A few words about "Saint Alice"

Tyler Florence posted this link to a YouTube video of the Alice Waters 60-minutes piece. It's less than 15 minutes long, so go ahead and check it out, I'll wait.

I can't see Alice Waters being called out for being "too green", but I do fall on the side of thinking that her philosophy is out of touch with the reality that most people deal with. The fact is, when you use good ingredients, and good technique, you can get good flavors. This should not be a revelation. The disparity between Waters' world and the one that the rest of us live in is how difficult it is for most people to be able to locate and/or afford those foods and ingredients. is another story.

She's making a breakfast that most people wouldn't make unless it was for a special occasion. Nevermind the fact that most people lack the know-how or the inclination to make such a breakfast...most people lack an open fire in their homes over which to poach eggs in olive oil. Leslie Stahl hit the nail on the head when she said that most moms aren't going to make that breakfast for their kids. By cooking what she did, the way she did, Waters gives the impression that unless you have harvested the eggs from beneath your own free-range chickens, unless you have built the fire from sustainably-raised and ecologically-harvested firewood , and unless you've had your importer arrange delivery of Italy's best olive oil, you're failing your family, and you might as well be serving dog food straight out of the can.

YES, Alice, I agree with you when you say that eating healthy food shouldn't be a luxury but a right. When you are taking things to the extreme that you do -- or at least, as you did in that video clip -- you're making it seem so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I don't think you can change the way the world looks at food without making some concessions. It's analogous to what they say when you're dieting: "You didn't gain all that weight in 2 months, so you're not going to lose it in 2 months." In the United States, we're only a few generations from a largely agricultural lifestyle. We didn't get into this food crisis overnight. I'll refer you to Mark Bittman's TED talk:

To me, It's all about choices. The epiphany comes when you realize that by making alternative choices, you can dramatically increase the quality of your meals without sacrificing your standard of living. Sometimes I buy organic and/or pasture-raised products, and other times my purchase decisions are based on costs. I can make that choice every time i open my wallet.

Today for example, Kelly and i get in the car to drive down to Prospect, as we do on all days where the weather is good enough to work outside. We could stop off at the McDonald's near our apartment complex and get breakfast, but instead, I put 'real' oatmeal in some thermos containers, pour in some boiling water, tighten the lids, and we eat that on the road as we drive in. We could stop off and get lunch at some fast-food drive thru place, but instead we bring containers of meals that I've previously cooked and frozen, and reheat them over a butane stove. I'm not saying we don't eat fast food, but I try to keep us from being in a position where that's our only alternative.

We eat meat. More than Mark Bittman says we should, but less than the average American eats. I absolutely love a good steak, but we can split a NY Strip steak and have a lot of veggie sides, and still feel that we've enjoyed a wonderful meal. A whole chicken on sale at the regular grocery store is about $4 where an organic chicken from Whole Foods can cost over $15. The fact remains that I will still stretch that chicken to about 8 servings, regardless of how much it costs. Can I afford a per-serving cost that's over three times the standard? Does the flavor of a free-range chicken make a difference to me? Does how the chicken lived matter to me?

Here's another example: Organic eggs taste fantastic, and can be nutritionally superior to grocery-store eggs, but they're very expensive if you're just using them to make fritters, cornbread, cake or to make breadcrumbs stick to chicken. Again, it's choices. If you're going to make an egg 'sunny side up" or poached, and if you notice and appreciate a difference, and if you can afford it, my suggestion would be to buy the good eggs. If you're baking, I'd say spend $1.50 (instead of $4.50) to get the regular eggs.

Teaching young people to cook is very important. Especially when their moms' idea of cooking is adding a packet of salt- and sugar-laden seasoning mix to ground chuck, or pouring a can of condensed cream of whatever soup over chicken legs and minute rice. Now, when i shop, it's 80% produce, 10% meat, 10% pasta, beans & grains, and just a few condiments & seasonings. I drive the checkout clerks crazy because they have to look up all the produce codes. They almost always comment on it or ask what I'm making.

I believe that teaching kids to grow food is a useful life skill. My dad was a machinist by trade, but always kept a large garden. He'd plant it, my brothers would weed it, I'd help pick it, stemming the strawberries, shelling the peas, and picking the ends from the beans...and mom would cook it. We ate from it all summer. Canning and freezing took us into the winter. Even though there were 5 kids, and even though mom worked a full-time job, we always sat down together and ate dinner as a family. Mom still bought fish sticks, canned soup, hot dogs, cookies, soda pop, chips, ice cream and frozen pizza, so it wasn't like we were "perfect", but for the most part, growing up, we ate healthy, whole food.

I'd like to see more people eat that way more often.

That's why I'm doing what I'm doing.

P. S. The first meal I ever made for Kelly was cream of celery soup with chicken and (real) rice. I was 21 and living in my own apartment at the time, and this was the height of my culinary expertise, because that is what my mom made. He married me anyway.

Today I learned realized: when Kelly and i get home from a long day of working on the greenhouse, we can't wait to close the blinds, take off all our clothes...and check each other for ticks.

Greenhouse stage 2 complete!

so over due for a post -- also, so tired right now -- but if i don't post right this minute, I'll never get this up and i wanted to capture what a great day today was!

I took a bunch of photos, but I'll upload them tomorrow, it's just too late to mess with the camera tonight.

Kelly woke me up at the crack of "are you serious?" so we could get an early start today. One thing about living here that i'm not handling well is how much more i sleep. I could sleep until noon every day, no matter what time i go to bed. You also have to know that I dislike the very idea of sleeping, because there's always so much to be done, so I'm suffering a weird dichotomy of stay-in-my-amazing-warm-cozy-bed vs. carpe-diem-and-build/grow-stuff-already!

Also, according to Mr. Sunshine, i wake up grumpy, so he tries to wake me up gently, and I try to remember that he's not intentionally being evil by waking me up in the first place.

We have coffee, collect things to eat during the day and load up the car with tools, food, drinking water and cookware. We often listen to "The Naked Scientists" podcasts during the drive. I try to stay awake and keep Kelly company, but once in a while, I have "car-colepsy" (i love neologisms like that!) and doze off.

After the 90 minute drive, we arrive at the homesite. I have to awaken all over again. We unload the car and start arranging stuff for our day's work. Today's plan was to finish the greenhouse attachment to the shed. Last week, we leveled the ground and built a perimeter, and a 4" thick concrete floor was poured Monday. It cured Tuesday while we went to the dentist for routine exams & cleanings (Once again, I have no cavities!)and then we took advantage of the lovely weather to have lunch outside at Cafe Coco in the Vanderbilt University neighborhood.

So today, Wednesday, we are greeted by a surprisingly shiny and gloriously FLAT concrete pad. I must have stared at it for 15 minutes, just admiring how nicely it turned out. I'd never worked with concrete before, but it was kind of like frosting a cake without first using a crumb-coat: HUGE rocks are trying to pop to the surface all over the place, but if you fuss with it and smooth it carefully, you can get a relatively clear, flat layer. So imagine frosting a cake that's 15' by 10', sitting directly on the floor, with a garden hoe and a putty knife, and not using a crumb-coat.

We had to be there early today as we were expecting the delivery of our house-building wood. While we waited, I start painting primer on 20 2x4s as Kelly put together the saw horses. The weather was lovely, but as the day became warmer, these enormous, reddish-brown pterodactyl-wasps seemed to be attracted to the white paint. Gratefully, they dissipated in the afternoon, although I'm not sure if it was because i switched to the purple paint or if they were just done with being out. During this time, 2 of the 3 batches of lumber and other wood products were delivered. Kelly dealt with all that.

We had planted some bolts in the wet concrete, to anchor 2x4s to the pad's perimeter in order to build the frame for the greenhouse. Since we couldn't be precise in placing them, we had to drill holes to match the bolts. the first two sides, we marked with a pencil, the third side, i had the bright idea of trying to let the bolts do their own marking, and i dabbed some lip gloss on the bolts before setting the plank of wood down on it.

We opted to NOT have electricity installed at the shed, so everything there is hand tools or the electric drill. Kelly didn't charge the drill, so we didn't even have that. We measured, we re-measured, we checked, we double-checked... and then loaded the wood and Kelly's new bad-ass drill in the car to take it all up to where the Temporary Service Pole is. Once again i serve as a human sawhorse, holding one side of the wood, while the other end is balanced on the tailgate of the Element. He likes his new drill. :-)

So we go down to the shed again, and try to match up the holes with the bolts. Side 1 goes on pretty well, with a minimum of hammering into place, if you put the wood on upside-down from the way we marked it. (ROFL) The short end, which was the 2nd piece, was off by a full 1/2" in the middle, and a near-miss at one end. The board marked with the lipgloss technique was spot on. (go me!!) Clearly, that 2nd piece had to be re-drilled. Instead of loading it back into the car and going back to where the power was, Kelly tried to use the power converter i keep in my car for charging my computer and all the other electronics i use. He assured me that the drill wouldn't short it, but it did, instantly, and he still had to drive the truck back up to the top of the hill and re-drill it. Now I'm without my awesome Targus Mobile Power Inverter, just in time for me to not be able to use it on the plane when i go back to L.A. Grr!

BTW, I'm flying back to L.A. to fulfill a cooking-lesson gift certificate in early April. So far my only plan (besides the lesson) is to go to Golden Farms in Glendale to buy all the nuts and dried fruit i can carry...so if you want to get together, let me know.

Kelly was painting primer on the shed door while I made dinner, and after we ate, he did the last bits of painting while I held a light for him. We loaded up the car, made (yet another) Home Depot run, and headed for home. Kelly said he doesn't mind that i fall asleep in the car, but i try to stay awake and watch for deer until we get on the interstate.

We managed to get a lot done, but alas, we didn't finish the greenhouse. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, but with luck we'll still get it done, and on Friday i can bring all my seedlings and get them into more dirt and keep them outside.

Right now, though, technically, it IS tomorrow, so I'm going to rest up and try not to have nightmares about sparrow-sized wasps.

P. S. today, for the first time ever, a salesman discussing building/planning/purchasing with us shook MY hand as well as Kelly's! Usually i don't even get eye contact from the guy in question, but Joey the Window Guy from Home Depot spoke to both of us, and offered a handshake to BOTH of us as we left. I was flummoxed!

Today I learned: Not knowing the 'right' way to do something allows you to be be inventive and try something new. Because of this, i discovered that lipgloss can be an effective way to mark holes to be drilled.

The Greenhouse Floor

Our First (Uninvited) Guests

Over the 3 days that we did not go to our new home, some birds decided to move into the shed before we were ready to accept guests. They chose a nice spot, in the middle of a shelf that we use to store tools. Here is a picture of the nest:

Fruit Trees

Of the 9 fruit trees we have ready to plant, the recent warm weather seems to have awakened our plum from its winter slumber:

Greenhouse Floor

The earth has been moved to allow a level concrete pad to be poured as an extension from the existing shed. As soon as the weather looks dry enough, we will place an order for 2 yards of concrete - maybe more if we add any other concrete projects to the list. Here are some pics from different angles:

This was my audience for the day; Trixie and Render.

Today, I picked up 60 carriage bolts and 2500 screws for the start of the house construction. I also bought 50 lbs of Fescue Seed and 5 lbs of Dutch White Clover Seed from the local Farmers Co-Op. The seed was scattered by hand across the areas of the property where work from the driveway construction had turned the soil over. The rain that we are expecting in the next few days should get that seed started.

One last pic: this is a view of the grid of foundation holes

TSP is live and foundation footings are poured

When we arrived at the site this morning (the whole family made the trip today), there were 3 PES trucks on the property working on our electricity installation. They replaced a very old pole with a brand new one, then added the transformer and other wirey stuff to it, and then installed another pole close to our home site. They connected the power line to it, then connected that to the TSP. Here's a picture of the glory that is power:

We didn't test it, but we are pretty sure there are 4 live outlets up there, ready for action. I plan to bring the Skilsaw™ tomorrow as well as a few other power tools.

We were asked by one of the power guys if we wanted the old pole for fenceposts, so I said "Sure, thanks". I think that was the right answer. We'll see.

Over the past few days, I have been preparing the foundation footer holes for the concrete. Unfortunately, I had the holes dug last Wednesday and the rain on Thursday washed in a lot of loose dirt from the interior sides of the holes. So, I had to clean out each hole manually. It was extra cold over these past days, so I had layers of mud to deal with; frozen layer, crumbly clay layer, and gloppy muck clay layer.

The gloppy muck layer was the worst part because it was difficult to clear from the shovel. So it went; scoop, lift, shake shovel, smack shovel on rocks, swipe bottom of shovel across mud pile to clear it. There are only 30 holes, so it was only that much fun. I asked Freddie Byrd - the Bobcat/auger man - to return with the equipment to re-run the perimeter holes that he could reach without danger of falling into one of the holes. I think he did 13 and I did the rest. Even after he re-ran the holes, I still had to jump in and clear out the bottoms of the loose stuff.

With that done, I requested estimates from 2 companies for the concrete that would fill each hole 12 inches deep. One guy came by and said that he wouldn't be able to do the job until next Tuesday. I didn't want to wait that long, so I called the number of Mid-South Concrete which I got from one of their employees - Michael Tucker - who lives just down the road a few miles. He left a company business card in our mailbox one day, and then stopped to talk the next day when he saw me working on the fence near the road. The owner of the company came by to see the job, and he said they could deliver concrete the next day if I was ready. The best part is that his estimate for 5 yards of concrete delivered was less than the cost of buying ninety 80-pound bags from The Home Depot. Plus, I would have had to make several trips from the store with the trailer, and then mix all that concrete by hand in a wheelbarrow. I spent the second half of Wednesday preparing the steel reinforcements that were placed in the bottom of each hole. Again, by buying the sixty 24-inch long steel rebar lengths from Mid-South Concrete instead of The Home Depot, I saved about $50 (and I supported the local economy, too).

JoAnna and I were working this morning to try to have the greenhouse floor ready with concrete forms so we might add 2 yards to our order and save on the delivery charge. But, we were not fast enough, and I did not want to leave the footers for another day. Any rain could cause significant delay, mainly because the ground could get too soft for the big, heavy truck to get where it needs to go - not to mention the chance for more cave-ins in the holes. So I made the call and there was a truck coming up the driveway in 30 minutes or less. The driver was the one and only Michael Tucker, and he did a great job. I stood at each hole with my homemade measuring stick jammed to the bottom and he maneuvered the truck and chute. After about an hour we had all 30 holes filled at least 12 inches deep. He backed his truck all the way down the driveway and was on his way.

JoAnna and I continued working to prepare for the greenhouse floor until 5:30pm, at which time we took a break and sat for a while and listened to and watched the birds. There was a lot of traffic at this time of day (3 cars in 30 minutes), but I think we'll adjust.