Tag Archives: food

Thoughts on Squash in Winter

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We’ve all noticed it lately: more light. On the Colorado Front Range where the sun drops abruptly behind the mountains rather than drifts slowly to the horizon, we notice when the days get longer and 4:00 isn’t twilight anymore. Longer days mean shorter nights for the cold to settle in and more time for the sun to warm the frozen earth. By the third week in January, even the chickens take note of the increased sunlight to start laying again.

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At Stonebridge, we’re eating our winter fare from storage vegetables grown last season—the tail end of the harvest when meals are both simple and inventive. Take winter squash, for example. We usually store our winter squash in the closet of an unheated bedroom where it won’t rot or freeze. Yesterday I spotted a few butternut hanging out in the cool room of our barn. I thought they may have frozen since they weren’t covered with a tarp like the other vegetables we store there (onions, carrots, garlic, leeks, and roots). I tested one with my thumbnail. Seemed okay. Why not make Thai butternut soup?

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I’ve written about this soup before (check it out here if you want the actual recipe). The first time I made it was for a January yoga and writing retreat at the farm. Thai butternut is the perfect soup for mid-January: savory and filling from the squash, garlic, onions, and ginger, with a tangy dose of citrus from the lime juice and lemongrass. Now I get hungry for this soup every January–plus it’s a good way to use the storage vegetables in the barn and closet.

The hardest part about this soup is peeling the squash. Most of my winter squash recipes involve baking squash first to use as an ingredient rather than peeling them. I generally enjoy the textures and smells of fresh vegetables as I prepare them, but I don’t love peeling squash, I decided once again as I stood at the sink for longer than I’d like. I do know what makes it easier: my Japanese vegetable peeler, the kind that doesn’t swivel.

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John volunteered to quarter the large squash  first. (I’m not sure whether he likes doing it or he’s worried about my using the knife.) I cut each of those sections in halves or thirds, depending on the curvature of the piece. Smaller pieces are easier to peel; if you get them too small, you’re likely to peel your fingers. About like this is good:

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Cutting and peeling a squash reminds me of the time my Grandma Short brought a big Hubbard squash to our house when I was a kid. I wrote about that squash in A Bushel’s Worth but I mis-remembered who chopped it. Recently a family photo surfaced of my Grandma Smith with a hatchet and Aunt Lola holding the squash on the ground for Grandma to whack the tough thing. In the book I debated whether the squash was hard because of the variety or because my Grandma Short saved her own seeds (squash cross-pollinate with others within their species). We’ll never know but that was one thick-skinned cucurbit.

Besides craving its warming flavors, I like to make Thai Butternut soup so I can use my vintage juicer, just like the one Grandma Smith used to juice lemons for her meringue pie. I do buy fresh limes for this recipe, if I think of it beforehand. Like chocolate, salt, and olive oil, I forego my buy local habits for this recipe because fresh lime juice enhances the flavor but a good bottled juice is fine too. Similarly, if I happen to see fresh lemongrass, I’ll pick it up, but I’ve also used dried (raised by farm members) to great success.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, borrow one for this soup. I resisted buying an immersion blender for many years—just another appliance to store—but it’s worth every penny for the time and mess avoided ladling soup into a food processor.

Last night’s soup was perfect for a cold winter’s night. I’m sure our version isn’t authentically Thai—especially when served with baking powder biscuits—but the recipe is pretty simple once the squash is peeled. Tonight we’ll have the leftovers with some Thai veggie rolls I’ll pick up from our local restaurant. When you make enough for leftovers, a big pot of soup becomes fast food.

Someday I’d like to write a book on storage vegetables, the kind that only need a cool, dry place to get them through the winter. (A heavy box covered by a blanket in your garage can even work.) Winter squash will be on that list, especially butternut with its solid upper section providing a larger flesh-to-seed ratio than other squashes. Eating storage veggies is one way to hunker down in the winter—you don’t have to go to the store to get them!

Cinnamon finds her own winter storage food–in the compost pile

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The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting

EarthDayGreeleyTribune To mark the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, I participated in a pre-Earth Day program at our local library to promote the Youth of the Earth Festival, a community event organized for the first time last year by the Youth of the Earth Council and Sustainable Revolution Longmont. The free festival this Wednesday at the Boulder County fairgrounds from 4 to 7 PM will include music and dance performances by local schools and youth groups; recycling; storytelling; education about bees, birds, and energy; healthy food prepared by an on-site chef; and games with locally donated prizes. If you don’t live in our area, I hope you’ll find an Earth Day event near you. At the library event, I read my chapter “The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting” from A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography because I wanted to share the early days of Earth Day with the students involved this year. I created a visual background video to show 1970s Earth Day images, as well as more recent photos from our farm connecting that time to the environment today. In the essay, I talk about planting an apple tree in memory of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Osborn, in whose class I celebrated the first Earth Day, so I included a visual sequence about growing, picking, and pressing apples for cider on our farm. applebaskets Forty-five years isn’t much time to turn around the ecological problems confronting our planet. In fact, today’s it’s clear that the state of the earth is worse than anyone imagined forty-five years ago. It seems we’re facing a tipping point from which we must push harder for the changes needed to adapt and survive. This is no time to abandon hope. It’s only time to hold hope closer as we work together—finally–toward a more sustainable future.

If the video isn’t embedded below, click here to watch it.

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Beans, Onions, Eggs, and a little Spinach: A January Cuisine

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Our seed order came Saturday, which is always a sign that winter won’t last forever and we’ll be working in the greenhouse again soon. Actually, John and our friend Peter have already started leeks and onions there to transplant in April. With this week’s temps in the high 60s, we’re beginning to think about spring while we wait for the gardens to give again.

What do farmers eat in winter? If we’re eating seasonally and locally—meaning what we’ve put up or still have laying around the farm—our cuisine is more limited than what we eat when the gardens are producing. Still, we’ve got plenty of food to last us through the winter.

Our Stonebridge freezer is full of peppers for stuffing, tomato sauce, applesauce, and berries. We’ve also dried tomatoes and shelled beans for winter use. After the deep cold of the last couple months, a few rows of spinach are coming again in the bluehouse and we’ve just seeded kale in the greenhouse too. The storage room of the barn is full of last season’s carrots and potatoes, late keeper apples from the Western slope, a trug of winter squash, and lots and lots of onions from last fall’s bumper crop.

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A couple years ago, John and I got over our fear of pressure cookers and started making our beans that way. What a difference in texture and a good savings in time, as well. We throw in carrots, potatoes and garlic, but never salt because that can toughen the beans. We eat bean soup, freeze some, and eat the rest in burritos or enchiladas with our own salsa. This year we grew black and white Oregon Peregions, large red kidneys, and golden buckskin, all flavorful and filling.

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People usually think of onions as the first step in cooking a meal rather than the foundation itself. Onions play a prominent role in lots of our winter dishes, especially when caramelized. Our pizza the other night was heaped with tasty golden onions and they’re also great as the filling in quiche or a layer of lasagna. French onion soup topped with broiled bread and cheese is especially hearty. Salting the onions in the skillet helps them brown more quickly—or at least I like to think it does.

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The longer days at the end of January bring a bonus to our winter meals because that’s when our chickens start to lay again. We don’t light the coop, believing it’s better for the chickens to take a rest. We have to buy a few eggs in the winter, which aren’t at all the same color, freshness, or flavor as our own. So when we get the first egg of the year, we celebrate. Here’s the first three we’ve gathered in 2015.

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I’m especially excited about the lightest egg because it was laid by the Speckled Sussex we raised last season. She’s a gorgeous bird, my favorite all-around variety of chicken. We also raised Americanas for blue eggs, but we haven’t seen any of those yet, except for the eggs our neighbor shared with us last week when her chickens started laying a bit earlier than ours.

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With all this wealth of food, what are we having for dinner? Eggs baked in tomato sauce and spinach, with onion, of course. Saute an onion until golden and then a little spinach until wilted. Add to some chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, season with ground cumin, sweet or spicy paprika (we dry and grind our own), and salt and pepper. Divide in four oiled ramekins, crack an egg in each, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes at 400, until the yolk is set to your desired firmness. Easy, healthy, and good—my ideal of a meal.

Some folks might see our winter meals as boring; we think of them as an opportunity to use up what we have and ready ourselves for the next season. As I write in A Bushel’s Worth, “The winter wipes clean the slate of last year’s misgivings, knowing spring will offer us a new chance to re-write our dreams.” 2015 will be our 24th season as a CSA. Enthusiastic inquiries are coming in; returning members are happily re-subscribing. John’s built another cold frame; I’ve been sprucing up the Sunflower room and updating our outreach information. We don’t know yet what the season will bring, but we are sure whatever bounty or loss may come, we’ll be sharing it with a wonderful community once again.

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Glean: A Fall Food Journey

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We gleaned the last of the peppers last week before John pulled the tomato and peppers stakes to till the fields. Putting the beds to rest marks the end of another Stonebridge season, one lengthened by unusually warm fall weather this year. But what’s “usual” about weather anymore? The first hard frost fell just before Halloween and after the last Saturday pick for our CSA members. We’ve given tomatoes on the final Saturday before, but always green tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse, not from vines in the field.

I traveled a bit this fall, teaching, lecturing, and reading from my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. Each time I left the farm, I missed another turn toward fall, returning to trees more golden than just days before. On my return, we slowly emptied the fields of their crops, until only hardy greens like kale and spinach and roots like carrots and rutabagas remained in the warmth of the autumn sun.

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When I travel, I always pay attention to food, searching for meals that offer something delicious and new. I want to experience food in a way I haven’t before. Sometimes, I research restaurants before I go; other times, I depend on serendipity to draw me toward a grand discovery. I traveled this way for decades before I realized that food is one of the markers by which I create, appreciate, and remember my journeys.

Here’s a few memorable meals from the last few weeks in Oregon, Colorado, and Utah:

My sister traveled with me to Oregon this year. Our first meal was from one of the fun food carts that circle an entire city block. Here’s a photo story of my grilled veggie and cheese sandwich–and a local resident sharing the last of it with his flock of friends.

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And here’s an exquisite fig tart with chai tea. You can see how much I enjoyed it.

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On the Oregon coast, my sister and I collaborated on sautéed zucchini & cabbage tacos with fresh salsa and avocado, along with corn on the cob bought just that morning by my mother-in-law at a local farmer’s market. We visited other farmer’s markets along the coast, finding gorgeous Asian pears, gluten-free bread and cookies, and locally caught and canned tuna.

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On our trip back to Portland, we stopped at our favorite farm in the valley, where we bought hazelnuts to take home.

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Back in Portland, we dined at Prasad, a vegan restaurant in the revitalized Pearl district. I loved the fresh spinach and cilantro topping our “Brahma Bowl” of garam masala veggies and quinoa; the color of the “Rising” beet/carrot/apple/ginger juice; and, of course, the vegan peanut butter cookie!

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I don’t have any food pics for Golden, site of Women Writing the West’s 20th anniversary conference, but I particularly enjoyed the roasted and stacked mushrooms, red peppers, and squash with teriyaki marinade. Ordering vegetarian at a conference is always interesting—if not risky—but this dish was colorful and tasty, too.

Of great loss to Golden is the closing of Golden Natural Foods. After 30-some years of business, the shop is closing its doors. I’m glad I got to visit one last time.

In Salt Lake City, I spoke and read at a Slow Food event as part of Utah’s Book Festival. With a mission of “good, clean, and fair food for everyone,” it’s no surprise Slow Food members throw a great potluck! My only disappointment was being too busy to eat more of it. Highlights were the beautiful roasted beet soup donated by Urban Pioneer Foods; beet cashew butter on delicious crusty bread; arugula, cabbage, and orange salad braided on a plate rather than tossed in a bowl; and zucchini-packed bar cookies as one of many wholesome desserts.

Paying attention to food on my journeys–especially dishes that highlight local cuisines and produce—helps me learn about a region’s people, cultures, and history. Searching out “food hubs” like Portland’s carts, small-town farmer’s markets, and Slow Food gatherings teaches me how local folks create both food traditions and innovations, two sides of the same impulse toward re-centering delicious, safe, and nutritious food in our lives.

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Back at Stonebridge, we ate the last of the gleaned jimmie nardellos, stuffed with Manchego cheese and roasted in the oven for a half or so at 375º. My very last bite paired browned salty cheese with softened sweet red pepper, the finale to an amazing 23rd season.

Soon we’ll dig the last of the leeks, carrots, and other roots for our Thanksgiving shares, to accompany butternut squash, pie pumpkin, onions, garlic, and potatoes. After the fields are cleared, we’ll eat from the greenhouse, barn, and freezer. As we say farewell to this year’s abundance of fresh vegetables, we’ll give thanks for another season on the land.

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We have other good-byes to make soon—losses that aren’t as easy as the tilling of fields. As the season draws toward its inevitable end, we’re reminded to glean what we can, while we can, from experiences, relationships, and connections with each other and the earth. Perhaps farming helps us understand that bounty and loss travel together, leading by turn on this journey called life.

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Heart of the Harvest

Can today really be September 1? Stonebridge is deep in the heart of the harvest this week, with more food in the fields than ever before. We’ve had perfect growing weather this season, moist and warm like a garden in a greenhouse. Even the apples are heavy this year; we’ll start pressing for cider in a couple weeks. With eight Saturdays left for our CSA shares, we’ll be picking every day until the first frost slows us down a bit. Until then, here’s a few pictures of many bushels’ worth coming in from the fields. Happy Harvest, everyone!

 

We've had to net gladiolas and sunflowers from the deer this year

We’ve had to net gladiolas and sunflowers from the deer this year but it’s worth it to get a bouquet like this.

John picking heirloom tomatoes from the tomato field, also netted around the perimeter for deer

John picking heirloom tomatoes from the tomato field, also netted around the perimeter for deer.

Heirloom tomatoes in the barn. We grow red and gold Brandywine, Mennonite, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes and save seed from the best of each for the next season.

Heirloom tomatoes in the barn. We grow red and gold Brandywine, Mennonite, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes and save seed from the best of each for the next season.

Beautiful Juliet cluster tomatoes in the bluehouse. We dehydrate these for winter meals.

Beautiful Juliet cluster tomatoes in the bluehouse. We dehydrate these for winter meals.

Onions on the drying rack with the Rockies in the background.

Onions on the drying rack with the Rockies in the background.

Gorgeous eggplant--we love our new globe variety, Diamond, as well as Nadia, Traviatta, and Galene.

Gorgeous eggplant–we love our new globe variety, Diamond, as well as Nadia, Traviatta, and Galene.

We've been thinning these apples and will harvest after a little frost. No worms or coddling moths this season! Can't wait to press cider!

We’ve been thinning these apples and will harvest after a little frost. No worms or coddling moths this season! Can’t wait to press cider.

An apple from the old orchard by the farmhouse.

An apple from the old orchard by the farmhouse.

Our 13-year-old Kashmir goat Cinnamon. We lost 14-year-old Slippy this season. Cinnamon's a little lonely but she's adapting to being top goat after all these years.

Our 13-year-old Kashmir goat Cinnamon. We lost 14-year-old Slippy this season. Cinnamon’s a little lonely but she’s adapting to being top goat after all these years.

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Protein vs Garlic: The Unsavory Side of Food

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John and I ate at a new Boulder café recently, one with a cute name and homey décor. I liked the selections of fresh vegetables (including peas with a creamy basil sauce), but I was put off by how the menu was meat-laden in disingenuous ways. For most of the dishes, “protein” choices were listed as extra options—except they were all animal meat products. When I asked whether the cafe carried any non-meat proteins like tofu, the server said haughtily, “Oh, we don’t do any SOY products here.” As if SOY were a bad word.

I know soy has problems, particularly of the genetically modified kind. To put U.S. agriculture into perspective, according to the latest USDA census just over 50% of ALL crops grown here are corn and soy. Just those two. And the vast majority of that production is genetically modified and used either for livestock feed or processed for products like high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, sorbitol, soybean oil, and soy emulsifier, which doesn’t even sound appetizing.

But organic soy for tofu is available and I imagine a Boulder restaurant would have access to that product (especially with the headquarters of White Wave organic tofu located in nearby Broomfield, CO). So in response to the “We don’t carry soy” announcement, I wanted to say, “But you do carry DEAD ANIMAL products.” Whatever. Why not just say MEAT?

I’m not necessarily opposed to eating animals, but I am opposed to the extensive use of resources to raise, process, and market them, as well as to the cruel and disgusting ways they’re raised. (So-called “humane” treatment does not address the first concerns and barely addresses the second.)

Food writer Mark Bittman recently published “The True Cost of a Burger,”  a provocative analysis of the externalized costs of a cheeseburger, meaning the costs that aren’t paid directly by the consumer or the producer. Generally for meat, these are environmental costs like excessive CO2 emissions and health problems like obesity with its related chronic diseases. We all pay these costs both personally and socially through increased insurance premiums and ecological degradation, as well as lowered quality of life. In Bittman’s words, “Industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone; low prices do not indicate “savings” or true inexpensiveness but deception. And all the products of industrial food consumption have externalities that would be lessened by a system that makes as its primary goal the links among nutrition, fairness and sustainability.”

I understand dietary concerns about gluten and the imaginatively named “paleo” diet’s de-emphasis on grains, especially wheat, since what passes for wheat flour in this society isn’t anything like real food. However, I worry that the emphasis on meat over a variety of whole grains will prove costly to our health, as well as to the planet’s. Certainly, the over-emphasis on protein these days seems suspicious.

It seems that the industrial food lobby is pumping up the idea that people in this country need more protein. Obviously, meat producers benefit from this marketing campaign, but it’s showing up in other areas too, like the new high-protein Cheerios, Special K, and Fiber One cereals that not only contain increased protein (from what source they don’t say) but also increased sugar of several different kinds, including–you guessed it—corn sugar and corn syrup. As food nutritionist Marilyn Nestle writes, “And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets. This is about marketing, not health. I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.”

Sadly, food has become a quagmire these days. We feel guilty for eating some things and get sick from eating others. We don’t know the growing and labor conditions of many of the foods we eat—and many of them are unrecognizable as food, anyway.

That’s why I’m happy to grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs that can be used as close as possible to their natural, unprocessed forms. Like garlic. I spent a little time this afternoon choosing this Saturday’s share of garlic from the beautiful bulbs we’ve harvested the last couple weeks. We had some for lunch, in fact, sautéed with greens and sunflower seeds.

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Fresh garlic is hotter and juicier than aged garlic but its garlicky taste is milder, too. We love it as the preamble to all stir-fries and pasta toppings at Stonebridge. Garlic may not be high in protein, but each bulb has wonderful health benefits, is inexpensive, delicious, and easy to store. I’m willing to bet its carbon footprint is relatively low. Not to mention, garlic is simply beautiful! You just can’t get all that in a box or on a styrofoam tray.

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Reader’s Note: For a terrific new review of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, that looks at farming today, see “Weather or Not, We All Eat.”

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You Could Pickle That!

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My title comes from an episode of Portlandia, the show that spoofs Portland, Oregon’s obsession with all things locally brewed, sipped, and supped. John and I were in Oregon recently, enjoying the local offerings from small-press olive oil to sparkling wine to pears in anything and everything. At the Red Hill café in Dundee, I had a wood-fired pizza with butternut squash puree, caramelized pears, gorgonzola cheese, arugula, and hazelnuts. My only complaint—the nuts weren’t chopped so they kept rolling off the pizza!

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Portland’s where we learn the latest fashion trends. Exceedingly skinny pants are still in, especially for men, and everyone wears something wrapped around their neck for those overcast skies and intermittent drizzle, the kind of precipitation for which umbrellas are irrelevant. Knit caps of woodland creatures with little ears are popular too (I mean with adults, not kids), as are vintage plaid Pendleton skirts and jackets. Judging from the look on the street, rust and moss (organic, of course) are this season’s favorite colors, with some bright pink thrown in for pop. You’ve got to admire a city with a fashion sense like that.

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I picked up some beautiful yarn in Portland to knit a hat for my grandson and a 1960s dress for upcycling someday. But the city wasn’t the only place that inspired my creativity this trip. Long walks on the beach brought the calm I needed to regenerate after a difficult farming season. At one of our favorite beaches, we didn’t see anyone for miles up and down the shore as we walked the wrack line in the breezy mist.

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One morning, I walked to the beach by myself, braving the frigid water of the creek to cross over to a cove where I’ve found perfect sand dollars in the past. No sand dollars this time, but the light and the solitude were just right.

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Before our trip, I’d been reading Keri Smith’s Living Out Loud. I love Smith’s work because, like Portland, it’s hip and irreverent and fun. She challenges readers to try something new in their art or craft, to take risks, and to see old, familiar objects in new, emergent ways. (Check out Keri Smith’s other books, like How to Be An Explorer of the World and This is Not a Book.)

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I always carry a little notebook with me for when inspiration strikes, so on this trip, I jotted down a few ideas of my own to encourage my pearlmoonplenty readers to take some creative risks. I shared the first exercise with a genealogy group to whom I spoke last week and they loved how it opened up their stories. Next time you need a creativity kickstart, try one of these exercises.

1. What’s your bio? How would like to be introduced if you were appearing somewhere? Write a 3- or 4-sentence bio about yourself. Here’s my official bio blurb:

Kayann Short, Ph.D., is a writer, farmer, teacher, and activist at Stonebridge Farm, an organic community-supported farm in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. A former award-winning teacher at the University of Colorado, she has directed memoir and digital storytelling projects with community elders, adult literacy students, and non-profit organizations. Besides growing delicious food and teaching writing at Stonebridge Farm, Short is an advocate for the important place of organic food production and agricultural preservation in a healthy, environmentally sustainable community.

Now that you’ve written the official version, add one more sentence, starting with one of these words:

Secretly,
Surprisingly,
Hopefully,
Regretfully,
Once in a while,

2. Make a list of lists you’d like to make. Some mentioned to me lately are all-time favorite books, teachers’ names, and best friends. Someday, make those lists.

3. If you were a meal, what meal would you be? Describe yourself as a meal and then write another sentence or two about why you are like that meal.

4. Get a pad of mini post-its and walk around your house or somewhere else you love. For each object or space, write three concrete words that describe it and place it on that object or in that space. One of the words must be a verb.

5. Pick up a newspaper and find a “human interest” story. Imagining yourself as the protagonist of that story, write the backstory behind the story. Include specific details of setting, character, motivation, and action, or, as the radio journalists say, “Take us there.”

6. Create a mini-memory book. Find some legal envelopes (the rectangular 4 by 9.5 inch type) and stack four or five of them on top of each other. On a sewing machine or with a heavy needle and thread, sew a stitching line down the middle of the stack to make a little book. Snip the flaps along both sides of the seam line so that you can lift them. Now you have a place to keep the small things of your life—movie tickets, ideas you’ve jotted down, pages torn from magazines, photographs.

7. The documentary Packed (produced by Angie Burnham) is about the items people took when they evacuated their home during Boulder’s Four Mile Canyon fire. If you had to “evacuate” your memory bank and leave most of the experiences you remember behind, what five memories would you grab as you headed out the door?

“You could pickle that!” means you can make something from practically nothing by applying inventiveness and inspiration. You can pickle any fruit or vegetable—or even hard-boiled eggs! Creativity is all around us when we look at the mundane in innovative ways.  What inspires you?

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