The Garden – Reclaiming Our Food

Serrano Chile Flower

I've always had the urge to grow my own food. There's just something deeply rewarding in harvesting food from the back yard. For one thing it's virtually guaranteed to taste better than what you get at the store.

In this era of factory farms that focus on churning out massive quantities of food as cheaply as possible, the average bell pepper, apple or ear of corn available in the produce section of the local supermarket just doesn't have much flavor, and it's no wonder. It's probably been grown as fast as possible using artificial fertilizers and pesticides, picked well before it was ripe and artificially "ripened" using chemical gases. Some of this is the price we pay for year-round access to cheap produce.

But much of it is due to the evolution of the farming industry from what we used to have: thousands of small private farms scattered all over the country, to what we see today: a few giant multinational corporations in near complete control of our food supply. This is a big subject that I won't get too far into here, because I want to focus on the awesomeness of this year's garden.

I will recommend that everyone watch the movie Food, Inc. It is available as an instant watch on Netflix, but I'm not sure about its availability elsewhere. I did see it on both Blockbuster's and Hollywood Video's websites. It's an incredible documentary that exposes the inner workings of our current food system. It's not a pretty picture at all, but it is one that every single person in this country needs to look at. We all must eat, and we've traveled a long way down a dark road in terms of where our food comes from.

Watching Food, Inc. was further inspiration for me to get serious about gardening this year. So I pulled up a large area of bricks from my front patio to complement the small garden space I've been tending in my back yard. I've been burying all of my food waste as compost for the past year, so I had a nice supply of rich soil to get things started. I also found out about a great natural fertilizer mix from a local nursery. That along with the compost has done wonders to amend the alkaline soil we have here in the desert.

I planted corn, zucchini, acorn squash, cabbage, beets, red bell peppers, and green beans out front. The zucchini and corn are exploding, and it's fun to come back every day and see the progress.

The Front Plot

Early Zucchini

Early Corn

There was a cholla growing in a planter area on the front patio, and I decided growing some broccoli and chiles there would be a better use of the space.

Broccoli and Chiles

Broccoli and Chiles

Jalapeño

Jalapeño

Early Broccoli

The Garden Out Back

The Garden Out Back

Chia Sprouts

Chia Sprouts

I had started a garden outback a couple of seasons ago, but it doesn't get as much sun as the front. This year the focus there is herbs, the yellow pear tomato plants that survived the winter, spinach and beets. I also planted some chia seed and was surprise how quickly it sprouted.

I'm sure almost everyone (that's as old as I am) remembers the Chia Pet of the 80's. The chia seed I'm talking about is the same stuff. It turns out that chia seed is incredibly nutritious, with more omega 3's than flax seed, among many other health benefits. It is also easily digested, even when eaten whole.

It was, and continues to be, a vital food for peoples of Latin America and it's how the state of Chiapas, México got its name. I doubt I'll be able to grow enough to harvest much seed, but I figured why not? I sprinkled it along the edges of my back yard plot, where nothing else would be planted, and it came up easily.

It looks like this year we will have the best harvest yet for my home garden. I look forward to the satisfaction and great taste of home grown food.

Italy – The Dolomites – Part 1: Getting There

Epic and idyllic. These two words sum up the time spent in the Sud Tirol region of Northern Italy last summer quite nicely.

The Civetta is one of the largest rock walls in the Dolomites, and that's saying something.

Last summer I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to the Dolomites in Northern Italy to visit my friends, Dan & Janine Patitucci. They are a husband and wife mountain sport photography team whom I had met when they came to take photos for the company I work for, EasyCare Inc. We had a great time chasing horses around the Durango wilderness, and vowed to stay in touch.

Being similar in spirit and the love for the outdoor adventures, we did stay in contact, and that’s how I heard about the Alta Via One trail running tour. Dan & Janine had recently launched the now very successful website, dolomitesport.com, through which they seek to share the mountain sports heaven that is the Italian Dolomites. They had organized a 5-day, fully supported trail running expedition on the Alta Via One, and they asked if I wanted in. The answer was an emphatic “hell yes!”

Several months later I was on a plane to Munich, where I would board a train to take me to Fortezza, Italy where Dan would pick me up.

We then headed to Brunico, where Dan and Janine make their home (the lucky bastards).

Just down the street from the house we find this...

Downtown Brunico

A Classic Eurpoean Scene

A Classic European Scene

Stay tuned for Part 2: Bumming Around Brunico…

Yellow Pear Tomato & Cucumber Salsa Fresca

Let’s get things rolling again with a tasty little number I came up with after sharpening my knives up one day.

toms1I have some great tomato plants growing in my garden. They’re yellow pear tomatoes, which have a delicate and delicious flavor and are uniquely yellow in color. For some reason these particular tomatoes thrive in my garden, while I’ve had little success with the romas I tried to grow alongside. In fact this is the second incarnation of the plant I grew last year. When winter came along and froze them out, I just buried the whole plant as compost. When the seasons rolled around again there were a bunch of tomato sprouts coming up where I’d buried the plants the winter before! I took the best looking two seedlings and planted them in the same spot as last year, and they exploded with wave after wave of juicy, sweet little yellow tomatoes all summer long and are still producing well into the warm Tucson fall.

chiles1I’ve also got a good crop of chiles, which survived the winter and are on their second season of producing serranos, jalapeños and poblanos. They don’t get a lot of light and they were really reaching for the sun, so I had to tie the stalks to stakes to keep them from falling over. But since they got up and established themselves, they have been very resilient and have given me great harvests of unusually spicy chiles. I find that the jalapeños and serranos taste really good if I leave the on the plant until they turn red. The intense spiciness mellows slightly and they become much sweeter.

tomate1I’ve spent many years working as a chef in restaurants, and while I’m glad to have moved away from that career path, I still truly enjoy making food. I grew weary of the long, hard, sweaty hours in the kitchen, running around in high stress, working longer and harder hours than anyone else in the restaurant, being held responsible for the most important component of the business (the food), yet being paid far less than everyone but the dishwashers. That part I did not care for. I did, and still do, love the art of bringing flavors, colors and textures together into dishes that are both delicious and visually beautiful. The most basic and necessary item in any good chef’s tool box is a good, sharp knife. Without this it is physically impossible to prepare food that looks really good. A dull knife will result in crude looking vegetables, and meat cuts that look like they were pulled apart by hand. A sharp knife on the other hand can turn something as simple as a green onion or a tomato into a work of art. One afternoon, when I was giving my knives a long-overdue sharpening, I tested my favorite knife, a 10-inch Henkels Four Star chef’s knife, by cutting one of my yellow pear tomaotes.

salsitaThis got my mind going on a variation on salsa fresca, using the pear tomatoes, read and green chiles, and english cucumbers. I wanted to take advantage of the nice new edge on my knife to cut the tomatoes and chiles in a unusual way, a sort of fine julinenne rather that the normal dice or food processer blend that creates so many salsas.

Ingredients:

  • yellow pear tomatoes
  • red and green serrano chile peppers
  • english cucumbers
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Going Places…

Sorry, but that Ozzy photo had to go. A bit much, wouldn’t you say? Might scare the kids and grandmas out there…And to be honest it was freaking me out a little bit, seeing it every time I came in here.

So anyway, just here for a bit of an update on doings and happenings in the world of Gabe. As you can see, try as I might to force myself into it, I’m still woefully behind on updating this blog’s design and getting back into posting regularly. Guess it doesn’t look all that bad, but to me it’s just not finished. But that’s all changing, right here, right now, isn’t it?

I still have a monster post or two to come on my Italy trip, which was beyond fantastic, by the way. It was my first trip to Europe, my only other overseas voyage being a 5-week adventure in Australia in 2000. I will go into great detail in a future post, but for now I’ll just say that I was amazed at just about everything I saw there: the landscapes, the architecture, the culture, the people, the food. It was all awesome. It goes without saying that the pizza and gelato were heavenly. Something I was not aware of was how delicious a plate of speck with potatoes and eggs tastes in high mountain hut while waiting out a hail storm. The centerpiece of the trip was a 5 day trail running tour that followed the Alta Via One trail in the Dolomites in the Süd Tirol region of Northeastern Italy.

Finding words to do justice to the adventure is proving difficult. But there are two that were constantly repeated in my mind as I ascended pass after pass, only to be greeted with an seemingly endless supply of the most beautiful landscape vistas I have ever seen: epic and idyllic. Seriously. This is the stuff that trail runner’s dreams are made of.  60 miles of point-to-point running and hiking through unbelievable natural beauty, with places to stay comfortably and eat well all along the way. Heck, this is the stuff anyone’s dreams are made of (unless you are incredibly boring, or just more into the whole sedentary/shopping/tourist thing)! In short, if you ever have a chance do not hesitate to visit this part of the world!

garrett_durang0_09CIMG0969I’ve been back for a little over a month, and I’ve already been up to Durango, CO and the Lake Tahoe area, both of these for work. I headed up to Durango to complete shooting of a series of videos my company is producing, highlighting our various hoof boots. Of course I had the still camera, so we went out and got some shots on the horse, as well. Durango is another fabulous and beautiful place, and it’s always a good thing to spend any time I can away from Tucson in the summer. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having grown up here, but I’m not. The blast furnace heat just plain sucks. It makes outdoor activities miserable unless one can find a way to drag their sorry ass out of bed before the sun comes up, and even then it can be hot a sticky.

The very next week, it was off to the Lake Tahoe area, for yet another work-related excursion. This one was an adventure all the way. I and a two others from our company were called on to help out with the Tevis Cup, which is the nation’s, and probably the world’s, most prestigious and most difficult horse and rider endurance race. Since our company makes and sells horse boots, we wanted to be there to show people that our boots are good enough to used in the toughest of conditions. The owner of our company was also competing in the race, which he has completed many times. He has also run this same course, yes, all 100 miles of it, since it is also the route for the Western States 100 trail running race.

Tevis09-45Tevis09-16Our duties consisted of assisting the owner in fitting horses with our Glue-On boots for the two days leading up to the race. In addition to riding the race himself, he agreed to fit boots on anyone’s horse who was riding the race at no charge. All told over 20 riders had their horses fitted with our boots, so needless to say we were pretty busy. The day of the race came and we learned the meaning of a long day. We were up at 3 am to make it to the starting area in time to move the many vehicles to places along the route. We then focused on meeting the riders we here assisting at various stops along the route and helping them and their horses out with food, water, and anything else they might need. At every stop they looked more and more exhausted. Our riders didn’t finish until around 3am the following morning, so by the time we made it back to bed it had been over 26 hours of nonstop activity. Not always easy, but it was an amazing experience. And I can only imagine what it was like for the horses and riders! Over the 50 year or so history of the race, the average finish rate is around 50%. That gives you an idea of how tough it is. Most of the time a horse will get pulled from the race for not meeting the strict condition requirements at the vet checks along the route. It’s good the see so much care and effort put into making sure the horses are well taken care of.

So that’s what I’ve been up to…going places.

I’m Going Through Changes…

Yeah. I’m finally getting around to changing my WordPress theme, because my old one just wasn’t cutting it. I’ve found a great new one called Atahualpa, that I highly recommend, and have used on a couple of sites, like this one, and that one. It is the most customizable I’ve found, and has terrific support should you have issues or want to do something out of the ordinary. And don’t we all have a few issues and want to do things out of the ordinary once in awhile?

Problem is, out of the box the theme needs quite a deal of tweaking to get things looking proper, so if things look weird around here for awhile, that’s why. This is a good thing becuase it will force my sorry, lazy blog-neglecting self to pay some attention to this thing. Right? Stay tuned…

My lord, that photo is frightening…

Postcards from Italy

Waiting for good lightWell I think this is about the best way to bring this poor neglected blog out of it’s slumber and back into the world. I am sitting here tapping away on my iPod, looking out the window at a most inviting scene: a small mountain village tucked away in the green, thickly forested mountains of far northern Italy.

I’ve come here to visit friends, to get out and see the world, to have adventure. So far the trip has been nothing short of perfection. The journey, though long and tiring as only overseas travel can be, was smooth and uneventful. I’ve completely avoided any real signs of jet lag, which is, I hear, rare and fantastic. One word keeps coming back to my mind, and I’ve decided it will be the word to describe this trip, this place, this time: idyllic.

The centerpiece of this trip is a five day running tour through some of the most stunning alpine scenery on the planet: the Italian Dolomites. We will cover roughly 60 miles over the 5 days, all on foot. But before you gasp and think me a lunatic (though I am), consider: throughout the mountains here there are huts. And when you think huts, think fully stocked hotels, complete with excellent food, beer, beds, showers, all comforts one could want after a long day in the mountains. We will not only be stopping at one of these huts each night, but we will also stop at one each day for lunch!

I know what you’re thinking: you call yourself hardcore? I never made any such claim. Or maybe: don’t you get out in the wilderness to get away from civilization? Well, all I can say is, it’s a European thing. Everything here is just so much more…civilized. But at the same time people have great respect for excercise and the outdoors. It is apparently very common here to see quite elderly people happily climbing up into the high mointains, always smiling and saying hello. Perhaps some of their happiness is owed the the amazing food that is available at some of these huts.

Picture: you just got done ascending a few thousand feet over a very short distance. You’re tired, very hungry, and some threatening storm clouds have moved in quickly. The temperature is plummeting, thunder is rumbling, and a hail storm seems inevitable. Wouldn’t you like to step into a cozy shelter where you could order a plate of eggs, potatoes and speck (think bacon x 1000) along with a cappuccino and a strudel as you wait out the storm? I would. If you’d rather sit under a tree in your rain gear and munch on dried fruit and power bars, be my guest.

So. I’m back. I will be posting with more regularity, though for the next few days I will be happily out of reach of the Internet. If you’d like to follow our progress and be made extremely jealous, you can find a Twitter feed of our tour here.
Do tune in to that, and stay tuned to this blog, as I have big plans for it when I get back.

Snowboarding in Colorado

So as you may have noticed, I’ve been seriously slacking on posting here in my blog. I guess the holidays put me off whatever small amount of rhythm I had going, and the inertia of ignoring the nagging little voice telling me to “post, post post!” took over. But no more! Here is a nugget of bloggish goodness to get things going again:

I had the great fortune to take a snowboarding trip to Colorado around the first of the year. My good friend and former roommate, Shawn, lives in Denver. His parents have a place in Empire, which is up in the mountains, minutes from several great Ski areas. They also have a brand new hot tub…I had four days in Colorado, so naturally we went for it and hit 4 different mountains in those 4 days:

Day 1: Loveland, day 2: Keystone, day 3: Breckenridge, day 4: Copper Mountain. It was fantastic do get out and do one of my absolute favorite things in the entire world: ride as fast as possible down snowy slopes with a board strapped to my feet. The thrill of flying down the mountain, leaning into deep, carving turns is almost indescribable. My mind quiets, and my entire awareness focuses down to what is right on front of me, keeping my body loose and flowing with the turns and bumps, picking the perfect line to carry me quickly down the mountain, ideally without eating it. Freezing air blasts my face and I smile, laugh, hoot and holler like a little kid. On the chair lift I get a chance to catch my breath and take in the amazing alpine scenery.

Something tells me I need to go live closer to big, snowy mountains…

Here are some photos from the trip. The only day I was brave enough to bring the camera along was the last day, Copper Mountain. I need to get a little point and shoot, I think.

Please read this and spread it: Plastics are not as safe as you think

If there is one thing that defines ubiquitous in our society, it’s plastic. Look around and you’ll see it everywhere. There’s no doubt that without plastics our world would be very different, and most likely a lot more primitive. Food, medicine, and electronics come to mind as areas where plastics are particularly crucial.

It’s the food area that really concerns me, and should concern all of us. Recent exposes on a particular chemical, Bisphenol-A, used widely in many plastics that hold our food, have revealed that plastics, especially when heated, are not nearly as safe as we have been led to believe. It is present in almost all food packaging, including water bottles, microwave meal containers, food storage containers, and the linings of all food and beverage cans.

This chemical, which appeared to be safe the low levels present in our food packaging, has been discovered to be and endocrine disruptor, which means that it can in fact be be harmful in very small amounts. Here are a couple of  links to information on Bisphenol-A:

I won’t write a big long article on this, as there is plenty of info out there. But I will give you my takes on this:

  1. Do not heat anything in plastic if you can help it. Heating plastic is a sure way to release chemicals from it. Use glass if you have to microwave. I bought a bunch of glass storage containers and if I want to heat a microwave meal, I take the food out of its plastic container and put it into the glass one or into a regular bowl or on a plate before heating it.
  2. Switch your water bottle out for a BPA-free bottle. Many companies, including Nalgene and Camelbak have already committed to BPA free bottles.
  3. Don’t reuse store bought water bottles. If you want to reduce waste, buy a BPA free bottle and refill it.
  4. Babies and children are particularly affected by these kinds of chemicals, so make sure your baby bottles are glass or BPA-free plastic.
  5. Replace all of your plastic food storage containers with glass containers. You can buy these pretty cheaply at department and grocery stores.

Here is a link to a very good PBS documentary news piece on the subject, that provides some very good information. Please take the time to watch it, it is a very informative and well put together piece that is highly relevant to all of us. After all, BPA is estimated to be present in measurable quantities in 93% of our population!

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/05232008/watch2.html

Is it a coincidence that many types of cancers related to the endocrine system (prostate cancer, breast cancer) are on the rise? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d rather not wait and see…