Archive for the ‘Our World’ Category

Garlic cloves shoved into a grid in the prepped bed

Garlic cloves shoved into a grid in the prepped bed

Two days ago, I planted half of the hardneck garlic I intend to put in this year. I had chosen a bed that hadn’t held any last season and yanked out the desiccated tomato plants (we picked our last green ones, which are turning red on the porch as I write, about five days ago) and the defunct peppers. Loosened the soil with a fork, weeded what needed to be weeded and planted the cloves that I’d chosen from among the largest bulbs I’d grown this past year.

Since I first learned about hardneck garlic from Colchester CSA manager and grower, Theresa Mycek, probably ten years ago, and started planting it in my own garden, I’ve come to depend on it. Hardneck garlic is terrific because it’s delicious, beautiful (those tall green tops with the curlicue scapes are such a nice visual counterpoint to the clumpy greens and beans), and like a culinary Double-mint gum: it’s two, two, two garlics in one.

The first one is the scape.

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Wait; let me back up a little. First, sometime in late-October through November, you sit outside on a nice autumn day, separate garlic bulbs into cloves and plant the cloves about 8 inches apart – I plant in a grid, others do it in rows – in a prepared bed. Tuck them in gently beneath straw or some other light but effective mulch. In spring when the earth wakes up, the green shoots start coming through the mulch. In about May, you notice that the shoots have grown rather tall – knee high at least. In maybe mid-June, when the tall stiff shoots have continued to grow and are now curled around themselves a bit (i.e. turned into true scapes), you clip or break them off – it’s kinda like asparagus; you snap them where they are happy to be snapped – bring them in and cook them any one of a number of ways. We sometimes tempura them, or grill them for a great snack/ hors d’oeuvre/side dish, chop them into omelets, sauté them with other veggies, quick-pickle them in the fridge in a vinegar-and-herb-and-peppercorn bath or hang them by the kitchen door to ward off vampires. Whatever.

Hardneck bulbs - notice the central hard neck

Hardneck bulbs – notice the central hard neck


Siberian, Russian Giant, Music and Keith's Garlic cloves

Siberian, Russian Giant, Music and Keith’s Garlic cloves

In July-ish, when the green tops have browned and died back sufficiently, you dig – or pull, depending on how soft the bed is – the now cloved-up bulbs, wipe off the earth, and hang them up to dry. (I clump them in bunches of about 6-8 bulbs and hang them on the back porch). Then you use them. They go into the spaghetti sauce I can during tomato-and-pepper harvest, into chicken cacciatore (which is ONLY truly delicious when made in season with fresh garlic, fresh basil and fresh parsley plucked only a few minutes before chopping into the red-wine-soaked braising liquid), into the oven to spread on homemade bread with good olive oil, into salad dressings, well, you get the idea. But if you’ve planned right and the fates have shined on you and your little bed of hardneck garlic, you will also have enough to save, separate into cloves and plant to continue the whole cycle. The miracle of gardening and life perpetuating itself.

This year, I prepped one bed, but the second bed I wanted to plant was a knotted thicket of wire grass, wild aster, which has determined root systems, and the bind weed just to put a topping on it all. My husband volunteered to dig it all for me, bless him, so this afternoon I’m going to sit outside with the dog, separate six more garlic bulbs into cloves and plant that bed.


Scapes beginning in late April-May

When I’m in prayer position on my knees stuffing the cloves – or anything for that matter – into the ground, I think about a little garden plaque a friend gave me years ago that said: Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. It’s an acknowledgement that while we can become really good gardeners, we are all at the mercy of so many other elements in life beyond our own control. But I have faith. And I keep on planting.


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My latest essay in The Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum:

My husband is outside our office, splitting wood. In between the rhythmic thwack! of the splitting maul, he’s singing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Except, he’s not singing words. He’s buzzing the melody. Buzz buzz buzz buzz (whack) buzz buzz buzz buzz (whack) buzz buzz buzz buzz buuuuzzzz bz bz. It must have something to do with the bees.

After 40-plus years as captain of oceangoing tug and barge units, Gary retired last summer – and took up beekeeping.

To read more go to:



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NFB ctr delft bl muscari

Delft muscari –perfectly masculine!


For a long time, REAL MEN not only didn’t eat quiche, they didn’t get flowers. Imagine John Wayne on the receiving end of a dozen long-stemmed red roses.

Enter bright-eyed delivery boy with the bouquet.

Wayne, scowling: “Wal, whuddaya got THERE?”

Delivery boy, wilting slightly: “Roses, Sir.”

Wayne, leaning forward menacingly: “Wal, who are they FOR?”

Delivery boy, now shaking in his boots: “You, sir?”

Wayne, swaggering across the room to snatch the roses, stabbing himself painfully on the thorns – though he won’t let on – and stuffing them head down into the trash: “The hell they are!”

Nope. No flowers for men in Wayne’s day. But times change. Today, some florists estimate that 20-25% of their delivery calls are for men.

“There’s been a real upsurge in the last couple of years,” notes Lynn Green at National Flora, a nationwide floral delivery service. “Last Valentines Day, particularly, there were quite a few women ordering for men.”

Chris Wilkins, owner of Flowers by Michael in Baltimore, agrees.

“I’ve seen a definite change, especially in the last 5-6 years,” says Wilkins, who has been in the business for two decades. “Flowers used to be considered a feminine gift. Men would feel terribly embarrassed. But this whole push on men being more sensitive has had an effect.”

Maybe men are more sensitive, or more confident in their masculinity. Maybe it’s generational – few older men admit to ever having received flowers (and a couple snarled that they wouldn’t want them, either, when I asked). Or maybe, the more that men get flowers, the more acceptable it becomes. Shipwright Richard Emory remembers the first time he was given flowers. He had sent a bouquet to a (then) girlfriend who reciprocated by picking a bunch of flowers, putting them in a canning jar and leaving them on his doorstep.

“At first, I thought: “Hey, guys don’t get flowers,”” he remembers. “It’s that macho thing. But I liked it. I was flattered.”

Phaelanopsis 3

Phaelanopsis for quiet, sensitive types


One reason for men’s changing attitude is society’s gradual redefinition of what constitutes exclusively male or female behavior. Men are no longer the only ones who slay the dragons, and women aren’t the only ones who appreciate a loving gesture.

“Gender roles have been changing,” observes Laura Moore, PhD candidate in gender and equality roles at University of Maryland. “The attitude about men and women and their roles has been merging over time. Some men appreciate women taking on a more assertive role.”

Yet even if they appreciate a woman’s assertiveness, some men may be embarrassed by a public display. An understanding of the individual man – or a little lucky guesswork – goes a long way toward making the gift successful. Some men love flowers at work, while others prefer a more private sign of affection.

“I dig it [at work] because I tell everybody it came from a chick,” says Gregg Henderson of Country Floral Supply. “I boost that whole male ego thing.”

Editor Steve Millburg, received his first flowers at his office, which was overwhelmingly male.

“I got teased about it some,” he laughs, but notes that in the ribbing, there was also a little envy.   “I don’t know of any man who’s ever gotten flowers who hasn’t had this goofy little grin on his face,” he says, “no matter how much teasing he got.”

Businessman Jack Handy has received flowers at work from his wife.

“It was fun,” says Handy. “Where I work, the atmosphere is friendly, so I wasn’t upset by it at all. I’m not sure everyone would feel the same way.”

“It can either be a bragging tool or it can be a sissifying type of present,” agrees Laura Moore. “You really have to think about the man receiving it.”

“Lots of people send Valentine flowers to the office,” says Chris Wilkins. “This year, we’ll make a lot of our Valentine’s Day deliveries on Friday so the recipient will get them at work.”

The visible sign – which can be simultaneously claiming and honoring – is important to both sexes. But there is still a difference in how men and women receive a public gesture.
“Men really want wives and girlfriends to get flowers at work,” says Wilkins, “but I’d say 50% of guys would rather get them at home.”


Christmas cactus.JPG

Christmas cactus, for a macho macho macho man.

  1. Consider the Context

“If it was a very testosterone-y area, a construction site [for example] and he’s going to have to hear it from the guys you have to consider: is that going to be good or bad?”   says Laura Moore.

  1. Consider the Man

“Some would really rather have something more guyish, like electronic equipment,” Moore observes.
In response to the need for ‘guyish’ things, many florists also offer plants, balloons, and gift baskets that appeal to men.

“Food is always popular for men,” says Karen Hayes of Florist Network.   “We have a junk food basket and we can send beer. It’s perfect for something like the Superbowl.”

  1. Consider the Flowers Themselves


    Echinacea for outdoorsy, environmentalists

Though most people have long forgotten what individual flowers are supposed to represent, there is still a vague sense of the significance of red roses, which have always signified passionate love.

“I might look sideways at a bouquet of red roses from a friend,” says Jack Handy. “I’d think: either she doesn’t know what’s going on, or I’ve got a problem!”

However, Karen Hayes offers another perspective.

“A common question we get is what the flowers mean,” she says. “I always say that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what it says on the card.”



Flowers by Michael

12058 Glen Arm Rd

Glen Arm, MD 21057

410- 593-7187






Gordon Florist, Inc.

6707 York Road Baltimore, MD 21212
410-467-6116 /800-541-2372

Bloomin’ Wild

335a High St, Chestertown, MD 21620 · (410) 778-5300

Flowers n Things

302 Cedar Street
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-6331
National Flora Delivery.com



If perchance the man in your life has a favorite flower, send that. Husbands and boyfriends often get red roses for Valentines’ Day.   For a less romantic, more light-hearted gesture, some women send one balloon and one rose. There is a whole language of flowers, which goes back to medieval times and was brought to a hyperbolic boil in the Victorian era. Internet Florist (www.iflorist.com or 800-600-9882) has a list of flower meanings beginning with acacia ( concealed love) and ending with white zinnia (goodness). Two books, The Meaning of Flowers, by Gretchen Soble, and Tussie Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers by Gerladine Adarnich Laufer offer specifics too.

Barring such detailed research, plants and balloons are popular for men as which is a fruit basket, or a specialty basket designed for the fisherman, golfer, or football fan.

  • This article first appeared in The Baltimore Sunpapers Home and Family section in 2011




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There are several things that bring the Christmas spirit. One of the biggies is Handel’s Messiah. I often miss all the programs that float around, but the flash mobs of the Hallelujah chorus are a terrific compensation. Here’s one that I wish I had experienced firsthand. But the magic of Youtube brought it right into the office.

Merry Christmas, Bon Noel, Felix Navidad



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I’m not an agronomist, and I have a feeling you’d really need to be one to properly assess this book. But I’m totally on board with the notion that you need to feed the soil and all its critters before it can feed the plants that grow in it. That’s the premise of the just-published Building Soils Naturally: Innovative Methods for Organic Gardeners by Phil Natua (Acres USA, 2012, $19.95). Nauta, who taught organic horticulture at Gaia College and was a director of the Society for Organic Urban Land Care, asserts that feeding the soil well not only helps maintain the health of our planet, it grows vegetables and fruits that are so nutritionally dense that they don’t rot for weeks. I find that last claim a bit suspect, though it does make sense to me that the more nutrition available for fruit and vegetable uptake from the soil, the more nutritionally dense they will be. Twinkie-effect aside, the book is well organized, is written in a breezy style and has lots of great info.

There are three sections:  The Soil and Its Inhabitants, Six Steps to Creating Healthy Soil, and Garden Action Strategies. Within those sections are short chapters on such things as Soil Nutrient Testing (and choosing the best testing facility), Calcium and Phosphorous, Other Major Nutrients, and Garden Health Management Plan. Each chapter has a short review list so you can quickly check to see what chapter might be most helpful to your particular question if, like me, you have trouble keeping every single bit of chemistry, Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) and the chart of Reams-Based Ideal Nutrient Levels in Soil in your head.

Natua restates – but enlarges upon — much of the currently accepted wisdom in the spiral-bound Master Gardener tome that’s laughingly called the ‘handbook,’ though Building Soils Naturally is a much more detailed look at soil ecology and chemistry and includes soil nutrients’ effect on Brix (a measure of the dissolved solids in plant juice, including sucrose and fructose, vitamins and minerals, protein and amino acids and more), which has got to affect the density of vitamins and minerals in their fruits.

Nauta also takes issue with some current conventional wisdom. For example, he says that soaker or drip hoses that target individual plants deprive the organisms in the un-watered soil and affects nutrient uptake; he prefers to overhead water since research at University of Nebraska shows it loses only about 4% to evaporation. (I would think the real percentage loss would fluctuate depending on ambient temperature, wind velocity and sun exposure, but never mind.).  Regardless, overhead watering, which is what Nature does, makes sense, provided you’re strategic and not profligate with it.  For example, in our garden during drought, the dust from the surrounding fields coats the leaves of everything. A good overhead soaking very early in the morning every ten days or so washes off the leaves, clearing stomata, while giving the plants and the critters in the surrounding (mulched) soil critical hydration. It produces visible benefits – even though the sprinkler water is chlorinated town water and does more to keep things alive than to grow stuff. The water I haul from the rain barrels every five days or so and pour only on the plant roots actually helps things grow. There’s a visible difference.

I question some of Nauta’s assertions, but as I said, I’d need to be an agronomist to do a proper job of it, in which case I might agree with them. And I find that taking issue with assertions usually means we do further research and pay closer attention, good things in gardening and in life. I highly recommend Building Soils Naturally. The bibliography runs to 43 books, some of which look like they’d be really good additions to a serious gardener’s (and a serious planet-dweller’s) library.

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“Slow Money” is the name for a movement started by socially conscious investing pioneer and author,

Woody Tasch, author of Slow Money

Woody Tasch. …Slow Money is dedicated to connecting investors to their local economies by marshaling financial resources to invest in small food enterprises and local food systems.

Tasch’s vision for Slow Money, now not just a concept but also a non-profit organization, seeks nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way we think about and spend our money, channeling much more of it into producing healthy local food, strengthening local communities instead of multinational corporations, and restoring our flagging economy in the process. Instead of venture capital bankrolling far flung high tech start-ups, Tasch hopes to see “nurture capital” funding local merchants and producers who, in turn, plug half of their profits back into their communities, ensuring one small local virtuous circle that values soil fertility, carrying capacity, a sense of place, care of the commons, diversity, nonviolence, and cultural, ecological and economic health as much as financial return. Tasch hopes to get there by persuading a million Americans to invest at least one percent of their assets in local food systems by 2020.

 To read more:


Slow Money (Chelsea Green Publishing $21.95)


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Moussaka and Cote de Brouilly

Since leaving the Chestertown Spy only last week, I’ve decided I still need to write about cooking, food, gardening, and environment — to say nothing of the wider world and the art of living.  So, I’m starting up Sunday Cooking again. It will begin next week — this week is temporary retirement — and I’ll need to figure out illustrations, links, the whole shebang.

BUT I hope those who hang in, and bring others — please, God — will be informed, amused, inspired, and encouraged.  ONWARD!

Here’s a link to what turned out to be almost three years of working for the Spy:


The picture is one taken by my goddaughter, Anna Bowers, manager of the sublime cafe/wine bar in North Creek, NY in the heart of the Adirondacks.  She came down to do some R&R this weekend, shared the celebration of the marriage of two dear friends, one long-time and one new–who have embarked on the adventure of marriage late in life and with as much pleasure and excitement as if it were their first crush. I’m embarking on a new chapter too, and a new learning curve. Whoo hoo!

Anna, who writes for Vinoteca blog for the Times Union, has a few things to say about the weekend and because I know she’ll let me, I’ve stolen a big chunk of her blog here, but you can read the entire post via the link below:

Saturday, I was my godmother’s “plus one” to the wedding celebration for a 60+ bride and 80+ groom (Nancy, my godmother and writing mentor – not to mention fellow member of the blog-o-sphere – was the matron-of-honor).  Held on a working CSA farm on the eastern shore of Maryland, there were lots of delectable hors d’oeuvres, bubbly and wonderful guests.  But I must confess that I was looking forward to Nancy’s moussaka – waiting for us back home. Nancy lives in this utterly fabulous old house that, as a child, was filled with secret little staircases connecting slightly spooky (especially if it was dark and you had to use the upstairs bathroom by yourself) rooms.  It is one of those places that returns me to my childhood (in the best sense) as soon as I enter: warm lighting, dogs everywhere, a really big hug, something amazing to eat, great conversation, a sense of being loved and safe.

And Nancy, after years of taking care of those around her (including her adopted family – the Bowers), finally has the modern kitchen of her dreams. Designed to her specifications (heated floors!!), it allows guests to sit on one side of the kitchen island and chat while Nancy cooks up something yummy on the other side.  Or, as she said, allows her to sit and have a glass while someone else does the cooking.

The moussaka (check out Nancy’s recipe on The Chestertown Spy) was exactly what I needed after a late girls’ night of Friday: layers of ground lamb seasoned to perfection, eggplant and basil topped with a parmesan béchamel sauce, served piping hot on the sleek island countertop.  We paired it with the Potel Aviron Côte de Brouilly 2009.  It won out over the Dolcetto because Nancy and her husband had visited Brouilly in the first years of their marriage.  This Gamay is not, I repeat not, the Beaujolais you drank until you threw up when you were sixteen (true story).  It is elegant and mature, with a hint of spice (perhaps from the volcanic soil on which it is grown) and a lovely mouth that hints at chocolate and dark fruit. Really, the perfect companion to the earthy yet utterly decadent moussaka (did I mention the parmesan béchamel sauce . . .)


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