Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Take-out Tonight

With all the preparations involved with hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week, the last thing I want to think about is preparing dinner ahead of time. Fortunately, we have two take home meal stores in town so I decided this was a great time to try them out.

Local Baskit is located at 10 Ferry Street, Concord. They started out as an online only store, but earlier this year opened a storefront where you can stop in and order or pick up your meal kits. While in the store I noticed that they also have a cooler of craft beers. If you are familiar with on-line meal kits, you know that they provide are all or most of your ingredients, proportionately-sized, along with a recipe card. At Local Baskit you can sign-up for weekly meal subscriptions with a $6 delivery charge, or you can order ahead and pick up at one of their locations across the state. I did not order ahead, but was still able to stop in the store and pickup a Spinach Ravioli kit for two.  This meal was great because the raviolis had already been made, so all I had to prepare was the sauce.

Spinach Ravioli Meal kit from Local Baskit
The kit came almost complete with all the ingredients - all I had to provide were oil, butter, salt and pepper. The recipe card had clear photos and easy to follow instructions.

Preparation was a breeze, and for the cost of not much more than going out for fast food, we had a tasty and healthy meal at home with half the effort. The final result looking almost like the photo on the recipe card, and my husband and I both agreed that it was delicious.

Finished spinach ravioli with pistachio lemon cream sauce
When you don't even have time to prepare a meal from take home ingredients, yet want to eat healthy without dining at a restaurant, Concord has another option - The Clean Take, at Capital Two Plaza, conveniently located next to the Durgin Block parking garage.

The Clean Take's meals are already prepared for you and come in reheat-able containers. Like Local Baskit, Clean Take uses fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. Last night we picked up eggplant "meatballs" over rice with a tossed salad. After just twenty minutes in the oven we had a satisfying vegetarian meal which I would definitely order again.

Eggplant meatballs over a bed of rice with fresh salad greens
The Capital Region is fortunate to have two such high quality take-home meal service locations. Check out their websites and if you live in the area, do not hesitate to stop in and chat with the owners about their philosophies on the importance of healthy eating and how they can make meal preparation both simple and enjoyable.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Beef and Apple Chili

One thing that helps get me through the cold days of fall and winter is cooking warm meals in the crock pot. This recipe adds fruit to a basic chili which results in a unique flavor.

1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 medium onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can kidney beans or other
beans of your choice
1 cup chopped apples
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup beef or chicken broth
 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oil and saute onion and garlic. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add all ingredients to slow cooker and cook on high for 4-6 hours. Garnish with cheese if desired.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Protect Evergreens from Winter Stress

It is now November and although the temperature is supposed to stay in the fifties tonight, the calendar says that freezing temperatures are not far off. This weekend was spent doing fall cleanup, raking leaves, picking up dead branches from the storm Sunday night and spraying our evergreen leaf shrubs with Wilt-Pruf®. I use it on Rhodedendrums, Azaleas, Boxwood and Andromeda. Although these plants are winter hardy, sometimes during severe winters if the leaves are exposed to drying winds and thawing then freezing temperature, this can stress the plant, resulting in brown curled leaves that may not recover in the Spring. Although it may not be needed every winter, to be safe, I apply this spray each year after the temperatures dip below freezing. Since, using it I have not lost any  shrubs due to winter weather. Wilt-Pruf® contains a trademark chemical Pinolene®, a Lewis acid catalyzed polymer of beta-pinene which is derived from the resin of a pine tree. It can be purchased in a spray bottle, or as a concentrate. Also, note that Wilt-Pruf® is not the only brand out there. Bonide sells a Wilt Stop® made from Pinene. Both brands offer a ready-made spray or a concentrate.

Ready made on left and concentrate Wilt Pruf on right.

I prefer the concentrate as it is less expensive and easier to apply with a pump-style sprayer. It is important to apply early in the day as it needs several hours of daylight to properly dry. If you can, it's best to apply on both sides of the leaf surface.

Another way to protect shrubs from winter damage is to wrap them. I do this for our Yew and Arborvitae, but the primary reason is to keep deer from browsing on them. If we get a lot of snow, they will be coming up to the house looking for exposed plants and these two shrubs seem to be their favorite. I use burlap which can be reused for several years. I will do this chore in a couple weeks, after it gets a little colder and before a significant snowfall. I feel a little bad that the shrubs are covered from sunlight for five to six months, but it's better than being eaten.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Our National Parks and Monuments Need Our Attention

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." — Edward Abbey

Bears Ears National Monument Photo: SierraClub.org
The above quote accompanied a recent daily environmental news site. How true this statement is. Its importance rings true particularly in light of Trumps call on Friday to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah where he told him that he will soon be announcing his plan to reduce the boundaries of Bears Ears national monument which was designated in 2016. This area of over 1.3 million acres contains ancient artifacts and land that is deemed sacred to several American Indian tribes. According to several news reports Trump told Hatch “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin.” A statement such as this is typical of the president, where decisions appear to be made for an individual or particular special interest group instead of looking at issues holistically and how a decision or policy might impact not only people today, but also future generations. 

Last week I attended the Nature Conservancy's last movie in their Future of Nature series. An American Ascent aired at the Red River Theatres, Concord, and was followed by a discussion on inclusion of American Urban minorities in the environmental movement. The movie is a documentary about nine African Americans who together climb Denali, North America's highest peak in Alaska. The movie was made to show that participation in outdoor adventures is open and achievable by all who have the desire. Hopefully a new generation of young people, who may never have visited a national park or wilderness area, will be moved to step outside and experience the wonders that nature has to offer.

The Beauty of Spring in Grand Teton National Park
Whether it be a National Park, National Monument, Wilderness or Conservation area, our nation's public lands need to be protected and need to be a welcoming place for all. Any move by the current Administration to reduce the size or protections of our national monuments will certainly be met with legal challenges.

Further, our national parks are in desperate need of funding to address much needed repairs and improvements. In spite of this, the president's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget includes a 12% cut to the Department of Interior. To address this deficit, the National Park Service is proposing significant increases in entrance fees at seventeen popular parks during peak season. The current recommendation is to increase the vehicle fee to $70, which is more than double the current fee of  $30. There is no question that our public lands need additional funding, but instead of increasing fees investments in these precious resources should be a priority for our government since the payback is more than can ever be counted. Our National Parks instill a sense of awe and wonder and inspire all who visit. It is important that the entrance fees do not impose a barrier to any citizen who may already feel that a trip to a park is out of reach.

So, please contact the president, write your congressional representative, and support environmental organizations that work toward the conservation and management of public lands. Further, write the National Park Service and tell them to keep our parks affordable. See https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/10-24-2017-fee-changes-proposal.htm for how to provide comments on the new fee structure. The deadline for feedback is November 23rd.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Everything is Confused this Fall

There is a monarch transforming inside

At the very end of September I spotted a monarch chrysalis attached to our bulkhead. I have now seen all three stages of this butterfly in our yard this year, starting with a gorgeous caterpillar
in July (see July 4th post). Then in August an adult was sipping nectar in the garden (see August 29th post.)

I was certainly not expecting to find a chrysalis during this time of year and I was worried that it would freeze before it had a chance to transform. In fact, a few days later it got very dark and I thought that maybe it had died, but it was actually the butterfly developing inside because on October 5th, this is all that was left -

Empty Monarch cocoon
I am happy that the butterfly emerged, but I wonder if it was too late in the year for it to survive the long migration to Mexico. With the frequency and severity of hurricanes this year, perhaps it was a good thing that this butterfly got a late start.

Now, three weeks later, we have yet to experience cool days and cold nights that are typical of Autumn. In fact, this past weekend both days were over seventy degrees. We have only had two mild frosts so far. Both required me to scrape my car windows, but neither killed my tomato or basil plants. This has been a very strange fall indeed. Although the shorter days signal to the plants and animals that summer has ended, at night the crickets are still chirping and the moths are still flying around the outdoor lamps. It definitely feels more like early September than late October.

The plants in the yard are confused too. This is the first year that I remember Lavender plants having a second bloom cycle.
Lavender blooming October 22nd
And even stranger than that are yellow flowers on a Forsythia bush.

The color of the leaves indicate that summer is over, but why is this Forsythia blooming in October?
I don't have to type the words "Climate Change" to make the point that the seasons are not what they used to be. Nature is responding and as pleasant as this warm weather may seem, the long-term consequences may not be. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

EPA Approves Spraying of Dicamba for Another Year

Dicamba Damaged Soybeans (photo: University of Missouri)
This summer farmers filed a record number of complaints to EPA and state agencies related to crop damage suspected from drift as a result of the aerial spraying of weed killers formulated with  dicamba. As a result lawsuits by farmers have been filed against the manufacturers of the chemical,  Monsanto, BASF, Dupont and Pioneer, and the Arkansas State Plant Board voted in September to ban the chemical application on crops from April to November. A public hearing has been set for November. EPA, however, announced on Friday that dicamba formulations designed to be used with specially engineered herbicide resistant soybean and cotton seeds could continue to be sprayed throughout next year's growing season with certain restrictions such as training and certification for applicators, record-keeping, and prohibitions on applying during certain time of the day or when wind speeds exceed 10 miles per hour. 

According to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt "Today's actions are the result of intensive, collaborative efforts, working side by side with the states and university scientists from across the nation who have first-hand knowledge of the problem and workable solutions. Our collective efforts with our state partners ensure we are relying on the best, on-the-ground, information."

 Of course the manufacturers are pleased with the decision, with Monsanto's spokesperson, Scott Partridge, stating that he expects the planting of their dicamba-resistant soybean seeds to double next year to 40 million acres. Farmers who do not want to purchase the specially formulated seeds are not convinced that the new EPA restrictions will be adequate in protecting their own crops against incidental damage and feel that they may be forced to buy the resistant seeds to stay in business. Read NPR story here: http://nhpr.org/post/ok-epa-use-controversial-weedkiller-expected-double#stream/0.

In the meantime, researchers continue to study alternatives to controlling weeds on soybean crops.   North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center conducted trials by planting Rye as a companion crop alongside soybeans and found multiple benefits. In addition to the suppression of weeds, the rye helps prevent soil erosion and can also be harvested as forage, providing additional income.

Bees need a variety of flowers to flourish
Do we really want to keep creating herbicide resistant seeds which promote the planting of mono-culture crops and the lose of biodiversity that comes along with it? As we have seen with glyphosate and other weed killers, weeds will eventually become resistant and new stronger chemicals will need to be created.  In addition to herbicide drift, beekeepers have also reported adverse impacts in the production of honey from bees located near dicamba-treated fields. It is suspected that the lose of nectar from the "non-desired weeds" is the cause. To some, weeds are only seen as something to be destroyed. However, in the complexity of nature, destroying one element, will result in some impact(s) to another. The preferred option should always be to try and work with nature and not against it. Unfortunately when profits are at stake it can be difficult to make the right choice when a short-term solution is presented and the potential long-term consequences are hidden or ignored.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October Hike Spaulding Mountain

Sunday my friend Sue and I completed our last 4000 hike for the season - Spaulding Moutain in the Carrabessett Valley of Maine. This was our fourth time, parking at the end of the Caribou Valley Road, with it's potholes and precarious stream crossings. Actually, since our first trip to hike the Crockers in 2014, significant repairs to the road have been made, so that the drive was not as bad as expected. In the past, we have driven the four hours to this area and completed our hike all in one day. But, we have learned that this resulted in a late morning start, and a drive back through moose country at dusk. This resulted in a long journey with white-knuckled driving as moose would walk, and sometimes run directly in front of our car. To avoid dealing with these near misses, for the past two trips we have driven up the day before and spent the night at a nearby hotel. In August we stayed at the Herbert Grand in Kingfield Maine before hiking Mount Abram. For this trip, the Herbert Grand was full, so we stayed in Rangeley at the Saddleback Inn, a basic two story motel that offers a fantastic view of the lake. The accomodations were adequate, however the Pop-Tarts and bagels, do not count as breakfast in my book, so we had eggs down the hill at Rangeley's Moose Loop Cafe.

Sunset on Rangeley Lake
This plank takes the guess work out of where to cross
I did not sleep well Saturday night and woke up feeling under the weather. I was not sure that I would even be able to start the hike, let alone finish it. But it would have been hard to have come all that way and then to turn around. I am glad that I persisted, but it was slow going. We completed the nine-plus mile round-trip hike in eight hours which is almost two hours over book time. This hike is completely on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and is not one to be taken lightly. The crossing on the South Branch of the Carrabassett River was easy since the water was low and someone had installed a single plank between two large boulders. Immediately after crossing the river the trail climbed moderately and then steeply. There was little opportunity for a cardio warmup.

The climb up was grueling and great caution needed to be taken on the descent.
The first 2.3 miles we had done before two years earlier when we had hiked Sugarloaf. In retrospect, it is best to do these two mountains together and only do this stretch once. If you are in shape and can spot a car, you could add Mount Abram as part of a traverse. Another option to consider is to hike over Sugarloaf using one of the ski trails and then continue on the AT toward Spaulding.

Surprisingly, few trees had changed color. It has been unseasonably warm, and although there was frost on our windshield in the morning, there have been few nights below freezing. So, even though the days are getting shorter, the temperature is not signaling the leaves to stop their production of chlorophyll. It was a perfect day for hiking though - comfortably cool and clear.

There are some beautiful views on this stretch of the AT
Although there were no red leaves, the crimson berries of Mountain Laurel and Mountain Ash provided plenty of color.
Mountain Laurel (left) and Mountain Ash berries
After reaching the junction for the Sugarloaf summit spur, we beared right to stay on the AT. Although the section to Spaulding involves a descent and then a climb, it was not difficult. What is disappointing is the sign at the top of the mountain that reads the height as 3988 feet. According to one blogger, this peak was added to the AMCs New England 4000 footer list in 1998. Apparently recalculated USGS measurements have it at 4010 feet, which is what is shown in the Maine Mountain Guide. It would be nice for us peak baggers if the Maine Appalachian Trail Club agreed and replaced their sign. 

From a stamina perspective, I was happy when we started heading down. My knees on the other hand felt differently. We took it easy, but were still surprised that it only took us a half hour less to descend than to climb. We are happy to be done and to say goodbye to the Carrabassett Valley. If all goes well next year we will tackle the mountains of Baxter State Park!