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Gardening 101!

I’m a quiet gardener. That is, I have known basics since I was a child, I’ve studied gardening as an adult, and I’ve written about gardening. I’ve even practiced with my family. My practice isn’t incredibly consistent, despite my love of and fascination for gardening.

Regardless, I am also a researcher. I love learning new things, and I love sharing that knowledge. Recently, I did a class on essential oils and gardening, which means I have recently been in the thick of researching gardening and essential oils. And, I’m excited to share that information with you!

Two classes will be held this month – both on Friday, April 20th, the Friday before Earth Day. One will be held at 10am in my home in Portland. The other will be a webinar at 6pm. Times are in Pacific Standard.

Want to learn what I learned about gardening and essential oils? Join this class! Let’s continue learning about gardening, together.

Yes! I want to learn more about gardening and essential oils!

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Daily prompt: A plot of earth

Farm Shot
My brother carrying his daughter on the Farm.

You’re given a plot of land and have the financial resources to do what you please. What’s the plan?

Simple. Acquisitions. You see, there is a book, and it explains who all the owners are. They are neighbors to the plot of earth. They are longtime, and sometimes new, residents to the area. They might have had kids grow up and move away. They might be treating the space as their vacation home.

Regardless, I thought the earth was infinite as a youth, and it’s my dream to make it seem more so.

There is something that churns at my stomach when I consider those who have second and third homes. On one hand, I am envious. And, perhaps that’s the only hand. Because, then I consider all those who have nothing.

Peter is fond of saying, lately, that he does not think Levi will have the resources when he is an adult to purchase his own plot of earth. That is, the housing prices will have increased so dramatically, that Levi will be Out of Reach.

Growing up, I always felt out of reach. I suppose I was vaguely aware of aunts and uncles who owned versus those in our predicament, seemingly to always be on the cusp of another’s wishes.

So, my dream is to acquire the plot of earth. Rather, aid in its tending, and grow it. Currently, it sits at 160 acres, divided by a highway. I’d like to pick up the properties adjacent, one at a time, until everything is owned abutting the state and federal lands. Then, I would like to purchase the land Mead used to cut down trees when I was a teenager. Then, I would like to buy out the second homes. All the land would go in a preserve, an extension of the existing trust. And, we would learn from it.

“Land is to be loved and respected, is an extension of ethics. Land is ecology, ethics, and history.” – Aldo Leopold

My uncle told me that my grandfather is the first tree hugger. My uncle told me that he nurtured a certain grove of trees on the land the entire 40+ years he lived there and was able to care for it. My grandparents, in my estimation, were kind of like the original homesteaders. (Granted, this is not possible since they were born of the 20th century, but to me, this is what I’ve known.) They gardened. They husbanded animals. They churned butter. They pasteurized their own milk. They made bread. They shoveled. They tended. They nurtured. And, they grew. They grew with each other, on the land. They grew their family, together, on the land.

I want that legacy to live on, but showing it to others.

Once our food buying club coalesced into an amazing group purchasing food together, it was very evident how much knowledge was within the group. It was also evident how much we had to learn. We needed to know how to cook with the food we were procuring. We needed to understand its nutritional value. We needed to understand the land that fostered its growth. We needed to understand how to preserve it for the off-season. And all those things require a space in which to sit around, learn, do, and teach.

In this plot of earth, I would create that space. We would resurrect the old barn into a community kitchen. Perhaps we would do some sort of agri-tourismo, though not in Italy. Perhaps we could have interns from the nearby high schools and colleges, and from far away. I don’t envision a strict back-to-the-land curriculum, more farmsteading. We would study how to plan, plant, tend, and harvest a garden. We would discuss the benefits of farm animals and varied ways to husband them while also nurturing the earth. We would explore cottage industries and economies. We would make soap together. We would make bread together, and we would break bread together. We would share knowledge, and meals in this preserve so that our children don’t have to worry about whether they can afford the next thing. They would have a space, in the family, that would help them take care of themselves.

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Cooking Is Not Hard

Garden Tomatoes
Garden Tomatoes

It’s just NOT. I figured this out a decade ago, and slowly, I try to convince my friends and family that it’s not hard. I started Michael Ruhlman‘s Ratio shortly after I heard about in on NPR, but I had to return it before I could finish. Thankfully, he has a blog, and one of my Portland food friends posted America: Too Stupid to Cook which is a great segue for this post.

Yesterday, I started talking about cooking in our Culture of Food. I wanted to discuss how diverse we are and how that cultural diversity has contributed to some food confusion. Then, compound that with busier lives — I can see why I have parents who think they can’t cook. I’ve said this before, so if I sound like a broken record, do forgive me, but I learned that cooking is relatively easy with two keys. These worked for me, and I hope they work for someone else.

The first tidbit I learned was that cooking is temperature. I was told to compare a steak, which you seer on both sides that cook for 4 minutes on each side, to a large roast cooked on a low temperature for hours. Temperature. Monitor the temperature, and you watch your cooking. High temps versus small foods and low temps for large foods. I still learn how to control temperature with my cooking, but suddenly this one thing was less of a mystery. Grilled cheese, boiling water, making a nice sauce — the key unlocked the door.

In 2000, I found myself back in Lansing, though this time I was working at a hotel with a kitchen. One of the chefs was a humorous man from Jamaica. Along with querying the number of rules we have governing the land of the free, he made me fried rice once in my apartment. I had, at that time in my life, only recently been introduced to Chinese food. I had only had Thai food once. Fried rice was a complete mystery how all those flavors mingled and how the egg looked so little and shriveled and that there was even egg in a fried rice dish — it was all completely amazing, mysterious, bewildering. So, this  young Jamaican chef came into my house, supplying only a handful of ingredients, and turned my kitchen into a gourmet kitchen. This was a one-butt, basement apartment kitchen. It was tiny. And, he made fried rice!

I found myself feeling freer to explore in my kitchen. I’d still used boxed foods as a staple instead of whole, but I was learning. I was experimenting, and I was gaining confidence. A few years later, I found myself among the first wave of my new foodie friends. We started having weekly wine nights, and suddenly my cooking senses were completely awakened. We were making curry from scratch. I figured out how to make bread. I made tabouli and hummus. My aunt complimented my living arrangements as smelling like a coop. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Now, half a dozen years later, I find myself cooking from scratch nearly all the time. We still have processed foods like hot dogs in our house, but that has a lot to do with my husband and what he can think of to make on the fly. Mostly, though, boxed rice has been replaced with rice. Hamburger helper with pasta and the knowledge of how to make a quick sauce. Our quick dinners are grilled cheese, pancakes, and burritos. The burritos are prepped by soaking beans int he morning and coaching my husband through cooking them while I drive home. The meat, if we have it, is from leftovers — like a roast chicken.

One Pot Dinner
One Pot Dinner

I used to think roasts were elaborate, decadent meals. While, I still agree they may look and taste elaborate, I must confess that Ruhlman is spot on with his description. A four pound chicken should take about an hour. A six pound chicken will take about two or two and a half. But, really, all you have to do is pick your seasonings and put it in the preheated oven. Set your timer and then walk away.

Cooking is not hard, but somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that it is. Cooking is simply as hard as we make it. Some of the best cooking advice I ever got was from my mother, one of the women in my life who has professed (time and time again) that she cannot cook. She always likes to remind me how simpler is better. So, cooking is temperature, any kitchen can make fresh taste great, and season simply to have simply satisfying meals.

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Reading Photos


[flickrslideshow acct_name=”alexis22578″ id=”72157627551868896″]


Michael Ruhlman

Michael Pollan


Scientific Method
Scientific Method
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Wacky, Wild Weather

I am sitting here, typing this, while the boys are napping. My computer is telling me it’s 81 degrees outside.

Weather Report
My two apps/widgets that tally my weather report 80 or 81 on this balmy day.

On the other side of this large continent, Hurricane Irene hovers over North Carolina. A rare hurricane that is slated to travel the entire eastern seaboard.

Irene's WunderMap
A map of Irene's progress courtesy of weatherunderground.

Washington D.C. and Colorado both had 5.x earthquakes on the same day, a few weeks ago. Texas is suffering from the hottest summer in 90 years. On the West Coast, we have a funny, unpredictable summer, although balmy compared to these other places. But in this “balmy” place, we had a cool, wet July. This means there were many crop failures. We are still an agrarian society that depends on a level of predictability with weather. For our food club, farmers had failed cherries failed. Our tomatoes are late. Our farmer’s peaches, apricots, and nectarines are late.

It makes sense to me that this is in part do to what we’ve done to affect climate. That is: climate change. Global warming. We are causing our earth to get warmer, so animals move to higher elevations faster than previous patterns, and we can’t predict crops. As an agrarian society, we rely on a certain level of predictability so we can plan for our future. When weather is unstable, our lives can be unstable and erratic.

By ignoring global warming and its predicted affects, we fail to plan for our children’s future. I hope these wild earthquakes and hurricanes will continue to wake people up. I hope this will encourage people that local is better for security and our environment. Simply, I hope.

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Packaged Dinners

Yummy Beef Stroganoff
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

We were watching a cooking show on OPB. This was several months ago (like over a year, maybe). The personality dehyrdated tomatoes in the oven, then she pulverized them in the blender. The result was a tomato powder. Suddenly, it dawned on me: instant “Hamburger Helper.”

We haven’t purchased macaroni and cheese in months. Yes, the cheese powder is cheaper than the 5lb bricks of our Tillamook staple, but homemade cheesauce is just as easy. My cooking evolution seems so obvious, I am surprised others haven’t drawn the same conclusions.

Ramble, ramble, ramble, what does it all mean?

My friend Elizabeth told me, tonight, about a book she has that links the increased purchase of package foods to moms working away from home. I believe it. My husband claims he can burn water (proven, untrue by who was that again?). He wants processed hot dogs and easy mixes. So, tonight, I wanted to show him how easy it was to cook cheese sauce. I am hoping by engaging him in the kitchen, layer by layer, he will step up naturally.

He tried to catch me at my game. He said that when I told him what we were making he heard, “Blah, blah, blah, yummy.” (At least he heard yummy!) So, he started talking about a 4.5 inch rachet with a flex  head that has 44 teeth, and he wants the one with 88 teeth. When I parroted back his desire, he started speaking in product codes. Silliness. But, he stuck around. And, he helped at last put water in pans and pretended to listen while I explained how much butter we melted, when we browned the garlic, why I was adding in flour and how much milk. He even critiqued the sauce as tasting a little too floury. It might have been, but wasn’t to me.

I’ve been thinking about whole foods cooking for so long, I can’t recite all the reasons that got me on this train. Though, I can think back to a few things. I grew up with packaged foods and a mom who claimed she can’t cook. Oddly, she came from a woman who cooks home cooked, fabulous meals, nightly. So, what’s the disconnect? When I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to work at a resturant-resort. Because of my position, I ended up helping in the restuarant when I had no clue as to what I was doing. I learned how to hold a knife, weighed out meat for hamburgers, and discovered that cooking is temperature. You sear a steak on each side then cook it until it’s pink. But, a roast,  you slow cook it for hours. The size of the dish the temperature of your heat source are hugely important. These are my trouble shooting tools to this day.

My husband wants me to fix a car with him, start to finish. Brakes were the item he offered up. If I want him to be in the kitchen, it’s only fair… right. (Gulp.) I said, “Suuuure.” He didn’t comment if he heard the pause and reticence.

So, tonight’s shared food prep was enjoyable. It was a simple, yummy meal, lightly seasoned, and cooed in under a half hour. The only canned thing was the salmon. Everything else was as fresh as it could be. It tasted better, it was more or less cheaper, and it was better for you. I added a teaspoon of salt to the whole dish, that was split into 6 servings. I was able to do this because of my food club. So, although my husband isn’t ready to make a meal on his own, he does recognize how amazing our food club is. He helped in the kitchen tonight, and he’s been supportive of our food choices. That’s a pretty amazing step right there.

If you’re in the City of Portland, take the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Survey. You have until August 29th. Tell them they are going in the wrong direction with many of their ideas, especially in regards to CSAs & Buying Clubs. They claim the purpose is to expand access, but all they are offering is restrictions. How do restrictions really expand access?

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An Open Letter on Food Security

Milk & Honey Bread
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Dear Friend,

I co-coordinate a food buying club in my neighborhood. This idea arose from many things, one the example is the one set by my grandparents who always had access to local food through their garden, animal husbandry, and local grocery co-op. Mostly, though, I do this because food quality for my small family is very important. I also do this is a way to increase food security for everyone.

Nary a day goes by where we don’t hear about another food recall. These food recalls largely involve large industrial food complexes, like confined animal feed operations. I don’t buy from those operations. I buy directly from the farmer. My family eats fairly locally and seasonally. We learn how to preserve our food and make things from scratch, like bread — a lot like my grandparents learned post World War II. We develop relationships with our farmers, our distributors, our producers of the food we eat. We do this to increase our food security. We know where our food comes from. We visit the farms. We know the names of our farmers’ children. We are invested in them, and they are invested in us.

But that investment is being threatened. The City of Portland has hosted several meetings to revise the food zoning laws for our locale. Their recommendations are to increase the hurdles one has to go through to have access to local food.

This is a problem. A big problem. And, I need your help to tell them it’s a problem. 

Find out more about the city’s plans and please take the survey. Please tell the city they are going in the WRONG direction for CSAs & Buying Clubs. Tell them it matters to you because food security matters to you. Tell them having access to local food is important to you. And, most importantly, pass this message on and have your friends and family take the survey.

Thank you for your help.

In food!

Michelle Lasley
community advocate | green coach | nurturer

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Handpicked Pastoral Adjectives

I’m reading Omnivore’s Dilemma. Finally. In it, Pollen coins the term “Supermarket Pastoral” as a way to describe the literature we find in supermarkets, like Whole Foods. I think we can credit sustainability and this movement for great leaps and bounds when it moves into the regular aisles and ads of the grocery store.

08-04 Freddy Ad
Thursday, August 4th an Ad in the Oregonian

Sweet corn, picked, carefully (implied) by tender hands at the exact right moment to ensure the highest quality food. Who wouldn’t want that? The care, the thought, the ability that went into ensuring you and your family had quality food — the feeling is wonder, amazement… love.

08-03 Oregonian Cover
Wednesday, August 3, Oregonian, Front Page

What is this outbreak? Ground turkey? Who? Cargill? Where? Kroger? Wait… didn’t Kroger buy Fred Meyer less than 10 years ago? So, Kroger = Fred Meyer = contaminated meat amidst supermarket pastoral.

Finally, this expectation of quality is at the tips of many. Finally, this (re)awareness of the nastiness in industrial food is at the forefront of our brains. Finally.

But, clearly, we have a long way to go in combating this green washing that attempts to erase our understanding of the nastiness. Every time we remove ourselves from a process… the further away we get from necessary processes in every day life, the less connected we are with our real world.

Think sewer systems. Think about from where you get your milk, eggs, and meat. Think about who makes your vehicle that you drive to work. Think about the job you do at work. Do you have a systems understanding of your role and how it affects your company? Or, are you operating with one very small, very controlled piece?

The less we know about the processes that make our lives work, the less connected we are with our lives.

So, sure, on one hand it’s great that visions of handpicked bounty are falling off the tongues of ad writers for local super markets. There is a suggestion in its being there that we want to be connected to our food, to that which sustains us.

But, when we read the day before about the outbreak of salmonella in ground turkey, we need to remember that we are still hiding things. In an effort to be healthy, ground turkey is often sold as a great, lean option, alternative to the fatty, heart disease, mad cow ridden ground beef. But, neither really answers the question of what is healthy. We have these tests by which we measure very specific things (heart disease) and link it narrowly to others (fat content) without thinking about how varied people are and how perhaps diversity of product is more important. We are trading cheap ground beef for cheap turkey and we get another devastating result: diseased food that still makes us sick even if it doesn’t give us heart disease.

Beware of handpicked pastoral adjectives, as often, while increasing the awareness and importance of the topic, it’s slight of hand, green washing gone mad. The best way to get handpicked produce is to pick it yourself. I’m busy. I struggle with balancing all these visions, ideals and wants with every day reality of naps, dinner, paying bills, and going to work… not to mention how do you find time to spend with your family in a fun sort of way! So, the next best thing is to vet your food with friends. Work together to get the handpicked goodness from local farms you trust. Visit the farms. Visit the farmers. Talk to them. Have conversations with them about how they get it all done. Thank them for providing you with quality food that doesn’t make you sick.

If we get more connected to our places. More connected to our food. More connected to  our homes, we can make “handpicked pastoral” a part of our lives. We won’t even need to label it in such quaint terms suggesting a different way of doing things because it simply will be.

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In Season

Levi eating an apple and watching tv.
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Patterns forgotten are patterns found.

Like a lost love waiting an eager embrace.

My family eats in season again (mostly).

I put in my produce order. Greens and beans from one source, and tropical fruits and refrigerated apples from another. I know by the price and size of the case that the apples will be small and plentiful, but also likely mealy. Why? They’ve been in cold storage all winter long: they are not in season. But, damn if the small fry likes to much on an apple in the morning, and that just makes life easier.

After reintegrating seasonal eating (we’re not done yet!), we notice patterns. Our frozen berries are nearly gone. It’s strawberry season. Being in tune with the seasons means we’re more in tune with the weather. It’s been pretty rainy, they say strawberries will be late again. How are those tomatoes doing? Not well, they need heat.

Being in tune with the weather means we’re more in tune with Nature’s Cycles and Rhythms and Services. It means we’re more in tune with what sustains us. It means we’re more connected to that which gives us life.

Patterns forgotten are patterns found.

Patterns found are passed down.

Patterns passed down to be cherished by

the young ones we leave behind.

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