Pizza: It’s What’s for Dinner

A sliced pizza on a cutting board.
Homemade pizza with prosciutto. Someone couldn’t wait until the pie made it to the table.

We make homemade pizza on a fairly regular basis and we’ve got it down pretty good, but when last week’s pizza article showed up in the NY Times, I thought, I’ve got to give this a go. Granted, I could not locate the Italian flour the article touted I’d be able to find, but I followed the dough recipe; otherwise the pizza is pretty similar to the ones we usually make. The one shown above, topped with simple crushed tomato sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto, and romano, was superb.

If you’re not familiar with the practice of keeping dough in the fridge to use later, it could hardly be easier, and making weeknight pizza becomes a breeze. My no-fail recipe for tomato sauce is a can of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes (yes, it has to be that brand), seasoned with salt, pepper, a clove or two of crushed garlic, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. No need to cook and you can whip it up in about 60 seconds. Maybe less. Half a 28oz can is more than enough for the two pizzas that this dough recipe makes.

ASAN Community Potluck in Spanish Fort

WHAT: Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Community Potluck Dinner
WHEN: Wednesday 23 April 2014, 6-8:30pm (arrive at 5:30 for a farm tour)
WHERE: Seasons in the Sun Farm, 13006 Jenkins Pit Road, Spanish Fort, AL 36527
COST: free, but bring a dish to share
RSVP: contact Alice at 256.743.0742 or alice@asanonline.org

ADDITIONAL INFO: Get to know other folks in your community who are growing, eating, and supporting sustainable food. Plus, learn more about ASAN’s work around the state and how you can get involved. All are welcome. Read more about this series of statewide potlucks.

Canary in the Cornfield: Why the Fuss About Monarchs?

Monarch on backlit Tithonia
Monarch on Tithonia

For one thing, because “The loss of monarchs could be the first sign that the widespread planting of glyphosate-resistant crops is irrevocably disrupting food webs in the Midwest.” There are a surprising number of reasons that may be behind the decline, and you can read more at the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog.

Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermans Market

Inside the open, airy, wood-and-metal structure of the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermans Market.
Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermans Market, Foley, AL.

Two weeks ago, while my parents were still in Gulf Shores for the winter, I visited the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermans Market in Foley. The facility is thoughtfully designed, an open air metal and wood structure where vendors can back their vehicles into their stalls and set up along a central aisle. There was a mix of crafts, food products, fresh seafood, and produce, and kettle corn and live music as well. Even in what has proven to be a difficult spring there were still plenty of vegetables being offered, from kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnips, sweet potatoes, snap peas and snow peas, and spring onions, to a stall full of gorgeous jewel-toned lettuce.

I took business cards from a couple of the vendors, including Michelle Forland of Forland Family Farm, currently featured on the market’s web site; and Martha Lundy of It’s All Homemade, maker of handmade soaps, scrubs, jams, and sweet treats. I bought some brown sugar and fig soap which smells incredibly heady and rich.

WHERE: 20733 Miflin Road, Foley AL 36535

SPRING MARKET HOURS: Tue 2-6pm; Fri 2-6pm; Sat 9am-2pm

Discovery Day at Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Start Spring Break off right by getting kids in touch with nature at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Better yet, make science real for them by talking to the people who do the research.

WHAT: Discovery Day
WHERE: Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island
WHEN: Saturday, April 12, 10am – 2pm
COST: Free for children; reduced adult admission (normally $10) to the Estuarium

ADDITIONAL INFO: Environmentally-themed children’s activities, games, and crafts; Open House at the Research Facilities of the DISL where the public can interact with marine scientists and graduate students to explore their ongoing research projects; and free children’s admission to the Estuarium, the aquarium at the Sea Lab.

Admission to all activities is free (except for reduced adult Estuarium admission). Learn about our marine world, boating safety, hurricane preparedness, alternative energy, and much more at this fantastic family event!

Dr. John Valentine, Executive Director, DISL, says, “Discovery Day is the perfect opportunity for the public to come and enjoy a fun family event that is not only a great time, but also a great chance to learn about what we do down at the Sea Lab. Many folks have had the opportunity to visit our public aquarium, but this is the only time of the year that our research labs are open. You can meet our scientists and graduate students, and find out about the vital work they are doing in our rivers, bays and Gulf.”

The Joy of Continuance: On Not Running, Running, and the Pleasure of Movement

My friends know I’ve been going on four weeks without running now, trying to heal the high hamstring tendinitis I developed while marathon training. I’m seeing a second physical therapist this week, who can hopefully address my leg length imbalance and give me a PT program to rebuild my strength. The people who have to live with me know that without my beloved therapeutic exercise my mood is in the gutter. An online running friend recently shared this article in The Atlantic: For Depression, Prescribing Exercise Before Medication. The startling fact is that, in treating depression, aerobic exercise is as or more effective than prescription medication, but is still not widely recommended. In any case, aside from occasional bouts of bitter complaining, I’m trying to stay positive and focused on other things that bring me joy. I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate exactly what it is I miss about running, and to think about “Why I Run.”

I run because I am animal, and when I run I cannot help but be recalled to the visceral reality of the rhythmic fall of foot after foot and breath after breath, of vision looking forward and ears attuned to the periphery, of skin awash in the coolness of shade or the heat of the intense, low-latitude sun, the deep lungfuls of whatever air I pass through, be it the stench of unseen roadkill rotting in the southern heat, the sweet fragrance of summer hedges of gardenia, or the ozone-tinctured downtown streets with signatures of urine and beer. I need no music, for the one-two beat of my steps mingles with the double-time intake of breath and the uncounted contractions of the cardiac muscle that surges beneath it all. It is enough to be alive – not just enough, but for a time the only thing – to let troublesome thoughts come and stay briefly until they are crowded out by sensations, the awareness of the tilt of the pelvis or the contraction of the abdominals, the length of stride, the precise point of the sole of the foot that absorbs the impact of the ground and how it travels up the calf, the knee, the thigh, to the hip. My multitasking modern mind is quieted, given over to proprioception. I run for the exhilaration, both present and remembered, remembered from when, at the age of seven, I made innumerable giddy laps around our house, each one faster than the last. I run for the challenge, that point at which a part of me thinks it would be easier to stop, but I keep going anyway. It is a choice. If I’m on the track, I’m conscious of being woefully slow, of my breath sounding like a freight train, of burning muscle and the awkwardness of my stride. But there is no pleasure in stopping, only disappointment. The joy is in the continuance. When I am on a very long run, I eventually begin to have a desire to quit, especially if I am in pain or the weather is bad. But my will to keep going is so strong that it will eat up the other, accept it, consume it as a pearl grows around a grain of sand, and so I continue.

Recently the New York Times published a short documentary on Dr. John Kitchen, who quit a medical career to pursue his passion of skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach using the name “Slomo.” When I listened to him explain his obsession, it struck a chord. He says,

I realized that there was an aspect to lateral acceleration which made many of us feel good. I studied this and there’s a neurological explanation for this type of thing. Acceleration stimulates a set of receptors which are in the inner ear that connects us with the center of the earth by gravity. A piece of calcium sits on a membrane so that any change in the relative position of gravity will make this stone roll and therefore there will be some indication that the body is moving relative to the center of the earth. When I skate, the whole idea is to keep a continuous feeling of acceleration even though it’s very small, and if you keep it constant, the feeling of expansion continues to build. Anything where you can get this angular acceleration feeling, you can use that for meditation because it puts you in the zone.

I agree entirely. There is a nearly irrational pleasure in running which is bound up in the physical sensation of moving forward. I recognized this same impulse years ago when I spent my spare time riding horses. Riding and running have always been linked for me, perhaps because there is a similar quality of motion; one of the reasons why equine therapy is so widely used for people with disabilities is because a horse’s gait moves the rider’s pelvis in a very similar way to walking. Horses, flight animals by nature, are always on the move, and a good rider can capitalize on that tendency to move forward; the challenge in dressage is to perfect the horse’s forward movement after he has been thrown out of balance by having a rider put on his back. Rebalancing is accomplished not with spurs and reins and brute force, but with body weight and rhythm. There is an excellent book, Centered Riding by Sally Swift (a proponent of the Alexander Technique), that coaches with striking imagery and diagrams, keying the rider in to how to be sensitive to the position of the body and make use of inertia and momentum. I thought of some of that same imagery when I was learning taekwondo. The concept and use of chi can be found in most any sport: the idea that there is a center of energy and movement from which all power flows.

To stop moving is to die. Animals, particularly prey animals, know this, but it’s something we humans are capable of forgetting. One of my favorite quotes from Gretchen Reynolds’ excellent book on exercise science, The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, comes from researcher Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka. He says, “A great deal of the physical effects that we once thought were caused by aging are actually the result of inactivity.” I’m struggling to remain active during my time off of running, since so many things can stress the hamstring, but I’m doing what I can and looking forward to the day, however far off it is, when I can revel once more in the joy of life-giving movement.

Naturally Smart Gardener Series from ACES

The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES) is holding a series of eight monthly educational sessions for the home gardener on the third Tuesday of the month from February through September.

WHAT: Naturally Smart Gardener Series
WHEN: third Tuesday of the month from February through September, 5:30-8pm
WHERE: Mobile County Extension Office, 1070 Shillinger Road
COST: $20 per session or $150 for the series; includes a light dinner

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Download the flyer here.

The schedule is:

Feb 18 Building Healthy Soil
Mar 18 Trap Crops & Companion Plants
Apr 15 Garden-to-Table
May 20 Wise Ways to Water
June 17 Pests: Weeds, Insects, and Diseases
July 15 Attracting & Protecting Pollinators
Aug 19 Preserving the Harvest: Use What You Grow
Sept 16 Chickens, Rabbits, & Goats

Maintaining Our Air and Water Quality

Midtowners and downtowners, it’s time to step up. My husband went to the District 2 Community Meeting held this evening by Levon Manzie at the Via! Mary Abbie Berg Center on Dauphin Street. Central to the agenda were several of the proposed petroleum industry facilities that, if they come to pass, have the potential to directly affect the air and water quality in our neighborhood and our city at large. That’s the Blue Creek Coal Terminal coal handling facility on the Mobile River (which, if built, would result in 10-15 new jobs); permitting for an oil tank farm, also in downtown Mobile; and the Keystone XL pipeline that would cut through Big Creek Lake, i.e. Mobile’s water source.

You may have been hearing about these projects in the media for some time now, but now is the time to make sure your opinions are publicly heard. On Tuesday, April 22 at 2:30pm there will be a City Council Appeal Hearing about the coal handling facility. Mr. Manzie made it clear at tonight’s meeting that Mayor Stimpson’s administration is not opposing these industries, and it is important that public opposition be vocal and unmistakable. There needs to be turnout at any public events addressing these issues. Please consider taking the time from your day to attend this upcoming meeting.

If you cannot attend the meeting, send a letter to your councilman and to the mayor’s office. Paper is best, with a delivery receipt required so you know it actually got into a person’s hand.

City of Mobile – this is the general mailing address for the Mayor and the City Council
P.O. Box 1827
Mobile, AL 36633-1827

I’ll admit I voted for Sandy Stimpson, and one of the reasons why is that his platform called for a cleaner, safer, and more family-friendly city. Bringing more industrial polluters to this city – anywhere, but particularly in a highly populated, heavily used area – is not clean, not safe, and is not making Mobile safer for my family.

For more information about these and related issues, visit Tar Sands Oil Mobile.

Spring must finally, officially, have arrived, because I’ve been working in the garden the last few evenings and tonight the chimney swifts were chittering overhead.

Oh, and when we were in Ocean Springs over the weekend we saw (and heard) hummingbirds, newly arrived from across the Gulf and in search of forage.

Which reminds me, chimney swifts and hummingbirds are fairly closely related, taxonomically.

And THAT reminds me about the cool FREE Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology that my friend Dan had downloaded to his iPhone. It can help you identify 350 North American birds, including their calls.