Seeds in the Mail

My seeds came in the mail last week, but I forgot to show them off!

It was nicely packed and I even enjoyed the envelopes they came in.

Nice artwork! Can you guess what it’s from?

I love this little touch!  They’re using local, antique seed catalog designs for their seed packets.  Genius!

I had to open a few of the seed packets, just to look.  Especially the ones with bigger seeds.  So much fun!

Purple-podded peas! (Just say that five times fast!)

Dry beans!

My membership came with this special seed packet, free. But I’m not sure what kind of seeds are in there. I think it’s lettuce, but I don’t want to open up the envelope just yet because it’s not easily closed back up, unlike the others.

And I loved the little letter they sent with it.  Check out the last sentence.

It reads: “P.S. – We love our customers! What other seed company can report that its top-selling seed of the year so far is a ground cherry!!”

Oh, yea, I’m one of those people that ordered ground cherry seeds! 🙂

Last weekend, K and I bought some seed starter pots and looked for a grow bulb.  Unfortunately, we bought the wrong one, so we’ll have to return it and find the right one.  But his next project is building a seed starting stand for me!

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Farmer’s Market Sunday

Farmer’s Market Sunday yesterday.  Didn’t have much to get as we didn’t need any meat.

  • One half-gallon reduced fat milk, one pint chocolate milk, and one pint cream from Battenkill Creamery.
  • 6 Empire apples from Migliorelli Farm
  • 1/2lb spinach from Madura Farm
  • 1 loaf “San Francisco” sourdough bread, 1 piece ciabatta bread, 1 chocolate croissant pastry.

Oh man, that pastry was delicious with my half of the chocolate milk.  I love chocolate. I’m not sure I trust a woman who doesn’t.

Flakiness and chocolate...yum.

Chocolate milk and half the chocolate croissant with my laptop in the background

And that sourdough bread – WOW!  K made this delicious cream of squash soup last night with left over pumpkin pulp we had in the freezer from Thanksgiving, an overripe carnival acorn squash, and the leek we bought last week.  We ate some of the sourdough with it. It was the most sour sourdough bread I’ve ever eaten, but also the best I think!

And finally, I got my hat! Last week at the farmer’s market I was walking past Olivia Royale’s table when I saw a hat she had crocheted in the perfect shade of brown/green I’ve been looking for to match my ski jacket! I’d been looking all over for something that would match and not found it yet, and there it was!  When I came back a few minutes later she had sold the house but said she would make me one custom.  However, she needed to order the yarn because she doesn’t normally carry it.  She orders the yarn on Sunday nights after the market and most of the time she has the order completed by the following Sunday.

It was fine that she didn’t have another hat in that color because this let me get a plain snow hat type instead of a fancier one with a brim.  It’s going with a ski jacket, nothing fancy is needed!

When I went to pick up the hat yesterday, she told me she was nervous because she hadn’t gotten the yarn in until Friday!! But she had finished most of it by the farmers market, and kept it on the crochet needles to make sure it fit me correctly. I tried it on carefully, making sure to hold onto the skein of yarn while doing so and loved it! I asked her to make it a few rows longer and she finished it up while we finished shopping.

Here’s the hat!

And here’s me modelling it! I love it.  I’ve even been wearing it at home. 🙂

I got the perfect color AND supported someone in my community.  Win win.

OMG

There’s no other title for this post.  Tonight, my brother, his fiancee, my hubby and I, went out for a nice dinner as our Christmas gift to each other.  They drove up from Westchester to spend the day with us, and we made reservations at The Ginger Man in Albany.

We actually tried to make reservations at 677 Prime, one of the best steakhouses (if not THE best) in Albany.  But we called too late, and the earliest time they had was 8:30pm.  So K and I decided to go back to The Ginger Man.

K and I have been to The Ginger Man one other time before, to celebrate our wedding anniversary last year.  We like the food, and like that the restaurant buys its ingredients from locally-owned and independent operated businesses.  It’s a nice restaurant, which means, not altogether cheap.  We’d only been there one time before; it’s a “special occasion” outing.

The four of us got to the restaurant, which was cozy and brightly lit, right on time for our reservation.  Right away, we ordered a large fresh fruit and cheese platter.  The three cheeses we chose? Coach Farms Fresh Goat Cheese (local!), Manchego (imported from Spain) (this is a sheep cheese) and Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. (another local farm) Camembert.  These cheeses were delicious.

The fruit was all right, but not exactly what I think of when they boast of “fresh seasonal fruit.” There was apple, pear, pineapple, melon, strawberry, and blackberry. Perhaps they mean seasonal in Mexico?  But I’m not complaining so much about that.  After all, what did I expect in upstate NY in February?

Our waiter then rang off some specials, among which was a 40 oz. Porterhouse steak for two.  40 ounces, people – that’s 2 1/2 lbs!! Awesome. My husband and brother decided to split it, and my future SIL ordered the lobster mac and cheese. I ordered paella.

It was all DELICIOUS.  The service was good and we were very happy.

Until we got the check.  Now, remember, it’s a fairly nice restaurant.  My entree was $21, and my future SIL’s was $22.  The most expensive meal on menu was the strip steak at $28 for 16 oz.  So we were under no illusion that the 40 oz. Porterhouse steak would be cheap.

But then we got the bill.  And on the bill, that steak was not called a 40 oz. Porterhouse.  It was itemized as the 95 Porterhouse.  Wanna know why?  Because that steak cost us $95.

Ninety-five dollars?!?!

There was NO mention of this price when the server read out the specials to us.  And while we figured it would be obviously more expensive than anything else, we were shocked at something almost 4 TIMES the price of the next most expensive thing on the menu, and MORE than 4 times any other special they had.

Ninety-five dollars?  Are you kidding me?  Don’t you think that’s something you should mention to your customers, especially since it’s so much more expensive than anything else there?

So we called the waiter over to ask him.  We didn’t want anything. We weren’t expecting him to comp us or to give us half price – nothing at all.  We just wanted him to know we were upset that he didn’t let us know of the extravagant price.

If he had apologized, if he had said, “You’re right. I will make sure I let people know this in the future,” all would have been fine.  But he didn’t.  He got defensive, he said, “The price was on the board,” as if we should have been able to see a board that was never pointed out to us before and was 20 feet behind us and practically impossible to see from where we had sat. None of us had even seen the board.  He starts talking about how this steak was grassfed beef, blah blah blah, what did we expect?

Hold up there, Bucky.  In his explanation of the special at the beginning of the meal, there was no mention of grassfed anything.  It wasn’t even called the 95 Porterhouse.  Perhaps if he had told us the true name we would have known!

Because, yes, the steak was delicious. But there was no way in hell it was worth $95.  No one would have ordered a $95 steak if we had known.

So we ask to speak the manager.  Because the server had an attitude.  And we weren’t doing anything but making our displeasure known.  We were polite, we weren’t yelling at him, we were just upset at them not informing us of this in advance.  We were going to pay, we just wanted them to know that’s not how you do business.  Perhaps you do it that way if it’s a $100/plate restaurant, but not when your average meal is $20.

He says he’ll go get his head chef, and leaves.  And NEVER COMES BACK.  The chef never comes either, which was fine, because what did the chef have to do with it?  But after about 15 minutes, the poor hostess comes over to us and gives us 4 free drink coupons.  Free drink coupons?  My brother asks where the manager is.  There’s no manager here tonight, she tells us. No manager on a Saturday night? K asks who’s in charge then.  She tells us the bartender.  What the hell?

She tries to give us the drink coupons again. “For the next time you come,” she tells us.  “I don’t think we’ll be back,” says K.  We hand her our credit cards (we split the bill, since it was our Christmas gift to each other).  Poor girl, it’s not her fault.

The server still never comes.  A few minutes later, the hostess comes with the entrees for the table next to us, which our waiter was also serving.  He apparently couldn’t even come do that.  How immature was he? Was he embarrassed?

She brought back our credit cards, and we left a 15% tip.  Honestly, everything to that point had been very good.  Service, food, it all was great. The hostess had stuck the drink coupons in that little black folder thing they put the receipts in, and we left them in there, making our statement that way.  No one came to talk to us, and our server was never seen again.

Wow…was that really worth it, The Ginger Man?  A nice discussion for us to tell our complaint, an apology and assurance that they would not hide the price in the future, and we would have been happy customers.  You know, miscommunications happen, and we were partially at fault as well.  We didn’t ask the price, and we didn’t see the board (which I do think is in a very inconspicuous place).  But to not even come talk to us, paying customers?  I see how well we’re valued.

So now, they’ve lost us as customers.  And not only that, we will spread the word, including on Urbanspoon. And their manager/owner WILL be receiving a letter of complaint.

Utterly ridiculous.  Am I wrong?

Walmart Saves the Small Farm…???

First off, I feel the need to apologize for the lack of decent writing on this blog. I’m not happy with it, and I haven’t been since the beginning.  I’m apologizing because I am, in fact, a damn good writer, as it’s practically a requirement with my job.  But heretofore, I’ve been lackadaiscal about it.  I just want to get a blog post out, and I don’t have much extra time.  You’d actually be amazed how long it takes me to put the poorly written stuff I’ve already blogged about up.  It irks me to no end, and if I tried to write better, it’d take even longer. What’s a girl with not-enough-time-as-it-is to do?

I’m not sure the answer to that one, but I’m going to try to do better. This will probably result in less posts, but in more output I’m proud of.  After all, this whole thing is a reflection of ME.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  Walmart.  Is it possible that there’s something at Walmart I might be able to get behind?

I promise you I’m not a Walmart snob.  Not totally anyway.  I can’t be.  It’s the God’s honest truth that the only place I can find certain canning jars are at Walmart.  Who would have thought?  (See, that’s much better written than then “who’da thunk it?” I originally typed.)  I don’t look down on people who shop at Walmart.  Well, I don’t look down at all people.  I save my partial-Walmart snobbiness for certain people.  Who those people are, I won’t tell.  🙂 Yes, just wonder if it’s YOU.

Nah, but really, I don’t blame everyone.  I blame certain people like a woman in this documentary I watched last year (wish I could remember the name) who in the course of one minute, blamed China for our trade imbalance and the reason she’s out of a job, and then spoke about how she only shopped at Walmart.  I wanted to hit my head against the wall.  It’s not China’s fault.  We have only ourselves and our love of cheap, cheap goods to blame.

In The Walmart Effect, this love is deeply documented.  It includes the usual stuff we all know about Walmart, how willing it is to buy sweat-shop goods, how it forces smaller suppliers (and everyone’s smaller than Walmart these days) into unsustainable arrangements, and of course, the low wages and lack of benefits they offer their employees.

But in addition to that, what’s interesting about this book is that it talks about the effect Walmart has had on this society.  To quote Kerry Walters, a reviewer of the book, who put it much more succinctly than I could have, “Walmart has trained the American consumer to expect and to demand low prices, and to immediately suspect that any commodity that has a higher price tag than its Wal-Mart equivalent must be a rip-off. The Wal-Mart ethos, in other words, has replaced traditional consumer concern for high quality with low cost as the primary criterion.”

Check out this article I found from 2003 regarding the example of Vlasic pickles.  Vlasic is a fairly “big” name. I’ve heard of it (and I don’t hear of much, so that means something. :)) In the late 1990s Vlasic had a gallon-sized jar of pickles (12lbs!) that Walmart decided to sell for the astonishingly low price of $2.97.  Vlasic, of course, wanted to sell its item through Walmart because it would get its name out to the masses.  “Look, Vlasic pickles! How great are they?!” So Vlasic, of course, agreed to it.  But in fact, they (and Walmart) only made about a cent per gallon jar of pickles sold; that’s how low the price was.  Walmart wanted to sell it that low so that it would draw customers into their stores, and Vlasic agreed to that price to get its brand in people’s minds.  The hope for them was – get people to like our brand, we will make up the price through other pickles we sell.  Because Vlasic really made their money from sliced pickles, not whole pickles like the ones in the gallon jars sold by Walmart.

And the gallon jars of pickles sold.  Boy, did they sell!  They flew off the shelves.  Sounds great for Vlasic and Walmart, right?  Well, great for Walmart.  But what happened for Vlasic is that the price for the whole pickles at Walmart was so low, people who used to buy their other pickles (from which Vlasic made its money) stopped buying those spears and chips and ONLY bought Walmart pickles.  So Vlasic was only making $.01 from every jar sold instead of a hefty markup.  It was LOSING money.

Of course, Vlasic couldn’t survive that way.  They told Walmart they needed to increase the price, and Walmart refused.  They also threatened to stop buying any other products from Vlasic if they increased the prices on JUST the gallon of whole pickles.  So, as you see, Vlasic was….wait for it…in a pickle.

Now, one can blame Vlasic to a certain extent, because lots of times defenders of capitalism (of which I am one, at least partially :)) say, “It’s America!  Vlasic shouldn’t have been so dumb as to get into that agreement!” or “Who cares about Vlasic?  I’m getting food cheaply! It’s #1 I need to look out for here.”

But Vlasic represents a lot of things in this country. When Vlasic is (which supposedly went bankrupt a few years ago – not from the gallon pickles, though, I read) is lost, you lose American jobs, American work product, and with it American ability to buy things.  So, while I can say, “too bad, so sad” for Vlasic, I recall that it’s not the bigwigs at Vlasic that were really hurt, but the pickle cutters on the floor down below.

Which is why I’m not a huge fan of Walmart.  But, believe it or not, this blog post wasn’t supposed to be all about how Walmart is hurting or not hurting this country.  It’s about this article I was recently alerted to in The Atlantic, entitled The Great Grocery Smackdown.  In the article, it discusses how Walmart is possibly trying to get into the business of selling sustainably raised food.

To be sure, I, like the author of this article, was/am skeptical.  Heritage Agriculture is apparently a little-known program initiated by Walmart to encourage local farms and producers to sell their produce to Walmart.  According to the article, “Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states.”

It isn’t, however, concentrating on heirloom varieties, but perhaps that’s just too small a subset for them to get into right now.  Just managing locally grown items, hybrid or GM or not, will probably take a lot of effort.

The author of this article undertook a  blind taste test with 16 tasters with organic foods bought from Walmart and Whole Foods.  The results were pretty evenly split (you can read the article to find out which items from Walmart beat out Whole Foods and vice versa).  But to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care.

That might be because my last foray into Whole Foods was in college eleventy billion years ago (ok, 10, and I went to school in NYC, what do you expect?) and I don’t know that in my everyday life those are my two choices.  I don’t have a Supercenter Walmart where I live and I certainly don’t have a Whole Foods.  I guess what I’m saying is that Whole Foods is put forth in this  article like it’s the gold standard, which I wholeheartedly disagree with.

I keep hearing how Whole Foods is a status symbol, and it’s something, living where I do, that I honestly have no knowledge of.  Whether or not they are great or just overrated, I don’t really care.  What I do care about is the attempt at bringing local and organic foods to the masses.  It’s why I tend to patronize one supermarket over the other in my area (when I have to go, and it’s Hannaford for those who want to know).  So in this respect, I wholeheartedly applaud Walmart.

But I’m a cynical person, and I’m cynical about this new initiative by Walmart.  Perhaps I would just need to see the Ts & Cs of the contracts with these local farmers, but I’d be very afraid that they would have them over the barrel just like they had Vlasic. Perhaps even more so, since they are even smaller and might have less commercial acumen.  And perhaps not initially, but eventually.  It’s been their business model for about 20 years now, and it’s worked out quite nicely for them.  Why would this be any different?

Also too, there’s this.  What is deemed a local farm?  Could conglomerates that happen to be located in the area take over?  While Kummer noted that individual farms were identified at the Super Walmart near Boston, they weren’t at the Austin one.  Why not put exactly where the food came from?

Again, though, I am really happy to see this development.  In an ideal world, where Walmart is a great civic citizen, it could be at the forefront of helping its customers learn more about their local food and provide a new sales outlet to support the communities in which it resides.

Kummer states, and correctly so:

In an ideal world, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people can’t do that. If there were a Walmart closer to where I live, I would probably shop there.

Most important, the vast majority of Walmarts carry a large range of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. And Walmarts serve many “food deserts,” in large cities and rural areas—ironically including farm areas. I’m not sure I’m convinced that the world’s largest retailer is set on rebuilding local economies it had a hand in destroying, if not literally, then in effect. But I’m convinced that if it wants to, a ruthlessly well-run mechanism can bring fruits and vegetables back to land where they once flourished, and deliver them to the people who need them most.

It may not be an ideal world out there, but I do believe that more local buying can be done, if we don’t buy into the “Walmart effect.”  In either case, I’ll believe it of Walmart when I see it.  And so far, at least in my neck of the woods, I don’t see it.

Double Plot

Our garden sign up was tonight and we got our double plot! Whee!!! Turns out that Walter isn’t coming back, so we get it.  So excited!

Now we definitely have the room for all the seeds I ordered from Hudson Valley Seed Library + the ones we saved from last year + new seedlings!

Bring on Spring!

Farmer’s Market Sunday 2/14

Farmers Market Sunday, a day late and a dollar short.  Today was a lovely day off, doing a million errands.  Honestly, just what did I do the rest of the weekend?  It’s like I saved everything till today, and there’s not nearly enough time.

But enough of that.  Here’s this weekend’s loot from the farmer’s market:

  • 1 loaf rustic Italian bread, 1 challah roll, and 1 croissant from Our Daily Bread
  • 1 half-gallon of reduced fat milk, 1 pint of chocolate milk from Battenkill Creamery
  • 1 leek and 1/2 lb fresh spinach from Madura Farms
  • 1 dozen jumbo-sized eggs from Coopers Ark Farm
  • 1lb ground beef and 1lb stew beef from Sweet Tree Farm
  • 1 bottle raspberry dessert wine from Hudson-Chatham Winery

Add 3 camera-shy Jonagold apples to that. 🙂

My breakfast Sunday morning, after the market was delish.  Challah Roll with cream cheese and I broke open a new jar of blueberry jam.  Finally, some jam that gelled like jam and wasn’t syrupy! Coupled this with a cup of the always delicious fresh chocolate milk from Battenkill and I was in heaven.  Sunday mornings are always awesome.

My brother and his fiancee L are coming up to go out to dinner with us next weekend.  It’s our belated Christmas gift to each other.  Finally, after years and years of trying to buy gifts for each other, we called Uncle and decided to just go out to dinner together each year.  So next weekend we’re going to go to one of the best restaurants in this area – a great excuse to try someplace fancy!  We picked up this bottle of dessert wine for afterwards.

Yum! I got to taste it at the farmer’s market and I loved it.  Hopefully they will too.

It’s Official: I’m a Gardener

I’m sure some people think it’s strange that only now am I calling myself a gardener, but I finally feel I can call myself that after a full year of gardening.  I just became a member of the Hudson Valley Seed Library and ordered 10 packs of seeds from their online catalog (no paper = better for the environment) and I think I can officially say, now that I’ve completed that time-honored tradition of salivating over seeds (yup, there is such a thing for the gardener!) that I am one.

It’s February, and I’m hoping we’ve made it through the worst of the winter (which really hasn’t been bad at all).  I say this with fingers crossed because I remember past years for blizzards in March and April!  But I’m cautiously optimistic.

So, as I said before, I’m a new member of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which sells heirloom seeds, many of the them regionally adapted and grown by New York farmers.  You can find heirloom seeds lots of places, from local gardening stores, to even big box stores (if that’s where you shop). But you have to be careful.  Make sure your seed packets actually say heirloom.

Why do this? What’s heirloom?

An heirloom plant, like the name seems to herald, is one that was grown in earlier times of history.  It can’t be grown easily in modern large-scale agriculture because it’s not resistant to disease, pests, temperature or the rigors of transportation like hybrid tomatoes are.

But because it can’t be grown on a large scale, it is perfect for the small gardener who can devote some time to cultivate it.  In return, you can get delicious and gorgeous fruits and veggies.  It beats the hybrids by a longshot when you compare.

But you have to keep a lookout for the word heirloom.  Those Burpees and other non-heirloom seeds are mass-produced and genetically modified.

A few good places to buy heirloom seeds:

I decided to join the Hudson Valley Seed Library because it’s local and it provides many varieties of New York-based plants. This is right in tune with the way we want to live.  Source locally as much as we can.

Finding seeds suitable to where you live is key.  Southern regional varieties probably wouldn’t do well where I live and vice versa.  This is why I’m excited to find an heirloom seed company that is close to where I live.

And finally, let me share with you what I bought, keeping in mind the garden I want to grow this year.

I’ve never grown tomatoes from scratch, and I’m sure that K is going to want to buy seedlings from the farmers market, but I really want to try growing these from seed, because I wasn’t able to find these as seedlings last year.

Amish Paste Tomatoes

Amish Paste tomatoes are known for their superior sauce flavor. They’re great for canning!

Fox Cherry Tomato

These are supposedly large cherry tomatoes, and great for using in salads.

Bloomsdale Spinach

There’s not many heirloom spinach varieties out there. We grew this spinach last year and it was delicious but we didn’t get a lot of spinach from it. I saved the seeds from last year but I’m afraid it won’t be enough (or they won’t germinate) so I ordered more just in case.

Rainbow Chard

Look how colorful that is! We tried growing Golden Chard (the yellow ones) last year and it didn’t fare too well (we’ve actually mulched it and we’ll see if we get any next year) but I’ve wanted to try growing Rainbow Chard since I read Animal, Vegetable Miracle, so let’s give it a try!

Di Ciccio Broccoli

This is not a NY-based heirloom. It’s an old Italian variety from the 1800s which is slightly thinner than the conventional broccoli we’re all used to eating.

Last year we ended up buying pickling cucumbers at the farmers market and pickling them ourselves. They came out awesome!  But this year, I’m going to try growing them myself. Not sure if it makes that much sense economically…we bought more than 2 quarts for $5, and 25 seeds here were $2.  Oh well, let’s see what happens!

Puebla Verde Tomatillo

I love tomatillos!! Can’t wait to try to make some salsa verde this summer!

Purple Podded Peas

How cool does that look? These are supposed to be great soup peas!

Hank’s X-tra Special Baking Bean

Not the most sophisticated name, but these look pretty cool.  I’m hoping they live up to their name and are great baked beans!

Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry

Aunt Molly’s is an old heirloom cultivar of ground cherry that is supposed to do well in colder areas.  It’s also supposed to make a great jam!

So those are the seeds I just bought!  They will supplement the green beans, snowpeas, carrots, and other seeds I have saved from last year, plus any additional seedlings we buy from any local nurseries/the farmers market.

I have to get the hardware store and buy some growing bulbs now to start growing seedlings!  Next on my list, see of K can make me a seed-growing stand! Winter’s almost over!