Bellywarming American Black Bean Soup

Have I mentioned that I LOVE soup? What could be better on these increasingly chilly days than a big bowl of warm and delicious? While I’ve shared quite a few soups with you (you’ll see they have their own category on the sidebar), I’ve admittedly been in a bit of a soup rut.  My Go To soups are really delicious, but after a while, the kids “THAT one again?” resonates a little too deeply.  I’ve gotten a little tired of my faves, and so went a wandering, with too little time for prep and a well stocked pantry. Problem solved.

Apparently it is possible to make black bean soup that is not Southwestern.  It had never occurred to me, despite my bean friendliness, to use those guys for a different flavor profile – talk about being in a rut! Once again my friend Deborah Madison (perhaps I should just call these posts Little Sis and Deborah), showed me the way out of my self-inflicted black bean tunnel vision.

IMG_0270Ms. Madison suggests a simple American styled black bean soup, and with a few adjustments it worked stupendously for Mr. Little Sis and I. After the whole crew tasted it, with lackluster response, Mr. Little Sis and I decided that since the kids had passed on it anyway, we would in fact add the bit of Madeira called for in the original version, and boy howdy was it great, even with my radically shortened cooking time.  This one would go gangbusters in a slow cooker. I finished the last bowl tonight and am happy to report that, as with so many soups, it’s even better after a few days.

American Black Bean Soup – adapted for speed and dairy considerations from Deborah Madison’s Black Bean Soup in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

  • olive oil for the potIMG_0263
  • 2 c onion, chopped
  • 1 c celery, chopped
  • 1 c carrot, chopped small
  • 2 c green pepper chopped small
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 t chopped rosemary
  • 2 t dried thyme
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 4 c black beans, soaked, cooked and drained or drained and rinsed from cans
  • 4 quarts water
  • leftover grains if desired (I used 1.5 c cooked brown rice)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 c Madeira
  • 1 c coconut milk (or cream)
  • chopped parsley

Warm oil in the pot.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes.  Add the rest of the veggies and herbs and cook until the color deepens a bit. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for an additional minute.  Add the beans and the water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered for at least 20 minutes.  Add salt to taste and grains if using.  Cook and additional 5 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and puree as much of the soup as your textural preferences dictate.  A smoother puree can be achieved in a blender, but I don’t like to do all that pouring of hot soup, so I use an immersion blender.  Add Madeira and coconut milk (or cream if you do moo). Serve with chopped parsley.  Wow.  So simple, so delish.  Perfect wholesome antidote for Halloween’s madness.

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Halloween Madness

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Free Tea – And Great Slaw

Isn’t summer grand?

After my strawberry post (the doe has not yet returned, by the way), I got to thinking about how amazing it is that you can plant something in the ground, give it some water, and then you can eat it. I mean, if you really think about that it’s pretty astonishing. I’ve picked about 20 pounds of strawberries at this point and the equivalent of about 20 store bought bunches of kale and chard. I’ve also plucked 6 or 7 beautiful heads of lettuce and a couple of heads worth of broccoli stalks. Just amazing. And I get to eat it; not only that, but it’s good for me. Now, lest you think I’m just showing off, I wanted to focus today on a gardening delight that many have found to be a little less than delightful, mint. Continue reading

Crunchy Lunchy

The last time I tried sprouts was MANY years ago, when they were only available in the health food store, and the health food store was a small, locally owned affair with hand painted murals on the walls and revolutionary music and patchouli in the air.  Lest I give you the wrong impression, this was in about 1991.  You may be surprised to find that I did not become a sprout loving Momma until recently.  When I tried them before, they were okay.  Just okay.  There were an awful lot of them, however, and they DO spoil; I didn’t like them enough to try to plan meals around them (planning really wasn’t my thing at the time), and since I was only preparing food for myself, the math simply didn’t work out.  They were too expensive.  Flash forward and EVERYTHING in that last sentence has changed.

I purchased some sprouts last summer, after having them with an awesome stir-fry Big Sis made for us at the beach, and they were good.  Liked them.  I still thought they were a bit pricey, but with more people to partake, the risk of spoilage was minimized.  Then I found out just how nutritious they are.  Then I realized my children liked them.  Then I realized that I LOVE them on everything.  The final piece of this sprouty puzzle was solved when I took 10 minutes on the internet to find out how to grow the little buggers… so here it is.  Your tutorial on a DIY sprouter and sprouting, for next to nothing.  What does this have to do with lunch?  EVERYTHING.  Know what makes ANY sandwich filling taste better?  Sprouts.  Know what makes any leftovers taste fresh and a little crunchy in a great vegetable kind of way?  Sprouts.  Know what makes you feel very clever when you grow them on your counter and include them in your thrifty and nutritious brown bag lunch?  Sprouts.  So without further ado…

To grow sprouts, you need a sprouter.  You are welcome to buy one, but I am too cheap to do that, so here’s my solution: large canning jar with 2 part lid and some mesh.  I happened to have clean window screening material from making beach bags for kids, but I imagine any mesh would work.

Next I used a yellow crayon to trace about 1/2 inch around the inner part of the canning lid and cut the circle of screening,

stretched the mesh tightly over the top of the jar and screwed the outer ring on tight to check for fit.
After washing everything, I added 1/4c of dried mung beans (purchased bulk from my food coop) to the jar,

My sister’s hand… oh wait, that’s me. Weird.

and added water until the jar was nearly full.  I left them to soak overnight, drained the water by turning it over (with the lovely screened lid still on…. doh). And the next day rinsed the beans with fresh water, and drained them again. Many of the skins had cracked. I proceeded to rinse them twice a day for the next couple of days and watched their astonishing progress.

Day 2

Day 3 – Pics through the glass did NOT get easier

There’s the sprouts we’re looking for – rinsed on the morning of day 4 and put in the fridge.

And so we’ve proceeded to eat them with everything, because they’re awesome.  And they cost me about twenty cents.  Yep, twenty cents to fill a one pound strawberry container with delicious homegrown sprouts.  Ahhh nothing more satisfying than some thrifty nutrition.

WHAT to do with so many flippin’ sprouts you ask?  Well aside from the aforementioned sandwich glorification, there is always the prospect of a great NAMUL!!!  Oh yes, we return to our friend the namul, and my new best friend Ani Phyo’s cookbook.  As a fabulous salad at lunch, my hubby and I enjoyed:

MUNG BEAN SPROUT NAMUL – adapted from Ani Phyo‘s recipe in Ani’s Raw Food Asia

  • 4 c mung bean sprouts
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1 t maple syrup
  • 1 small clove garlic, made small however you like
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t minced ginger
  • large pinch red pepper or chili flakes

Doesn’t get much easier than this kind of procedure.  Put all in bowl, toss.  Wait 20 minutes or so.  Eat.  Love.

We had ours as a side to veggie burgers at lunch, but I could easily see adding it to the top of any Asian dish with crunchy scrumptious results.  While I must confess the kids wouldn’t touch this one, I should also say that I was glad, deep inside, that I got to eat that much more.  Delish.

Bugs Taste Less with Garlic and Chili Pepper

That got your attention didn’t it?  Who can deny that garlic (and for most people) chili pepper makes things taste better?  Garden pests, that’s who.  They do not like it.  They have a very limited palate and it only includes non-weed items that are growing in your garden.  So I – and my title – stand corrected.  The bugs taste less because they are EATING less.  And what does this mean to a gal who dislikes organo-phosphates and other nasty chemicals on her food?

It means I can whip up a little garlic-pepper spray and put a damper on the bugs dining pleasure without putting a damper on any humans’ nervous system.  Love that.  Here’s how I make it. Continue reading

Bok Choy & Ginger and Broccoli – Oh My!

One of the staples around here is stir fry.  It comes out a little different each time because my approach is similar to that of refrigerator soup.  Refrigerator soup is when you have a carcass with which to make soup and you add whatever happens to be in the refrigerator (or pantry) that has any business at all being in soup.  So my stir fry is usually refrigerator / garden stir fry.

I always start with some heat tolerant oil like safflower and sesame oil mixed together to which I add pressed garlic, fresh ginger and something from the allium family such as spring onions, leek, shallot, or onion.  Fresh ginger is very different from dried and it tastes great, but it is very time consuming to prepare.  Unless, that is, you use the Biggest Bro method.  That is the same Biggest Bro who used to sneeze on his french fries so nobody would swipe them, but he cooks well and this is an awesome way to include fresh ginger – no bodily fluids involved.  Buy your fresh ginger in the produce department – usually in the ‘odd, exotic or international’ section.  Freeze your fresh ginger.  No need to wrap it or put it in a covered container, just stick that gnarly old thang in the freezer.  Then when you want some you just grate it with a fine grater.  Couldn’t be easier and still tastes great.  For especially easy grating, I suggest the microplane that I received from Step Mother.  She does NOT sneeze on her french fries, is an awesome cook and has some of the coolest, simple gadgets around.  This is one of them.

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That is the uncovered tub I keep the ginger in because I did find I was having trouble finding it in the morass of nuts, flours and leftovers in my freezer.  A microplane is a lot more expensive than your average grater (14.95 at Amazon) but it is unbelievably effective for this and lemons, parmesan, and other items needing grating.

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Anyhow, back to the refrigerator / garden stir fry.

I had some swiss chard, some bok choy, and some beet greens in the garden, but not enough of any one of them for a single ingredient.  So I took what I had of each.  Here’s my bok choy.

I also had some broccoli stems in the frig that I was saving for this or for broccoli cheese soup.  Leeks purchased today (the garden leeks are coming….) in a group of 4, one ought to do it, saving the tops in the freezer to put in stock.

Now broccoli stems are a challenge.  You can buy broccoli slaw in a package at the grocery (expensive but yummy) or you can shred your own with a little work.  First, cut off anything downright objectionable, then use a vegetable peeler to take the outermost layer off.

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Then grate starting at the big end.

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You will find that as you grate a tougher outer layer starts to hang on and doesn’t grate well.  Just stop now and again, peel it off and continue grating.

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When you are done you will have a pile o’ shredded extremely healthy vegetable matter that goes un-noticed by broc-o-phobes.

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Once you’ve cooked your oil, garlic, ginger and allium throw in your greens cut into pieces, your broccoli slaw….

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And whatever else (or any substitution) currently hanging around in your refrigerator like carrots, or peppers.  Oh look!  I have some snap peas!  Toss em in there.  I have tofu as well!  Cube it – and toss it in.  (Alternately you can cube and saute tofu first to make it a little crunchy or seasoned but this takes longer and makes the whole thing seem more planned.)  I love to add some canned pineapple and some Bragg’s liquid aminos which I substitute for soy sauce.

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I’m getting hungry.  Better finish this post and go make a kale smoothie as my boy will be home from school any minute.  Lest you be fooled that I am truly reckless and carefree, this recipe does not vary too much except for the vegetables.  And last but not least I add peanuts on top.

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Sorry the picture is a bit fuzzy but I can’t take another one because I ate it.  And it was very tasty too.  Have fun with the simple, fast and healthy varieties of stir fry you can make and tell us about your favorite combos!

You Say Potato…

So I’ve never grown potatoes before. Why? I don’t know. Truth is I’ve not grown much in the way of root vegetables until the last few years. Sort of a basic mistrust of what may or may not be going on underground. I like to be able to watch the progress of the food as it grows and potatoes, carrots, beets simply don’t allow you to do that. Yeah, yeah I know. I can watch the part above ground. I’m sorry, but it’s just not the same. I’ve tried carrots with limited success and beets, which we like but don’t need a lot of at any given moment (the pink pee is interesting to my daughter about once every few weeks, then loses its power to increase vegetable consumption). But I’ve never tried to grow the mighty spud. Which is silly, really, because I love potatoes. I mean I really love potatoes. Early in our relationship my husband and I figured out that he had grown up in a rice household and I had, as you might have guessed, grew up in a potato household. Over the years, despite our initial misgivings, we have both come to appreciate the other’s position, but I think I have really won the day. Homemade french fries will do that for you. Yeah, it’s a dirty trick, but somebody has to do it.

Where was I? Right, growing potatoes, so I’m happily clicking away on Pinterest and I come across this:

What’s that you say?  THAT is a potato tower.  You heard me right, a potato tower.  Grow potatoes without using up all of your precious garden space.  Okay, so that idea and the fact that I had 2×2 chicken wire that proved too big to keep rabbits out waiting in the shed convinced me to give it a go.  So I asked my sweetie to pound some stakes in (our street has the word slate in the name, so guess what’s just an couple of inches below the surface) and then we made a round with the discarded chicken wire, securing the back bit by stapling it to the fence.  I was determined NOT to buy new materials for this project because while I am optimistic, I am CHEAP and if it doesn’t work I’d hate to have spent a lot of dough.  I then filled it around the edges with leaves, rather than the recommended straw and supplemented with a little spanghum moss that I had from another project since I thought it might help retain a little moisture.  In the center, compost baby.  Inserted my cut up seed potatoes in layers and filled with compost and leaves until we got about to the top.  Here it is:

Will it work?  I have NO idea.  I’m sure I didn’t follow the directions exactly as that’s how I roll.  While it is my belief that all gardening is an act of supreme optimism, the slapdash version that I usually do is strictly for the glass half-full crowd.  If it does, that’s about 25 lbs of delicious potato magic coming our way.  And if my children have their way, a great many of them will be prepared this way:

Awesome Oven Fries Adapted from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

  • 1.25 lbs potatoes, peeled (if you must) and cut to 1/2″ fry shapes
  • 3/4 to 1t salt
  • 1/2t sugar
  • 4t oil
  • 1t paprika
  • 1/4t pepper (I use white to avoid kid detection)

Preheat oven to 450.  Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper (works better).  Combine potatoes, 1/4t salt, sugar and cold water to cover.  Soak 15 minutes, drain &blot dry.  In dry bowl, combine potatoes with oil, paprika and pepper.  Arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Bake, turning as they brown. 35-45 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt.  Voila.  Fan-flipping tastic.  Yes, you should probably make a double batch.

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Seed Starting – Tips and Tricks

Or Learn From My Mistakes…

One of the glories of spring – watching those little green bits poke out of the soil, transforming from a hard little pebble into something that may well be able to feed you.  Miraculous.  Especially when it works.  In the past I have not had good luck with starting from seed and it took lots of reading for me to realize that I am not alone.  Most gardening guides tell you right off the bat that starting from seed, while potentially rewarding and money-saving, can be very frustrating.  In the past I have started seeds, used the few plants that worked out, and bought seedlings for the rest.  I have, however, made minor adjustments over the years and for the first time – and I am reluctant to say anything and jinx the outcome – I seem to be growing several plants that might actually survive this process.  So I thought I’d share  what I’ve learned with you while there’s still time – especially for those of you to the north.  Frankly with the way the weather has been, I’m inclined to dispense with my normal planting calendar altogether and just start whatever I want whenever it occurs to me.

For me, seedling success seems to depend most on 4 variables.

1) Temperature. For the last two years I have used heat with my seedlings and it has made an enormous difference in the number of seeds that germinate and the amount of time that it takes for them to start.  I personally use a heating pad (which I imagine is NOT recommended by heating pad manufacturers and is certainly NOT recommended by seed heater manufacturers ;) ) and if it is especially chilly I also put a space heater next to the seedling rack.  My understanding is that most seeds need at least 70 degrees to germinate.  I feel the trays and if they are mildly warm NOT HOT I go with that.

2) Moisture. Seeds need water to germinate.  Seed starting trays often include a plastic dome for cover and this helps retain moisture and heat, makes a nice little hothouse to help your seeds along.  I use these domes, but have found that the trick is to make sure not to keep the dome over seedlings that have emerged.  The infant seedlings still want moisture, but not as much as seeds, and they don’t especially like a lot of water from the top.  I’ve been careful this year to remove seedlings that have emerged from the germination tray once they are truly out of the soil and placed them in a tray that is not covered to keep them from constantly being rained on from the plastic dome.  Because I like to be able to move them easily I prefer cardboard cells or toilet paper rolls cut in half to plant in rather than the rows of plastic cells.

I’ve tried something new this year that has proven quite effective in helping me regulate moisture levels for my seedlings.  Pea gravel.  Pardon the blurry image – what I’m trying to show is the gravel in the middle of the seed tray here.  I scooped some pea gravel into the bottom of the tray and then placed the seed starting cups on top of the gravel.  This allows me to pour water UNDER the seed starting cups.  They drink it up from the bottom while sitting on the gravel;  they are not as likely to develop problems associated with over-watering or water overwhelming the seedlings.  The pea gravel also holds onto a bit of moisture and slowly delivers some moisture to the plants through contact.  If I am remiss in watering, the effect does not seem to be as devastating.  If I overwater (something I tend to do), the damage seems mitigated.  I will be using pea gravel again.  It is important to note that I DO have a plastic tray under all of this mess that I tested for holes.  A drippy seed starting tray is not fun, and can be crazy dangerous if you follow my next suggestion…

3) Light. In years past I simply set up some shelves in front of a sliding glass door that was as south-easterly as I could provide and had very sad looking little seedlings.  Pale, leggy to the point of collapse.  NO GOOD.  I did some research online and found that there were plenty of gadgets available to help me provide light to me little veggie children and all I had to do was plunk down a load of cash and I too could experience seed starting victory.  Well, I pretty much vow not to start from seed every year, so the investment that they were asking for was pretty much out of the question.  More research from the DIY pages revealed that florescent shoplites can deliver adequate seedling sun.  That sealed it.  I had a wire shelf unit already (scored from a big box store on super sale, so I think it was like $15).  I went to the hardware store.  An employee offered to help and I explained my dismay that I couldn’t seem to get enough light in a VERY SUNNY glass door.  He expressed a theory that newer windows and glass doors may block out some of the magic that seedlings require because of their coatings and insulation.  He said something along the lines of “I’m no scientist, but folks with old windows seem to have better luck no matter which direction they’re facing.”  He then helped me choose 4 foot shoplites and T-12 bulbs.  I rigged the lights, added a heating pad, threw on a full spectrum light I had from when I lived somewhere it rained ALL THE TIME and voila, instant sunny spot for seedlings.


Lights Off.


Let the sunshine on.

4) Transplanting.  Great, so you’ve got some healthy green little buggers in those cells and it is so exciting so you just wait until the right date, right?  No.  You will need to take them out of those little jobbies and put them in slightly larger containers to allow their roots room to grow.  Yes, you really need to do this.  I usually do it when the seedling has begun to develop it’s second set of leaves.  This is another time I am glad to use cardboard.  It is MUCH easier to get them out of the cardboard then plastic, in my experience.  So, gently move them into larger containers, and a week before the proper date for outside I start putting them outside for a few hours a day, slowly building up the amount of time to get them accustomed to the harsher conditions that may be out there waiting for them.


Leeks getting ready for the garden. Go, leeks, go – you expensive, delicious little freaks!

I’ll keep you posted as to how many of my little beauties actually make it into the soil.  Here’s hoping my experiments will pay off for you!

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Garbage Smoothie Anyone? – cold composting, a tutorial

Compost piles are a wonderful thing and they make great compost if you actually maintain them…. or you wait 2 or 3 years.  Well, I currently have no place to let a compost pile sit unnoticed for 2 or 3 years and my track record for maintaining a compost pile is very bad indeed.  I once had a wonderful turban squash vine grow from my poorly maintained compost pile.  It climbed a nearby tree and produced 3 lovely orange squashes hanging from a limb like party lights.  That was fun.  But back to my current solution for fertilizing my garden while recycling fruit and vegetable scraps all in one fell swoop….

Cold composting is the fastest way to get the scraps back into the ground in a form that plants (and worms) can use. Basically you are making your scraps so small that they are almost instantly part of the soil.  All you need is a blender.  I do my cold composting in a Vita Mix which is a very powerful blender.  You may have to leave out the green pepper stems/ cabbage centers, etc. if your blender is not real powerful, but chopping smaller and putting enough water in the blender also helps disintegrate the less willing participants.

I put a little water in my extra blender jar and keep it in the frig.  (It’s a little dirty with what I couldn’t scrape out of the last load.)

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Then when I am cooking/peeling/chopping/ producing leavings of the plant variety, I set the container on the counter or in the sink where I am working and plunk the ‘garbage’ right in (leaving a little for Lenny & Squiggy the guinea pigs).

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When it’s almost full, I add some water to ease the grinding and the pouring, warn people nearby of impending blender noise and let it fly until all is smooth and small.  I have a tamper with my VitaMix that works through a hole in the top.  You may have to stop and move things around, but if you have enough water in the mix, it should all get chopped and mixed.

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Make sure you offer your children, spouse, partner a garbage smoothie first, then take it out to the garden.

Work between your rows and scrape a top layer of soil or mulch away making a long shallow trench.  I usually use 1-2 blenderfuls for an 8 foot length in my raised beds and do that 4-5 different places in the same bed.

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Pour the garbage smoothie into the trench.

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It’s okay to be close to plants, just don’t slop a bunch on them or dig up their roots.

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Cover the furrow back up then go cook and eat more so you can make another one!

I am particularly sure to include eggshells in every batch as I tend to get blossom rot on tomatoes otherwise.  I also compost coffee grounds and filters, although we use a single cup coffee pot which uses a small filter and a couple of Tbsp of grounds – not sure if it would be too much grounds if you used a whole pot size dose.

One of the biggest surprises to me in this process was how quickly the compost disappears.  Although I can still see tiny bits of eggshell for a month or more, the rest of it blends right in with the soil in a matter of weeks, so by the time I’ve fed my four 8X4 raised beds, I just go back to the beginning and keep building rich, dark soil that fosters healthy plants that more easily withstand the onslaught of Middle TN bugs, diseases and late summer drought.

If you’d like other ideas for interesting things to compost, check out the website
http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/surprising-compost-items.htm

And let us know about your composting adventures!

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Easy Starts for Celery and Romaine – A Tutorial

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Want to grow celery and romaine in your garden?  Well, hopefully this experiment will prove successful and we’ll all be able to do that more easily and quickly.  The above is the end of a celery stalk clump (I’m sure there is a better botanical term than that!), and the end of a bunch of romaine sitting in about 1/2 inch of water in a sunny window sill.

1-2 weeks later of pouring a little more water in the bowl every day or two….

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The outside of the celery stalk clump is definitely rotting a little, but hey – there’s little baby leaves coming out of there!  So finally, today I took the last step….

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the celery, and…..

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the romaine.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress now that they are in the ground.  Seems like a pretty cool way to cut my costs at least in half for celery and romaine, although technically I could make a new start from this start and they told 2 friends and so on, and so on.

This is especially magical because celery is in the top 3 kinds of produce (along with strawberries and apples) that retain the most pesticide residue.  Nasty, nasty pesticide residue, mostly organo-phosphates that can mess with nervous systems, especially of little people with developing nervous systems.  If you’d like to read more about the produce that does (and doesn’t) retain pesticide, check out Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen @ http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/