Archive for the 'Life Before Iowa' Category

The season for frenzy comes to an abrupt halt

I went to the health center at my college on a Fall day in my Senior year. The nurse checked me out, examined my congestion and sore throat, then flipped through my chart.

“Hmm,” she said. “It shows here that you came in on October 16 your Freshman year, October 17 your Sophomore year, and October 15 your Junior year.” She looked up at the calendar: it was October 18. “Seems to me you’re right about on time for your annual cold.”

Annual it is. There has barely been a Fall when the combination of leaf mold and wacky changes in temperatures hasn’t overcome my body’s ability to fight off the same progression: a strange, overwhelming exhaustion followed by sinus issues followed by sore throat followed by cough.

This year, I thought I might have escaped it, and luckily so. I spent much of the last half of October on the road, on trips to Pennsylvania and North Carolina, spending some of the time working and some of the time having lots of fun. The whole time, I felt like I was some sort of ticking time bomb, albeit a ticking time bomb that seemed to be appeased by irregular applications of Sudafed and Airborne.

But I probably should have known that the fun and games would come to an end. Much like this year’s delayed onset of real Fall, my real Fall bout of Ick was still to come, whether I liked it or not. And it arrived with a vengeance on Thursday, although did everything I could to ignore it Thursday night and went to work on Friday protesting that I was just fine, as long as I drank liquids constantly and mainlined Sudafed. But by the time I got home, it was clear: I had the full-on Fall Ick, and there was nothing to be done other than to go to bed.

Now, did I help matters by living in a state of frenzy from June through October? Probably not. But would I trade any of the fun I’ve had? Not for anything.

Still, I did have plans for the weekend. A good friend who moved away in December is in town, and I had to maintain quarantine so as not to potentially pass this on to her and her new baby. The Mint Killer and I had a dinner-and-movie girls’ night out planned to take advantage of a brief trip out of town by her husband and daughter, and I had to bail on her. And, most relevantly, I had solid plans to get out there in the garden and get some of the clean-up done, since word on the street is we’re in for a serious temperature plummet starting Monday.

I suppose it all makes good sense, though. There’s a season for the madness of harvest, and a season to just sit back and rest. I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and get up tomorrow and try to work for a little bit in the garden, and when I feel like I’m ready to call it quits, I will. If it doesn’t all get cleaned up in one fell swoop, so be it.

One step closer to funding for community food programs

Government, in many ways, makes gardening look easy. To garden, simply plant seed, water, watch grow, eat food, repeat.

To govern, there are many more steps. And so, for those of you who have been asking for an update on the march of the Farm Bill and the status of the Community Food Program (CFP), I have to tell you…there has been good news, but good news doesn’t mean it’s over.

The latest word on the street is this: The Senate Agricultural Committee has set funding for the Community Food Program funding at $10 million per year. That’s enough to keep local and fresh food programs afloat for the time being.

The process is far from over, though. The committee is scheduled to debate the entire Farm Bill October 24. That’s tomorrow, folks, so hopefully I’ll know more soon. There’s still a chance the funding could be cut, although continued voices from around the country can keep that from happening. There’s no word yet on when the bill actually may hit the Senate floor, and once it passes, there’s that whole President signature/veto thing, etc. etc. etc. Like I said…the process is weighty and takes time.

What can you do? Well, if you already called or faxed your Senators, thank you. If you didn’t get a chance to do so in the last round, there’s still time to participate. If you have a Senator on the Agriculture Committee, you can even make your voice heard before the committee starts marking up the bill tomorrow.

Calling is your best bet this time around. If you call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your Senators’ offices, you can make a difference to make sure this important piece of funding stays in the bill.

Now, here’s a little trick I bring you from my pre-Iowa life inside the Beltway…there’s no point in calling to talk to your actual Senator. It’s not that they don’t like you that way, it’s just that…well, you know…they’re rather busy. But they all have someone on their respective staffs who handles agricultural and nutrition issues. Ask to speak to that person. On this front, they’ll have the good Senator’s ear.

So that’s the latest. As I said, it’s much easier to garden. But this is a worthy cause and besides, here in the U.S., the growing season’s wrapping up. Use this call as an opportunity to take a quick break from your garden clean-up, and you’ll make a difference for Americans everywhere.

Greens and yellow pizza

Weekend Herb Blogging 2nd Anniversary logoI have an admission: I love pizza in all its forms. I love it when it’s gourmet and brick-ovened and topped with choice ingredients. I love it when it’s out of a box, taken from the freezer, and baked on the rack of the oven (DO NOT BAKE THE CARDBOARD DISC.). I love it delivered, I love it on homemade crust. I even love the bad frozen French bread pizza. I love making English muffin pizzas and pita pizzas and…well…you get the point.

But, thus far this year, I had not actually made pizza with ingredients from my garden. I’m not really sure how I overlooked this. Perhaps I was afraid to heat up the kitchen any more than it already was? Or maybe I was just that busy this year.

When we had a near-frost in mid-September, I harvested a ton of unripe, kind of ripe, nearly ripe and fully ripe yellow pear tomatoes, and those were still hanging out on my counter, the green ones slowly working their way toward yellow. I still have basil growing out there, and now there’s some arugula in the mix.

I will stop here just to recommend homemade crust over store-bought. I mean, that’s a pretty obvious statement, because isn’t everything homemade better than what you can buy? That being said, I haven’t actually made homemade crust in a long, long time. Not since I had a breadmaker, which I didn’t actually like to use to make bread, but which facilitated a wicked herbed pizza dough. I got rid of the breadmaker when I moved to Iowa, which, every time I make pizza, I regret just a little bit.

Uncooked pizza topped with greensBut I digress.

I built this particular pizza on a store-bought crust, which I brushed with olive oil before adding the toppings. There’s no tomato sauce on this, but I figured the tomatoes themselves would do the trick, and they did. This particular mix, in fact, does the trick. Olive oil, green and yellow tomatoes, some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper for crunch and flavor, and a topping of roasted arugula and basil and fresh mozzarella. A little sweet, a little bitter, a little salty, a little tangy, and a powerful hit of basil-y goodness.

I love pizza in all its forms, yes. But when it’s topped with my very own garden fresh ingredients? Then I adore it.

Greens and yellow pizzaGreens and yellow pizza
(Serves 1)

One 6- or 8-inch prepared pizza crust
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 to 10 mixed ripe and unripe pear tomatoes
1/4 cup torn arugula leaves
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
1/2 c. fresh mozzarella, cut into uniform chunks

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Halve the tomatoes. Put the pizza crust on a pizza stone or cookie sheet, brush the crust with the olive oil, arrange the tomato halves evenly on the surface of the crust, and put the pizza in the oven.
  3. Once the pizza is in, turn down the temperature to 425 degrees F. I have no idea what this does, but I’m sure it’s highly technical and chemical and trust me, it makes the pizza crispy and crusty and tasty.
  4. Bake the pizza for 5 to 7 minutes, then take it out. Add the greens and top them with the cheese, and return the pizza to the oven.
  5. Bake for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the greens look a little crispy and the cheese is melted.
  6. Remove, slice and eat.

This is my contribution to the second anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging, an event that I stumbled upon not that long after I started blogging. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it for as long as I have, and I’m so grateful to Kalyn for keeping it alive for two years, which, I daresay, is about a lifetime and a half on the Interwebs. So here’s to you, Kalyn. What’s pizza without a good Chianti? I toast you, my friend. Congratulations on this anniversary.

How to save community food programs in two easy faxes

Before I moved to Iowa, I was already a devotee of farmers and locally-grown food and all that good stuff. I was the only of my friends to join a CSA, I was a customer of Washington’s Green Grocer, and in the summer, the farmers at the market whispered behind their hands about how the girl who liked to fling around cash was cutting a path across the market.

But until I moved here, until I actually got to talk to farmers and call them up to ask them about their dairy products or their produce or how much they loved reclaiming the land from industrial farming, I didn’t really get it.

I probably won’t always live in Iowa. I have friends who have good money placed on my showing up back in the D.C. area again someday. And my heart lies somewhere way closer than an ocean than where I’m sitting now. But regardless, when I leave this state, I will take with me a passion for spreading the gospel of good food raised in a healthy manner. Not processed food, not food that has been shipped for thousands of miles before arriving at my table, but good, local food (organic or not) that nourishes me and those I invite to join me.

For that reason, I need to ask those of you who share this passion to join with me this week and ask your Senators to support funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Food Projects (CFP) Program.

What is the CFP program?
More than 240 projects have received CFP grants since 1996. The amounts are often less than $250,000 per grant per year, and that money goes to creating access to local, fresh food and general food security for low-income communities.

In other words, this is not a partisan political issue. This is an issue of creating access to good food grown right here in the U.S. Local food. Tasty food. Regardless of whether you’re a card-carrying whatever, don’t you like to eat? So do I.

CFP dollars at work in Iowa
Here in Iowa, CFP dollars funded the “Digging Deeper” program, which created urban gardens, school gardens, edible landscapes and orchards in downtown Des Moines—bringing food and garden exposure to residents who had no access to such things whatsoever. This cost less than $250,000 over three years. And if you want to see what the program did in your state, simply check out this handy searchable awards database.

The House of Representatives took away the line item funding the CFP when they considered the Farm Bill this year. Its only chance is for the Senate to keep it alive, and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is the man to do it. The program needs to be saved. It needs to be funded.

Help support CFP funding
If you care about this issue, please contact your senator, and Senator Tom Harkin, as soon as possible. This is the week—by next week, this is probably all going to be over and it will be too late.

Below, I’ve pasted text of a letter that is oh-so-appropriate for those who live in Iowa. Fax it to Derek Miller (f: 202-228-4576), the staff member in Harkin’s office who will have the most influence on the good Senator, sooner rather than later.

If you don’t live in Iowa, feel free to edit the letter and fax copies to your own Senator and to Derek Miller (this is a case where it doesn’t matter if you’re a constituent), or just call in and express your opinion by phone.

To find your Senators’ contact information, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or look it up at More information and additional talking points are available on the Community Food Security Coalition’s Web site.


The Honorable Senator Harkin
731 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Attn: Derek Miller
Fax: 202-228-4576

October 2, 2007

Dear Senator Harkin:

As an Iowan, I am writing to thank you for previous support of the USDA’s Community Food Project (CFP) program. I urge you to increase the mandatory funding for CFP to $10 million which will continue to increase access to fresh, local and healthy food for families across Iowa and across the country.

Grants provided for Community Food Projects (CFP) link rural and urban communities, create business opportunities for food producers and increase access to local and healthy foods for consumers. The programs are particularly effective in increasing access to healthy foods in low-income communities and areas with few retail grocery stores, creating profitable urban agricultural gardens and businesses, and engaging children in improving their diets. The program also creates critical grants to support healthy food access in primarily rural and economically depressed farming communities.

However, the demand for the CFP program far exceeds the funding available. Its future needs to be secured by increasing mandatory funding.

Here in Iowa, CFP funds have gone to successful programs in Des Moines which have developed urban gardens and edible landscapes in the city. Yet there are many other communities across Iowa and the rest of the country in need of fresh, healthy food. Thus, I urge you to restore mandatory funding to the CFP program and increase the funding level to $10 million. This action alone can help thousands in need.

[Your name and address here]

Six states, 76 hours

There have been plenty of times this summer when I’ve had to step away from the garden, but mostly, those times have been spurred on by work travel.

All NighterThis past weekend, I attempted a by-my-own-choice travel mash-up of two Major Events, neither of which I wanted to miss: BlogHer ’07, and Cal Ripken Jr.’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The logistics were insane. Drive from Iowa City to Moline, Illinois on Friday morning for a 7 a.m. flight to Chicago, hit BlogHer all day and a food bloggers’ dinner Friday night, get up at 3:15 a.m. to catch the shuttle to O’Hare for flight number two into D.C., where my friend Brian picked me up at the airport and whisked me and our friend Dave off through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York before we spent the night at a family friend’s house in Oxford, NY.

Sunday dawned foggily, but the skies cleared in time for the induction ceremony, which was as crazy-crowded and overwhelming as I thought it would be. I’ve been a fan of Cal Ripken Jr. since way before I became a fan of gardening, and Brian and I made a pact years ago—before Cal even announced his retirement—that we would be there for the ceremony.

Another crazy drive back to D.C. followed, with just enough time to catch an hour and a half of sleep before my 6 a.m. flight out on Monday.

One of my clients predicted I’d be down for the count for a week after such a trip. I am pleased to announce that while I’m in better shape than I thought I’d be, it’s going to take me one more day to return to garden stories.

However, don’t think I made the trip without noticing a few plants along the way, and not all of them were even from the window of a speeding vehicle.

Window box

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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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