Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Story of a Carrot

A couple of years ago, when Aaron and I were still living in a townhouse within the city limits of Seattle, we decided to take our first stab at urban gardening. The rental that we were living in didn't have a ton of space outside, but there were a couple of small raised beds on the edge of a patio area. During our recent forays into cooking, we'd grown exceedingly excited by the idea of food fresh from the garden and had plenty of blind optimism regarding the ample success we would have with growing our own veggies.

Okay, so the blind optimism was just me. Aaron grew up working on farms and knew better. But, like the good husband he is, he humored me.

So, we scampered off to our local nursery and bought some seeds for green beans and carrots (the two vegetables Aaron had successfully convinced me were edible at that point). We spent a hard afternoon tilling up the clay-like dirt that resided in the raised bed we had decided to use, planted our seeds, and waited.

I was ecstatic the day I saw the first seedling sprout and crushed when an evil slug tried to lay claim on it. Digging through the recesses of my brain I remembered that slugs like beer and tend to drown in it. And that they tend to avoid marigolds.  Before long we had a nearly impenatrable anti-slug barrier of beer pools and marigolds surrounding our baby plot. SLUGS SHALL NOT PASS!

Only one green bean plant survived and a tiny little row of carrots that eventually became only 2. In a burst of over-eagerness (which I'm sure no one would suspect I'm prone to) I harvested one of the carrots while it was still hardly even grown and barely yellow. In my naivete, I attempted to re-plant it, but I was soon forced to mourn its loss. I was down to one small green bean bush and one surviving carrot.

The green beans made a valient attempt to become something useful. But upon harvesting the grand total of 8 beans that the bush was able to produce, we found them to be unfortunately bitter. All my hope rested in the one final carrot.

Autumn came and I started to worry about frost killing whatever hopes I had left, so in early October, I finally harvested the final rewards of our hard year of urban farming:

Yes, that is my house key.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Necessity is the mother of Invention"

Some guy once said. Or maybe I'm paraphrasing?

I had two simples desires which started me on the path I find myself walking today. First was the desire to eat good food. Second was not to go broke doing it. Believe it or not, combining these two things is harder than it seems.

I know a lot of places where I can get good food. They range in price from $15 to $120 per person, after tax and tip. Even if I only limited myself to eating at the $15 places once a day, I'd go broke.

I know a lot of places I can get cheap food. A lot of those places would net me two meals (dinner and leftovers) for the same amount of cash I'd be spending at the "good food" places. But, after a while, I found it harder to justify spending my hard earned cash at those places. The food ranged from "bad" to "meh." That in itself wouldn't be bad, but I was paying money for it. Real money.

Admittedly, some of it wasn't their fault. I have the distinction of living in the Seattle-metropolitan area. The sales tax is 9.5%. Also, it's nice to leave a tip. An average tip, as I understand it, is 15%. Add those two up, and I'm paying 25% more for my food than is actually listed on the menu.

To me, that's a lot. So, I made myself a promise, I'd only spend that money on places that were really worth it - the good food places. That meant, I'd be doing a lot less eating out. A lot less.

That left me with a conundrum on what to do with the other 18 meals during the week. And that's what got me to cooking. Since then, I've grown a lot. My definition of "best" got better. I learned that food is complicated. I learned that if I really wanted to push the envelope and combine my two desires to the fullest, I'd have to do a lot of work. It's been three years now, and we're just getting started.

Back to the Basics

Three years ago I was a horrible cook (with the exception of chocolate chip cookies), I loathed almost all green foods, and I would have rather poked my eye out with a fork than pull a weed. I was pretty sure that the Olive Garden was the best food ever. The idea of composting, however wonderful for the planet, made me wrinkle my nose and envision grubby worm-filled infestations of rotting stuff under my sink. (What would have been rotting, I'm not entirely sure, since I hardly ate fresh foods). And if someone ever told me that I'd be buying pig intestine to encase homemade sausages one day, I'd have questioned their sanity. Yet, the transition from then to now was so gradual that I almost wouldn't have noticed without the incredulous comments from my parents, wondering what happened to their health-food-and-chore-hating daughter. ("Since when do you eat asparagus??  Who are you??") Looking back though, I'm amazed myself to see how far I've come.

This isn't to say I'm some sort of born again veggie who snubs everything processed and turns her nose up at people who don't frequent the Farmer's Market.  Far from it. I'm still more than happy to indulge in everything chocolate and sometimes life just isn't complete without a Costco hot dog. It's just that I've discovered, with the help of my husband, the joy of getting back to the basics.

Since then we've delved into cooking, gardening, composting, charcuterie, cheese-making, and baking. And we have plans to tackle loads more.

So, this is our journey. Past, present, and future.