Starting the Gardening Year

I started seeds last week for a few of the slow growing vegetables and herbs I want in my garden this year. Remember, I am in Zone 7, so I can plant tomatoes outdoors safely by our average last frost date of April 10th. Of course, my garden season runs year-round here, and right now I have a choice every day of picking collards, kale, spinach, chard, pea leaves, beet greens, and scallions. To review my process for starting seedlings, read my post from last February. By the way, the two seed catalogs illustrated here are my favorites. I highly recommend you send for the Baker Creek printed catalog - the varieties, the photos, and the stories about where the seeds come from are amazing.

This has been an unusually warm winter. In fact, I spotted my first crocus flowering today in one of the rock gardens, and my lenten roses (hellebores) are in bloom. But it's also been wet, with rain every few days, it seems. So there's no telling exactly when I'll be able to plant directly in the garden. Meanwhile, these seeds are now warm and wet and hopefully will germinate soon:

TOMATOES - I'm diverting from my allegiance to heirloom seeds in this category, due to my ongoing battle with blight. I bought some hybrid tomato seeds called "Iron Lady" from High Mowing Seeds, which are described as early- and late-blight resistant. I want to get my own good harvest of tomatoes, which I've missed out on during the last couple of years. I'm also trying a second variety from the same company, called "Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes".

PEPPERS - I've started 3 varieties, all of which I have grown in past gardens and enjoyed:  Jalapeno, Marconi, Albino Bullnose

PARSLEY - curly and flat, both of which I use abundantly, particular in tabbouli.

STEVIA - in case mine doesn't come back from last year

Garden HUCKLEBERRY - I grew these blue berries in the garden 2 years ago and enjoyed cooking them into a sauce, similar in taste to blueberries. Except for a bug eating the leaves, they were easy to grow and produced continuously all summer. Read more about them here.

QUINOA - I cook quinoa grain and decided to experiment this year and try growing my own. This variety comes from Baker Creek and it is called "Cherry Vanilla Quinoa" because of its big bi-color flower. The plant's leaves and seeds are edible. My climate might be too hot, but I hope, at the very least, that I get pretty flowers and leaves for my green smoothies.

PANSY - Just for fun, I'm starting some Giant Swiss Pansies. They are so lovely, flower abundantly before the weather turns hot, and the flowers are edible.

I'll be starting more seedlings indoors next month and I'll keep you posted on my varieties. Get some seeds going yourself!


Pink Eggs (and Ham, if you prefer!)

Right up front, I'll admit… I love boiled eggs. But even if you don't like them, this is an easy, beautiful, make-ahead, and tasty dish which is perfect to bring to potluck gatherings.

If you raise your own hens for eggs or, like me, you are fortunate to have friends who do, this eye-catching hors d'oeuvre is a great way to use them. I love deviled eggs and egg salad, but I had never made pickled eggs. I first saw these in a buffet prepared by Tellico Kats Deli, where owners Kellye and Tomye shared how they had been eating these since growing up in Pennsylvania. This made more sense when I searched online for recipes and discovered that beet pickled eggs are an Amish dish. I've adapted my version from several recipes.

The recipe can easily be doubled, but my 'new' antique egg server has 12 slots, so I cooked 7 eggs… one for me to eat and the rest cut in halves to serve. I'll be sure to make these again when my chrysanthemum daisies with bright yellow centers and magenta petals are flowering, so I can decorate the platter with a matching floral arrangement in the center.

Pickled Eggs and Beets

1 pint jar or 15 oz can of sliced beets (not pickled)
7 hard-boiled eggs, peeled *
1/2 c cider vinegar
1 T honey
1 T pickling spices
1 stick of cinnamon
optional: one small onion, thinly sliced

Drain and reserve the juice from the beets into a large measuring cup, and add water to make 1 cup of liquid. Put the cooked whole eggs into a one-quart canning jar and top with the optional onions.
A loose tea sack for the pickling spices

Put the pickling spices into a tea ball, mesh sack, or other strainer. In a saucepan, add the beet juice mix, vinegar, cinnamon stick and pickling spice bag and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and stir in the honey. Caution - this mixture will stain, as the finished eggs illustrate. Wipe up any spills with a disposable wipe, not your favorite dish cloth!

Pour the simmered liquid into the jar of eggs while hot (Tip: never pour very hot liquid into a cold jar or you'll risk breaking the jar - and having a dangerous hot liquid pouring out; if necessary, run hot water over the outside of the jar to warm it). Add the spice sack, then put the reserved beet slices on top. Allow to cool, then cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 5 days ahead, giving the eggs time to absorb the color and flavor. If the eggs are too tight against the side of the jar (and still look white), gently insert a narrow rubber spatula into the side of the jar, to maneuver the eggs and liquid around, for more even coloring.

When ready to serve, remove the beets and onions with a slotted spoon, draining in a sieve. Discard the spices. Gently remove the eggs next, setting them on a paper towel in a flat dish so the liquid is absorbed. Discard the pickling liquid. Cut each egg in half, and arrange with the beets on a serving platter.

* To hard-boil eggs: Set eggs in a saucepan and cover 1" over with cold water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, keeping covered, and leave for 10 minutes. Pour off the water and run under cold water over the eggs to cool them. Some say it helps to peel each egg under running water, and finding the thin white membrane right under the shell makes it peel off more easily, in bigger pieces.

This dish is perfect for a baby girl shower, a pink-themed bridal shower, or a tea party. You might slice one of these pink eggs into rounds and arrange them around the outside edge to garnish a bowl of potato salad. Or, if you serve these and end up with any leftover eggs, try what I did: a pink egg salad... yummy and lovely. Be creative and play with your food!


The "Good" List

In response to my last post about the donors who opposed the California proposition for GMO labelling, here is one more post - a list of those who SUPPORTED the proposition. These are the companies I will support with my $$$, and theirs are the products I will trust to use and consume.

This list is from ballotpedia.org

Donor Amount
Organic Consumers Fund $1,334,865
Mercola Health Resources* $1,115,000
Kent Whealy** $1,000,000
Nature's Path Foods $660,709
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps $566,438
Mark Squire/Stillonger Trust (Good Earth Natural Foods) $440,000
Wehah Farm (Lundberg Family Farms) $251,500
Ali Partovi $219,113
Amy's Kitchen $200,000
Great Foods of America*** $177,000
Alex Bogusky $100,000
Clif Bar & Co. $100,000
Cropp Cooperative (Organic Valley) $100,000
Annie's, Inc. $50,000
Michael S. Funk **** $50,000
Nutiva $50,000

* Joseph Mercola was one of the main financial supporters of Proposition 37. He is an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago. According to Mercola, "Your health care, your food supply, everything you need to live a healthy life is now being taken away and controlled by a massive industrial complex and corrupt government."

** Seed Savers Exchange co-founder

*** Supermarket chain in NJ

**** CEO of United Natural Foods Inc (UNFI) national distributor of natural and organic foods (Judy's note: my coop food buying club is UNFI)
Also, arguments in favor were presented by Grant Lundberg, Chief Executive Officer of Lundberg Family Farms


How to avoid buying GMO

A few products now display this certification label.
 After my last post, on GMO info, some readers asked how they can choose products which are non-GMO. In California last November, a ballot proposition which would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods on some fresh produce and processed foods was defeated 53.1% to 46.9%. Shoppers in 61 countries around the world have this "right to know" if their food is genetically altered, but it is not required in the USA. The California campaign in support of labeling - backed by organic food advocates, organic growers and manufacturers, retailers, labor and consumer groups -  spent $9 million on 2 weeks of tv advertising to promote a "YES" vote. The opposition spent $46 million on six weeks of tv commercials, lead by Monsanto, which sells patented seed and spent over $8.1 million itself.

Certified organic products, by definition, do not include GMO ingredients. Beyond this, it's difficult to know if food you buy has altered DNA. But it makes sense to me that if you want to avoid buying GMO products, since they aren't labelled, begin by eliminating products from the companies which spent huge sums to fight California's labelling proposition. In fact, I plan to boycott these companies by not buying their products, and I encourage you to do the same. Below is a company list, published just prior to the November election:

Monsanto $8,112,867
E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co. $5,400,000
Pepsico, Inc. $2,145,400
Grocery Manufacturers Association $2,002,000
DOW Agrisciences $2,000,000
Bayer Cropscience $2,000,000
BASF Plant Science $2,000,000
Syngenta Corporation $2,000,000
Kraft Foods Global $1,950,500
Coca-Cola North America $1,700,500
Nestle USA $1,315,600
Conagra Foods $1,176,700
General Mills $1,135,300
Kellogg Company $790,000
Smithfield Foods $683,900
Del Monte Foods $674,100
Campbell's Soup $500,000
Heinz Foods $500,000
Hershey Company $493,900
The J.M. Smucker Company $485,000
Bimbo Bakeries $422,900
Ocean Spray Cranberries $387,100
Mars Food North America $376,650
Council for Biotechnology Information $375,000
Hormel Foods $374,300
Unilever* $372,100
Bumble Bee Foods $368,500
Sara Lee $343,600
Kraft Food Group $304,500
Pinnacle Foods** $266,100
Dean Foods Company *** $253,950
Biotechnology Industry Organization $252,000
Bunge North America $248,600
McCormick & Company $248,200
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company ‡ $237,664
Abbott Nutrition $234,500
Cargill, Inc. $226,846
Rich Products Corporation $225,537
Flowers Foods ^ $182,000
Dole Packaged Foods $171,261
Knouse Foods Cooperative $164,731

• Unilever includes Liptons, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Knorr, Hellmans, Bertolli, Vaseline, Dove

** Pinnacle includes Duncan Hines, Log Cabin, Mrs Butterworth, Vlasic, Birds Eye, Hungry-man, Van de Kamps, Cascade, Husmans

*** Dean Foods includes Bordens, Pet, Meadow Gold, Oak Farms

^ Flower Foods includes Nature's Own, Cobblestone Mill, Captain John Deere's, TastyKake, Blue Bird, Mi Casa

‡ Wrigley includes Skittles, Orbit, Altoids, chewing gum, Lifesavers
Other food companies who contributed to the "no" campaign (but with checks of less than $150,000) included Sunny Delight Beverages, McCain Foods, Tree Top, Idahoan Foods, Richelieu Foods, Land O'Lakes, Hillshire Brands, Morton Salt, Clorox, Goya de Puerto Rico, Sargento and Godiva Chocolatier.

For more info, click here.


What do you know about GMO?

Someone recently asked me why a packaged food label said "Non-GMO." Since my blog focuses on good health through nutrition, I feel compelled to educate my readers about GMO - genetically modified organisms. The truth about what are being called "frankenfoods" is frightening, and it's time my readers - and the public - educates themselves about what is in their food.
You might not see blue tomatoes at the supermarket,
but it's what you can't see in your food which might scare you.
Photo from rareseeds.com

A company I order my garden seeds from, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, defines GMO as follows:
"A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) results from a discipline called Genetic Engineering which involves taking genes from one species and inserting them into another. For example, genes from an arctic flounder which has "antifreeze" properties may be spliced into a tomato to prevent frost damage. It is impossible to guide the insertion of the new gene. This can lead to unpredictable effects. Also, genes do not work in isolation but in highly complex relationships which are still not fully understood. Any change to the DNA at any point will affect it throughout its length in ways scientists cannot predict. The claim by some that they can is both arrogant and untrue."

The Institute for Responsible Technology defines GMO as:
"A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as "transgenic" organisms. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM); they are one and the same."

Just reading these two definitions should be enough to make someone what to know more. 'Don't think this is something which affects you? Consider this: currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (88%), canola (88%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (small amount), sugar beets, and tobacco (Quest® brand).

Products derived from the above list are other major sources of GMOs in our foods, including oils from all four grains, soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, among others.  You need to also beware of GMOs in (look for "Non-GMO Project" verified seals on packaging):
  • meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for feed);
  • dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone);
  • food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses; and honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen.
  • non-food items that may contain GM ingredients include cosmetics, soaps, detergents, shampoo and bubble bath. Pharmaceutical companies use Aspartame in some laxatives, supplements and children’s vitamins.
What else can you do? Buy certified organic products, which, by law, cannot intentionally include any GMO ingredients; grow your own vegetables from non-GMO seeds, and educate yourself with the resources listed below. You might also go eat in Europe, where at least 174 regions, more than 4,500 councils and local governments have declared themselves GM free. Even in our most liberal state, California, the referendum to to label GMOs was shot down in the last election, thanks to the onslaught of big money from big food and chemical companies, like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, Kraft, Dow, Dupont, and others.

The movie documentary "Food Inc," which I've recommended in the past, includes eye-opening cases involving farmers and the large corporations which create GMO seeds. Additionally, much has been written about GMOs, so I won't try to duplicate the info. Here are a few hot links to good sources of information, to help increase your knowledge, and, I hope, lead you to better decisions about what you are eating:

Please - don't wait another day to learn what GMOs are and how the are deteriorating your health.