Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Backyard Homesteading": the ultimate DIY?

“A lot of the time, when people are beginning with their homestead, it’s difficult to know which direction to go in. One thing that’s usually pretty helpful is if you can get one good book that covers a variety of subjects in enough depth for you to give it an experimental try. The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan, is one of those books.  But not only is it a book, but it is also a guide that helps you plan actionable steps.”—Rural Living Today

“Bottom line is, even if you’re not ready for complete self-sufficiency, in today’s economic climate, it just makes sense to try to produce some of your own food. And this book is a great way to get your feet wet.”—

In The Backyard Homestead (subtitled "Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre"), Carleen Madigan offers you to opportunity to homestead a little or a lot, according to your predilections, abilities, and situation.The diagrams below show what can be done with 1/10 of an acre; the author also offers prospective plans for 1/4 and 1/2 acre.
Populations of honeybees, vital to plant pollination, are dwindling drastically, so it makes sense to make every effort to propagate them. Just 2 beehives will give you 100 pounds of honey.
I gravitated toward the instructions for starting a small vegetable garden because I"m a neophyte and because I would love to have some organic vegetables that I don't have to pay a premium for. Among Madigan's hints are the following:
  • Find out from neighbors or experts what grows well in your area
  • Keep it simple and start small (green beans are "no fail"; other relatively easy veggies to grow include yellow squash, zucchini, leaf lettuce, snap peas, Swiss chard, kale, and tomatoes.
  • Start composting
  • Mulch to control weeds and retain moisture (organically, of course)
  • Pull weeds often
  • Take notes on weather, when you planted, what pests were troublesome, and how much you harvested
If you don't happen to live on even 1/4 of an acre, or don't like messing around in dirt, don't despair. As long as you have light, you too can grown your own food in a container. Among Madigan's list of foods that actually grow better in containers are basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, eggplant, lettuces, onions, and tomatoes. You can grow as many as 15 pounds of tomatoes from just one self-watering container on your patio! Not too shabby!
Below, illustrations from the book of raised beds and a sample bed 5 feet wide.
Will I actually cultivate any vegetables or just fantasize about doing it? (Not to mention the home brewing and cheese, jam, and pickle making!) Only time will tell! How about you? If you're adventurous or hard-core, you can learn about building chicken coops, types of breeds, layers vs. lazy hens, butchering chickens, telling good eggs from bad, and all kinds of other groovy stuff—including the lowdown on keeping ducks, geese, and turkeys. Power to the people!

If you're interested in various aspects of choosing, growing, or preserving healthy, delicious food—and who isn't?—then have a look at the latest Daedalus Books Forum, called "The Simple Life: Ideas to Nourish and Sustain." We've curated books that highlight cooking with fresh ingredients, that inspire going local, that talk about protecting the environment, and that celebrate growing, making, and preserving your own victuals. Have a favorite farmers market? Send us an email with your picks.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la!

You can tell from this author photo that Caldecott medalist Lois Ehlert loves color. Each book in her "Growing Garden" boxed set is awash in enough gloriously saturated hues to make your heart leap and your endorphins kick into high gear! It's never too early to indoctrinate kids into the mysteries of growing stuff (or to give any botanically challenged adults in their lives a primer on same). Below are some sample pages from each book. First is the flower volume.
Next are images from Eating the Rainbow.
Finally, we have Growing Vegetable Soup, with a yummy recipe at the end.
Two other introductory books I like a lot are Secrets of the Garden and How Do Apples Grow?
If you're interested in various aspects of choosing, growing, or preserving healthy, delicious food—and who isn't?—then have a look at the latest Daedalus Books Forum, called "The Simple Life: Ideas to Nourish and Sustain." We've curated books that highlight cooking with fresh ingredients, that inspire going local, that talk about protecting the environment, and that celebrate "homesteading" (growing, making, and preserving your own victuals!). Have a favorite farmers market? Send us an email to with your picks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Giordano Bruno: kaleidoscopic views

The portion of the internet commandeered by those who care about the history of science flared up last week re the depiction of  Giordano Bruno in Neil deGrasse Tyson's series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Fox.  Burnt at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600, Bruno was more a mystic than a scientist. (He also used a form of mnemonics to accomplish mind-boggling feats of memory.)
But he was not the first to posit (via intuition apparently) that the earth revolved around the sun and that space was infinite; that would be Nicolas of Cusa.
And it was not his cosmological ideas that got him torturously executed, it was his insistence on butting up against church doctrine (such as disputing the Virgin Mother's virginity and the divinity of Jesus; oops).
This woodcut from a 19th-century science text was adapted in the first episode of Cosmos to depict Bruno.
Science mavens taking issue with the portrayal include Becky Ferreira of Motherboard:
The cartoon depiction of him was manga-level emotive, with soulful eyes and an earnest body language. That could not be farther from the truth…. For years, he'd set up shop in some city, find new patrons, and promptly make enemies of them with his combative sarcasm and relentless arguments. Even fellow Copernican pioneers Galileo and Kepler had no love for Bruno. In fact, in light of his difficult personality, it's kind of a mystery that he survived as long as he did. Far from the demure explorer portrayed in Cosmos, Bruno was an iconoclast in temperament as well as in philosophy. But to the episode's credit, they nailed his courageous defiance in the face of execution. When he received his death sentence, he genuinely did have the guts to tell the Inquisition: “Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.”… His jaw was locked down with an iron gag, and his tongue and palate were pierced with iron spikes. Today a domineering statue of him stands in the Campo dei Fiori, where he was burned to death (the Vatican has sort of apologized for the execution, but tellingly maintains that Bruno was a heretic).
Corey Powell of Discover magazine chimed in about the depiction of our hero: “Despite his heresies, Bruno was neither impoverished nor alone. In reality, he had a series of powerful patrons. In 1579, he was appointed a professor of philosophy in Tolouse, France. In 1581, King Henry III of France offered him a lucrative lectureship at the Sorbonne. In 1583 he visited England, lived with the ambassador to France, and met regularly with the Court…and so on. The gaunt, lonely fellow you see on screen in Cosmos is not the real Bruno.” Powell is also one of the commentators on the series to provide a gloss that brings forth England's Thomas Digges as the first to posit an infinite, heliocentric universe (below is his 1576 conceptualization).
In a quartet of mysteries, S.J. Parris (a.k.a. Stephanie Merritt) has been exploring the life and times of Giordano Bruno in fictional form. We currently have two of these historical thrillers with this fascinating iconoclast as the protagonist: Prophecy and Sacrilege. This article in the Observer describes why she loves the genre of literary mysteries and why she seized on Bruno as her focus.
I'd been fascinated by the character of the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno for years, since I had first come across a reference to him at university. A Dominican friar forced to flee his order for reading forbidden books, Bruno became first a fugitive, then a renowned scholar, then a friend and tutor to kings and nobles. He travelled Europe as an exile for years, falling foul of both Catholic and Protestant authorities but always managing to talk his way out of trouble before finally being lured back to Italy and arrested by the Inquisition. Many consider him a martyr for free thought.
Then, almost two years ago, I came across an academic book by Professor John Bossy, Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair, which attempted to prove that during his time in England Bruno had worked as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's master of intelligence. Bingo! For me, this idea was like the Rosetta stone; suddenly all my half-formed thoughts fell into place around it. Here was my flawed hero, charged with infiltrating the many and varied plots to kill the queen, himself hunted by the shadowy figures of the Inquisition. I began sketching out a story set during Bruno's real-life visit to Oxford University in 1583. We know from Bruno's own writings that he harboured a lifelong hatred for Oxford as a result of this trip, and I tried to create a plot that might explain why he so violently disliked the place.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Listening booth: Catherine Russell, Cecile McLorin Salvant & Stacey Kent

Our selections at Daedalus Books and Music often focus on the pioneers of jazz, but we also strive to spotlight emerging singers who continue to build on the traditions in fresh ways. To me these three singers represent the cutting edge of jazz and popular song artistry.
In Bring It Back, Catherine Russell takes jazz, blues, and swing idioms and makes them her own, coloring her voice and approach to enrich each style. Plus the band and the arrangements are to die for. You can see the some of the early raves in my blurb, and I'm sure more acclaim will be forthcoming. Her musical formula? “The freedom to sing the blues, over a swing beat, with a jazz band.” Below, “Public Melody Number One” and an overview of the album.

Cecile McLorin Salvant's interpretations on WomanChild are of such a high order that they enter the realm of art song. Her delightfully symbiotic relationship with pianist Aaron Diehl are on display in these selections, as they address "If This Isn't Love," Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," and the Bert Williams classic "Nobody."

Stacey Kent's song choices in The Changing Lights are equally luminous and diverse. Here's her rendition of Roberto Menescal's bossa nova classic "O Barquinho" ("My Little Boat").

My little boat is like a note
Bouncin' merrily along
Hear it splashing up a song
The sails are white
The sky is bright
Headin' out into the blue
With a crew of only two
Where we can share
Love's salty air
On a little paradise that's afloat
Not a care have we
In my little boat

The wind is still
We feel the thrill
Of a voyage heaven-bound
Though we only drift around
Warmed by the sun
Two hearts as one
Beating with enchanted bliss
Melting in each other's kiss

When daylight ends and slyly sends
Little stars that twinkle brightly above
It's goodbye to my little boat of love . . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Primavera ... printemps.... spring!

Spring has lurched into being by fits and starts in the mid-Atlantic region where I live, with crocuses and daffodils battling to stand their ground amidst recurrent onslaughts of lingering "wintry mixes." I found this delightful little miniature celebrating the season whilst browsing in the Bodleian Library's medieval and renaissance manuscript collections. It's a detail from a calendar of an illuminated psalter, made in Paris, c. 1235–55 (MS. Douce 48, fol. 4r).
I noted that Huffington Post had a worthwhile feature on rejuvenating books for spring reading, including A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, How It All Began by Penelope Lively (she's one of my favorite writers), Middlemarch by George Eliot, Lady Chatterly's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, and Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (another all-time favorite).
The poetry of Ovid springs to mind when contemplating the ever-miraculous changes wrought by the season of spring—especially as regards the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. We have a nice little volume of verses from Ovid's Metamorphoses called The Serpent's Teeth. Translated by Mary M. Innes, it is small enough to stash in your pocket and take on your first picnic of the season. Another noteworthy Ovid translator is novelist Jane Alison, who points out in this wonderful Oxford University Press blog post that the poet himself was born in spring:
on the 20th of March ... on the cusp of spring, as frozen streams in the woods of his Sulmo cracked and melted to runnels of water, as coral-hard buds beaded black stalks of shrubs, as tips of green nudged at clods of earth and rose, and rose, and released tumbles of blooms.
The extraordinariness of living-change: this would be the life-breath of Ovid’s great Metamorphoses. In his poem are changes as real as being born, falling in love for the first time, or dying. In it, too, are changes that seem fantastical: a boy becomes a spotted newt; a girl becomes a myrrh. But is it so much more surprising to see a feather sprout from your fingertip than to look between your legs, at twelve, and find a new whorl of hairs? Or feel, growing in your belly, another small body? Many of even the fantastic transformations in Ovid’s poem are equations for natural change, as if to make us see anew. To portray his transmutations, both fantastic and real, Ovid studied closely the natural shifts in forms all around him.
The images above are enlarged details from an illustration of the Pentecost (left) in a French illuminated Book of Hours, Rouen; c. 1500 (MS. Buchanan e. 3, fol. 8r). Copyright the Bodleian Library.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Homegrown Harvest": sustainable kitchen gardens for all!

This is the current state of the metal guardian figure in the erstwhile flower/ vegetable bed in the back of my house. The white stuff had all melted, and visions of daffodils, lilies, and tulips were dancing in my head, when we were were walloped by yet another late-season snowstorm.
I live in a townhouse, and am no spring chicken, so according to Homegrown Harvest: A Season-by-Season Guide to a Sustainable Kitchen Garden, a raised bed such as that covered up above is just the ticket for moi. Here are the 10 benefits of raised beds cited in the book:
  1. They allow easy access and require less bending.
  2. Soil in them warms up more quickly in spring.
  3. You can plant closer and get higher yields.
  4. Well-constructed ones provide apple growing depth and excellent drainage.
  5. You can import new soil that is most appropriate for your crop.
  6. One raised bed is less daunting than a large vegetable garden and may be the best way to begin.
  7. Raised beds can be made in any shape, and from any material to match the style of your garden.
  8. Row covers, netting, and plant supports are easy to manage in them.
  9. Well-maintained raised beds provide an attractive landscape feature.
  10. Paths around raised beds allow the soil within the bed to remain uncompressed by treading, thereby protecting the structure.
Voila! lots of thriving green stuff for your table.
Is there anything more delectable than a strawberry or tomato plucked fresh from the vine? If you too are sick to death of lethal pesticides and genetically modified food, then Homegrown Harvest will serve as a primer on how you can produce your own home-grown goodness, tailoring the offerings to your specific likes and circumstances. The New York Times praised the book as a whole, saying that it "manages the neat trick of being both handsome and handy — qualities as useful in a book as in a fellow gardener. The instructions are so simple and clear, as are the planting suggestions, that anyone will feel confident enough to till the soil. This is also one of the few garden books around that aren’t afraid to show some dirt in their illustrations. Why this trend in squeaky-clean garden pictures?"
From the common to the exotic, this handy volume has it all—from growing flowers to drying herbs for winter use; from testing soil and growing seedlings to grafting and pruning fruit trees. Not to mention tips for banishing slugs, foiling squirrels and birds, and circumventing blossom end rot. A plethora of photos and detailed directions ensure you won't stray from the path of producing beautiful, bountiful results. Tips for harvesting, storing, and preserving food are provided as well.
Library Journal also gave the book its seal of approval:
You don't have to be a land baron to grow successfully your own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even edible flowers. The American Horticultural Society here provides step-by-step instruction, applicable to all temperate regions and climates throughout North America, for the average gardener to sustain a year-round kitchen garden. Color photos inspire and illustrate how to perform a wide variety of essential chores and techniques, from soil preparation to pruning and beyond. Correct timing and coordination of growing activities are emphasized….  Insect and disease control are covered, with charts of fruit and vegetable pests and diseases. The society's sowing and harvesting charts for fruits and vegetables, which are both region- and climate-specific, are designed to take any guesswork out of planning crops. Verdict: This comprehensive and well-organized text will be useful to both beginners and experienced gardeners.... Thumbs up!
If you're interested in various aspects of choosing, growing, or preserving healthy, delicious food—and who isn't?—then have a look at the latest Daedalus Books Forum, called "The Simple Life: Ideas to Nourish and Sustain." We've curated books that highlight cooking with fresh ingredients, that inspire going local, that talk about protecting the environment, and that celebrate "homesteading" (growing, making, and preserving your own victuals!).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The National Portrait Gallery's 100 way cool guys & gals

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. recently mounted an 100-image exhibit called “American Cool.” Its curators created a four-part test for inclusion. The person must have made an original artistic contribution and must have been rebellious or transgressive. In addition, they must have iconic status and have left a significant cultural legacy. Here are a few highlights, along with links to works we have by these artists. We begin with three musicians. Miles Davis—Mr. "Birth of the Cool" himself—is first, in a photo by Aram Avakian. Next up are Lady Day, captured by Bob Willoughby, and Jimi Hendrix, shot by Linda McCartney in 1967.
Lauren Bacall,1949. Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time Life Collection, New York. 
(Bogey is also in the exhibit.)
Marlon Brando, 1950. Copyright Philippe Halsman Archive /Courtesy Smithsonian Institution
James Dean, 1954. By Roy Schatt.
Buster Keaton, circa 1928, by Francis A. DiMauro.

Steve McQueen, 1962. Copyright William Claxton Estate; Courtesy Fahey/Klein Gallery
Turning to the writers, we have two iconoclasts: Walt Whitman (a 1855 engraving by Samuel Hollyer from the Author's Edition of Leaves of Grass, 1882) and Joan Didion, 1970 (by Julian Wasser, courtesy of the Craig Krull Gallery).
Among the other luminaries in the 100: Frank Sinatra, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Susan Sontag, Lester Young, Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Muhammad Ali, Willie Nelson, and Bill Murray.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Patrick's Day: vintage cards; great Irish books & music

Follow this link for discounted novels and mysteries by award-winning Irish authors (including Frank Delaney, Emma Donoghue, Anne Enright, John McGahern, Desmond MacNamara, Flann O'Brien, and Colm Toibin), books on the immigrant experience, Irish cookbooks, and heaps more.  
 One of my all-time favorite groups for traditional Irish music is The Chieftains.  Here is a live version of "Carrickfergus" with this legendary ensemble. (The studio version is even more haunting.) Of the vocal renditions available on YouTube, my favorites are by Loudon Wainwright III and Joan Baez.
One of the branches of my Irish relatives comes from Wexford. I have been practicing the "The Boys of Wexford" on the guitar ever since hearing of a cousin who threw the band out of a wedding because they couldn't play it!! OMG - I just found out that it was JFK's favorite Irish song. Here goes:
Those of you who are also of Irish extraction will be chuffed to learn that James Joyce is No. 7, Jonathan Swift is No. 41, Oscar Wilde is No. 92, and William Butler Yeats is No. 17 in The Literary 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights, and Poets of All Time. Not a bad showing for the Ould Sod!