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.

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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.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Costco--to go or not to go, that is the question...

When Sis asked if I wanted to go with her to Costco (so she could pick up a decoration she saw there previously), I said yes, because I had my short list of stuff I was interested in, to do my buying in volume. So, on to Brandywine we go.

Yes, Costco has its Christmas decorations up (although to be fair, there were more at the nearby Target and Jo Ann's Arts & Crafts). Mom, though she says she doesn't like the place, asked me to pick up raisins. OK, fine. But then I also had to get her her honey, because it has the big jug that's cheaper (at $9.59) than the health food store price.

As Sis cruised by the jewelry (and we oohed and aahed over the cheaper and more expensive pieces--it was all I could to do tear myself away from the $59 onyx-pearl necklace), we finally parted ways to do serious shopping. There were way more clothes than last time (not interested), although last time (a few weeks ago), it had lots of regulation Redskins jerseys for $59, which, unfortunately, is fairly cheap for real NFL merchandise.

While it did have the Aveeno, there was no coupon book; currently, it's the going price per bottle (wait, it's a better price, since the twin-pack is for 2 18-ounce bottles, and the stores generally carry the 12-ounce ones--oops), I scooted past this aisle to go to the packaged foods aisle. This was where I saved money, as it had the giant size (9 ounces) of ground nutmeg for $7.39, just in time for holiday baking season. (In a previous visit, I bagged the 16-ounce bottle of vanilla for $5.39--woo hoo--as well as a 4 lb. bag of Wyman's frozen Maine blueberries, for $9.99. Those blueberries seem to be a staple of Costco, but I'm not complaining.)

vanilla from Costco 16 ounces However, two other bargains (they were truly lower in price than at grocery stores), were for items that I might not normally buy, at least not in those quantities, so I ended up spending more this visit than I planned to, though not a ridiculous amount.

large jar of artichokes from Costco No, you're not going to find 65 ounces of artichoke hearts in oil for $7.85 at any grocery, as they run for $4 for a tiny jar; it was a great deal, since I heart artichokes. However, since I was not expecting to find it, buying it made a slight dent in my budget. This is probably how Costco gets shoppers to spend more than intended--in addition to items it keeps in stock, it also sells a number of "surprise" items that you don't know how long will be there. Fortunately, I was somewhat able to keep this kind of spending under something resembling control, as I had been in local Costcos a couple of times, and have an idea of the kinds of things they keep stocked, although different stores may carry different items. (For instance, the one near the Pentagon stocks Bocaburgers, but Brandywine does not; Brandywine has the three-pack of Silk [at the lower Target-style price], but I didn't notice it at Pentagon. Also, the Pentagon store has beer and wine.)

The big score among these good scores (one of which was Charmin--how cliche, I know), was this find, which I had to brew as soon as I got home...

Ito En brand matcha tea Matcha green tea, 100 bags, for $12.99, packaged by the Ito En company (a brand recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil), is an absolute steal. (Anytime you see matcha for under $30 is time for celebration.) While it seemed odd that the matcha was bagged (in sturdy polyester bags), the tea is certainly high quality, with a rich taste and deep green color. What more could you ask?

By splitting the membership (the second cardholder doesn't even have to list the address) the damage is only $25 each, you can easily score savings of more than this amount, and find more than Nine things that are worth buying at Costco, even us single folk. However, you want to make sure that, perishable or not, the things that you buy you have the space for, as some things are easier to store than others. However, although I don't have, say, a huge home or stand-alone freezer, the savings has already been worth it, and I don't leave with a huge haul.

However, if you tend to be an impulse shopper, or a clutterbug, it might be a good idea to stay away from these big box stores, as they can be too much temptation for some. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A good time was had by all...

country road in southern MarylandLast week a good time was had by all at a cousin's wedding. (Even getting there was proof that not all of southern Maryland has been gobbled up by developers, probably the one good thing about the economic downturn. The scene above is across from the reception hall, which was surrounded by farms.)

Anyhoo, with the family harmony and all, the only sour note was the food, as the caterer, like too many others, try to appease the "no sodium" crowd. It's a fraud, I tell you, tempting looking parsley potatoes with no salt, then needing to pour salt upon them to attempt to remedy this foul--doesn't quite work. Strangely enough, there's no "no sugar" edict, as folks might riot if there were no wedding cake. This can't be about cutting costs, either, as there were (tall glass) salt and pepper shakers on each table. Concern about health at a wedding (which is only one meal) always seems suspicious to me...

* * *

I finally got the seasonal flu shot from a local MinuteClinic at a 24-hour CVS, which was quick and convenient enough. As good as such a clinic is for small concerns, like flu shots, their existence cannot be summoned as a good way to provide health care access for everyone, because of the inherent shortcomings of stand-alone clinics. People who want to deflect attention away from health care reform and onto such places as the way to cut health care costs, to paraphrase John McEnroe, cannot be serious.

For instance, I was asked by the nurse practitioner if I were allergic to eggs or chicken, which I am not. I then asked whether people who are allergic to iodine (seafood allergy) can take the shot without problems, and she said that it would be no problem. So far, so good.

However, if you haven't consistently had access to health care, you might not know that you've developed an allergy because you'd have to be tested (mo' money!) if allergy is suspected. And how is allergy confirmed without being previously seen by a medical professional about possible symptoms? What about continuity in health care, is that too much to ask? Continuity is impossible if affordable health care is not available to all Americans.

Sadly, Rep. Alan Grayson's recent quip about the Republican health care "plan," is on point--namely, don't get sick; if you get sick, die off quick. (The ungrammatical ending is mine.)