Friday, May 28, 2010

Horticultural House Calls

I started doing Horticultural House Calls about 15 years ago. It was a natural companion for my landscape design practice. Not everyone needs a full-on landscape plan, but lots of people need help with the basics of gardening and design. What are the names of the plants in your yard? How do you take care of them? What should you put in that bare spot over there? What are soil amendments and how do you use them? What's eating this tree? Where can we plant a vegetable garden? How big should a patio be? Should you use concrete or natural stone? What if you want an outdoor kitchen? And so on... 
The way a House Call works is that I come to your home and spend an hour, sometimes a little more, answering your questions. Some clients take notes, others record the session with a video camera (great for plant identification) or tape recorder. I have lots of handouts to suit various situations. We can cover a lot of information in just one hour! People are often surprised by how much they learn. And by eliminating trial and error, my clients save time, money and effort. There's a lot you can learn from books and TV shows, but it's not the same as having someone come to your house and explain what's going on.

I have over 30 years of experience as a gardener and horticulturalist. In the early 90s, I left a career in public relations to go back to school and get a degree in Environmental Horticulture and Landscape Design from South Seattle Community College. In addition to design and consulting, I have worked for a landscape contractor and at retail nurseries. As a volunteer, I have worked on and managed various parks and tree planting projects in West Seattle. I also served on the West Seattle Garden Tour Committee in its early years. 

The charge for a Horticultural House Call is $60/hour, plus $15/hour for drive time for calls outside West Seattle. (Sorry, gas prices and traffic make that necessary.) I make calls in the Seattle area only. For more information or to make an appointment, please email me. 

By the way, I no longer do formal landscape plans. I had a great run as a landscape designer, but don't feel an urge to return to that work. (Below is a concept sketch of my most dramatic before-and-after which was featured in Pacific Northwest Magazine.) For now, it will make me very happy to help Seattle residents get in touch with their inner gardeners. Let me know how I can help.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gluten-free AND Egg-free Muffins

The bakery in my neighborhood makes wonderful carrot muffins. Full of shredded carrot, coconut and chopped walnuts, I can almost convince myself they are good for me. But there are two significant reasons (besides sugar) why they are not.

First, they contain eggs and I am allergic. There isn't enough egg in one of these muffins to trigger a full blown reaction, but there is enough to make me miserable. Its just not worth it to indulge.

Second, they contain wheat flour and, therefore, gluten. I am not allergic to gluten, but I have Type O blood. And as I wrote in my post about spaghetti squash and the blood type diet, grains in general, and particularly those that contain gluten, are are not well tolerated by us Type Os. Even before I heard of the Blood Type Diet, I noticed that after doing a cleansing diet, reintroducing foods containing gluten seemed to slow me down.

This observation appears to be typical. According to Dr. Peter D'Adamo, author of "Eat Right 4 Your Type," his Type O patients tend to have more energy and lose weight more easily when they eliminate gluten from their diets. Because Type O is the most common blood type, I wonder if some of the current interest in gluten-free foods is driven quite simply by the fact that many of us just feel better when our diets are free of gluten.

For all that, I love the taste of those carrot muffins. And I was not willing to give up on the possibility of enjoying them again. So I set out to find a way to work around my dietary issues and produce something just as delicious. After trial, error, giving up for quite a while, trying again, more trial, and more error, I believe I have finally succeeded.

To deal with the challenge of gluten-free baking, I turned to Annalise Roberts' wonderful book, "Gluten-Free Baking Classics." She's done the painstaking work of testing various combinations of ingredients to develop flour mixes and recipes for tasty breads and pastries that are every bit as good as those made with wheat flour. As it happens, she has a recipe for Carrot Spice Muffins (p.29) that pretty much duplicates the carrot muffin of my dreams. Except for one thing - it calls for two large eggs.

Eggs are important in baking because they help bind ingredients together and keep the baked goods moist. It is a challenge to take them out of a recipe and have a satisfying product. I haven't been impressed with so-called egg substitutes. Egg Beaters are actually eggs, egg whites, no yolks. I am just as allergic to whites as yolks. Ener-G egg replacer is OK, but not great. I have had some success in the past with adding more oil or butter and milk to baked goods (like scones) to replace the eggs, but that didn't work with this recipe. The muffins turned out crumbly and dry. It was when I substituted half & half for regular milk, added 1/2 cup of applesauce, and made several other adjustments that I got the result I wanted.

These gluten and egg-free muffins are moist, rich and flavorful. I really don't think you would guess that these are not made with eggs and wheat flour. They sure don't have that heaviness and cardboard taste that I associate with gluten-free products. They do have all that carrot, coconut, toasted walnut and spicy goodness I've been missing. At last, I can have my muffin and eat it, too!
I took careful notes and made a second batch (see photo above) of my most successful attempt so far to be sure I got it right. The second batch was just as good. So here's the recipe, a combination of Annalise's gluten-free baking alchemy and my experimentation:

Gluten-free and Egg-free Carrot Muffins
Makes one dozen

2 cups of Annalise Roberts' Food Philosopher® Gluten-free Rice Flour mix (basic recipe is 2 c. brown rice flour, extra fine grind; 2/3 c. potato starch; 1/3 c. tapioca flour)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely shredded carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place cupcake papers in muffin tin or grease with cooking spray.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Add the carrots, walnuts and coconut - stir to coat evenly.
3. Add the oil, half and half, applesauce and vanilla. Stir to blend all ingredients.
4. Spoon mixture into muffin pan. Bake 18 - 25 minutes until light golden. Remove from pan and let muffins cool on rack.
5. Enjoy!

Related Posts:

Rating the Brands of Eggless Mayonnaise

Is It Possible To Get Over a Food Allergy?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The New Economy

Despite what the politicians and pundits say, I don't think we are in the midst of an economic "recovery." The word recovery implies going back to a previous condition. When you recover from a cold, you go back to the condition of health you were in before you caught the virus. After you've recovered, you continue on with your life as you did before you got sick.

But what is happening with the economy right now is much more profound than a recovery. We are not going to go back to the same life we had before. When you get past the headlines about bank bailouts, mortgage defaults and unemployment figures, you can sense that there is something deeper and more personal going on.  I would describe it as a process of economic rethinking. And the more that time goes by and the more uncertain the future seems to be, the more it is dawning on people that we are heading into a new version of what we call "the economy."

What this New Economy will look like, I can't tell you. All I can see is that there are some big questions we have to ask ourselves as we move in that direction. We have to have the courage to challenge our beliefs about money and work before we can move ahead. Here are some of those questions:

  • Is there really any value in "hard" work? Do you believe that work should involve some amount of suffering or sacrifice? Recognizing that what one person considers hard work is another person's dream job, I'm not talking about the perceived difficulty of a job. I'm talking about defining hard work as being something one resents doing because it feels like struggle or hardship or bondage; doing something one has to do, not something one wants to do. How often have you seen that pay off - I mean, literally? Isn't the stress of going against one's own good greater than the stress of the actual work? 
  • Do you believe that without hard work you cannot (or should not) get ahead? Do you resent people like Bill Gates, who dropped out of college to do the kind of work he loved doing, and went on to become a billionaire? Or do you see that pursuing what you love guides you onto the path of wealth? 
  • Are there alternatives to the typical life path of going to school, getting an education in order to get a good job, working for 30+ years, then retiring? What might those alternatives look like? 
  • What kind of work-life balance suits you? Some people thrive on being busy and 40+ hours a week on the job is no problem for them. Others are burned out by a 20 hour work week. If no one made a moral judgment about your choice, what would your preference be?
  • Speaking of moral judgment, do you believe that work is "good" and leisure is "bad?" If so, why?
  • If it develops that a college degree is not necessarily a ticket to a good income, would you go to (or would you have gone to) college? Or encourage/expect your children to go? If you saw a college education as preparation for life, but not necessarily for a job, what difference would that have made in what you chose to study?
  • What do you wish you had known about work and money before you graduated from high school? 
  • If you are approaching retirement age, what is your opinion of the 401K system? Is it providing you with what feels like a secure financial basis for retirement? Do you understand the plan your broker/advisor has laid out for you? Do you feel like your retirement has been hijacked by Wall Street? Do you ever wonder if there might not be a better way to secure your retirement? If so, what might that be?

Over the past few years, I have asked myself these questions. I don't think I've been alone, as more people have found themselves unemployed or underemployed. One of the advantages of having more time available, is that there's more time for reflection. I don't think there are right or wrong answers to these questions. There are only our answers. We each get to choose for ourselves. The choices we make will shape the future of this New Economy. Regardless of what the government, banks and Wall Street do, we will decide what comes next. What kind of future do you want? Now is the time to dream it.

Update on 10/13/10: I just found a related article, titled The Silent Rise of The New Pioneers, on Christine Livingston's blog, A Different Kind of Work. She lives and works in the UK. And she writes from her perspective as a coach with years of corporate experience prior to starting her own business. Her observations are well worth a read!

For more on this subject, you might also want to read this post, "Nobody Needs a Job," which offers ideas for generating income beyond jobs alone.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For My Son and His Wife

My son is getting married the day after tomorrow. He is marrying a woman with beauty, intelligence and a warm heart. It is an honor to welcome her into the family.

The first time one of my children got married, I was surprised by the way the event touched me. I expected, of course, to be proud and happy. But in my mind, the day was all about them. I was not one of the stars of the show. I was there in a supporting role, to give my blessing and wish them well.

And yet, as I looked around the room at the reception, I saw that the day was about me, too. I had a connection to all those people - many of whom I had known for a long time. Each face was connected with stories from my life, my journey from young woman to mother-of-the-groom. I felt a quiet celebration inside myself, grateful for all those relationships and all that had come before to bring us to that happy day.

Today I was thinking about the upcoming wedding, and one of my first thoughts was of this poem by Kahlil Gibran. It contains the best advice on parenting I ever received. I like to think that at least some of the time I was clear-minded enough to make use of it. But whether I was or not, one fact remains: my son is an amazing young man. To him and his beautiful bride, I send my congratulations, my blessings, and my love.

On Children

by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Un-Love Triangle

Over the years, I have known my share of people who identify themselves as victims. Conversations with these people invariably turn from the latest unhappy episode unfolding in their lives to the retelling of other stories of loss from their past. Being the victim is who they are. It is the filter through which they view all of life.

Being the victim gives them a sense of entitlement. Because all these bad things have happened to them, they feel entitled to sympathy, charity and a pass on less than honorable behavior. They can't help it if they are chronically late or fail to keep a commitment. They're under a lot of stress and they expect you to understand.

These "professional" victims are also the people who co-opt other people's tragedies. Even though they have never been to New York, have never met anyone from there and have no connection to the city, they will tell you with a baleful look that "everything changed after 9-11." This is not an expression of empathy for those whose lives really were forever changed. It is an expression of self-pity for themselves.

It took me decades to figure out that these people are not good company for me. I did feel sorry for them. I was kind. I did them favors. I listened to lots of sad stories, wanting to "be there" for my "friends." At last, thanks to one particularly needy "friend," I saw an aspect of victimhood I hadn't recognized before: Victims can also be perpetrators.

She was telling me about how her man-friend was always in a bad mood and saying mean things to her. She had just moved in with him and now this? It was just not fair! Ordinarily I would have felt sorry for her, except for this: she told me earlier that he was expecting a monogamous relationship when she moved in. She needed a place to stay so she didn't say anything. Then after he made room for her in his closets and kitchen and bathroom, and all her stuff was moved in and put away, she announced that she doesn't believe in monogamy. Furthermore, she intended to go on sleeping with other men just as she had all along. Which she did. She apparently expected him to understand.

Well, OK. Her life. Her choice. But my sympathy for her evaporated forever after that.

And my eyes were open. I began to watch other people who had victim stories and realized that it makes so much sense. If someone's identity depends on being "abused" in some fashion, what would happen without those experiences? Without a sad story, how would these "victims" get sympathy or help or attention? What might be expected of them? What if they had to take some responsibility? In order to keep the story going, victims have to do something to provoke a reaction that can be labeled as "abuse."  It's sick. It's twisted. I doubt if much of it is conscious. But just watch - it's happening all the time, in private lives and on the world stage.

I learned about a third aspect of this dynamic recently, from my friend, Beth, who explained how people who identify themselves as "rescuers" fit into the picture. Rescuers see a situation and perceive it as abusive. Then they jump in to take care of the "victim" by attacking the "perpetrator," thus becoming  "perpetrators," too. The most interesting part of the whole dynamic is that we are not necessarily talking about three different people: victim, perp, rescuer. The same person can easily play all three roles.

I read a blog post this morning that illustrates this perfectly. It appeared in the New York Times' Diner's Journal: "Why I Got Kicked Out of a Restaurant on Saturday Night." Note how the author starts out as victim (disturbed by yelling in the kitchen), becomes rescuer (going into the kitchen, ostensibly to get the yelling to stop, thus saving diners from disturbance), escalates to perpetrator (essentially doing the same thing to the chef as the chef was doing to his staff - dressing him down in front of other people), then reverts to victim again (when the chef comes out of the kitchen and tells him to leave the restaurant), then becomes a hybrid of victim-rescuer-perpetrator with his post (in which he takes the tone of victim while, via the huge audience of the NYT, he punishes the chef with bad publicity in order to do what? Save other diners from an unpleasant experience in the future?)

Of course, I wouldn't be writing today about this un-holy trinity, this un-love triangle of victim-perpetrator-rescuer, if it hadn't been for Twitter. I don't remember now who posted the link to the blog article above, but thanks! Reading, thinking and writing today helped me take my thoughts beyond where they were when the day started. And if this post gives people a starting point for some of their own observations, so much the better.