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Brussel Sprouts or Brussels Sprouts?

When I was 21, my Aunt Rita and my Mom (Aunt Susie to my cousins) gave me a backyard picnic party. I was thrilled to see the long-stemmed rose box, tied with a big red ribbon, since no boy had yet seen fit to present long-stemmed roses to me. So imagine my giddiness, then shock, then dismay when I opened the box to find a long-stemmed Brussel (Brussels?) Sprout plant. HaHa. Not funny.

Fast forward forty years and here I am, picking Brussel (Brussels?) Sprouts from our garden in time to roast them for Thanksgiving.

Brussels Sprouts 11-15-2015 1-13-10 PM 4000x3000

If you want the history, I recommend an interesting website: foodtimeline.org. Here you will find the dates of cultivation of Brussels Sprouts (yes, the Romans carted them north, but the Persians and Afghans had them first, then across the pond to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by 1812) right next to important dates in the history of…my favorite vegetable…brownies.

What I now know from reading Sprout History is that those that write “Brussel” instead of “Brussels” don’t know nuthin’ bout Sprout Geography. Then again, the Crusaders are once again to blame. They stole and renamed the sprout. We are really eating, “Babylon Balls” or some such.

I made some Brussel(s) Sprouts for Thanksgiving (not a big seller) and so there are more in the refrigerator. Here’s two “slaw” recipes in case you are in the same bucket.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Christmas Salad

Brussels Sprout & Cranberry Salad

Cold and gray today. Almost December… ##

Southwestward Ho! A Gardener’s Tour of St. Louis

Someday I will create an app that is just for gardeners. My app will use your phone’s GPS to tell you every place nearby that would be of interest to a gardener: nurseries, garden centers, botanic gardens, cemeteries, parks, outdoor history museums, farms, that day’s garden events…YELP might be for restaurants and gas stations, GELP [Gardeners Eager for Local Places] would be for “anything garden.” Trip Advisor needs a gardener’s tour section too.

Take, for example, John and my recent two-night trip to St. Louis. We packed a lot in: first, we went to the University of Missouri’s Mercantile Library to donate an oil painting of the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau by Fred Greene Carpenter. I LOVE this type of museum: founded in 1846, it is the oldest library west of the Mississippi and is therefore FULL of “stuff”, art and books. My kind of heaven. When we visited, it had a display of Audubon (yes, the Library bought a double folio in 1858 from Audubon’s family) plus many other botanical, mammal, insect, and bird prints. AND they had a “phrenology head” on display. Way cool early psychiatry. Can ya just feel the meaning of your head bumps? (Btw, Amazon has these heads for sale for $73. Etsy=$17. Marvelous Christmas present, I’m sure.)

phrenology

Nearby we visited Bellefontaine Cemetery, which is of interest for three reasons. First, founded in 1849, it is a great example of the bucolic cemetery (and early park) movement in America. Second, Bellefontaine was designed by Almerin Hotchkiss, who is reputed to have also designed Lake Forest, IL, where we live. I wondered if there were obvious comparisons between the two places. Answer: yes. Third, when Lake Forest decided a few years ago to update its “Forest Park” (the Chicago region’s third oldest park, set aside in 1857), I (and others, including the family of O.C. Simonds) worked hard to have its chosen landscape architect treat it as a “cultural landscape” so that it would retain its historic character. Turns out the chosen landscape architect cared more about being contempo than being historic, so while the idea of cultural landscape preservation didn’t work out in Lake Forest, it has at Bellefontaine. Beautifully. The trees are awesome!

IMG_7557 Hotchkiss’ design for Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis is a fine example of the American tradition of park landscaping.[/caption]

John and I were heartened to see that Bellefontaine’s streets are paved with macadam (lots of aggregate), has granite curbing flush with the grass, trees planted this-close to the streets, a high crown in the road to steer drainage, adherence to the topography, and sight lines created by the judicious placement of trees and shrubbery, including (this is a modern motif) pockets of prairie grasses. The cemetery–the fourteenth of the great rural cemeteries in America–is in itself an accredited arboretum.

Louis Sullivan’s 1892 mausoleum for St. Louis businessman Ellis Wainwright is at Bellefontaine:

After seeing this jewel, we were compelled to go downtown to see the 1891 Wainwright office building (“the building that changed America”), which has not fared as well as the mausoleum. To save it, the State of Missouri bought it (in the 1970’s?), saved the exterior (mostly), and turned the inside into the-most-banal-looking government offices. Even the Soviets would be embarrassed.

Off we went for lunch in “The Hill”–the fantastico Italian neighborhood–and then to the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden. The MBG is informally known as “Shaw’s Garden” for its founder, Henry Shaw, who often traded trees with…wait for it…Almerin Hotchkiss. This garden was Shaw’s home (still there) and dates to 1859, which puts it on the National Register of Historic Places. The MBG is well known for its 1977 Japanese garden, called Seiwa-en, which is the largest Japanese garden in America as well as its 1960 Climatron, the first geodesic dome greenhouse. Not to mention the Bavarian Garden. And we loved the 1882 Linnean Greenhouse, the oldest operating greenhouse west of the Mississippi.

IMG_7598

Unfortunately, we did not see the “Jewel Box” greenhouse located in nearby Forest Park. This 1936 Art Deco confection is also on the National Register. You can see why:

I hope you enjoyed my one-day gardener’s tour of St. Louis. By the way, we also tried to take in Cahokia Mounds–just fourteen miles from St. Louis is Collinsville, Illinois–but it was not open. Welcome to Illinois’ budget cuts: this historic six-acre Native American site is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. If I designed an app, that info would be on it. G’rrr.##

 

So Beautiful, So Scary, It’s the Future

Fall is in its glory, with beautiful weather days, clouds, pumpkins and leaf colors surrounding us here in Chicago.

Revel in this loveliness, dear readers, because Climate Change is with us everywhere always. Last Saturday, I attended a seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The subject? A scientific study of which trees we should be planting because they are well suited to….future heat levels in the Chicago region. Here’s some winners: American Hornbeam [Carpinus caroliniana] ‘Firespire’, Kentucky Coffeetree [Gymnocladus dioicus] ‘Top Hat’, Miyabe Maple [Acer miyabei] ‘State Street’. Here’s a loser: White oak. My heart weeps to think this tree may be gone from Chicago by 2050. As I write, the biggest hurricane EVER is looming down on wonderful Manzanillo, Mexico, which we once had the pleasure of visiting, bringing with it 12″ of rain across the American Gulf Coast. 2015 is the hottest year on record. The oceans are already three degrees warmer than the 20th century average (and it takes a lot of heat to heat up an entire ocean), and drought will mean MILLIONS will be starving in Africa. India and Pakistan hit 118 degrees last spring, leaving no water supply. Thousands of people died. Did we even KNOW THAT? (Pet peeve: TV weather reports never show international maps, as if no one lives in foreign countries. Even Canada doesn’t show up on the TV news.) But 25 “red” states are suing the Federal government for trying to reduce emissions via regulations to be published by the EPA today. It’s a disingenuous ploy to seem like they are saving coal mining jobs since most states** are preparing plans to do the right thing, climate wise, and meet the regulations thru their own cap-and-trade programs. (**Hard-core Governors that are suing the Feds without creating their own air quality plans are Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.) I’m grateful to live in Chicago, which seems fairly insulated from the big environmental disasters. But the “hot” news from elsewhere makes me want to either pull the blankets over my head and hide OR do something pro-active. I live in a big house (actually, two houses), own three cars (none battery powered), and own numerous gas-driven tractors, lawnmowers, chain saws and leaf blowers. Which means that I’m more responsible in thought (admission: I think electricity is the best invention ever) and deed for bleaching the coral animals than the average guy, although not anywhere as bad as the Koch brothers, the Tennessee Valley Authority (yes, the Federal government’s own power plants), or Exxon Mobil. Their coal companies power my house and their refineries power my vehicles. Moi? Mea culpa. Here’s a great Forbes article that explains the big polluters and the trade-offs we make. No matter how many (heat tolerant) trees I plant, it’s time for me to say “no” to gasoline and coal. Maybe one less person will starve or one more coral will live because I didn’t blow the leaves away quite so fast or (gasp) raked and composted the leaves. Less air conditioning and “cleaner” cars. Ya think?## Sounds like I’m singing the blues today.  

It All Adds Up…or…Plants of the World, Unite!

I think one of the best things about life on earth is the NY Times. I’ve been reading it daily–and fairly closely–every day since I was a teenager.

There is so much information in every issue that it can make my brains hurt. And since there is not enough room in my cranium (please no remarks) to store all this written material, I am compelled to share the paper’s good and fascinating information with…you. From time to time, that is. I won’t pester you with doomsday too often, promise.

Here’s some recent good stuff that relates to gardening, which relates to conservation, and animals, and minerals and health and capitalism and government and, well, to my life. And to your’s.

For example, an example of animal conservation. You will recall, no doubt, that our 19th and early 20th century cowboy ancestors thought the Prairie Chicken so delicious that they shot dead one million birds from the tallgrass prairies that lined the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana and Texas. They probably killed ’em all in just one day. Or maybe two. Anyway, it’s 2015 and now a TOTAL (!) of 104 birds struggle to survive at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake Texas. Despite the best efforts of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the chicks that they had carefully and fairly recently hatched were dying.

Why? Because, the NYTimes tell us, an invasive species–red fire ants–“were decimating the insect population of the prairie. While adults eat plants and insects, the chicks dine primarily on insects, [so] the chicks were starving to death”. The good news is that “exterminating the fire ants and adding more plants that attract insects in the refuge has helped.” Last year, 60% of the chicks survived. Sadly, though, “a storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the refuge and the new chicks drowned or died of exposure”. Can you spell, “climate change”?

Next, the NYTimes leads us to the war between organic companies and the Monsanto regarding GMO labeling on the food we eat. The Federal government requires any product labeled “organic” to be free of ingredients produced from GMO seeds. On the flip side of that coin, Monsanto hires many professors to testify against the labeling horror in states that might want to follow the Federal  effort with their own labeling legislation. [Since consumers now doubt the profe$$or$, Monsanto’s advertising is soon going to feature more believable “mommy farmers”, but I digress.] But since the “organic movement” doesn’t feed the world or make billions in profits, the Agriculture Department in 2014 “approved GMO soybeans and cottonseed designed by Monsanto and treated with Dow-produced herbicide”.

Let’s keep going here. While the Feds or states don’t make most food companies disclose what’s actually in our food, the Federal government will now allow companies to say “made without ractopamine”, a chemical given pigs and chickens and some beef so that the animals can gain muscle weight while using fewer calories. Did you ever know about this practice before today? (I didn’t.) You want to know just how bad this stuff is? The Chinese won’t let us bring pigs or chickens into China because they don’t trust it. The Chinese! Now that explains why the big boys, like Tyson, are all of a sudden eager to have the Feds create a “made without ractopamine” label…they want to sell their animals to China (and to the EU and Russia and all the others that ban ractopamine.) So it was really not the organic crowd that got this label labelled…it was the mega-ag fellas.

Stay with me here. Can any of my readers imagine CROPS (ie plants) that don’t die after being (accidentally) sprayed by RoundUp? Well, okay, it’s old news that we eat soybeans and corn which are genetically engineered to withstand RoundUp. The new news is that the Ag Dept has approved corn and soybeans that can withstand spraying with 2-4 D. 2-4 D? OMG, do you remember Agent Orange?! Here’s the grim facts and “government speak” of this craziness:

“The Agriculture Department, in its environmental analysis, predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 percent to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020. But it said analysis of the effects of that increased use was the responsibility of the E.P.A. The Agriculture Department said ITS [emphasis mine] approval depended mainly on whether the crops would harm other plants.” 

EPA is whether humans are poisoned. Ag is whether plants are poisoned. This is why people hate government.

Now, just in case you worry about human trafficking or slavery or child soldiers, as the State Department does, the NYTimes tells us there is a 356-page disclosure rule via Dodd-Frank that requires our companies to disclose “conflict minerals” in their products (like frozen shrimp from Thailand sold by Costco or tin that gives Party City’s balloons their sheen).

So, here’s an idea. If we can require such an onerous disclosure rule that probably has little real impact on slavery (compared with, say, paying decent wages), can’t we know that the food we eat was made with seeds resistant to the chemicals that kill the insects that kill the Prairie Chickens or the milkweed that feeds Monarch butterflies or the herbicide that killed people that lived or soldiered in Vietnam? Just sayin’.

Gardening these days requires a lot of thought.##

PS Here’s some good news: McDonalds, which uses 2 billion eggs annually, wants to let their hens be cage-free. This will take ten years to accomplish, but hey. Free the hens! Free the hens!

chickens