Forum Holitorium

Zucchini Season is Open

To my surprise, the friend whose garden is hosting our two zucchini plants informed us that one zucchini was ready to be picked. Though I had already marveled at the variety of local vegetables and fruit already available at the farmer’s market last Saturday, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind that our plants might also have reached that point. We have planted very little this year, trying to use up our stockpile of seeds and limiting ourselves to what we eat the most. None of the carrots and only one of the radishes we planted from seed grew. Two bean plants survived a slug attack and are now finally working their way towards the sky. We bought two young zucchini plants at the annual plant market at the end of April, and there were three others going to town when we picked the first Cocozelle von Tripolis (Cucurbita peop var. garomontiina), an Italian heirloom variety. The striped fruit keeps with the color scheme of the week: greens of varying shades in a scarf I just completed. The lace pattern is called old shale, a Shetland pattern reminiscent of shells (shale = Shetland dialect pronunciation of the word shell).

There has been much going on lately with unexpected and troubling news arriving from many directions. In the end, all you can do is enjoy what you have and try to reduce suffering and share happiness. Beautiful sunny weather was undercut by a few dismal grey rainy days. Good for zucchini, but poor for our spirits. In the midst of one of the downpours, I spotted a bee on its back on the patio. Frantically waving its legs, it couldn’t get out of a pool of water. TC is an incorrigible insect rescuer. He brought it to a dry place next to the door and got it back on its feet. Unfortunately, when we checked back on it a few hours later, the bee had stopped moving. Even though it didn’t save the bee, I feel the gesture was important. We did what we could.

The cycle of life goes on. Our agapanthus is channeling its energy into a lone bud that will blossom in the near future, reminding us of Portugal and our honeymoon, which will soon be three years ago. I hope that buds are appearing all around you, ones that produce blossoms that are a balm to your eyes and bear delicious fruit that bring delight to your palate.

Refugium

I am dreaming of the day that I have a house of my own, one where I can step outside into my yard and not be seen by my neighbors if I so choose, where I don’t have to repeatedly clean up plant material falling from the neighbor’s patio above onto my own, where the cell phone conversations of others do not rouse me from the delicious indulgence of an afternoon nap, and where the stink of perfume does not invade my bedroom when I want to open my window to start my day listening to the birds singing. Edible bushes of savory, raspberries, and blackberries will array the perimeter of this delicious space of my own, and a wind chime will hum in harmony with the wind. Someday.

The multiple strawberry plants in pots and the large planter are now yielding fruit. The Mara des Bois, a smaller French variety, is my favorite kind of strawberry, a concise burst of flavor. During my absence of nearly a month, the herbs and berries continued to grow. The only vegetable I am trying in pots this year is Swiss chard, and the three tiny plants I left in mid-May are now ready for larger pots of their own.

The second brood of tit birds (Parus major) nesting in the pine tree next door are growing too. We can hear their excited chatter each time mom or dad returns to the birdhouse with a juicy green caterpillar hanging from its beak. The first brood left the nest mid-May. Flying for the first time is tough, calling for good coordination as well as good navigation skills. One tit was baffled when it flew onto our patio, falling between the strawberries and the rue. After hopping around and chirping for help which never came, it managed to find its way to the bushes into which its siblings had already flown.

Besides listening to birds and watching the plants grow, I am reading the book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. Williams recounts the experience of watching her mother die of cancer and the waters of Great Salt Lake rise and flood a wildlife refuge dear to her over the same period of time. One question she asks herself in the book struck me to the quick: why do we distract and excuse ourselves from our own creativity? Why indeed? Why such a long season of silence with this blog? It is not from a lack of ideas or inspiration.

The needles keep flying, nonetheless, and I continue to gain ground on meeting the knitting goals for 2015 I made in a post earlier this year. Of the six sweaters I set out to knit, two are finished and one simply needs to be stitched together. Of the twelve pairs of socks, four are finished and a fifth is nearly half done. The Lake Michigan jacket below kept me warm along its shores over the past few weeks. Now it’s time to turn to projects of cotton and linen more suited to the burgeoning summer here in Graz.

Take refuge in your creativity and enjoy the company of considerate neighbors!

Barcino Express

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It took a road trip to rouse me from my blogless torpor. West-southwest, out of the clutches of the Alps. More precisely: to the sea of the ancient Romans, mare nostrum, the Mediterranean. Though my preference is for leisurely soaking up the ambience of a place, strolling, visiting the markets, reading the newspaper in the local language (regardless of my level of understanding), from time to time it’s invigorating to shift into higher gear. Since TC and I only had 9 days and a lot of kilometers to cover, there was little time to linger and stop and photograph the drainpipes. What a whirlwind of a trip!

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Much of the way to Barcelona is along the beaten path from our perspective: Padua, Piemonte, Menton, and the Côte d’Azur. We entered into new waters as the autoroute split at Narbonne and we headed south instead of west. The hills once peopled with Cathars reminded me of Croatia. I discovered the pleasant, modestly touristy town of Collioure nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees just before the border with Spain. Our stop coincided with a market day, and we were treated to our first locally grown strawberries of the year. A soap, spice, and herb vendor was slightly richer after we left his stand. Then it was off across the border, first along the winding coastal road with incredible views of the sea, then back to the highway to buy us more time in the city.

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If you had asked me a month ago what I associated with Barcelona, I would probably have answered Gaudí, swarms of 20-year-olds studying abroad, the 1992 Olympic Games, and a brightly colored ceramic magnet with a picture of a guitar that I have in my kitchen (a gift many years ago from a friend who had visited the city). That picture has naturally changed. With less than three days in Barcelona, we decided to limit our scope to the beach and then the older part of the city, just waving to the Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona’s beach to the east of downtown is impressive and stretches on and on. As we moved inland from the Barceloneta neighborhood, I was happy to look up and notice we were strolling by the llotja, a building I had recently read about in the history of the Mediterranean I have been working through at a leisurely place. Back in the 15th century when the Catalans ruled the western waters of the Mediterranean, this was the seat of the commercial tribunal and an important business center. Nearby is the El Born district, full of shops, cafés, and restaurants. Plaça de la Llana (Wool Square) is located not far away from a yarn store. It took great will power to keep myself from buying some beautiful blue Spanish handspun yarn. The Barri Gòtic district just to the west overlaps nicely with the original Roman settlement of Barcino. I drank a coffee leaning back against one of the original Roman walls in the back room of a charming cafe.

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As for culinary highlights, I got to try pan amb tomàquet, a toasted bread rubbed with tomatoes, sweet peppers, and garlic, and an empanada catalana from the empanada stand at La Boqueria market that had a delicious filling of potatoes, spinach, raisins, and pine nuts. I looked longingly at the calçots (green onions that are grilled and served with romanesco sauce) for sale, but since I had no access to a kitchen and didn’t see them on any of the menus of the restaurants we went to, tasting them will have to wait until the next time I visit Catalonia. We stocked up on ganxet and genoll de cristo beans, two regional varieties.

The time passed by too quickly, and soon we found ourselves back on the road, stretching our legs in Aix-en-Provence and then watching the sun set in Juan-les-Pins on the French riviera. After a brief visit to the Musée Picasso in Antibes, we strolled through yet another market, the Marché Provençale, and sampled the olive tapenade (without anchovies, the vendor responded brusquely to my query, stating that only in Marseilles would anyone add anchovies to olive tapenade) and a delicious tomato pesto labelled bagnettou d’Antibes. Like the line at the Musée Picasso in Barcelona, the line for socca at the market was too long for us. We lucked out, though, and on our way back to the car, we found another place with socca to go – and no line.

I hope you too find a nice place in the sun to admire the view and savor something tasty. May this spring bring you many enjoyable experiences and much inspiration.

Year of the Sock

What is January without New Year’s resolutions? I love the promise of a new start, the chance to shift my focus to different projects after the holidays. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the still short yet steadily lengthening days and relative cold of winter encourage building a warm nest on a free part of the couch and supplying yourself with a good book, wool, and needles. My thoughts turn back to last January and February, when I took on Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) and embarked upon a series of scarves for myself and for friends. The novel was disappointing, yet another story of a man who projected his own fantastic, illusory ideas onto a woman, refusing to see her as she really was, and who romanticized tuberculosis, which despite better treatment options remains the second leading cause of death by infectious disease worldwide. The scarves, however, turned out quite well.

This year I’m rereading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and my focus will be on perfecting my sock technique in what I have officially declared to be The Year of the Sock. I have resolved to knit 15 pairs of socks in 2015. I’ve completed three pairs already and have enough yarn stashed to make at least five more before I need to go scouting for new wool. TC is thoroughly enjoying his Autumn Leaves socks shown above. I am worried how the yarn will hold up because I knit my very first pair of socks with the same yarn. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold up well. The only reason I agreed to use this wool again is because he picked out the yarn, drawn to the colors. The pattern is Woodsman’s Socks by Elizabeth Zimmermann, the radical DIY grandmother of knitting, a mentor to freethinking knitters, a woman who possessed a fine sense of humor. It is fantastic when you find a pattern that you don’t need to modify at all, and these fit TC perfectly. They knit up so quickly that I don’t think I’ll get upset when they wear out and need to be replaced.

The socks above don’t count – they were finished last year and merely serve as a placeholder for a picture of the other two finished pairs of socks. The latter are made of extremely warm Icelandic wool (to the tune of Swanee: Lopi, how I love thee) left over from sweater projects. One pair is for TC, who must have been good, and the other is for me. The pattern, Leistar, required tinkering with; I ended up knitting the child’s size for me and the women’s size for TC.  Pictures of them will be forthcoming when the replacement lens for our camera arrives. It fought valiantly but lost when confronted with Wisconsin wind and snow. The last picture it took gives you a better idea of how I perceive the world when I don’t have my glasses on.

So three pairs of socks down and 12 to go in the next 11 plus months. I am hard at work on pair #4, black ribbed wool/nylon knee-highs. They represent one small step toward replacing the cotton blend knee-highs and sundry wool socks with holes that I got rid of as I tidied up my wardrobe under the influence of this post. No, I don’t plan to make 12 more pairs for me. That would be overkill, plus my newly organized sock drawer won’t be able to handle more than four more pairs. I’m confident there are people out there who would love to have a nice pair of handknit socks and when the time is right, they will make themselves known.

My second knitting resolution for 2015 is to knit six sweaters including at least one turtleneck, one cardigan, one pullover, and one involving steeking. I have enough yarn lurking in the depths of my newly organized wardrobe to make six sweaters, which was my sweater average in 2014, the year of the frog (to frog = to ravel a project). I reused yarn from three of my own sweaters to make one new one for TC (above) and two different ones for me (one shown below).

My last two knitting resolutions are to learn brioche stitch and to knit something using lace weight yarn. What are your resolutions for 2015? Hope your feet stay warm and you find a good book to tide you over until spring.

Keeper of the Waters

In her beautiful, inspiring book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that in the Potawatomi tradition, men are responsible for caring for fire while women are keepers of the waters. Though I am not contributing anything to the health of Lake Michigan at present, I spent the past month reestablishing my connection to many of the bodies of water to which I feel an affinity. While sitting with the view above of “my” harbor, I turned the pages of her book and of Loreen Nieuwenhuis’s A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach. Both authors see as imperative the establishment of a healthier relationship between humans and the environment. Whereas Kimmerer is a botanist by trade who aims to bridge the gap between science and the traditional Potawatomi worldview in order to heal the earth, Niewenhuis decided to walk the whole way around Lake Michigan to take time out to discover more about who she was and explore her relationship to this majestic body of water.

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While it was not her main purpose in writing the book, Niewenhuis exposes the many ways in which Lake Michigan and all the living beings in and around it have been exploited in the name of profit and progress. I was shocked to discover that coho are not native to the Great Lakes but were introduced when native salmon could no longer spawn in the rivers that flow into the lake as a result of deforestation. Equally appalling is the amount of ammonia and toxic sludge continuing to be emitted by the BP refinery on the south shore of the lake and the amount of toxic spills and dumping that have occurred in the past one hundred years. 

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While punctuated with moments of doubt and concern for whether it’s possible to heal the numerous wounds already inflicted, Kimmerer’s book mostly serves as an antidote to any growing despair that may arise when an inventory of damage is taken. Two main themes are cultivating gratitude and learning how to take only what you need. I liked how she often poses questions that have no easy black or white answer:

How do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?

Can Americans…learn to live here as if we were staying? With both feet on the shore?

What do you love too much to lose? Who and what will you carry to safety?

Finding intelligent answers to these questions will take time. I took many notes while reading the book and am still thinking about how to integrate the lessons of the book into my own life. The ripples made by the stone of this book landing in the waters of my mind will keep spreading throughout the upcoming year. I am regrettably too far away to play much of a role in restoring Lake Michigan to health, but perhaps there will come a time in the future where I will be able to make a more active contribution to its welfare.

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It wasn’t all about reading, this trip home. Since I stayed longer, there was time for a road trip to visit family farther away. TC, two lucky blog readers, and I lit out for the territory west of the Missouri River. Shortly after this picture was taken, I saw my first wild turkeys hanging out in a field on the side of the road. I am ashamed to say I didn’t know turkeys still lived in the wild. Great news, actually. It was also a pleasure to visit the Argyle Fiber Mill and pick up yarn made in Wisconsin. The animals who gave their fleece all live within fifty miles of the mill.

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After stocking up on fibers, we didn’t stop until we had crossed the Mississippi.  Unfortunately, it was shrouded in fog, so TC’s first glimpse of Old Man River wasn’t as spectacular as it might have been. Dubuque, Iowa, our destination that night, has a delightful main street complete with a yarn store, bookstore, coffee shop, and restaurant – all locally owned and located within one block of each other.

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A week later, I spent a tranquil night on the shores of my dear old friend Lake Mendota, warming up and knitting in front of the roaring fire at a cozy arts and crafts bed and breakfast, the taste of rice noodles and bok choy dumplings still in my mouth. Funny how a walk on a grey December morning and the sight of old radiators and bathroom fixtures can make me nostalgic about my time as a student.

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The weather was unseasonably warm until the last week, when winter decided to bare her teeth once again. The wool sweaters and socks I had made for others came in handy as the wind blew harder and snow started to accumulate. Even Honest Abe needed to cover up.

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I wish you a happy, peaceful 2015 full of gratitude and plenty!

Coming to Rest

NPR recently had a TED Radio Hour on the subject of quiet, and as I listened to most of it yesterday, I was struck by parallels between the experiences of the speakers and my trip to Grado last weekend. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed books by two of the speakers, John Francis and Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and Susan Cain’s book on introverts has been on my list of books to read for awhile. The main thread running through their talks is how important it is to take time out to be still and listen. Out of this stillness comes creative ideas, new discoveries about the world, a heightened awareness of the environment, a greater understanding of oneself and others, gratitude, bliss…the list goes on and on.

I took some time out on the weekend, making a pilgrimage to the sea that mirrors my trip to Opatija in May. My destination this time was the other major resort town of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy: Grado. Like Venice, Grado lies on an island in the lagoon heavy upper reaches of the Adriatic Sea. A place of refuge from the start, it was first settled by residents of the Roman city of Aquileia seeking safety from waves of barbarian invaders. The old town of Grado, the Castrum, was fortified by the Romans. Now it’s tourists that come, fleeing the inclement weather and their landlocked existence further north to bask in the sun on the Isola del Sole. They are fortified by fish, polenta, and a glass of friulano in the many restaurants located within the perimeter of the Castrum. TC and I were very impressed by Alla Pace, a restaurant that serves up a mean pizza as well as fish dishes. Most vegetables are produced locally and the seafood is all from the lagoon.

Though it can’t compete with the length of the lungomare in Opatija, Grado’s boardwalk is still a delightful place for a stroll or passegiata. It was originally built by the Austrians to hold back the sea.

This time of year, there are few tourists. Many hotels and restaurants close. It can be very windy, but we were fortunate. The sun was out the whole time.

Grado is an excellent destination if your main goals are to relax and stroll. It never got boring to go back and forth on the boardwalk and along the sandy beach at the western tip of the island. I felt my head empty of unnecessary thoughts and my body become energized with each breath of salty sea air. Yet no trip to Italy is complete without a good espresso. The best cafes are those patronized by local people, where there is an old man sitting by the door watching everyone go by and greeting everyone who matters – that is to say who isn’t a tourist. These cafes normally do not lie in the main tourist zone, and Bar al Porto was no exception. We discovered it as we walked along the harbor the first morning, watching the fishermen repairing their nets. Perfectly situated, the cafe was flooded with sunlight all morning. The second morning, we recognized people who had eaten at the same restaurants or whose paths had crossed ours on the lungomare. Grado has less than 9,000 inhabitants, which means everyone knows everyone. Even thought I didn’t know anybody, I enjoyed watching the members of this community who clearly relished meeting and greeting each other. Hey beautiful called one elderly woman to two of her compatriots as she walked up to them and they all started laughing and chatting. The gentleman at the door was joined by a portly man who had a Miniature Pinscher zipped up in his jacket, body against his ample belly and head sticking curiously out. I closed my eyes, feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my skin and the taste of espresso on my tongue. The murmur of voices lulled me into a state of bliss. I sat there a long time, savoring my arrival at a point of stillness.

The beautiful intermezzo came to a close, and it was time to traverse the Alps, which had hovered on the horizon the whole time. On the way back, we spent a few hours exploring the peaceful Valle Cavanata Nature Reserve just east of Grado, spying on coots, swans, and grey geese. As the sun started to descend, it was time to head north. The fog descended upon us shortly after we crossed the border back into Austria, and I haven’t seen the sun since. Thankfully my next journey will start very soon, and it will bring me to a place far away that looks remarkably similar to the picture below.

Happy travels and much peace on your journey to stillness!

Shades of November

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When I’m lucky, the sun comes out, casting shadows on the wall, shining directly into the living room and reaching its luminous fingers out to welcome me back to life after a good night’s sleep.  The darkness has overtaken the light, making me savor the sun more and more and bury myself deeper under the covers in its absence. I don’t need to leave the couch to feel the march of the seasons’ cycle. But I do, of course, because what is better than a brisk walk on a crisp fall day, being careful not to slip on the wet carpet of leaves clinging to the sidewalk? Besides, I now have a creamy oatmeal colored sweater to keep me warm. I knit it up with an alpaca-merino blend yarn salvaged from the discount pile of a local yarn store. A friend carved the wooden buttons from a broomstick.

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There are two autumn palettes. Early fall is fiery and warming, the orange of pumpkin and squash and the red and yellow of leaves. Late fall is less vibrant and more subdued. Life dries up, fades, balls itself up, retreats inside where it is warm, saves energy. Breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup. Dinner: white bean spread with garlic to boost the immune system, hearty boiled buckwheat groats, and braised Savoy cabbage with chestnuts.

Longtime readers will remember my dabbling into cooking with cruciferous vegetables. With my shift away from dairy to plant sources of calcium this year, I have embraced the crucifers wholeheartedly and am eager to try any recipe that comes my way. In the dark ages when I still wrinkled my nose at most brassicas, I nonetheless found Savoy cabbage to be one of the most attractive looking vegetables. Now both eye and tongue enjoy feasting on it.

Last night I struck gold with this simple recipe. I read a blog post that cited an 84-year-old poet who spoke of three lessons she had learned in life. Two are “Be astonished” and “Share your astonishment.” Well, I’m astonished at how well the ingredients blend together, and now I’d like to share it with you.

Braised Savoy Cabbage with Chestnuts

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2 Tbs olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 head of Savoy cabbage, sliced as you like it

200 g/7 ounces boiled chestnuts, halved or quartered or crumbled

1 Tbs white wine vinegar

2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp salt

Sauté the onion in the olive oil on medium-low heat until translucent. Be patient.

Add the cabbage and sauté briefly. Add the chestnuts, vinegar, oregano, and salt. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Check every now and then, giving it a stir and adding water if it starts to stick to the pan.  Be patient.

When the cabbage has softened to your liking or your impatience gets the better of you, eat. Enjoy!

The other life lesson cited by the poet is “Pay attention.” I think these deer do a good job of that. They know whenever I am looking at them. What lessons in life do you have to share?

The End of the Valley


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There are several ends to the Großarl Valley south of Salzburg, Austria, the first of which is pictured here, after which point cars should no longer pass. We kept going on foot, passing an enclosure of red deer, several fishermen and a waterlogged Kneipp cure facility. We knew we had arrived at the next end of the valley when we reached a sign that read “Ende.” A trail started going up toward the peak in the picture above, but we had come far enough in the rain and weren’t interested in hiking up to the next end of the valley. Satisfied, we turned around and retraced our steps.

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They led back past the Kreealm waterfall, one of the many falls decorating the south side of the valley. The sound of the rush of water calms me without fail. It amazes me how tolerant I am of such loudness – a rare exception. The clouds began to nibble on the trees, adding to the magical atmosphere.

Everything we saw was filtered through a fine mist of rain that occasionally strengthened to a downpour. Yes, it rained the whole weekend long. Nestled in the heart of the valley, I had the impression that the sun was forever a stranger to these parts. Years ago, shortly after coming to Austria, I took the train from Graz to Vienna, still so impressed by the scenery that I stared out the window nearly the whole way. It struck me how green the Alps are, that same velvety green I had foolishly thought Ireland and Scotland held a monopoly on. The Alps haven’t lost their green at all in the past ten years. If anything, the nearly constant rainfall this year intensifies it. My amateur photography skills do it little justice.

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Sunday we crossed to the other side of the valley to go to a Frühschoppen. Früh means early, and a Schoppen is a half pint of beer, so as you might imagine, this festival allows you to start consuming alcohol quite early in the day. Which we didn’t. We had been lured to the festival by a flyer stating that sheep would be shorn, an event TC had never experienced in person and which I last saw years ago while conducting interviews with farmers in Rhône-Alpes. Amused by the barn cat annoying the cheese, meat, and schnapps vendors by trying to steal some of their local sausage for sale, we waited patiently in the rain for the sheep shearing to begin while most other people had already gone inside to drink their beer, eat their lunch, and listen to the oompah band. There were two older Swiss women and a random Austrian with a battery powered dancing hat also standing next to the barn, presumably fellow sheep enthusiasts. After an hour in the rain – 30 minutes after the shearing was supposed to begin – we gave up and left. Perhaps the sheep to be shorn were part of the flock that disappeared behind the cloud below.

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Despite the lack of shearing action, we had plenty of opportunities to admire shaggy fleece growers. These mountain sheep grazed right next to our apartment.

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Our landlady said that sheep fleece is only worth a few cents and is mainly used for house insulation. She keeps sheep for the free lawnmower service and for meat. Even long, long ago when I still ate meat, I don’t think I ever had mutton. But not so long ago, when I regularly ate dairy products, I loved a good sheep cheese or sheep milk yogurt. Sadly, those days seem to be history. I made an important, shocking discovery in April: I can no longer eat dairy products and feel healthy.

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What an irony of fate. The valley was full not just of sheep but of cows too – both the ubiquitous Fleckvieh and the Holsteins that pepper the landscape of my native Wisconsin. No more cheese for me. At the recommendation of my doctor, I tried going without dairy for two weeks in April in the hope of relieving severe allergy problems (a torrentially runny nose and an itchy skin rash on my stomach). Within two days of cutting out dairy, my nasal congestion stopped and the rash started healing. It was as if someone had turned off a tap of running water. I had known in an abstract way that dairy encourages mucus production, but it was still shocking to experience it on my own body and realize how much better I felt without it. How long had I been contributing to my own discomfort? It gave me pause that such a small change could have an enormous impact on my well-being. No antihistimines, no Neti pot, no ointments, just different food choices. Could this innocent looking young steer and his kind really wreak that much havoc on my body?

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On several occasions, I tried reintroducing dairy – to little avail. Within a day or two, my nose ran, my rash came back and my digestion was miserable. What puzzles me is that butter doesn’t bother me. Though butter mostly contains fat, there are enough milk proteins in unclarified butter that could trigger an allergic response. Food allergies arise when your body overreacts to protein and affect the mucus membranes, skin, and digestive tract. My reaction was clearly an allergic one and not a sign of lactose intolerance, which only affects digestion.

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Initially I was crushed to figure out that I shouldn’t be eating dairy products anymore. Though I have never enjoyed drinking milk straight, I have always consumed mass quantities of yogurt and cheese and have been known to say there is no life without cheese. My previous diet was heavily dependent on milk products for protein and fat. That has radically changed. I now try to eat beans or lentils every day and have upped the amount of nuts and eggs I eat. I am still tinkering and fretting about how to get enough calcium, but I can confirm that there IS life without cheese. At first, I was sad about no longer being able to eat some of my favorite dishes: gnocchi with ricotta, palak paneer, pizza, grilled Halloumi. But the good news is that there are so many different dishes waiting to be discovered and prepared – and that when you can’t eat most things on the menu anymore when you go out, you save a lot of money by cooking at home. If you or someone you know has problems with allergies, I highly recommend cutting out all dairy for at least two weeks and seeing if the symptoms improve. It’s a cheap experiment with no side effects that might reward you greatly.

We discovered that the Mur River, our local river, starts just on the other side of the peak at the end of the Großarl Valley. As we headed back to Graz, we took the slower, scenic route that followed the course of the Mur from the westernmost reaches of Styria back to the city. We stopped for a stroll and coffee in the town of Murau, home to around 2,000 inhabitants, a large brewery, and the statue of Murna. According to the city’s homepage, the lightening bolt in the river goddess’s hand symbolizes energy (hydroelectric, I presume) and hops grow around her body.

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Our watery weekend is now over. Hope you are staying warm and dry!

A September Confession, or the Cinnamon Sweater Saga

The nuts are in jail again. Walnuts and a lone horse chestnut. You know what to do with walnuts; the horse chestnut is not for show but will be made into laundry detergent by TC according to his special recipe. We have three sources of walnuts this year, one of which has been providing quite large specimens that are easier to crack. Speaking of walnuts, the head and tip of the snout of the terrifying wooly beastie living on our couch that was surprised and captured on film below are made of wool hand dyed with walnut hulls. The cinnamon color will look good on TC, who has been waiting patiently for a sweater for nearly a year now.

The Cinnamon Sweater Saga

At a market in the fair Styrian town of Stainz, we oohed and aahed at the silky alpaca and soft merino wares in beautiful shades that would look good on everyone but me. TC found the cinnamon wool to his liking and we bought the whole lot of it. I started in on the tightly gauged pattern a few weeks later. After finishing the back and making a few calculations, my heart sank: there would not be enough yarn.

There followed months of agonizing, procrastinating, feeling guilty about not having knit TC another sweater when nearly all his old ones were falling apart. Then one day, I had the idea to make a sweater at a looser gauge and in the round. I remeasured and cast on and made it all the way up to the armholes before the record player slowed down and came to a halt. No, the way forward did not require electricity, just a little bit of courage and simple math. And important decision making.

Pattern or improvisation? Sleeves knit in the round or flat? Sleeves separate and sewed in or joined to the body and finished as a raglan in the round?

More procrastination, an even guiltier conscience that I was not clothing my husband properly when I actually have the ability to, and lots of other finished projects. Having survived a few knitting catastrophes (nearly finished items that turned out wrong and needing to be put out of their misery or repaired), I decided it was time to either frog or finish up what I had started so as to make room for new projects that I hope will have less tormented trajectories. Fortified by reading excerpts from Elizabeth Zimmerman books, I picked up the cinnamon sweater again last night, started to count and figured out how many stitches to start out with on the sleeves (48) and how many I will need where the sleeve connects to the body (64) – which naturally took far less time than expected. No calculus involved here.

The saga is ongoing, and only the fates know how it will end, but since the fates in the German-speaking world (i.e. the Norns) spend a fair share of their time knitting, I am betting on a happy ending. Keep your fingers crossed.

As a counterpoint to the aforementioned Zimmerman style raglan based on the percentage system, I am making wild and crazy beet colored nether garments (see the snout of the wooly beast) as described in The Knitter’s Almanac in the September chapter. Related to the much more common German nieder, meaning lower, nether is a lovely sounding old English word that has mostly fallen out of favor and been replaced by the more prosaic “under.” We’ll need wild and wooly clothing to brave the cold rainy peaks of Hohe Tauern National Park, where we hope to escape the beady eyes of the hungry deer chomping away on the foliage outside the window.

Happy knitting and nut collecting!

Squashsitting


One benefit of not traveling when summer is well on its way to fall is that you might be asked to look after a garden and told to help yourself to whatever is ripe. That is the position TC and I have found ourselves in this week. Our friends have a plethora of summer and winter squash and apples, apples, apples, so the kitchen has been the site of much action. The apples have been cooked down to compote or applesauce (depending on where you draw the line). The butternut squash has been made into Squash Pockets filling and paired with buckwheat groats. The strawberry leaves will add an accent to future cups of tea. And the yellow and green zucchini and pattypan squash have gone into two batches of the recipe below. This new addition to my summer culinary repertoire makes for a fast, easy, tasty meal.

Indian-style  Summer Squash

1 tbsp olive oil

1 kg / 2.2 lbs summer squash (green and yellow zucchini, pattypan), cut into fat matchsticks

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp diced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp ground chili pepper, paprika, or (for those not up to hot) coriander

salt

black pepper

1  heaping tbsp almond butter, tahini, or peanut butter

Fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they darken. Add the ginger, turmeric, and chili pepper and sauté a minute or two. Add the squash, stirring to cover it with the spice mixture. Add some salt and a few tablespoons of water if it starts to stick to the pan. Cover and stew until cooked (at least 10 minutes). Grind some black pepper to taste. Stir in the nut butter of your choice. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve with rice or buckwheat groats.

 

The recipe mine evolved from calls for a mix of zucchini and bulb fennel. Carrots would also make a nice variation. The past few months have seen me preoccupied or obsessed (once again depending on where you draw the line) with nutrition, and what’s interesting is that you never hear much about the health benefits of zucchini – not like nutrient-dense veggies like kale (vitamins K, A, and C – AND fights cancer!), carrots (vitamin A!), Swiss chard (vitamin K!), or sweet potatoes (vitamins A and C!). Why do we hear so little about this ubiquitous favorite of gardeners? Well, there isn’t much of a case to make for zucchini as a superfood. Zucchini provides modest amounts of vitamin C, manganese, copper, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both good for your eyesight. It is low calorie and a source of fiber. I’m afraid that’s all I could dig up. Summer squash will not be the next superfood, yet there is ample place in your diet for Cucurbito pepo. Think of it as the extra vegetable serving we all need to eat after getting a balanced mix of leafy green, cruciferous, and orange carotene-rich veggies – a filler vegetable. Zucchini and the summer squashes take on the flavor of what they are cooked with, and there are so many ways to prepare them.

Here are some ideas for how you can eat up the fruits of these prolific plants: fried zucchini blossoms, ratatouille, broiled zucchini and herbs (with or without a lemon marinade), zucchini tart, zucchini frittata, zucchini with pasta, zucchini soup, zucchini pancakes, zucchini fritters, zucchini bread. Zucchini pairs well with mint, thyme, marjoram, basil, savory, chives, and garlic. What are your favorite ways of preparing zucchini?

Mahlzeit and happy cooking!

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