Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey Talk

In the 1980s we lived beside a creek in rural Northern California. The property had been part of a Spanish land grant but was now small farms and open rolling hills. For my daughter's 13th birthday we planned an overnight with her friends. It was June and the weather was warm and sunny, so a delicious meal and a bonfire on the beach by the creek would be perfect. My mother bought us a turkey at the local supermarket in her town, about 35 miles from where we lived. We picked up the turkey and other supplies and started for home.

Almost immediately we smelled something awful wafting from the back of the car. The turkey was rotten! We went to the store and bought another turkey right away. But what to do with the ripe turkey?

My then-husband decided the turkey would make a great science experiment. He took it to a fallen log that crossed over the creek and hung it naked on a protruding branch. He was curious how long it would take for a raccoon, skunk, fox or bobcat to carry it off. With luck, a mountain lion might come by.

Instead, early the next morning our landlord and a surveyor passed the log with the turkey dangling from it. We chuckled, wondering what they made of it. However, they just waved as they passed our cabin and went on by.

About three days later our landlord's wife and I stopped to chat. At one point she said, "Oh, and I explained to Roger all about the turkey." Fascinated, I asked, "What exactly did you tell him?"

"Well, he came home and mentioned that he had seen a turkey down by the creek. I said, "Oh, the neighbors have all kinds of birds. It probably just got loose. He said, 'No, Jo, this turkey is dead, plucked and hanging from a log over the creek.'

"So I told him, ' Oh, Roger, you know Patricia's a gourmet cook. It must be a unique method for marinating the turkey. I'm sure it will be delicious!'"

Hmmmm, maybe, but not for us.

Back to the science experiment, we heard numerous loud fights down at the creek as the animals fought fiercely over the turkey, but they couldn't dislodge it from the log. It took a week for some critter to drag the now very strong smelling turkey from its perch and into the woods. Although we don't know which family had a true thanks giving meal for their hard work, it wasn't ours.

As for the birthday party? A great success.

Friday, November 21, 2008


This week the weather in Santa Cruz has been too beautiful. Sunny and 85 degrees – unusually warm for our Coastal community. Forget the valleys; thanks to the offshore winds, it has been warmer here along the Coast. Visitors have swarmed to the beaches and everyone is turned out in shorts and tank tops to enjoy the balmy weather. So what's so wrong with this idyllic picture? It's mid November!

I grew up in Northern California. While it's not unheard of for us to have soft, warm days in November, we're talking 70 degrees warm, maybe even 75, followed by chilly nights and mornings. And this would be unusual as more typically the storms are rolling in at this time of year, at least that was true when I was a kid.

As a child I listened to my grandparents from Cleveland talk about winters in Pasadena. My grandfather was an estate manager for a very wealthy family who summered in Ohio and wintered in Pasadena. My grandfather sent home postcards from Pasadena to my father, postcards featuring beautiful groves of oranges and gorgeous winter scenery in sunny California, adorned with Poinsettias, a symbol of near-tropical California holidays. In fact, the Poinsettias were grown at the Paul Ecke ranch in Encinitas, south of Los Angeles and shipped all over the country. Gorgeous tropical flowers arriving in the frozen Midwest December made California even more exotic. Oh, and then there were the gift trays of dried fruits with celluloid picks to lift each piece from the basket. And boxes of dates from the desert. California was a veritable Eden.

In the 1920s my father and grandmother took the train across the country during the winter to visit my grandfather and revel in the crystalline clear days where Mount Baldy looked like a short walk away from the streets of Pasadena. My father said that Pasadena in those days was paradise.

It was a common perception at the time that it rarely rained and that California winters were in the 70s and 80s. While this was almost true in Southern California, it was true enough for winter-weary folks living in East Cleveland. After all, 65 degrees in February is very balmy if you're dealing with –10 degrees and Lake effect snow.

Sadly, in the last twenty years, the weather has changed dramatically. Rains rarely come to Southern California now, and when they do, they arrive as torrential downpours causing flooding and massive erosion. The Santa Ana winds still blast the Los Angeles basin in the autumn, with hot, dry, desert air under pressure that roars down canyons and triggers huge firestorms exacerbated by the drought. The pines are now riddled with boring beetles a side effect of the dry weather, making them weak and vulnerable. Fueled by fire igniting the equally dry chaparral, they explode like Roman candles.

And what about Northern California? It's warmer here too and the rains come later and end much earlier. Late November or early December isn't unusual for the first real rain and some years it's over as early as March. We have far less fog as well. Heavy and moisture-laden, it nurtured the redwoods through the long dry summer months. Now we have warm and fairly fogless summers. In June this year over 2000 fires burned after a dry lightning storm ignited our forests and meadows from far Northern through most of Central California. Since 1999 the average number of acres burned in California annually has been over 7,000,000! Some years more than 9,000,000 acres have burned.

I want to bask in the summery weather, to celebrate the sweet heat of the late Indian Summer, but I can't fully enjoy it as it makes me so deeply uneasy. No snow falling in the Sierra, our reservoirs running low. The trees are now stressed here in the northern part of the state, just as they have been for the last fifteen years throughout the entire Southwest. When commenting about the weather to friends, their responses are much like mine. Sure it's beautiful, but how can we fully enjoy it as old daily heat records are broken constantly, not just in November but in nearly every month? Whether manmade or natural, the weather is changing alarmingly fast.

Sunny California. When I was a child people in the Midwest were envious, assuming that Northern California was as warm and inviting all winter as the more famous Southern clime. Now they rarely comment about our sunny winters. Instead, it's about our fires and how could we live in a state that burns from June to December. A sad commentary for our once golden state.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Better Than A Lava Lamp

Okay, I'm old enough to remember when lava lamps first came out. I never owned one but I definitely found them a source of great entertainment, especially after a drink or two.

Now I can tell you that as cool as they are, they don't stand up to the real deal!

On the evening of October 24th I went to the village of Kalapana on the Big Island to the Kiluea lava flow. I wasn't sure I could actually watch the pyrotechnics as I'm extremely sensitive to sulphur dioxide. Didn't want an asthma attack to ruin an otherwise thrilling adventure.

"Not to worry," I was told. "The steam, sulphur, ash and other gases drift north to the Kona Coast." I certainly can attest to that as most of my stay in Kona was clouded by vog. Bouyed by this news, I was ready!

We arrived not long after dark. As the show runs 24/7, you can go at any time, but it's far more dramatic from sunset on. The park requires all visitors to have individual flashlights; headlamps are even better. After parking the car, we followed a path that leads over the lava to the prime viewing area. This means walking over pahoehoe lava, the smoothish kind, along with razor-sharp a'a' lava, jagged shards of broken lava. There is a designated path with yellow errors leading visitors to the prime display area. The walk requires a certain level of concentration as there are treacherous sinkholes and crevices everywhere, none of which would be fun to encounter head-over-heels.

After fifteen minues of thoughtful navigation, we arrived. My hosts threw down blankets and set up a tripod and camera. The photos in this blog are the work of my host, Conrad Mertel. You can also go online to http://www.letsgo-hawaii.com/volcano/lavaflow.html to see the most current map of the lava flow. As of this writing, the map is for October 24th, the night we were there.

Activity varies night-to-night. We drew a lucky card. People who went two days later saw hardly anything. In our case, we could see a thin flow of red magma moving down Kilauea from the Royal Gardens subdivision, which has been completely overtaken by the lava. The lava disappears into vents, reappears further down, then drops into a long vent before surfacing to pour over the cliffs into the sea.

My hosts took a boat trip recently that goes out before dawn and gets relatively close to the cliffs. This provides an unparalleled view of the display. However, it also means breathing a lot of gas and ash. According to them, the water reaches temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This night, the waves were breaking on the cliffs with a large spray upward, creating massive clouds of steam, ash and gas, which fortunately really does blow Northwest.

Periodically we could see rocks and boulders burst into the air at the edge of where the magma surfaces from the vent. I can't come up with a better word than spectacular to describe the beauty of the lava flow, the waves, and the billowing clouds.

There was a secondary show, one I hadn't considered until I looked up. Because there are no lights and because there's no point in having flashlights on once you're settled, there is no ambient light to interfere with the planetary exhibition, showing simultaneously in "Ampitheatre B." The sky was enormous that night, clear and bright, the kind of perfect you see at the planetarium except that this was the real deal. Shooting stars arced across the sky and the Milky Way stretched forever.

We sat quietly for nearly two hours, joined by a crowd of equally awed viewers. Better than television, and with no movie houses outside of Hilo, this is a prime source of entertainment for both tourists and locals.

Walking back over the desolate lava fields, a few ferns poked up through the cracks, the first plants to emerge post-eruption. Then I noticed something scurrying across the lava -- cockroaches! Of course! Cockroaches can survive just about anywhere, even at the ends of the earth.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tropical Fruits -- You Betcha!

This visit on beautiful Hawaii, I’ve been treated to some fruits I’ve never tried as well as others I’ve enjoyed once again. I love fruit, not only because of the sweetness, but also the explosion of juice, the mouth-feel, the textures, the sheer lusciousness they offer.

Some of the fruits I’ve eaten this trip I first had in China, but didn’t have recognizable names for them. Fruits such as longdon, a small round fruit in an unassuming thin khaki shell. Similar to the lychee, it is a delicate, translucent fruit with a single brown seed in the center. Just a taste, but sweet and refreshing.

Dragon fruit with its exotic fuchsia skin with scales and beet-red flesh was served to me the first time in China. It is currently in season in Hawaii. I wasn’t really taken by it in China so I haven’t had it here, but I was curious about its origins. It’s from a cactus, which makes perfect sense as I realize now that it tastes similar to tunas, the little fruits that grow on the flat paddles of Mexican and Central American cactus. Now that I understand it, I like it better.

Another is Lilikoi, a variety of passion fruit that is more citrusy than its sensual purple cousin. Lilikoi chiffon pie is an Island favorite, as well as lilikoi salad dressing, lilikoi curd to spread on toast or poundcake, or lilikoi cream pie. Too tart for my palate by itself, but delicious as an ingredient.

Cape Gooseberry is a little round fruit that looks almost like a cherry tomato. It comes encased in a parchment-like covering that is shaped like a small paper lantern. Sweet and flavorful.

Jaboticaba, an astonishing purple, grape-like fruit that comes originally from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. It grows directly on the trunk and branches of the tree and is made into jellies, wine and juice.

I spent an afternoon in Kona with a 90 year old farmer, Sunao Kadooka, who grows exotic flowers and fruits. He had trees laden with what Island people call “butter avocadoes” growing so large and fat that one he gave me weighed at least three pounds! And how do the locals eat them? Sprinkled with sugar and scooped out with a spoon!

Miracle Fruit is a small berry that isn’t particularly interesting on its own, but is a show stopper in its ability to make sour taste sweet. For instance, if you suck a lime briefly and follow it with the Miracle Fruit, you get an immediate sensation of sweetness in your mouth.

I have to admit that I still don’t “get” star fruit (carambola). I’ve had them several times and the only way I think it works is in salads and even then my reaction is, “Why bother?”

But serve me all the many varieties of pineapples, bananas, mangoes and papayas, each with its own unique flavor and texture as I love them all! However, today as a judge for a culinary contest, I learned that mangoes don’t work in pies or upside down cakes. The texture is all wrong. What is pure passion as a raw fruit becomes mushy and slimy when baked in a crust or on top of a cake.

I didn’t know that apples could grow in the tropics, but they do in Hawaii, at 5000 feet, with their roots entrenched in the rich volcanic soil. They’re small but have a snap. I remember how much I missed apples when I lived in Guatemala many years ago despite the bounty of new fruits around me. Having been raised on apples, they were strongly imprinted in my mind. Now I’ve learned to enjoy whatever grows right where I am.

For instance, cherimoya, most divine and creamy smooth. If you’ve never had one, seek it out. In Latin America they’re made into ice cream.

And guanabana, not a fruit I’ve had here in Hawaii, but one I discovered in Southern Mexico. They’re too delicate to travel. I just looked it up and learned that it is also called soursop, which is ironic, as a woman in Papua New Guinea recently recommended soursop as the plant has very strong anti-cancer properties.

It’s a member of the anona family, closely related to cherimoya, with white flesh and brown seeds. I first fell in love with this fruit on a steamy-hot afternoon. The fruit had been mashed in the bottom of a large, wide glass with a bit of sugar, then water and ice filled the glass and the drink was served with both a straw and a spoon. It was incredibly refreshing. They’re also made into “paletas,” molded and frozen on a flat stick like a popsicle and so, so good!

Star fruit, originally from the Americas, was served to me in Tahiti. It’s a round purple fruit that, when cut in half, has a star shape on the deep red flesh.

One last treat here are the late melons. Cantaloupes and Honey-dews. Sugar-sweet watermelons, stretching the last days of summer into late October. And after we finished eating our fill and spilling juice down our shirts, the chickens fought for the rinds, wildly pecking the pieces until the last flecks of green skin disappeared.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Breast Cancer Month - Less Pink More Research

Have you noticed how many retailers are drawing attention to Breast Cancer this month? How terrific, we say. Look how much they're promoting awareness and helping to find a cure. And how nice that we should have a month dedicated just to breast cancer! After all, more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

But behind the banners and promotions, the pink ribbons, t-shirts, jewelry, bags, M&Ms and everything else pink, pink, pink, there is the insidious little issue of how much of the pink promotion actually goes to research. As it turns out, not a whole lot. So before rushing out and wildly buying precious pink items, find out exactly how much money will actually go to research and how much goes back into the pockets of the producer.

What we really need to be asking is why, after more than ten years of pink promotion, we still don't have solid answers about what causes most breast cancers and how to prevent them. And why, with all the research being done, are women still dying of this disease? Is research actually addressing these issues? If not, where is our money going?

When I was first diagnosed five years ago, I admit that I actually believed that very few women died of breast cancer. When I was told to put my affairs in order, I was stunned, not just from the diagnosis, but from the reality that actually a lot of women do die from breast cancer. Between 40,000 and 60,000 women will die this year!

While yes, many of us live with metastatic (advanced) breast cancer as a chronic illness, what this really means is invasive, toxic, painful and exhausting treatment will keep us alive. Most of my friends who have had metastatic cancer didn't die from the cancer itself but from the side effects of the drugs. Frequently our hearts finally give out or pneumonia overtakes us.

In an election year, it's crucially important that we look at what the candidates are saying about health care and medical research for all forms of cancer. When asked what their thoughts are on health care and research, Barack Obama said,

"I think it should be a right for every American. … for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that."

McCain said:

"I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. … But government mandates I — I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility."

This is what the Breast Cancer Coalition says:

Health care is a basic human right.

Health care is fundamental to maintaining a productive society.

Health care coverage must be guaranteed for everyone.

The health care system must provide the same comprehensive benefits to everyone and must meet the public’s expectations.

The health care system must be redesigned so that treatment and coverage decisions are based on evidence and best practices.

All individuals must financially contribute to the system, based on ability to pay.
The new health care system must be easy to use for patients and providers, and easy to administer.

Any system of coverage must include these core values:

Access. Individuals must be able to get all the care they need when they need it. This must include meaningful access to evidence-based interventions.

Information. Individuals must receive information that is evidence-based, objective, complete and correct.

Choice. Individuals must have some choice of doctors and care.

Respect. Our health care system must treat the whole person, not just a person’s disease.

Accountability. Standards regarding care must be clear, uniform, and enforceable. Patients must have a right to sue if their basic human right to health care is violated.

Improvement. The health care system must have methods for measuring what is and is not working so that the quality of care can continuously be improved. Individuals must have access to well designed and efficiently run clinical trials, and must have coverage of all routine care costs associated with participation in such trials.

When I was in eighth grade our teacher told us that one in four people would get cancer at some time in their lives. Current statistics show that one in two men will be diagnosed cancer at some point in their lives; for women, it is one in three. In many developing countries nearly everyone will develop some form of cancer within their lifetime.

Given these statistics it's important to do some research. We are all exposed to chemicals and other environmental pollutants. Many of us have been exposed to too much radiation and other cancer-causing factors. Given this is the world we now live in, learn what you can do to prevent getting cancer. Being informed and aware is powerful.

Speak up! Demand that our leaders provide effective health care for everyone. strong>Seven out of ten families whose homes went into foreclosure were not living irresponsibly -- they were sick! Trust me, this can happen to any of us!

Get involved! For more information from an intelligent, activist site, I highly recommend www.breastcancercaucus.org, not just for breast cancer, but for all cancers.

Pink is lovely but we need less pink and more results! Keep our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and wives healthy!

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Attending a fundraiser thrown for you is kind of like having a milestone birthday celebration -- like your 21st, 40th, 50th or 90th -- and your wake rolled into one. Except you get to be alive to enjoy the party! You're not only the guest of honor but also the center of a lot of attention, Everyone lies and says you look absolutely fabulous until you actually believe it, and they're so nice to you that you don't dare let them down and get sick again or drop dead. I'm still marvelling at how blessed and fortunate I am to have so many dear friends worldwide who care about me!

Lucky for the guests I wore one of my "Queen's Suits" so I couldn't whip up my handmade Totonac dress to show off my somewhat scary, very impressive scar to anyone who hadn't yet seen it. I admit it -- I'm really proud of my scar. I'm disappointed to say that even though it's been only 4-1/2 months, it's already starting to fade. How could it? It's better than a tattoo; it's my badge of courage!

Okay, so for all of you who weren't able to attend, here's what it was like. First, it was held at the Seymour Center at Long's Marine Lab, part of the University of California, Santa Cruz marine biology facility, on a bluff overlooking the Monterey Bay. There's a patio off the room, which draws visitors outside easily, and walking trails along the bluffs. There is also a huge whale skeleton and a large sculpture of an elephant seal in front of the building that are perfect for climbing if you're my nearly five-year-old grandson. (Otherwise, you're just impressed by how big whale skeletons are.)

The room was decorated in tropical motifs with wall hangings and tables draped with colorful cloths and flowers. There were 19 student volunteers from the Professional Culinary Institute in Chef's Whites serving and assisting guests. And, there were 16food stations. Eat your heart out! This is what was served:

Gabriella Café: Green Zebra Bacon Gazpacho with Watermelon Radish Cucumber Shooters; Grilled Laughing Shrimp With Vanilla Chili Oil.

Café Sparrow: Diver Scallops with orange Vanilla sauce over Spinach Salad; Profiteroles with Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Sauce.

Ristorante Avanti: Vanilla Panna Cotta.

Theo's: Homemade Spatzele with Lobster pieces and Vanilla aioli.

Vida: Fresh Dungenous Crab Salad With Vanilla Aioli on Crostini.

PCI: Vanilla-Scented Lentil Soup; Crostini with Onion Jam.

Cowboy Diner: Asian Noodle Salad.

Lifestyle Culinary Arts and Cafe: Pistachio Vanilla Cheese Spread with Baguette; Pears with Gorgonzola Cheese and Vanilla Balsamic Reduction.

Carried Away: Vanilla Marinated Pork Loin Crostini with Onion Jam; Fennel salad.

India Joze: Seared Tuna in an Asian Vanilla Sauce, with Greens, Served over Fried Wonton skins. (Joe had a barbecue on the patio so everything was freshly prepared.

Flipper Fanny Cookies: Signature Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies and brownie cookies.

Dolce Bella: Artisan chocolates filled with Bourbon, Mexican and Tahitian Vanilla Ganache.

Chocolate Visions: Vanilla Dream Medallions: Dark chocolate enrobed vanilla marshmallow, toasted coconut, and crushed toasted pecans. My picture and "Patricia Rain, Vanilla Queen" design on top in edible gold leaf.

Café La Vie: Raw Chocolate Cream Pie.

Homestyle Baking Table: Beautiful cakes, tartes, tortes and bars baked by members of the Baker's Dozen.

The wine and beverage table was outside on the patio. A silent auction with 67 very cool items was set up in one area of the room.

A movie screen showed pictures of vanilla, growers and much more in a continuous loop.

The Hula School of Santa Cruz performed for us. And a jazz combo played the rest of the time.

Can you even imagine it? It was like being at one of those high-end hotel resort receptions you read about, except that it was right in Santa Cruz and it was in my honor!

Some of the guests said it was the best party they'd ever been to. The students asked Chef Stephany that if she ever threw another event like this, could they volunteer again. It was truly a gala celebration.

Special thanks to Stephany Buswell, pastry instructor at Professional Culinary Institute, Kathy Long, my web designer, Anna Marie, fundraiser specialist, Andrea Waters of Lifestyle Culinary Arts and Cafe and fundraiser specialist, and Leolani Lawrey and Garrick Gondo for making it possible to have the Hula School of Santa Cruz. And for Noel and other members of the jazz combo (whose name I unfortunately don't remember other than that they were great)! And to Prince and Barbara LaShaw for flowers.

Also thank you to all of the restaurants, bakers and chocolatiers who went all out to make this event a success, to Knipprath Cellars, Pelican Ranch Winery, Storrs Winery, and Bargetto Winery for wines. If I've left anyone out, I apologize. It was such a whirlwind that I barely tasted the food, much less know where all the wines came from.

The fundraiser has definitely helped me with bills incurred during my cancer dance. More than that, it has made me feel so loved, supported and connected with all of you who have written notes, sent donations, or helped me along this quite remarkable journey. I thank you so sincerely for your support.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Who doesn't think about food at least three times a day? I admit it -- I not only think about it nearly constantly, I even dream about it. I think it's in my DNA as food was always on my family's mind and we talked about it constantly. What should we make for dinner? Who's bringing potato salad to the picnic? Can we eat at the Fish Shack soon? Let's make cookies. You get the drift.

As soon as I could stand on a stool and stir something I begged to cook and bake. So it's no surprise that for me, writing about food is like riding a bicycle; even my adolescent journals are filled with anecdotes about food.

As much as I love planning and preparing great meals, these days my concerns are more about what we eat and how our food is produced. As a child growing up in the
40s and 50s, we learned all about "modern" food production and how we could grow bigger, better and larger crops. Better for farmers, better for us! And wow! The convenience of canned foods and frozen TV dinners!

As kids, our biggest worry was being served too much especially of something we hated. Ever wonder why Popeye loved canned spinach? Madison Avenue advertising companies knew they'd need a cartoon character to force us to scarf down a wretched tasting, grey-green mess.

And how about,"Starving children in India (or Africa or China)would be grateful for this food, so eat your vegetables!" After one such lecture, a friend's brother actually packed up his vegetables and gave it to his mother to mail to India. Bet the kids in India would have loved a package of moldy canned peas and 'Tater Tots!

Well folks, here we are in the Twenty-First century and boy have things changed! Processed food tastes better, we've got fast food on nearly every corner and there's a never-ending abundance of food in all the stores. Of course, this come with a price. Obesity, increased health issues, food so processed that there is no nutrition in it. How could something so good go so bad in such a short time?

Food has always been enormously political and unfortunately that isn't going to change anytime soon. What's important is that we be as aware as possible about the politics of what we eat and make informed and ethical choices, whether it's about today's dinner or speaking up when we see inequities, be it poor farming practices or the manipulation of the food supply by mega-corporations.

Agri-business has a death grip on how our food is produced. While humans have been genetically modifying food since the agricultural revolution, until now we've done it in a way that improved the product without causing potential harm to those who eat it or plant it. Not now. Monsanto, giant of the agri-corps created grains for export to countries like India. In traditional farming, a percentage of the crop is saved for seed production the following year. But this wouldn't be good for Monsanto's bottom line so they engineered the plants so the seeds would be sterile. Imagine the surprise of the Indian farmers when the seeds didn't germinate the following year! And imagine how that affected the children.

Monsanto also introduced the genetically engineered, recumbant Bovine Growth Hormone rBGH, used to induce more milk from cows. Unfortunately, rBGH is a dangerous drug that poses unacceptable dangers to humans from increased antibiotic residues and elevated levels of a potent cancer tumor promoter called IGF-1. Organic Consumer Association's (OCA)"Millions Against Monsanto" campaign generated over a quarter million emails and petition signatures on the topic of rBGH, making rBGH one of the most controversial food products in the world.

After 14 years of controversy, August 6th Monsanto announced that they will sell off or "divest" rBGH and take it off the market. The OCA is now working to break Monsanto's stranglehold over seeds and take away their mandate to force-feed genetically engineered food to an unwilling or unaware public. You can help to push through federal legislation to require mandatory labeling and safety-testing of GMOs (genetically modified organisms.) Learn more about the Millions Against Monsanto campaign:
I admit that I'm obsessively curious, which translates to way too much research. And, hey, it's so easy with the Internet! When I find something I find interesting, I invariably print it out and force it on my kids and friends. Sometimes they're taken in and sometimes I either get a "why?" or that ever-familiar rolled-eyes look for doing something too dumb for words. Since you can't roll your eyes, but only make comments to my blog, I'm going to give you some more links to some --and short entries on other -- articles about food that I think are worth reading. We'll start with Michael Pollan.

Michael Pollan is an award winning writer and author whose articles can be found in the New York Times and The New Yorker. This particular article, "Why Bother?" is from a New York Times issue devoted to green issues. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-lede t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1&oref=slogin

MSNBC has an article, "Eating Only What Grows Around You: Extreme Locavorism." While I will freely admit that I'm not an extreme locavore,
I love farmers markets and buying fresh local produce. It's as much a social event as it is a way to shop. I also happen to be blessed by living in a food paradise as we have farmers markets all year around, live on the Monterey Bay where fish is abundant, and cheese is made locally as well. However, that isn't a year-around option for lots of people. Practicality and good nutrition are valid considerations; we do the best we can.

We also have to take into consideration the tropical growers who produce coffee, chocolate and vanilla, bananas, sugar and other important commodities. If we completely stop buying these products, how will they survive? In this case, wise purchasing is what matters. No matter what your position, this article is thought provoking. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24994028/

What many of us don't know is how far our food travels before we get it. This quote from the From the Union of Concerned Scientists: is telling:

"Grocery chains are increasingly buying foods from around the world in an effort to cater to consumer tastes and to take advantage of cheap labor in other countries. But shipping Norway cod to China for processing and back to Norway for sale has a hefty cost, not just in fuel but in the global warming pollution generated by these long trips. The European Union is at the forefront of a movement that aims to make shippers and shoppers pay for this pollution through taxes or new emissions trading rules. Measuring total emissions is a complex business because miles traveled, form of transport, and time in storage all contribute to food's carbon footprint."

Concerned about Childhood Obesity? Whether or not we have children, it's important to be concerned about the issues of obesity related diabetes and heart problems in children. Poor health at any age puts a huge burden on our medical system. These children are also our potential future leaders, the very same children who will be affected by, and responsible for, the choices we make for our planet. What drives children to want junk food? Well, in part it's advertising that they see every day on TV. Read on:

Finally, I found this quote by Dr. Shiva very to-the-point regarding today's blog topic. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a scientist, world-renowned author, and grassroots leader in India.

"Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient."

In closing, I want to say that it's not necessary to be obsessed or fanatical about every bite we take, but it is important to be conscious and aware. Small changes on a regular basis become big changes over time. Enjoy your food but be conscious about its health and its footprint on the planet. And to add a light-hearted but thought-provoking end, I introduce to you my daughter's funny and enlivening blog. One entry that speaks about our enormous abundance of food and the waste that occurs daily is as follows: http://zipntizzy.blogspot.com/2008/07/dumpster-days.html Dumpster Days

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Twelve years ago I bought a home. This was monumental; I'd dreamed of owning a home since I was a child. Even better than the house, there was a large yard that was effectively a blank slate waiting for an artist's muse. A large rectangle of lawn covered most of the yard with shrubs and a few rose bushes around the perimeter.

Lawn wasn't on my agenda. It's not only a water hog that needs feeding, mowing and edging, I'm deathly allergic to it. Sitting on grass gives me red welts; mowing it triggers asthma. The lawn had to go.

Over the next two years I created a haven for birds and butterflies. The lawn was replaced with a variety of groundcovers such as wooly and creeping thyme, Scottish moss and miniature succulents. Mounds of dirt bordered with decorative rock were filled with flowers and dwarf lemon and lime trees. Raised beds held strawberries and kitchen herbs. The final touches included a semi-dwarf Blenheim apricot, Arctic Rose nectarine and Santa Rosa plum in the backyard and Red Gravenstein and Sierra Beauty apple trees in the front. The classic suburban look was gone, replaced by a county garden.

A few years later, out of room in my own garden, I added a yellow nectarine on the vacant county land nearby. If I lived a little farther inland from the Coast, I would have added a couple of cherry trees. I was living my childhood dream of a home of my own with beds of flowers and fruit trees galore. I only wished for another acre to add more trees and a large vegetable garden. It was paradise right here in Santa Cruz – my dream garden.

Well, sort of. My garden, in technical parlance, is a "studied wild garden." This means that it looks kind of like a woodland park with flowers interspersed, beautiful flagstone walking paths meandering throughout. Or, maybe I should say, it kind of looks this way. (I'll explain in a moment.) Visitors exclaim about its beauty, especially as just beyond my back fence is a 100-acre urban wildlife park owned by the State, creating a pastoral backdrop. It's peaceful here most of the time. Quiet except for the squawking of jays and crows, the flutter of doves in flight, Hairy woodpeckers drilling the pine snags and Red Shouldered hawks calling for a mate. Birds and butterflies fill the garden year-round as we're on a flyway. All part of the fantasy I had envisioned.

The ideal scenario would be no fence at all. However, Southern Pacific has a railroad spur between my fence and the park. The train comes through four mornings a week, bringing coal and sand to the Davenport Cement Plant. It returns four afternoons a week with cement and sometimes wood from Big Creek Lumber. This is a romantic vision, one I enjoy very much as I grew up with trains in my hometown and it adds to the country garden atmosphere.

As always, however, there are problems, even in paradise. In this case, seven days and nights a week, people walk along the railway. Grafitti artists see endless opportunities for marking their territories. It's a straight shot for homeless encampments and a convenient place to sell drugs. Yes, there are folks walking dogs or just meandering, but there are also occasional angry drunks and shouting middle school boys throwing rocks, testing out their lawless fantasies. So the fence has remained, along with a barrier of blackberry brambles instead of barbed wire.

The first couple of years I had a sprinkling of delicious fruit, which I begrudgingly shared with the raccoons. I proudly talked to the trees, encouraging them to mature and produce enough fruit for eating and jam and pie making. Yes, I spent time pruning and weeding, but it was a labor of love. I put in a drip system and felt pleased with my environmentally correct fantasy-come-true.

Then I launched The Vanilla.COMpany and was soon working 60 to 80 hours a week. Days, nights and weekends. I wanted time off to walk and relax which didn't necessarily equate to pruning, weeding and watering.

I had naively assumed that perfect lawns with flowers bordering the edges and boxy hedges required more time than mine to remain perfectly manicured. Neither the look nor the effort suited me. Studied wild was my dream: just let it do its own thing. How wrong was that! I have since learned why people put in dry rock stream beds, wood chips and gravel paths.

My lovely dwarf fruit trees continued to grow and soon were the size of standard trees, their branches intertangling and breaking. The beautiful ground covers aggressively battled each other in a Darwinian tango. The weaker ones succumbed; the others crept over the decorative rocks and flagstones, obliterating the walkways. Beautiful clumps of scabiosa, with bright pink flowers in the Spring, which had blended with the blue flowers on the isotoma, grew together in the front yard, overwhelming the isotoma and flowing over the curb and into the street. Neighbors were fascinated and suggested we leave it to see if would cross the street completely. Easy for them to say; they weren't paying the water bill. And you can imagine how attractive the ground cover would look covered with tire treads and skid marks. Even the roses, the salvias, the coreopsis and the penstomon grew to mammoth proportions. I'm not sure why this happened. There was little time to cut back the dead flowers, they rarely were fed on schedule and yet, the entire garden rapidly outgrew my carefully installed drip system.

And then the gophers arrived. They ate the vegetables I'd interspersed with flowers and some of the best lily bulbs. They turned the entire garden into a miniature golf course. I even caught them walking along the raised beds above ground – right in front of my eyes! But this didn't slow down the growth of the rest of the garden and my attempts to fill their holes with mothballs and flooding did little to deter their own ideas of landscaping. And it didn't stop the trees from producing evermore abundant crops. Even the raccoons couldn't keep up with the fruit!

I looked forward to winters when I could stop dragging hoses with sprinkler heads around the garden and hacking away at the blackberries' relentless march over, under and around the fence and into the yard. Have you ever noticed how non-kink hoses do anyway? Or how those cute little twirling sprinklers break apart after four months? And how about the plant food getting wet and clumping in wads and then the boxes fall apart? Martha Stewart rarely talks about the downside of bountiful gardens. And why should she? With an army of assistants I wouldn't complain either!

In the winter we're told that serious gardeners pore through catalogs, looking for new hybrids, heirloom raspberries, sweeter squash and corn. Not me After three years of my garden any winter aspirations had vanished. I enjoy every minute of doing nothing for the garden. I can visit friends, go to movies, read a good novel. Then Spring arrives and amnesia hits. I've forgotten again how I had no life beyond my business and the garden from May until September. I'm thrilled with each beautiful bud, the aroma of lemon blossoms, the iris blooms. Oh, and the fruit trees' promise! Then reality hits and I wonder yet again why I hang onto studied wild when a desert cactus garden would save water, energy and…my sanity! Some Saguaros, Bishop's Hats and aloe, an expanse of white gravel and a few ceramic statues for effect.

But on warm summer afternoons I watch the hummingbirds drinking from the salvias, the Monarch, Painted Lady and Swallowtail butterflies dipping and fluttering, the hawks swooping down and calling, and I remember why I have worked so hard and diligently. It's one small spot that helps to erase some of my carbon footprint and provides a source of comfort for the creatures who come to visit. And after all, it's so hardy now, I only water once a week.