Not long after we moved to here, we planted a couple of blueberry bushes in the backyard.  As with many of our Florida gardening ventures, this one could not have been called a rousing success.  Or perhaps it could, in a relative sense, simply on the grounds that the bushes are still alive.  But they never seemed to bear more than a handful of berries each year, and the birds always got to most of those before we did.

This year, however, was different.  I have no idea why; but look at all the berries on this branch!  (Click on the picture for a larger view.)


So Porter decided it was about time we stopped ceding the crop to the birds, and built this:


Was he more clever than the birds?  We'll let you know when the berries ripen.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Edit
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altWhen will I learn not to trust product labels?  I tasted these delightful cocoa almonds at the Daleys' and didn't resist when our local Publix had them on a buy one, get one free sale.  They were just as good as I had remembered, and Porter agrees with my assessment.

The problem?  Hidden away at the bottom of the ingredient list—which otherwise is agreeably small, for a snack food—is that hateful word, "Sucralose."

Now, I'm not opposed to artificial sweeteners for those who want to use them.  Xylitol, for example, is an important part of my dental care, and I don't want any well-intentioned busybodies trying to ban it.

But I'm also in favor of full disclosure when it comes to food products, and hiding artificial sweetener behind small print is cheating.  One ought to be able to assume that a product is sweetened naturally unless otherwise clearly informed.  They could at least have used the same upper case letters that boldly inform me that this product "CONTAINS ALMONDS."  Really?  A product named "Cocoa Roast Almonds" contains almonds?  What is the world coming to?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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altI mentioned Speculoos à Tartiner before, when in January this unusual Christmas gift caused both U.S. Customs and the TSA concern on my return from Switzerland.  Now that Porter and I have been in the same city long enough to broach the jar, I find it deserves a post of its own.

The giving and receiving of this liquid gold at Christmastime should become a tradition on the order of stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Speculoos à Tartiner looks and spreads like peanut butter, and tastes like a Biscoff cookie.  Thus far we have only sampled it on bread—plus a small, furtive spoonful this morning in the interest of journalistic accuracy.  For the future I'm thinking pancake, waffle, and ice cream topping, fruit dip, frosting for a creamy vanilla cake, and a new twist on cinnamon rolls.  What would you suggest?

It was with much trepidation that I looked at the nutritional data on the label, but it's quite comparable to peanut butter, being higher in sugar, but with fewer calories and less fat.

I'm curious to find out if any of my readers can obtain Speculoos à Tartiner at a local store.  Wegmans, for example, is my court of last resort when it comes to unusual foods—what a pity the nearest store is 800 miles distant.  But there's always the Internet, where you can buy this confection under the name "Biscoff Spread":  $12.95 plus $5 shipping (continental U.S.) will get you two jars.  One could easily replace the marshmallow chicks in an Easter basket.

Or you could schedule your own trip to Europe.  True, that is somewhat pricier, but also infinitely more rewarding.  And in all likelihood it will earn you personal attention from Customs and the TSA upon your return.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 9:00 am | Edit
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What shopping at your standard grocery store, with its standardized food, won't tell you:


The fruit on the left is a lemon, and on the right is a grapefruit.  All natural, from local (Central Florida) trees, healthy (as well as healthful), and absolutely delicious!

I should have put something recognizable in the picture for sizing; the grapefruit is about the size of a baseball.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 7:35 am | Edit
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altStephan's thoughtful parents gave Porter a jar of Speculoos à Tartiner for Christmas, and I can't wait to try it.  It's made by Lotus, the same folks who make the incredibly delicious Biscoff cookies Porter occasionally brings home from a plane flight.

I don't have as much quarrel with the TSA as many people do, but I am tired of having my luggage singled out for hand inspection nearly every time I fly.  On my most recent trip to Switzerland, I wasn't particularly surprised to find the tell-tale TSA notice in my checked bag when it and I were finally reunited (that's another story), because I was carrying a large, metal cylinder filled with dangerous ... candy canes.  The can did a great job of protecting the fragile candy, but must have looked intimidating on the x-ray.  There is no packing job so good that the TSA can't make a hash of it, but the only victim of their efforts was one crushed chocolate truffle.  We promptly destroyed the evidence.

On the way home I thought I had a chance of escaping.  I had a few bizarre encounters with airport security—none of which involved pat-downs, I'm glad to say—but it wasn't until I landed in Charlotte that my checked bag became a problem.

First, I was singled out for special treatment at Customs, because I'd answered honestly the question, "Are you bringing any food into the country?"  That always gets me into trouble, although normally as soon as I explain that the food is chocolate, cookies, and similar items, they lose interest.

Not this time.  Everything, including my purse, went through a scanner.  "What's in the jar?" I was asked.  "It's kind of like peanut butter," was the best I could do, but it was sufficient.  The pleasant Customs officials released me, and I thought I was home free. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:52 am | Edit
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On this Thanksgiving Day, as we prepare for a very traditional American feast, I’ll take time to be thankful for the tremendous variety of food now available from other countries and cultures all over the world.

I’m a great fan of the locavore movement; I know from my childhood that nothing tastes as good as food that not only comes straight from a nearby farm, but also has a distinctive local flavor.  But there is also something to be said for being able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter.

Even better is the opportunity to enjoy fruits, vegetables, spices, and prepared foods that were unheard of when I was growing up:  sushi, satay, tandoori chicken, naan, fajitas, egg rolls, mango lassi, bok choi, passion fruit, kung pao chicken … the list is long of now-common foods that were unavailable to most Americans 50 years ago.  I’d never even had a bagel till I went to college with a large crowd from New York City.

What a multicultural feast our table has become!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 6:06 am | Edit
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altThinking in Pictures:  And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin (Vintage, 2006) (Expanded from the original 1995 version)

I’ve already written about Temple Grandin, the movie, which was the inspiration for getting this book from the library.  It’s well worth reading, and the only reason I’m sending back unread the two other books of hers I picked up at the same time is that I realized I must put the brakes on my reading for a while.  At the very least I need to substitute books I won’t be tempted to review.  Smile

Thinking in Pictures would have convinced me, if Grandin’s own commentary on the DVD had not, that the movie is an accurate, if not perfect, portrayal of her life.  It’s fascinating to read about autism from the inside out, as it were, and also interesting to note her opinion that for all the advances we have made in understanding autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as a child in the 1950’s she had a few advantages over today’s children.  School classrooms were well-ordered and quiet; the noise and chaos often seen classrooms now would have been impossible for her to handle.  Parents, teachers, and other adults worked hard to instill good manners and polite behavior into children; these are difficult but essential skills for autistic children to learn, but they are sadly neglected today.  Finally, there were no video games then, which encourage solitary activity; she was forced to interact directly with other children through board games, outdoor play, and other normal, 1950’s-era activities. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Edit
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When I was a child restaurant meals were very rare, the stuff of vacation travel and anniversary dinners.  My father carried a homemade lunch to work, just as we children carried ours to school.  When we did eat out, the food was rather ordinary—though I'll admit I thought a Howard Johnsons hot dog followed by their special peppermint stick ice cream was the highlight of many a vacation.

I wouldn't trade our homemade meals and family dinners for any five-star restaurant, but what I love about eating in the 21st century is the great variety of food now available from cultures and traditions all over the world.  From Indian to Korean, Ethiopian to Moroccan, Thai to Lebanese—this is a great time to be eating!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I am thankful for the baby formula that is available today.

I know.  Me, the Notorious Despiser of Artificial Baby Feeding, thankful for infant formula.  But it’s true. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:43 am | Edit
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altFruitless Fall:  The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, New York, 2008)

Fruitless Fall had been my "to read" list since mid-2009 and, thanks to generous family, on our bookshelves since Christmas.  I loved Jacobsen's Chocolate Unwrapped, so why it took so long to begin this book is beyond me.  Once begun, however, I couldn't stop, and finished it the same day.  There are a few compensations for being sick and not having the energy to tackle much of anything else.

Speaking of feeling sick ... Fruitless Fall is scarier than The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc., and Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal combined.  Or perhaps the effect is cumulative.

That's not to say the book isn't a delight to read, doing for honey and beekeeping what John McPhee's Oranges did for the citrus industry many long years ago.  (I wish someone would write an update, as McPhee's book ends when frozen concentrate was king.)  The overall theme is the recent precipitous and inexplicable decline of bees and beekeepers, with many side notes (some delightful, some frightening) along the way.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 6:38 am | Edit
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Regular readers of Lift Up Your Hearts! know I'm a fan of Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog, though I blush to admit I haven't (yet) read her book of the same name.  I've written quite a few comments there, and a recent letter I sent evolved into a guest post, which you can find here:  A List that Sums Things Up Nicely.

To anyone who may have wandered over from the link at FRK, welcome!  Things are pretty random here, as this is where I post, for family and friends, whatever happens to be on my mind.  That way they don't have to hear me talk about it quite so much.  Okay, so it's really just a small portion of what is buzzing around in my brain; fortunately, life imposes time limitations.

In the upper right hand corner you'll find links to what it's all about here, and various disclaimers and disclosures.  Thanks for visiting!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 11:32 am | Edit
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altEverything I Want to Do Is Illegal:  War Stories from the Local Food Front. by Joel Salatin (Polyface Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 2007)

Until now, I've written more about Joel Salatin than I've read by him:  almost a year ago in Strange Bedfellows?  Not Really, and three months later in my review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Wanting to correct that sin of omission, I grabbed the only one of his books available in our local library:  Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.

On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system.  And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.  How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength.  The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe.  The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers.  When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol. — Joel Salatin

Salatin wants to opt out of a little more of the system than I do, but I hear his cry.  You could call him bitter, but if you consider the miracle that is Polyface Farms, you have to wonder why our government is working so hard to stamp out such elegant, inexpensive, healthy, delicious, and truly "green" (in a conservationist sense) endeavors. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 9:21 am | Edit
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With all the fuss lately about illness caused by salmonella in eggs from factory farms with highly dubious practices, it was especially delightful to take a trip—farther than the grocery store, but closer than our church—to Lake Meadow Naturals farm.  They have a pick-your-own program on Saturday mornings, and we did just that, reaching under the hens to retrieve a dozen warm-from-the-hen eggs, at a price of $3.50.

Unlike many of that designation, these hens really are free-range:  they were ranging all over the yard when we arrived, along with several other types of fowl, including guinea hens, which are the pest control service, being voracious eaters of ticks and other nasty bugs.

I really liked the look of the place, and the friendliness, and hope to return many times for wonderful, fresh eggs.  I'm a little disappointed that the yolks are not the deep orange color of the eggs Heather gets from her farming friends, and of the eggs we ate at the bed and breakfast in the Ticino part of Switzerland.  But there's no doubt these chickens are healthy, free-range, and lovingly cared for, so I'll be happy with that.  Maybe when their less-common breeds are laying I'll notice more of a difference.

We also bought two duck eggs, which were good, but not sufficiently discernable from chicken eggs to encourage a wholesale switch, since we paid $1 each for them.  Maybe next time we'll try the guinea hen eggs.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Edit
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Living with other people for several weeks is a good way to experience new foods and new food combinations.  If those other people happen to live in another country, the opportunities multiply.  And if they also subscribe to a local organic farm's weekly vegetable delivery, get to try Swiss chard.  Verdict?  Not bad, though I think I'll like it better mixed with other things, such as in an omelet or on a pizza.  It's related to beets, but I find the taste more like spinach.  As it was with Heather and Jon's Community-Supported Agriculture farm in Pittsburgh, the weekly vegetable lottery is fun to play, and Stephan (like Jon) is particularly good at figuring out how to make good use of fennel, fresh tarragon, and eggplant as well as potatoes, lettuce, and zucchini.

What's a visit to Switzerland without trying a new variety of chocolate?  When Stephan brought home a bar of dark Ovomaltine, I was at first skeptical. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 5:23 am | Edit
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I left the new family to their own devices on Saturday morning, when Stephan's mom whisked me away for an adventure.  There is a small farm in nearby Riehen which, as I understand it, specializes in biodiversity/heritage breed conservation of berry plants.  On this day, they opened their farm to the public for tasting!  We could take nothing away, not even by purchase, but were welcome to taste and enjoy all we wanted.

(Somewhere therein is a metaphor for life, I'm certain.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Edit
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