Thursday, April 30, 2009

Are You SURE it's Beltane?

Blessings, Darlings!

For readers who are NOT neo-pagans, Beltane is a Pagan holiday. Beltane has Celtic roots. It is unabashedly a fertility festival.

Most folks (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) celebrate it May 1st, even going so far as to call it MayDay or MayEve, if the celebrate the night before. Therein lies what I see as a problem.

This problem was pointed out to me, years ago, on the Pagan Path Yahoo group by my buddy Red Deer. He posted about how he uses local flora and fauna to determine the day of the 'cross quarter festivals' - Samhain, Imbolg, Beltane, and Lughnasadh) rather than using the Julian calendar or by using the midpoints in the astronomically determined holidays (the solstices and the equinoxes [equini????]). After all, our paleopagan ancestors did NOT use the Julian calendar, nor the Gregorian calendar. They used nature to determing High Days.

Neopagans like to think that we are all so much more tied into nature than the rest of humanity. Nice illusion, I guess. In practice, most of us look to the printed calendar to see when the dark, new and full moons are rather than watching the sky, and set our holidays by the dates on the page.

It's not even like we don't know how the paleopagans set the dates for their 'cross quarter' high days. Most of them are older ones, based on nomadic herding in Europe rather than agriculture and settled villages. Samhain was the finally harvest - that is, when folks culled the herds down to the ones they were willing to feed over the winter. Thus, it was held after all the animals and people had gotten to where they overwintered. They were out of the mountains, they might have moved somewhat south as well.

When did they leave the mountains? I'm not sure what their cue was. I'm going to make a SWAG and say that they moved following the killing frost. I don't know how long it took for them to get to where they overwintered, either. In Ireland it wouldn't have been a really long period.

There would be side effects of using nature to determine the dates of the high days. First - they were different each year. They would NOT handily fit on a calendar. Second - they would be different practically tribe-by-tribe, as different locations would have the killing frost on different days. Might Samhain practically be at Yule in some locations some years? Sure, not that it mattered - it's not like Yule is a Celtic holiday. Yes, the Beaker People (protoPicts) noted the winter solstice, but nomadic tribes like the early Celts didn't - you need, oh, stone circles and such to note astrological events. Those things came later.

So, for me, I celebrate Samhain 3 days after the killing frost in my area. The 3 days is ONLY to give me time to make food/offerings/etc, maybe fast, and do some special visualizations and such for the ritual. I'm SWAGing that the ancient ones would have had to prep, too, after they got to winter quarters. I use the 3 day rule for all the cross quarter holidays, BTW.

Imbolg is all about ewes birthing lambs. I base this on friends who raise sheep in my area who tell me when their sheep start birthing.

Beltane was traditionally held when the leaves of the hawthorn trees were the size of squirrel's ears. So you'd have to know what your local hawthorn trees looked like, and the size of your local squirrels' ears!

Lughnasadh ... well. First harvest, when the barley was ripe. It was celebrated by horse races, horse trading, games of skill. So, I either use county/state fairs in my area to note the date of this, OR if I'm feeling more Wiccan than Celtic Reconstructionist, then it's all about when my garden starts to produce zucchini and tomatoes. In Illinois the county and state fairs were a GREAT match for my garden. Here in Maryland the fairs are later in the year, so it doesn't work as well. I DO wish I knew some local barley farmers, that would rock for making my own beer as well as helping me tune into the same cues the ancient ones did.

And all of this begs the question that aniraangel and I have been discussing on Twitter - how do European customs transfer to neopagans living south of the equator? Or, even, in equitorial areas - no frost to determine Samhain if I lived in Miami!

Neopaganism is new enough (I'm leaving out the Romantic Era Mesopaganism of the 19th century for now) that I don't know if many folks have examined that. I'm wondering if Christianity is different in Oz and Brazil and Sri Lanka where the liturgical cycle is either at odds with the local conditions or if there isn't really much of a cycle at all. Has anyone examined THAT? Seems to me that the field is ripe to see if evolution of religion in those circumstances is different than it is in areas where liturgical cycle and seasonal cycle match.

As always, more questions here than answers. Y'all have any hints for me?

Catch you later!



I'd post more, but I'm digging my way out of end of month business stuff and can barely see due to allergies. Dammit, I'm a DRUID (well, neo-Druid) - shouldn't I have a better relationship with oak pollen?

Monday, April 27, 2009

ZooFlu SWAGs

Again, SWAGs are 'scientific wild-ass guesses'. And 'ZooFlu' instead of 'the current varient on swine flu' because Jane on some of the survival lists I'm on named it that, because it combines genetics of influenzas from three different animals. And it rhymes.

About two weeks ago a new influenza started moving in Mexico. It's an H1N1 influenza that started in pigs. It is spreading human to human, and appears to be very easily spread via air and surfaces. Death rate from this, in Mexico, looks to be at least 7% which is WAY higher than the typical less than 2% influenza death rate. That said, it is WAY lower than the at least 10% (and possibly 20%) death rate from the 1918 avian influenza pandemic. And as of last night no one has died of it in the US.

The death rate among those with this flu in Mexico is the number one reason. If it bleeds (or dies) it leads in the news media. Why it has gotten the attention of the public health community is both the high death rate in Mexico AND hitting at a warm time of year.
See, flu viri are weather sensitive. They like cold weather and low humidity. Mexico city probably has low humidity, but spring is warm enough there that a wildly spreading influenza is might darn unusual and dangerous.
Another unusual factor is that we're seeing such mortality in an H1 flu virus. In a normal flu the ones with high mortality are varients on H5 or H7's, not H1's. Pandemics have been H1's, H2's, H3's. OTOH, that might just be an artifact - microbiologists first worked to identify the pandemic viruses, so they got serotyped first.

Grist has an article trying to link the zoo flu with Smithfield pork production in Mexico, due to their pollution of water/air. The pollution is not likely to be a factor - viri need a live vector, especially to recombine. And insects like flies don't work for the recombitant part.
Epidemiologists and public health folks (like me, actually - I've a bachelor's degree in public health) have long expected the next pandemic to come from pigs. Not only are pigs biologically close to humans but they have long been known as a vector for influenza recombining. And that's even BEFORE the issue of factory pork raising enters the picture.

Prevention - wash your hands. A lot. Don't touch your hands to your face/eyes. To be honest, I'm a prepper enough that I have N95 facial masks, too. I've not started wearing them when I go out yet.
There is no vaccine for this. Yeah, I know - we had a swine flu vaccine in 1976. But this is not your father's swine flu. It's the ZooFlu. It's not genetically the same. And, THINK - even if it had been the same, vaccines are not fine wines. They do NOT improve sitting on a shelf (or in a freezer) for 30 years.
And even tho' the fall '08 influenza vacccine covered ONE H1N1 varient, there does not appear to be cross protection.
Treatment - so far 'they' say this responds to Tamiflu and Relenza.

This is a real problem. Yes, the healthier you are the less likely you are to get anything. However if you DO get something like this, dispite nutrition/prevention/etc, there is a problem - it's the healthiest that die. What tends to kill folks who have a killer influenza is their own over responding immune system, filling their lungs with fluid, etc. It's called a cytokine storm, cytokine's being one of our body's antibodies. The healthiest bodies produce the biggest storm. This is different than what happens in a more typical flu death - there it's an elderly person who gets the flu then gets pneumonia on top of it, and the pneumonia kills 'em.

Wash your hands. Don't touch your face and eyes. The rest is a crapshoot.

Catch you later!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Tao of Toast - English Muffins

Yeah, I know that 'tao' is pronounced 'dow' but I still think like the way the letters in the title look, and don't think that "The Tao of Dough" works.

I LOVE carbs. Especially with salt and fat. I'd be a happy eater with pasta and butter for breakfast, chips for lunch, and rice for dinner. I'd not FEEL particular well doing that, and given my metabolism I'd probably develop diabetes, so I don't eat that way. At least not very often. However, even my wonderful salad lunch today featured those homemade croutons and a hearty serving of kidney beans, for without those carbs I'd not have been satisfied.

My husband is well aware of the affair that carbs and I carry on, just like I'm aware of his affair with deli department barbeque loaf. He seems to understand why I find carbs to be the staff of my life. I do NOT understand his barbeque loaf thing. But I digress....

Carbs. Swoon.....

Okay, even I have to admit that not all carbs are created equal. There is at least one brand of potato chips I can buy that will sit around the house uneaten. I can face a loaf of white styrofoam bread and not bother buttering and eating it. White corn on the cob earns nothing but my distain - it only tastes sweet and I want my corn to taste, well, corny!


I was raised on some pretty good bread. Mostly challah, a rich egg bread, but also on good seeded Jewish deli rye bread, traditional bagels, and kaiser rolls (layered with lots of salt corned beef). A rare and wonderful treat were the occassions that the family would have english muffins.

English Muffins

Oh, those wonderful nooks and crannies! They are one of my very favorite breads. And unlike most breads, they are cooked on a stove top in a pan, so you can make them while on a camping stove or over a fire. I've not tried to make them on a rocket stove, but don't think they'd work well there - they'd probably burn on the outside before cooking through on the inside.

Of course I use English Muffins for toast with butter or strawberry jam or, when I'm in THAT kind of mood, with apple butter. But they also make an incredible sandwich. Wonderful for BLT's or club sandwiches, or after Thanksgiving a turkey with greens and a bit of whole-berry cranberry sauce or a horseradish sauce.

They just rock. They rock the most when they are freshly made.

English Muffin Recipe

In the evening, as you reflect on the day gone by, take

1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Mix water, milk, sugar, and salt together. Heat 'till warm, about 115 degrees. If you buy 'normal' milk in a grocery store there is no need to scald it. If you are using raw milk, you might want to do that. But, seriously, I'd not use precious raw milk to bake with! Anyway, add to that

1 tsp dry yeast
2 cups unbleached flour

and beat really well. Cover, let it rise over night. Feel free to mix it from time to time if you'd like. The long, slow rise will give it extra flavor, in my never humble opinion.

Next morning, add 2 tbs of melted butter, and another one to two cups of flour. Cover, let it double. Flour whatever you are going to roll this out on, and splock the dough from the bowl to that surface. Roll/pat/press it out 2/3 inch thick, and cut into about 3 inch rounds. I use glasses that are a size I like. Let them double again, covered. Cook on a greased pan/griddle at medium high until browned on one side, then turn and repeat on the other side. Let them cool enough so you can handle them without burning yourself, split, eat.

I will adorn mine with butter immediately, then make a hollendaise sauce and poach an egg and top them with that.

Catch you later - I have to catch the butter dripping down my chin right now!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trouble Right Here in River City

I went to the IEEE (institute of Electrical, Electronic, Software, Hardware, and all other Engineers) National Capital Area Counsel Consultants' Network (NCAC-CN for 'short') meeting the other night. Not being an official member - nor qualified to be one - I don't usually go to these affairs. But it was part 3 of their "The Art of Consulting" series, and my DH was one of the speakers, so there I was with my flip cam, computer, tripod, etc. We need videos for our web site. These may never be appropriate, but I need practice before I even qualify as a lousy videographer.

Because I am fundamentally a nosy person, I nagged Bob early in his talk to ask how many folks - all consultants or folks who want to be consultants - to raise their hands if they already had a web site. Only about 25 percent did. Not even all of those already working as consultants have them!


Oh, we got trouble
Right here in River City
Right here in River City
With a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P'
and that stands for 'pool'
That stands for pool
We surely got trouble
We surely got trouble
Right here in River City
Right here in River City

THAT was from the musical "The Music Man". Except in this case it's not River City, it's Avalon on the Potomac, and P stands for Piss Poor Performance. We've all heard that if you build a better mousetrap that the world will beat a path to your door. That's not really true - if they don't know you've built the better mousetrap or don't know where your door is, the world will beat a path to a mousetrap they know about and a door that they can find. The first place most mouse users look for ANYTHING is on the Internet.

If you don't have an Internet presence you do not exist to them. Sure, you might get some business from another engineer who knows you (maybe from attending the CN), and knows your skills complement his/hers but word-of-mouth doesn't really pay off until you already have an established business and reputation.

Even the most primative web site gives you some credibility. You will have your contact info up there, you will have information about what you do, you will have pictures of what you've built or screen shots of what you've programmed, you will have your picture, you should have a video, etc. [Monday's post about booting all 'shoulds' was about PERSONAL life shoulds, not business shoulds!] It tells people about your mousetrap and where your door is.

It's not as if a web site is expensive. GoDaddy sells sites for as low as $10 for a year, and I've had hosting at $10 per month. A cheap template and you're on the air, even if you won't be well ranked on the search engines. Get that up, and when you have slow times you can learn Search Engine Optimization and maybe learn how to use Joobla! to make a hot website.

But by all means, get on the air!

Happy New Earth Year!

I don't believe in Earth Day. Oh, sure I accept that folks are out there celebrating it, it's the whole concept of a 'day' for it that I don't believe in. A 'Day' makes it a carnival, a day-out-of-time/normal life.

Instead, I sort of look at today as New Year's Day of the new Earth Year. A day to make resolutions and start work on them, sort of like starting a diet or whatever on January 1.

In my fantasy, folks would have done some serious preparation for this. Say, looking over their lifestyle and the environment starting on the first day of spring and deciding on goals for the next year, and researching what it would take for them to reach those goals. The goals should be measurable, as all good goals are, so that month of preparation can also include measuring the impact on the environment you now have. After all, you can't really tell if you have reduced you car miles by 20% if you don't know how many car miles you put in weekly/monthly already.

Or, since I've been nagging the husband and son, since we have 14 meals with meat a week now, if we reduce that by 20% that means changing 3 meals a week. Functionally, that means eggs for one dinner a week, meat-free soup and a salad one (or more) lunch a week, and one 'experimental' meal a week. Which will most often NOT be experimental but will be something like quesadillas or cheese and veg pizza, but could be a stir-fry with tofu or nuts. Or I could try bean burritos (son with sensory issues will eat beans, but only if mashed) or bean or cheese enchildadas.

The other thing I'm going to work on for the year is reducing food waste. Things tend to get 'lost' in the fridge, then the stuff growing in them tries to take over the kitchen. This must end. Better menu planning and control will help that.

So, sure, I'm also doing some 'one offs' during the 'earth day fortnight'. Like repairing a toilet that's running on - but it only JUST broke, so I'd be doing that immediately whenever it happened during the year. I'm working my compost heap into the garden, but, again, that's normal before planting.

But working the compost into the garden is only normal because during the ENTIRE year I work with the compost heap, adding all sorts of veggie and fruit matter into it. I can only add eggshells to the garden because I save them all year. I can't really reduce my personal car time, because I don't have much, because my son does the grocery shopping on commute to and from college. If he was willing to take the shuttle bus to college 3 days a week, I might have to walk to the store. But I can only change myself, he is in charge of changing himself. Or not. Dammit.

What are your New Earth Year Resolutions?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Speaking of time....

Having gone over many - but not all - of the 'musts' for each day yesterday, I'm moving on to what TIME of day you're supposed do to it all.

Morning must do's
Gotta eat breakfast by 8 am for longevity. Gotta meditate before eating. Gotta exercise before eating, because doing an of 'em on a full stomach is miserable, and you gotta do exercising in the morning. Gotta do yoga before meditating (all yoga starts with hatha yogo and ends with kundalini yoga, ya know. Trust 'them', 'they' say so). Gotta exercise before showering, of course.

Gotta leave for work early enough to get to work on time. How about setting up the slow cooker so much of dinner is ready when you get home? How about putting bread in the oven, and maybe even remembering to take it out. And DO preheat the oven so the bread dough doesn't burn when you put it in....

How that works out
So - up at 5:30? Stagger to washroom for a few minutes. Do half an hour of yoga. Meditate for 20 minutes. It's now 6:30. Wake the kids, start them on their day. Do aerobics. Do weights routine. Check up on kids. It's 7:30. Shower, dress - oh, crap, it's 8, and you've not made or eaten breakfast, or made lunches. Get up at 5 am ....

The Night Before The Morning After
To have gotten the 8 hours of sleep you 'must' get, you had to be asleep by 9 the night before.
Now, you got home no earlier than 5:30, assuming no major traffic problems and only a 30 minute commute. The kids magically transported themselves home from after school care, so you didn't have to pick them up, and also magically get home the same time you do.

I love magic.

You didn't have time to put food in the slow cooker, but DID remember to defrost a chicken. Season it, put it in oven for an hour. Scrub and add some potatoes to the oven, with a skewer thru' them so they cook faster. Grab a bag of green beans from the freezer, put them in pot on stove - you'll start that when the chicken's about done. Make salads. While you do this, the kids are talking to you about the slings and arrows of their day, if you're lucky. Once the chicken is in the oven, you can see what homework they have (maybe checking against a school web site that lists the homework - my child with ADD never managed to write down assignments).
Since the kid use the kitchen table for homework, they can't really start it before dinner is done.

You slip in 20 minutes of meditation now, right?

Meditation over, turn the beans on and take the chicken out of the oven to rest. When beans are done, serve dinner.

It's 7:15 when dinner is over. Put away leftovers. Do dishes. Supervise the start of homework.

It's 7:30 - 90 minutes before you need to be asleep. Sweep kitchen. Iron/prep clothes for tomorrow. Do the other 30 minutes of aerobics.

45 minutes left 'till you need to be asleep. Pay the bills, read the paper. Supervise putting away homework in backpacks and kids getting ready for bed. Go to bed yourself. Day is done.

Did we leave anything out?
Like, for instance, talking to a non-work related adult (friend, family member)? Any evening activities, like soccer or religious ed, or tutoring? How about the real time it takes to commute if you use public transportation? You didn't grind grain into flour for bread (so much cheaper and fresher!) let alone make the bread. I guess you went thru' the mail when you paid the bills. Hey, you didn't read the kids a story at bedtime! You didn't scoop the litter box, either, or take out garbage.

Are we having fun yet? Oh - fun isn't a 'must do', apparently. OTOH, you're supposed to have regular sex, but how do you fit THAT in, all puns intended?

Feeling guilty yet?
Truth - unless you don't have to work full time you can't do all you 'must' do. We do what we can. We serve convenience foods - carry out on way to little league game, eaten in car - so the kid can get to the game and we all eat something. Because we weigh all the 'musts' and decide that having our child play a sport is more important than the home-cooked food at every meal. We gain weight, because we are not getting the amount of exercise it takes to burn off calories we don't burn at our sedentary jobs. Etc.

That, darlings, is life. Real life. Screw the 'shoulds'. Screw the 'musts'.

Catch you later!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Time is NOT infinitely expandable.

Again, a blog post instigated by Twitter. In this case, tweets on how one MUST do yoga daily and another on how you REALLY SHOULD exercise in the morning. But the post is running long, so the morning exercise one will likely wait till tomorrow.

Anyway - I've run out of patience with 'experts' who cheerfully point out that doing takes but a few minutes but they KNOW will result in your life being so VERY much better. Maybe they ARE right on the stuff improving my life. I will never find out because I HAVE A LIFE and can't do all the things that will 'just take a few minutes'.

Let's look at a typical day for someone who has a job and a kid or two. Who commutes to work. Who may or may not have a car (whether they are eco-involved or just can't afford one is not the point right now). Let's also look at the 'things you MUST do each - in fact, let's start there.

Here's a starter list of 'things you MUST do daily'
Brush teeth, two minutes each time, 5 times a day (getting up, going to bed, after 3 meals). 10 minutes, not including flossing, since that's only once a day.
Daily yoga, 30 minutes.
Daily maintainance aerobics 30 minutes.
Daily weight loss aerobics (since most in the US, like me, have to lose weight) 30 MORE minutes a day.
Meditate - 20 minutes, twice a day, so 40 minutes total
Shower/dress/other prep, let's say 25 minutes a day.
Eat 3 meals. 1 hour - don't glup, eat with focus and chewing your high fiber foods well!
Daily weight training 20 minutes
Sleep - MUST get 8 hours or you'll die sooner.
House cleaning, daily - dishes, sweeping, hiding worst things 30 minutes

Hey, we're already over 12 hours a day! Let's add working 8 hours and we're over 20 hours.

Not to mention....
We still haven't commuted, supervised homework, gotten kids ready for school, cooked meals, read paper, etc. Let's say a MINIMUM of a 1 hour commute, 1 hour focused on kids, 15 minutes on the newspaper. We're at 22.75 hours. Much of that last 1 1/4 hour will be spent cooking.

So your 24 hours is gone. And you haven't talked to a friend/adult family member/significant other yet You certainly haven't had time to grind whole wheat berries into whole grain flour or made bread from that flour. You haven't shopped, vacuumed, cleaned out the fridge, cleaned a bathroom, or taken out the garbage. If you commute by public transportation you need to add more time for that. Heck, we haven't even included picking up kids from after school care, let alone soccer practice/games or any lesson or even scouts or evening religious school.

If you eliminate darn near everything aimed at keeping YOU healthy - all exercise and meditation - you can fit in the kids' stuff. But if you get fat and have high blood pressure then it's YOUR fault because it just takes a few minutes to do those things, right?

The Weekend!
But there is still the weekend to look forward to! 9 extra hours a day, a total of 18 hours in which you need to ... do laundry (2.5 loads per person), vacuum, dust, clean bathrooms, change linens, go to kids' games, maybe go to church/temple/coven, grocery shop, hit other stores (kid outgrew shoes? Something in house broke and you need parts to repair it?), fix what's broken, pick up the house, wash kitchen floor, etc.

If you have a car, it's probably faster to go to a laundrymat than to have a washer and dryer at home - if you can do all 7 loads of laundry at once with the multiple machines there instead of doing them one at a time at home. But if you have to take public transportation hauling 7 loads of laundry around it's rough.

Mow the lawn? Sure, there's one hour left. But instead, maybe y'all need haircuts. Maybe you want to see a movie? What if the gutters need to be cleaned?

Oh, Frak! haven't paid the bills yet. Do you need to take cash and get money orders to do that? That's another chunk of time.

And while it 'only takes a few minutes' to MAINTAIN a garden, when are you going to find time to prepare beds? When are you going to find time to go to the farmer's market? Do you have time to go to a free concert in the park? Time to take a hike?

Yeah, everything can be broken down into steps that only take a few minutes. But there are STILL only so many minutes in a day. Even if you are incredibly efficient and multitask.

Now, I've not even listed all of the things that 'you MUST do for health/wealth/sanity' according to experts. All of which "only take a few minutes a day'. All I've done is START to quantify why real people living real lives give up on most of it.

Darn right we're getting carryout so there is time to go to the soccer game. The kids need the exercise as much or more than they need EVERY meal to be home cooked and at peak nutrition.
Darn right we're going for a picnic and playing in the park instead of mowing the lawn - but I'll probably go over food ads, plan menus, and MAYBE read back issues of the paper while the kids play.

Guilt manages to find me, even when I'm in the park trying to hide from it.

Catch you later!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nutrition Note: Cooking Carrots

Blessings, Darlings!

A StomperNet friend tweeted a link on differences cooking makes in available nutrients in carrots. Here's the link itself: . What the researchers found was that cooking carrots increased the beta-carotene absorbed over that available in raw carrots.

This has been known in 'standard' nutritional circles here in the US for a while - I have to assume that the British study brought something new to the party that the news report didn't cover. That fat-soluble vitamins held in hard cellulose structures (raw veggies and fruits cells) are more available after cooking is so well known that it's even cited on Whole Foods website, with scientific references to 2002 and before.

Of course, while cooking breaks down those cellular cellulose walls, cooking and any water the veggies are cooked with tend to destroy and/or wash out the water soluble vitamins such as C and B complex.

What does this mean for your home kitchen?

I'll tell you.

Well, at least I'm going to make some SWAGs - Scientific Wild-Ass Guesses.

Winter Cooking SWAGs
My guess is that especially over winter, eat your sources of Vitamin C raw - it is not widely spread in most winter season foods. Especially if you're eating stored local food, since vitamin C oxidizes away over time. In fact, if you're eating locally over winter your main sources of fresh vitamin C foods are likely to be bean/seed sprouts that you've exposed to the sun so they develop some green and vitamin C and any green onions you grow.

Your B vitamins don't oxidize away as quickly as the C does, for the most part. Some will be in your stored fruits and veggies, even dried/frozen/canned, lots of some of them in whole grains.

And cook most of your high-carotene veggies - sweet potatoes, hard squash, etc.

Summer Cooking SWAGs
Who wants to cook in summer? It's hot and humid here. Eat stuff raw if that's good for your taste/body. Do minimal cooking, early in the day when it's cool, and serve things chilled. Just because that's how *I* like to eat during the summer [grin]. And with all the fresh produce around, you'll get enough beta carotine from strawberries, then cherries, then muskmelons and peaches, etc. Not to mention the lovely spring greens, followed by fresh peas and pea pods, then beans, then peppers, then tomatoes, etc.

I'm fond of taking a multipurpose vitamin supplement daily in winter when the range of foods isn't as large or has a lot of food-miles and age on it. Since I buy cheap generics, it's sort of cheap insurance here. OTOH, humans have survived for 15,000 or more years dealing with cold winters, lousy food storage, etc without them. Without chocolate too, I might add, and that I REALLY don't understand.

Catch you later!


Simply the Best Stir Fry Recipe in the World

Blessings, Darlings!

A good Chinese Brown Sauce is one of those standard recipes that every cook needs - along with a European white sauce, a good curry recipe, etc.

This recipe features that brown sauce, kicked up to make the dish a bit spicy.

1/2 inch ginger root, microplain grated - or less, or chopped, if you don't like LOTS of ginger flavor
1/3 pound meat of choice, sliced 2 inches by 1/4 inch by 1 inch. Or however you want. I'm not gonna look over your shoulder
1 qt of sliced raw veggies. Whatever is available. Winters I use just cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Even just onions works fine. But - if you are using tender leafy veggies like spinach or the greens of bok choy they every cup count as only 1/2 cup.
3/4 cup beef stock - can be from cube
4 tbs oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soy.
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbs cornstarch

1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes - or more to taste. Or less, if you want 'comfort food'

The Process
Mix sauce ingredients together.

Heat your wok or whatever to hot. Add 1-2 tbs oil - peanut is great for this. (We should discuss oils sometime - putting that on list) Add meat, stir-fry to get a bit of sear on it. Don't cook it thru', give it about 2 minutes. Now add the veggies - and MAYBE a bit more oil. A good wok probably won't need more. Cook till the veggies are just short of the crisp cooked state, will take 2 - 4 minutes. May add a bit of water and cover to steam them as they cook. Add the sauce, stir 'till thickened.

Serve over rice. Or lo mein noodles, fried or not fried.


Catch you later!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simmering Stew Sans Smoke

Let's say that you built your Rocket Stove ( (Someday I'll figure out how to make the words "Rocket Stove" into a link here. But not this morning) and want to cook beans or do a long simmer of a stew. You can get the pot o' food up to a boil on the Rocket Stove, but keeping it there at a simmer for hours is NOT a good idea. First, it would take fuel all day. Second, you would be there feeding it the fuel all day, and you have a life.
What you need now is some variation on a Hay Box Cooker.

Original Hay Box Cooker
Traditionally a Hay Box Cooker is just what the title says - a box made of bales of hay. Hay insulates the pot/cassarole dish placed inside, and it cooks away for hours. Nothing burns. Wonderful low tech energy efficient approach to cooking!

My Insulated Cooker
I don't keep bales of hay in the house. Such a box would take up too much room, husband would throw a fit, and the cats would use it as a scratching post and soon I'd NOT have neat bales, or a box, but I'd have hay scattered all over the house.
What I do is use old coolers. My big one is an old plastic camping cooker, now cracked and permanently dirty. My smaller one is a styrofoam cooler that we got years back when we ordered a 3 pack of REAL Chicago Style pizzas, shipped from Chicago, frozen. Along with the coolers I use a bunch of small towels.

Actual Hay Box Cooking
When preparing to cook, I take the empty pot I'm going about to fill and use over to the cooler du jour. I put an inch of towels on the bottom. I place the pot in. I fill the area between the cooler walls and the pot with more towels. Then I take the pot away, leaving the 'nest' behind.
Now I fill the pot with what's to be cooked. Cover and heat the stuff to a boil on the rocket stove, and boil for about 5 minutes. This pasturizes things, if not sterilizes things. Now pop the pot back into the nest in the cooler, top with more towels, and close the cooler lid.

Be Prepared to Wait
Hay box cooking is NOT FAST. It is TOTALLY a part of the Slow Food Movement. I've read that you need to assume it will take one hour of hay box cooking for every 5 minutes you'd simmer on stove or in heated oven. Maybe my insulation is better than that of those authors, but I don't find it takes that long. OTOH, I can let it go that long - nothing burns, nothing evaporates.

Meal, with rocket stove and hay box
How does hay box plus rocket stove cooking work for a meal? Let's look at a stir-fry and rice dinner. Let's even assume that the rice is brown rice, which takes longer to cook.
So, after breakfast, you set up the hay box for your rice. Then you bring the rice/water/salt to a boil on the rocket stove. Once it has boiled 5 minutes you place it in the hay box, cover, and leave it for the rest of the day. If you are using white rice, do this at lunch or later.
The stir fry gets started at whatever point of your afternoon/evening that you normally would, for we all know that it's the cutting and measuring sauce stuff that takes the most time. Stir fry in a wok on the rocket stove. When stir fry is done, take pot of rice out of hay box. Serve dinner.
That's it.
Maybe I'll post a stir fry recipe tomorrow. We'll see.

Catch you later!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rocket-powered cooking

Rocket stoves are about the coolest - uh, hottest cooking idea I've played with. The are a variation on the 'traditional' hobo stove, the variation mostly being the addition of insulation to the body of the stove.

Why Rocket Stove Rock

The rock because they take very little fuel (like, sticks rather than charcoal, logs, or fossil fuels) while producing lots of heat and very little smoke/particulates. They burn very efficently thus lowering the carbon footprint of cooking with sticks.

And they can be incredibly cheap to make.

Making a Rocket Stove

WEAR SERIOUS GLOVES! Cut edges of cans are SHARP!!!

Let me describe making a hobo stove first. At the simplest, it takes two empty cans from food with no white plastic coating on the inside. Say, a can from 15 oz of canned green beans and one can from 10 oz of condensed soup. The big can stands upright, with the open/removed top part on top. Using tinsnips, or maybe a military style can opener, you cut a hole in the side at the bottom of this can, into which you fit the other can. The other can has both top and bottom removed. The top, or I guess bottom, of the smaller can gets wedged into the maw of the smaller can to hold fuel. Put sticks on the small lid feeder, tinder in the bottom of the upright can, fire up the tinder, feed the sticks into that fire, and lots of flame comes out the top of the green beans can.

Now, to make the simplest rocket stove, get a bigger can yet. Maybe from a big can of sweet potatoes, better would be a #10 gallon sized can from something ... maybe beans again. Remove the top, and empty the can. Cut a hole in the side, near the bottom, for the soup can to extend out of. Cut a hole in the removed top of the can, in the center, for the upright 'flu' can to fin into Then put the hobo stove in the big can, so the soup can DOES extend out of it. Fill the space between the outer can and the inner can with 'non-flamable insulating stuff'. Dry sand or earth will do. Once you have filled the space between the inner and outer can to almost the top of the inner can, fit the lid of the outer can on that, to help hold the insulation in place.

If you are using a can smaller than a #10, use a churchkey bottle opener to make air holes around the top of the bigger can. If you are using a #10 can, that probably won't be necessary unless you are going to use a wok or other big pot or pan to cook with. Instead, you might want to cut strips of the lid you removed from it to make a support over the top to support a smaller pot over the flame.

What Rocket Stove Cook Best

Uh, food.

Okay - they excel at boiling water, at stir frying, at frying. All things that take hot heat and not long simmering. For dishes that take long simmering, you combine this with a insulated cooking technique lik a hay box cooker.

When/where To Use Rocket Stove

I use mine in summer, for outdoor cooking. I suppose I could use it in the fireplace in the winter if I had to.

THE site on Rocket Stoves

You can download real instructions, buy one pre-made, and/or watch a video on one being made at

Maybe someday I'll post about a Summer Kitchen. Maybe I'll tell you about my experiences hay box cooking tomorrow. Depending on the car situation. Car died while son was driving to college again today. I'm thinking it's a cracked distributor head, but what do *I* know?

Catch you later!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Earth Day is Coming! Earth Day is Coming!

I remember the first Earth Day. That is, I remember it on a local level - I think that it was the music teacher at our school , Mrs Rodgers, who organized field trips and a big 'happening' type thing for it. Or she might have just organized the 'happening'. The arcane workings of which teacher organized what were beyond me in those days.

First they loaded all of us in buses and drove us around Chicago to look at what I now would call 'point sources' of pollution. I only recall two of them. The first was a building by (I think) the Kennedy expressway fully painted with an ad. The second, which was supposed to be oh so shocking, was an industrial park in our very own suburb! Apparently industry alone qualified as pollution to suburbanites. Loading kids in buses and driving them around didn't qualify as pollution.

They also took us up on the roof of the school and we used binoculars to watch planes land into a cloud of exhaust at O'Hare airport. On the other hand, no one suggested cancelling the class trip to Washington DC as a way of NOT adding more pollution.

After all the outside stuff, it was into the multipurpose room for the 'happening'. Lots of music, lot of different slide shows and movies all going at once. Very psychedelic. All educational on the environment. All very hyperactive.

What amazes me looking back on it was that I was ALREADY cynical. I couldn't understand what made a really really ugly building any WORSE by being painted green and having an ad on it. I questioned the blanket condemnation of manufacturing - of creation! - as pollution. I noted that they didn't have any discussion of alternatives to air travel, and felt no problem with driving us around for ages in buses (yeah, I was motion sick, so it felt like we were driven around for EVER).

The passivity that public school promoted - sit and be fed 'knowledge' - was joined with the visual/audio overload of the 'happening' without invitation of work on creating solutions. It seemed a bad mix to me, even then.

It seems a bad mix to me even more so now - but I'll save the public school part of the equation for a future post.

I'm not putting down Earth Day in all this. I auditioned for Emeril Green for help in cooking the interesting but new stuff from the organic CSA I get my veggies from and the organic grass fed and WAY lower fat beef we get from a different farm but never heard back from them. A friend who works for a rival network (that was the mandatory 'source might have attitude' warning) says I was too dark green for Emeril Green.

Nor am I saying that we 6th, 7th, and 8th graders should have been given actions to take, like lobbying or not flying or whatever.

What I wanted, even then, was discussion and leadership.

Instead of the overload of the happening - entertaining and trendy as it was then - why didn't we discuss if the ugly building was any uglier for the paint? Why didn't we discuss how our metal desks were manufactured in businesses like the ones were we driven to - were they calling on us to give up desks, or for manufactures to not have their grounds be visibly doing manufacturing, or were they calling for something else? I don't recall bad smells, or polluted water pouring out of sites we were shown, or belching smokestacks, just 'visual pollution' at the manufactures. We could have discussed what the role of the government might be, and what the responsibility of individuals might be.

Why didn't the school, or the teachers who put the event together, identify what THEY were doing on a school or individual basis to reduce/reuse/recycle? Biking to work? Changes in the cafeteria? Investigation of the least polluting way to take the trip to Washington, DC? What ideas had the school/teachers looked at and rejected as being impractical, and why?

To be honest, maybe everything that grated was just because it was the first Earth Day. They didn't do anything in high school when I was there, and I homeschooled my spawn.

Some of you reading are younger than I am, or have had kids in middle school after I was there. Have Earth Day celebrations at schools changed since the first one? Tell me about how they have been since then!

Catch you later!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Baked Apple Recipe

Blessings, Darlings!

As a follow-up to yesterday's article on apple scab, here's one of my family's favorite apple recipes. It's even pretty healthy! As a rule, I find most baked goods recipes too sweet. My standing rule is to take any pie recipe from "The Joy of Cooking" and cut the sugar in half (and double any spices/extracts in it). I suppose more recent editions of that cookbook might be more to my taste but I'm working with a 1962 edition.

This recipe is NOT from "The Joy of Cooking". It's a modification of a Steven Raichlen recipe, found in his "Barbecue Bible". I use the toasted bread crumbs, because I bake my own bread, thus slice my own bread, thus have crumbs. Lots of crumbs. We slice the bread on a tray so we can catch (well, CONTAIN) the crumbs so we can use them in other dishes and, even more, so they don't get all the heck over the counter.

4 firm sweet apples (I'm a Gala apple junkie, myself)
4 tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs or toasted bread crumbs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 - 2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven - oh, I usually use a toaster oven for this, unless I'm already baking other things - to 350.

Mostly core the apples - that is, leave the bottom intact so the filling doesn't leak out when baking! Make the hole kind of large so all the filling fits.

Cream butter and sugar, then beat the rest of the ingredients. Spoon into the cavity in the apples. Put apples on foil-lined tray (slightly high sides are a plus, in case of leaks).

Put in oven. Bake 40 - 60 minutes, you may need to cover with aluminum foil if you are using a toaster oven, so check for over-browning regularly. Remove when done to your taste. Serve hot! Goes well with ice cream.

Catch you later!

Lousy Scabs!

People buy pretty apples. Deep color, glossy (too often from application of wax) not dull, no black or corky areas. In other words, not looking like these apples infected with apple scab fungus:

Traditionally what has been done to combat apple scab has been to apply large quantities of fungicides to orchards every 10 days during the spring (and some in damp weather during the rest of the growing season). This is expensive both in cash costs to the grower (even more so if looking for organic options) and uses a significant amount of petroleum in manufacture, shipping, and spraying of the fungicide. Clearing leaf litter and such from the orchard to reduce overwintering of the fungus is used, too, but doesn't stop air born infestation from nearby areas.

Untreated, not only do folks not buy the apples, but the leaf damage by the fungus reduces yields and weakens trees. Thus, something needed to be done!

Here is where apple breeders stepped in. They have been working on developing scab-resistant apple varieties for decades.

Breeding apple trees is an incredibily long tedious job. They are 'extreme heretozygotes' ... that is ... uh .... okay, think of each apple variety as being one unique human being - see YOURSELF as an apple variety. (I'll bet you think of yourself as Delicious, unless your last name is MacIntosh.) For every trait you exhibit (hair color, eye color, height, shape of nose, whatever) you not only have a constellation of different genes controlling that trait, but for some of those genes you have the same gene from both parents and some you have different genes from both parents. Even if you figured out a way to breed yourself by yourself you would end up with another unique individual, incredibly different than you are. Apples are like that.

As a result, if you breed any apple flower by any other apple flower - even one on the same tree - you end up with seeds that don't produce that original type of apple. You get what were originally called 'pippens' - a mixed orchard in which some apples will be new and at least edible varieties but most will be apple that humans aren't very interested in. Maybe the taste will be off, maybe they'll be small, maybe they'll have very sharplyl angled branches that break easily, whatever. This is why apples are usually propagated by cuttings, which have a set genetic structure, and why most new apple varieties come from 'sports' - branches on an existing tree that have mutated and produce interesting new fruit.

Which brings us back to apple scab.

Waiting for some branch in some orchard to spontaneously develop resistant to apple scab is not what humans want, as it may never happen or not be noticed it if does. Instead, they have been working with the apple varieties and their constellation of traits working to help create new varieties that resist apple scab and have nice flavor/configuration/shipping/storage features as well. After decades of work by poor grad students (with the universities and professors taking the credit) they are having sucess and some new varieties are out on the market.

The most recent variety to be announced is the WineCrisp It is NOT a GMO'd apple, it is a traditionally and laboriously bred apple with apple scab resistance. Apparently it's not a glossy apple, and is rock hard, but tastes good.

It is not the only apple that has been bred to resist apple scab. Here is a list, with useful evaluation notes, from the University of Vermont. I assume that the other PRI apples on the list aren't GMO, and don't have info on the apples from other research groups. Some have weak wood on the trees, some have small apples - you can bet that breeders are still having their grad students work away on new varieties or modifications of the extisting ones!

Some of these might be good for a home garden/small orchard, and will certainly reduce the amount of problems with scab/scab treatments you'll have to do.

But, until any of us try the scab-resistant varieties - what apple varieties are your favorites?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Growing Consultants

Yesterday's Washington Post had several articles on Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new focus in defense spending. The article above the fold explained that Gates is moving away from high-tech spending to a focus on lower tech weaponry. The article below the fold points out the impact it will have on jobs in our area: Contracting Boom Could Fizzle Out We are in the DC area, in case anyone didn't know that - the Washington Post IS my local paper.

We own/operate a small engineering consulting company. We don't do govt contracting ourselves, but we get a sense of what's going on because we are active in the local IEEE (that's the Institute for Electrical and Electronic and all other Engineers) Consultants Network. When contractors "contract" (uh, shrink) that means engineers move from being employees to becoming unemployed or becoming consultants. Or both, because let's face it, saying that someone is "really good at marketing, for an engineer" is damning them with really faint praise.

Even before this military spending shift, the IEEE National Capital Area Consultants Network had been getting a boost in attendence because of the economic downturn. The Consultants Network started running a series on how to get started, called the Art of Consulting. In fact, the first session saw a record setting 60 people register for it.

Many, maybe most of those new folks, don't have websites. What websites they do have - hell, even the website for the consultants network itself! - tend to be just awful. The second page of the CN's website still contains that sample Latin "lipsum orem" text, for goodness sake.

All of these new Engineering/Programming/etc consultants need help. They have been thinking like engineers all their lives, and engineers are not known for their social skills, their communication skills, or their marketing skills. They have been employees all of their working lives, so they think like employees and not like owners/business folks. They 'get' Linkedin, sort of, but they don't get Facebook, professional blogs, or Twitter. They understand bullet points, but they don't have a clue about CSS, SEO, or Joomla!, or pleasing/professional looking graphics on a web page.

These newly and soon-to-be minted consultants need the help of the Consulting Network, its experienced consulting members, the greater IEEE (which has SOME articles on consulting on its web site ... with URLs over 200 characters long - I swear I heard Twitter laugh at them), and local resources such as Joomla! or Drupal web professionals, marketing professionals, basic business professionals. It would be great if they could join more expensive marketing education and support services such as Stompernet (we are getting incredible help from Stompernet ourselves).

So, if you are in ANY of the aboved named groups - how about attending the next Art of Consulting meeting? Tuesday, April 21, 2009, in Northern VA. Detailed information is at

I might even see you there - I've threatened to film the speaker!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More HW Failures

Last week the car - today the lawn mower. Son reports that not only is one tire wedged against the metal housing, but the engine is leaking fuel thru' the air filter. Son and DH are running machine in to Bob-the-repairman (and rental stuff shop owner) for an estimate and work.

Son was going to mow back yard and then take our pics so we have icons on our blogs/twitter accounts/membership sites/etc. But now son is going to go off and search for just the RIGHT video game for his new DSi. He has all these options because his two-hour long T/Th 8 am class was cancelled today.

I'm still hoping he'll get around to taking my pic in front of the herb garden while the daffodils are blooming. They are my favorite spring bulbs, and we were lucky that this house has them planted in the back yard in great groups. I don't know why no one ever planted any bulbs in front, but I guess I'm glad none are there now. We're still waiting for the landlord to fix the front gutter that came crashing down a month ago, and I'm sure that repair folks would trample them to death.

And, yes, the downed gutter is yet another HW failure.

None of the HW failures are awful, just a bit inconvenient. Oh, if we OWNED the house instead of RENTING it, then birds nesting in the roof due to access from boards that came down along with the gutter would be a problem. Not being able to mow the yard is non-optimal, but the front is mowed and I'll bet that if we ask a neighbor we could borrow a lawn mower. Especially since our son mows the unoccupied house on the street thus helps maintain the neighborhood.

But - for car problems, we have back up car AND son could take two buses and have a bunch of wait time and still make it to school ... and back every day except Monday when his evening lab is later than the buses run. I could walk to do shopping, and have shopping cart I could use to get products to shipper - or I could have FedEx pick up at the house I suppose. Getting our manuals from the printer and son's Monday night class would be the only times we'd NEED a car of some sort. Recent dish washer breakdown was handled by - gasp - hand washing dishes. Broken toaster oven was handled by Freecycle and we hope to fix the old toaster oven sometime.

If we didn't have so many 'things', we wouldn't have so many 'things' breaking down. I think that there is a lesson here somewhere.

Catch you later!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Smoked Cheddar

Blessings, Darlings!

While at the Amish Market in Annapolis about 10 days ago we noticed that they had two types of smoked cheddar. One was the type we bought at Yule - bright orange inside, slightly browned smoked exterior, from Wisconsin. They other was new to us - a white cheddar, a darker brown smoked exterior, from the Amish up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Well, Wednesday after we rescued our son from his second round of car trouble for the week this time in the pouring rain! DH and I went out to breakfast in Annapolis and bought both types of the cheeses. Tonight we made two cheese and mushroom omlettes to do an A/B test with the cheeses.

The orange cheddar had a much stronger cheddar cheese flavor, a big, bold, rich, layered taste. The white cheddar had barely any cheddar taste, but a more pronounced smoked flavor. The white cheddar melted more evenly, melding well with the egg and mushrooms. The orange melted but didn't meld.

The orange Wisconsin cheddar was our favorite for flavor both in the omlettes and for nibbling. The great flavor overcame the melt/meld issue in the omlette, while the Amish White didn't bring enough to the party. It's rather a shame - I'd prefer to buy the more local product, but the one with 900 food miles on it has an huge edge in flavor.

Catch you later!

Pizza Sauce Update

DH choose to go with "28 oz can of tomato puree and 28 oz can (drained) of whole tomatoes, hand crushed". Not a good choice. Too thick, almost seemed like catsup. He's thinking of heading back towards canned crushed tomatoes next time (DH seems to have forgotten that he hated that when I tried it years ago. Maybe his tastes have changed?). I'd like a mix of hand crushed tomatoes and a tomato sauce.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sauce for the .... Pizza

Blessings, Darlings!

Tonight is home-made pizza night. DH and I are originally from Chicago and we've been working on re-creating a Malnati's or Pizzeria Due's pizza in our home kitchen for ages. Like - since we moved out of the Chicago area around 1987. We've figured out the cheese (in fact, made it better with fontina instead of mozarella). We've figured out the crust (lots of oil/butter in it). We've improved on the sausage (a mix of cheap pork sausage and the beef sausage from a Mennonite slaughterhouse in Far Western Maryland).

But the sauce has been a problem.

We've tried chopping and draining regular canned tomatoes. We've tried diced tomatoes. We've tried tomato puree. We've dried crushed tomatoes. We've tried various mixtures of all of the above. You should see us dissect pizzas when we're back in Chicago visiting family!

Right now our take on the sauce is that it takes a mixture of crushed tomatoes and tomato puree to have the right texture. If we are doing this from home grown tomatoes (see the post earlier this week on our choice for tomatoes in the garden this year), we crush about a pound and a half of them and puree about another pound. For the puree, chop them first and let them well drain, then puree. And you might want to let the puree separate and pour off the 'thin' stuff at the top.

We season that with a LOT of garlic, then we have to add a significant amount of salt to make my husband happy. Once spread on the pizzas (we always make two at a time) we sprinkle with dried oregano and basil to our taste, and bake.

Proper order of ingredients on pizza: crust, cheese, meat (and other toppings - we LOVE mushrooms), sauce, parmesan cheese.

Catch you later!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Son has car trouble

Blessings, Darlings!

For the second time this week, the DH and I had to rescue the son as he commuted to college. Tuesday morning, at 7:20 am, he called with a flat tire - he had hit a curb driving but got a couple miles farther down the road before he realized he had a problem. We parental units were awake but still lazing in bed at the time, so we dragged our butts up and hustled out. I dropped DH at the car, where he changed the tire then drove the car in to the garage (that we are at regularly enough that we call them our "corporate partner") for work on the tire, and I drove our son to college. And picked him up later in the day.

Today the call came at 9:00 am - thank the Gods for later classes most days! The car wouldn't respond to gas pedal, and died, under a mile from the house. Might be gas line issue. It was POURING. Took son to class, arranged for Corporate Partner to tow car in and work on it. That was 3 hours ago, still haven't gotten a diagnosis and prognosis. Or even Gnosis.

And now I need to pick the son up from college again. At 21, it's a bit odd to be driving son to and from school!

Dramatic sigh from the spoiled Middle Aged Soccer Mom.

Catch you later!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Blessings, Darlings!

My tomato seedlings are up and growing! This year I'm only growing one type, Rutgers. They are a home-canner-friendly tomato: 2.5-3 inches around, nice flavor, lots of fruit and determinate. For those of you new to growing tomatoes, determinate tomatoes have fruit that ripens pretty much all at once - great for harvesting all at once and canning. Indeterminate tomatoes have fruit that ripen one or two at a time, over a longer period of time.

Rutgers are also a heirloom tomato, and not a hybrid. It was developed during the depression at Rutgers University. The credit, of course, goes to the professor in charge, and his work was funded by Campbell's (of soup fame). I expect that the WORK was done by poor grad students, spending their days playing bee/cupid to the tomatoes, moving pollen from one of the parent varieties to the other, then between all the offspring of the parent varieties.

I'm not saying that Rutgers is the most flavorful variety of tomato I could grow - as you might have guessed by who funded its creation and my point about canning, it's a great tomato to PROCESS. A PRACTICAL tomato. That's what I'm all about in the garden this year, practicality. I'll blog on my favorite tomatoes for flavor some other time.

Right now I'm thinking I'll put in 6 to 8 plants, and that I'll sink the plastic jugs from gallons of milk between every few plants. I can then use the jugs to water the tomatoes deeply, reducing evaporation and being more efficient with water use. I'll also have to heavily mulch the tomato beds, because my area used to grow tobacco.

Which brings up an interesting point - it's REALLY useful to know the history of the land you live on/grow your food on. I grew up in the midwest - the land was lovely sand loam, you almost had to TRY to fail at growing anything. On the whole nothing nasty had built up in the soil - not even nematodes. Here in Marlboro Country, the soil is clay and acidic, and had been mostly horse breeding stables or tobacco farms. Tobacco farms have left the soil full of tobacco mosaic virus, and that can really mess up your tomato plants. Many varieties are RESISTANT to the virus, but it's still good practice to mulch so that during rain no virus is splashed up from the earth onto the plant leaves. At the organic CSA farm I volunteer on they grow their tomatoes under a shelter and have underground lines for irrigation to avoid the virus problems.

Catch you later!