Sunday, October 26, 2008

From CSA to Soup

AH harvest time! Our CSA (community supported agriculture) box has been filled with earthy goodness these past weeks and with abundant crops of the same vegetables, has forced me to get creative with finding new recipes. Here's what we've been enjoying recently:

Baked cheese grits - made from locally stone ground corn
Sauteed radish tops with garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar, as a side vegetable
Roasted root vegetables - radishes, butternut and acorn squashes, sweet potato and turnip
Turnip and turnip green risotto (described by one reviewer as "a South Carolinan on holiday in Italy" but extremely tasty!)
Caribbean sweet potato and black bean stew
Butternut squash soup with cider cream
Baked butternut squash, apple and dried cranberries
Radish top soup
Baked sweet potato
Apple and pear chutney
Winter vegetable curry
Roasted spiced squash seeds (eat as a snack, like pumpkin seeds)
Farfalle with butternut squash, mushrooms and spinach (I guess I'll substitute turnip greens)
Time to look into some more harvest songs.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cut That Impact!

I have just finished reading a parenting magazine. You know the kind - the ones with all the articles that seem to repeat in every edition, and glossy ads and reviews of yet more must-have stuff or the latest packaged food concoction. Excuse me while I rant a little. No child should grow up thinking that consumption is a worthy goal. How about stewardship, resourcefulness and thrift? These values have been cast aside as outdated, last resorts for the poor and uneducated. Enlightened people go instead for the new and shiny! Yay. The Story of Stuff is a frightening reminder of what exactly we are doing to our planet as we forge ahead in our fast-paced, throw-away society. So along with my quest to simplify our family's life, I am taking baby steps to reduce our impact on the earth. I want my children to know that there is not only an alternative to mindless consumption, but that it is becoming more and more urgent to preserve our beautiful earth. Here's what we're doing. Some of these need a little more work on consistency, and there's certainly a whole lot more we could do, but it's a start:

- Hanging washing on the line instead of using the dryer
- Washing laundry with cold or warm water instead of hot
- Unplugging appliances when not in use
- Reducing and combining car trips
- Buying locally grown produce

- Using cloth nappies instead of disposables
- Learning natural infant hygiene to further reduce need for nappies
- Composting kitchen waste
- Recycling all plastic, metal, glass and paper
- Bulk buying and purchasing items with least packaging
- Using containers for food storage instead of zip bags
- Washing and reusing zip bags
- Using own bags for food shopping, not supermarket plastic bags
- Printing as little as possible and using both sides of paper

- Washing up and washing vegetables in a bowl instead of directly in the sink (less water)
- Flushing less
- Using water we would usually pour down the sink to water plants
- Shorter showers

- Shopping at charity shops and garage sales
- Fixing broken things
- Freecycling
- Using every part of food (vegetable leaves as greens, stock from chicken carcass etc.)
- Making gifts

Friday, October 24, 2008

Needle Felting 101

YESTERDAY saw my first attempt at needle felting, with the intent to create a squirrel for our nature table. It started with a vague framework made from a pipe cleaner, then I wound wool batting rounded and round, needling it to adhere the strands to one another. From a strange form resembling... not a lot... it gradually metamorphed to an animal, then something maybe like a beaver, and eventually with a little more detailed shaping it looked more and more like a squirrel. Just in the nick of time, as the needle snapped and the project was brought abruptly to a close. Emma came excitedly to breakfast asking if the squirrel was finished, and when she spotted it on the nature table, declared immediately that it needed a nappy. How silly of me not to felt a nappy onto the squirrel!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Halloween

WITH the abundance of events happening this time of year, we stumbled across the Halloween Hikes. We weren't exactly sure what to expect, but this turned out to be a wonderful celebration of the season.

We arrived just after dark to a buzz of activity. On the field, a percussionist invited all to join in with bells, tambourines, shakere gourd rattles and more as he danced with his djembe drum. Apples and hot chocolate were eagerly greeted as we sat mesmerised around the bonfire, the music and sparks drawing us into the sounds and shadows of the forest behind.

Then it was time for our nature walk. We were guided in groups along a lit path through the woods, where costumed characters crouched in wait. We met a red winged blackbird, box turtle, swamp rabbit, bullfrog, black widow spider, and beaver all of whom told us in short rhymes where they live and what they eat. The last two stops were by characters dressed as a rubbish dump and a mother earth, who thanked us for our interest in the woods and its creatures and pleaded with us to respect the planet by reducing, reusing and recycling. We are trying!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Scarecrows In The Garden

THE Atlanta Botanical Gardens holds an annual festival of scarecrows, which sounded like a good place to visit on a beautiful Autumn day.
Sponsored by various companies and organisations, the scarecrow installations were scattered throughout the gardens. Whether constructed all from a particular material, depicting a scene, serving as a means of outreach or merely a witty statement, the designs and their accompanying titles were nothing if not imaginative.

Just as appealing as the exhibition however were the permanent residents of the gardens and incidental visitors from the animal world. In the waterfall pond, snapping turtles swam beneath draping tropical plants, while outside enormous bullfrogs basked in the sun. We also spotted a tiny gecko and a hummingbird, which thankfully were interesting enough to stop a preschool meltdown in its tracks.

Pop quiz: What's the difference between frogs and toads?

Generally frogs spend most of their lives in or near water. Toads on the other hand, get out on land a little more and find their way into gardens and yards. Frogs also usually have moist slimy skin, while toads have dry bumpy skin. (From

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pumpkin Pickin'

LAST year was our first visit to a pumpkin farm. I was quite amazed, I must say. So when we had company from England in October this year, I knew this would be an obligatory part of the week's itinerary.

The visit began with a hayride sitting in a wagon actually filled with hay. Emma was intrigued that we were sitting on the "horse's food". We drove through fields of vines with pumpkins still ripening, and rows of picked fruit waiting for transportation.

The main visitor area was filled with the usual cheesy accoutrements such as country music and painted photo ops, but it was fascinating to see quite how many pumpkin and gourd varieties could be grown locally. As the picture shows, Emma "can't know which one I like".

In comparison to the bustle of the farm, lunch was a peaceful affair enjoyed on the bank of a nearby creek. We hesitantly made our way on wobbly stones across the water, trying for once not to get our feet wet. We failed. Our slippery crossing did however show us the way to a shed snake skin and a mottled brown grasshopper-type creature that was so well disguised in the pebbles that it almost met a very sticky end from my hand.

That evening, a delicious butternut squash soup was just the ticket. We would have enjoyed the pumpkin bread we'd bought at the farm along with it, except we couldn't find it. The wrapper turned up later in the yard. Chewed. Hmm, I wonder who that could have been... BASIL.

Squirrel Study

NOW that Autumn is here, the squirrels are hard at work gathering food for their winter stores. We have squandered many an hour sitting in the garden watching them. One time a squirrel was travelling back and forth across our garden collecting large nuts from a neighbour's property and hoarding them in our black tupelo tree. The squirrel would disappear behind our house and be gone for a while before returning with a prize almost as big as his head. I never did discover the source of this bounty, but the nut was obviously worth the arduous trek. Not to mention the dangers of this quest! After two successful journeys, on the third return trip the squirrel had to make a mad dash into a tree to avoid a beast of prey - namely our excited labrador. The nimble creature managed to schlepp the nut with it, taking the longer route home in the safety of the trees around the perimeter instead of shortcutting across the lawn. Not to be deterred, it set off once again. This time when the dog pounced, the nut was jettisoned as the squirrel leapt to safety. We banished the dog to the house and warily the squirrel returned to ground level to reclaim his abandoned nut.

Another time we lay on the grass looking up at the sun glinting through the light green leaves and red berries of the dogwood. This tree is adjacent to the squirrels' tupelo, and the squirrels were hopping about in time to the tunes of a mockingbird. I thought the berries were only consumed by birds, but the squirrels were eating them too. They would scamper to the ends of the twigs to collect the berries, causing the branches to bend precariously under their weight, then retire to a safer fork further down the branch to eat. I have heard that squirrels are smart enough to discern which fruits and nuts will spoil quickest and eat them first. Naturally berries don't last long, so they just had to gobble up these juicy little morsels on the spot. Little did I know we had a 'hop-thru' on the premises.