Recent Reads: Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times

Dry VeggiesOne of my favorite things about winter is all the delightful gardening that can be done from the comfort of a cozy armchair. My most recent read, Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert and Dry Times by Maureen Gilmer, is part growing guide for organic vegetable gardeners and part region specific.

I might grow in rainy Seattle, but I figured there were some tips I could used in my own garden to make it more sustainable.

And I have to say it didn’t disappoint. It was informative and fun, with useful illustrations that inspire the reader to d.i.y. in their garden. Gilmer has broken up the book into chapters on specific things that gardeners grapple with like pests, soil health, seed starting and so on. I enjoyed the more general information but also little interesting tidbits, like a reference in the seed section to a 2,000 year old date seed that had been successfully cultivated in Israel. (See National Geographic article here) Fun stuff for garden nerds like me.

I also appreciated how she grouped the various vegetables into families, or ‘tribes’ as she called them. There are so many different types of vegetables and it can be confusing when taken individually. But when you start to look at plants within the context of a larger family with similar characteristics, all of the sudden their quirks and their cultivation needs, start to make a lot more sense.

The book contains a lot of good advice for gardeners, from how to un-coil a new hose (warm it in the sun) to selecting varieties of vegetables that are bred specifically for your region, versus just a generic seed packet from one of the big, corporate seed houses.

I found it interesting that in her chapter on soil health, Gilmer didn’t mention getting a soil test for your garden. She principally discusses the problems that arise from deficient nutrition. However, as I and some of my friends who garden have found, headaches come up if you have too much of a certain nutrient. Over-fertilization or an abundance of organic matter can create their own issues over time, even if you are gardening organically.

Overall, I was happy that I picked this book up and hope to implement some of her ideas for saving water in my own garden. I’d love to try and make my own homemade “olla”(a traditional watering device used in the Southwest). After all, as many Pacific Northwest gardeners know, our summers have their own drought-related challenges.

Book Crush: Your Farm in the City

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This week’s Book Crush takes place at Lake Samish in Bellingham on a chilly morning. I don’t know about you, but in the winter, I appreciate these little moments with nature even more.

The leaves at the water’s edge were crispy and rimed with frost. Songbirds were busy in the trees looking for berries and seeds. And a heron flew over the lake, its broad wings outspread and luminous in the early morning light.

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Just in time for the holidays, I’m here to tell you about one of my favorite gardening books published in recent years. “Your Farm in the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals” is a beautiful paean to the joys of growing and harvesting your own food, as well as extremely useful how-to guide for old and new gardeners alike.

you farm in city 2Written collaboratively by Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth ( a wonderful organic gardening association out of Seattle), this book is well organized into helpful topics like “Building Healthy Soil”, pest management or “Loving your Enemies” and “Extending the Harvest”. There’s also an entire chapter on animal husbandry featuring city-friendly farm animals like chickens, ducks, bees and even goats.

Published by Black Dog and Leventhal out of New York, the physical book is beautiful in its own right. Printed in natural muted tones of green, ivory and brown with gorgeous graphics of vegetables, insects and various garden dwellers, it is an absolute pleasure to page through. I also appreciated the budget friendly tips sprinkled throughout such as how to make your own paper pots, the actual essentials for canning and how to build your own rabbit hutch. Taylor’s writing is at once straightforward and charming, a wonderful read on a cold winter’s night with a hot cup of tea in hand.

 

 

 

 

Book Crush: The Black Count

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Happy St. Patty’s Day folks! Today’s Book Crush takes place at one of my favorite outdoor reading venues in Bellingham. On the walk between downtown and Fairhaven, there’s this ramp overlooking the water that is peopled with wooden benches. And while they may not be the softest benches ever, the view is great, the air is salty and I can’t think of many places I’d rather read on my day off…always providing it’s warm enough of course.

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When my girlfriend Scarlett and I were girls we loved the book The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m not sure what appealed to us. The adventure, the exotic locales, or just the writing itself. Later in life I picked up The Black Tulip, another adventure story by Alexander Dumas, and thoroughly enjoyed it both as a discussion of a very interesting time in horticultural history and simply because it was a ‘ripping yarn’.

black countBeing also a fan of history itself, I was delighted to come across this book one Sunday afternoon. Author Tom Reiss spent over a decade researching the life of Alexander Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas. And when you start to look at the facts, suddenly Dumas’ outlandish tales of derring-do and conspiracy seem a lot more grounded in reality.

Are you interested in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era? This book will give you a whole new perspective on them. It turns out that Alexander Dumas’ father was the son of a French gentleman and a Haitian lady. Tom Reiss delves into the history of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean as well as Napoleon’s failed attempt to conquer Egypt. The range of this book is fairly far-reaching, all told through the lens of one incredible man’s life story.

My only beef with this book is that I would have liked to see more primary sources from the perspective of General Alex Dumas. That said, perhaps not many of his letters have survived. In either case, I enjoyed Reiss’ spare, though evocative prose. And this is a story that certainly needs to be told. Even just the two pages devoted to the fate of Toussaint Louverture’s sons gives the reader a greater understanding of that era, as well as the contemporary era. It is an unmasking of history that has been buried for too long.

If you enjoy reading history, pick up this book next time you’re at the bookstore. Reiss’ book is well-researched, finely written and significant. Plus it’s a ripping good yarn.

Book Crush: The Bones of Paris

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This week’s book crush takes place at Avellino’s. A tiny coffee-shop tucked into the battery of shops along Railroad Ave in downtown Bellingham, with some very good tea as well as coffee. It reminds me a bit of the tea shop I frequented on Lower Goat Ln in Norwich.

Velvety-chairs tucked here and there and a relaxed array of personable and interesting baristas. (What do you call tea-shop ladies, can I call them baristas also? Ah well...) They also take their baked good quite seriously.

avellino COLALGEI’m not sure who does the baking, but I’ve been quite impressed to date. The flavors are interesting and the texture often revelatory. (Wait did I just say that? Some people are so silly about baked goods.)

But while I’m in transports, lets turn them in a literary direction. My dear husband drove with me down to Mill Creek on a weeknight recently just so that I could meet one of my favorite mystery authors…. Laurie King! If you like mysteries, and you haven’t read Laurie King yet, run to your nearest bookstore and pick up whichever of her novels you can find.

MeandLKReaders, she was just as dynamic in person as is her prose on the page. We talked with her afterwards, and she was everything that is gracious and funny and charming. It was thrilling and husband made me go back and get a picture with her which is how I have this to share with you.

I was quite excited when I saw the title of her latest book “The Bones of Paris” online. Set in Paris? Something to do with the catacombs perhaps? It seemed to be a perfect autumn read.

BonesOfParis-3The book that precedes this, originally intended to be a stand-alone, was one of the few Laurie King novels that I hadn’t read yet. So, I read ‘Touchstone’ before starting ‘The Bones of Paris’. I won’t go into that book here, (do read it, fantastic) but just to say that it introduces Harry Stuyvesent- hard-boiled detective with a soft spot for things/persons smaller than him.  As ‘The Bones of Paris’ opens, we find him in a considerably darker place than the previous novel. Not to say that his life was sunshine and light during ‘Touchstone’.

Nonetheless his brother, for whose misfortunes he blames himself, has passed on. Harry’s grieving and stuck in a bit of a holding pattern in Europe. Waiting to hear from, we realize as the novel progresses, a formidable young women he met as part of the tumultuous events of ‘Touchstone’.

Paris is tired. This is not the sparkling city of ‘Midnight in Paris’. Rather, this is the Paris of hangers-on, the seedy underbelly of creativity, the hot summer hangover of a spring of intellectualism. Harry is not having an easy time of it. He is trying to track down a girl named Pip Crosby with whom he had a brief affair.  Her family, who are unaware of his past with her, has hired him to investigate her disappearance. But it isn’t just that,  Harry feels he has wronged Pip and is desperate to find her.

He stumbles past Man-Ray, Hemingway and other legendary luminaries. They glance off the sharp edges of this grim tale rather than being the focus. The center of this tale is actually the American girls who seem to arrive in Paris in droves to disappear into the ‘art scene’. From Mimi to Kitty to Lulu to Pip, all eerily diminutive names, Harris is haunted by their seemingly disposable nature to the art movement that places them in the role of muse, while it seeks to abuse and humiliate them simultaneously.

I sincerely enjoyed this novel. King delivers rich if often disturbing imagery, along with skillful character development and tightly-woven prose that is beautiful in its own right.

If you do read this, which I highly recommend you do, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Book Crush: Tokyo Bound

The front facade of Village Books

Today’s Book Crush takes place at Village Books in Fairhaven. I often walk there on my day off. Three floors of books, both used and new, a little cafe, and my favorite part, lots of “staff picks” cards. I like to browse through them and often find my next book that way.

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Two of my favorite summer reads of 2013 to date have a major character in common: Tokyo. I’ve been fascinated with Tokyo for awhile, especially now that one of my good friends is actually living there. The first is Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel: A Tale for the Time Being. Ozeki is one of my favorite contemporary novelists. My husband introduced me to her work years ago with her excellent novel, My Year of Meats.a-tale-for-the-time-being

The main character in A Tale for the Time Being lives on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia with her eco-historian boyfriend Oliver. She is a novelist and she is trying to finish a memoir, which seems to be going slowly. When she finds a bag containing a diary supposedly written by a sixteen year old girl called Naoko living in Tokyo, her search to find the ‘truth’ about this girl speaks to the conflict between fiction and reality, and the essential unreliability of both. As with most Ozeki novels, I had a hard time putting this book down. I was that interested in the journey of her characters.

The cityscape and culture of Tokyo play a big part in this novel. I wanted to read more, even if I couldn’t actually go to Tokyo right then and there. Luckily for me, I picked up this next book by chance a week or so later.

pretty good number onePretty Good Number One is a very different book, it is non-fiction, but similarly interested in Tokyo and the culture. Written by local Seattle author Matthew Amster-Burton, this is a great, fun summer read, particularly for those with travel lust of a culinary variety. The premise is simple. A father and his daughter, obsessed with Japanese cuisine, decide to spend a month in Tokyo exploring the city and all that it has to offer foodies. What a delight. From tales of ramen restaurants to onsen to bar culture. It’s so much fun to see it through the eyes both of the father and the daughter both, as well as the long-suffering mom that they’ve drug along on this fantastical food odyssey.

I enjoyed each of these books thoroughly and felt like I’d gained new insight on the city of Tokyo. Now I’m thinking I just might have to do some exploring of my own one of these days soon…

 

 

 

Book Crush: Smitten Kitchen

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My current crush is the Smitten Kitchen cookbook written by one of my favorite bloggers Deb Perelman. My better-half brought it home for me on Christmas Eve and I immediately began paging through it.

I’ve been following her blog for sometime now because I love the photography but most of all I love her recipes, which somehow manage to be interesting and eclectic without being pretentious. She never uses expensive ingredients that I can’t afford, and if she does use something a bit off the main aisle of the grocery store it is with extremely good reason!

Cookbook

Another great aspect of Deb’s recipes is that she doesn’t add any steps that are unnecessary. If she tells you to…oh I don’t know separate your egg whites…it’s because she’s tested the recipe both ways and has made sure that the end product is actually worth the extra effort. I love that she cares enough about her readers to check for that and also that she’s curious about it in the first place. Many of my best baking moments have been a result of such curiosity.

Speaking of desserts….omg. Her book, which I should add has many recipes you can’t find on her website, has so many great desserts. So far I’ve made the apple cake…so good it could compete with apple pie and something called grapefruit- olive oil pound cake…oh my holy citrus taste explosion…

Below is a little peak at the inside of the book…as you can see I’ve already started writing in the margins…and I have a feeling this will be a much loved book for many years to come in our household.

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