Tag Archives: book review

Farmers Market Meal #8 – Corn and Bean Soup

This post is the eighth in a series on meals prepared from ingredients purchased from the farmers market (previous post: Farmers Market Meal #7 – Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce.) I’m fairly new to the farmers market scene. I’ve always had good intentions about purchasing local foods but never followed through because I felt lost walking through the stands wondering what to buy. I decided to combat this by coming up with a plan. Before going to the market, I research recipe ideas using seasonal ingredients with the objective of creating one easy meal with as many local ingredients as possible. This way, when I get to the market, I have focus. It definitely helps that my favorite market provides a sign up for weekly email updates about participating vendors and seasonal items.

For my birthday, my sister gave me a really interesting cookbook called The Kitchen Ecosystem by Eugenia Bone. The author has created a cooking/meal planning system that involves three steps: 1) make dishes with as many seasonal ingredients as possible and preserve the left overs for use later; 2) replace commercial products in the pantry with homemade ones; and 3) prepare base recipes (like soup stock) from the parts you usually throw away. Each chapter is centered on a particular ingredient (like apples, chicken, rhubarb, etc.) and begins with a flow chart showing the dishes that can be made fresh, from preserves, and from scraps using that ingredient. The book also contains many tips on preserving and cooking techniques.

Corn has recently appeared at my favorite market, so I decided to make corn and bean soup (despite it being 80+ degrees outside) inspired from a recipe from this book. As a bonus, the soup also contains tomatoes, another seasonal ingredient. Of course, I decided to take a short cut by buying broth and canned beans from the supermarket. That’s not exactly in the spirit of this book, but hopefully the author will give me a pass because, as she states, it took her 25 years to hone her system.

For this dish, I sauteed onion in a soup pot then added diced tomatoes and allowed them to melt down. I then added the broth, beans, and corn (kernels cut from the cob plus one cob thrown in for flavor) and let that simmer for a while. When I served the soup, I garnished it with pesto (also from the market) and homemade breadcrumbs. The soup turned out great (the after picture is from my second helping).


I definitely recommend checking out The Kitchen Ecosystem. This is a very well thought out book, which I think would be appreciated by anyone interested in less waste and sustainability.

Simplicity and a Book about Hiking the AT

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on long-distance hiking. I’ve gravitated towards this subject, not because I’m interested in doing a long-distance hike myself, but because I’m interested in simple living. If you think about it, an endeavor like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is the ultimate exercise in self-imposed simplicity. Everything one has is in a 50 pound pack.

Of the books I’ve read on this subject, my favorite to date is A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt. In 1998, Jeff Alt set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail as a fundraiser for Sunshine Home in Maumee, Ohio. Sunshine Home supports developmentally disabled residents, such as the author’s brother who was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

What do I like about this book? It comes down to three things.  1) The book is laid out in easy to read chapters with each dedicated to a section of the trail hiked and a map showing the author’s progress. 2) The author does a great job of matter-of-factly describing the mental and physical challenges of the trail. His purpose in writing is motivational rather than humor or drama. Yet, there are instances of both during his hike. 3) The author reminded me of a few important lessons about simplicity, as well as success.  First, life is like hiking in that it is easier with a lighter load. Second, simplicity, when taken to an extreme, doesn’t necessarily mean less stress. On a long distance hike, the stresses of modern life are replaced by the stresses of basic survival: food, water, shelter, safety, weather, and distance walked. Lastly, involving others in a goal increases one’s chance of success. The author not only had a worthwhile cause, but family, friends, his hometown, other hikers, and “trail angels” supported him and motivated him along the way.

Although the author hiked the trail 20 years ago (I imagine some of the descriptions of the shelters and towns are now out-of-date), I think the lessons learned from his book are still relevant. I definitely recommend it as a good simplicity read.

Six Simplicity Reads for Summer

Summer is approaching. Do you need a good book to read for summer vacation? Here are six of my favorite books about simplicity (in no particular order).

Note: Don’t be put off by the long titles. I am not sure why books about simplicity have such long names. It’s a bit of a contradiction, but trust me the books are good reads.

  1. No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process – The author (Colin Beavan) plans to live one year of his life with as little impact to the environment as possible while living in New York City with his wife and daughter.
  2. The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir – After experiencing a near-fatal heart episode, the author (Dee Williams) decides to build a tiny house.
  3. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – The author (Novella Carpenter) starts an urban farm on a vacant lot in Oakland, California.
  4. The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love – The author (Kristin Kimball), who is a city girl, falls in love with a farmer and writes about her experiences farming. (See my previous post Two Back-to-the-Land Memoirs.)
  5. This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak – A heartbreaker about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement by Melissa Coleman. (See my previous post Two Back-to-the-Land Memoirs.)
  6. Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste – The author (Bea Johnson) writes a how-to-manual about reducing waste in the home. (See my previous post Zero Waste.)

Happy reading.

Two Back-to-the-Land Memoirs

Why hold farmers in the highest regards?

I often have romantic notions about farming and think how wonderful it would be to trade my job for that of a farmer. If you’re like me, I suggest you read these two tell-it-as-it-is memoirs, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kirstin Kimball and This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak by Melissa Coleman.

In The Dirty Life, Kimball is a city girl who falls in love with a farmer and farming. The book explores these two love affairs against the backdrop of the first year of operation of Essex Farm in upstate New York. What makes Essex Farm particularly interesting is its goal to provide a year round CSA that provides its members with just about everything they need:  beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, maple syrup, grains, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. And, if that isn’t ambitious enough, they do it in a sustainable way with no pesticides, herbicides, or even modern machinery, choosing to hand milk their cow and use horses instead of a tractor. In her book, Kimball describes the joys (such as the generosity of neighbors and great satisfaction of eating what they produce) as well as the hardships (such as the endless dirt, blood, sweat, guts, and tears) of her new life.

In This Life Is in Your Hands, Coleman writes about the first nine years of her life growing up on a homestead in Maine during the 1970s. Her parents, inspired by the book Living the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, purchase land from the Nearings and establish Greenwood Farm. Their goal is to live a self-sufficient life by producing most of what they need while forgoing many modern conveniences, such as electricity and running water. In her book, Coleman details the compelling reasons why her parents chose to live and eat chemical-free and the exhaustion and isolation associated with such a venture.

As you can guess from their full titles, the books and the lifestyles they describe have dramatically different outcomes. The Dirty Life ends on an upbeat note with the marriage of the author to her partner, Mark. This Life Is in Your Hands ends with the heartbreak of her parents’ broken marriage, a family tragedy, and the abandonment of the homestead. However, the fact the latter book ends this way, in my opinion, does not diminish it compared to the first. If anything, it reinforces that farming, particularly sustainable farming, is incredibly difficult and not the romantic life the uninformed like me would like to believe. Although the Colemans’ lifestyle wasn’t the direct cause of their family’s struggles, exhaustion was certainly a contributor.

Back to my initial question, “Why hold farmers in the highest regards?” I’ll answer that question with another. Where would we be without these noble individuals who are willing to perform the back-breaking work necessary to sustain us? I recently came across this quote by farmer and writer Brenda Schoepp, “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”

Zero Waste

I’m on my second reading of Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson. It is a comprehensive how to checklist for achieving Zero Waste. However, as the author acknowledges in her introduction, absolute Zero Waste is not a realistic goal, and not everyone will embrace all of her tips. The real point is every small change we make has a positive impact on our environment and towards simplifying our lives. Below is my experience with pursuing Zero Waste.

Paper – Eliminating paper products was one of the biggest changes I made. I switched from tissues to hankies, from paper napkins to cloth, and from paper towels to dish rags. (Note: I kept toilet paper but switched to a 100% recycled brand.) I was worried about my first nasty cold or big mess. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the disposable versions. Using cloth isn’t a big deal, and I’m saving money. (Some blogs argue the savings is offset by an increase in laundry; however, the reusable versions haven’t impacted my laundry volume enough to warrant an extra load every week.)

Recycling – Prior to reading the book, I was a “lazy” recycler. I recycled cans and bottles, which I could easily rinse and toss into my curbside recycle bin with little effort. I now make the extra effort (which really isn’t much more effort after all) to recycle everything even when it means a trip to the recycling center (paperboard, miscellaneous plastics, batteries, etc.).

Grocery Bags – I switched to green bags, and when I forget, I recycle the plastic bags by dropping them in the special recycle bin at the grocery store.

Composting – All plant-based kitchen scraps are now composted.

It’s amazing how these four areas alone made a huge difference in my trash bulk. I went from one large trash bag every week to one kitchen-sized trash bag once or twice a month. If you only want to make a few changes or are tired of my long winded post, stop here. If you want to know how I fared with other ideas from the book, continue reading.

Beauty Products – I experimented with doing without or making my own. In the end, I went with store-bought shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, and deodorant favoring more natural brands. I eliminated my conditioner and replaced dental floss with a water flosser. I switched from disposable razors to a non-disposable. I kept the cotton swabs but now compost them. I simplified my makeup to just my favorite moisturizer, base, and lip gloss. When I finish my disposable makeup sponges, I plan to switch to a reusable alternative.

Cleaning Products – I tried homemade versions but felt they lacked cleaning power. My cleaning bucket now consists of the following: a green-brand of all-purpose cleaner, a green-brand of toilet bowl cleaner, a disinfectant spray, and an oil soap wood cleaner. I replaced my glass cleaner with a vinegar/water solution in a spray bottle.

Laundry Products – Same story, I experimented with homemade but ultimately went back to store-bought favoring green brands.

Feminine Products – I didn’t have the courage to try alternatives. I did switch to homemade panty liners for in-between cycles.

Media – I ignored the library for years. I now visit weekly for movies and books.

Water – I eliminated watering the lawn. I flush the toilet less frequently. I installed a navy shower head. I don’t let the water run when washing my face, brushing my teeth, or rinsing dishes. My favorite trick is to collect the cold water from the faucet in a large pitcher as I wait for it to get warm. I then use this water to flush my toilet. (This last tip came from the author’s blog rather than the book.)

Still with me, I’m almost done….

Lastly, Clothing and Possessions – I’ve now made a couple of passes through my stuff giving away what I don’t really need. I believe I’m close to “equilibrium”. I don’t have many things I want to give away, and I don’t have a desire to buy.

I’m now ready to take on a new area – food.  I want to simplify my meal planning, improve the quality and nutritional value of my food, eat out less, and reduce packaging and food waste. That’s why I’ve turned to this favorite once again.