Tuesday, February 26, 2008

moose and climate change

Here is a story of very little surprise:

Minnesota moose study suggests climate change may be contributing to population decline.

Minnesota is the southern edge of the moose's natural range, and if the current decline continues the moose in Minnesota could be down to a remnant population within fifty years.

Moose are cold weather critters and get stressed during warm weather, and the researchers say that there is a direct correlation between moose mortality rates and how warm it gets in the summer and for how long. One of the researchers in the article says, "It would be real nice to find something else that’s the smoking gun that we could fix, but I’m not confident that’s going to happen."

Swell. Like I said, this should surprise no one--of course climate change is going to have a huge effect on animals that are highly dependent on a certain climate--but it's still depressing. Moose are in no immediate danger of going extinct--I mean, there's still a hunting season on them (although I wish the article would have addressed that a bit more, because surely that can't be helping the population)--and definitely there are other factors to consider, like the diseases that the moose are getting from deer (and White-tailed Deer don't even belong in northern Minnesota, people should shoot more of them instead). But it's just one more sad piece of evidence of how we humans are screwing up the planet. As temperatures continue to rise, the moose will keep heading further and further north, until they run out of north, I guess.

And meanwhile the city of Duluth is dragging its heels on ponying up some funding for a feasibility study for a passenger train between Duluth and Minneapolis, because who would want to take a train anywhere? Drive your cars and pollute the air! Make a personal contribution to global warming! Single passenger vehicles are the way to go! We don't need moose in Minnesota!

The only moose I've ever seen was dead in the back of somebody's truck. My parents and I were on our way to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and we were at a stop light in Duluth, Minnesota, and I happened to glance over and saw this huge, brown thing, and it was so big that my brain didn't recognize it at first as possibly being an animal--I saw the antlers and thought maybe they were some ornate scroll work on a a dresser or something. But then a second later the scope of my vision widened a bit and I saw what the antlers were really connected to.

Not having a car myself, I don't get out of the city too often, so I don't know when my next opportunity for moose-viewing will be. But I might have to go all the way up to Canada for it.

more signs of spring

The other day while I was at the bus stop, I heard a woodpecker drumming in the distance, and it sounded like he was drumming on something rather a bit more resonant than a dead tree full of yummy insects. In the spring, woodpeckers drum to establish territories and attract a mate, and a woodpecker's prowess is reflected by how loud he or she can drum, which is why you will sometimes hear woodpeckers going to town on metal siding or a metal mailbox: I am woodpecker, hear me roar! The woodpecker I heard on Sunday was drumming on some solid wood or possibly heavy plastic--probably somebody's house. I'm sure there are birders out there who can ID a woodpecker by the rhythm of its drumming, but I am not one of them. Downy or Hairy are the usual suspects in this neck of the woods right now, with the dim possibility of a Pileated.

The chickadees are fee-beeing all over the place now. I hear them on every sunny or warm-ish day that I leave the house, and even on the days that I don't I can hear them outside through two panes of glass. A little while ago I was filling the feeder in the yard, and a chickadee hopped down to the honeysuckle to watch, which is always fun. The yard chickadees definitely know me and know that I am the Bringer Of Food, so sometimes a few will gather around when I go to put more seed out. Anyway, this one flew in, hopped around a few branches a bit, then started belting out a loud, clear FEE-BEE, FEE-BEE. Am I a rival he was trying to scare off or a mate he was trying to attract? Or maybe he was calling his lady-friend in for dinner. I was standing close enough that I could watch the little black patch on his throat fill with air as he sang.

Friday, February 22, 2008

stuffed mushrooms

Earlier this month, the newspaper incorrectly listed February 21st as National Stuffed Mushroom Day. According to the internet, it was actually on February 4th, but by the time I realized I had the "wrong" date, the 4th was already past, and, my gosh, now that I know about it I can't just not celebrate Stuffed Mushroom Day. Blasphemy! So we had our Stuffed Mushroom Day a little late, but now we know better for in the future. Although, really, as my dinner companion said, Stuffed Mushroom Day should be at least a quarterly event.

Feta-Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

10-20 crimini mushrooms, depending on size (you can use 2 good portabellas, too)
1/3 of a package of frozen spinach (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup feta, crumbled (about 1/4 pound)
1-2 tablespoons dried basil
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
olive oil

Defrost spinach and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. It should be fairly dry. Fresh spinach or other greens work fine, too (chard is actually very tasty) if you chop it up first and wilt it in a pan with a little oil. Saute onions in oil until they start to soften and turn translucent; add garlic and saute a minute longer. Combine spinach, onions, garlic, feta, basil, and breadcrumbs (if you're using frozen-and-squeezed-dry spinach, you'll probably have to fluff it with a fork first). (Also, I was running a bit low on dried basil last night, and my fresh basil is still in seeds-in-an-envelope form, so I threw in a little fresh parsely because I had some on hand. Thyme, dill, and oregano would all work, too.) Clean mushrooms and discard stems; brush caps liberally with oil. Stuff with feta-spinach mixture and cook in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until mushrooms are cooked full through.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I'm saving up to buy a house right now, so I'm watching my budget pretty tightly, and one thing that I'm doing is making more stuff from scratch, including bread. Which itself doesn't seem like it would be a huge money saver -- I mean, as a household we only go through about one loaf of bread a week, and even buying it from the nice hippie organic bakery that's still only about $3. But $3 a week over the course of the year adds up to over $150. And then if you factor in making cookies from scratch rather than buying a $3 box of cookies every week, that's another $150, And so on and so forth.

However, my frugality borders on the obsessive at times, like last time I went shopping and went to buy breadcrumbs. I can't even remember how much they cost now, but whatever it was I was aghast. This was at the co-op, and they were organic, so it was probably about $3 or $4 for a 15 ounce container. Highway robbery! Even though I hardly ever use breadcrumbs and only go through, like, one container a year.

Then it occurred to me that, duh, if I'm making my own bread I can make my own breadcrumbs. It was one of those realizations where it feels like everybody else already knows this but I am just now figuring it out.

Since I think I have a genetic predisposition to not follow/read directions, I sort of just winged it, and I grated the butt ends of a few loaves of bread with a cheese grater and then toasted it in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Afterwards I consulted the Joy of Cooking and realized that I had done it backwards -- they recommend drying out the bread in the oven first and then running it through a food mill or something.

I had about four inches worth of bread, and that yielded a little under one cup of breadcrumbs, which will be more than enough for what I need it for: stuffed mushrooms. The local paper incorrectly listed today, February 21, as National Stuffed Mushroom Day (according to the internet it's apparently actually on February 4; today is National Cherry Pie day, however) so tonight for dinner we are celebrating this blessed event with Spinach-Feta Stuffed Mushroom. Recipe and picture to follow later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I thought I was just taking advantage of the last of the local produce at the co-op, but it turns out I was making a pretty, pink meal during the week of Valentines. The color in the photo is slightly off, though I tried to mess with it in photoshop; in reality it is a very lush, lascivious magenta. Also, I think it tastes better if you cook it in a complimentary aqua-blue pot (as seen in the background).

This is my friend Katherine's recipe, slightly modified.


3-4 beets (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

1 potato

3-4 carrots

1 parsnip

1 onion

2-10 cloves of garlic

4-5 cups vegetable broth

the juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)

olive oil

salt and pepper

sour cream and dill for topping

Preheat oven to 350. Peel and roughly cut the beets, potato, carrots, and parsnip; coat with olive oil and roast in a dutch oven for 25 minutes. Peel and roughly chop the onions and garlic, add them to the pot, and roast for another 25 minutes. Bring pot to stove top, cover vegetables with broth, and simmer until vegetables are very soft. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Blend well. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill in each bowl.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

modern art from the produce section

I made potato soup last night, and this is one of the potatoes I found at the bottom of my five pound bag.

Reminiscent of Henry Moore, don't you think?

And then a few minutes later I was slicing up the leeks and discovered this:

Whoa! I've never seen a squiggly leek before. I wonder what happened.

And for the record, yes, they're both organic.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

book review: Plenty

“Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon

Review originally published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, Minnesota, on Januray 24, 2008.

It all began with one amazing meal. Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon were expecting guests at their “cottage” – a rickety eighty year old homestead in northern British Columbia, miles from any grocery store or town or even a road – and all they had to feed them was one cabbage “greasy with rot.” So they turned to the land around them, and prepared an autumn feast with a trout caught from the nearby river, wild mushrooms and dandelion greens from the forest, and potatoes and garlic dug from their garden. They picked apples, cherries and rose hips, and steeped them in the wine brought in by their guests. Every ingredient had a story and an identifiable point of origin, and the meal was exquisite. At once both simple and decadent, it captured perfectly the season and the feeling of friends coming together to create something beautiful. Afterwards they were left with one question: Would it be possible to eat like this all the time?

Back at their one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, they drew a circle on the map and decided that, for one year, they would only eat food produced within a 100 mile radius of their home. They began their experiment on the spring equinox: “Like urbanites everywhere, we imagined that, at the stroke of midnight on the last day of winter, fresh green shoots would burst forth from the earth to nourish us.”

Anyone familiar with the seasons in a northern climate will understand immediately how woefully unprepared they were.

They squeaked by on eggs, fish, and last year’s root vegetables until May, when the farmer’s market opened and the real harvest began. Then they began biking to a farm on the edge of town where they could check in on the chickens who produced the dozen eggs they bought every Saturday. Fish was purchased from a market just a few blocks from their house and harvested from the Salish Sea just a few blocks further. Fresh vegetables came either from their three foot by ten foot community garden plot, friends’ gardens, the farmer’s market, or directly from the farms themselves. Their diet followed the seasons – and microseasons – and suddenly the weather became more important than ever before: a late frost stalled all the early spring greens, and the fall rains gave the last of the tomatoes blossom end rot.

It took them nearly eight months to find a local wheat farmer, and in the meantime they were forced to go without bread and pasta. But they picked strawberries (29 pounds of them) and smuggled cheese across the border from Washington. They filled a chest freezer with blueberries and corn and fish, and they learned to can tomatoes and make blackberry jam. They sampled local honey and discovered some varieties – like the pumpkin honey or dandelion honey – whose flavors were so distinct that they were utterly unlike anything they had tried before: “The epiphany felt urgent, a gentler version of that first adolescent kiss that tells you there’s something good you’ve been missing out on all your life.”

The food on most North Americans dinner plates has traveled on average between 1,500 and 3,000 miles; that distance has increased by 25% between 1980 and 2001, and continues to climb. Apples come from New Zealand, berries from South America, and lettuce from China. Cheap oil and a global economy have created a system where most consumers are utterly disconnected from the food they eat, and while prices may fluctuate a little bit here and there, the shelves at the supermarket remain full year round, seeming to offer anything you want, whenever you want it.

But is this truly abundance? The produce in most grocery stores is limited to what can be grown or processed in enormous quantities and shipped long distances with minimal loss, and it tends to less flavorful and less nutritious. Untold numbers of heritage varieties of tomatoes or beans or potatoes, that for centuries had grown in kitchen gardens and family farms, sustaining people and contributing to the regional cuisine, are now being lost at alarming rates, and most people are unaware that they ever existed; in exploring the local food economy, James and Alisa were surprised to learn that, just like apples or grapes, strawberries too come in different varietal strains. They also met a farmer who has made it his life’s work to preserve as many of these old varieties as he can. When they visited him, he had growing in his fields forty kinds of garlic, eighty kinds of beans, and a startling three hundred kinds of tomatoes; he plants about eighty new varieties of seeds each year, and most come from small farms that have been forced out of business.

The book is written chronologically, from March to March, and Alisa and James take turns authoring every other chapter as they explore their relationship with food and with each other. The writing is lovely, and very readable, and although they claim that their book is at heart a memoir, the text is peppered with just the right amount of cold, hard facts to get the reader riled up about the virtues of eating locally, too. The story is engaging enough that you can forgive the slight gimmickiness of it – exactly one year, exactly 100 miles, leaping into the experiment cold turkey because it’s more interesting to watch them flail as they search high and low for wheat or fret about salt. Plenty is both fun and important, a very fine book for anyone interested in living a little more lightly on the earth.

James and Alisa's website: 100 Mile Diet: Local Eating for Global Change