Hydroponic (wink wink) Gardening

Help me out here. I grew up before “weed” was everywhere and (well…almost) universally accepted. The only weed I knew was what I was instructed by my mother to pull out of our big Colorado vegetable garden.

My kind of weed: spotted spurge (BTW it’s a euphorbia and its sap can irritate your skin)

Well, that’s not quite true. It may have taken me a while, but I did figure out at some point that John Denver may have been singing about more than just happiness or getting high on booze when he croons “friends around the campfire and everybody’s high.” It’s not surprising that LoDo in Denver has a dispensary called Rocky Mountain High. How apropos. And what a way to remember John Denver! (Fact Checker: John reportedly denied that he referenced pot-smoking in his lyrics.)

Andy, who despises garden weeding, is focusing on weed in today’s Andy’s Corner. He wants this to be a “joint” effort.

My problem is this: I’m kind of intrigued with hydroponic gardening, but when I search for information about it, I wonder if the search results refer (wink wink) to growing marijuana. How can I learn more about hydroponic gardening and be sure I’m learning about something that’s intended for plants like tomatoes and cucumbers – and not weed?

For example, couldn’t a naive researcher (like me) mistake GreenEntrepreneur.com, WayofLeaf.com, HighTimes.com, PotGuide.com, GrowersSupply.com, or TheWeedScene.com for references to the thrill and challenges of gardening? 🙂

My interest in this all was piqued by an article in the NYTimes (we’ve downloaded it here for you, in case you can’t see it at the website) – “No Soil. No Growing Seasons. Just Add Water and Technology.” It’s a look at hydroponic gardening and all of the benefits it may have, as climate-change becomes reality. It’s definitely worth a read.

Hydroponic tomato-growing

What especially caught my attention were these two sentences in the Times’ article: the CEO of Bowery, the largest hydroponic company in the U.S., said “his farms are 100 times as productive as traditional ones and use 95 percent less water. Other companies claim they can grow as much food on a single acre as a traditional farm can grow on 390.”

No chemicals, pesticides, or GMOs; vine-ripened, Appalachia grown. Sounds good? That’s from App Harvest’s web page about their vegetables raised by large-scale hydroponic “gardening.”
AppHarvest’s enormous plant – in Appalachia. One of the appeals is that hydroponically-grown produce can be produced anywhere and so does not have to travel long distances to the market.

I don’t think I’ll be growing my tomatoes hydroponically next summer. Until I have the opportunity to taste and compare hydroponically-grown produce with “earth-grown” produce, I’ll remain skeptical. Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the chichi restaurant and farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, states that “truly delicious food can only come from the earth.” That may be true, but what if? What if hydroponics is our only viable choice?

I’ve learned to be accepting of weed. Now maybe I need to be accepting of hydroponics.

Produce from our earthy Glen Ellen garden

No matter where your tomatoes are coming from – your backyard or the farmers’ market – here are links to some of our favorite recipes for those tomatoes. For our most favorite lunch ever – try the bacon and tomato taco. It’s SO good! Or use your fresh, earth-grown tomatoes in soups, on toast, in a puff pastry tart, on a burger, and, of course, in salads. Enjoy them while you can.

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Is 82″ Big Enough?

For $2600 Andy and I can get a Samsung 82″ TV at Best Buy. For $200 to $400 – and possibly much more – we can buy 2 tickets for a Broadway musical. For $25 – or less- we can get 2 tickets to our favorite movie theater (The Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa, CA).

What do you think? An ad for the 82″ Samsung

Why the dilemma? We’re deep into watching past and present musicals and wondering if our 40″ TV will provide the proper experience.

Why musicals? Perhaps it was the TV/movie theater release of In the Heights. Maybe it was the release of the new musical/comedy TV series, Schmigadoon – a parody, obviously, on the 1947 Broadway musical Brigadoon. Or was it that having just watched Daveed Diggs in the movie Blindspotting, we were reminded of his role as Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton? More than likely it’s because we’re looking forward to a return visit to Brooklyn in the very near future and wondering what NYC musical we’ll be able to see (and afford).

As part of this research, we decided the other night to watch Brigadoon on our 40″ Samsung TV (which recently replaced our old 26″ Samsung TV). The movie was released in 1954, so Andy and I were 11 and 10 years old – and I’m sure we must have seen it then. I would have gone to the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins, CO, and I’m guessing it was pretty awesome to see such a romantic (if schmaltzy) musical.

Fort Collins, Colorado’s College Avenue and the Aggie Movie Theater, circa 1950’s. Attack, the movie then showing, was released in 1956.

Brigadoon, Schmigadoon.In the Heights, and then ???? Will there be a parody of In the Heights released around 2090? And what might it be called? A fun thought-game for your next free moment.

After an aborted attempt to get HBO Max just to watch the Lin-Manuel Miranda production – and an unenthusiastic response on our part to the TV trailers for In the Heights, and after I fell asleep in the middle of Brigadoon, I’m convinced that musicals – to be enjoyed to their fullest – must be on the big screen or best of all, live, in a theater. Better yet – on Broadway or in London!

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon. I stayed awake through this scene.

When I was talking to Andy about seeing musicals in person, he quickly reminded me about the time we saw the anti-Vietnam musical Hair in San Francisco; it was a logical jump from that to today’s Andy’s Corner…about a very funny/sad Vietnam experience Andy had.

And – looking forward instead of back – what can we look forward to in New York this year? How about Girl from the North Country with vintage songs from Bob Dylan? It’s re-opening in October after being forced to close the Broadway production a month after opening because of COVID. It’s almost eerie to read what Ben Brantley wrote in his glowing NYTimes review of the production in March of 2020 – that most ominous month:

A nation is broken. Life savings have vanished overnight. Home as a place you thought you would live forever no longer exists. People don’t so much connect as collide, even members of the same family. And it seems like winter is never going to end.

Sounds like the perfect uplifting and upbeat pray-that-it’s-post-Covid musical! But how can we resist Bob Dylan? And, when you read more of Brantley’s review, you may be standing in line at the box office with me!

Yet while this singular production, which opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater under McPherson’s luminous direction, evokes the Great Depression with uncompromising bleakness, it is ultimately the opposite of depressing. That’s because McPherson hears America singing in the dark. And those voices light up the night with the radiance of divine grace.

And now back to food. The purported subject of this blog. In honor of the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Hamilton AND In the Heights Andy and I were both fortunate enough to see on Broadway, we have two Puerto-Rico inspired recipes – Ropa Vieja and Natillas. When I find some unique and d-lish recipes from “The North Country” – Dylan’s home state of Minnesota – I’ll include them. 🙂

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“Your Most Perfect Food Is Your Sandwich”

Can we be “PC” and yet agree with Archie Bunker on one thing? For example, what if you (maybe secretly) agree with Archie when he remarked to his son-in-law, aka Meathead, “your most perfect food is your sandwich”?

Because everything you got in there.
You got in there, your meats is there,

your cheese is there, your
tomato sauce is in there.

Delicious bread on the top,
delicious bread on the bottom.

You take a bite of that and everything
is all nice and mixed up there.

And it goes down, all
mixed, see, with each bite,

And is it good.

I gotta have a
sandwich, Meathead.

from “Archie’s Weighty Problem” 1976

As you all know, All in the Family – consistently ranked as one of the best comedy series ever – was pretty controversial. CBS even went so far as to issue this statement before the opening episode: All in the Family “seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are.”

Wikipedia states: The show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for a U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, antisemitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause and impotence

That’s a pretty all-encompassing list of controversial topics!

I have a 1971 copy of Edith Bunker’s All in the Family Cookbook. While I don’t think you’d likely drool over the recipes in the sandwich chapter (highlights include a Sardine Salad Sandwich, a Liverwurst Swiss Cheese Sandwich, and a Leftover Fish Sandwich), I think most of us would admit to liking Archie’s favorite – a Sub (or a Hero, as Archie calls them) now and then.

Andy has a copy of Bee Wilson’s Sandwich, a Global History. Wilson’s description of a meatball hoagie would be right up Archie’s alley. The Argentinian choripán sandwich not so much. You can read much more about sandwich history in today’s Andy’s Corner.

Speaking of Hoagies and Heroes and Subs makes me think of the sandwich our Sonoma friend recently tried to replicate – the amazing Submarine sandwich she eats at Tagliaferri’s Delicatessen in Novato, CA. The sandwich she put together for us was delish! Archie would surely approve. We’ve got the recipe featured below. Plus, we’ve got two other perfect sandwiches – guaranteed to set Archie off on a rant but sure to please today’s sandwich eaters – a Vietnamese Banh Mi and a Mexican Cemita Milanesa.

OMGI gotta have a sandwich, Andy!

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Now that the Pandemic is/may be almost over (wishfully, possibly, hopefully), we can go back in our thoughts to Christmas 2020. At that time I couldn’t even mention the word “blue” – because it just brought tears. I know I certainly didn’t waltz around the house, belting out “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you” along with Elvis Presley on our Sonos.

In fact, I don’t think I did much holiday singing – period. Andy and I and our daughter, Sara – just the three of us – celebrated the holiday together, trying awfully hard to act as if we were tough and didn’t mind how crazy and sad and lonely the day seemed. And how do you plan and cook and serve a festive holiday meal for three, when there should have been eight?

But now we are SO ready for some singing and dancing and cooking – and DINNER PARTIES!. Our son, Travis – who didn’t make it out here in December (our first Christmas in 47 years that we were not with him) – was just here, working from home/mom and dad’s for 2 weeks. It was delightful. And there was lots of singing to Willie Nelson’s Blue Skies. “Blue skies, smilin’ at me; nothin’ but blue skies do I see.”

Lots of blue sky as Andy and Travis bicycled together in Sonoma

While I was thinking about “blue” and thinking about our 1+ year of isolation, I remembered this photo our grandson Moss took of a tile mural on the Harvey Milk elementary school near their SF home. When Moss originally showed me the photo I was moved by the 2 different-colored hands, firmly shaking. Today I’m even more moved by the circle of folks of all colors, holding hands. The emotional impact of holding hands and being close together in a diverse (mask-free) group means more now than I could have ever imagined.

Tile on an outside wall at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on 19th St in San Francisco

When you’re retired and have free time and love to cook (well, at least love to cook 90% of the time), it’s a joy to have someone new – and appreciative – to cook for. Travis’s visit gave me that chance.

And though I huffed and puffed about Ina Garten when she released her cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey – thinking that it’s so wrong for women to relish “cooking for their men,” I found myself thrilled to have created a teeny little, personal cookbook entitled Cooking for Travis. I relied on some of our favorite BigLittleMeals dishes – and cooked up a storm. So if you’re looking to celebrate vaccines and maskless faces, any of these will be a great recipe for your first dinner party. Maybe you can even hold hands before eating – and say (deep breathing), “THANKS.”

Pictures above show a few of our Cooking for Travis meals – the links below are for these recipes and several more that we fixed.

Turkey Chili
Sopa de Lima with Corn Salsa
Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes
Sweet and Sour Fish
Mediterranean Grilled Chops
Albondigas (Mexican Meatballs)
Greek Pastitsio
Zucchini and Mint Turkey Burgers with Sumac Sauce
Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Ginger and Soy
Easy Carnitas

Andy, too, helped contribute to the cookbook for Travis. It’s impressive when a father can talk about what he cooks for his children. In addition to Andy’s 5:30 am prep work – Deb’s Granola put out, blueberries dished up and strawberries cut up, yogurt on the table – Andy did some tasty grilling and made some impressive breakfast dishes – biscuits, breakfast burritos, plattar and sour dough waffles, to name a few. The one thing Andy didn’t get around to making is Oyster Stew. He’s big on oysters at the moment, as you’ll see in today’s Andy’s Corner. And an Oyster Stew recipe is sure to be forthcoming.

As for BluesFreeBerries – or Blueberries, if you’re not just coming out of a pandemic – here are two new recipes to try. You need to seek out the best organic blueberries you can find – and not get discouraged if you bring home a few boxes that don’t live up to your expectations. In fact, I recommend keeping your best berries to eat fresh and unsugared with your granola, since blueberries are considered a “superfood”- good for your heart, your skin, your bones, you name it. Then use your not-amazing-but-still-good blueberries for baking.

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Waffling Over Waffles

My mom’s 1950s-era Sunbeam waffle iron has moved with us from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and to Glen Ellen, California. It still works. And it’s still a warm (literally and figuratively) reminder of a very special mother and her cooking.

But, of late, it’s been displaced in our kitchen by a Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker with Non-stick Removable Plates, Browning Control, and Drip Tray.

It’s been a bittersweet decision. And we’ve waffled about it.

waffle (n): kind of batter-cake, baked crisp in irons and served hot,” 1744, from Dutch wafel “waffle,” from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German wafel, from Proto-Germanic *wabila- “web, honeycomb”   Waffle iron is from 1794.

waffle (v.) 1690s, “to yelp, bark,” frequentative of provincial waff “to yelp, to bark like a puppy” (1610); Figurative sense of “talk foolishly” (c. 1700) led to that of “vacillate, equivocate” (1803), originally a Scottish and northern English usage. Late 17c. Scottish also had waff “act of waving,” variant of waft, which might have influenced the sense.

(thanks to The Online Etymology Dictionary for that definition help)

Marie Kondo can preach about decluttering – but maybe the harder part is figuring what to do with what’s been decluttered.

What do I do with my mom’s waffle iron? Post it on NextDoor or Facebook Marketplace? Sell it on eBay? Put it in front of our house with a “free” sign? Give it to the Goodwill (which in our area has become pretty selective!)? Search for a needy person or grateful friend to bestow it upon? OR just keep it, tucked away, in hopes that one of our offspring will find it at some later date and treasure it?

There’s a fun website – and NYC store – with vintage toasters and waffle irons that have been refurbished (and sell for lots of $$!). It’s ToasterCentral.com, should you be in the market for one. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t want to buy old toasters and waffle irons, so I’ll cross that off the list of possibilities for riddance.

I just learned about the Buy Nothing Project after reading the comments made on this recent NYTimes article about decluttering; admittedly, I feel a little out-of-touch that I’d never heard of it before. According to their website, two friends from Bainbridge Island, Washington, started the project in 2013. According to “BuyNothing 101″…

BuyNothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide gift economy network in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies.

My first reaction to the name – the BuyNothingProject – was “I can’t do that! I LOVE to buy things.” But after reading a little more, it appears I don’t have to quit buying to be a part of the group. Maybe I just need to cut back, which isn’t such a bad idea.

BuyNothing continues:

Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas. It most certainly creates connections between people who see each other in real life, not just online, leading to more robust communities that are better prepared to tackle both hard times and good by giving freely.

Andy – ever and always the social scientist – wonders how many manufacturing jobs will be lost if we all start cutting back on our purchases. There’s never an easy answer, is there!

As for our waffling over which kind of waffle we prefer, Andy decided to focus on the kind of waffle he really finds yucky. In fact, today’s Andy’s Corner focuses on how one person’s yucky food is another person’s yum food.

Our current yummy Belgian waffle recipe makes use of Andy’s sour dough starter, which is a good thing, since the sour dough bread-making around here has gone missing. What a relief that we found something else to do with that starter. If you don’t have sour dough starter and don’t have a friend to get some from free – and you don’t want to buy it or make it, try our favorite Buttermilk Waffle recipe, which comes from the 1989 New Basics Cookbook and uses the traditional waffle iron – or try Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffle recipe, another favorite of ours.

If you find yourself waffling over whether or not to buy a waffle iron, think about your local BuyNothingProject (here’s a list of the USA groups and be aware that the Project is transitioning away from Facebook to their own App). Perhaps a neighbor is decluttering and wants a home for their used waffle iron. Think of the rewards: there’s less stuff in the landfill, you make a new neighborly friend, they declutter, and you get a free waffle iron. It’s a win win situation. No waffling necessary.

Meanwhile, I wish I could send off my vintage Sunbeam waffle iron to the British artist Joe Rush, who uses old metal items in his sculptures. His most famous work, done with recycled electronic items, must be the recent Mt. Recyclemore, depicting the 2021 attendees at the G7 Summit. What a way for metal to go! That’s Biden, BTW, on the right. The one on the far left is a gimme, if you look at the hair!

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