Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rural Delivery: Home for the Holidays

Home for the holidays.

That was always Grandma’s house as I was growing up. For nearly twenty years, no matter where we lived or what the circumstances, our family made a regular pilgrimage to Grandma Amelia’s home, a clean and spacious ranch-style structure on the rural edges of Billings, Montana.

Grandpa Ben lived there too, of course, but it was always “Grandma’s house.” She was the one who kept up the place and made arrangements, answering the phone and greeting us at the door with hugs and kisses.

Most of all, it was Grandma who cooked the meals – all of them. While Grandpa held court from his seats in the living room and at the head of the dining room table, it was Grandma who ruled the kitchen. And it was from her cookery that the savory scents and mouth-watering meals emerged, time after time, and year after year.

The look and smell of that kitchen, embedded since infancy, follows me everywhere. My parents moved from place to place, and I’ve done the same, but Grandma’s kitchen never changed. It was a small island of permanence amidst all our vicissitudes.

In a space about 10 feet wide by about 14 feet long, stove on one side and refrigerator on the other, Grandma baked and braised, fried and stewed, roasted and grilled. A small window above the sink at one end of the room looked out over a half-acre of back yard and garden, a landscape that changed just a little over the years. At the other end of the room, there was a small table for two where Grandma sat when she talked on the phone or played cribbage. In that space, a kitchen both ordinary and personal, Grandma Amelia spent a good portion of half a century preparing meals that sustained two husbands and nourished four children and entertained housefuls of spouses and grandkids and, eventually, great-grandchildren.

Her flaky buttermilk biscuits and roast turkey and sweet potatoes emerged from that kitchen along with green bean casseroles and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and thick, flavorful gravies. There was always apple and rhubarb pies, cookies, cakes and fudge. No one went without dessert in those days.

We came to her table, friends and family, sons and daughters, grandchildren and neighbor kids; we laughed, we cried, we teased and joked, complained and worried, grew older, changed shape, and eventually, moved on.

She’s gone now and it has been many years since I actually sat down at that table, but I’m always there at Christmas and Thanksgiving and every other day worth remembering.

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuna from San Diego, California

Frozen smoked Tuna and Frozen Ahi Tuna Loins are available from Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego, California, which has listed its tuna on the Buy Direct Directory at Farmer's Market Online.

The smoked tuna is hot smoked, fully cooked and has a deep smoky flavor. It is currently priced at $12.00 per pound. The Ahi Tuna Loins Tuna are a firm red meat with a full flavor, priced at $8.00 per pound.

Look for links to Catalina Offshore Products in California on our Tuna page as well as on the Buy Direct Directory and the California Farmers Markets Directory.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Recipe File: Barley Wine Marshmallows

These ale-fluffed confections were originally made by Executive Sous Chef Piet Vanden Hogen at Pelican Pub in Pacific City, Oregon. Using Pelican Pub's Wee Heavy or a local Barley Wine will add a bit of beer flavor to marshmallow-topped mugs of hot cocoa, or as the filling for adult S'mores, made with graham crackers and bittersweet chocolate. Featured on page 189 of The Best of American Beer & Food by Lucy Saunders.

3 envelopes plain powdered gelatin (3 tablespoons)

4 to 5 ounces cold water

Unsalted butter for pan

1/4 cup sifted organic
powdered sugar for pan

4 ounces decanted (no foam) Scottish ale or Barley Wine

2 cups pure cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

6 ounces corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon
Madagascar Bourbon

vanilla extract

2 cups organic powdered sugar sifted with 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Use organic powdered sugar for best taste and texture. Adjust water to soften gelatin according to humidity and elevation. The texture of bloomed gelatin should be thick, smooth, not grainy.

1. Bloom or soften gelatin in 4 to 5 ounces water in the bowl of a stand mixer. While gelatin softens, prepare 9x13-inch glass pan by buttering inside and sprinkling with powdered sugar to cover base and sides; shake pan so sugar is evenly applied.

2. Combine ale or barley wine, sugar, salt, and corn syrup in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat, and bring to soft-ball stage, 238° F on a candy thermometer. Mixture will foam and turn caramel colored.

3. Place bowl with bloomed gelatin into a stand electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn mixer to Medium-Low and slowly pour in hot syrup, whisking into bloomed gelatin until it starts to fluff. Do not whip too fast or the hot syrup will splatter. Whip until white and fluffy, about 10 minutes, adding vanilla extract during last minute.

4. Scrape mixture into prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar-starch mixture. When cooled and set (from 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on humidity), turn slab out onto a cookie sheet dusted with half the powdered sugar mixture. Slice into cubes with sharp knife or scissors dipped in warm water between each slice. Roll cubes in remaining powdered sugar mixture to coat evenly. Air-dry until not sticky (varies by humidity). Keeps up to 10 days in sealed container.

Makes about 50 marshmallows.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Husbandry: Obedience Training Refined


A few year ago, trainers may have forced a dog to learn the command "sit" by placing his hand on the animal's rump. Today's methods are quite different, according to Dr. Pamela Reid.

"We no longer use physical manipulation because we have realized that reward-based training is much more successful."

As example, Dr. Reid points out that a simple way to teach your dog to sit is to take a treat and slowly move it over their head. Most dogs will track it with their eyes and sit down on their own. At this point, you can reinforce the behavior with a reward and begin to associate it with a word.

Another innovation that has been enormously successful is the use of a "clicker" -- a small device that owners can push to make a clicking noise. The noise can be used to help the dog understand that it has done something good. When the dog sits on command, the owner clicks the clicker and gives the dog a treat.

When the owner wants to teach the dog to put its paw out hand and "shake," the owner waits until the animal places its paw on his or her hand by its own free will and then makes a "click" followed by a treat. The animal quickly learns that the click means it performed well.

Another valuable piece of training equipment is The Gentle Leader, invented by veterinary behaviorist R.K Anderson, which makes the choke collar appear barbaric. It fits onto a dog's muzzle and head just as a horse halter would, allowing for more control, yet it is not nearly as traumatic as other training collars.

Dr. Reid steers away from using choke collars and pinch collars in her practice, but in cases where either a choke or a pinch collar needs to be used she advocates the pinch collar. The pinch collar is effective punishment, however the choke collar just chokes the animal and annoys them.

As vice president of the ASPCA's Animal Behavior Center in Urbana, Illinois, Dr. Reid frequently counsels pet owners, veterinarians, trainers, and shelters on behavioral issues. In her eyes the profession has changed greatly compared to just a few decades ago.

"We have really come a long way with the advent of reward-based learning pioneered by Ian Dunbar," she explains.

Source: University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

In Season: Air Plants

This is an opportune time to start growing air plants. Belonging to the genus Tillandsia and members of the Bromeliad family, air plants absorb water and nutrients primarily through their leaves rather than the roots.

Tillandsia bloom naturally in late winter through mid-summer. A new plant will generally bloom within a year and produce 2-8 young plants ("pups"). Each plant flowers just once in its lifetime, but subsequent generations will bloom each year at about the same time. Blooms last from several days to a few months, depending on the species.

There are over 550 species of Tillandsia (plus many hybrids), that are native to Mexico, South American and Central America. Only one species has been found outside the Americas. Sixteen species are natives of Florida.

Friday, December 26, 2008

FAQ: How do I get my product featured on the state or province directories of the Open Air Farmers Markets Directory?

We recently started including photo links to products featured at Farmer's Market Online in each state or province on directory pages like the California Farmers Markets Directory
and the individual market profile pages link the one for the Encino Farmers Market.

These links are provided at no extra charge to help promote our vendors' products and the markets in their home state or province. The links are directed to the Booths of vendors who have leased Booth space for their product, or to the product page of Listings on the Buy Direct Directory. We currently do not offer off-site product links on these pages.

Vendors who Lease a Booth at Farmer's Market Online or List a product on the Buy Direct Directory will be included on the farmers markets directory for their home state or province and, where available, on the local market profile page.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Free Sample: Don Francisco’s Breakfast Blend Coffee

Fill out an online form with contact information and four survey questions to receive a complimentary sample (.75 oz package) of Don Francisco’s Breakfast Blend Coffee.

This bold roast is Don Francisco’s darkest coffee and is roasted to let the coffee’s natural sugars caramelize to deliver smoky, caramely, dark chocolaty flavors.

Available While supplies last. Offer expires February 28, 2009. One per household. Continental US only.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rural Delivery: The Dark Side of Paradise

The idyllic vision of life in the country is a dream for many who imagine rolling hills, beautiful streams and a leisurely pace. But West Virginia University researchers question that scenic tableau in a study showing that injuries requiring hospitalization occur at much higher rates in rural areas.

“The perception is that life in rural areas is peaceful, tranquil, serene,” said Jeffrey H. Coben, M.D., a professor in the WVU Injury Control Research Center. “If you just look at violence – person against person – the rates are higher in urban areas. But for virtually every other cause of trauma, the risks are substantially greater in rural areas.”

Compared with urban counties, hospitalization rates for injuries were 35 percent higher in sparsely populated rural counties and 27 percent higher in more populated rural counties. “As the population density decreases, the risk continues to increase,” Dr. Coben said.

The study, published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is the first of its kind, according to Coben. Previous studies have examined injuries related to a single activity or in a single state. Other studies have analyzed deaths, also shown to be higher in rural areas. The WVU study looked at all reported injuries of people who were admitted to hospitals for treatment in the United States in 2004, the last year for which data were available.

Large urban counties carried the highest hospitalization rates for assaults. But rural counties led in hospitalizations for motor-vehicle crashes, falls and poisonings. Self-inflicted injuries were also higher in rural counties, with poisons, knives and guns the instruments of choice.

“What we are seeing across-the-board is, in both fatal and nonfatal cases, people who live in rural areas suffer more trauma,” Coben said.

Even though death rates from injury are already known to be higher in rural areas, studying nonfatal injury rates is important, Coben said. “By demonstrating that there’s also a significantly higher injury rate in rural areas, we’re showing an increased incidence of injury is the problem – not just access to care or the promptness of care.”

Some injuries are attributable to high-risk occupations such as mining, farming and logging.

Why are injuries from motor-vehicle crashes more prevalent in rural areas? Not only are people more likely to drive longer distances for recreation and to work, but also seatbelt usage is lower. Highway improvements such as barriers or dividers between opposing lanes are less likely to be in place, and roads that wind through mountainous areas are more likely to be treacherous.

Previous studies have shown that people who live in rural areas are more likely to take part in risky behaviors such as recreational drug use, drunken driving or failing to use seatbelts. Plus a culture of self-reliance may cause people to undertake household fix-up chores that are inherently dangerous, such as roof repairs.

“All of this contributes to a high rate of serious trauma,” Coben said.

West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center
American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Rural Delivery: A Carol's Tale

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

Most songs don't keep. People sing them for a few years, then lose interest. New tunes replace the old in a continuous cycle and yesterday's lyrics are soon forgotten.

Even Christmas carols, the most traditional sounds in American music, have fairly shallow roots. The most popular Christmas song to date, "White Christmas," was composed by Irving Berlin in 1942. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" only dates back to 1962 and "Away in a Manger" is just over a century old.

Hardly anyone sings old Christmas classics like "La Bonna Novella" and "Nowell" any more. Both were big European hits in the 16th and 17th centuries. So was the German carol "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.")

Like a well-worn pair of boots left on the back porch, old songs lie forgotten until they lose their usefulness. Then they don't seem to fit any occasion.

One Christmas carol defies this musical evolution. It plays as well today as it did in 1818, and to ever larger audiences. Composed in a single day by two amateur musicians, it began its charmed career in Oberndorf, Austria on a Christmas Eve.

Oberndorf is a small farming community about 18 miles north of Salzburg. From the fields surrounding the village grow small grains, potatoes and sugar beets. At its heart rises the Church of St. Nicholas.

In 1818 this part of Europe was exhausted. The Napoleonic Wars had finally come to an end after claiming a heavy toll of lives and resources. This Christmas, at long last, would be a time of peace.

Choir Singing a Christmas HymnAt the dawn of Christmas Eve the assistant pastor of St. Nicholas was perturbed, however. Mice had eaten away the bellows on the church organ which Joseph Mohr had planned to use for midnight mass. He would have to improvise an alternative.

Mohr sat down and wrote a poem. What was on his mind at the time no one knows, but a couple hours later he had six stanzas of what would become a world-famous Christmas carol.

The young cleric took his poem to a friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, who had a flair for music. Mohr asked him to compose a melody for two soloists, a choir, and a guitar accompaniment. By mid-afternoon the task was done and the choir in rehearsal.

When the villagers of Oberndorf filed into St. Nicholas for mass they had no idea what history was being made. Few would have guessed that the simple song they were about to hear would outlive them and their church.

Mohr and Gruber stood up solemnly in front of the congregation. Gruber held a guitar, and as he began strumming it they started to sing:

"Silent Night. Holy Night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace...."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Out There: Serious Climate Changes Looming Closer

The United States could suffer the effects of abrupt climate changes within decades—sooner than some previously thought--says a government report. It contends that seas could rise rapidly if melting of polar ice continues to outrun recent projections, and that an ongoing drought in the U.S. west could be the start of permanent drying for the region. Commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the report was authored by experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other leading institutions.

Out There: Serious Climate Changes Looming Closer

Friday, December 19, 2008

Contests: Invent Your World Challenge

The Lemelson Foundation is offering $20,000 scholarships for inventions that create a positive change. Its "Invent Your World Challenge" is open to all youth between the ages of 12 and 20 in North America and Europe, and ages 12 and 24 everywhere else.

Ask yourself: What can you invent to make life easier, the planet greener, and the world better?

Come up with an invention -- a new or adapted technology -- and enter the Invent Your World Challenge.

Ashoka GenV and the Lemelson Foundation will support 50 young inventors in using their inventions to create positive change -- by providing mentorship, seed funding, networking opportunities, and the $20,000 scholarship.

Ideas are reviewed on an on-going basis and projects can be launched anytime. Round One's deadline is December 31, 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Husbandry: Early Beekeeping Journals Now Online

The first 20 volumes of the first English-language beekeeping journal, The American Bee Journal, has been added to the Hive and the Honeybee online library of historical beekeeping materials at Cornell's Albert R. Mann Library.

In print since 1861, The American Bee Journal (ABJ) has featured contributions by such major apiculturists as L.L. Langstroth, Henry Alley, Moses Quinby and A.I. Root. The first 20 volumes cover the years 1861 through 1884.

"From observations on Chinese methods for harvesting honey to tips on the use of wild onions and other herbs as honey plants, these early volumes present a treasure trove of often beautifully illustrated details on the theory and practice of 19th-century American beekeeping," says Eveline Ferretti, Mann Library's public programs administrator.

The digitization of the ABJ's early volumes is the result of a multiyear initiative supported by beekeeper associations from across the United States. Matching funds from Mann Library's preservation program have supported the scanning of an additional 20 volumes that will be available online by spring 2009.

The Hive and the Honeybee is a free, full-text digital archive of selected rare works from Mann Library's E.F. Phillips Collection, one of the world's most comprehensive apicultural libraries. The site also offers more than 30 key historical monographs, including classics such as the 1623 edition of Charles Butler's "The Feminine Monarchie" and Samuel Hartlib's "The Reformed Commonwealth of Bees," published in 1655.

Rural Delivery: A Winter's Sleep

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.

These are the longest nights. From now until mid-January the sun will set before most of us are done with the day's work. We'll be coming home in darkness and leaving the house again before dawn. Some folks never see their home in daylight this time of year except on weekends.

This is a time of torpor, when many mammals take to their burrows for hibernation. Colder weather and shorter days signal biological changes in the Earth's creatures, including man. Holidays alone are not the reason we do more shopping, put on more weight and feel more tired
than usual.

Each of us comes with a built-in biological clock that affects virtually every function of our bodies, including sleep. Blood pressure rises and falls, pulse quickens and slows, and glands secrete proteins according to daily -- or Circadian -- rhythms established by this inner timepiece.

Our inner clocks never need winding, but they must be reset -- daily. Otherwise, they run in 25-hour cycles. A body that woke at 5 a.m. Monday would expect to sleep until 6 a.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday. Likewise, our mealtime expectations would run an hour later each day until breakfasts would be taken in the evening and dinners at dawn.

Light signals from our environment, whether natural or artificial, set our inner clocks back to a 24-hour cycle. And when those signals say "winter," our bodies tend to want more sleep.

Not all creatures sleep the same, of course. Bears and squirrels and marmots hole up and drowse deeply almost the entire winter while birds and shrews only doze.

Among humans, there are short sleepers (less than 6 hours) and long sleepers (more than 9 hours) and a great many in between. All are affected by the winter season, but show it in different ways. Lethargy. Moodiness. Depression.

Some researchers have suggested that short sleepers tend to be more energetic, ambitious and successful. Because they have more waking hours to work with short sleepers can get more done. Others have theorized that the less sleep the shorter the lifespan.

"The only clear conclusion is that there is a rare subgroup of people who constitutionally need little sleep, many of whom appear to take advantage of the fact by getting more accomplished," reports Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor J. Allan Hobson in his book, Sleep.

The world record short sleeper, he points out, is an Englishwoman who sleeps just 40 minutes a day. Doesn't she feel fortunate? Isn't she productive? No, he adds, she's rather bored.

He probably caught her on a winter's day, or night more likely..

Open Air: Queen's County Farmer's Market

The Queens County Farmers’ Market received “Special Recognition for Outstanding Support of Nova Scotia Agriculture” during the 2008 annual general meeting of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.

A joint initiative of the North Queens Board of Trade, the Queens County Fair Association and local producers, Queens County Farmers’ Market completed its first season in October.

“The Queens County Farmers’ Market gives residents and visitors alike a chance to explore, celebrate and engage in building stronger community ties and is an important opportunity to create local self-sufficiency,” states Richard Lane, one of the founding members of the farmers’ market.

“Who wants or can even afford to pay two dollars for an apple shipped in from New Zealand, especially when local farmers can produce much tastier, healthier and definitely fresher food. By growing and buying locally, the money stays in the community and everyone benefits.”

The second season of the market has a tentative opening date of May 9, 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Home Made: Felted Vests

Minneapolis writer Christy DeSmith profiles vest designer Marsha Theis, a 62-year-old retired schoolteacher, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Years ago, Theis started felting vests from bits and pieces of recycled sweaters to wear herself, and has since sold a few hundred of the one-of-a-kind wearable-art garments.

"Her creations are anything but boring," DeSmith writes. "One has the fragments of a fluorescent '80s pullover inset at the hips. Another has a sassy line of pewter buttons -- plucked from an Icelandic cardigan -- running down the spine.

"Many of the vests are colorful, teetering on the edge of gaudy. So far, the top sellers have been simple, solid black. But even these have a playful edge, as they're made from contrasting textures such as cable and ribbed knits."

Theis has been sewing since she was 15, but didn't try selling her fashions until she retired from teaching in 2005. She took them to to various stores in the Twin Cities, but the response was disappointing.

Then, about a year ago, she went to a sewing expo where her vests caught the attention of Marcy Tilton, a popular designer for Vogue Patterns. Tilton suggested she send her vests to a San Francisco boutique called Kati Koos, where the vests were quickly accepted and sold.

The vests have since spread to upscale boutiques in California and Wisconsin, selling at prices upward of $270.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Stall Review: The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook

The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Zen Retreat Center
by Nadia Natali
North Atlantic Books, 2008

"Ten miles north of Ojai, at the end of a very long road in Matilija (pronounced Ma-til-i-ha) Canyon, lies Blue Heron Ranch. It nestles within the Los Padres National Forest in southern California. Here we, the Natali family, have faced fires, floods, bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. We built a home, raised a family of three children, and have run a modest Zen center and fed a myriad of visitors for twenty-five years," writes Nadia Natali in the preface to this cookbook, a sequel to Cooking Off the Grid, produced and published by the Natali family in 2006.

"This cookbook was inspired by the many individuals who visited our center and encouraged me to write about the meals prepared for our retreats.

"Interspersed with the recipes, I’ve included stories about Blue Heron’s beginnings and how it has evolved. In addition to the recipes and stories, I’ve offered tips on cooking for a crowd and fresh ideas that you can use for weekend visits of friends or family members. Or perhaps you’re starting your own retreat center! You’ll find a good sequence of meals to serve to a small group over a weekend, along with helpful shopping lists."

The recipes, like the Natali's unique retreat, have a welcoming homemade feel and produce hearty meals of healthy and tasty dishes. Accented by the delightful color illustrations of Marica Natali Thompson, the book is spacious, clear and easy to browse. Menus for family gatherings and retreats are outlined in the front of the book, followed by lists of recommended foods and supplies.

Personal stories about the Natali's arrival in California's in 1980, the floods and wildfires they endured, the teepee they constructed and lived in, homeschooling their children, the loss of their youngest son, and the Zen Center they founded are interspersed throughout the text.

Initially skeptical about Zen retreats, Nadia Natali eventually agreed to attend a family-oriented retreat near Santa Clara and became enamored of the experience:

"I learned that sitting is an opportunity to watch yourself while in a dilemma. It is very clean. It took a while to learn not to judge my mental antics. I discovered another part of me that is almost impossible to find under the usual noise of everyday life. There is a larger me who can include all the various aspect of my ordinary self. This discovery is not a one-time thing, nor is it the same each time. It changes and develops as long as I give it the space and attention it needs.

"By the end of my few days I was so 'up' that I said to Enrico (her husband), 'Let's start our own Zen center.'"

The small Zen retreat center that resulted, Blue Heron Ranch, became both the inspiration and proving ground for the recipes in this cookbook.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free Sample: Inspire perfume

Christina Aguilera Perfumes is offering free samples of its new Inspire perfume. Click here for the sample request form.

Samples are available as long as the stock lasts. You must be aged 16 or over to request a free sample. Allow 28 days for delivery. One sample per household.

Good Weight

Home Made: Felt Wreath Ornament

Family Fun magazine has posted a homemade ornament project on its website that uses felting to make a solid color wreath ornament from one sweater, or a multi-color ornament by mixing and and match several for our look.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Stall Review: Chocolate

Chocolate Pathway to the Gods
by Meredith L. Dreiss and Sharon Edgar Greenhill
University of Arizona Press, 2008

Today, chocolate may be a popular confection, but in the region of its origin -- ancient Mesoamerica -- it was a sacred substance, literally a food of the gods.

This illustrated history of chocolate documents the importance of cacao and its derivatives in Mexoamerica cultures across some 3,500 years. Its images and stories provided the basis of a 60-minute documentary film by the same title that accompanies the book on a DVD insert.

"The seduction of cacao has always resied in its consumption," the authors explain. "Modern chemical analyses of pre-Columbian ceramics prove that Mesoamericans have been eating and drinking chocolate since at least 1500 BC.

"Early Mesoamericans were not only enamored with the taste of this drink but also understood it was good for body and soul. Chocolate has been one of the world's favorite curatives and stimulants throughout time. Long hailed as an aphrodisiac, chocolate has an allure that has created a cascade of myths about this 'food of the devil' and matters of the heart. As it turns out, there is a connection to the heart: modern chemical analyses have isolated the heart-saving antioxidants within dark chocolate confirming what the ancients knew intuitively."

In separate chapers the authors discuss chocolate's supernatural associations in ancient Mesoamerica, rituals related to fertility and life cycles, the political and economic importance of cacao, the artifacts used to serve and celebrate chocolate, folk medicine and pharmacological traditions and, finally, chocolate's role in the rainforest ecology.

Begun as a project to popularize the archaeological evidence of chocolate's long and rich history, the book and DVD will sweeten any reader's (or viewer's) appreciation of its sacred importance to both ancients and moderns.
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.

Bites: Compound in Berries and Grapes Reverses Mental Decline in Aging Lab Animals

In a new study of aged laboratory animals, a diet rich in the berry and grape compound pterostilbene produced measurable improvements in brain functions and behaviors negatively affected by aging.

Animals eating a diet rich in pterostilbene performed significantly better than those in a group that did not eat the enriched diet, according to scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In a two-part study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the researchers tried to determine if pterostilbene would be effective in reversing the effects of aging on mature rats.

For the first part of the study, they tested seven stilbene compounds in cell cultures and found that pterostilbene was the most effective at preventing oxidative stress. For the second part of the study, they fed aged rats one of three diets: control, or control adjusted to include either low or high concentrations of pterostilbene.

The results indicated that in aging rats, pterostilbene was effective in reversing cognitive decline and that improved working memory was linked to pterostilbene levels in the hippocampus region of the brain.

The ARS scientists noted that there are additional berry compounds showing similar potential which are also being investigated.

Source: Agricultural Research Service

Farm Kitchen: Brewing Heavenly Coffee

Americans brew about 400 million cups of coffee ... every day. That's 146 billion cups per year. For many, this daily ritual borders on a religious experience.

But how many are brewing in a way that results in heavenly coffee that's rich, smooth and delicious?

"Coffee is an essential ingredient in people's lives," says Chad Turnbull, co-president of Seattle's Storyville Coffee Company, "You drink it first thing in the morning. You drink it when you're meeting with friends or on the perfect date. You serve it to your guests when you gather together for the holidays. There's just something about being rewarded with an amazing cup of coffee."

Conversely, a bad cup of coffee can be a punishing experience. According to Turnbull, the most commonly committed sins of coffee preparation are:
1) "old" coffee
2) coffee that is pre-ground.

When coffee's roasted, there are oils that are retained in the beans. Those oils provide maximum flavor, but you have to use the beans within two to 12 days. Big coffee companies get around this by roasting the oil out of the beans. That's why most brands of coffee are long on shelf life (i.e. old), but short on flavor.

"We have a culture around coffee that is based on dairy, sweeteners, flavoring ... all designed to cover up a flaw in the roasting process," says Turnbull.

If you want to brew perfect coffee, Turnbull serves up this advice:
  • Buy the right beans. If you don't start with phenomenal beans, you won't have a phenomenal cup of coffee.
  • Use a French press. It allows for better extraction of the coffee's flavor. The extra work is worth it.
  • Use bottled or filtered water. Upgrade your water. If you put nasty water in, it's going to affect the taste.
Source: Storyville Coffee Company

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bites: Honey Tested in Salad Dressings

Antioxidant-rich honey is a healthy alternative to commercial salad dressings that use chemical additives and refined sweeteners, according to a new University of Illinois study.

"To capitalize on the positive health effects of honey, we experimented with using honey in salad dressings," said U of I food chemistry professor Nicki Engeseth. "We found that the antioxidants in honey protected the quality of the salad dressings for up to nine months while sweetening them naturally."

Engeseth's study substituted honey for EDTA, an additive used to keep the oils in salad dressings from oxidizing, and high-fructose corn syrup, used by many commercial salad-dressing producers to sweeten their salad dressing recipes.

"We chose clover and blueberry honeys for the study after an analysis of the sweetening potential, antioxidant activity, and phenolic profiles of 19 honeys with varying characteristics," she said.

The dressings were also compared to a control dressing that contained ingredients found in current commercial salad dressings, she said.

"Salad dressings are emulsions--they contain oil and water; and to keep these ingredients together in one phase, manufacturers rely on emulsifiers and thickening agents to avoid thinning of the dressing and separation of the oil and water phase," Engeseth explained.

When the researchers found that enzymes in the honey broke the emulsion by attacking the starch that was used to thicken the dressing, they came up with a new formulation that used xanthan gum as a thickening agent, which they then used in all the dressings.

The researchers then stored the dressings under various conditions, including 37 degrees Celsius (accelerated storage) for six weeks and 23 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius for one year, followed by an evaluation of their oxidative stability.

After nine months of storage, both types of honey were as effective as EDTA in protecting against oxidation or spoilage. Blueberry honey performed slightly better than clover.

Engeseth said that many consumers prefer products with natural ingredients and that salad dressings made with honey should appeal to these consumers.

"There's such a wide range of salad dressings on the market--some unique salad dressings as well as inexpensive products that perform beautifully. If manufacturers are interested in developing salad dressings that have a healthy twist, we've demonstrated that using honey as both an antioxidant and a sweetener is one way to do this," she said.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rural Delivery: Listen

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

If you listen carefully enough, you may hear the precise, spontaneous trill of a far-off warbler, or the whisper of clouds passing between earth and heaven.

If you keep at it long enough, you may begin to hear the steady pulse of your own heart and, even, the quiet drumming of the soul.

It's hard to keep quiet, though, with so much to be said and thought about and worried over. And it's even harder to quiet the noise around us, from the caw-caw-caw of ravens to the obnoxious rumble of a diesel engine.

The living world is often a wondrous cacophony of sounds that compete for attention like a swarm of little children around the only available adult. It keeps you occupied so that you are unable, quite literally, to hear yourself think.

Then there's the constant intrusion of words erupting from phones and televisions and radios, or jumping off the pages of books and flyers and tabloids. "Headless Man Leaves Hospital," blares a headline. "Mary will be flying home on Friday," reads a postcard. "No Down Payment!" screams a man on the television.

Even this column breaks in with ideas and expressions not your own. If you weren't reading this, or anything else, where would your eyes be resting? What would you hear? What thoughts would be passing through your mind?

Franz Kafka, the author, believed that the origins of his creativity rested in a universal source, freely accessible to anyone willing to pay attention.

"You do not need to leave your room," he explained. "Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

One of the great advantages to rural living is its potential for fewer distractions, less noise, and more opportunities to be alone with your own nature. Sure, you can bring the clamor of the city with you to the country, but at least out here, in most instances, you can turn down the volume.

Cities are all about commerce and communication. At every turn, there's someone selling something. Rural folk tend to be less mercenary, and where there is space between people it's easier to catch a glimpse of some wildlife and take notice of the season.

Out here, it is easier to listen: the steady swoosh-swoosh of sprinklers on an alfalfa field, the call of a quail, the rumble of distant thunder, the bellowing of cows, the flutter of ducks winging across heaven and the sighing of the sun as it settles into the horizon.

This is what brings artists and poets and prophets to the country. They come to listen and wait for their muse.

Amid the day to day rituals of rural life, from the feeding of livestock and the irrigation of crops to the preparation of meals and the doing of laundry, it is possible to stop and listen for the meadowlark on a fence post or hear the train whistle across the valley.

Simple sounds like the chirping of chickadees and the giggles of children and the bam-bam-bam of a hammer will meld into a symphony, if we let them. And in these sounds, and others like them, the world reveals itself. It doesn't always roll in ecstasy at our feet, but it's usually wearing a smile.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Open Air: Ontario Boosts Farmers' Markets

The Government of Ontario is committing $4 million over four years to help people buy food directly from Ontario farmers. The funding will help Farmers’ Markets Ontario and the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association work with farmers to sell more local food.

This is part of the Ontario Budget commitment of $56 million over four years for buy Ontario and buy local initiatives.

Farmers' Markets Ontario will receive up to $750,000 in 2008-09 and $600,000 in each of the next three years to expand the "MyMarket" brand, develop information to help farmers who may be new to selling at farmers' markets, research what consumers are looking for when they buy Ontario food via direct marketing channels, and u ndertake consumer awareness and marketing activities to promote these efforts.

The Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association, made up of Ontario farmers with a keen interest in promoting the direct farm sales industry (which includes roadside marketing and pick-your-own operations), will receive up to $250,000 in 2008-09 and $200,000 in each of the next three years to conduct consumer research and marketing activities, increase consumer awareness of - and access to - farm markets, expand the number of farmers selling directly to the public, expand the number of products on offer at on-farm markets, including meat, cheese, fibre and grain products.

OMAFRA is also committing up to $600,000 to provide business information and market analysis to Ontario farmers who would like more information about direct consumer marketing.

A 2006 study showed that the 125 farmers' markets represented by Farmers' Markets Ontario have annual sales of $645 million, and have an economic impact on the province of $1.9 billion.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Open Air: Bradenton Downtown Farmers’ Market

The City of Bradenton, Florida has announced plans to hold a Bradenton Downtown Farmers’ Market on Saturdays beginning Jamuary 10, 2009.

Operated by the Downtown Development Authority, the market will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays on Old Main Street with free parking.

The market invites sellers of fresh foods, produce, plants and flowers, entertainment and prepared foods.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Open Air: Ithaca Farmer’s Market

The Ithaca Journal is reporting that the 20-year lease agreement for the Ithaca Farmer’s Market on city-owned land off Third Street, less than a month away from expiring, is being jeopardized by property dispute between the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca.

“For the past year and a half, representatives from the farmer’s market and the city have met to iron out details of renewing that lease for an additional 40 years, said Jan Rhodes Norman, the liaison between the farmer’s market and the city and the chair of the lease re-negotiation committee…

One of the wrinkles discovered in the process is that when the City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca and Town of Dryden went in together on a joint wastewater treatment plant 27 years ago, the city agreed to transfer some portion of land to the joint ownership of the three municipalities, but the transfer never occurred, Mayor Carolyn Peterson said.

The issue has escalated from procedural meetings to, this week, possible litigation over exactly how much city land should be transferred to joint ownership.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Growth Spurts: Tomatoes Thrive in High Tunnels

In the six years since New York growers began adopting high tunnels -- 20-by-100-foot unheated movable plastic structures that can cover 300 plants -- tomatoes have been the most commercially successful.

In high tunnels, heat-loving tomato plants that can be trellised vertically and will bear continuously. A 25-pound box of U.S. #1 top-grade tomatoes sells for $40 to $50 wholesale, while field-grown tomatoes (with their unavoidable cracks and slight blemishes) may bring a grower only $5.

Chris Wien, Cornell University professor of horticulture and the leader of high tunnel research projects funded through the New York Farm Viability Institute, says he expects the use of high tunnels in New York to return a gain of $500,000 per year in the farm-gate value of the state's horticultural crops by 2010.

Cornell extension specialists are assisting farmers across the state who want to adopt the technology. A half-dozen high tunnel vegetable research projects are currently under way on farms in several counties. These projects are funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.

"We want to be sure that there's a sustainable system in place by which high tunnel technology is easy to come by, and there's a knowledgeable extension staff available to help," says Wien, who has worked with growers producing diverse crops, including tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, cabbage and onions, using high tunnels up to 300 feet long.

Source: Cornell University