25 April 2012

Planting my own seed in the guerrilla gardening movement

Guerrilla gardening attempt.

A couple of weeks ago, Richard planted a tree. This isn't a new occurrence for Richard. He has planted many trees in our yard before that are all growing nicely.

This tree is a renegade. An illegal. A product of guerrilla gardening.

Across the street from our house, there is a patch of dirt where a sidewalk tile never was. The patch gets trampled everyday as students from the nearby college trudge to and from class. The row houses behind the patch are rented properties that looked very rented. Meaning, the people that live in the structure do less than inhabit it, they abuse it.

I used to be like that, so I understand the mentality: if you don't own the property or structure, there's very little incentive to care for it, maintain it or improve it. For me, that meant beer stains on the carpet, scuff marks from black-soled shoes and water damage in the bathroom that I merely shrugged my shoulders at. Not my problem, I thought. I'll be out of here in a few months.

Things have changed, though. I now own the property I live on. I have invested lots of time and money to make it look and function the way that I want. And most of my actions have been contained to within said property lines, like painting shutters, landscaping the backyard and adding raised beds to the bare, concrete slabs out front.

Until now.

Baxter checking out the tree.
This tree is not motivated by a need to provoke social change. I am pretty well convinced that young twenty-somethings are content to have trash strewn about the streets and alleys, while living in dwellings that just meet code. So I feel no need to motivate them to care for this patch of dirt that I see every time I look out my front window and that my dog waters every morning on our stroll.

Some guerrilla gardeners, like Erik Knutzen, coauthor with his wife, Kelly Coyne, of "The Urban Homestead," see the act as "a reaction to the wasteful use of land, such as vacant lots and sidewalk parkways."

I just want to mend an eyesore.

See it in there?
After a quick perusal of the Internet, I am pretty sure the dirt patch belongs to the City. Technically, if they find the tree, they have every right to tear it out by the roots. But from the look of the neighborhood, and the look of the city budget, I doubt anyone will mind, even if they notice.

Just a couple of weeks into this guerrilla gardening foray, I predict the biggest threats will be feet -- particularly the stiletto heels of drunken collegians -- or lack of rain.

14 April 2012

Chickens cat fight over mouse

A small population (I hope) of field mice took residence in the roof of my chicken coop last fall. I don't have a cat, so the chickens play the part of mouse-control. It's not as if they prowl for the mice, or go on patrols to check for recent mouse activity. (They have better ways to spend their days like scratching dirt and straw up into their water dispenser so it clogs or climbing on the roof of their coop to attempt an escape over the fence.) But if a mouse ventures across their path, or over to their food supply, the chickens act swiftly, and without mercy.

It's impressive to watch the chickens in action as they dart in and peck down on the mouse. It's pretty much over for the mouse after that first swoop. But the chicken that did the killing then proceeds into a dance-like game of keep away with the other. Either the mouse gets torn in half and they each enjoy the spoils, or one of them swallows the mouse whole.

This is a video I shot recently of my two chickens fighting over a mouse. The darker chicken is Sarah Palin. The lighter is named Liz Lemon. The small dog barking is Baxter.

Spoiler alert: If you don't like watching animals eating other animals, then don't press play.

07 April 2012

Turkey Sludge Chili: Better than it sounds

Turkey Sludge Chili
It's spring. That means, in just a few months, it will be summer. Summer means there will be lots of delicious, fresh, local produce to eat, yes, but also preserve for winter. In order to properly preserve all the delicious food, one needs an empty freezer.

My freezer is the opposite of empty. Purely in an effort to make some room in said freezer, this recipe* was born.

Take one turkey. Prepare it for Thanksgiving. Eat not enough. Strip meat off bones and save for soup. Take rest (including but not limited to what you can't get off bones, broth, etc.) and place it in large soup pot. Cook down to a thick, "sludge-like" goop. Freeze goop for at least a year. Defrost goop. Put it back in the soup pot you cooked in down in. Turn on heat.

While you're waiting for the sludge to freeze, thaw and heat, grow summer squash, string beans, tomatoes and kidney beans. Pick, wash, dry, prep, freeze and thaw those.

Add to sludge.

That's the foodie adding something.
Let the ingredients come to a boil. Oh, probably add some water and salt and stuff. Let all that mix and mingle while your nose is filled with delicious smells and your belly rumbles and keep that up until you can barely stand it anymore! Wait more.

While waiting, clear off kitchen table you slob. Put out things you will need to dine comfortably. Ex. Beverages -- including vessels to put the beverages in, napkins, delicious sides of your preference, or aesthetically-pleasing centerpiece. Don't forget spoons!

Get back to what's in the soup pot. Place some in a bowl and add a dollop of pesto (not sure how that works, but going with it). Ring the bowl with tortilla chips (okay, now we're making sense).
It should look like this right before you start eating.

EAT!!!! Get seconds!

*I don't really know the recipe, nor does one really exist. This is just a day-in-the-dinner of my life with a foodie.

04 April 2012


Get ready for a rave.

Flying to Iceland in March, I was expecting cold weather, lots of snow and hoping for some northern lights sightings. Basically, I was looking for the winter that never came to central PA, or much else of the east coast this year. Iceland did not disappoint.

Our trusty rental car -- with heated seats!
Walking out to the rental car, a benign wind was swirling light snow around the parking lot. With my gloves not easily accessible, I took to scrapping ice off the windows barehanded. But I was rewarded immediately when I plopped down on a heated seat. Maybe I just grew up cheap, but until that moment, heated seats and I had never met. It was love at first sensation. The heated seat button was pressed and lit under my butt for the rest of the trip. I still miss it.

The plane dropped us off at 6 a.m. As we drove into Reykjavik, the country was waking up. The sun must have been rising, but it was impossible to tell by looking at the sky. Snow was blowing around the car. The closer we got to the city (about a 45 minute drive), the more cars seemed to be joining us.

Once we parked and started exploring, the snow took a break, but the wind kept us company. The clouds let the sun through a couple of moments in Reykjavik that first morning. The wind hung with us the whole trip at one speed or another. The sun only made occasional visits.

Empty Icelandic roads.
Driving away from Reykjavik, map in tote, it was like we were driving away from civilization in Iceland, back to a time before cars when quiet homesteads were tucked beneath ragged, black peaks, each hint at humanity separated by miles. There may be cars now, and stretches of paved road, but people outside of Reykjavik haven't felt compelled to move closer to each other.

The island nation is home to just 300, 000 people who share a swath of inhospitable land about the size of Kentucky. It was wonderful to drive for hours and see just a few cars. Logic tells me the lack of people is a result of the season. (Tourists find summer in Iceland lovely, I hear. So much so that all of the rental cars on the island have been booked at once.) But being in an environment where humans are rare is so satisfying to me that I choose to pretend Iceland is always vacant.

Ate our first meal in Iceland while watching the falls.
We took the Ring Road counter-clockwise around the island in seven days. The first evening we stopped at a waterfall just off the main drag that was flooded by two spotlights. The waterfall has a path behind it, but we opted to appreciate the sight from the front side. It was drier. The parking lot had two heated restrooms in the corner. Don't tell Iceland, but we made dinner on our camp stove inside the handicapped bathroom. It had a table and running water so we could even do our dishes!

That took us past Vatnajokull National Park, the largest National Park in Europe. The park is basically one huge glacier and is the home of the highest point in Iceland, Hvannadalshnuker. We attempted a climb, but I got spooked by a local school marm. She let us crash in her basement, but told us a chilling bedtime story about two boys who climbed up on the glacier and never came back.

Richard and I made it back, but our poor knowledge of the glacier, and its crevasses, the horrible visibility we had and the violent wind encouraged our turn-around. We'll give it a try again in the right season and with someone who knows the way.

The next stretch of the Ring Road followed the south east coastline up and back along fjords. We stopped in Hofn, "pronounced like an unexpected hiccup" says Lonely Planet, for a meal and to taste the local beer. There's glacier water in it, apparently. The meal was seafood, duh.

6km tunnel. Richard was like a kid at Christmas.
By this point, we were three days into our trip and we made some serious miles. Richard found a 6 kilometer tunnel on the map, which was a must-do. We visited the largest forest in Iceland. There aren't too many trees in Iceland. The wind keeps them from growing too high and the occasional volcano eruption works to control population growth.

Reindeer enjoying the winter clime. Too windy for my taste.
The forest grows along the east shore of Lagarfljot, the Icelandic twin of Loch Ness. The 38km-long, 50m-deep lake is believed to harbor a monster. The Lagarfljot Worm has been sighted since Viking times, allegedly. I didn't see it, but I found the trees more exciting than trying to stare into the muddy-brown water.

Richard "standing" on the crater lip.
The next day we climbed to the top of a crater that formed about 2500 years ago. It rises 463 meters and stretches 1,040 meters across. It is a landmark of the Myvatn area. Myvatn is a pretty, blue lake circled by black lava fields. Super cool. Hverfell, the loose-graveled crater, is on the east shore. The sun was shining, the snow was deep and soft and the wind was battering. I cannot describe the speed of the wind except to say it completely altered my opinion of a swift breeze. Turning into to climb down made my chins burn and my eyes water. It was impossible to stand upright. Nor was it possible to walk without using my ice axe as a crutch. I needed two points of contact to keep from loosing balance completely.

After glissading down, we treated ourselves with a local treat. Hverabraud is a moist, cake-like rye bread that is slow-baked underground. It was delicious alone or with cheese.

Next we drove to Akureyri, the second-most populated town in Iceland. We visited on a Sunday which means EVERYTHING was closed. Therefore, I was not impressed by the town, although I'm sure it's lovely any other day of the week.

Does it get any better? There were beer holders built into the rock, so no.
After a nerve-racking stretch of road up and over a mountain pass where my visibility was impaired, sometimes completely, we dropped down to Varmahlid. We were able to stay in a cabin perched above the town. The best part, clearly, was the stone hot tub. We took two dips that evening to bookend our meal of risotto and fried fish balls found at the local grocery. And took another soak in the morning before we checked out. WONDERFUL.

Halfway up Trollskagi.
After a quick tour of the nearest fjord, and a toe-dip in the Arctic Ocean (I kept the shoes on), we climbed part-way up Trollskagi. I was just in my running shoes and we had no food or water, so we turned back after an hour or so. Nice view though.

The next part of the drive, I don't remember too well. I was napping. But Richard steered us toward Snaefellsjokull, the volcano Jules Verne sent his characters into in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The clouds hid the summit and the best road to access the glacier was impassable, so we hung out around the base. It sits right at the west end of a peninsula, so we watched the waves smash against rocks until a hail storm sent us racing back to the car.
My buddies singing for food.

That evening we made our way back to Reykjavik. We got a hotel room right in the center of the city on the top floor. After a culinary sampler of traditional Icelandic food, which included putrified shark (gross, by the way), we hit the bookstore and spent the rest of the night packing for the flight home.

On the way to the airport, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland's premier hot bath spa. We stayed so long in the creamy, blue pools that we almost missed our flight.

Just two days into the trip, we were discussing the agenda for our return trip. So, Iceland, you'll be seeing more of me.