Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I had almost never seen S.L.’s face light up like that. I went in to see him today about the chapters I’ve been working on, and we ended up brainstorming about the important points of my dissertation. He was actually really excited about one of my findings that I had thought was too mundane to go into. In fact, its the same thing I’ve been saying since I got back from Nicaragua, but today I managed to put it into a put it into a catchy phrase that would apparently make a great title for a meetings paper. I still have a lot of work to do sorting all this out, but it was pretty rewarding to see S.L. get excited about what I’ve been toiling away on for months. Juvenile foraging proficiency aside, it all comes down to the mom, and baby monkeys need mommas who eat right. Stay tuned to (one day) see how this all relates to life history evolution.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Running with sweet corn

Cousin Don* brought a load of sweet corn from his farm to running club tonight. He usually does this at least once in the summer; I can’t speak for everyone else, but I always look forward to this. In addition to being a nice guy and a fast runner, Cousin Don grows some good sweet corn.

I picked up two ears of corn: one for Rob and one for me. Of course, Rob and I had both run over there, so that meant we would be running back home with our ears of corn. I thought, this is Urbana. No one’s even going to give it a second glance. We started home, and I carried an ear of corn in each hand. People did actually give us second glances. I realized I probably looked like a corn thief. Like I had gone into somebody’s field, stolen two ears of corn, and was now fleeing the scene of the crime. On our way back home we caught up with two women from the club who had left just a bit before us. Each of them was carrying two ears of corn as well. We must have looked like a very strange procession, running along with our ears of corn. Only in Urbana.

Sometimes, getting fresh, local produce is all about being in the right place at the right time. All things considered, I’m glad that Cousin Don didn't bring watermelon.

Thanks to Cousin Don for sharing his delicious sweet corn!

*No relation.

In search of local produce

I recently decided that I wasn’t enough of a hippy (85% hippy according to John G), so I joined the local food Co-Op. The Co-Op is in progress of moving to a bigger store, which is good news because their current location is in a church basement and that kind of freaks me out. Unfortunately, I’ve been a little disappointed with the Co-Op thus far. I had been very excited about the prospect of having access to local organic produce, etc, but after my first shopping spree, I spent a ton of money and didn’t even come back with enough stuff to make dinner. There were a few vegetables from a farm about 25 miles away, but still a lot of the produce was from California (such as the obscenely expensive potatoes I bought). Strawberry Fields (a local health food store) pretty much has the same stuff for less money, though it is still all obscenely expensive. On the plus side, the Co-Op does carry Burt’s Bees products for less than I’ve seen them anywhere else. I think that in principle, the Co-Op is a great thing and I hope that once it moves out of the church basement, it will be a lot better. I’ve been told that they will carry 3 times as much produce in their new location, so that’s good news. Considering that I’ve got 9 cucumbers in my fridge right now and another 60 or 70 still growing on the vine out in my garden, I’m wondering if I could become their cucumber supplier.

Cucumbers from the garden

At any rate, I was unrelenting in my quest against the corporation and continued my search for local produce to supplement the cucumbers in my garden. Luckily, I didn’t have to go too far. Just about a half a mile away over in Orchard Downs there is a group of Chinese gardeners who sit out at picnic tables selling their produce all day long. When I discovered this, I was overjoyed for a couple of reasons. First, the local Farmer’s Market is held only on Saturday mornings, and what with Rob’s triathlon and bike racing schedule, we are almost never in town for it. And secondly, I really, really wanted to support these people. Their gardens are right along Race Street—where I run just about every day. Over the months, I’ve seen them preparing the ground, planting the seeds, tending the seedlings, and trying to hold back the flooding that surely destroyed some of their crops. During our rainy, rainy June, so many of those garden plots were completely submerged by the rains, and I’d felt so bad that after so much hard work they might lose everything. But once the rains subsided, many of the green rows were still there, and now they’ve got vegetables to sell.

So I hopped on Iris 2 and rode over to Orchard Downs. When the farmers saw me approaching, everybody got up from the picnic tables and surrounded me, thrusting lovely vegetables towards my nose and excitedly saying things in Chinese. I was a little overwhelmed. As it turned out, nobody spoke any English, except for one woman who smiled kindly and said, “Little English,” then pointed to a lovely bunch of green onions and said, “One dollar.” I ended up buying some of the onions (which are the best green onions I’ve ever tasted), and I will definitely return the next time I need anything green. The piles of green things they had displayed on the picnic tables was about twice the size of the selection at the Co-Op, and this produce is really local.

Green onions

I came home to make dinner and listened to a “Learn Chinese” podcast so that when I go back to visit my new friends, I will at least be able to say “Hello” and “Thank you.” If anyone who lives around here is reading, I highly recommend this truly local market!

Meanwhile, my own garden continues to expand its borders. So far the only things I’ve been able to eat from it are cucumbers, kale, basil, and cilantro. But in another couple of weeks I will be inundated with more tomatoes than I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been eating cucumbers like other people might eat potato chips, and I’ve had to get creative to find uses for the kale. While searching for kale recipes, I ended up getting confused and combining this one and this one. What resulted is actually pretty good:

Kale and Adzuki Bean Farfalle
3-4 cloves garlic
6-8 cups chopped fresh kale
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
about 2 cups (cooked) Adzuki beans
1 box of tri-color farfalle pasta
Feta cheese
Tamari sauce or salt (optional)

Saute the garlic in olive oil. Add the kale, you may need to add a little water. You will soon see what was once a giant and nearly unmanageable quantity of raw kale disappear into nothingness. Add the cumin and coriander, stir to coat. Add adzuki beans.* You might add a little salt or tamari sauce (for more of an Asian kick), but I usually don't.

Meanwhile, boil water and cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain. Serve the kale mixture over the pasta and top with feta cheese.

This is usually enough for 2 nights worth of dinner for a hungry cyclist/triathlete and a hungry marathon runner.

* You can either use canned beans or make them yourself. For dry adzuki beans, you can put them in water to soak when you leave for work in the morning and then cook them for 40 min to 1 hour when you get home. You can also use the quick soak method: you boil them for 2 minutes, then let them sit for an hour, then boil them again for 40 min to an hour and they are good to go.

That’s all for now. I’ve got to get back to the Tour de France and my increasingly unwieldy chapter on the howler monkey diet. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Seven years

When I was 17, I distinctly remember vowing never to get married. I envisioned myself as some kind of Emily Dickinson-like poet-hermit, though I did plan on eventually adopting a Burmese orphan and naming her Cassandra Jane. A year after deciding these things, I met Rob. How differently my life has turned out.

To commemorate our 7 year anniversary, here is a small selection of a list I am making entitled “1000 Reasons Why I Love Rob”:

2. You fixed my coffee grinder with duct tape.
9. You knitted me a scarf in January of your sophomore year.
30. You gave me “bitch” socks.
94. You played racquetball with Garber.
135. You look really good in your cycling gear.
162. You learned to like oatmeal.
163. Conny thinks you’re delicate.
175. You ran the last 9 miles of the Run for the Ranch Marathon with me when I felt terrible.
177. You made my blog into a book.

Happy anniversary, RB!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How does your garden grow

July is in full swing, and by this, I mean the Tour de France. In the Ragfield world, July is synonymous with long hours spent in front of the TV watching our favorite cyclists ride approximately 3,500 kilometers around the entire country of France over 21 days in July. Just watching this race unfold is exhausting, but when its over, summer seems to lose its flair.

Last Sunday, Rob and I rode Big Red (our tandem bike) out to Pontious Farm in White Heath. Its a pick your own blueberry farm, and as you might imagine, going there was my idea. For some reason I had thought it was only 15 miles away from our house, but it was actually closer to 20, thus making for a near 40-mile round trip. For Rob, this is nothing. For me, let’s just say I wished I would have eaten a bigger breakfast. Nonetheless, we made it there and back. I was in Blueberry Heaven at that farm. Seriously, if you live anywhere in proximity, go there. The family who runs the farm is so nice and very laid back. I don't think they are certified organic (its my understanding that it is quite pricey to get this certification) but they farm organically nonetheless. If they are out working in the fields when you are ready to pay for your purchase, they use the honor system—there’s a scale for you to weigh your sack of blueberries and a wooden box for you to put your money into.

The blueberries are coming in a little late this year as a result of aberrant weather, but there were still plenty for us to pick. We must have gotten close to 2 pounds, and the whole thing only cost $2.63. I still can’t believe it. A measly little pint of blueberries can run you $6 at the grocery store or the farmer’s market and those aren’t even organic. I loved walking along row after endless row of blueberry bushes, searching for the purplish-blue ripe fruits among the leaves and little green berries. I felt like the monkeys, when I used to watch them painstakingly forage in the Capulin trees, searching out the tiny fruits that were just right. I would count how many fruits they got—sometimes in 1 full minute of foraging, they would find only 1 little berry. To me, all the berries looked the same, but they must have known what they were looking for, because they were sure picky about it. Of course, the howlers generally preferred unripe fruit, so for them, they were looking for green berries among green leaves—a task whose difficulty I only appreciated after our blueberry picking adventure. If all else fails and I never manage to finish my PhD, I think I’d like to start my own blueberry farm. I’d have to figure out some way to deal with the Japanese beetles though. At the moment, dealing with Japanese beetles seems a much more daunting task than writing my dissertation, so I’ll try to stick with that.

Yesterday I had a surprise visit from Amy and the girls, who were en route from P-town to Indy. It was really great to see the 3 of them. Bryn and Shay were both so sweet. And Amy, I maintain that you are one of the coolest people I know!

A few of you have requested garden updates. I took a couple pictures this morning and will post them with one from May 31st just for comparison.

May Garden:

July Garden:

Back then, the garden was neat and orderly. Now it is a veritable jungle. On one of the cucumber vines alone, I counted 20 tiny little cucumbers. I didn’t count the cucumbers on the other 3 vines. The zucchini pretty much overtook the garden. I actually pulled out 3 plants today. I watch them with trepidation, wondering if I can set up a roadside stand to try to get rid of all that they produce. The tomatoes have become gargantuan. I bought the largest tomato cages that the hardware store had—they have long since surpassed that and now the ever-growing branches are drooping back down to the ground. Does anyone who reads my blog know how to can tomatoes? I think I’m going to have to figure that out, but I really need someone who knows what they’re doing to show me. If anyone is interested, I would love to have you over; I can pay you in produce, that is for sure.

Okay, back to work. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Ragfields' Fourth of July

There is a 5K race in town every year on the 4th of July, but I’ve never actually run it. Between trips to Nicaragua and various running injuries, its just never worked out. I didn’t really plan on running it this year either. In fact, I hadn’t been giving much thought to anything other than the diets of the North and South Group monkeys (which by the way, do differ despite the fact that these two groups overlapped for practically their entire home range). At any rate, July 4th dawned cool and rainy, which was a nice respite from endless days of blistering hot. The nice weather sealed the deal for me, and I decided to go for it. Besides, Rob was already planning on running the race and I began to realize that I would feel left out if I stayed on the sidelines. I put on my 4th of July outfit (red shorts with a white stripe and a blue tank top—I actually wear this all the time, but July 4th is really the only day it makes any sense), and we ran over to Assembly Hall to do the race.

The nice weather had proved to be a lure for over 500 people. I’d never expected it to be so big. I ended up stuck way too far back from the start line, and when the race actually began, I swear it took 5 seconds for me to even begin moving (note: it probably actually didn’t take that long). Even so, I was moving at a snail’s pace for that first stretch up Fourth Street. When we turned onto Florida, I was able to move a little bit more quickly, but still weaving around a lot of slower runners. Even though it wasn’t all that hot and I moving sort of slowly, I began to feel really dehydrated. I wondered if I looked like Lance Armstrong did during that fateful time trial some years ago in the Tour de France. It was a relief when I saw a bunch of volunteers from the running club handing out water. I grabbed a cup and sloshed some water around in my mouth (its hard to actually drink when you’re running as fast as you can), which made me feel a lot better. I was still working to dodge slower people in front of me, but I was nearing a pace that seemed about right to me. It wasn’t until I turned onto Lincoln Avenue (maybe about a mile into the race?) that I actually felt like I was running unencumbered.

The race went along the same route as the 4th of July parade, which would begin a couple of hours later. Spectators and carnival-food vendors were already staking out their territories along the parade route. Maybe some of them cheered for us; I’m not quite sure. The only thing I was aware of was the stench of popcorn, fried things, and grilled meat, which made me throw up a little bit in my mouth.

The race course was an out an back, so just ahead of the turn-around point, I was able to see the fast runners, including Rob, heading back to the finish. I hit the turn-around at 10:20. (I never saw any mile markers along the course, so it was difficult to judge my pace. Rob assured me though, that there were indeed mile markers). In my heat-addled mind, I began calculating and it seemed to me that I was on world-record pace. This rallied me enough so that I could cheer a couple of friends I met heading out to the turn-around point after I was already on my way back.

I had been hoping to have an easier time on the way back, since I reasoned that the wind would be at my back, but it actually felt worse not to have a breeze. I lost a little bit of time, but managed to hold onto it and crossed the finish line in 21.15. I was on cloud 9. For those who recall, the last time I did a 5K, I finished in 21.59, and previous to that, I had never believed I could do it in under 22. I was still elated until I caught up with Rob at the finish line and he eventually told me that his GPS read 3.0 miles—a full 1/10th of a mile too short. Damn. No wonder everybody posts such fast times at this race every year. Seriously, you can check out the results online. Pretty much everybody who does this race is local, and a lot of them are really fast. It always makes me wonder where these people are for the other 364 days of the year because I don’t know very many of them. Rob said that I should stick around for the awards ceremony (“You might have gotten an award: you’re in the old-lady division now”), but I was not interested. Besides, I was afraid I had taken more than my fair share of the post-race watermelon and I should get out of there before eating any more. He decided to stay while I went on home to shower. I ran the 1.25 miles home carrying 3 empty plastic water bottles (I couldn’t bear to throw them in a trash can when they could be recycled) and our race t-shirts (which we had stashed under a tree during the race). I must have looked kind of comical to the throngs of people awaiting the parade, but at least I didn’t have too far to go.

As soon as I had gotten cleaned up, Rob came home with two “Third Place Age-Group Finisher” medals—one for each of us. Nice.
We then took off on Big Red—our tandem bike—to ride with the Champaign County Bikes in the parade. We were a bit late, so it took us a while to find the Champaign County Bikes in the staging area, but eventually it all worked out. During our search for the other cyclists, we saw a wide range of parade floats and participants: everything from marching bands, karate groups, shriners, Champaign County Republicans, and citizens for equal marriage rights (ie, gay marriage). It was pretty fun riding Big Red in the parade, especially because we had just run on this same route just moments ago.

After the parade, we came back home briefly and then it was time for the next phase of the festivities: the 32nd Annual Vermont Avenue 4th of July Block Party. Seriously. For the last 32 years, the same dear couple has hosted a block party for the entire neighborhood. I know this house is supposed to be temporary for us, but I can’t help but love it here. This is the kind of real, old-fashioned neighborhood that I didn’t even know existed anymore!

Soon after the block party wound down, it was time for the final phase of the 4th of July festivities: the fireworks. The fireworks have always been very close to where our house is now; unfortunately, they’ve recently been moved over to Parkland College (close to where we used to live). We hopped back on Big Red and rode over to a park in our old neighborhood to watch the fireworks. It was lovely. We were far enough away from Parkland that there weren’t throngs of people, but close enough that we still got a great view of the whole thing. The best part was that we were on our bike, so we didn’t have to worry about parking and all that. When the show was over, we rode back home, where we managed to get about 6 hours of sleep before our next adventure: Rob’s triathlon at Mattoon Beach. You can read about that on his blog; he did a really nice job of writing about it. Thanks for reading!