What to eat in order to make Super-Baby. Also a manifesto for veganism??

I know I’ve totally neglected this blog for the last five days, but I have my reasons. Which I am not going to reveal here, because, let’s be honest, who really cares about what I do in my personal time? I certainly don’t. (Disclaimer: this post isn’t very funny. It’s a serious lesson on what makes you healthy.)

Garden update: My radish babies have gotten HUGE and I’m going to pull some of them out of the ground on Sunday. I’ll let you know how that goes. My tomato seedlings, meanwhile, are just getting tall and not really doing much else, which is kind of boring, but highly expected for week 2 of development.

ON TO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS.

Ladies and gentlemen, lately I have been inundated with tales of what makes a baby strong and healthy, and what makes a human being more likely to not get cancer. This first part is for everyone, the second part is on pregnancy:

VEGANISM? WHAT?

I am not a big fan of vegan diets. You can’t eat eggs, milk, dairy, animals, fish, cheese, cream, whipped cream, nothing. I would basically starve to death. And if you’re a true vegan you can’t wear leather. Once I was at a dinner party and I was wearing this awesomely rocking leather jacket, and I got cold so I put it on, and the person sitting next to me was vegan. We’re friends, so he can say whatever he wants, and he looked at me and wrinkled his little nose and said, “Is that leather.”

Not a question, just a statement. I said, “Yes.” and then, as his nose wrinkled a little more and his hands started flapping in distress, I said, “Why, can you -”

and he cut me off and said, “Smell it. Yeah, I can smell it.” Judgment was just oozing out of his pores, and he was so upset. To make matters worse, another vegan was sitting on the other side of him, and he was also staring at me in judgment. They then went on to talk about where you can buy vegan shoes (apparently payless is great, since they’re all made out of plastic — although how is a pair of shoes made by 8 year olds in an environmentally unsafe factory better than leather – otherwise you pay hundreds of dollars for ‘vegan shoes’).  At some point I stuck in a question about whether they felt awkward in situations where they went to dinner parties and there were no vegan options, but they just shrugged and said they didn’t eat anything if that was the case (they clearly didn’t understand that I was being snarky, and that this behavior is upsetting to hosts).

I was totally traumatized for a couple of weeks after that and didn’t wear my jacket anywhere else, but then I was like, screw that, I’m wearing my banana-republic animal hide. The Native Americans did it. (Aaron, if you’re reading this, don’t feel bad. That’s what i get for going to an evolutionary anthropology dinner party).

So Evan comes home yesterday, all a blazes about a new book he wanted to read. Immediately I sensed it would be non-fiction and I shut down. But then we pulled it up on wikipedia, and there’s no criticism section. What? How is THAT possible? Basically these scientist dudes (men, of course) went out to China to do a longitudinal study on diet and disease and blah blah blah (Why rural China? My best guess is that they wanted to do unsanctioned, IRB disapproved research, and that was the best place to do it, so the question remains: what else, exactly, were they studying out there?).

So they found that eating animal products and getting cancer has a completely linear, 1:1 relationship. This, apparently, was easy to study because people tended to eat the same things throughout their lifetimes in China. And they provide all kinds of comparative statistics about rates of cancer in China vs the US and what we eat, etc. Those claims are totally absurd and ridiculous, as there are so many other cancer-causing differences between the US and rural areas of China, that i can’t believe that part hasn’t been deleted from Wikipedia, or at least criticized.

My own critique: The basic statistics are probably correct. In rural China, people who ate less meat probably did get less cancer. But, people who don’t eat animal products in China are probably poor – meat is a luxury item in developing countries. You could probably redo the analysis and find that poor people are less likely to get cancer. So, one could claim by the same logic, having money makes you get cancer. This is wrong – poor people live completely different lifestyles than wealthy people, and the differences could be any number of different things – wealthy people drive more, and are exposed to pollutants more often; wealthy people visit cities; wealthy people drink contaminated water in cities; wealthy people use cell phones and modern electronics; poor people use their own clean water wells; poor people don’t use bpa-filled plastics; poor people walk more; poor people exercise more; etc, etc, etc. This stuff, of course, is specific to a developing country; you might find the opposite poor/rich behaviors in countries like the US.

I need to read the book, and it’s possible that they controlled for all of this. Still, it’s an interesting claim, that appears to be gaining some traction.

PREGNANCY:

There is an enormous amount of evidence that says that what the mother eats during pregnancy affects how well the child performs later in life. My mother ate two pounds of kimchi and non-nutritious white rice every day while she was pregnant with me, and thus, I have grown up with crippled mental capabilities and an inability to walk in a straight line, or update a blog on the regular. Also I have halitosis. And I crave salt. And starbursts. So, ladies and gents, the question is, what can all y’all learn from my mother’s mistakes, and the findings of science ? (i’m not ripping on my ma. i love my ma. What she handed down in diet and brain defects, she more than made up for in giving me a fantastic set of genetically-perfect chompers and a genome that keeps my body at a perfect 8-12% fat level, in spite of anything I may consume. In fact, I was thinking about redoing the SuperSize Me movie, because I’m pretty sure that not a damn thing would happen to me after three months of eating McDonalds every day for three months. HA, TAKE THAT, GENETICALLY DEFICIENT OTHER-PERSON-WHO-STARRED-IN-THEIR-OWN-DOCUMENTARY!)

On to the science:

Tina Williams, a Duke professor, discovered that feeding pregnant rats an enriched-choline diet made their babies have better memories that were stable throughout life — other rats weren’t as good at remembering how to navigate mazes, and their memories declined as they got older. This didn’t happen to the choline rats – they had better memories in the beginning, middle, and end of their lives.

LESSON: Eat lots of eggs and chopped liver during pregnancy.

On NPR yesterday, they discussed a study that found that mothers who were exposed to more pesticides during pregnancy had children who had significantly lower IQs throughout childhood. Three different, independent studies were published confirming this phenomenon, and they were all published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the premier journal in that field.They did look at abnormally high levels of pesticides, not organic vs inorganic food consumption, but still.

LESSON: Eat all organic foods. If you buy inorganic, wash them all. Even the outsides of oranges and bananas.  Don’t visit farms. Don’t work on a farm. unless its a hippy organic farm.

Eating folic acid during the first 28 days of pregnancy reduces the likelihood of spina bifida, a neural tube defect.

LESSON: Eat lots of spinach, chickpeas, melons, citrus, eggs, all of the time, if you think you might get pregnant, cause you might not know you’re pregnant until it’s past 28 days.

Cat feces cause toxoplasmosis.

LESSON: get rid of your cat. While we’re on the subject, everyone should just get rid of their cats. They’re evil and they communicate to each other using their little mental mind waves. They take joy in shitting in their weird little poop boxes and then tracking their poop-covered feet all over the rest of your house. They’re plotting the takeover of Earth as we know it, one poop-covered house at a time. Get. rid. of. your. cat. Consider yourself warned.

From Wikipedia: A 2006 study found that children who were exposed prenatally to the insecticide chlorpyrifos had significantly poorer mental and motor development by three years of age and increased risk for behavior problems.[72] A 2007 study using a mouse model suggested that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons prior to conceiving and when lactating reduces the number of eggs in the ovaries of female offspring by two-thirds.[73] A 2009 study of pregnant women exposed to tetrachloroethylene in drinking water found an increased risk of oral clefts and neural tube defects in their children.[74] A 2009 study found that prenatal exposure to phthalates, the chemical compounds used as plasticizers in a wide variety of personal care products, children’s toys, and medical devices, may be an environmental risk factor for low birth weight in infants.” [75] A 2010 study found that prenatal exposure to flame retardant compounds called polybrominated diphenyl ethers is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental effects in young children.[76]

LESSON: Don’t touch anything. Go live in the woods with chickens so you can have an unlimited supply of eggs, preferably in an untouched environment. This means nowhere in the United States. Canada, maybe, would work, or maybe somewhere like Bhutan. Yeah, go live in Bhutan. Bhutan is awesome.

Moral of the story: Bhutan is awesome

yeah, i went there, what! Tigers Nest, Buddhist temple nestled on the side of this sheer cliff. Only accessible via a 4-5 hour walk up a mountain. When the Buddhist need supplies, they load up pack horses. Yes, thats right. Pack horses, that walk up the mountains.

what a cool flag! It's a dragon, in case you couldn't tell

A monk leaves a Buddhist temple - Bhutan is like 98% Buddhist

Playing a Bhutanese sitar in this rice farming couple's Buddhist shrine inside of their home.

Ah, Bhutan. Greatest six days of my life.

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The Week in Pictures: a smattering of topics

Chapter 1: Compost Rescue

So I’m at Bull City Burger and Brewery (really, really delicious burgers, ps), and i’m sitting outside, enjoying the warm sunshine and a delicious wheat beer, when a nice looking young man wearing an apron walks by. He has a clear plastic bag, and it’s filled with lemon rinds. All lemon rinds. And so i’m thinking, oh, cool, BCBB must have a compost pile, and they save the lemon rinds!

WRONG. He took all those lemon rinds to the DUMPSTER! I was horrified. Twenty pounds of rich, organic, compost-spectacular material, going to a LANDFILL? I stopped him on his way back.

Me: Hey  –

Humphrey: Yes?

Me: Uh, did you just throw all those lemon rinds into the dumpster?

Humphrey: Yes. They’re all the leftovers after they make the fresh-squeezed lemonade every day.

Me: You don’t have a compost pile?

Humphrey: No

Me: <stares incredulously. what kind of a new hip restaurant in Durham doesn’t have a compost pile???> (to be fair, i dont think any new hip restaurants in Durham have compost piles, but it never occurred to me that they might be throwing all of that amazing vegetable matter away)

Humphrey: Do you want it for your compost pile? I can go get it. It’s just sitting on the top of the dumpster. <all non judgmental-like, as though its tots normal for people to ask him to go dumpster diving for inedible food>

Me: <eyes widen in shock, both at his offer and at his totally non-judgmental demeanor> Why, yes, Yes, I would.

Humphrey:  <trots off to get the bag from the dumpster, double bags it in another plastic bag for me, then brings it back to me.

Me: Wow, AMAZING, THANK YOU SO MUCH. <hopping up and down in excitement. Jeremy stares at me like i’m a little crazy. I go to pick up the bag. It’s too heavy. i despair. I can’t carry that back to my car – i don’t have any muscles! Jeremy offers to carry it back for me. SWEET. I knew he’d come in handy one day.>

Humphrey: They fill up at least three bags a day. You can come back and get more anytime you want.

I HEREBY NOMINATE HUMPHREY OF BULL CITY BURGER AND BREWERY FOR EMPLOYEE AND CONSCIENTIOUS DURHAM CITIZEN OF THE YEAR. Thankyouverymuch.

P.S. Someone should really be collecting all of that compost from the restaurants and using it to fortify our gardens instead of adding to the trash problem.

Chapter 2: Caught red-handed

Remember how in this post, I accused my neighbor of murdering my weeds with some inorganic home depot-environmental-killing trickery? Well, ladies and gents, I have caught her in the act. This photo was taken from my living room window. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye while I was gazing lovingly upon my new set of jiffy pots filled with dirt.

see! she has a little bucket of cancer RIGHT THERE! to her left! see it?

I can’t believe it. I mean, I know I sounded pretty confident in my previous post that she was the one responsible for the scorched earth, and I WAS, but it’s a very strange feeling to actually see your neighbor intruding upon your yard to pre-emptively murder your weeds. With a bucket and a spray nozzle, no less. I feel very agitated right now. And sweaty.

IN OTHER NEWS

Chapter 3:

My tomato seedlings have almost all popped up. They’re beautiful. See here:

the trick is to keep them moist and warm, and talk to them every day as though they’re real people. Both the emotional connection and the carbon dioxide are good for the plants (no joke. This is science — Bradly in my 4th grade homeroom got third place in the School-Wide Science Fair with this little experiment.)

Chapter 4

I found a package of tempeh buried in the back of my freezer, so I unthawed it and asked Evan to bring home some red cabbage.

HOW TO MAKE TEMPEH SLOPPY JOES with red cabbage coleslaw: (ingreds: tempeh, onions, oil, brown sugar, tomato paste, salt, pepper, vinegar)

Tempeh is really very easy to make. Just crumble it (which i did by putting the package in a bowl and smushing it with a wooden spoon), then oil your pan, heat your pan, and add the tempeh. Stir it around — it smells soooo good; it has a nutty, meaty aroma, even though its just soy. Add in some chopped onions or peppers, or both. While you’re browning the tempeh, make your sauce by combining a can of tomato paste, add some heaping tablespoons of brown sugar, grind your salt into the mixture until your hand gets tired, and add a few dollops of red wine vinegar. Vigorously mix into a paste, and then dump into your pan with the tempeh. Mix it all around — it gets pretty block-ish, so add a glass of water, and then leave it to simmer. Meanwhile, chop up a quarter of a head of red cabbage, add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, some more red wine vinegar, grind salt in until your hands gets tired, then call your husband for help so he can grind some more salt in, then grind in some pepper, and stir vigorously.

VOILA. YOU’RE DONE. Easiest meal of the week. And its SO DELICIOUS … you can’t eat just one. In fact I went back to the store and bought another package of tempeh in the hopes of eating it again this week.

Deeeeeelicious. Red cabbage cole slaw with tempeh sloppy joes

red cabbage cole slaw

Chapter 5: What to do with leftover cabbage?

Answer: Make more coleslaw (this time only vinegar, no mayo), and add to breakfast tacos. Delicious.

Chapter 6: Some Handy Gardening Tips

1. Your soil should be 1/4 air, 1/4 water, and only 5-10% organic matter. This sounds crazy, but apparently you shouldn’t make a garden out of compost, or even 25% compost. 5-10%. This from my homies over at the manic gardener.

2. If starting tomato seedlings inside, you should keep your grow lamp only a couple of inches above their little tomato seedling heads. The farther they have to reach to get the light, the leggier they get – and the less likely they are to produce fruit. remember, stocky, wide tomato seedlings is the goal.

Chapter 7: My little radish babies are growing so fast, and they have such different personalities!

This ones all, "YAY SUNSHINE AND AIR!!"

This ones all, "Mmm-hmm, I know Im sexy, what? "

THATS IT.

Ask yo’self: What can high fructose corn syrup do for you?

Lately, I’ve been eating starbursts and peanut M&M’s by the bucketful. While I’m certainly well aware of the health impacts of consuming this non-food (Of which there are none! bahahahahah good genes!), let’s think of all of the other wonderful things that such consumption can do for yourself, your friends, and society as a whole. (DISCLAIMER. Some of the following things aren’t wonderful. I’ll leave you to decide which ones.)

1. Great Breath. Before beginning my starburst consumption, my halitosis was getting a bit out of hand. I was getting one too many anonymous emails suggesting I go to the dentist. Well, brothas and sistas, I ain’t goin’ to no dentist — I don’t have health insurance! Do you know how expensive dentists are? Maybe you should have voted for Obama TWENTY YEARS AGO if you wanted me to stop breathing my halitosis all over you. As for my part, why should I bother with listerine and tooth-brushing, when I can just ingest starbursts and breathe back out the Rainbow? I can’t go back in time and rig the elections. But I can eat all of the pink starbursts in a jumbo bag.

Before Daily Starburst Regimen

After

2. Inexpensive stool softener – no need to elaborate on this one

3. Napoleon pays lots of attention to me. Normally he ignores me or begs me to take him out to play fetch, but he has a thing for fruity bursts of goodness- starbursts, jelly bellys, skittles, gushers, oranges, you name it. Obviously I’m not going to give him any, I’m a responsible pet owner (not), but I do enjoy the way he puts his paws up on my chest and sniffs around my face, perks up his ears, and stares into my eyes, mentally communicating, “I wuv you. I weally, weally, wuv you. Can I have some pweeeeeaaaaseee??” And then sometimes he gives me tiny little kisses on my cheek, its sooo adorable.

4.  Look youthful. Adults don’t eat candy. That’s ridiculous – their taste buds have evolved only to appreciate things like arugula and brussels sprouts. If you carry around a handful of starbursts, people will think you’re at least 15, no matter how many little kiddies you have trailing after you. Those little snots? Psh…those aren’t the living breathing signs of your fertility…those are your SIBLINGS!!

5. Add to America’s credit card debt, one jumbo bag at a time. Can’t scrape up three dollars and seventy nine cents from underneath your couch cushions? Didn’t write in impromptu Kroger visits to stock up on starbursts into your budget? Thats cool! Do what everyone else admitted to doing before 2008, and lies about doing now — put it on your credit card bill! It’s only $3.79 now, but in ten years it will be $24,1u3,509,130,498, and that one bag of jumbo starbursts will be the hair that broke the proverbial camel’s debt back. Good thing I started learning Chinese all those years ago. Or Spanish. I haven’t decided which country is actually going to take over America – the Chinese with their diligence, or the Mexicans with their delicious tacos and tendency towards domestic servitude (a la Brandon Sanderson’s AMAZING novel The Way Of Kings). I am personally rooting for the Mexicans but I can’t allow personal bias to sway my omniscient analysis of pure fact.

Which brings us to your next topic: Mexican takeover? NO PROBLEM. As long as they combined the US and Mexico territories into one, and then I’d live my life on the white sand beaches of Acapulco, and Amanda and I could create a joint-organic-cleaning business and service the houses of people who have growing concerns about all of the chemicals in the oxyclean and bleach that their normal servants rely on. Yessss. I am totally rooting for the Mexicans. TACOS EVERY DAY, FOR THE WIN!!!

Couldn’t figure out what was wonderful and what wasn’t? here’s a breakdown:

Getting rid of halitosis = wonderful; not going to the dentist = bad; stool softener = good, depending on your intestinal situation; look youthful = good, depending on your partner’s inclination; add to america’s credit card debt =BAD! VERY BAD! LEARN SOME SELF CONTROL; Mexican Takeover = potentially good, as long as i get to live on those white sand beaches and eat tacos for a $1 a day; Chinese Takeover = bad, probably. I love me some egg rolls but the Korean deep down inside of me still resents them for trying to take over my people hundreds of years ago.

RADISH MURDERER and tomato seedling update

You know how sometimes, when you’re pregnant with twins but you don’t know it yet, and so you only eat enough food to sustain one extra person, but then your twins get hungry, and then one of them decides to eat the other one (which you can read about here), and then all thats left of twin number two is a foot sticking out of the victorious twins’ neck when it emerges from your womb?

Well, when it happens in humans, its somewhat horrifying, because now you have one half of a set of TWINS (which are already freaky to begin with) AND your kid has already proven himself to be a cannibal, and so NO WAY are you going to let that thing near your nipple to feed, but then all the nurses and your hippy friends look at you all-askance cause not giving your kid breast milk basically disables them for life (not to mention your kid has his twin brother’s foot sticking out of his neck). WELL.

This is what happens in Humans

I figured i could do the same thing to the radishes. When I dropped two, three seeds in a hole, I figured one of them would eat the other and then I’d have double radishes for one single plant. See, in radishes, this would have been brilliant. I could have taken out Monsanto with this strategy.

WARNING, WARNING, WARNING — THIS IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Maybe the soil is just too rich of an environment, because they all came up and I had to remove the extra ones.

this is what happens in radishes

pile of aborted radish seedlings - you can see the little pink radish fetuses. DELICIOUS.

Amazingly, it seems the ones that are left are growing at a faster rate than before, which leads me to believe I made the right decision.

Moral of the story – one seed per hole. Otherwise you have to burn extra calories when you remove the extras, and we all know that burning calories is an unjustifiable waste of food-energy.

**************

Moving on from tales of my vegetarian capital crimes, let me just tell you about how much I didn’t learn in fourth grade. Remember how I gave a lesson in growing tomato seedlings a couple of days ago? It mostly involved telling Annie of Annie’s Heirloom Tomatoes to go screw herself, and then compared the advantages of seedling purchases to the advantages of surrogate pregnancies. Which is totally the hip way of having children these days. This way, when you tell someone you have kids, and they say, “Oh God, did you like, have that with your body?” you can hip-pily reply, “of course not!”

Yeah, so, well, I didn’t do all of the research required on how to grow tomato seedlings, because I was too broken-hearted over the Annie Incident. Every day, I’ve been waking up, switching my grow light to the “On” position, watering my little jiffy pots, and then leaving them there to germinate. EXCEPT. Did you know what the point of leaves are?

Chorus: No, ma, what’re leaves for?

Leaves are to soak up sunlight.

Therefore, if there are no leaves, there is no way of soaking up sunlight. Derrrrrr. Face palm. In other words, I’ve just been wasting energy and light for no purpose. None. You’re supposed to wait to turn the grow light on until after germination, when there are leaves. I am an environment killer. *shudder*

PS: Tomatoes germinate best when they are kept at 70 degrees and are kept moist. In fact, why don’t you just go here, as they know what they’re talking about, and I don’t. 🙂

DIRTY. LITTLE. SECRETS.

One of the dirty little secrets of gardening is that you have to actually exert energy. As in, you have to put that egg, ham, and cheese bagel’wich to work doing something harder than sustaining your body while you queue up the next season of 30 rock on your Nintendo Wii (most awesome non-Kitchen related wedding present), while your husband glares at you as he folds the laundry after a long hard day at work, during which time you stayed at home figuring out how to fill the mandatory time-outs in between episodes of Being Human on Megavideo.

It’s totally not fair. As I taught four-year-olds at the horrendously overpriced and hippy-dippy alternative-learning environment at the Duke School for Children three years ago, all it takes to grow a plant is air, water, dirt, and sunshine. Nobody ever said anything about ELBOW GREASE.

Ah, elbow grease. The first time I heard the term in the context of organic and healthy cleaning, (I believe the context was, “a little Grapefruit, salt, and Elbow Grease will do the trick quite nicely!”)  I went to the grocery store cleaning aisle and wandered up and down, searching for J&J’s Elbow Grease version 2.0, in a bright white bottle with pictures of suds on it. Nothin’ doin. Discouraged, i returned home to watch Kim and Abby on British Cleaning Crazies (thats not the name of the show, i don’t remember the exact title, but its about two old chubby British ladies who clean nasty people’s houses at the risk of mold exposure), and they mentioned Elbow Grease again!! Frantic, i paused the youtube video, scanning the background for pictures of the mysterious product, wondering if perhaps Elbow Grease was just a British Thing. I cursed the FDA under my breath; damn stringent American standards, i need some of that magic powder!

Later that season, after many mentions of Elbow Grease, it dawned on me that elbow grease is not a product. No. It is a euphemism for “scrub hard with your hand, powered by your elbow.” That is correct. As my dearest dear husband would say, “Sometimes, I can’t believe you’re as smart as you’re supposed to be.”

All right so. Evan decided to plant some grass in the yard. I told him i’d help him outside, thinking i could watch my radishes grow, sans elbow grease, while Evan did manly stuff. Around 3 pm on Saturday, I ventured outside to “help,” and took a seat on the edge of my above ground garden bed, wondering if I should thin out my radish seedlings, but regretting that the farthest radish seedlings would require me to really reach my arms three feet out into the middle of the bed.

Meanwhile, Evan was tilling up the top 1/2 inch of the yard in preparation for planting grass seed. He was sweating, and his shirt was soaked, and his muscles were all big, etc, etc. The view was quite enjoyable, until…

Evan starts speaking.”Hey. You want a job? I can give you a job.”

I look around, back behind me to the left, back behind me to the right. There’s nobody there. “Sorry. Are you talking to me?”

“Yes.” Evan grunts.

“Uh, sure, what are my options?” I start to feel a little panicky. Surely he’s not going to actually ask me to, like, burn calories. I work hard to eat just enough to keep my body in perfect condition for queuing up netflix videos; any extra calorie burning and I’m toast.

“Well, you can do what I’m doing,” at this point I transition from panicky to horrified – Evan is SWEATING and it’s 50 degrees outside, “Or, you can start raking the leaves out from around the house and drag them over to the leaf pile there.”

Uh. That doesn’t sound good. “What are my other options?”

“There are no other options.”

WHAT? I should have stayed inside.

Evan stops what he’s doing and stares at me, knowing exactly what I am thinking. “Look. I think you don’t actually want to do any work. I think you just like taking pictures and writing about other people doing work.”

This is so true.  “THATS SO NOT TRUE!” To prove my point, even though Evan knows that what he has said is true, and that what I have just said is not true, I jump up from my post, grab the gloves and the rake, and proceed to rake the leaves out from around the house and pile them up in the pile. I glance back at Evan. He has turned his head and is smiling, knowing that I know that he knows that I was lying, but not caring because it got me off my bum.

Defeated, I rake the leaves up, mumble something about going inside to get water, and don’t come out again.

[and i know, this post was about yard work, not about gardening, but during the course of outside-time I did shovel some dirt off the dirt pile and into some pots. I am pretty sure I sustained massive back injuries, but DON’T WORRY. I don’t have health insurance, but I do have the ability to ignore massive injuries while they heal themselves into hunchback form]

Evan provides an example of how to rake leaves onto tarp, then pull tarp over to leaf pile on other side of yard

Seedlings: Growing and Selecting The Best

Anyone who has ever done a basic google search on tomatoes, or spoken to anyone about potentially growing tomatoes, knows that you’re supposed to start off with tomato seedlings instead of tomato seeds. What is a tomato seedling? Well, for comparison purposes, lets say a tomato seed is a fetus, and a tomato seedling is a newborn baby. Why seedlings and not seeds? It’s like when you adopt a kid. You don’t want to take care of the egg in the womb, you want to take care of the baby, after someone else gets all the stretch marks and deals with all the puking and mood swings and the awkward four-month baby bump where people wonder if you’re pregnant or just fat (this not from experience being pregnant, this from me wondering if people who are four months pregnant are pregnant or just weirdly fat,  and also vice versa. Its much better to just not say anything, ever, unless they tell you straight up that they’re pregnant. I’ve seen women who I thought were DEFINITELY 9 MONTHS PREGNANT but were, unfortunately, just 9 months pregnant with their latest batch of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Little Debbies Cupcakes. Not criticizing, just sayin’)

Okay so why tomato seedlings? Because not all tomato seeds are created equal, and you can’t pick the winners. Its like, if you didn’t feel the need to reproduce, and you could pick from any baby in the world, you’d want the strongest, smartest, handsomest kid that was most likely to grow up and be a success so that they could take care of you when you’re old and you can forget about saving for retirement! In that situation, 401k’s are only for losers who don’t pick their kids wisely. Unfortunately, in real life, you can’t pick your kid. You’re stuck with that pimply-nosed snot who has diabetes and a lower than average IQ and will probably work at RJ’s Car Detailing Shop for the rest of his life (NOTHING AGAINST the lovely employees at RJ’s Car Detailing Shop, but if that happens, investing in a 401k or an IRA makes you prepared for the future as opposed to a drag on our future social security).

So the beauty of shopping for tomato seedlings is that you can pick the strongest, happiest tomato seedlings that are most likely to win the tomato game. (Namely, you want to beat those suckers over on Rosehill and Knox. Someday I will post an exclusive post about my nemeses over there, and I’ll take pictures, and you will see. I am David, they are Goliath. I am Wile E. Coyote, they are Roadrunner. I am Butler, they are whoever Butler is playing in the Ntl Championships.) Also, the timing for planting seeds/tomatoes kind of sucks — when you want to start planting the seeds, its usually too cold outside for the seeds to do well at all. So you have to plant them inside while you wait for the weather outside to warm up, and that means you have to get grow lights and seedling containers (you can just use styrofoam cups, actually). This can be a bit of a pain, but I’m doing it with some seeds I ordered online at Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, and I will explain that process soon.

What makes a tomato seedling the most badass tomato seedling ever? well, a quick google search for “badass tomato seedling” reveals the following: never mind, sometimes i forget that the real world doesn’t communicate in my sixth-grade vernacular. Somehow, this image came up?

People put weird things in their gardens.

NEW SEARCH TERMS: “how to pick tomato seedling” works much better.

Which brings us to a conversation on determinate, indeterminate, heirloom.

Determinate: your plant will grow to a certain height, produce a certain amount of fruit, and then stop. These are good if you have limited space and you’re going to stagger your planting.

Indeterminate: your plant will just keep growing, and growing, and producing fruit, and expanding. these are better for lazy people with lots of space and trellises — you can also engage in some serious pruning efforts to keep them at a manageable size, which I will hopefully blog about when it happens.

Heirloom: heirlooms come in both determinate and indeterminate, but heirloom refers to the fact that a tomato species has been around in that exact DNA format for several decades. The rules vary on what classifies as heirloom; some people say 50 years, others say 100+. The really cool tomatoes that you see that are purple and orange and pink, and weirdly shaped, and DELICIOUSLY FLAVORFUL, these are heirloom tomatoes. I love heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are for cool people. 🙂 Apparently they are also not as resistant to disease though, so we will see.

*sigh of relief* explaining that was really boring, i’m so glad its over.

Once you’ve decided whether you want determinate, indeterminate, heirloom, on to picking tomato seedlings. This is not as easy as you think. There are several things that you should remember; in fact, you should print out this post and take it with you and tell everyone about how great and helpful my blog posts are. This way, you’ll remember the handy hints, AND you’ll fulfill your readership responsibility by doing some promotion.

1. Height: You want a seedling that will take root easily and won’t be so set in its ways that it won’t take kindly to new person dirt. Its like adopting a four year old vs a 6 month old — at 6 months, they’re used to being outside the womb, but are cool with new people. At 4 years, the kids all, WTF, WHERES MY MOMMYYYYYYYYY. So this means, somewhere between 4-8 inches tall, and you want a plant thats about as wide as it is tall. A chubby little monster; kind of like my cousin:

1. continued. Also, plants that are too tall might be “leggy” — this means they shoot for the sun -either they were over fertilized or their growing conditions just weren’t ideal. Leggy tomato plants tend not to produce as much fruit as wide tomato plants. You can combat this by transplanting them super deep, burying them all the way up to their top leaves, which will cause them to grow out, and their root system will develop along the whole buried stem.

2. Leaf Color: if you are red green colorblind, bring a non-disabled friend. Leaves should be evenly colored and GREEN. Its always nice and humane when you adopt a disabled human being with a wilted appendage, but theres no excuse for adopting a disabled tomato plant with wilty, jaundiced leaves. It’s a freakin tomato plant, for goodness sake. Tossing it in the compost pile isn’t going to make Save the Children come knockin at your door. So don’t feel sorry for the sad, pathetic tomato plants — pass over that nastiness! The key is GREEN, HEALTHY LOOKING.

3. Stem: no broken-ness, no brown-ness. If you have a short tomato plant, it should be straight. If its a pretty tall plant and you ignored my advice in number 1, well, it might be falling over under its own weight. In this situation, please talk to the hand. I have nothing to offer those who stray from Melissa’s Anointed Path.

4. Where to buy? I would recommend going on Craigslist and searching for seedlings. Theres an amazing number of people who sell what you’re looking for, at cheap prices, if you can’t find your stuff at Weaver Street or Whole Foods or other hippy-type grocery stores. And then you get the added bonus of a little adrenaline rush when you risk your life by meeting complete strangers! Because serial killers love to advertise for their victims on the Farm & Garden section of Craigslist.

Thats it on selecting. Make sure you have enough space in your garden for whatever you pick.

On to the fun part : planting tomatoes from seed!!!!!

So i ordered some tasty looking tomato seeds from Annies Heirloom Seeds on Monday, and the seeds arrived here today. HOW FABULOUS.

Their website is very organic and home-grown looking, and I’ve spent the last week wondering about Annie. Is Annie old? Does Annie have red hair? Annie must be very tan from spending all of her time outdoors, with sun-baked hair that she keeps in a braid, smile wrinkles, and a lesbian stay-at-home partner who is an expert chef. Annie and I would be really good friends; we’d frolic through fields of tomato seedlings and bond over the importance of organic and heirloom varieties, we’d giggle in the morning over freshly ground coffee and cream from her pet dairy cows, etc, etc. Annie and I became great friends last week. So when Evan walked through the door with the packet from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, I ripped it open, and there was a handwritten message apologizing for the late delivery for the sweet peppers I’d ordered. I thought, oh, how sweet, my new bestie Annie handwrote me a message!

wait…who is the signature from? JULIE? Who the ef is JULIE? I ORDERED SEEDS FROM ANNIE, DAMMIT. We spent so much time together, and she doesn’t even have the decency to write me a personalized handwritten note? WTF. WE ARE THROUGH, ANNIE. THROUGH.

Anyway.

Earlier today, I convinced Evan to let me tag along on his weekly manly trip to Home Depot, so I could pick up some seedling starter pots and a grow light for my tomato babies. Ask the friendly workers at Home Depot to direct you to the grow bulbs. I picked a big one, and we bought some peat-moss starter pots, which are probably not organic, but whatever, its gotta be better than styrofoam, right? And Evan bought a bunch of top soil in his quest to greenify our crap yard.

When I came home, I set everything up. I was so. excited.

I wondered to myself, what is the first thing one of my baby tomato seedlings will see when they enter the world?

Interesting.

Look at that sad little abandoned 60 watt bulb. Poor little guy. He’ll go back in when the seedlings are done.

So theres some other stuff you’re supposed to do, like make sure it doesn’t get too warm, put the light closer to the tomato plants, somehow keep them watered, etc, etc, etc. we’ll see what happens.

My first seedlings!!!!!

 

I’m like a new mother, seeing her children talk for the first time.

I’m like an adolescent boy who has found that one little hair has sprouted on his chinny-chin-chin!!!!!!

I’m like a 22 year old balding dude who has just found a Rogaine-assisted regenerated hair on his shiny-previously-bald bald spot!!

I’m a successful gardener!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, well, so far at least. I haven’t actually produced anything edible yet, but yesterday my first baby radish seedlings popped out of the ground!

The thing about radishes is that they are supposedly super easy to grow, and are theoretically ready to harvest in 22 days. I figured, if they’re ready to harvest in 22 days, they must sprout something like twenty minutes after you put the seed in the dirt. This, it turns out, is *INCORRECT BUZZER SOUND* incorrect. Even Google says radishes sprout in 3-7 days.

3 days!? but thats, like, 71 hours and 40 minutes later than expected, at the minimum.

HELPFUL HINT: radish seeds like chilly weather, somewhere between 50 and 70, and they like to be kept constantly moist. Moist. *Shudder.* Nasty word. So they’re not full summer plants. They’re like Canadians, Siberians, and my in-laws — they wilt in a little heat.  (Hence, I decided that i should plant radishes in fully half of my garden during early Spring, harvest them after 22 days, fold in some manure or compost to vitalify my dirt, and then reuse that space. GENIUS, if i may say so myself, though a bit prematurely. Who knows if it will work? This is not something I got from the internets. Also, i am not making a dig at my in-laws. But they do live in a cold and snowy part of New York.)

Because of all of this information that I harvested from the internets, I thought, well, I’m DESTINED to be the world’s most fantastic gardener, and since Evan went and got that great organic dirt from the Rock Shop, theres no way my radish seeds will wait three full days after conception to pop up out of the ground! They don’t need constant watering! Pshaw, watering is for pussies! (this, it turns out, is false, and i quickly revised this assumption, as you will see from my highly detailed and scientific activity chart below)

So every morning since planting, after i had my coffee (i’d like to say i rushed out in my jammies immediately after the sun rose and got down on eye level hands-and-knees to see whether my little offspring had shot up yet, but i’m dysfunctional before coffee and i can’t deal with Outside if its less than 50 degrees, which it has been every morning for the last week), and before I hopped in my car to go to work, I’d excitedly run over to my misshapen garden patch and squat down to eye the dirt for any signs of green. Or pink, or tan, or whatever. My neighbors and people driving by in their car probably wonder whats wrong with me, paying so much attention to my garden but neglecting to do anything about the rest of my crap yard. Well, whatever, if they want to clean up my yard, they are welcome to it! When my neighbor came over and murdered all those crazy weeds with her inorganic weed killer, did I march over and tell her to give me back my weeds? No. I privately fumed at the intrusion, but a few days later, I sobered up and wisely acknowledged that the sidewalk patch did, indeed, look much better (see first post for a full explanation of this little incident).

Here is what I saw, on my daily excursions out to my future award-winning radish patch:

Day 2 morning: dirt. No green.

Day 2 afternoon: dirt. no green.

Day 3 morning: dirt. No green.

Day 3 afternoon: dirt. No green. After day 3, i get worried. My super magical powers were supposed to have made my radishes pop up. I start obsessively watering the dirt in the morning, afternoon, night time.

Day 4 morning, day 4 afternoon: dirt. No Green.

Day 5 morning, day 5 afternoon: dirt. No Green. (at this point i start wondering if the dirt people have ripped us off and sold us no-good dirty dirt. That would be such a dirty trick.

Day 6 morning: Dirt, no green.

Day 6 afternoon: SEEDLING!!!! WOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!


 

THAT IS ALL.

Kale, Lentils, Egg

After examining our horrendous monthly spending on groceries on mint.com [the most fantastic expense-tracking software ever], Evan and I decided to be more conscientious of prices when we go to the grocery store. This basically means no, “hmm, I’m hungry. mmmm maybe I should go to Whole Foods and buy ten dollar-a-piece ribeye steaks tonight even though I have a mountain of dried beans and frozen chicken back home.” Okay but seriously, the last time I went to Whole Foods and got ribeye steaks at ten bucks a pop, they were effing delicious, and so easy to cook in my kitchen, on my stove top. I’ve been dreaming about repeating the experience ever since. When I do, I will grace you, all zero of my readers, with photos of my delectable ribeye steaks.

BUT no steaks today. Instead, I thought, hmm, perhaps I’ll stop by the farmer’s market at Duke on the way home — Duke organizes a CSA pick up slash farmers market in the parking lot across from the Sarah P Duke Garden pavilion every Tuesday from 4-6. It’s mostly for people who are CSA members, but usually they have farmers selling veggies to vitamin-deficient losers like me who don’t want to commit to eating an entire box of vegetables every single week. Feeling all antsy pantsy from the 80 degree weather yesterday, I head down to the parking lot with Napoleon, the most obnoxious dog in the world, and look around for the heaps of veggies. Specifically, I was hoping for truckloads of kale, and possibly some red cabbage. I am 90% positive I have an iron deficiency, hence the cravings for steaks and kale, but its nothing that a regimen of ignoring-and-hoping-it-will-go-away  won’t cure. REGARDLESS. I get down there, and theres ONE TRUCK there. And they have a checklist with people’s names on it who have prepaid. However, I couldn’t tell at first if it was a CSA truck or random helpful farmer truck, so I got out of my car and meandered around the parking lot, acting like i was taking my dog for a walk, then meandered over to the pavilion to see if i was in the wrong place (if you get confused, don’t ask the douche who is sitting inside at the desk. He has no idea that there is supposed to be a farmers market in the parking lot), then meandered back into the parking lot, while the Vallmer Farm Representative stared me down with his beady little eyes (okay, so, hyperbole. I’m sure there was just nothing else interesting to look at), and I was hoping to get away with not looking like a lost idiot, but then Napoleon decided to take a huge dump about ten feet in front of Farmer Joe. I frantically pat my pockets, hoping that I’ll get lucky and that previous-me stuffed a plastic baggie in them. Nothin doin’. Freshly washed jeans. Damn. I look around to see if anyone other than Hillbilly Hal saw Napoleon take an unsanctioned poo. Immediately I spot a couple in their early thirties, sitting in their blue Lexus SUV, staring at me accusingly. I know what they’re thinking. It’s so obvious. Pick up your shit. You don’t have a baggie? what an irresponsible dog owner. i bet you let your dog run off leash too. And I stare right back at them, mentally communicating across the blacktop. So what if i let my dog run off leash every once in a while? You’re so proud of yourself for owning a Lexus SUV. Why don’t you go home and think about all the baby penguins you murder every single day? i bet you go to Pentecostal Church too. After a staring battle that consisted of them staring at me while I stared at the ground, hoping that they weren’t actually thinking evil thoughts about me, they won. It wasn’t the simple fight of Irresponsible dog owner vs environment killer — it was so much more complicated than that. Apparently leaving your dog poop out in the open contaminates local water supply, making me BOTH an irresponsible dog owner and an environment killer. Thus shamed,  I go to my car, hunt around for a baggie, and go back and pick up Poley’s turd and put it in the trash. Now who contaminates water supplies, BITCH? I mentally do that thing where I lunge forward at my enemies, thrusting my arms back and my head forward in a display of physical power, but in real life just shyly duck my head into the protective insides of my 40 highway-mpg-hyundai elantra. Melissa:1. Lexus Owners: 0.

So after this flood of emotions, I am disappointed that i won’t be getting any kale. I return home in shame, my stomach grumbling and my mind mentally pawing through our refrigerator and ghetto open pantry. Soon after arriving home, unfortunately, Napoleon starts flipping his shit. We drove by the park, and dumb dog thought he was going to get to play fetch. After the yapping doesn’t cease, I decide to walk to Whole Foods, and to drag my miniature beast along with me. On the way there, I continue to mentally paw through my freezer, and I come up with the bacon that i’d stuffed in there last month. SCORE!!! FLASH OF BRILLIANCE AND WHITE LIGHT: Fry bacon, and then cook kale in bacon grease, and have leftover curry lentils on the side. omg. anything fried in bacon grease is always really, effing, good.

I get home, and get started. (P.S. Two bunches of kale at whole foods is $3.05. wtf.)

Napoleon is successfully exhausted, as you can see from the photo of him resting upon his window-sill throne that Evan covered in royal red plush blanket using his man-skills.

Napoleon's about to pass out

All right so, step one: Take cast iron dutch oven and heat it up! Medium high, high, medium, whatever. Supposedly with cast iron you don’t have to heat really high because it holds heat really well, but i find that searing hot cooking surfaces are the bomb. [and i also find sometimes that there is no better way to express emotions and feelings than by using expressions i learned in sixth grade]. Step 2. Remove bacon from freezer. Don’t bother defrosting, defrosting is for pussies. Chop bacon into small bits while frozen using huge chefs knife that one of your awesome relatives got you for your wedding (this is not to discount the dutch oven, which was a surprise gift from family friends, and happens to be my most highly valued but previously-undesired present).  Step 3. Prepare yourself for the onslaught on your senses. Make sure nobody is around to argue with. Throw bacon in to the dutch oven.

Okay now, onto the kale. So i have spent many countless hours wondering whether or not you should wash organic vegetables, and I’ve decided the answer is, “kinda.” Its not like there are any pesticides, but there is probably some dirt, and maybe some bug poo residue. So I halfheartedly wash the kale, and then cut the stems, because they take longer to cook, and toss those in with the bacon so they can fry longer than the rest of the kale.

and its..simmer time! like Hammer Time, only for cooking. After bacon is sufficiently browned…in goes the rest of the kale

yummyyyy

a little panic that there might not be enough bacon grease to go around results in me adding some canola oil (probably should have used olive) and some butter, add sea salt, stir kale around a little bit, get all the oil soaked in evenly and get it cooked down — its a super bitter food, so it really needs a good cookin’. Pull out leftover indian lentils you made the day before, stick in microwave…

and…plate!

plate of food

measly attempt at reproducing the NYTimes delectable photo of swiss chard and red onions

so my eggs were a little overdone, but i guess thats what you get for taking pictures while cooking. They definitely do NOT show how to do that on MasterChef.

basics

so, some very basic basics on growing food:

If you want to grow vegetables, you need some sun. Eight FULL HOURS. thats like, from 9 to 5. So basically, somewhere where it is sunny ALL THE TIME. In Durham, North Carolina, this is actually somewhat difficult, due to the trees that grow like weeds and are a gazillion feet tall and block out the sun and make you feel claustrophobic (I’m from Texas, where there are no trees. No Jewish people either. Clearly, Duke was quite the eye-opener. Ask me about my first Jewish encounter. Its hilarious. Everyone laughs.)

Texas. see, no trees.

front yard, maple tree vs hyundai

more trees. (taken in fall of 09)

Essentially, you just need to do your best – in terms of trees and sunlight.

So you say, Okay Melissa, what constituted your best? eh?

*Puffs up Chest with Pride* Well, you naysayer you, I went outside, looked at the sky, and picked the 4×10 (more on dimensions and husbands later) spot that had the most sunlight. Duh.

Psshhh, you say, how hard can that be? what a useless blog. Everyone knows plants need SUNLIGHT.

Well, its not that easy, apparently. I didn’t share this critical information about maximizing hours of sunlight with my hubby hubs, and he offered to “build” the garden while I went and partied with some of my high school friends in St Louis for a weekend. I offered the following instructional advice: build a 4 x 10 garden, and make sure its in the sunniest part of the yard. The Sunniest. I even went out there and showed him exactly where to put it, taking into account the future foliage of the big ass trees in our yard. Right now, all parts of the yard are sunny, because there’s no freakin leaves. But two months from now, it will be a totally different story. (Of course, I didn’t share any of that information. Why? I was in a hurry to get to Southpoint to see if i could score any “deals” on going-out clothes for my upcoming Vacay. In the super-sexy city of St Louis (Sarcasm)). And then, trusting in the power of advice and manly instinct, I flew off to the Loo, where i was paid much attention by strange men and was reminded that I am somewhat desirable. I behaved perfectly though. You can ask my homies.

So i return home, all super excited to see the garden and my handsome hunk of a husband, when I realize two very, very important things have gone horribly wrong.

First, the 4×10 garden I was imagining didn’t exist. In its place was a 6×8. Second, the garden was situated a full four feet in the [insert compass direction here]-ernly direction, deviating from my original instructions, and placed quite squarely under the future shade of the huge, claustrophic trees in our yard! What! TRICKERY AND DECEIT.

So why did I want a four by ten garden in the first place? Well, you’re not supposed to tamp down the soil – it reduces air flow or something, makes it hard for the plants to grow through soil thats all hard and heavy. Whats the best way of tamping down soil? By walking on it. And if you have a square garden, its going to be really, really hard to get to the middle of it without walking on it. My arms aren’t three feet long. I’m not Luol Deng. So, if you want to use the space in the middle, you have to walk on the dirt. This bad. But if you have a four foot wide garden, then you can reach any part of the garden just by walking around the bed. This good.

Fascinating strategy.

Why did Evan ignore my instructions and instead build a six by eight garden? Well, apparently home depot only sells planks of wood in increments of some strange number that would have made it much more costly to get four foot long planks. So, cost savings. Secondly, i never told hubby about the reasoning behind why a four foot width is preferable. So, ignorance.

Whose fault is it? Mine. <–poor management skills.

What is the lesson here? Spend more time talking to your husband instead of wondering if you’re too old to be shopping at Charlotte Russe.