We’re Changing

You might recall that several months ago we said we were going to do a website redesign. Well, we’re finally getting around to it. Over this weekend we’re going to be monkeying with things, so if you check in, you might encounter strangeness. When it’s all done, we’re going to have a new name and a new look.

“Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good” is a favorite saying around here, frequently repeated because we so frequently forget it. We’d planned to make lots of changes to this blog and lay them out with a big “Ta Da!” But that didn’t turn out to be practical. As you’ll soon see, this redesign is pretty minor. It’s just the first step of what will be a slow evolution that we’ll undergo through tiny tweaks and additions as we figure things out. And really, that’s the best way to change.

“What kind of changes?” you ask? Well, those ideas are still developing, but our overarching goal is to offer our readers more: more posts, more resources, more information, more voices. 

This weekend, though, all we’re doing is changing our background to white, adding some navigation tabs, and changing our name. What’s our new name? Like the lady in the picture above, we’re going to keep our secret under wraps–at least until tomorrow.

Question for Folks in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle

Our new book will be coming out in the spring, and we’re thinking about doing a small book tour up the west coast this May. Stodgy old-fashioned book signings make us miserable–we much prefer to be interactive. We prefer to do talks, panels, workshops and demos. We really like meeting new people and seeing what they’re up to. For this reason, we’d love to leave the beaten track for this book tour. We’re looking to hook up with like-minded venues/organizations/groups in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

If you have any suggestions, let us know. We’re pretty sure our publisher will set up a gig for us at the esteemed Powell’s. Beyond that, though…we’d welcome any ideas.

ETA: You can make suggestions here in the comments or send us an email: [email protected]

Happy Halloween!

Turnip lantern by Nathan deGargoyle. 
Follow the link to read his thoughts on the Manx version of Halloween

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I’ve always been intrigued with Samhain, and the idea that a new year should begin in growing darkness, working its way slowly through the deep of winter into the light.

For this reason, Halloween has become my personal New Year (since by Jan. 1st, I’m always tired out disillusioned, and overstuffed with fudge).  The beginning of winter has become a time to think about the future, and consider the past, and honor those who have passed on. This honor-the-dead aspect is a combo of Samhain and Dia de Los Muertos, I think.

Anyway, for on Halloween night I try to have a good dinner in a clean house–to set a high tone for rest of the year. I also like to burn lights on this night, and toast the dead with whiskey.

Of course most people know that the Halloween practices of parading around in costume and carving turnips (or in the New World, pumpkins) are artifacts of old Celtic tradition. Some lesser known Samhain activities one might consider include:

  • Slaughtering your excess livestock for the winter
  • Lighting a massive bonfire. Or two. If you light two, run between them to purify yourself.
  • Throwing a drunken 3 day party, being sure to invite all the local chieftains
  • Practicing divination with various foodstuffs

What about Erik, you ask? He’s not as into Halloween as I am, but he has a good day planned. He’s going to a Backward Beekeepers meeting, then making tasty squash galettes for tonight. Perhaps I can convince him to toast the memory of squash baby???

However you celebrate, I hope you have a good night, and an excellent New Year.

Evolution is Evolving

Mrs. Homegrown hard at work reconfiguring the Blog-O-Nator

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

We’re going to be doing some redecorating and redesign on this site over the next few weeks. The main reason we’re doing this is to make the blog more useful and accessible. This means, to start, that we’re going to clean up the tags and rearrange all the links and stuff on the right side of the page.

Then, a little bit down the road, we’re going to change our look. (!!!) I know it’s always a little traumatic when a blog you read regularly redesigns itself, but let’s face it, the place needs a fresh coat of paint. But again, that won’t be a for a bit.

In the meanwhile, forgive any weirdness that might occur as we figure out what we’re doing.

Thank you, everyone

Photo: Pénélope Fortier, from an article about us at Cyberpresse.ca
Mrs. Homegrown here:
We just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences this week via the blog, Facebook, or email–as well of those of you who just sent positive thoughts. We could feel the good energy. It’s been a hard week, but your good wishes really helped. 

We’re resuming regular posting. There’s squash baby updates to be made!

Seltzer Works Doc Screens on PBS

Photo by Film First Co/ Ben Wolf

Seltzer Works, a seven minute mini-documentary about one of the last seltzer fillers, Kenny Gomberg of Brooklyn, will screen Tuesday August 24th at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on PBS’s Point of View series. Filmmaker Jessica Edwards, directed this engaging short.

Photo by Film First Co/ Ben Wolf

The thick glass bottles Gomberg uses allow him to carbonate at much greater pressure than either store bought or home carbonating systems. And the valve on those old bottles allows for dispensing seltzer without the entire bottle losing pressure. As Gomberg points put it in Seltzer Works, good seltzer should tickle the back of the throat when you drink it. And, of course, those bottles get reused over and over again.  

A publicist for PBS sent me a copy of Seltzer Works, and the shots of Gomberg’s beautiful old machinery alone are worth making sure to catch this short, which screens along with a feature documentary The Edge of Dreaming (which I have not screened).

I fondly remember seltzer delivery here in Los Angeles. Every week a deliveryman would drop off a case at the photo lab I worked at in the early 1980s. But, as far as I can tell, Los Angeles no longer has any seltzer delivery companies. As Gomberg says, “It’s not just a drink, it’s a piece of history.” I suspect that this piece of history may make a comeback. We’ve seen a cocktail renaissance of late. What about the decent seltzer required for those cocktails?

Seltzer Works website: http://www.seltzerworks.com/

It’s Elementary

I’m writing another article for Urban Farm Magazine, this time on elementary school gardens. If you have a hand in running or organizing an elementary school garden, outside of California, send me an email at [email protected]. I need another interview or two, though I can’t guarantee I’ll talk to everyone.

I took the picture above at a volunteer work day at the 24th Street Elementary School in the West Adams district of Los Angeles yesterday. It’s run by the Garden School Foundation. I can’t tell you how amazing this garden is, but I think the picture above says it all. It’s about the future, and that future is going to have more mulch and a lot less asphalt! The 24th Street Garden contains vegetables, a mini orchard and two native plant gardens, which are used as part of the school’s California history curriculum. A cooking class happens in the garden once a week, overseen by TV chef Gino Campagna.

Obviously, we need more gardens like this–the Garden School Foundation’s website asks the question, “Why does a school need to look like a prison?” For some school garden resources see the website of the Chez Panisse Edible Schoolyard at http://www.edibleschoolyard.org/. If you’ve got other resource suggestions, please leave some comments.

Garden Edibles

We’ve pretty much just been growing Italian vegetable varieties for almost ten years now and have never looked back. Which is why we were really excited to hear that Homegrown Evolution pal Craig Ruggless has a new website: www.gardenedibles.com that imports seeds from the Larosa Emanuele Sementi company of Italy. Craig reminded us recently about something we remember from our trip to Italy a few years ago that, for Italians, vegetables are like wine. Wine comes in many varieties, so should vegetables. What a shame it is that when you go to a supermarket here in the US there is often only one variety of any given vegetable even at high-end stores.

So you gotta grow your own. Coming soon (again, as soon as book #2 is done), we’ll list what we grew this winter and what we plan on growing this summer. From Garden Edibles, this summer, we’re planting San Marzano 2 tomatoes and Rosso Dolce Da Appendere peppers. We always have some San Marzanos growing because they are so damn reliable. But we’re particularly excited about the peppers. And the tomato at left? It’s been rescued from extinction by a group of farmers in Puglia. It’s that region’s answer to the San Marzano–Pugliese families use to make their winter tomato sauce.

Ciao! Back to the book . . .

Be a question. Be an answer.

Kotex Ad from 1971.
Is that Susan Dey Cybill Shepherd? And what’s that oddly eroticized blur in the foreground?

Okay, time to wrest the blog out of Erik’s hands. He’s gone crazy with the geek-boy subject matter of late. I’m going to bring this baby down to earth with a resounding thud. Let’s talk menstruation.

We’re writing a new book, as we may have mentioned. It’s a project book focused on making some of the basic necessities of life yourself, whether that be a compost pile, a bar of soap, or a breath mint. It’s almost done (thank mercy), but at this late date I’ve realized one subject we haven’t covered is The Ladies Only Subject. Periods do necessitate accouterments, and you can easily make cloth pads. I’ve made them and used them on and off for years. I think I sort of pulled a mental block on the subject for this book because I’ve had a number of “Ewwww, gross! That’s totally medieval!” conversations with other women about reusable pads. But our readers aren’t wusses like that, are you?

So I wanted to ask, do you think a cloth pad project should be in our book? Would it be useful? Or is it sort of done already, making it a ho-hum idea? Eco-minded women probably already know they have the option and are doing it, or not, according to their choice. Is it more obscure than I think? Is this something you’d like to see? Give me some feedback.

For those of you who haven’t thought of them, cloth pads are a great way to minimize your landfill contributions. If you make them yourself, you can save a lot of money, too. They also minimize the exposure of your delicate parts to plastics, bleach and those insidious gel crystals in the high tech pads. Cloth pads are surprisingly comfy and effective–at least I find them so.

Here’s a nice link to Ask Pauline with a pattern and instructions for making your own. As Pauline says, “Sometimes a lady finds herself a little short on cash. Better to spend what you have on good bread and good books.”

By the by, I’ve also discovered two charities which give cloth pads to African schoolgirls. It seems that some girls in Africa miss school for a few days every month because their families can’t afford to buy them disposable pads. Obviously this puts them behind in their studies and leads to high drop out rates, low self-esteem, and even sexual harassment. This a basic example of how simple things pile up into a big case of oppression. The aforementioned charities, Sister Hope and Huru, give girls a kit which includes a set of re-useable pads, panties and hygiene items and brochures on HIV-AIDS and other sex ed stuff. Huru is more slick and corporate sponsored, Sister Hope more home-spun. Huru supports pad manufacturing as a village industry in Africa, while Sister Hope collects donations here, and ships them over. Both will donate a kit to a girl in your name for small fee. I’ve not done lots of diligence on these charities, or given to either, yet, so proceed with all ordinary caution.

What’s the dirt on soap nuts?

Sapindus mukorossi fruits, image from Wikimedia Commons

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I’m trying to take a temperature reading on soap nuts. Have you used them? Did you like them? How do you use them–as laundry detergent, shampoo, soap? Do you use whole nuts or make a liquid? How long have you been using them? Do you find a big difference between brands?

If you could shoot me a comment, I’d really appreciate it.

On a more advanced level, I’m curious about their interactions with soil and compost, so if you have any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them. I’m curious as to how they’re harvested, and if their growing popularity is impacting their local ecosystems.

If you’ve never heard of soap nuts, let me know that, too! I’m wondering where they sit in the general public awareness.

Soap nuts are saponin-rich fruits, usually of a tree called Sapindus mukorossi (though all Sapindus make soaping fruits), which can be used for laundry and other cleaning purposes. They’re usually sold only lightly processed: seeded and dried. A handful of these dried fruits, which look somewhat like small dates, are put into a cloth sack and thrown in with the laundry. The fruits release saponins, natural surfactants, which clean the clothes. Supposedly. I hear mixed things. I’m experimenting with Maggie’s Soap Nuts right now (and Erik is complaining about their…uh…rich organic smell…which doesn’t seem to linger after drying), but I’ve not used them long enough really judge how they work. The truth is, so much soap is embedded in the fibers of our clothing that you can wash the average garment a couple of times in nothing but water and it would still come out pretty clean. And, for better or worse, Erik and I don’t do that much wash. I feel like I need to adopt a Little League team or something to really test drive this stuff! So send your comments, or your ball teams, this way…