Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Living on the Edge — Support Your Local Farmers July 30, 2008

Aphids are the bane of my existence right now. I hate them. I dream about them. I take great pleasure in spraying them with a mixture of Listerine, dish soap and water…the organic gardener’s magic solution for aphids. They attacked my corn, they attacked my okra, they attacked my strawberries, they attacked even my zucchini while I was gone.

As I harvested all of my corn this week, I wore gloves and watched in fascinated horror as clumps of aphids and their farmer ants fell to the ground at my feet while I cut stalks and shucked husks into a wheel barrow. I was really surprised at the wrath I felt towards these pests, and how personally affronted I was every time I threw an infested branch or cob into the waste pile.

It got me thinking about what it must be like to really be a farmer. While I am growing this food for my family and, from a budgetary standpoint, we have begun to rely on our garden as a resource, we always have the grocery store and farmer’s market in our back pocket should things not go well. Would we have to cut someplace in our budget to compensate? Sure. But would it we devastation for our family or the end of our livelihood if a crop failed? Of course not.

But for thousands of families who farm for a living all over our country and all over the world, that is not the case. And for organic farmers and small-time family farmers, I think the burden and the tenuous balance on the edge of financial and lifestyle viability bust be very extreme. This has been highlighted for me this week as I’ve dealt with the pests, diseases and weeds in my own garden that have taken hold during my absence for a week.

And yet, small family farms and local farmer’s markets carry some of the best-tasting, beautiful produce you have ever seen — and here in California during the summer, produce is so bountiful at Farmer’s Markets that it almost seems like some of the booths are giving their things away in a joyous celebration of the plenty that our climate provides for.

I know that Farmers Markets are not as convenient as the local grocery store. I know that sometimes getting past the less-than-picture-perfect bend of a local cucumber or pitted heirloom tomato bottom can be hard when we’ve been trained to think that waxy-shined, straight-grown produce equals great taste at the grocery store. But I urge you to pick a day in the week to come, find out when and where you can get to a local farmer’s market, and support our local farmers and organic growers. Let your other senses take over, let your nose and your taste buds inform you as you choose out some of summer’s bounty at the different stalls. Enjoy the fact that your jalapenos and tomatoes from local sources are not a part of a scary national recall and that the man or woman who is helping you pick your fruits and vegetables is likely the person who grew them — not a 5th party vendor down the line from some mass-production farm with little personal investment in what they produce and sell. Do like my friend Jen and see what $20 can get you.

I doubt that you’ll be sorry, and I suspect you’ll decide to do it again.

As a bonus for those of you with kidlets? I’ve yet to visit a FM and not have my son plied with free samples of sweet fresh fruits, lots of smiles, and a chance to see from close up the source of the food on the table every night. He loves a trip to the local Farmer’s Market and I’m sure your kiddo will, too.

The San Diego County Farm Bureau offers a free online calendar for all the licensed farmers markets throughout the county if you don’t know which is closest to you and works with your schedule. Be there, or be square.


A Garden Update

I was a little heartsick about my garden on my return trip from Oklahoma and have been avoiding writing about it as a result. But, time has shown me that my inexperience made things seem worse than they really were, and that I have a lot to learn and look forward to out at dear Ivey Ranch.

I know it sounds strange, given the very reasons I started this blog, to say this but, I’d forgotten that death was a necessary part of the cycle in regards to my garden. I had been so focused on the flourishing, burgeoning, amazing growth I encountered every day in my garden that I mentally shoved away any of the thoughts of what to do when my plants were spent…or even the fact that they would indeed be spent at some point.

We were gone for a full week and when I returned to my plot, I was shocked. My plants, for the most part, were barely alive and many had been infested by aphids and white mold. I did, indeed, lose a few: My sugar pumpkins are gone, though I did harvest 5 ripe pumpkins when I pulled the plants. My corn was so riddled with aphids I had to wear gloves to harvest the ears. We ended up, however, with about 45 ears. I lost my red bells and some potatoes entirely. My lavender is just about done. My tomatoes had begun to die back, but they have responded well to frequent and deep watering since my return. Ryan has been incredibly understanding about my need to go out nearly every day right now. It took me three days and several plot mates taking some of them to catch up on the tomato harvest. I’ve since perfected my salsa and tomatillo salsa verde recipes as a result. I just did NOT know what to do with them all. (My dad, I must say, is a champion tomato help-mate in these cases. He polished off an impressive amount of tomatoes for me with a glimmer and a smile. I have a whole new basket bound his way this weekend…) I was forced to cut back my zucchini and yellow squash quite severely as white mold has set in. I need to get my soil healthy and figure out a fix for white mold before I plant in that particular bed again.

All in all, I did lose things. However, the beauty of it all is that, after a few tears of frustration and surprise (I blame jet lag), my mind immediately leaped forward to renewing soil, planting new seeds, trying new things, and redesigning the set-up of my beds.

We harvested all our corn and distributed what we couldn’t eat to very thankful neighbors and I have some watermelons about to come in within the next week or two, as well.

I’m aware as I write this that it’s not well organized, thought out, or written. But it’s been sitting in my chest, waiting to be explained so that I can begin blogging again without its blocking anything else I wanted to say.

So there it is. You can’t escape the cycle of life. But in the dying back of one thing, the beginning of another is allowed…there is a certain reassurance and beauty in that which makes me smile and I’ll get into more later.

In the meantime, this is my sugarbowl watermelon — the first from my garden and, truly, one of the best watermelons I’ve ever eaten.

Sugar Bowl Watermelon, Grown Organically


Fish Tacos July 29, 2008


Originally uploaded by merlot

Last night we ate these fish tacos for dinner and they really were dyno-mite! The components were:

Marinated/grilled white fish
Salsa verde
White sauce
Pickled onions
Red Cabbage

For the fish:
Brush with a mixture of garlic, paprika and olive oil and let stand for at least half an hour, but more like two if you can

For the salsa verde:
Broil tomatillos and serranos and let char
In food processor combine tomatillos, serranos, garlic, salt, lemon/lime juice, avocado, fresh cilantro

For the salsa:
In food processor combine tomatoes, serranos, garlic, salt, black pepper (i use a lot), lime juice and green chiles, and cilantro — if you want, char the peppers and some of the tomatoes ahead of time. You can also slightly char some of the garlic.

For the white sauce:
Combine equal parts sour cream and mayo with lime juice and salt to taste

I know I’m not giving quantities and that’s because I don’t measure these things at all.

Plop it all on warm corn tortillas and have at it.

Oh man. So good.

I’m having trouble wanting anything else but that again tonight.


Buried… July 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mary @ 11:26 pm

Under a pile of corn and tomatoes.



Greetings from Okieville July 21, 2008

Filed under: family,friends,grace,grandma,thanks — Mary @ 7:01 am
Tags: , , , ,

Greetings from Okieville where my family and I have been basking in the heat, the skeeters, the music of the tree frogs and cicadas, and tons and tons of love.

I meant to explain my absence before it started, but was too wrapped up in last-minute preparations.

So, until our return, I hope your face aches from smiling as much as mine does.


For the Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such As These July 9, 2008

Today I made pancakes for Eamonn and Ella as a treat because they have been such loves this week. They have fallen back into their easy pattern together: sharing more than arguing, hugging more than shoving, and running to each other and flinging their arms around each other dramatically every time we get to the condo.

On the way down the freeway, the closer we get to Ella’s house, Eamonn tells me with more and more frequency at every mile, “Mom? I luff Ellas. Mom? I luff Sy (his name for Josiah). Mom? I see Tata (his name for Crista, which we find hysterical)? Mom? I Ellas? I luff Ellas and Yon (my brother).” In between each of these sentences I am peppered with demands to go to “Ampa’s” house and told that “Dah-ee” is at work and that Dah-ee, too, is the object of his undying luff.

When we get to Ella’s, I hardly get the door open before they are running at each other, a tangle of 5-and-2-year-old hug in the entryway. “ELLAS!” my son cries. “OH EAMONN!! I’m SO GLAD you’re finally HERE!” Ella responds. “Hi, Sy!” Eamonn croons at Josiah in his exersaucer and then cries, “Won, Ellas! I play!” Leaving me to the baby, Ella and Eamonn run down the hall together to drag her play table and chairs into the living room while I get Josiah ready for breakfast. They sit across from each other while Eamonn sips “cossee” and Ella reads, like the oldest old married couple you ever did see — perfectly content in their pretend routine and comfortable in the given of the other’s love.

This makes my mornings good.

Because we’ve had a reign of peace this week, as I said, we celebrated this morning with blueberry pancakes. “Aunt Mary?” Ella asked as I whipped up the batter, “Are these blueberry pancakes going to have chocolate chips in them? Because that would just be my favorite.” I secretly designed to put chocolate chip smiley faces on them, but to no avail — we only just had blueberries.

Over breakfast Eamonn chattered and Ella asked for interpretations or interpreted his words to her own designs. “I think he is maybe asking if we can watch TV after breakfast Aunt Mary.” “Really, Ella?” I replied, “Because he just said something about vitamins.” “Oh! Vitamins?” she replied, “Well why would he ask about vitamins? I just thought maybe he likes Sesame Street. That’s what I was thinking.”

It is very hard not to laugh over breakfast.

And then she hit me with it.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“Even though Grandma is with Jesus now, could we still have a party for her? You know, when her birthday comes? She still has a birthday, right?”

“Yes. Yes she does, Ella. It’s in October.”

“So, we could maybe have a party for her, I was thinking? We could remember her even though she’s not here anymore?”

“I think that would be a great idea. We could remember all the things we love about her while we were together.”

I swallowed tears and choked down pancakes.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“What did Grandma give me? I mean, which of my toys did she give me that I could bring to the party? I am thinking maybe I would like to bring two things to talk about that she gave me.”

“I don’t know, love. We need to ask your Mommy about that. Like…Eamonn…he sleeps with his tiger from Grandma Wagner and his Dino from Grandma Kathy…I know she gave you toys too but I just can’t think which ones those are.”

“I know I have some,” she said. “I just cant think what they are. But she did give me things.”

“I’m sure she did, love. I’m just not sure which things.”

It’s amazing how quickly pancakes, butter and syrup can taste like cardboard. We ate to the track of Eamonn’s chatter.

“Aunt Mary!!”

“Yes, love?”

“I thought of it! I thought of what she gave me!”

I thought she meant a toy and asked, “You did? That’s great! What did she give you, Ella? What would you bring to the party?”

“Aunt Mary, she gave me all of her MEMORIES! That’s what Grandma gave me! All the things I remember. That’s what she gave me. I will have those with me for always!”

And so, for the umpteenth time, I did not make it through breakfast without weeping.

Just as many nights I end the same way.

Twice in the last week my son has been woken in the night, weeping. I go into him and immediately after I calm him he asks, “Mom, pray?” Always, I agree and we begin to pray. But inevitably he interrupts me, “Mommy…I pray Ampas.” “You want to pray for Grandpa, Eamonn?” “Yes,” he tells me, “Pray Ampas.” And so, we pray. We pray for all our hearts but on those nights we pray especially for Grandpa’s.

The Lord used my Mom to touch hearts and she certainly touched Ella’s…a kid with one of the softest hearts I’ve ever encountered. And I am so thankful to see how my Dad has touched Eamonn in some way that goes beyond the explainable, but gives me joy all the same. As my mother-in-law so aptly puts it regarding these children, “There are waters that run deep.”

It is so humbling when your faith is challenged by that of a child, but it is hard not to be challenged in the face of Ella’s faith and Eamonn’s instinctual desire for prayer. I go through so many days challenged, hurting, not thinking of the hope I possess so securely because of what Jesus has done for me.

I keep stopping here and not knowing what else to write tonight. How do you go beyond something like that? Tonight I cannot. It’s as far as my heart will go. And for now I am content to be led by the wisdom of a child…and I am thankful for the solace of prayer and my memories.

Such pals from the very beginning…Mom and Ella
Mom and Ella together, peas in a pod.

Mom and Dad with Eamonn hours after his birth
Mom and Dad the day Eamonn was born.


The Zucchini Naming Contest July 8, 2008

All right, friends. A zucchini this size deserves a name. But I am too fried to come up with one right now. And so I leave it to you to come up with a name for what is, currently, known as “The Whale” of those of us in Ivey Ranch who grow zucchini. It was so big I yelled when Joce showed it to me while she was watering for me as I pulled some weeds.

I give you The Whale, AKA Zucchzilla, AKA “HOLY COW WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT THING??”
Giant Zucchini

Entries will be considered with considerable bias by me and possibly my sisters-in-law because DANG are they funny…but if they make suggestions then clearly it’s just me deciding on the winner. And we all know I’m succeptible to bribes. A prize will be given. I’ll even promise a GOOD prize. But I have no idea what form that will take at the moment.

Comments with suggestions, por favor!


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