Saturday, December 19, 2009

The weather forecast, brought by acorns...

snow covered evergreenWhile I'm pleasantly shocked about today's premature (for December) snowstorm, you could say it was predicted by an elderly lady who was passing along some country wisdom. Of course, her forecast for this winter's weather (which, technically, begins the day after tomorrow) included the usual musings about the high number of woolly bear caterpillars sightings this year, to which I gently nodded in agreement.

However, the gray eminence added another aspect to her prediction--she mentioned that the huge number of acorns seen this year meant that winter would be extremely cold. Huh? I'm sure I had a dumbfounded look, 'cause that's the first time I've ever heard the haul of acorns involved in the weather forecast. (Of course, after her speculation, I noticed that many squirrels appeared to take steps to hide those acorns in holes, which I'd never paid attention to before.)

* * *

Just as the acorn lady predicted the extremely cold, snowy weather, I predict that much hot cocoa will be consumed during and after the storm, the only question being how often this delicious, healthful, drink will be quaffed.

Hot cocoa--cheaters' edition

If you don't have hot cocoa mix at home (haven't been able to find the Ghiradelli hazelnut hot cocoa mix), your favorite chocolate milk heated up via microwave makes an acceptable substitute. Also, as chocolate milk may be more helpful in helping people recover from athletic endeavors than Gatorade, it's perfect to drink after shoveling snow. Or while watching the snow. Or after hearing predictions of snow.

Smooth hot cocoa--DIY edition

If you're lacking chocolate milk or cocoa mix, but have a box of Hershey's cocoa at home for cooking, and some milk, you're in luck. The ingredients as listed in the instructions are fine (2 Tbsps. cocoa, 2 Tbsps. sugar, pinch salt, 1 cup milk, 1/4 tsp. vanilla), but fail to mention that your cocoa will turn out lumpy unless you take an extra step.

Whisking the dry ingredients together does no good, even using the tiny whisks I have. Instead, I put the cocoa into a trusty party favor sachet. (Guys can use the more macho mini burlap sack, which can be bought at health food stores.) Then, dunk the sack into milk that's been microwaved for a minute and a half, add the other ingredients, and stir. Let sack sit in milk for a minute or two, then remove. The smooth, tasty result (after transferring milk from a microwave-safe cup):

cup of hot cocoaMmm, mmm, good. Oh, and the snow's still coming down, so it may be time to make yet another cup!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mezza Luna--cool blue venue...

martinis at Mezza Luna restaurant Drinks, like the red sangriatini, on the bar at Mezza Luna. Drinks are larger than this photo, from the Mezza Luna site, would suggest.

This being the holiday party season and all was a nice time to hold a little blogger get-together, in a new place, the very cool, casual Mezza Luna Restaurant and Lounge. Laid-back mod-looking decor, happy hour with delish drinks (including Absolut cocktails for $6), tasty tapas like the Tortilla Espanola (homey tasting with a sophisticated presentation) and the hummus, served with grilled pita triangles at angles resembling flying fish on a plate, along with new people and conversation, made for a good time had by all.

As usual, there were people from a variety of backgrounds--corporate, nonprofit, gub'mint, startup--and I was one of the few non-techies there. But because there were some new folks, some just starting sites, others with more experience and multiple blogs, there were good tips and information passed around. Such as that Word (boot) camp for Wordpress users is only $40!

Of course, our very own Kier is giving a presentation in the new year, on January 9 (at the Cleveland Park Library), "Blogging 101," for anyone interested in starting their very own electronic megaphone.

Some of the new people have interesting blogs, too:

Spleeness--a very funny stream-of-consciousness site.
KissMyCountry--an eco-optimistic site, featuring travel insights.

And last, but certainly not least, the cool dance music we were bopping along to, which may be the nascence of a District Bloggers Meetup and 80s Dance Party in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Favorite Christmas song--by far...

'Tis the season for lots of great holiday recordings, such as renditions of This Christmas by Donny Hathaway, The Temptations' Silent Night, even The Whispers Happy Holidays to You (The Whispers NOT being one of my favorite groups, btw).

However, my favorite Christmas recording is Vanessa Williams' jazzed version of What Child is This, which only improves upon re-hearing!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cyber Monday hint--the Polaroid i1035...

Oh, tomorrow is the annual non-event of Cyber Monday, the online holiday bargain chase. It's a non-event to me, because you can get great bargains online any time of year, probably better ones.

Case in point is the good, cheap (but no longer uber-cheap) Polaroid i1035 camera. I found out the hard way that it's best to search online for inexpensive digital cameras, because retailers love to pull the old bait and switch. (A Target employee actually admitted that they only had five bargain cameras in store, the day after they went on sale, which was the last straw for me.) I searched for a bargain camera because, being a photography newbie, didn't want to purchase too much camera for my abilities. I also didn't want to spend much because there are other useful camera-related items to get, such as rechargeable batteries and charger, SD card, and case (which I regret not purchasing earlier. But I digress).

So, earlier this year, I bought the i1035 at for $70, including shipping. (Unfortunately, not buying a camera case soon after meant that the camera got fried in the car a few months later, meaning that I ended up buying another i1035 for a total of $91 at Amazon, after putting up with a different, less cheap camera from another manufacturer.) Also unfortunate is that no longer sells this camera, although other sites do, such as Amazon. (Via Amazon, if you get the camera through Zeeland, you'll snag a great bargain, as it's the retailer that offered it at a great price earlier at

This Polaroid is lightweight, compact, yet has many features, at least ones that interest me, such as digital image stabilization (anti-shaking), and a nice large, 3 inch LCD screen:

rear of the Polaroid i1035 compact digital cameraIn practical terms, the generous screen means that a viewfinder is not necessary (and not even particularly desirable). The camera is easy to open (this was an issue for me with a Canon Powershoot A series camera, which took a long time to open to insert the batteries), and the features are easonably easy to use.

If you're a long-suffering Vista user, you don't even have to download software to transfer the photos to your PC--just hook up the camera to the computer via the USB cable, and click on the appropriate folders.

The default resolution is quite high, so the camera eats batteries (but then, don't they all?), so please store batteries in the case when you're not about to use it. (The case I use has room for both camera and loose batteries.) The high resolution means that pictures tend to come out quite clear (at least if you don't bother with the digital zoom, which even the manual warns against).

Since another holiday is coming up, I'm sure I'll get around to using its fancy features, such as:

However, for the immediate future, it's sufficient that I can take nice pictures with the Polaroid i1035, like many of the ones in the slideshow on the right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oasis in the city...the National Arboretum

Recently needing a long walk to relax and unwind, and panicking that it's November ('cause the fall color will only be around a bit longer), I decided to go to the National Arboretum for the first time in a while, because I knew it would be peaceful as well as beautiful.

plants near entrance of National Arboretum Of course, I had to fortify myself a bit before my trek, so I got a candy bar, a sip of water, etc., soon after arriving there, and was gratified that there is some gesture of eco-responsiblity there, such as the two rainbarrels outside the shop.

However, my elation at that sight was short-lived, and my curiosity piqued, when soon after I spied the following display:

sign for Power Plants exhibitOh the folly! Because the arboretum is maintained by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, this exhibit showcases plants that are considered to have promise for use as biofuels, some to be turned into ethanol, and others into petroleum substitutes. Many of the plants are familiar, such as sunflower and soybean; however, I agree with George Monbiot that these can only be credible sources of fuel if recycled from chip fat (cooking grease).

Other plants might have good additional uses, but many are grown in other (esp. tropical) nations, although they seemed vigorous enough in Washington's mid-Atlantic clime:

castor plant leaf and signThe ugly, hairy, scary castor plant was seen entirely too often at various parts of the Arboretum (showed up in the herb garden, too). Ugh. Glad I'm not of the generation that was forced to drink castor oil as a child, as the plant is as unattractive as its oil is reputed to be nasty.

small poplar grove and sign

sugarcane plant and sign Didn't think sugarcane could even grow in a non-tropical climate. (And this past summer was relatively mild compared to most Washington summers, so I'm shocked that this sugarcane is thriving here in November.) But its use still should be confined to food, regardless of what Brazil is doing.

sorghum plant and sign Similar surprise with sorghum, a Southern sweetening staple of generations past. (Sorghum syrup, which can be found occasionally.) Again, this should remain a food, not be a fuel.

jatropha plant and sign The elusive jatropha, which was supposed to be salvation for farmers in India, and produces a high-quality oil that can be used as jet fuel, among other things. (Again, I'm very surprised to see it doing quite well in this non-tropical spot.) Let's hope its cultivation doesn't crowd out farmers trying to grow food, an unfortunate possibility, probability even.

Goodness, there were quite a few plants listed that the average person hasn't even heard of, such as...

cuphea plant sign Let's not forget the other unknowns: lesquerella, camelina, miscanthus. Time to find another hangout.

* * *

It's bonsai time!

entrance to bonsai collections
Because of renovation, not all of the plants are on public display. But a few of the beauties...

bonsai and silkscreen

holly bonsai

bonsai with crescent wall hanging

traditional bonsai * * *

One of my favorite parts of the arboretum is the herb garden, which is divided into various areas, such as Medicinal, Native American, Colonial, etc.

trellis near entrance to herb garden The view alone, just before entering the herb garden, says "ahhhhh."

One plant I was pleasantly surprised to see repeatedly here (at the entrance, again in the medicinal garden, culinary garden, etc.) is rosemary, which is growing higher than I had ever seen it...

rosemary bushes
Other of the many garden delights include Vietnamese coriander.

vietnamese coriander I rubbed the leaves, and they gave a strong cilantro-like fragrance. (Like the sign says, duh!)

creeping thyme

creeping thyme again Creeping thyme, another plant repeating itself. But I don't mind, in this case.

Last in the herb garden, but certainly not least, were the wide variety of chile peppers. A couple of the colorful denizens below...

jelly beans chile peppers

valentine chile peppersAnd these were only two of the many varieties of chile pepper there that are absolutely thriving. For some odd reason, before last year, I assumed that both sweet and hot peppers only grew during the hot months. Wrong. As you see, they grow during much of the fall, at long as they're in a decently sunny spot.

* * *

Of course, I couldn't leave before going to the magnificent Capitol columns. (Off in the distance a while earlier, a barbarian actually left his motorcycle on the side of the area, in the front of the columns. Yuck, in addition to the noise he and his friends kicked up for a short time. The nerve.)

Capitol columns and tree in distance

Capitol columns near hill in the distance

Capitol columns overlook

back view of the Capitol columnsIt's easy to forget you're tramping around almost 450 acres with all this beauty, that is, until later in the day, when your muscles send you a reminder.


Getting there by public transportation (to the R Street entrance) should be easier once all the blasted construction on Bladensburg Road and H Streets is finally done, when the light rail line is completed. This would also make it easier to do the proper thing after leaving the arboretum, that is, to go get a drink on H Street.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just around the corner...

Clagett Farm pathThanksgiving, that is. This is the last week of the regular harvest season at Clagett; late next week begins gleaning. At this point in the season, there are pumpkins, sweet potatoes, even peppers, aplenty, as well as greens, glorious greens, which do quite well when washed, torn, and frozen--makes them quicker to cook. (Hint for Thanksgiving!)

Of course, I'll miss walking back from various fields and seeing small delights such as:

spicebush maybeSpicebush?


Clagett Farm cows and barn * * *

The brouhaha from Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, includes many people proclaiming that if we'd all just eat grass-raised beef and other animals, all would be well. While I respect that position, the fact is that for most people, eating grass-raised animals is even less practical than going vegan.

Clagett itself demonstrates the impracticality of humanely-raised meat for most people. The simple fact is that raising critters this way requires lots of land, and time--time for little calves to grow up. This inherently limits the amount of such meat that can be produced, keeping the price of such an item a luxury. Add to that increasing demand for same meat, and prices go even higher. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs are MUCH higher in price compared to conventionally raised animal products, a much greater price differential than that between organic produce and grains and conventionally raised grains and produce.

Because the supply of such meat will always be low relative to demand (which is why the list for the meat at Clagett is closed, while there are probably slots available for shares for next year there), even people who have no problem with eating meat will be eating it a lot less frequently, if determined to only eat humanely grass-raised meats. Just sayin.'

(I'll be the one avoiding cooking, as well as eating, turkey carcass this holiday. I'll be fixing a vegetarian roast instead, and fending off the meat-eaters in order to eat some myself, as on holidays past!)

Jennifer McCann of the Vegan Lunchbox blog has a wonderful Magical Loaf Studio, where you can insert your favorite ingredients to come up with your own recipe for a vegetarian roast. Stupendous!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween Eve!

Miller Farms store entranceWhat a day to come to Miller Farms in Clinton, the day before Halloween. Before I headed out to the fields to glean with a small group, the fine country folk at the farm had its bakery open (at 6 am, no less), so the public can get those scrumptious apple cider donuts to go with coffee. (I admit that good as those apple cider ones are, I like the double chocolate and strawberry creme donuts even better. I can just feel the fat coming on.)

Like many successful family farms, Miller Farms sells a variety of farm products at its down-home grocery store, including produce that's not so much exotic as hard to find, such as green peanuts.
green peanuts at Miller Farm storeGreen peanuts are used to make that great Southern snack, boiled peanuts. (AKA Southern edamame, if you want to get all foodie.)

fresh lima beans in pods at Miller Farm store Wow, I've never seen fresh lima beans in the pods. Not sure what I was expecting them to look like, but I'll soon know what they taste like, once they make the journey into my pot!

Also seen (and purchased) was a type of cooking green you rarely see even at farmer's markets, perhaps in part because of its unfortunate name (although its seed, rapeseed, is the source of canola oil, canola being an acronym):

rape greens at Miller Farm storeIn addition to delicious fresh foods, there's an extensive selection of canned goods from another regional producer, McCutcheon's (of Frederick, Md.), which includes McCutcheon's products I've never seen before, and I thought I'd seen them all.

McCutcheons salad dressings

McCutcheons ciders (Guess what drinks are being served with Thanksgiving dinner this year?)

The store carries its own dried herbs and spices, which are plentiful and inexpensive:

Miller Farms brand dried herbs Of course, what would a farm store be without these at this time of year:

pumpkins Or, an old-fashioned store without this (and just before Halloween):
old fashioned candy at Miller Farm store

more old fashioned candy
A big advertised draw was for these beauties:
chrysanthemums from Miller Farms nursery
As well as for another of its homemade special treats:

Miller Farm ice cream sign * * *
On to more serious matters, such as gleaning delicious collard greens, such as these:

collard greens in the field
However, even the friendly folks at Miller can't stay entirely serious, because the following scary "folk" were placed around some of the fields:

scarecrows and machinery

scarecrows on platform

lone scarecrow

scarecrow couple Scary, ha ha!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Keep it hot! (to fight cold and flu)

Now that swine flu's been declared a national emergency, and it's still a few weeks until it's available for everyone that wants to be vaccinated, the challenge is to stay healthy until you get the vaccination. (Although healthy habits even after vaccination help it work most effectively, so it's not the time to be cramming Doritos.)

electric hot kettleOne way to keep cold and flu at bay (or relieve symptoms if you come down with a bug) is to down hot drinks. One way I've found to keep hot drinks handy at home, at any hour, is to use an electric kettle (specifically, the ChefsChoice 677 cordless kettle pictured above). Keeping one in my bedroom (along with a teacup, saucer, and tins of tea) keeps me from having to amble up and down stairs first thing in the morning, or at night, when I want to warm up with a hot cuppa. I've had this kettle a couple of years, and couldn't be more pleased.

The kettle shuts itself off after boiling for a few minutes (with a nice, solid "click"), and has a red light on while it boils, so you know when it's on, a nice safety feature. I also like the handle's shape, and the stainless steel body keeps the water very warm for a nice long time after boiling. Ahhhhhh! That it's a nice heavy construction means that you won't easily knock it over; that the base separates from the rest of the kettle makes pouring easy.

Keeping the kettle in the bedroom also allows it to double as a humidifier, when you open the lid after the water boils and the steam fills the room. (Ahhh again!) It's also safer than a standard humidifier, as it's easy to clean and dry out (the lid opens up quite wide), making it unlikely to develop yucky mold.

Last, but certainly not least, electric kettles are considered very energy efficient, in part because they quickly warm up water.

As part of a cold-busting electric duo, consider getting the cheap luxury of a mug warmer for the office. No, it doesn't heat up your drink (that's what the kettle is for!), but keeps it from getting cold. Because you never know--you might have to leave your desk for an emergency meeting, get back half hour later, and your drink is cold. Bummer.

* * *

While I enjoy the colder months (to a point), sometimes the cold weather gets you down, as Kool and the Gang put it aptly in the 1975 classic, Winter Sadness.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The more things change...

The past few days have been a vortex of insanity in America. One village idiot writ large, Keith Bardwell, is a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana, as you've probably heard by now.

It's astounding that this fool would admit, on television, to breaking decades-old federal law by refusing to marry interracial couples, because he's worried about "the children." Oh please. Bring me the barf bag if this guy gets more air time.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Um, since when is the justice of the peace supposed to be worried about how long other people's marriages last? Is he a marriage counselor, too? (Perish the thought!)

The widow of my former pastor, the late Herbert Schwandt (founder of Peace Lutheran Church in NE Washington), must be shaking her head at this nonsense, as she and her husband were married for 35 years, until his death in 2006. Supposedly, Pastor Schwandt once remarked that he hadn't even seen a black person until after he joined the army. My, how his life changed years later, when he married Kay, a black woman, and even more after they had three children.

Yes, the kids are alright.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Priorities, priorities...

fall leaves on sidewalkHaving to deal with the health-industrial complex again yesterday, by having to take a relative in for testing, meant being greeted at the door of the clinic by a lady in a surgical mask and pushing hand sanitizer. Scary! She was reasonable enough after I consented to a bit of gel; I wasn't against the stuff, I told her, but wondered why this same health provider doesn't provide hot drinks on all floors of said clinic, since it's known that hot drinks also help fight cold and flu (and there are vending machines on every floor selling cold drinks and snacks; why not one that sells hot chocolate, tea, and coffee), particularly since that building is kept quite chilly. She said that she'd mention the suggestion to her supervisors. I'll believe it when I see it.

I don't get these health care providers--not selling something that could keep people from getting ill, when they sell so many other things. I just don't get it.

* * *

A few weeks back, when I felt not the flu but the common cold trying to get a hold of me, in addition to getting additional rest, more hot drinks, and the like, I also took the tasty cold and flu tonic remedy Sambucus (the Nature's Way brand version of Sambucol). After a few days, it stopped my burgeoning cold in its tracks, as I didn't become full-blown congested. After four days, the cold was stopped cold, and I was never so congested that I couldn't sleep at night. Unfortunately, it's a bit pricey, but unlike other cold and flu medications, it doesn't make you drowsy, and tastes good. (No, it's not related to the liqueur sambuca, which I can't stand because it has a licorice flavor; this syrup is raspberry flavored.)

Thus, I'm trying to keep this sweet elixir in stock, at least through the end of the month when H1N1 vaccine becomes available. Maybe past then, because the common cold is bad enough.