Sunday, September 29, 2013

Summer Au Gratin

Summer Au Gratin
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T lime juice
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 can coconut milk
1 cup non-dairy milk
6 cups eggplant and summer squash, thinly sliced

1/2-1 cup cooked rice
1- 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
3-5 cups fresh rainbow chard, chopped

1 cup cornmeal

1 T olive oil
1/2 t dried oregano

1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and milks in a liquid measuring cup.
Layer the squash/eggplant, overlapping, across the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Top this layer with rice, lentils, and chard.
Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture over top.
Repeat until all ingredients are used up or the pan is full, reserving enough milk and veg for the final top layer.
Top with a thin layer of squash/eggplant. 

Pour remaining milk mixture over top of the whole thing.
In a small bowl combine all ingredients for the topping and sprinkle over the top layer.
Bake 45 minutes, or until veg are tender when pierced with a fork.
Let sit for 5 minutes once removed from the oven before serving.
This is basically a more seasonal, more local re-do of one of our most favorite recipes-- Caribbean Sweet Potato Au Gratin.  We used my uncle's lentils instead of black beans.  Homegrown chard instead of spinach (since all our spring spinach is long gone and our fall spinach is not ready).  Eggplant (from the farmer's market) and various homegrown summer squash instead of potatoes (so we can save our potatoes for winter and use up our abundance of summer squash).  We also swapped out thyme in favor of homegrown oregano.

And it was SO darn tasty.  Yuuuuuummmmmmy, yuuuummmmy, yum!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Walk

*I wrote this post on August 12th and then somehow managed to never actually post it.  I found it in my Drafts yesterday.  So, better late than never, I guess.*

We hadn't been on a neighborhood walk in what seemed like forever.  An evening walk is what we do when we are finished with all our projects and tasks as the day draws to a close, but still have energy to want to get out and do something fun outdoors.  But, we're in the midst of summer craziness and so frequently we're "working" all day.  You know, if you count gardening, sewing, cooking, and drying herbs, picking/pitting cherries, etc.  Or worn out from working and just want to rest a while or out of town, or its beastly hot, etc.)

But, yesterday we decided we didn't have any tasks pressing down on us and so we went for a nice long walk in the setting sun.
We found an apricot tree!  It was right down the street from our house!  We noticed it because the sidewalk below was littered with smashed fruits and pits of an unidentifiable nature.  There was no fruit left on the tree, so it seemed, but then I finally spotted one, single apricot.  And I gobbled it up.  It was fantastic.  I've never had an apricot right off the tree before.  Even Matt, who in general is opposed to them, thought it was okay.  (He's wrong of course because it was GREAT, but baby steps....)  We missed out on the crop this year, but I am filing it away for next year!!
In addition to the apricot tree we found another oddity in the form of a tree.  It had peculiar, striking looking spiky fruits on it.  I took a photo to show my arborist friend and he tells me its an Ohio Buckeye tree.  I'd heard of Buckeyes before, but I think mostly as the college and related sports teams.  Who knew they were named after a tree?!  (I am sure a lot of people did, but not me...until now.)
We also admired and were thankful for the bits of semi-rural life that still exist around our neighborhood.  There are a few cow pastures that still see agricultural use.  They are nestled in residential areas and along some of the main thoroughfares through town.  I like that I can walk five minutes from home and see pastures with cows, albeit a small herd.  It will be a sad day if those pastures are sold off and subdivided into lots for  duplexes and apartment buildings.  I hope I never see that happen.

Its such a simple pleasure to walk and walk for as long as the spirit moves.  It could be just a few blocks or a long, meander.  There is so much to see and it changes every time.  The birds, the clouds, the sun, the stars, the trees, the flowers....every walk is through new territory rife with new sights and sounds to be experienced.  I am looking forward to autumn and all the leafy walks ahead.

Friday, September 27, 2013

GNP Day 6: Hidden Lake Trail

Day six in Glacier took us on our very first hike right out of Backpacker magazine which we've subscribed to for years.  In general those hikers are a bit more intense than Matt and I, but we were more than up to the hike to Hidden Lake which they designated as number six in the spread called "America's Best Views."  I don't know how they possibly decide upon these rankings, but none the less I can agree that it was a very, very, very outstanding view indeed.
The trail starts out as a boardwalk from Logan Pass, just behind the visitor's center.  Immediately it begins to cross a delicate, open expanse of wildflower meadow.  Seriously.  I don't know if I've ever seen so many flowers in one place!  We saw yellow monkey flower, Lewis's monkey flower, Indian paintbrush, yellow Indian paintbrush. St. John's wort, sitka valarian, sticky geranium, blue pleated gentian, elephant head flower, and undoubtedly countless others I failed to notice or identify.  There were seemingly rivers of blossoms flowing down the mountainside and pooling in that meadow.  It was mind blowing.
Lewis' monkey flower
The pink one in the back are the elephant head flower--it really does look like one, too, trunk and all.
8,760 foot Clements Mountain and a river of Lewis' monkey flower.
The Hidden Lake Trail is very popular--though it seemed most people only hiked the 1.5 miles to the overlook and then turned around.  Matt, Kjell, and I were up for a little more than that though so we continued on down the 1.5 mile decent to the shoreline some 700 feet below the overlook.
Our first peek of the stunning turquoise waters of the lake and the 8,684 foot tall Bearhat Mountain which looks over it.
The first part of the decent was fairly flat and followed along a stunning wall of mountain, passing small streams lush with greenery and flowers, and and endless variety of colorful rocks.  We also spotted another hoary marmot and watched a mother and baby mountain goat relaxing on a patch of snow a ways up the mountainside.  They were eating it and rolling on it with what seemed obviously great enjoyment.  It was pretty special to watch.  This hike, it would turn out, would be our best opportunity for viewing mountain goats.  It was so cool.
The view really just kept getting better and better the closer we got to the shoreline.  We met a few other people coming up as we were on our way down, but it was clear the majority of people turned around at the overlook.
When we finally emerged on the rocky beach it was just stunning.  The water was so smooth and flat.  It is some sort of magic trick that it can be clear as glass near the beach and opaquely turquoise, like a glowing gem, out in the deeper waters.  What a beautiful lake!!  Once again the waters were so clear we could easily see fish swimming along, both little bitty minnow types and big beautiful trout, too.   In addition to fish we saw the tiniest frog I've ever seen in the wild.  It was no bigger than I dime.  I think it was Matt that spotted it and that was only because the frog moved.  Otherwise he would have been completely invisible.
We decided to keep hiking around the lake in the interest of finding ourselves a private little place to relax and enjoy the majesty of our surroundings a while.  It didn't take us long to find a sizable boulder jutting out into the lake.  We'd had to cross an inlet stream to get there and Matt misjudged his steps and ended up getting water over the tops of his boots.   The boulder seemed like a nice sunny place to let his socks and boots dry out.  And allow me to go swimming!
I had been wanting to jump into one of these beautiful bodies of water since day one, but the timing and conditions had never seemed right.  At Hidden Lake they finally did.  I stripped down to my underpants (figuring I was with friends and it was as modest as a bikini...not that I wear bikinis, but...) and waded out into the water.  As I was pumping myself up for the icy plunge I slipped on slick rock and--ready or not--was in the water.  It was refreshing and invigorating on account of the cold water temperature.  I took a second dunk and was pretty much ready to get out immediately.  It didn't take too long to dry in the sun and I felt so good afterwards.  Matt and Kjell soaked their feet and, I think, thought I was a bit nuts.
After a good long while we thought we might start the trek back up to Logan Pass.  We gathered up some fishing line, and hooks which had been left behind by some fly-fishers and headed back.  Along the way we met some people who were going fly-fishing and gave them the hooks we'd found.  When we reached the inlet stream on the return trip we all took our boots off and waded back across--having learned from Matt's lesson on the initial crossing.  On the other side of the stream we had to stop and let our feet dry off before we put our boots on and continued.
Kjell and Matt skipped stones.  I took a short nap in the shade of an evergreen tree.
And then we were off.  Up, up, up the trail again to the overlook and beyond.   It was really not bad at all.  Not as exerting as I might have thought it would be as we went down into the valley.
Along the way we saw an American Pipit--a new-to-us bird sighting.  We also saw a totally crazy looking fuzzy caterpillar that was bright orange and another hoary marmot sunning on a rock.  We'd later learn, on a short nature trail back at Logan Pass, that hoary marmots hibernate from September through May.  That means that on average they are only "awake" for three months a year.  Talk about an animal of the high country, I guess!  From our Mammals of Montana field guide we learned that when they are awake the spend upwards of 40% of their day sunning themselves.  What a remarkable critter!
Just past the overlook on our return trip Kjell noticed a pair of mountain goats just up the hillside from us.  We stopped and watched and the goats meandered their way down until they were right on the trail.    We were quite close to them, but kept backing off as they approached on the trail--maintaining a distance that was both safe and fascinating.   From that vantage we saw the utterly miraculous mechanics of the mountain goat hoof.  There really are not adequate words to describe it.  It was like the hoof became fingers that folded around the rock.  It was amazing and made me have a better understanding of how they are able to scale such high and narrow ledges.

It must have been hot because the goat closest to us was breathing hard, I want to say panting, to the point that the goat was visibly rocking forward and back with each breath.   Most animals' cooling systems are related to respiration (humans being a notable exception to this rule) so this isn't really surprising, but it was very interesting to watch.
As we kept going we kept seeing more of them!  I think all told we saw nine goats (though it may have been only seven if the mama-baby on the hike in had migrated closer to the lake and were the same mama and baby that we saw on the hike out).  In the stillness we could hear the goats ripping up the grass as they grazed.
This is my favorite!  Her tongue is sticking out!
I don't know exactly how long we watched goats from the trail.  I probably could have stayed and watched them all day!  But, we did eventually mosey on down the trail--back into the wildflower bonanza.
We saw someone rip the bumper off their car in the parking lot at Logan Pass by hitting a short pole.  Oh, what a bummer!  We left the lot with no such incident and returned to camp.  Matt and I took another stroll through the Trail of the Cedars in the search of birds, but once again completely struck out.  The grove was great for trees and ferns, but we never did see a single bird in there.
An epic, mind-blowing, expectation-smashing sixth day.

Freedom to Read

"A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear."
       - excerpt from Ellen Hopkin's, "Manifesto."
Poster by the Montana Library Association and the ACLU of Montana.  Click to enlarge the photo and read more about books that have been challenged in Montana.  
Banned Books Week is an annual event held the last week of September to celebrate the right of every single person to read materials of their choice--even if that material is unorthodox or unpopular.   As a librarian and firm believer in the freedom of speech this celebration is very dear to me.  I look forward to it every year.

From the American Library Association (ALA) website:
"A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice."

Despite 1st Amendment protection of free speech books continue to be banned or challenged because an individual or group object to the book's depiction of sex, language, religious stance, or political viewpoint.  The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom complies a list every year from news reports and reports submitted to them directly on book challenges throughout the United States.  In addition to the hundreds and hundreds of challenges and attempts to ban materials that are recorded by the ALA each year there are an estimated four to five attempts to censor that go unreported to the ALA for each one that is reported.

So many of my favorite books have been banned or challenged!  Great classics of literature have been!!   These include, but are certainly not limited to: The Call of the Wild, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Jungle, Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, and The Big Sky.

Heck, even Where's Waldo has been censored!!  (And Matt's parent's still own the "scandalous" edition which the boys read as youths.)

Most contemporary attempts to remove access to materials involve young people and school libraries.   Parents are the most common group of challengers.  Naturally, people are concerned about what they're children are reading.  I more than wholeheartedly respect that.  Parents should!  But, just because a book isn't right for the Jones family doesn't mean it isn't vital for some other family.  We're all different.  We've got different upbringings, religions, races, ethnicity, values, etc.   Every book has its reader.  We're all going through different things and thus, need different reading materials as we go along our path.

At the present time our local school district is undergoing a challenge to Fools Crow by James Welch,  a book I read in school.  Welch is a member of two tribes and grew up and attended schools on the Blackfoot and Fort Belknap reservations. Fools Crow is a depiction of Blackfoot Indian life just after the Civil War.  As such is contains violence and illustrates the conflicts and struggles faced by the American Indians and the changes brought by the incoming Caucasian population.  Because the main character is a boy on the verge of manhood it also contains some passages of a sexual nature.  The book is part of classroom curriculum, but there are always alternate books if students or their parents object to the primary recommended reading.  However, that was not enough for one set of parents.  Instead they want the book completely removed from class and thus, from every other student in that class.  That seems so sad to me.  The challenge is on its second appeal.  I hope the school board remembers that one person, one family, should not have the right to dictate the freedoms and access to information for everyone else.  That is bordering on fascism, if you ask me.  Its a very slippery slope.

I've got no problem with people saying, "Fools Crow is a piece of trash and I am not going to let MY child read it!"  (Even though I do disagree with their assessment of the book.)  I have a big, big problem with people saying, "Fools Crow is a piece of trash I will not rest until every copy is removed from this school district."   That is wrong.
This is America!  And Banned Book Week is, to me, a fantastic expression of our fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression.  It is just one more thing that makes me proud to be an American.  (And a librarian, too.)

Some related and interesting links:
Reported Challenges in Montana
Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009, 1990-1999
Top 10 Banned/Challenged Books 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001
Banned/Challenged Classic Literature
30 Years of Liberating Literature Timeline
The Library Bill of Rights

Thursday, September 26, 2013

You Are The Song - Inspiration Thursday

"Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings..." - Robert Hunter

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

DIY Chapstick

I don't really use chapstick much.  When we were in Glacier in the wind and sun all day for a week I did.   Sometimes in the depth of winter when the air is so dry I do, but I wouldn't say it is an item which I use on a weekly--let alone daily--basis.  My lips just seem to maintain a good moisture on their own barring extreme circumstances.   I actually think its one of those things that once you start using you're hooked.  But, that's just me.  Matt, on the other hand, is a daily chapstick user.  He is, in general, bothered more by dry, chapped skin than I am.  In winter his hands and nose regularly crack and split.  His lips can often get all red and sore looking.  Makes me feel lucky that I don't have those moisture issues to contend with.

When we were in Glacier Matt chapstick tube ran empty and so he commandeered mine since its not like I use it all that much anyways.  In doing so we realized that I had been using the same tube for more than nine months!  Given that its a little .15 ounce tube I thought that was quite a long time.  And so while we were out in the woods, far from home, I decided that when I got back I was going to learn how to make my own chapstick.   I'd been saving Matt's empty tubes and thought I finally had enough to make a batch.  And so I did.

I'd read about it in the book, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.  This is a totally awesome book, by the way, just in case you haven't checked out a copy.  Its got homemade projects from DIY "Altoids" and condiments to bar soap and salves to building a compost bin from shipping pallets (which my sister, Lisa, did after she checked out the book) and building a chicken coop to making your own vinegar or solar cooker.  Its got a little something for every level of make-it-yourselfer.  I highly, highly recommend it.  Plus, Eric and Kelly are hilarious.  Theirs was one of the first blogs I ever started to read.

The chapstick recipe, if you want to call it that, is so darn simple I can't believe I've had the book this long and never tried it before.  Its just a teeny-tiny bit of bee's wax (1.5 tsp) and olive oil (2 T), heated through, and poured into containers.

I bought a small chunk of bee's wax from a local apiary.  The olive oil is decidedly not local, but oh well, neither were the oils in our store bought chapsticks.  I am super keen on the idea of reusing chapstick containers instead of pitching them every time.  The bee's wax cost $3 and will be enough to make more batches than I can even imagine--I filled 7+ tubes with only 1 1/2 teaspoons worth of wax.  Since a tube of chapstick (that doesn't contain petroleum and other stuff I don't want to rub into my skin) can cost that much for one single tube this seems like a really good money saving venture--particularly given Matt's affinity for his chapstick.

So far the stuff has really held up, too.  We had it packed in a 100+ degrees F car for several days while camping and it never remelted--Matt's biggest concern.  It stayed firm and usable throughout the trip.  It has a nice, smooth texture without feeling oily.  It is not nearly so olive green as I feared it might be (we have an olive oil based soap right now the green color of which I find sort of off-putting.)  I like that it has no added scent or flavor, thought I might play around with that at some point.  I can see endless variations being possible.

Yay for radical home-ec!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sunflowers

I planted sunflowers this year for the first time.  I've harvested heads from the community garden the last couple years to feed to the birds, but this year I thought we'd give it a go at home--enjoy the pretty flowers ourselves before the birds do.  This was sort of my garden project--most of our garden endeavors are Matt's garden projects.  (Though Matt was the one who did the watering so he can certainly lay claim to the flowers, too.)  I was so impressed with how fast they grew.  And how tall!  I never did get a really good photo of them in their prime though on account of their being knocked over by the storm.  Oh, well.  They were super fun to watch grow.  They also have some nice looking seeds forming which I hope will keep the birds busy (and consequently, me entertained) for a good long while.