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A Year of Produce: May

In April, I posted my first month tracking fresh produce expenditures—comparing local versus non-local produce. See May below or download a high-res PDF of May. To paraphrase a saying, eat the colors of the rainbow and you’ll be fine. May is already looking more colorful.

Two things I’m struggling with:

Defining local: If I were to use the 100-mile radius rule, then I would have to find out if the Washington apple I buy at grocery store is from a farm within 100 miles. My very loose definition of local is Oregon and Washington. Given that a big percentage of my local produce costs are from the farmers market, I’m fine with my definition.

Including garden costs: This project isn’t about tracking garden costs. Here is an example of a couple who tracked all input costs, labor and output from their garden. This is far too ambitious for me. An excellent read is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her family existed for a year on what they grew or could buy within a 50-mile radius. I am only tracking what I harvest (visually) and the cost of seeds or starts, but not compost or fertilizer. However, I haven’t devised a strategy for tracking every sprig of thyme! I’m a big proponent of having an herb garden. Given the cost of fresh herbs and the flavor boost your cooking, herb gardening is where I would put my effort if I had very little space. See this culinary herb primer on Culinate.com.

Maybe you’re wondering what I do with all this. Here are a few links or suggestions:

Radishes and Fennel went into a Radish, Fennel, Orange Salad. The watermelon radish, if you can find it, is a visual delight—white on the outside, hot pink on the inside. Radishes make my stomach burn but my mother loves them. It was Mother’s Day. What can you do? The sweetness of the fennel and orange balance the peppery radishes. Plus the salad looks kick ass.

• In an earlier post, I wrote about Rabes (Raabs), and offer up a quick way to cook broccoli rabe. You can also download a recipe for Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, a signature dish of the Puglia region in Italy.

• May continues to give us rhubarb. If you missed April, here’s another chance to download a recipe for a Rosemary Rhubarb Galette. Top with goat cheese and serve with a salad for a lovely spring lunch.

• Chef in the Market, Jeremy Eckel of Bar Avignon in Portland, OR, made a wonderful farro (This has become my favorite grain. Stay tuned for another post.) salad with grilled asparagus and spring sweet onions. Add some olive oil, fresh lemon juice and zest, and chopped hazelnuts for a great Spring BBQ salad.

New Seasons market has a nice kale and carrot salad that I’ve recreated at home. It uses an Asian-inspired dressing of cumin, canola oil, fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesami oil. No need to cook the kale first; the vinegar breaks it down so make it a little ahead. I also use the Italian kale in minestrone soup. Sadly, it is still soup season in Portland!

If you have any questions and comments, let me know! Share some of your favorite seasonal recipe ideas. Cheers!

<< Go to April or go to June >>

Art of Surrender Redux: The Garden

One must embrace irony. There is a lot of it in life, after all. Consider the garden if you will. In an effort to control my food source, I found a place to live where I could (in theory) enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor by having a garden.

Instead, it is a daily practice of surrender to a host of elements out of my control. My plants are gracious hosts to a wide variety of critters from nearly invisible to purring.

No book by the Dalai Lama or Eckhart Tolle will teach an essential lesson in letting go more than having a garden. Tending a garden requires relinquishing the foolish notion that you will reap a product at the end. Each morning, coffee in hand, I make my rounds to the plants like a nurse visiting her ICU patients, inspecting limbs, peering at their wounds, unleashing a few expletives (me, not the nurse most likely).

As a woman said to her husband who complained of flea beetles, “There’s a good way to get rid of the pests. Go to the grocery store and buy eggplant.”

Where’s the fun if you can’t suffer a little? Who learns anything if you can’t experience your hard work wither away one tiny bitefull at a time? The truly strong among us are strong, not for our victories but, for our losses. The truly wise among us are wise, not for the tomato we ate at the end but, for the garden path we walked.

Though a tomato would be nice.

Can I Recycle This?

We designers like to collect print samples to keep for reference or inspiration. It used to be called a morgue file, and maybe it is still. At one place I worked, our morgue file consisted of several tall filing cabinets with multiple categories of print samples. These pieces had been collected for years. My guess is, no one had regularly gone through to eliminate items no longer inspirational or useful. I knew there were goodies lurking in those drawers but I rarely dove in. There was simply too much stuff to sort though. The size of the morgue file defeated the purpose of using it for quick reference.

I recall once seeing the office of a long-time designer in DC who was well known and well loved in the design community. I was impressed, but overwhelmed, by his library of print samples and books. I wondered if that was a requirement to be a successful and good designer.

Of course, these days, one can find almost anything online, negating the need for a large analog collection of idea-generating stuff. But there’s nothing quite like sitting on your office floor with coffee surrounded by a pile of books and other people’s design work. As I get older though, my desire for simplicity increases. A shut closet door offers little solace because I know what lurks behind. Physical clutter is mental clutter to me.

I often pretend I’m moving, and eliminate things that once held interest and now simply collect dust. Each year, I get rid of more and more of my own saved print samples. I rarely feel as though I’m making a dent. But I vow only to keep useful or beautiful items. Soon, however, I face a real move. I sift through my collections of annual reports, small bound books, paper swatches and design books in between putting out client fires, designing a logo and processing images for a magazine, among other things.

Wherever you go, there you are, as the saying goes…as well as all your stuff. Often, I keep things if only to avoid having to throw something in a landfill. The beauty of paper is that one can recycle it. Or not, as the case may be.

Some of these samples I’ve had for years and they traveled with me from the east coast. I scratch my head in confusion over full bleeds of metallic ink, annual reports with super high gloss coatings, small mailers sent in plastic ziplock envelopes with foil confetti inside, thin sytrofoam mailing pouches affixed with cool labels. The best? A plastic jewel case (not even one I can reuse for a CD) with individual calendar cards printed with metallic ink on synthetic photo paper!

Cool though these are, I’m annoyed that I can’t recycle them. I kept a broken, but otherwise perfect-looking, coffee maker for ages, that I did try to fix if for the proprietary screw that prevented entry, only because it killed me to picture it sitting in a land fill. (Incidentally, I never replaced it, favoring pouring hot water through a plastic cone filter that will never malfunction.)

What’s the right thing to do? Transport all the non-recyclable samples to my new place just to keep them from polluting the environment? For the sake of friends helping me move, I want to lighten the load. I justify tossing these things because just yesterday I took my workhorse 13-year-old HP laser printer to get fixed. I take great pride in the fact that I’ve kept this thing for years.

All of this is a long way around realizing, nay confirming, a commitment to produce work that can be recycled, better yet, reused. I never want another designer, who might be looking at my print sample in her collection, to curse me under her breath!

Opportunities exist for creating beautiful work that also sits lightly on the earth. We’re more enlightened these days, or at least we should be. Though I don’t look forward to the move after this one, I’ll be interested to see what I find myself tossing out next time.

UPDATE: Just found–An event promo with a miniature plastic fly swatter and giant plastic flies spilling out of the plastic envelope.

Green Site But Not Green Packaging

As I  decluttered the other day, I recycled — or at least tried to — boxes for various electronic devices. I always try to keep boxes so that moving is easier later, on the theory of better stackability. And that if my computer boxes must contain Styrofoam, better it stays in my basement than goes in a landfill.

But the reality is that you run out of storage space. You have to weigh the cost and benefits of keeping the packaging. In this case, the device, an iPod docking station, came with a mod carrying case like small cosmetic luggage from days gone by. So keeping the outer box was unnecessary.

I love this little critter, the iWoofer from RainDesign, Inc. She looks like a little space alien bug and is named Franny because the iPod is named Zooey. Why not?

First I had to remove the plastic handle from the box. When I tore into the box lid, along with the handle came a stretchy dull plastic coating. This was no mere varnish but almost a shrink wrap. According to a print rep of mine (an FSC-certified and zero-waste printer), it was likely a laminate adhered to the surface. And not recyclable.

Now I’m faced with whether to recycle the box even though I’m quite certain that the laminate makes this difficult, if not impossible. So I went to the company’s website to comment on the packaging and happened to notice a Green Certified Site logo. Clicking on it led me to CO2stats which allows a company to track the CO2 emissions from the website’s visitors (the energy used by the computers) and then the company can pay to offset the emissions.

This is an interesting idea, but I’m inclined to wonder if this is in concert with an overall sustainable business practice or if it’s an isolated feature. I would like to think my contacting the company is not just a complaint, and instead a challenge to find a better solution. I don’t need an iPod docking station but many of us have to buy products whose packaging must then be thrown away.

So far, you can’t buy a computer from the bulk bin like flour at the supermarket. Until that day, what if we all challenged companies to make better packaging?

Anyone have an similar experience? Feel free to comment.