Archive for October, 2009

Instructional: A Pumpkin With Partisanship

This is it!  You’ve been waiting for it!  The Partisan Pumpkin Carving Instructional.  Also, at the bottom of the post is your AWESOME FRIDAY BONUS CONTENT.  Yep.  Just for you.  And I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that this week’s bonus content is well worth the week-long wait.  Well, folks, without further ado…

STEP 1: The first step is obvious: pick a locally-grown, organic pumpkin that was grown in a sustainable way by workers who were paid a living wage. You’re already on the right path! Here’s what you have after Step 1:


Fresh local punkin

STEP 1: Pick an awesome pumpkin w/ progressive cred.


STEP 2: Now, you need to visit the interweb for creative inspiration assuming you’re like me and use most (if not all) of your creative juices on coming up with new ways to rationalize having another peanut butter cup when HELLO – they’re chock full of not-good-for-yous. My shmoop found this one and we modified it slightly to express more D.C. pride:


Web inspiration

STEP 2: Get some inspiration.


STEP 3: Now it’s time for the hard part. I free-handed this web illustration onto a paper towel with permanent marker to prepare for the transfer of the image to the pumpkin. There are other, more creative ways to do this – especially if you want to avoid free-handing anything with a Sharpie, but this is what I came up with. Refer back to my aforementioned current creativity drain and understand that this is a valid excuse. Here’s what I came up with:


Paper towel sketch

STEP 3: Sketch your idea out.


STEP 4: Get your boyfriend to scoop out the yuckies inside the pumpkin. No, seriously. Then compost the yuckies or toast and eat the seeds. Now you want to trace over the outline you drew on the paper towel onto the pumpkin. The ink bleeds through (especially if you just follow the outline with a few well-placed dots) and provides a perfect sketch of your creation on the pumpkin. Once you start carving a bit and realize you missed a photo step, you should have this:


Sketch & carve!

STEP 4 &5: Sketch it on through the paper towel & start carving! (Are those...MAN HANDS?) Ahem. That's the shmoop helping, here.


STEP 5: Finish carving that gourd-like vegetable!  You’ll have something that looks like the above photo on your way to the finish line.

STEP 6: Gloat!  I mean, light a few votive candles inside the pumpkin and set it out on your front porch.  Before you light ‘er up, sprinkle cinnamon on the underside of your pumpkin lid.  As the flame licks up and the candles heat the underside of the lid it’ll release a wonderful smell into the porch area and help to keep the squirrels from nibbling at it.  If the squirrels still get into it, try sprinkling the places they nibbled with cayenne pepper.  They (are supposed to) hate that.  If the squirrels STILL get into it – start shooting.  (Juuuust kidding…)  After you do all of this, you’ll have something that looks like THIS:  (ta daaaanh!)


All lit up

It's a donkey with the flag of the District of Columbia on its back! Whooooooooa!


Happy Halloween from Atlanta, Georgia!
Best spooky wishes,


P.S. YOUR AWESOME FRIDAY BONUS CONTENT:  Let’s just say there is a seriously unfavored chore in our household, and my disdain was…well, a source of inspiration.  Enjoy!



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I’m Off to Atlanta! Home of the World’s Largest Indoor Farmers Market?

There are rumors that Atlanta is the home of the World’s Largest Farmers Market…and just for YOU, dear readers, I intend to investigate and report back this week.

Your Dekalb Farmers Market

Photo: The Abditory.com

The place of interest, you ask?  Your DeKalb Farmers Market (pictured right).  This place is monstrous.  It serves 100,000 people per week in their 140,000 sq ft warehouse at 3000 East Ponce De Leon Avenue.  Some travel writers have determined that it houses one of the largest seafood departments in the country – and some have even claimed that it is the world’s largest indoor farmers market.  Never one to let well enough alone, I’m off to explore on behalf of A Mt.Pleasant Garden blog, all of you, and my own very active curiosity.

Cabbagetown, Atlanta!

Photo: bluesmokecoffee.com

While I’m in Atlanta, don’t forget to stop by and check in on the blog!  I’ll be actively posting from my dear friend Sara’s (brand new!) condo in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta.  I’m hoping to show you around Cabbagetown, if I get the chance – including some of the wonderful old shops and storefronts like the one pictured here on the left.

Anything you want to know about Atlanta?  Or their farmers markets?  Or their distinction as being as organic-loving, sustainable growing-centric, old-fashioned back-to-basics and creatively wonderful as us Washingtonians?  Well, post your questions below and I’ll take them on – one by one, while on the road in Atlanta.

Best wishes,


P.S.  I found this incredible blog post from a native Nigerian living in Atlanta on his experience at the DeKalb Farmers Market and I thought you’d enjoy it:

“Every nationality in the world is represented in this market. I saw people from all over the world buying their national delicacies and speaking their native languages with gusto. I suspect that people come to this market not just buy fresh food but to cure their homesickness, to meet people who speak their languages and with whom they can discuss common topics and nurture their nostalgia for home. This place is more than a market; it’s also a united nations, a united nations unmediated by bureaucracy.”


-Farooq A. Kperogi

(An excerpt from the blog http://farooqkperogi.blogspot.com/)

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Guest writer: The Myth of the Family Farm (or Part II: The Grocery Store Revealed)

By Dan Fagella

Farm Subsidies: the Bad, the Ugly, and the Uglier.

Illustration: Lou Beach

The agriculture industry is just a ridiculously government subsidized
industry. In most cases, people are paid for NOT farming their land.
Which is OK, since you don’t want to overfarm and kill the land and
all, but something has to be done for a happy medium.

The fallacy of the United States Family Farmer is that they exist.
Sure, they do exist, but the vast majority of farmers are party of the
Agriculture-Industrial Complex. It’s all big-Ag. And a great many of
these farm subsidies go to real estate companies based in places like
New York that buy up these farms in the Midwest.

I understand the original intention of the farm subsidy. It was
created to help out small farmers whose cost is necessarily higher
than some of those big companies that can function using economies of
scale. The thought process was that these were hardworking people who
were doing their best, but costs were simply outpacing prices. Which
may have even been true. But things have gotten out of control. There
are several reasons for this:

1) Agriculture lobbying is done at a monstrous level. Just think about
this: agriculture is the only industry in the United State that has
its own cabinet department and its own congressional committees (3 if
I’m not mistaken). That’s 4 different parts of our government solely
focused on agriculture. No other industry has such an enormous amount
of access to Congress as they do. This of course leads to inertia in
Congress since if anybody wants to change anything for the better
(i.e. lower or even eliminate subsidies, which is a fun thought) the
massive lobbying effort works against it.

The Farm

Photo: ehow.com

2) You try campaigning nationally for it. Being anti-farm subsidy in
politics is a lot like being against the Estate Tax (another thing
that the small family farmer is used to rail against even though
they’re not affected by it at all) – it affects such a small section
of the population, yet such a larger segment of the population thinks
it affects them. Being against farm subsidies almost guarantees losses
in most of the midwest, and especially Iowa. Being the site of the
first caucus and basically the “coming out” party for a Presidential
candidate, it’s a crazy surprise that everybody is pro-subsidy (not to
mention corn-ethanol, but that’s another post for another day). Which
brings us to…

3) The lack of balls in the United States government. Very often
(we’ve seen it in the health care debate and especially the Iraq war),
Congressmen use circular logic for not taking a different position. It
goes a little something like this: “Am I against [this bill]? Sure. But I don’t
want to vote against it if it’s going to lose.” Granted, most of these bills
would lose anyway, but there’s something to be said for taking a
stand. Not to mention the fact that if more people decide to go the
hard way and vote against a somewhat popular bill at the time, it may
convince more people to “come out of the closet” so to speak and maybe
courage begets courage. Especially in the House, the percentage of
Congressmen whose constitutents would be affected negatively by this
is very small, whereas most would have constituents positively
affected by this.

Farm Subsidies Cartoon

Cartoon: M. Keefe

I have two final thoughts on the subject. First, the great irony in
farm subsidies is that it is, by and large, a welfare program. I’m
very pro-welfare, but I’m not for corporate welfare for industries
that don’t need it. The irony here is that farm subsidies are carried
along by those who profess not to believe in welfare. The same people
who berated the “Welfare Queen” are the same people propping up the
well-to-do farmers/real estate mavens.

Second, what really gets me is that I’m as much a patriot as the next
guy, but let’s not fool ourselves here: the main reason these
subsidies exist are to keep prices down, thus making foreign food
less desirable. Basically (though nobody will ever claim this, for
obvious reasons), we need to make sure that the brown and yellow
people stay poor at the benefit of the white man. If you ask me, those
billions of dollars of subsides would be best used for increasing programs
like food stamps and actual welfare for actual poor people who were
actually put in rough situations through no fault of their own.

Did you eat today? Thank a farmer—-no wait, thank the United States
Congress for their massive corporate welfare program and Big Ag.

Editor’s Note:  Hope you enjoyed our guest blogger today!  Feel free to leave comments thanking him for his brilliance, condemning his ignorance, or just generally letting him know that his beard is FIERCE.  It’s America, people – say what you think!  I’ll be back tomorrow to share with you the pumpkin instructional you’ve all been waiting for.  🙂

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Mt Pleasant Farmers Market

photo: squidpants-flickr.com

A Saturday Morning @ the Mt Pleasant Farmers Market

What a beautiful morning for the market!  And what, you ask, could be better than a morning filled with fresh produce, poultry and meat?  Uhm, picking up a locally grown PUMPKIN!

Indeed.  We picked up our hearty orange Cucurbita pepo (below, left) yesterday morning at the Mt Pleasant farmers market – an activity which perennially marks my absolute favorite time of year.  This beautiful gourd-like plant was originally domesticated in the Americas between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.  Expect some beauty shots this week, along with step-by-step instructions on how to carve a pumpkin with a partisan perspective.

THE Halloween Punkin

THE Halloween Punkin

What else was at the market?  Tons.  And this was a good thing since I’ve been sort of challenging myself to work within the constrains of the season – celebrating the locally grown seasonal produce and trying my best to avoid the supermarket and their fresh mangoes.  (Decidedly not in season in the mid-Atlantic)

Alright, so first we picked up some beautiful red tomatoes.  One of us (I’m not saying who, but we’ll just say I think it’s mighty weird to watch) eats tomatoes like apples.  So those were no-brainers and we picked up a bunch.

Next, I found a gorgeous rosemary plant to put in the garden – and to season the Colorado Rose potatoes with, which were conveniently on the same table.  While paying for the potatoes and rosemary (and this happens to me all the time), I got distracted by the gorgeous arugula they had sitting out.  So we added a pound of that to round off the purchase.

Next I picked up some DELICIOUSLY thick bone in pork chops – which both got cooked up tonight and looked as good as they tasted.  (YUMMY, JUICY, JUICY, YUMMY was all my brain could register)  Also acquired?  Some of that super rich and flavorful sustainable local chicken.  Before we got much further we found a bakery stall with some FINE looking brownies, cookies and all kinds of bread.  We opted for a French loaf and not the brownies.  (This was not a commentary on my affinities so much as a result of our most recently acquired inspiration to become healthier: our week-old Wii Fit Plus.  :-))

Honey Crisp apples (photo: Molly Watson)

Honey Crisp apples (photo: Molly Watson)

Finally, we picked up some Honey Crisp apples and some red bell peppers.  Yums.

More photos of the market goodies – including that pumpkin instructional I mentioned coming up this week.  So stay tuned!



P.S.  Don’t forget:  Tomorrow I’ll feature a guest writer who will wax poetic for Part II of our supermarket dialogue.  Leave comments if you please!

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Part I: The Grocery Store

Plucked from the earth

Gratitude then recedes.

Chill it. Ship it. Swipe.


Everything is better when you start with a haiku – no?

For those of you reading who grow your own herbs, vegetables, and fruits – why do you do it?  Do you love to get dirty?  Playing in that inviting sunny mess in your backyard?  Do you love to eat?  Do you dig the fabulously easy access to the original snack packs you grow?  For me – it’s a big tangle of reasons that when balled up together can be aptly characterized as a love for all things that grow.

Day 1 - back in June!

Day 1 - back in June!

I do love to play in the dirt.  Play anywhere, really.  And I’m perpetually on the hunt for the best yummies out there.  But there are some very real distinctions between the yummies I grow in my backyard and those available at our local giganta-mart.  There are four big issues I have with the grocery store – and all it represents.  Today, I’ll address the first problem I have with the grocery store and the big agro producers & manufacturers behind them – and I think it’s one we can all get behind:


Grocery store produce, poultry, and meat just do not taste good.  It’s not that they taste bad, per se – but that’s the real issue.  You could go your whole life eating grocery store tomatoes and think, “Wow – I’m lucky.  I have access to a grocery store.  I have this tomato, here.  And it seems to be nutritional and it tastes alright.  Woo hoo!”

But I think anyone who’s eaten a farm fresh tomato will tell you that chilled grocery store tomatoes, while convenient, are dull and sorta pathetic in comparison.  Not only are there several THOUSAND more varieties of tomato than you’ll ever see in your grocery store, but there is definitely something about a fresh-from-the-vine tomato that simply tastes…more.  Brighter.  Sweeter.  Juicier.  Warmer.  More like the season it epitomizes:  SUMMER.

From Barry3964

From Barry3964

The same goes for poultry.  Do you all remember Julia Child’s story about eating a French roasted hen while living in France?  (Or did you catch Julie & Julia?  Wasn’t it great!?)  Ms. Child described the French chicken meat as just tasting so divinely buttery – and CHICKENY!  If you’ve had a farm fresh chicken, then you know what Julia and I are talking about.  The rich flavor of a chicken not kept on a mechanized industrial farm (bred to be as inexpensive to keep alive as possible while still growing into a GIANT of a chicken) is quite possibly impossible to describe.  Suffice to say – it is brilliantly buttery, rich, smooth, and CHICKENY.  If you get a chance this weekend, visit your farmer’s market and pick up a breast or two – then you can tell me what chicken tastes like.


Yum Yum. (FineCooking.com)

Finally, I’m a big believer in the concept of community.  Of meaningful relationships.  And there are few relationships more important than those with the things that actually sustain you – like air, food, and water.  Right?  Well, there’s a middleman, now, who steps directly between those involved and muddies this all-important relationship between you and your food.  The grocery store.  Does that really matter?  Well, that’s entirely for you to decide for yourself.  (Need more information?  Check out eatwild.com or In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan for starters)

Next week you can read Part II of my supermarket series – and go ahead and prepare yourselves for our first guest writer.  (Be nice and leave comments for my mystery person while I’m away!)  Also, stop by this weekend to read a bit on the Mt. Pleasant Farmer’s Market – or a little place I like to call heaven.

Until tomorrow!



BONUS: YouTube footage of writer Michael Pollan and Filmmaker Robert Kenner discussing grocery stores and big agro while talking about the 2008 film Food, Inc..

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The Garden - ready for harvesting!

The Garden - ready for harvesting!

The Harvest…Continues!

And here she is!!  I had a great time picking cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, eggplants, green peppers, and lettuce all season.  On the left, here, is the photo of the garden taken in late summer.  I only managed to get about a half dozen tomatoes out of my indeterminate plants, but the determinate plants did really well!  In fact, they’re still going away at it – with at least 8 tomatoes ripening as I type this.

Here is the booty from a harvest last month below.  The dark purple sphere on the left side is the LONE eggplant from the massive plant that sprung up in the front row of the garden.  I’m not sure exactly what the issue was, but this eggplant was the only one we got (though I saw at least a dozen blooms), and

A bit of the garden's bounty!

A bit of the garden's bounty!

to top it off – I let it stay on the vine too long.  As you can see in the photo,  it has a matte finish and no longer wears its shiny purple skin – a sign that it’s no longer as yummy.  You really want to pick these plants when they’re shiny at a small to medium size.  Unfortunately, I kept waiting for it to get bigger than a few inches – but it never did.  And in the meanwhile, lost the bright shine that means it’s a yumster.

Also on the plate are some of our oddly-shaped but DELICIOUS burpless hybrid cukes, some emerald green parsley, a bit of Romaine lettuce, and a bright red tomato fresh from the vine.

Lettuce & herbs

Lettuce & herbs

On the left, here, is a snapshot of our Arugula, Parsley, and one of the types of Thyme we planted in the bed.  Our lettuce LOVED the cooler weather that August and September brought.  It was NOT a fan of the June & July scorch, though.  (Soo…I wish I had read the package a bit better – it is universally known to be a FALL plant.  Whoops.)

The parsley and thyme were late additions.  They came in September to replace the zucchini plant – which did absolutely nothing for us (besides produce a BEAUTIFUL sunset-orange flower), and the boxes we ceded to the guerrilla squirrels.

The last picture here, below on the right, is of my dwarfed green pepper.  For some reason it shot up, looked happy for about a month, then proceeded to produce only two flowers – one of which decided he was done growing after about a week.  Result?  A golf ball sized bell pepper that I couldn’t convince anyone to eat because frankly it looked a little ghastly.  (Sorry, Mother Nature.)

Green bell pepper...would you eat it?

Green bell pepper...would you eat it?

All in all, though, I was THRILLED with the garden’s supplement to my local farmer’s market, as well as the (dreaded) grocery store.  Speaking of which – would you like to hear about the local farmer’s market experience here and see what I’m lucky enough to have just a few blocks from my front door?  Well, stay tuned!  That’s coming this weekend.

As for tomorrow?  I’ll delve into my disdain for the grocery store.  Are you curious what’s up with that?

Bottom line:  I have some beef with big agro.

Thanks for stopping by to read!



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Gargantuan mums in the back row, ornamental cabbages in the front.

Gargantuan mums in the back row, ornamental cabbages in the front.

I just returned from a work-related trip to Los Angeles and I have to say – I’m so happy to be a Washingtonian.  The seasons – OH the seasons!  Los Angeles was inching up toward 90 degrees last week.  All I could think of was luxurious sweaters and well-worn leather boots.  Yet, all I could see was ripped jeans and tube tops.  Yes, it is nice to be home.

In fact, I was so inspired by the autumn smell in the air when I returned that I took my little sweater-wearing self to the big orange box store and picked up a whole front yard landscaping project.

In the back row are two of the LARGEST mums you’ll ever see.  Ever.  They BARELY fit into the backseat of our ’98 Corolla.  And even then – there was some mum carnage when I “got” them out.  The front row is made up of six ornamental cabbages.  I’m pretty stoked about the idea of having color in our yard even after the snows come.  I might look around for a few other plants that could bring some brightness to the front yard during the coldest months.  Suggestions welcome, as always!

Happy to be home,


P.S.  Excited to see some harvest action and a recap of everything you missed over August and September?  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post…

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