Shameless Book Plug


I want to be a paperback writer….paperback writer….

About a year ago, I entered a short story in a contest put on by John Michael Greer, author of The Archdruid Report, (link in the sidebar) He had been hugely influenced by reading science fiction as a kid, and wondered about the visions for the future that are part of pop culture.
It is something I worry about- there are many middle grade novels depicting distopian futures where kids kill each other, or teens are dismantled for spare parts, or teens fall in love with sparkly vampires. I guess the sparkly vampire one is a distopian present.

Greer asked the question: what would the future look like once the oil runs out?
So, I envisioned a time around 80 years in the future, in the old age of a woman born in this “final year” of the Mayan calendar, and a young family who comes to live with her. There are no zombies. Sorry.

I entered the story, and to my surprise, it was selected as one of the top dozen. Greer shopped the dozen around to publishers, and added his own, and it was published on November 2. here’s an Amazon link

I’m proud of my own story, but now that I’ve read all of them, I like all of them. Still no zombies- but alternative histories of potential civil wars, and small-town justice, and climate change. My favorite is “The Going,” which depicts the tough choices families have to make about medical care and letting go.  It’s very moving.

I confess that promotion is tough for me- I told very few people that I entered the story, told one or two that it had been selected as a winner, just a couple that I had signed a book contract. Now, I’m telling you all, and here’s where it’s awkward…here’s where I’m supposed to seal the deal and tell you to buy the book. Um…buy the book. Please? If you want.


Potato Leek Soup

It is soup weather here at Chez Katsmama, and after doing a pot of homemade stock for grandma noodles yesterday, I am making a big batch of potato leek to take to school for a birthday potluck.
I didn’t grow up with leeks, and in case you didn’t either, they are in the onion family, but milder, with a different texture. I dislike big slimy pieces of onion in soup or chili, but leek has a toothsomeness to it, so it doesn’t feel nasty.

As leeks grow, soil gets in between the layers and builds up between their leaves.

Think about ratios for this recipe- about twice as much potato by volume as leek, then about an equal volume of liquid. For a pot luck, 4 cups chopped potatoes, 2 cups leeks, 6 cups liquid. For lunch, 1 cup potato, 1/2 cup leek, 1 1/2 cup liquid.
Slit leeks in half, chop into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Spray with water and stir around with your hands, popping the layers apart as much as possible to get rid of any soil stuck between the layers.
Lift the cut pieces out of the water and place in a colander, then rinse again. There will be some silt in the mixing bowl. Lifting out the cut pieces prevents that silt from getting in your soup. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy pan, then add leeks.( you could use bacon grease here, which is delicious, and all you have to do is fry the bacon, pull it out of the pan, then crumble bacon into the finished soup as a very last step. Or eat all the bacon. Whatever.)

This was two large leeks, without the dark green leaves.

Stir a bit, toss in a pinch of salt, then cover. Allow leeks to sweat while you peel and chop potatoes.
I have been known to just scrub my potatoes really well, and leave the peel on, since that is where the fiber is, but this is for people at school, and…I don’t know. Maybe the people in the teachers’ lounge do need more fiber, but I am not going to be the one to tell them.
After the leeks have sweated for about 10 minutes at medium, add the chunks of potato, put the lid on again and let them sweat for a bit.
Add water (if you are using bacon) or stock (if you have it) or bouillon and simmer until the potatoes and leeks are soft.
Blend either with a stick blender, or in a regular blender, in batches, until soupy. I like to leave some chunks for texture. If it is too thick, add more liquid.
Crumble in bacon, if using, add a dollop of sour cream, and enjoy.

Soil- you can grow that!

Hens and chicks in leaf litter.

Here on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, we have alkaline clay soil that ranges from tan to brown in color. I can jump up and down on the blade of a shovel and not make a dent. I use a thrift store knife to cut weeds off at the root, and I have broken two- snapped the blade clean off in the hard soil.
Except in places where I have mulched.
In shrub beds around the yard where I have been piling leaves and wood chips, I can slice into the soil like it was chocolate cake. Well, maybe brownies.
The best explanation for what happens when we add organic matter to soil that I have read is from Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening. Imagine sandy soil is a jar of marbles, water just pours through, moistening the marbles, but not staying in the gaps. Organic matter works like little sponges in between the marbles, holding onto the water and nutrients. Imagine clay soil is like a pile pf playing cards. Water sits on top in a puddle, slowly sinking in. Organic matter works like little sponges in between the cards, creating space for water and air.
So, if you want to build soil, and believe me, you do, here are some ways to do it:
Compost– My favorite compost bin is one that has no bottom, and can be moved around the yard. Every six months or so, I put my bin under another tree, or next to a bush, and when I dump out coffee grounds and orange peels, I enrich the soil in that space. When the bin is full, I move it to a new location, spread out the pile, and have automatic mulch in that zone.
Leaves– I have two big ash trees- they drop copious leaves which I sweep off the patio and rake onto my asparagus, and raspberries, and strawberries, and veggie beds. You may not live in a neighborhood with big trees- some cities have leaf exchange sites where people who don’t want leaves can get rid of them. A few years ago, I participated, and a man brought over a flat bed trailer with a mix of leaves and fresh cut grass. It was heating up as we unloaded the trailer and I spread it around. It made lovely mulch.
Wood chips– I get a pick-up load of wood chips pretty much every year. The goal is mostly to keep weeds down and hold moisture in the soil, but they slowly break down to build soil as well.

A mix of autumn leaves and dead tomato plants, with some sticks on top so it won’t blow away. By spring, it will all boil down to the level of the top of the raised bed.

– I am lazy about “putting the garden to bed” because I know that the stems and leaves of the plants themselves will break down into soil. Weeds with seed heads I usually throw away, although I don’t get all of them. I intentionally leave some seed heads, like for coneflower or sunflowers, for the birds to eat. Tall stems also catch blowing snow and leaves around them so they act as tiny snow fences.

So, whether you have sandy soil or clay, your garden can benefit from adding organic matter to it. This is a great time of year to begin a garden- pile up leaves and let the worms and other critters turn them into soil for next spring.

Rabbit Hole Warning: See CL Fornari’s You Can Grow that site for more ideas of what you can do, no matter where you live.