Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Guest Judge Andrea Meyers Weighs in on our Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Posts

Our wonderful Guest Judge Andrea Meyers of Andreas Recipes was able to squeeze time in this busy  holiday week to look over our blog posts regarding our featured book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver and her family and what follows are her very thoughtful comments:

"I was thrilled that Rachel invited me to be the judge for this round of Cook the Books, because in many ways I identify with the challenge that Kingsolver and her family set for themselves. While working overseas for eight years, I fell in love with many locals foods but also missed the foods I had grown up with. My first attempt at growing my own was in Bogota, Colombia, with a small calamondin orange tree in a pot. It was absolutely beautiful with all the tiny little oranges, and after that I was hooked. I've grown indoor avocado trees in pots that never produced a single avocado, but gave me immense satisfaction that I could actually grow something and it would live.

When we settled in our home on a quarter-acre lot in Northern Virginia in 2007, we had a container garden on the deck our first year as we studied the light and where it fell in the yard throughout the day. Then the next spring we dug up a bunch of inedible bushes on the south side and planted tomatoes and basil. Now we've turned about 300 square feet of grass, bushes, and weeds into an edible landscape that we continue to expand. In the spring we get chard, rhubarb, cilantro, dill, chives, and asparagus. Summer brings us blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, basil, oregano, lemon balm, green onions, and tomatillos, which often last well into autumn. The sage, thyme, and rosemary last pretty much year round now. And this year we had our first crop of grapes: muscadines, scuppernogs, concord, and a few other varieties that will produce in a year or so. We also have a few fig, apple, cherry, peach, plum, and pecan trees, as well as an experimental pomegranate in the yard, and some wild persimmons out in the woods behind our house. Just today we got our very first pecan, and we have two indoor Meyer lemon trees with lemons ripening.

We've worked hard at this for the past six years, and it hasn't all been a bed of roses (though we grow those, too). We've learned that local pests liked our squash, cucumbers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant way too much for them to be viable crops for us. We did not want to resort to pesticides, so we stopped growing those things. And some years yield better harvests than others. The last two years we've had crazy good crops of tomatoes, but we had a late freeze last spring which killed off the blueberry blossoms and the apple, peach, and plum blossoms. We have to pick some critters off the plants almost daily, and we've lined our fence with chicken wire to keep out the local bunnies, who seem to think of our backyard as their own personal buffet.

I cannot credit Kingsolver's book for inspiring us to grow our own; that comes from our families and generations of farming genes. For us, it was the desire to use our bit of land for more than just growing grass and ornamental trees and bushes. We wanted to have more control over what went into our food, and we wanted our children to grow up with an edible garden and awareness of where food comes from and how to prepare it. We take them to pick local apples and visit the farms in the area to get local eggs, honey, pumpkins, and other fruits and vegetables. And we balance that with the things that we like that don't come locally: chocolate, coffee, tea, pasta, pantry items and spices. We shop at Costco, Wegman's, and local markets.

Kingsolver's challenge was obviously life-changing for her and her family, and reading about their decisions and how they learned about eating through the seasons and supporting their local farmers was fascinating for me. Each of us makes food decisions based on what we feel is important, what fits with our needs, and what is available. And I think that all of your blog posts illustrate this idea beautifully! I truly liked all of the stories and the dishes you chose to make, and I saved them for future meals.

As for a winner, my favorite post comes from Foodycat. I enjoyed reading the story of her journey to local farms in search of all the right ingredients, and love the finished dish with the roasted pork chops and stuffed onions and apples. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your story, photos, and dish with us! "

--Thank YOU Andrea, for the care and time you took in looking over our blog posts about this great book! It sounds like you had fun along with us and we really value your input and the story of how you have been expanding your kitchen garden in Virginia. Congratulations to Foodycat for another well-deserved winning post and for giving us a peek at what was available at some local English farms and what happened to all those fresh ingredients in her magical kitchen!

And now, I am turning over the hosting duties to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen who will send us over to East Africa as we read Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin. I just finished this quiet little novel about about Angel Tungaraza, a Tanzanian matriarch who is raising her five orphaned grandchildren with her professor husband in Rwanda, and also runs her own cake business. New participants are always welcome, so feel free to join our Cook the Books regulars in reading and blogging along with us in December/January.

-Rachel, The Crispy Cook


Simona Carini said...

Congratulations, Alicia! And thank you Andrea for judging. I enjoyed reading your essay.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Thank you so much! What a lovely surprise to get me out of my blogging doldrums!

Deb in Hawaii said...

Congrats to Alicia! Thanks to Rachel for hosting and a great pick and a big mahalo to Andrea for her thoughtful judging and essay! ;-)

Debra Eliotseats said...

Obviously, I'm way behind. Kudos to Alicai!!!!