The Fruit Stand

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It’s called Carol’s. It’s a few blocks and a pleasant walk from my office, and it has the best local produce in three counties. Okay, let’s make that ten counties. I’m feeling pretty good about Carol’s today.

I went through on a scouting mission this morning. They have peanuts and king cakes in abundance right now, which tells me they have their priorities straight. They also have potatoes, cabbages, and turnip roots. The freezers are loaded with pink-eyed peas and such that look like they were put there by someone’s Granny. I love it. Anyone on a mission to eat locally should seriously shop Carol’s.

I bought a couple of oranges and a hunk of hoop cheese today. Sorry, my friends, but this was only a scouting mission. I was on my way back to my office where I lacked freezer space to load up on garden peas. Even at home, I’ll have to eat a few Lean Cuisines and frozen pizzas before I can make way for many healthy, environmentally friendly options. But the trip to the fruit stand tells me it can be done.

Yet another point gleaned from Barbara Kingsolver is that local eating doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You can do some good by only changing part of your eating habits. So what if you or I go to the fruit stand once a week before going to the grocery store? One small fruit basket of seasonal produce grown locally could become the basis for several meals through the week.

This means healthier, better thought out meals. It means supporting local farmers and a local business that goodness knows we would all suffer without. And it means reducing the number of food items we’re consuming that have to be shipped long distances to reach us. It’s a winning proposition all the way around.

If enough of us shifted even part of our shopping and eating habits to a local orientation, we could shift real economic leverage back to the small family farm and reduce our dependence on petroleum products by what Kingsolver claims is a stunning amount.

Something to ponder…

Plus, you should go to Carol’s anyway because Wal-Mart has nothing on their decor.

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To say nothing of the fact that somebody’s Mama right here in town made those chess bars.

The Yards of Ellisville

This is a particularly frightening piece of yard art that I encounter on my walks around town.

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But then I get to look at this and feel better.

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Which is, strangely enough on the same street as this.

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But I think my favorite yard decoration in Ellisville is this.

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I took pictures of the ducks on the school lake the same day I took that shot. Now every time I walk past the yard I think, “Duck, duck, moose.”

If you mention living in a small town in the South, people inevitably make a few Andy Griffith jokes. That’s okay. Parts of Ellisville really do resemble Mayberry. But if Aunt Bee lives in one house, Wednesday Addams lives next door. The charm of it is this is not a cookie cutter town. Every street, every house, every yard has its own character. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Deep South Vegetarian Does Game Day

If a southern woman can’t make a casserole out of it, it’s not worth eating. This holds true even for vegetarian dishes. In that spirit I give you Black Bean Burrito Casserole.

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I know I’ve been yammering a lot lately about the ethics of eating locally. This dish does not apply. Most of it comes from cans. It does, however, consist of ingredients I already had on hand before I took up the cause of local produce. It seems to me that eating what you already have is its own kind of ethic. Who wants to waste food?

Thus we have this casserole constructed from ingredients I rummaged from my cabinets and my freezer.

First, I took some whole wheat tortillas and filled them with refried black beans. You should pick whatever kind of tortillas and beans you have on hand and/or prefer should you try to copy this. Once the tortillas were rolled up with the bean filling, I spread them out in a Pyrex casserole dish. I topped the burritos with a can of Amy’s vegetarian chili. Then I topped that with a layer of onions, garlic, and spinach sauteed in olive oil. Next, I spread a pack of Colby-Jack cheese on top and sprinkled that with black olives. I put it in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes and finally topped it off with freshly sliced avocado, which I believe was shipped to Mississippi all the way from the country of Chile.

All in all, the result is delicious.

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I’ve already divided what I can’t eat today into individual serving sized containers that I can take for my lunch this week, thereby avoiding Lean Cuisines which do not come in reusable containers.

I’m also making Crock-Pot Potatoes.

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This is the best way in the world to cook a potato. You just jab a knife into it a couple of times for whatever reason it is people do that to potatoes, and stick the thing into the Crock-Pot for, you know, hours like you generally do with Crock-Pots. It will come out moist, tender, and wonderful.

I’m going to warm these up for supper probably every night this week. I eat for one, but I don’t know how to cook for one because I grew up in a ginormous family. Also, I only have time to cook on weekends because I work too hard all week. Therefore, life is better for me when I cook enough on Sunday to divvy out for the whole week.

That’s my story, and these are my game day picks…for whatever they are worth.

**Addendum: Geaux Saints! (with deepest apologies to Brett)

It's Alive!

Just as the rest of my environment looks like this…

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The mint in my yard looks like this…

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We’ve had freezes and floods and every kind of inclement weather. The world is shrouded in winter gray, but still the mint thrives. You can’t kill it. Pull it up by the roots, and it grows right back. When giant asteroids hit the earth and kill us all, the mint will be popping up through the rubble. At least the roaches will have something to eat.

Breakfast and the Art of Ethical Eating

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Yes, this is one of those annoying “eat this, not that” posts. I’m on a quest to reduce the chemicals in my diet, to reduce the amount of fuel used to bring my food to me, and to support the local farmer in my food purchases. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite figured out how to do all three at once yet, but we all have to begin to begin somewhere if we want to improve our lives and lessen our own impact on the world around us.

Today, I tackle the issue of breakfast. I like granola cereals and yogurt for breakfast. Yet, in reading the Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve been going on about for days, I was forced to think about the fact that not only do those cereals contain added chemicals, they also consist of multiple ingredients all shipped to a factory where they are processed, packaged, and shipped again to come to a grocery store near me.

Stephen Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband, recommends oatmeal instead. It may not be locally grown. It may have also been processed in a factory and shipped. But it consists of a single ingredient. Only one product had to be shipped to a processing center and shipped out again. Plus, the single ingredient on the nutrition label means no added chemicals. That has to be a good thing.

The picture above is of my breakfast this morning. Only one part of it came from a local farm. It is sweetened with honey from Smith’s Farm in Petal, Mississippi. Local honey is easy to find in stores here, and it is much healthier than sugar substitutes.

The strawberries are from Los Angeles. The sign outside the store said “Louisiana strawberries,” which was a big surprise to me in January. The packages said Los Angeles, California, which was not so much of a surprise. I bought them anyway, though they are bruised and battered from their travels. I love oatmeal, but I don’t want to eat it without fruit if I can help it.

For most of the year, I’ve eaten blueberries picked from my parent’s yard on my oatmeal and cereal. My freezer is now out of berries, but in the planning ahead next time category….More Berries!

In Search of Local Produce

Had I read ahead by a couple of chapters in the Barbara Kingsolver book that inspired me to investigate locally produced foods, I would have reached the part where she says, “January is not the time to start figuring out what to eat in January as a locavore.” Good to know.

As it turns out, Hattiesburg’s Farmer’s Market is open on Saturdays year round, but in January the selection is limited. Greens, sweet potatoes, nuts, home canned foods, and crafts make up most of the fare.

I bought these greens. They are wilting in a pot of steaming water at this moment.

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I didn’t buy sweet potatoes. I already had some grown by a local farmer known around here as Daddy. He’s been supporting my local living efforts for years, whether we called it that or not.

Sweet potatoes and greens are where my story ends for today. January is not the time to make the switch.

I’ve turned the sweet potatoes into this glob of stuff I call Cuban Sweet Potato Stew.

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It’s yummy. I promise. I don’t know what it’s really called or if anyone from Cuba would actually touch it, but I came up with the idea based on something I once ate in a restaurant that called itself Cuban.

It consists of onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, a leftover sweet potato baked a few days ago, a can of black beans, a can of Rotel tomatoes, and a little bit of stirring. I’m eating it over rice with greens on the side.

As an exercise in local eating goes, it’s a total bust. Most of the ingredients are local only in that I bought them at Corner Market, which is I believe a locally owned grocery store.

As an exercise in nutritious and delicious eating goes, I’m giving it higher marks. It has a very rich taste, and all those different colors of foods must mean I’m getting a variety of nutrients out of the deal.

Kingsolver tells me that if I want to eat local food in January I’m supposed to have canned it myself in June and July. Yes, well, isn’t that a pretty idea?

I think there are fruit stands around here that sell frozen peas from someone’s garden. I’m investigating that next. This ethics of local living is about supporting local farmers, not becoming one, right? Alas, the Kingsolver story is one in which she snaps her own beans and shells her own peas and cans her own tomatoes. That’s a very pretty idea. It makes all kinds of sense. You know exactly how your food has been produced that way. It ships to your kitchen only by the labor of your own two legs, and you get all of the exercise you need just from working your own few rows of vegetables.

As likely stories go, this will probably not be me come June. I own neither a tiller nor a mule, you see. I don’t even own a hoe. Still, I’m sold on the idea of basing my diet primarily around local foods. I can’t wait to see what the Farmer’s Market has this summer.

Photography and Wellness

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A friend asked me why I was suddenly so camera-happy, going around taking a crazy amount of pictures. Or maybe she didn’t actually ask. I could just feel her wondering. Either way, I answered, “I’m taking back part of my life.” I’ve been working way too hard for way too long, and it is taking its toll. I am physically, emotionally, and mentally burned out. I have to do something to turn that around, or I will not be able to keep doing my job.

I bought the camera hoping to learn to use it well enough to embark on a few artistic projects. For one, I wanted to take my own photos to use as my own writing prompts. For another, I wanted to explore some of the small towns and historic sites around my state–almost as homage to Eudora Welty who took incredible photographs of Depression Era Mississippi.

What I didn’t know until I had the camera in my hands was that I would be inspired to undertake photography as a daily ritual, immediately jumping into photo-blogging and Flickr-sharing. What I didn’t know was that I would approach photography not as a matter of art but as a matter of health.

It is a time of exercise and meditation for me. I find myself in quiet places looking at the world outside the problems and responsibilities churning around in my head. I walk. I squat. I stretch. I bend. I twist. All in an effort to see more clearly. It is as good as yoga to me.

Sometimes I don’t have much time, but even ten minutes of looking around for pictures usually yields something interesting, and even ten minutes of not thinking about work clears the head and relieves the stress.

This has me wondering if others practice photography in the same way. A Google search for “photography and wellness” yields a bunch of stock photos on subjects related to wellness but not so much articles on the topic. Google is, unfortunately, as far as I’ve gone thus far in my research. I did find a kporterfield.com discussing photography as a healing practice, but kp seems a little out of date as the advice is all about film. How retro.

K Porterfield aside, I have my own ideas about the types of photography I’ve done in just two short weeks and their health benefits.

(1) Food. I started out with the tangerines. Those shots were my first real experiment with the new camera, and they made me more aware of the appearance of my food purchases. That day I just happened to have tangerines and cherries on hand. The next time I went to the store I bought pears and grapes because I wondered how they would look in pictures. That’s when it occurred to me that I had put myself on a pretty food diet for the sake of the camera and that this was also a healthy food diet. There’s nothing whatsoever attractive about a cheesy tot. If you take the time to actually look at your food, you’ll probably buy it the way God and all of Italy always intended, for its healthy color.

(2) Nature. Nature photos mean nature walks. Relaxation + exercise = nothing healthier. Plus, sometimes you make friends with a new dog along the way.

(3) Yard art. I adore yard art. It makes me laugh. It makes me smile. Add that to relaxation and exercise, and it just keeps getting better and better.

(4) Historic sites. I haven’t done much of this yet, but I did go to Cedar Hills Cemetery in Vicksburg to take pictures of the angels there. This I would qualify as a spiritual experience. I walked a lot that day but I didn’t notice because I was entranced with the place. This was walking and watching as meditation. I also learned a few things and remembered a few things I’d once known about the town and its history.

I know there are books about art and wellness and writing and wellness. There are even books about blogging and wellness. I’m going to be on the lookout for books about photography and wellness. If there isn’t more about it out there, someone needs to write it. Photography has something of a unique capacity to hit multiple wellness needs at once. I’m certainly finding that to be true.