Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Growth - Pass It On!

Last week I took a quick Field Trip to get some herbs and veggies for container plantings. I do this every year because the righteous veggie garden will not happen until Phase 3 of the Front/Backyard Master Plan. To give you some perspective, we haven't started Phase 2 yet. So old-fashioned, in the ground plants will happen, but not just yet. The most exciting part was that this year was the first time I had my own finished compost to add to the pots! That Black Gold rules and more composting tales will come...

When we were living in Switzerland, I grew some herbs in a cheap little plastic container on the terrace. It was better than nothing. It was a success, so I brought the cheap plastic container home with me, as I consider it good luck. This year, it became the home of a new veg for me - lettuce! My lettuce needs a little extra good luck because my neighborhood has a ridiculously high squirrel population and I am sure they will make a snack of it sometime. But for now, the lucky plastic container houses lettuce and is perched, hopefully above squirrel realm, on the BBQ grill shelf. Nothing beats the taste of local lettuce, I know this from the yummy PA Dutch stuff I buy at the Lancaster Farmer's Market in Wayne. Hopefully my new addition will taste good, too.

The potting bench is also part of Phase 3. So I had to improvise and use chairs and a metal doormat. It all worked just fine! Everything is all potted up now. The future harvest will include my tried and true chives and jalapeno peppers, some serranos, Patio and grape tomatoes, rosemary, parsley, lettuce and another new addition of leeks.

I learned to love leeks in Switzerland, where they were always available and very inexpensive, unlike here. So I will take a stab at growing my own. Years ago, I had a big, traditional veggie garden, when I lived in the land of uber-fertile Western New York. The minerality of the soil did great things for my garden, but I didn't like leeks then, so I have never grown them. Should be a good experiment.

And a friend was kind enough to give me 2 adorable little basil plants, presumably clipped from her own or someone she knows. I can never have enough basil! Let me just emphasize how nice it is to get plants or produce from friends and family. Not only do cuttings from one's own garden make great gifts, it is sustainable. You can reuse the old nursery container to give it in. And it keeps a healthy, thriving plant alive and creates a wealth of new goodness for the recipient. Thank you!

Along the same lines, I plan to raid my sister's rhubarb patch next time I see her. I have the fruits of her harvest in my freezer now, but hope to get a plant next time. And eventually, I will also have some plants to pass along, but that will have to wait until Phase 3, for now!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wind, Ocean and Horses

No kayaking! We went to Assateague Island, Maryland to get out on the water for what seemed like an eternity away from it. But not this time. The 20 mile long barrier island was getting blasted with high winds all weekend.

I really missed kayaking when we were in Switzerland. Luckily, I found other ways to play in the water there, being so close to the Rhine. This summer I am sure to miss Rhine schwimmen, but last year I missed kayaking.

So this was supposed to be the first trip back in the water. We hoped for scenic bay coves full of wildlife and plant sitings. And maybe a little foray into the wavy Atlantic, if the weather was warm enough. All still in the spring, when kids are in school and beach-bakers are too cold to come out and shed their cover-ups. But it wasn't meant to be this weekend. The kayaks never even made it off the roof racks.

But that didn't stop us from exploring the island and the great parks. We camped at the State Park, right near the ocean. Just one dune separated us from it. It was nice to see a smooth, foot friendly beach. The beaches we visited in Italy were downright painful to walk on in some areas. I made it in the water knee deep. It was pretty chilly, but nice for May. But the crazy wind and blowing sand didn't let us stay at the beach too long at a time. Sort of felt like microderm abrasion, or what I would expect it to feel like if ever I had it.

We decided to go to the National Seashore Visitor Center to get some information. We watched a short film about the wild horses. The first full day brought some rain storms. We had walked through the State Park to get a better look around. Then when the rain came, thunder lightening and blinding conditions, we stopped under the overhanging roof of one of the bath houses for a while to wait it out. Then the sky turned nice again and we headed back to do damage control on the tent situation. One good thing about high winds is that they dry tents out quickly!

The next day, we headed over to the National Park side of the Island to do some hiking. They have 3 short trails that wander through the 3 ecosystems found on the Island: forest, dune and marsh. Each trail has educational signage to tell you what to look for. It was pretty interesting that each ecosystems share a common plant palette. Lots of Myrica pensylvanica, Pinus taeda and Hudsonia tomentosa, as well as Toxicodendron radicans.

From the National Park, we got a better view of the bay, coves and inlets. The whitecaps were still there, so no kayaking that day either. But the wildlife was pretty impressive. The famous wild horses were around, grazing and sleeping. I am no bird watcher, but it was easy to spot all types of shore birds in the marshes. They are really big things. I guess they need to be to survive Assateague's elements. We were lucky enough to spot one of the Island's Sika deer. They are small and always look like fauns. They retain their spots throughout their life.

I was interested to learn that the whole area was once a development, with 9000 homes planned. One nasty storm in 1962 wiped everything out and the idea of development was forgotten. Then the Island was made into parks and reserves. Remnants of one of the old development roads remains along the Dune Trail. It was an interesting juxtaposition of man-made elements and succession.

This scenery of this place was quiet and understated, although the 22 mph winds were not. We went from 85 degree days to 40 degree nights. It was amazing to experience the serenity of a barrier island with little development, against the extreme elements that nature casts upon it.

Next time, hopefully nature will allow us to add kayaking to the itinerary.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I have been back home in the good, old Philadelphia suburbs for about a month and a half. There was no real culture shock upon returning home. I expected the transition to be rougher and in fact, it was pretty easy. I am glad to be home, with my cat and my familiar house.

There are still many Field Trips tales to be told. So this will now be a mix of old and new stories. I look forward to checking posts off the list of stuff I want to write about from my past travels. And I look forward to adding to the list from my future Field Trips, even though I am no longer an expat. So look for a mixture of the two to come. Just because I am home, in familiar territory, my curiosity does not wane.

One of the big things I noticed that has changed in my neighborhood is that two of my favorite little places to eat have closed. One is a diner that has changed hands probably 3 times in 6 years. The last owner seemed to be pretty successful, but I think they have been sucked under by the recession. A hand-written Closed sign greeted us upon out return from Switzerland.

Our other favorite place is a tiny breakfast place, a little farther from home, but well worth the trip. It was a family owned breakfast and lunch spot. They had amazing Turtle pancakes and chicken fajita omelets, not to mention amazing coffee. When I was home for a few weeks last summer, they had changed their hours, only open on weekends. Last month I called one Saturday morning to be sure they were open and no one answered. May our favorite breakfast spot RIP. Again, I assume they are another recession victim.

And then the new Marshall's store opened. No, food and Marshall's are not usually mentioned as comparisons, but this is my world. Actually, one local store closed and a brand new one went up near my house. The parking lot is very poorly designed. It is in a new strip mall that houses stores like Aldi, Mattress Giant and the usual office, big box and home improvements stores. And a handful of crappy, unhealthy chain restaurants.

Despite the crappy parking lot design, this lot is always packed. Always. From day one on.

Why is it that people stop going to the cute, friendly, family operated food places. Now we have 2 less places to spend an hour or so in the morning, lingering over coffee, conversation, good food. Two fewer places to nourish body and soul and healthy relationships. Two fewer places to relax and contemplate. But yet there is a new Marshall's and it is always packed.

I guess many people in my neck of the woods would rather spend their time and hard-earned money on semi-disposable articles of materialism than on good food and time spent with loved ones. I love Marshall's just as much as the next person, but this chain of events is an interesting observation in how people choose to spend their money these days. These days of recession.