds be tender to the bone or just another rubber chicken?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Urban Composting

We have a compost (actually two) in our Brooklyn backyard, which has been a wonderful thing not only for our vegetable garden, but also for my conscience, having been raised by a depression/World War II-era Catholic mother, who taught me that to waste anything was a sin. My environmental conscience is also gratified that I’m now contributing way less to the landfill on Staten Island.

In the winter, because of the cold temperatures, the compost doesn’t break down much and, therefore, tends to get full. A couple of winters ago I stumbled upon a wonderful way to cut down on how much I put in the compost and make fabulous stock for soups and stews. In fact, I now do this all year round, not just in the winter. It’s also a great stock-making method for city-dwellers without backyards: yields super-easy homemade stock and allows you to practice a kind of urban composting.

The basic idea is that when I am doing food prep, I save out all “good” veggies scraps (more on “good” scraps in a moment) in a gallon-size freezer bag, which I keep in the freezer until completely full. Then I throw the bag contents along with a handful of peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves in a stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. I bring the temperature down, add some salt, and simmer the hell out of it (partially covered or completely uncovered if it’s a huge pot) for a couple of hours. Strain and you should have about eight cups of very rich veggie broth.

“Good” veggie scraps include: peelings from carrots, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), turnips; onion tips and unused inner layers (but not too much of the papery skins), or onions that have gone soft and aren’t great to use but are not spoiled; old garlic that’s no longer fresh but not rotten; tops and bottoms of celery; tops of leeks (very good use for them); tops of fennel; old ginger; scallions that have gone a little slimy but are not decomposed; mushroom stems; asparagus stems; chard stems; end of herbs (thyme or sage stems, rosemary stalks, wilted basil, etc.) Anything else you can think except...

I don’t use anything from the cabbage family—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.—because they stink up the stock. Or things like lettuce and spinach, which just fall apart after that long a simmer. I do use the occasional tomato (e.g., wrinkled cherry tomatoes) but I’ve never used them in any great quantity, mostly because they get eaten long before they go south.

For you carnivores, you can also save bones in the freezer and then throw them in the stock as well—a chicken carcass or old ham bone really adds depth to the stock.

Needless to say this is NOT a delicate, well-balanced stock. I don’t even THINK about balancing it —that would defeat the whole point. (I can just see some chefs cringing if they were to read this, but I’m not a chef, I’m a home cook.) So I wouldn’t use it as a base for all soups, but for something like a hearty bean soup, it’s great. I even use it for a butternut squash bisque I make—the squash is such a dominant ingredient that the stock is really background.

Here’s the one inconvenience to compost stock: you really have to wash the vegetables whose peels you plan to use to remove residual pesticides if they’re non-organic, or to remove dirt if they’re organic. Not a huge bother, but a step that you may not ordinarily take.

That said, compost stock is incredibly easy and gratifying to make—the house/apartment smells fabulous during the hours it simmers down and there’s nothing like feeling you’ve sent one less load to the Staten Island land fill.

And here's the best part about compost stock—you don't have to buy expensive store-bought stocks anymore. I have enough stock in my freezer at this point to last me the better part of a year.

A freezer full of compost stock (in recycled cottage cheese and chinese take-out containers).

Peter emptying one of our real composts.

My Body Warmer

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's mid-October and the red stuff in the thermometer seems to have stalled at 42. That's not right. We live in what I'd call southern Virginia. Temperatures are usually in the 60s or 70s this time of year. This unusual cold snap, combined with four days of driving rain, has caught us totally off guard. October is usually spent cleaning up the garden, preparing the house and outbuildings for winter, and, with any luck, pulling in a second harvest of honey from our two hives. (I will get into our bees in a later post.) All of this has been put on hold, temporarily, I hope.

We live in a 113-year-old farm house. The place is hardly what you'd call air-tight and heating it is a costly nightmare. To save money we try to hold off as long as possible before turning on the furnace. We're a little chilly right now to say the least. I'm sitting here dressed in several layers, topped off by my fleece bathrobe with our puppy tucked inside (I kid you not, he's wrapped himself around my waist like a belt). I look like a hobo minus those fingerless gloves, which I'm beginning to think would be a good investment. Andrew just brought me some coffee, I took a sip and the steam fogged up my glasses. Last week it was 75.

That's right, 75. Andrew was finally able to start and finish the re-roofing of our chicken coop. He pounded the last nail in moments before the wind changed direction and the rain started. At least the girls are cozy. As for the garden, I have to assume the peas and broccoli are doing a little dance of happiness for the dip in temperature, but the peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini are all whinging. We had an amazing summer harvest and were able to "put up" plenty of vegetables for winter so I'm okay with hot-weather plants calling it quits, but still. There is plenty of clean up to be done. The garlic needs to be planted.

Meanwhile, on my neighbor's farm there is a little trouble. They are away for 10 days and have left our children in charge of their chickens. In their barn they have some month-old blackstar chicks which will be placed in their outdoor coop once they are fully feathered and have a little meat on their bones to keep them warm. Outside in their coop they have an assortment of older hens plus seven Rhode Island red pullets that we started for them two months ago. Before they left on their trip they added the fully feathered pullets to their coop. I would have done the same thing—this time of year the weather is sunny and plenty warm for young birds. Anyway, this surprise cold snap took its toll. The older hens handled it without a feather out of place. Unfortunately, the pullets all perished, wet and cold to the bone. Not sure when we'll tell our neighbors. Not the kind of news you want from home while on vacation.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Take a walk

We don't own a car. OK, we live in New York City, so it's not exactly the sacrifice of the century to not own a car, but you would be surprised at the number of people here who do own one (all that traffic doesn't just come from taxis and people from Westchester County).

I was born in Detroit and grew up in its environs. My father worked for the automobile industry for most of his adult life. So you would think I would have some umbilical connection to automobiles. But I don't. Except for one year of my life, when a co-worker gave me her old, falling-apart Suburu wagon (whose engine still ran like a top, but whose chassis made me think I was driving Fred Flintstone's car), I have never owned a car. When I first moved in with Peter, he had a car and we kept it for about a year and then decided that the hassle and expense of having a car in Manhattan (where we lived at the time) was not worth it.

We've never looked back. We rent a car if we need one (mostly to visit Peter's family who live among various states in New England). And we take the subway and buses. But mostly we WALK. We have a "rule" that if a destination can be reached within the hour (which means it's less than four miles away), we walk there. We walk everywhere and it has had the following ameliorative effects on our lives:
1) Statistically, we're going to live longer. We joke at the end of every walk: "That's another 60 seconds longer on our death beds!" Unless, of course, a car kills us, but we're fairly cautious street-crossers.
2) We've really gotten to know Brooklyn. We moved here about seven years ago and have managed to explore on foot neighborhoods that I know we would otherwise never have ventured into.
3) It's given us time and space to talk without the interruptions of daily life. No phones (we do carry our cells but no one calls us on them because they know we're so bad at answering them); no emails pinging us (or, I should say, me, who salivates on cue); no to-do list distracting us (well, I should say me again, because Peter carries his to-do list in his head and obsesses over it, no matter where he is).

I've never done a carbon footprint analysis of what not having a car means in terms of the effects on the Earth's atmosphere, but I don't really have to do one to know that the benefits are real.

I realize that most people in this country can't live without a car, but really, do we need to drive EVERYWHERE? I'm reminded of a funny story I heard once from a European gentleman who had been visiting a friend in LA. He had gotten so crazy from driving everywhere that he begged his host to go walking with him one day in the neighborhood. No sooner had they set off when a neighbor came running out of her house, demanding to know if everything was all right. Yes, they assured her, they were just out for a walk. A few minutes later, a car coming from the opposite direction screeched to a halt. It was the host's wife. She jumped out, wild-eyed, crying, "Is everything all right?" My European interlocutor, telling the story, just shook his head.

I realize this story is about LA, which has a storied car culture, but I have family and friends living all over the U.S. and their perspectives on walking seem so distorted to me. That grocery store that's a mile away is a 20 minute walk -- if all you're doing is buying milk and eggs, put on your backpack and walk there. It's good for you and it's good for your environment.

I don't mean to sound like I'm on my high horse here (high tops might be a better metaphor) but walking is the easiest, freest, most interesting exercise there is. And if you're walking, you're not driving. And that is a good thing.

P.S. This photo is of me (and Philadelphia firefighter friends) during the 2007 Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure, a 3-day/60 mile walk to raise money for breast cancer research. Louise got me to do the walk with her in 2006 and 2007. You train for something like this for months and believe me, your sense of distances changes dramatically.

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What the heck is urbal tea?

A little over a year ago, I started compiling a list called "Why Bother?" which attempted to chronicle all the things--both big and small--my husband, Peter, and I were doing in our Brooklyn home to try to counteract what seemed like the inexorable destruction of the planet.

I called the list "Why Bother?" both to acknowledge the helplessness I felt, and to provide a response to those feelings. As post-middle aged people (Peter retired in 2007; I have a few years left to work, if I could find some!), we made it a priority to redefine how to live in the world, if only for the sake of our grandchildren.

My friend Louise, who at the time was working with me on a magazine start-up (that crashed and burned soon after the October 2008 market collapse), talked about these issues with me all the time. She and her husband, Andrew, come at these questions from a different perspective: they live on a family farm in rural Virginia and raise two school-aged children, Graham and Katharine.

But despite our urban-rural and age differences, we share common interests: serious travel (last year Peter and I took a four-month trip to Australia and New Zealand, while Louise and Andrew took their kids out of school for the year and spent half of it living and traveling in South America); serious gardening (even though we have a postage stamp back yard and they live on a farm); and serious cooking (not fancy but principled). We also share common values: respect for the Earth; a love of culture and cultural differences; a respect for the (well) written word; a belief in the common good.

Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand

Over the years I've pulled Louise into my work projects, which tend to focus on technology in education. And while it's a perfectly respectable topic and she doesn't turn down the work, she keeps asking me: Can't you get on a magazine that covers gardening or travel or cooking? I wish.

Well, why wish? Fact is, the economics of publishing today mean that we're never going to start our own traditional magazine (if Conde Nast had to close Gourmet, there's no hope for any of us). But why let that keep us back from writing on the things that we feel passionately about? Andrew, who is by far the cleverest of the four of us (but don't tell him I said so), came up with the name of the blog. Urb[an] [rur]al Tea [a blend, where city meets country]. (Or, as he says, "If you have to be so literal, you don't deserve the title.")

I promised I'd write the first entry—and I admit that it's a little serious, but it's hard to get something started with the exact right tone. (I predict that Louise and Andrew will be smart-ass funny, Peter will be deadly serious, and I'll try to be funny and only sometimes succeed.)

The intent is to share the ways we're trying to figure out how to live responsibly and take pride of ownership, at least, of the small patch of Earth we're given the privilege to inhabit. It's a conversation we invite you to join.

Peter in our Brookyn garden