Mexico, flu, antibiotics, and death.

Everyone seems to wonder why people are dying from the “swine flu” in Mexico, but not in other countries where the virus has been confirmed. (The one US death was a little boy visiting from Mexico with unidentified “underlying health issues.”)

I have a theory. Or an idea. Or a question.

It is common practice in Mexico to self-medicate with antibiotics at the first sign of illness. (Antibiotics are widely available there without a prescription.)

Antibiotics kill bacteria, including commensal bacteria. 

Commensal bacteria are an important component of the human immune system.

So, are people who self-prescribe antibiotics for a viral illness compromising their immune reponse to that illness?



(If you’re interested in coverage of swine flu, especially as it relates to factory farming, check out The Ethicurean‘s Aporkalypse Now series.)

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Wild broccoli: creasy greens flower buds.


When I was a tiny kid I used to love climbing around the hillside above our pasture looking for creasy greens in the early spring. 

I still love creasy greens.

Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, in the mustard family. They taste a little mustardy, a little sweet, a little bitter. Reminiscent of very young collards, but wilder. 

I like to pick them when they’re about to bloom, when they’re a lot like “wild broccoli” (or broccolini, rapini, broccoli raab, or whatever they’re calling it these days). 

Wander over old fields or woods edges, find creasy bunches that are about to bloom (here’s a picture), and pick the buds, plus a few inches of tender stem. Cook them any way you like, but I think they’re especially good in a frittata with some ramp greens, or green garlic.

Here’s how:

Pick creasy greens buds. Rinse if necessary.

Saute in fat of choice (schmalz, lard, butter, or olive oil) with some ramp greens, green garlic, or onions.

When cooked through, add a few eggs that are slightly beaten and seasoned to taste. (Remember, frittata should be mostly vegetables. You don’t want to use so much egg that you overwhelm the filling. Egg is there to hold it together. As the boy says, “Frittata is not an egg dish.”)

You can cook the frittata on top of the stove for a bit, then finish it under the broiler, or you can do it the Italian way: once it’s set well on the bottom, detach it and turn it over in the pan to finish cooking.

Either way, it’s rather tasty.

We had some the other day with cold baked potatoes and homemade ramp mayonnaise, and some spring greens. (The mayonnaise was good on everything, including the frittata. Eggs on eggs — it must be spring!)


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Crabapple twitter for the week of 2009-04-26

  • Drinking bee balm tea, and trying to be patient about planting by the signs. #
  • Adoring bee balm, which has saved my poor frayed nerves once again. #
  • Enjoying this crazy weather! Sunshine, black sky, hail, sunshine, showers, blue sky… what next? #
  • The sequel to yesterday’s crazy weather? Snow! #
  • Down a few hundred feet in elevation… fast forward Spring! #
  • Preparing for the plant explosion that will come with the warm weather. #
  • Crabapple blossoms on the mountain. #
  • Making mayonnaise with duck eggs. Wow, that stuff is thick. #
  • Dandelion wine strained off into the carboy. Such a lovely, sunny color! #

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Crabapple twitter for the week of 2009-04-19

  • Simmering reishi… such a satisfying, earthy bitter. (The boy does not agree. “Can you make it into a liqueur?”) #
  • Locked out of my blog by a wordpress upgrade. Grrr. New posts as soon as I can get back in. #
  • Admiring our tiny tomato seedlings! (Black Plum, Blue Beech, Federle, Hungarian Heart, Rose de Berne, Nyagous, Principe Borghese.) #
  • Our little sweet pepper starts are up! (Roasters: Buran, Chervena Chushka, Sweet Chocolate. Fryers: Jimmy Nardello, Marconi) #
  • I have access to my blog again! (Sorry if there were display issues this morning. I had to disable and update all my plugins.) #
  • Excited to start a new batch of honey wine! #
  • Hot pepper babies are up! Barely hot at all: Alma Paprika. Hotter: Georgia Flame, Joe’s Round, Cilegia Piccante. Rather very hot: Fatalii. #
  • Just heard “Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture” as a sponsor-ad on NPR. Greenwashing knows no bounds. #
  • Excited about the new ramp patch our neighbor said he’d show us. #
  • Brought my little tomato seedlings out to meet the sun! #
  • Going to gather some creasy greens flowers (aka “wild broccoli”). #
  • Tell the state of WV to allow a religious or philosophical exemption from compulsory immunization: #
  • Off to the farmers market! #
  • Cold baked potatoes with ramp aïoli. Nettle and rice frittata. Garden arugula with more ramp aïoli. Spring. #

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Spring supper, Appalachian style.

rampsandbeans.JPGThere’s nothing so West Virginian as ramps and beans. Especially with cornbread. And especially when all the ingredients come from your own land, or just down the road.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are the national food of West Virginia. The proper term for a serving of ramps is a “mess.” (As in this sentence, from my neighbor the other day: “I don’t dig too many ramps. I’ll have a few messes, but then I get tired of digging ’em.”)

People say ramps will make you stink, but that’s not necessarily so. Cooked ramps won’t give you any more odor than cooked garlic will. (The scent of a big mess of raw ramps, on the other hand, will come out on your skin the next day.)

Ramps have always been a backwoods thing, and fancy town people tend to be scared of them. I know someone who runs a nice restaurant not too far from here, and she tells me that when the place first opened, she naïvely put ramp quiche on the menu. She didn’t sell a single serving. (Customers recoiled in horror: “But I’ll stink!”) Now she’s wised up. She calls them “wild leeks” and they’re, ahem, wildly popular.

Now, non-Appalachian fancy people are all about ramps these days. They’re trendy in New York, where I’m told they go for $30 a pound. This is a worrying development, because ramps are not easily farmed, and they’re very vulnerable to depletion in their wild habitat. If you do harvest ramps, only pick where they’re very abundant, and only take one or two from each patch. If they aren’t super-abundant where you are, consider picking only leaves, or leaving the bottom quarter-inch of bulb in the ground to regenerate.

We’re lucky to have a big bag of ramps in the fridge right now, so we’ve been putting them in everything. (Eggs, soups, greens pizza, pesto — everything but ice cream. My sister pickled some and served them in Bloody Marys at Easter.) But ramps and beans are still my favorite. With cornbread. Southern, crispy-crumbly all-stoneground-corn cornbread. 

Make your own:

Soak and cook your beans. (I used tiger eye beans from last year’s garden, but ramps are good with any brown or white beans.) Salt them well. Set aside.

Clean ramps well. Chop, and saute in good local lard or bacon drippings. (Schmalz is good, too, if pigs aren’t your thing.) When the ramps are cooked to your liking, add the beans. Simmer a bit.

For the cornbread, heat your oven to 400F or so, and put a nice number 12 cast iron skillet in there to get hot (yeah, you can use any baking dish, but a good hot skillet makes it crispy like it should be). Make sure you have fresh, coarse stoneground cornmeal. (We’re lucky to be able to get old-time multicolored “bloody butcher” corn from a local miller.) Mix about 2 cups of cornmeal with a teaspoon of salt and a little less than a teaspoon soda. Add about a cup and a half of buttermilk or sour milk (yogurt works too), an egg, and a couple of tablespoons of melted fat (lard, bacon drippings, schmalz or butter). Mix it all up and bake it in the hot skillet for, oh, a half hour or so, or until it’s nice and brown. This is a really flexible recipe. You can mess with the ingredients a lot without much trouble. (The other night we were out of eggs, and the cornbread came out perfectly tasty without them.)


(We had some of last year’s hard cider with ours. A perfect meal!)

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Citrus season: marmalade!


My cousin Nina is a marmalade queen. All winter, it seemed, she had a pot of marmalade bubbling on the back of her stove.

She inspired me and the boy to make several big batches of the lovely stuff before we left the land of local citrus.

We did four kinds: ponderosa lemon, bitter seville orange, bergamot, and blood orange (left to right in the picture). They taste nothing alike, and they are all incredibly tasty. The lemon is bright and fresh, very thick and pectiny. The seville orange is a classic marmalade, orangey with a sharp edge. The bergamot is incredibly fragrant and strong, with thick, chewy pieces of rind. And the blood orange is sweet and spicy and soft, absolutely amazing on ice cream.

It’s very easy to make marmalade. Here’s my lazy method:

Slice your citrus. (Make the pieces about the size of the chunks of peel you’d like to have in the finished marmalade.)

Take the seeds out as you slice. Put them in a small muslin bag, or tie them up in cheesecloth. (They provide your pectin! If you don’t have many seeds, as sometimes happens with eating-type oranges, add some extra seeds from another citrus.)

Put your citrus and wrapped seeds into a big, nonreactive pot (i.e., stainless steel or enamel).

Add enough water so that the citrus barely starts to float.

Simmer for forty-five minutes or so, until the pieces of peel are done to your liking.

Set aside to cool.

After the mix is cool, remove the seed bag (squeeze out all that lovely slimy pectin first).

Put your marmalade back on medium heat, and start adding sugar. (I do this by eye, and by taste, but the traditional proportions are 1 part each of citrus, water, and sugar, by weight.)

When the marmalade is as sweet as you want, keep it simmering until it reaches the texture you’d like. (To test the gel, drop a bit onto a plate and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it. This will give you a good idea of what the texture will be like when it’s cooled. If you have trouble getting it to gel, you might need more sugar, or just more patience. But I say there’s nothing wrong with soft marmalade — all the better to spoon over ice cream!)

You can use one kind of citrus, or a mix. You can even add ginger like the English do sometimes. Or whatever strikes your fancy.

Have fun!

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Hysteria is anti-useful: food safety edition.

I know you’ve gotten one of the email forwards:

“It’s the end of the world! Organic farmers will all go to prison! It will be illegal to garden in your own backyard!”

Well, let me just tell you, that’s ridiculous. That kind of absurd scare-mongering only makes it easy for lawmakers to dismiss the people with real concerns about several food- and farm-related bills in congress right now.

Food and Water Watch has a good summary of the situation here.

The bottom line: Don’t get hysterical. Do call your senators and congresspeople. Do tell them you’re concerned about the effects of food-safety regulation on small farms. Tell them it’s important for any legislation to take into account the different needs of different kinds of farms. And while you’re at it, tell them they need to outlaw the dangerous and unsafe factory farming methods that brought us things like E. Coli hamburgers.

The Organic Consumers Association says this: “write to Congress to urge it to enact food safety legislation that addresses the inherent dangers of our industrialized food system without burdening certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations.” Makes sense to me.


Home! Springtime! Daffodils!

I am so glad to be home.

San Francisco is paradise, but paradise makes me nervous.

I am very glad to be back in a place where the only meyer lemon marmalade I can find is the one I made myself!


Peek-a-boo; or: the blogger reappears with radicchio.

The blogger disappears and pops up in … San Francisco!

I’m in the Bay Area visiting family and friends. I’ve been busy trying to convince my ninety-three year-old grandfather to talk to me on tape. But in between cajoling sessions, I’ve had a chance to check out some local farmers’ markets. (How could I resist?)

Look at these lovely heads of radicchio:


My favorite way to eat radicchio in the winter:

Quarter the heads.

Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a cast iron pan, and add a generous amount of olive oil.

Add radicchio.

Cook on low, partially covered on a back burner while you’re doing other things.

Turn the radicchio pieces every once in a while, until they’re nicely browning and melty all over.

(If they start to crisp, turn the heat down. You want them melting and carmelized, not fried.)


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