My Curated Weed Patch

Last Autumn, I moved into a new place and was responsible (for the first time since 2008) for the “yard.”

I put “yard” in quotes because the back is so shaded from the overhang of dense tree branches, it is basically a small, awkwardly-sloping dirt patch. The front is a narrow sliver of ground on one side of the walk leading to the front door and an awkwardly-sloping 8′ x 8′ area on the other.

Mercifully, the HOA takes care of the shrubberies on the other side of the sidewalk running along the front, but neighbors on either side care for their own “lawn” indifferently, so they have the weeds. These weeds sometimes like to come next door to my place to play and thus begins our tale.

Immediately before I moved in, the owner decided to take down a tree that had shaded the front for many years. It was necessary because the tree had become hazardous. So they mulched the stump and after such a long time in the dark, the ground was essentially bare except for a large “elephant ear” plant growing beneath the window.

Having been a container gardener for several years, I set out my pots and wondered whether I should invest in any lawn care equipment for such a little bit of ground. If not, what was I going to do with it?

For the time being I did nothing, however, and in the full morning sun each day, what had lain beneath began to assert itself.

First, three flowering things with tulip-like leaves sprang up. I learned in the next freeze that whatever that was didn’t tolerate frost well.

Soon after, some monkey grass started happening near the front. Toward the top of the lawn behind my large pansy pot, a very attractive ground cover started to spread. (I think it may be the Elizabeth variety of Sedum.)

Then came the weeds.

Dandelion was first. As the autumn progressed, however, so too did the number and variety of native plants.

There were these little plants with dark green, spade-shaped leaves that produce tiny purple flowers. Soon after, some fern-like vines erupted. These had paler fronds with the most beguiling curled tendrils on the end with even smaller purple flowers.

Then came the random grasses (at least two kinds), some kind of spread-y thing that seems to exist just to drape over everything else, thistle, and a bit of clover. Those were ones I kind of recognized anyway.

Because the nights grew colder, the weeds mostly stayed in check with a little hand removal and the ever-so slight application of Round-up. (*Don’t throw things at me YET, bee-lovers. For, this is a story of redemption.)

Then as they tend to do, the days once again grew longer. The frosts ended, but I still had a problem: responsibility for this bit of ground and no equipment. <sigh>

Fortunately, my powers of observation, keen sense of the aesthetic, and total cheapness were all working for me when I decided, I like my weeds. There. I said it. I. Like. Weeds.

They really are quite lovely and mine are mostly fairly short. They grow without any effort from me, survive without me watering them, and the bees* (eh? eh?) seem to like them.

Now my life is different after committing the highest form of suburban heresy. But my plan is a bold one.

I enter a gladiator in the Darwinian competitive fray between the pretty and small and the tall and unattractive. I will weigh in on the side of the weeds I like by hand-removing the weeds I don’t.

My hypothesis is the small and pretty will eventually occupy the entire space and crowd out the others. It may take the entire season before I have enough evidence to be proved correct (or otherwise), but in the interim, I am getting a little exercise, I am saving a ton of money on fertilizers, herbicides (bad! very bad!), seed, and water.

Here is where we are today.

     

Hopefully, I remember to circle back in late summer to update you on my progress. 

Rawr!

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Doggies (or Kitties) Grow Up on Commercial Pet Food….

About two years before I met my beloved little poodle, Butch, my cat passed away at the age of seventeen. A ripe old age many may say, but after he died of kidney failure, I had a few years to reflect on why there was no reason he might not have lived many more healthy years had I only known then what I know now about diet and nutrition.

I have since concluded that I was a colossal idiot about how and what I fed my dear Mr. Cat, unwittingly trusting the veterinary establishment to his detriment and slowly killing him with chronic dehydration. You see? I bought the bag.

My vet convinced me it was the good stuff. Healthier for him than the raw eggs, cheese, and occasional gecko he had been living on while he was a stray. In retrospect, however, I now believe he’d have been better off hunting his own. The scientifically-formulated bags of grain and crap we buy aren’t right for any cat or dog however much they may seem to crave it and however much you may pay for it.

Our pet animals simply cannot take in enough water by drinking straight water to compensate for what they need to take in as water content of their food. The grains and other fillers used are indigestible by carnivores and are the source of allergies and auto-immune dysfunction in pets aplenty.

Cats, especially, can only gain access to dietary carbohydrates by consuming them in the gut of prey which actually produce enzymes needed to break these macronutrients down into their various chemical components. Cats’ guts cannot break down carbs at all. Dogs only have limited access to those enzymes.

So why are grains in there? Because the government subsidizes their production, meaning grain is way cheaper than meat, and those fillers make it seem like our animals are eating enough though it’s really stuff their bodies can’t even use. I also suspect, as with people, they also make crap food more palatable—like kitty candy.

And Mr. Cat? Year after year of UTIs? “He’s a neutered male and they’re prone to those.” “Crystals” in his urine? “Let’s switch him to a special, low mineral ‘therapeutic’ diet.” Two years of subcutaneous saline injections? “He’s getting older. It happens. We don’t know why.”

And they don’t know why. Nutrition is about as well-understood by vets as by human doctors. (Read: not at all.)

So when I got my Butch and later fostered a kitten, Gary, I learned about feeding raw. It’s a huge pain, I will grant you, so when I don’t have the time to manage it, I at least feed organic, grain-free canned or organic frozen raw medallions from a reputable source and then supplement with raw meat, skin, bones, fat, and organs as often as I can.

If not raw feeding, just be sure the first two to five ingredients on the canned food or frozen medallions for both cats and dogs are non-pork meat. Not “by-products.” Meat. There also ideally should be a good balance between muscle, skin, bones, and organs.

Should you decide to “go raw,” do your research to learn how and then know this: vets freak out at the idea of feeding bones, even to carnivores, because they see so many critters needing surgery to remove them. Most surgical cases involve COOKED bones, however, not raw.

And pets need to chew raw, flexible poultry bones and connective tissue to keep their jaws and teeth strong. Additionally, bones supply much needed collagen, calcium, magnesium, and other vital minerals to your pets’ diet the way nature normally does—not as an additive. To be sure, your pets’ stomach acid is plenty strong enough to digest soft raw bones long before those bones enter the intestine.

Please note: I do specifically recommend raw poultry bones over raw bones of beef and other large animal. I personally fear that raw bones of larger animals may be more problematic than bones of fowl especially for small dogs, like mine, and domestic cats. I also avoid small, long bones, like poultry ribs, as discussed below.

Cooked bones of all kinds, unlike raw bones, splinter and are easily capable of puncturing esophagi, stomachs and, surviving the stomach, your pets’ delicate intestines. Those bones also lose vital collagen as they are heated. In short, do NOT cook any bones you feed your carnivore!

Also, know your pet. If he’s a gobbler, you may want to grind the bones and meat to a very fine, even consistency before feeding or skip the bones altogether. My dog is a chewer so I feel better about his eating raw bones as he carefully breaks them up with his teeth before swallowing. And, knowing my dog could just as soon choke on dry food, I’ve chosen to feed him the raw and NOT the definitely unhealthful dry.

(The bottom line is you are just going to have to make your own call on the risk-benefit of feeding bones, Cupcake.)

Organ meat is another essential part of a healthful diet for your carnivore as it is rich in needed vitamins and enzymes as well. For goodness’ sake, don’t toss that bag of giblets even if you aren’t into the delights of chicken liver and gizzards. Feed them to your cats and dogs. They will think you are the best!

I even snip chicken, duck, and turkey necks into bite-sized, single vertebrae disks with kitchen shears and disjoint wings for my nine-pound doggie. (I used to give him the whole thing, but then he started “saving” his raw chicken parts between the sofa cushions for later snacking. Mom was not happy. Smaller bits can be doled out to him until he finishes and the rest kept for later.)

The next objection typically raised is about salmonella, e coli, and other crap the establishment wants us to believe is lurking on every bit of raw food ever purchased. My responses are the following:

First, your sweet little doggies and kitties have evolved over eons with gastrointestinal biochemistry specifically designed to kill such critters on contact. If you animal is reasonably healthy, he can handle it! (Read stories of stray pups who make their living on road kill and live to tell, if you don’t believe me….)

Second, feed good quality, organic, pastured meat, if you can. The scariest germs seem to be found on sickly, feedlot, antibiotic-enhanced, Franken-livestock meats. Avoid them. Always. For you too.

Third, cost. Yup. Feeding your animal well and raw may cost you a bit of time or money. That being said, backs and organ meat come free with every whole chicken you plan to cut up anyway. I don’t feed rib bones to my pup because I feel that would just be asking for a medical emergency, but I do skin and trim the back and, between that and the giblet packet, feed him rather well for a two to three days.

My butcher even has been known to give me huge quantities of scrap turkey meat and bones around the holidays—free for the asking. Frankly, it took a little while to trim and pack those “free” scraps, but after re-freezing the gallon bags of meat, my babies ate raw for weeks. You will also find that real meat and fat fills your pet up sooner, and he will eat less in turn. See? Cost-effective.

Finally, practice good sanitation when raw feeding. This includes keeping your pet’s raw feed bowl super clean and certainly washing it following contact with raw meat. Also, be sure to disinfect the areas of the floor and/or kennel where your pet will undoubtedly drag his raw meat “prey” before eating it.

I also cover or bag and refrigerate or freeze meat I don’t plan on feeding within a few hours. Then I take the meat out and allow to warm to room temperature before presenting it to my critter. Chilled food just doesn’t have as much flavor.

As much as I believe in the safety of raw feeding, I do make it a practice to supervise my animal when he eats raw just in case he runs into trouble or decides to wander off with a bit of raw “treasure.” It’s also rather entertaining to see the primal behavior which sometimes surfaces in my sweet, innocent, tame little friend in the presence of raw food. He may shake it, throw it in the air, or pounce on it (as my foster cat, Gary, does). They know it’s prey, people.

Raw food is not just nutritionally necessary from time-to-time, but our animals know the difference between real food and the normal nonsense we feed them in lieu of what they really want to eat. Help them and their health by feeding them they way they need and not the way the industrial food complex would have us believe we should!

Rawr!

The Waterford Harvest Festival: I bet you’re sorry you missed it NOW!

The Waterford Harvest Festival goes on for nine days at the beginning of each September and features many instructional sessions on subjects ranging from butter making and beekeeping to square-foot gardening and cooking demonstrations.

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I went for the last three days just to eat and learn more about the Grow It Yourself movement on Ireland. During the time, I attended an Irish beer and cheese tasting, a ten-course feast, and a day-long street market.

While in Waterford, I did eat very well indeed. The main thing I learned, however, is that the Irish seem to underestimate how good their food really is.

I believe that the real secret to Irish food lies mainly in the exceptional quality of available ingredients. That, and the ever-growing skill of local food artisans in showcasing that bounty. Nonetheless, there seems to be a sort of national low food-esteem that events like these have been organized to combat.

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At the beer tasting, for example, the presenters, Kevin Sheridan (right), a local cheesemonger, and Cormac O’Dwyer (left), founder of Dungarvan, a local brewery, were cast in the role of apparent revolutionaries addressing a surprisingly skeptical crowd.

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The basic mindset they seemed to be working to change was that foreign food and foreign ways were by definition “more proper.” They suggested this radical notion against a backdrop of some of the best cheeses, locally-made whole grain crackers, and beer I have ever encountered.

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My special favorites were the starter cheese–a delicate, almost fluffy-textured Triskell goat cheese–and the last beer we sampled–a very unusual and interesting new stout called, “Black Rock,” with far less chocolate and a bit more tobacco than most others I’ve tried. There was also a very versatile and pleasant, if somewhat typical, blond ale.

An audible grumble later echoed through the room, however, when brewer and cheese-guy suggested such fabulous beer could be paired with many foods even better than wine. Further, the presenters felt compelled to argue a person seen drinking beer with food should not be deemed lacking in refinement. From the reaction of the group, it appeared this was a radical proposition.

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The next day, at the feast, I asked my compatriots what they thought of paring beer with food. (We were all drinking it; in my case a different blonde ale from a brewer called “Metal Man.”) Almost to a man, they would favor wine for the sake appearances and even seemed a bit uncomfortable eating the cheese course while drinking beer in such a group setting.

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The feast was magnificent, though laced with foreign influence–particularly, that of the French. The starter, for example, was charcuterie. And it was fabulous with Irish pork chorizo, prosciutto, and other sausages along with a pate that reminded me of south Louisiana hog head cheese. And to finish was the aforementioned cheese course.

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But by then, I was too full to continue as in between, there had been a mixed grill featuring trout, lamb, beef burgers, bacon pork chops, and sausage. Mmmmmm. And after that, fresh berries with lovely cream. I also vaguely recall gorgeous vegetables, but as I mentioned earlier, there was this ale….

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After such a display of quality and abundance, I am firmly convinced the Irish can and will take their proper place among the great cuisines and food exporters of Europe–especially with events like as this. Rather like Louisiana’s efforts to market their food in the 1980s, first, you must convince the locals. Once that is accomplished, and the producers are ready, the right marketing will easily demonstrate to the world what I discovered last weekend–that Ireland is a great food destination!

(Oh, and a special shout-out to Boho Kitchens, which is a couple of young Floridians transplanted to Waterford who make the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten! Much love.)

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Rawr!

The Sunday Market along the South Quay:

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Murphy’s Ice Cream has changed what I mean when I say “creamy”

Finding Murphy’s Ice Cream meant crossing the Liffey River from the suits and order of downtown straight into throngs of foreign tourists, religious figures, pan handlers, gypsies (pardon me: Romani), and hawkers of goods and services appealing to all of the aforementioned–then hanging a right.

Along a relatively quiet side street is a small shop serving ice cream that would change the way I defined several terms I thought I knew the meaning of. Terms like creamy, fresh, smooth, and satisfying.

An Irish food blogger, I can has cook recommended the brown bread flavor, so I had a small cup of it to start. He wasn’t wrong.

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The cream comes from Dingle, I was later told, as I’m sure, did all the dairy. That local sourcing showed in the indescribably fabulous flavor range and mouth feel of this magical stuff.

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You see, I hadn’t ever before experienced ice cream as refreshing. Cold, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

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The same with “creamy.” Apparently, I had confused that with a certain mouth coating quality. Not the same thing.

This stuff even had Haagen Das beaten, notwithstanding HD’s emphasis on simplicity and texture. As it turns out, nothing can beat Ireland at dairy. Nothing.

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As an added bonus, there was an audit going on while I was there. And audits mean free ice cream for the American blogger who chats up the corporate representative from Dingle itself.

In this instance, the young ice cream server was being tested on his ability to produce a peanut caramel sundae topped with whipped cream. OMG! I’d say he passed.

As delicious as the whole of the sundae was, this little (Read: huge) bonus also gave me the opportunity to analyze its components. The caramel was the most buttery and flavorful you can imagine; the whipped cream, light, and again, fresh.

Murphy’s Ice Cream taught me many things I never expected about how delightful dairy desserts can truly be. I may never eat American ice cream again! (Yeah, right.)

Rawr!

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Overall:
Five bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Five bones

(Warning: little bones pics may be added later. I don’t know why that necessitates a warning but it seemed amusing at the time.)

Momma’s Place–but only if you like food

Come here.

Why? If the funky-cool juxtaposition of the old, pink and lavender dining furniture with the seriously hard-core steel breezeways and red and slate walls running through the space or its near-total integration with filmIreland’s filmbase isn’t enough, then for heaven’s sake, come for the food.

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The hostess recommended the special lemonade and smoked trout tartine. The lemonade was made at the time of order so I was able to ask for less sweetness than I feared might otherwise occur. The pomegranate and mint provided a lovely richness and balance to the acidity you usually find in even the best lemonade.20110909-033643.jpg

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The tartine was a pair of wheat crostini topped with a yogurt-dill dressing, lovely smoked trout, which was slightly pink and not too smokey, and finally, olive oil dressed arugula. The result was a nod to the traditional smoked trout and dill but a deviation with the addition of the yogurt and cucumber that imparted a new level of freshness. No fishy taste it turns out is NOT all you can ask from smoked seafood.

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In final analysis, Momma’s Place is a great place for brunch, lunch, even a light supper, as it’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I will add pics and graphics some other time, Chrissakes.)

Heading out and hoping Italy gets it together before I get there! But first it’s off to lovely Ireland in Autumn.

So I’m in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and locally-grown is featured even here–in a restaurant called, One Flew South.

Having a farm bacon goat cheese frisse salad and a lovely Ben Marco Malbec. I won’t lie to you: it’s hellaspensive, but at least it’s available as an alternative to the endless chain-restaurant-lined corridors you might have found here just five years ago. Another Ruby Tuesday, I can do without!

Rawr!

Stones Throw Bar & Grill–an Oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Perhaps it’s unfair that Stones Throw Bar & Grill exists in the former Standard Bistro site, within fairly easy driving distance of Highland Avenue a/k/a the Birmingham Foodie District. In any other town where I’ve lived, except possibly New Orleans, this would easily be the best restaurant around.

When compared with restaurants run by perennial James Beard nominees, Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings, or even 2011 semi-finalist, Chris du Pont (a New Orleans import), however, Stones Throw pales–but only just a bit. And for Mt. Laurel, the developer-created-small-town just off Highways 41and 280 in North Shelby County, this place is an oasis in a desert of country-come-to-suburbia pizza and hamburgers.

It is fine dining in a relaxed and decidedly “unstuffy” establishment. And if you chose to dine on their patio, you will enjoy a serenity and quality of air the aforementioned places, in their very urban settings, cannot approach.

The food ain’t bad either. In fact, it’s really very good. My dining companion and I were eating a fairly restricted diet this evening so we ordered virtually the same meal–a green salad featuring local produce and a braised lamb shank on a bed of wilted spinach instead of minted risotto (the latter of which sounded amazing, BTW).

A generous selection of rustic bread preceded the salad. The hearts of baby romaine forming the salad’s foundation were perfectly light, crisp, and unblemished. It was topped by perfect proportions of blue cheese, bacon, walnuts, and cucumber with a light drizzle of blue cheese dressing, although my companion substituted balsamic vinaigrette.

The lamb shanks were also generously proportioned–think: Yabba-Dabba-Do time–without being embarrassing. The meat was tender and without a trace of “wild” flavor, which to me indicates it likely originated in New Zealand where ranchers butcher lambs smaller than their American counterparts. The spinach wilted in EVOO was tasty and perfectly textured, just as you’d expect from a chef of this caliber.

If you’d ever eaten at the Standard Bistro, you’ll find the decor not much changed. It’s a modern interpretation of an elegant dining room furnished the 1920’s, appropriately set in the retro-styled Town of Mt. Laurel. But as I really enjoyed the space before, I rather glad they kept it as it was. The service was really very good–attentive, timely, and accommodating without hovering.

All in all, if you are looking for a change of atmosphere in your fine dining or live in North Shelby, Stones Throw Bar & Grill will easily become one of your favorite haunts, if it isn’t already.

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Food: 

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VitalChoice.com–Better than Fresh When It Comes to Fish (Really!)

The Internet is rife with stories about the high mercury levels found in fresh and canned tuna, including sushi-grade and ahi-grade tuna steaks found at otherwise fabulous restaurants. And while concerns about high levels of heavy metals in tuna and other large predator fish mount, the FDA hasn’t exactly done a great job alerting consumers about such dangerous levels of heavy metals, refusing even to require notices of the type you see on menus serving raw or undercooked eggs, oysters, meat, etc.

Add that to concerns that “Big Tuna’s” use of nets in fishing operations is killing large numbers of dolphin bystanders, and it’s enough to turn you completely off of an otherwise wonderful source of healthy fats and protein. So what are you to do the next time you want your tasty Omega-3 fix? VitalChoice.com.

My husband found Vital Choice as part of his effort to increase the amount of fish in our diet, particularly as we had recently moved inland away from the abundant supplies of seafood to which we had grown accustomed. Endorsed by such luminaries and pioneers of the holistic and complementary medical movement as Andrew Weil , M.D., Nicholas Perricone, M.D., and Stephen Sinatra, M.D., Vital Choice’s wild, line-caught tuna and salmon ranks at the very top compared with fish sold anywhere else for low mercury content and sustainable fishing practices.

And I can tell you, all of the Vital Choice seafood I have tried are delicious both in canned and frozen form. Check out other products too, such as Omega-3 rich fish oil capsules, including salmon and krill oil, as well as minimally-processed canned mackerel and sardines. There is also ample literature and many white papers available through their website to help you learn why the practices of Vital Choice and its partners are different from many other purveyors of fresh and canned fish.

Bon appetite!

N.B. I have been enjoying Vital Choice seafood for more than two years now, fully-endorse the company, and stand by everything I have said about them in this post. My family and I have been nothing but impressed by every aspect of our interaction with the company from their ability to successfully deliver as promised (notwithstanding our hot summer weather) to the taste of the seafood itself. In the interest of full-disclosure, however, I have also recently become an marketing affiliate of the company, which provides income to this website for sales of its various products.