Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Night, 'Night, Garden

I am looking out my back door at approximately 800 square feet of space that is my garden. It is blanketed a layer of shredded leaves, grass and straw topped with a little snow that fell over night. I still have a few corps in the ground: carrots, kale, parsley, celery and collards. We ate the last of the arugula at Thanksgiving and I'm planning on pulling the rest of the stuff in the next few days. There is nothing like fresh greens to go with the black eyed peas that we will eat at the close of Kwanzaa and the beginning of the New Year. This time of year is the lull between the end of this season's garden and planning for 2010. Although I started getting seed catalogs before Christmas, I put them away until January.

As I look back on this, my sixth season of growing food for my family, I am grateful. I had always wanted to have a garden. Every summer as a kid, my family would pile into the station wagon and head to Paris, Tennessee to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hall. Grandpa Ed was a farmer and as the years went by, the size of his farm shrank, but as a kid from the city, what he thought of as a garden, we viewed as a farm. It was big enough to require a tractor to cultivate.

In the spring of 2003, after 11 years of marriage, I had just filed for divorce. I needed to immerse myself in something new. I decided that I would start of garden. I had recently purchased a book about Vegetable Gardening at a used book sale for, like $5. It is still one of the best books I own. I staked out a 40' x 15' plot in the backyard. Not knowing any better, I dug up the lawn manually (with a shovel and a hoe!). Since that time, that initial plot has been reduced to 25 x 15 with traditional rows. I have added three 4x6 beds for potatoes, two 5x5 beds for strawberries, one bed for beans, two for onions and carrots, one for tomatoes, and two 4 x 11 beds for various other crops. I also dug up a plot on the side of the house for "extras"-- extra transplants or seeds that I don't have room for in the backyard. This past year, I put a couple of squash plants in the front of the house!

Who knows what next year will bring... but for now, we are enjoying all the good food that I have put up for this winter. In addition to the potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash stored int he garage and the fresh tomatoes in the basement, here is a partial list of what we've added to our basement cellar:

For the freezer:
11 half pints garlic scape pesto

5 half pints sunflower garlic scape pesto

5 quarts asparagus

5 quarts strawberries

6 half pints garlic scapes and olive oil

2 quarts blueberries

5 quarts sweet peppers

4 quarts onions

6 half pints basil pesto

3 quarts cabbage


18 quarts tomatoes

7 pints and 6 half pints roasted tomatoes with garlic and herbs

9 quarts cusa

4 quarts chicken soup

14 quarts pumpkin


2 quarts blueberries

4 quarts cherries

5 lbs. apples

8 large zucchini

Living in Detroit, we are fortunate to have Eastern Market open all year round. I can buy tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from Smitty, who brings these veggies from Ontario greenhouses. I can also get root crops grown in Michigan in the winter as well as eggs and fresh milk from Hampshire Organic Farm (from our cow share-more on that another time).

Finally, the mainstream media has decided to cover the deplorable state of the U.S. food system. In a country with very high rates of obesity and lifestyle related illness, we are a people who are by and large, undernourished because of the "food" we eat; (fast food and pre-packaged stuff full of fat, salt, sugar, chemicals and preservatives as well as devoid of nutrition- just read some of those labels!) I am determined to feed my family real food...and support local farmers and my own community whenever possible. It may seem like a lot of work to cook, garden and preserve your own food, but like many things, once you start down this path, you realize that it is worth the effort. And, I actually enjoy it immensely.

So, for your own health, your family's health and for the local economy, take steps this year toward preparing and eating real food. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Handmade, Local Christmas Gifts

In the past few years, I have really focused my purchases on local businesses- whether it is local food directly from farmers or the local hardware or book store. Gift giving is no different. This year, I have made many Christmas gifts myself-- sweaters, scarves, satchets, sunglass cases. I have also shopped at Detroit's independent retailers. Below is a list of some of my favorites. So, for all of you who need a last minute gift, check these out:

Avalon Bakery- Always yummy, organic bakery goods, coffee, tea, gourmet Michigan foods. Ann and Jackie have been in business for 13 (?) years. Wonderful breads, cookies, muffins, etc. They also support many, many local causes. Located at 422 W. Willis just west of Cass.

City Bird- new studio opened by siblings Emily and Andy Linn. They have their own line of Detroit street map themed soaps, jewelry, votives, etc. and carry items from other local artists.

Bureau of Urban Living- Great housewares and other unique items.

Both the Bureau and City Bird are located at 460 W. Canfield

Spiral Collective- Actually four women-owned businesses in one space. The Source Bookstore, Del Pryor Art Gallery, Textures by Nefertiti and Tulani Rose. Pick up rare books, natural skin and hair care products and wonderful art. 4201 Cass Avenue corner of Willis

Flo Boutique- Eclectic, funky clothes and accessories for women and men. Felicia has a great eye for unique items. Located at 404 W. Willis.

City Knits- Another jewel. I love the wonderful yarns, books and great, helpful staff. Check out the sale yarns at the back of the store. Located in the Fisher Building.

Detroit Artist Market- Always something new from the many talented artists in Detroit. Located at Woodward. 4719 Woodward Avenue in Midtown.

Biegas Gallery- The owner, Christine B. is retiring and the gallery will close soon. She has some wonderful items left-- all on sale. Located on GrandRiver east of Woodward, around the corner from the Boll YMCA.

Pewabic Pottery- Detroit's historic pottery located at 10129 E. Jefferson. Tiles of all sizes and designs, vessels, mugs and ornaments.

Pure Detroit- Detroit themed shirts, bags, sweat shirts and books. Three locations: Fisher Building, Guardian Building and Renaissance Center.

Merry Christmas and Peaceful New Year!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's a Farm Thing- Summer Vacation 2009

I love living in the city, but always enjoy vacationing up north in Michigan. We have such a beautiful state and I want the boys to appreciate how people live in other parts of the world, so we are starting right here in our home state. Thanks to my friend, James, we have had access to his cottage which is about 3 1/2 hours from home. It is in Oscoda County and most of the surrounding area is rural. The boys can fish right off the dock on James' property. Theo did a great job of teaching his little brother how to fish. Khairi caught several fish with his "Lightening McQueen" fishing pole, including a 14" small mouth bass (we threw her/him back in.)

Last year, I became friends with Jill, who lives across the road and this year, she invited us on a field trip. She took us to an Amish bakery and country store. The bakery was a small house that you entered through the front screen door. On the counter were these wonderful breads, pies, cookies and cinammon rolls. All the items had price stickers on them. There was a can on the counter with a sign that said "Put your money in the can." We bought some cinnamon rolls and then headed down the road to the country store. Now, if you are not familiar, the Amish are a close knit community that shuns many of what we would consider necessities (cars, electricity, phones, etc.) The country store is a little unusual because it is open to the public. Although, unless you know someone who lives nearby, you would not likely find it on your own. I purchased a 10lb. bag of unbleached flour and some chocolate.

I asked Jill if she knew where I might buy farm raised chickens. My family and I do not eat strictly vegetarian, but we don't eat conventionally raised meat. (Read Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan or Fast Food Nation by Eric Schosser or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for more on that topic). We spotted a postcard on the board in the store that stated "Chickens. Call Mary. Phone Number" I called and Mary indicated that she raised chickens on her family farm and had dressed and frozen birds available. We headed over to meet her at her home.

We arrived about 15 minutes later and were greeted by a young Menonite woman and her dad. This part of Michigan is also home to a large community of Menonites, who also live very modestly. (Although many do drive, have phones and electricity, etc.). I purchased three chickens. Mary's dad offered to show us around the farm. I'm not sure who was more excited... me or the boys. Mr. T took us out to the cow pasture, where about a dozen cows moseyed over to us. A couple of them even let us touch them. Mr. T explained that he raised cows, pigs, chickens for meat and he processed animals from the surrounding farms. We met a couple dozen pigs that were outside in their large pen. Inside the barn were the most beautiful Rhode Island Red Chickens. Mr. T went into the chicken area and brought out two warm, just laid eggs for the boys. He then took them into another area of the barn where they could see and hold two-day old baby chicks. We talked about the work of the farm, how the animals were cared for, etc. He also told us about his missionary work to Haiti. We finished our visit by admiring Mrs. T's garden. She came out from the house to harvest some onions for something she was cooking inside.

Mr. T invited us to come by again and we said our good byes. I got the feeling that Mr. T does not generally give "tours" to people who come to buy chickens from his daughter. I felt definitely felt honored.

Theo, Khairi and me hanging out with Mr. T's cows.

Fishing at dusk on Moon Lake.

The view of Moon Lake from the back deck.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 Garden Update

I can't believe that my last post was February! Oh, well. Life has been busy with two boys... working, school, living!! Here are a few photos from this year's garden. Last night, I harvested our first crop of garlic scapes and a huge bowl of strawberries. What could be better??

I am also excited about the fava beans that we planted. They have these beautiful black and white flowers on them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Give us this day our daily bread

Last year, my bread machine conked out after ten years, so for my birthday, I splurged on a new one. It is one of those convection bread makers that can handle a wide variety of recipes.

Shortly after getting my new machine, I received the latest issue of Mother Earth News, which if you are not familiar is a terrific resource for living simply. Topics include everything from organic gardening and homesteading to baking bread. This particular issue contained a recipe for NO KNEAD BREAD. Although it does require some planning ahead, the results are wonderful. Below is the recipe, as written:

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water
3 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You can use white, wheat or a combination of the two. *
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Cornmeal for dusting

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the flour and salt until blended. The dough will be sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 8 hours, preferably 12-18 hours at room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Fold over on itself a couple of times, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes. Coat a clean dish towel with flour or cornmeal. Put the seam side down on towel, dust again. Cover with another towel and let rest 1-2 more hours or until the dough has doubled in size. At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat oven to 475 degrees and put a 6-8 quart covered pot in the oven as it heats. (I use my Club dutch oven: an ebay find that I now can't live without.). When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven, lift the lid. Slide the bread off the towel and turn it over into the pot. Give the pot a firm shake to settle the dough. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake 15 minutes more until the loaf is browned. Remove the bread from the dutch oven and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.

I have made this bread many times now and have experimented with the ratio of white to wheat flour. My boys prefer a lighter bread, so I usually use half white (King Arthur Organic Flour) and half wheat. By the way, if you are looking for a local, organic source for flour. Randy and Shirley from Hampshire Farms began selling their own flours, grains, beans and produce at Eastern Market a little more than a year ago. They grow and mill their own grain and always have whole wheat bread and pastry flours as well as spelt flour. They also sell eggs and chickens when they are available. They are a family farm that is also certified organic.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Knit One, Purl Two...

When I was in middle school, my mom taught me how to knit and crochet. I don't remember anything that I made at the time, but I did like it. Last year on my annual camping trip with a group of women, I was re-introduced to knitting. Several of the women were in the process of knitting sweaters, socks, baby hats, etc. When I got home, I bought a "teach yourself to knit" kit, yarn and a set of needles.

My first project, a scarf made with a boucle' and eyelash yarn together, was beautiful. I still wear it often. Excited, I bought more yarn, needles and a couple of knitting magazines. Then, I got busy and did not knit again until I put my garden to bed in October.

Then, I knit my sister a scarf (like the one I made for myself). Mary, one of the women on my camping trip, was making a felted purse during the weekend. Felting involves knitting then putting the item in the washing machine to create a tightly woven fabric (like felt). I had a book called "One Skein Wonders" that I had bought last year. I found a pattern for a felted bag and decided to try it.

My first bag was made with a brown, super bulky yarn and it came out great. (Thanks, Brenda from City Knits for your help!) By the way, a great place to learn to knit, pick up great yarn, books, needles, etc and support a local business is City Knits in the Fisher Building in Detroit. Their website is

To finish my new bag, I added some beaded ribbon and bought some fabric to make a lining. I am not very good at sewing. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I can hardly get a button on straight. My first attempt was a little clumsy, but everytime I carry this bag, I get compliments.

Since then, I have made two more bags. I have had several offers from friends, family and total strangers to buy my bags. I have also had requests to make various items. (Several of these offers have come as a result of knitting in public). Recently, I was offered $65 on the spot for the red bag (pictured at the left), which was made with Shepherd's Wool, from a Northern Michigan-based company, a mohair blend yarn, and two leather straps cut off a purse I bought at a local thrift store.

I have also made a big purple totebag from a wool sweater that I felted in the washing machine, then cut and sewed. The strap and buckle is a repurposed belt.

I have always loved creating things. I love the satisfaction of baking my own bread, culturing my own yogurt, growing fruits and vegetables. It must be the relatively immediate results and sense of satisfaction of finishing something. Knitting has the added bonus of creating something that has the potential to stay around for a long time.

To enhance my kniiting projects, I have decided to learn to use a sewing machine. I found an old one on craigslist right after the holidays and purchased a user's manual. The last time I used a sewing machine was in high school and the resulting skirt was unwearable. Hopefully, this time will be different.

With encourage from several friends (Hey, Sonji!), I am now looking at how to turn my latest obsession into a business opportunity. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Extraordinary Day

Much will be written about the historic inauguration that we witnessed yesterday. I had the good fortune of spending time in several places with many friends and members of the Detroit community in which I live.

For most of the day, I was at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. ( The Cass Tech Marching Band, an awesome choir from Inkster and a packed Theatre created amazing energy in the building. As members of the community streamed in to the Theatre to watch the inauguration, I was particularly moved by the reaction of the elders, many of whom had fought and struggled during the Civil Rights movement and had personally experienced racism. I spoke with a gentleman who was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who had tears streaming down his face as he spoke about how he felt watching our new President take the oath of office. It was a day that he did not expect to see in his lifetime. It was also exciting to see the faces of young children and hear them speak the name of our new President; the name Barack Obama rolling off their tongues as if he was a beloved family member.

Mid-morning, I went to my sons' school, University Prep Academy, to watch the swearing in ceremony with my 8 year old son. We had just spent the MLK holiday at a breakfast event the day before. The program included a short play performed by students from Detroit Public Schools' Spain Middle School. It was a dialogue between Martin Luther King and the Obama family. The keynote speaker was Rev. Byron Moore from Ebenezer AME Church in Detroit. He was awesome-- drawing biblical references to current events. My favorite message from his speech... The Joshua generation needs to sit at the feet of the Moses generation (listen to our elders), but the Moses generation cannot lead the Joshua generation (we need to step up.)

The school was decorated in red, white and blue. The student's were allowed to wear Obama shirts, etc. over their uniforms for the day. As the students gathered in the gym, it was clear that they knew this day was important. I am talking about kindergarten through fifth graders here. When the ceremony began, the children were silent. Everytime the crowd in Washington cheered, they cheered. I overheard a couple of little girls talking about what it would be like to be Sasha or Miela. One of the boys interjected, " I am going to President someday." How awesome that these African American children will grow up really believing that anything is possible.

Sometimes, as parents, we aren't sure if the messages and lessons that we are trying to teach are getting through to our children. On our way home from school, my older son was picking at his younger brother about sucking his thumb and dragging around his blanket (He's 3) I told him to "stop being so critical of your brother. Nobody's perfect, including you." My older son then responded, " Yes there is. God is perfect. Jesus was perfect, wasn't he?" I told him that, Yes, God is perfect and that Jesus was the most perfect human being to walk the earth" He then said, "And Martin Luther King was perfect." I told him, " Martin Luther King was a great man, but he wasn't perfect either" He then said, "Yeah, but he tried to make it perfect." We talked about how MLK did what he knew was right and that he lost his life trying to make things better for everyone." My son then said. "Just like Jesus did." (Yahoo!!)

We capped off our day at a potluck hosted by the Garden Resource Program at Focus: HOPE. If you live in the city and love to garden, you MUST join the Garden Resource Program. It is a partnership of the Greening of Detroit, Earthworks Garden, Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Michigan State Universtiy Extension. I have been gardening for 6 years and this group, with its terrific, generous people and lots of resources have helped me grow a substantial amount of food to feed my family. (if you want to learn more, go to )

There really is a new sense of optimism in the air. I don't believe that this is a "pollyanna" view. Most of us recognize that things are not going to change over night and that it will take all of us to work and sacrifice to create a better city, nation and world.

Let's get busy!!