Dispatches from Lockdown

Well, hi there. Long time no write, right? Like most (all?) of you, my life during the past four months has been lived almost exclusively from the confines of my home.

It all happened rather suddenly: One weekend I was in Rhode Island with Steven, attending a baby shower for my brother-in-law and sister, the party guests laughingly trying to avoid hugs because we’d heard that the new coronavirus was making its way toward us. The next weekend, I was back in Maryland; on Sunday night (my 33rd birthday!), I received a work email telling everyone to stay home for the next two weeks.

You know how that story played out: Two weeks became a month, a month became two months, and here we are in July with no plans for the vast majority of our staff to return to the office. Looking back, my family feels so grateful nobody got sick at our little baby shower gathering. We were so naive! Given what we know now, it seems shocking we got together. Steven and I FLEW to Rhode Island, for crying out loud! In a PLANE! Via the AIRPORT! With all those PEOPLE! Phew.

The end of a raised garden bed, with a few green plants poking up. On the side of the wooden bed is a stainless steel colander; inside are freshly picked lettuce leaves and two bright pink radishes.

Freshly picked lettuce and salad rose radishes a few months back. My garden is much wilder now!

And here we are in lockdown. I’m lucky: I have a house and a partner and a garden and pets. My job is stable. Unlike many of my friends, I’m not stuck in an apartment with almost no outdoor access. My garden has never been so well-tended as it has been this year. My home office (previously used as a craft room/repository for random things with no other home) has never been such an official office-y office space. My pups have never received so much nonstop attention. Steven works from home normally, so having me here has been a bit of an adjustment for him. And me? I’m actually loving working from home. I can take breaks and go putter outside if my creative juices aren’t flowing (and, early on, they flowed like molasses, let me tell you). I can start dinner at 2:00 p.m. to save myself time later. I can wear ACTUAL SUMMER CLOTHES because I’m not sitting in a freezing icebox of an office building. In that regard, lockdown has had its silver linings. (Which is not to minimize the deadly gravity of the pandemic, of course, but I’ve got to take the good where I find it.)

A triangular desk wedged into the corner of a room between two windows. There's a laptop on it, along with some plants. Outside the windows are lots of flowering native plants!

My current office! Steven custom-built this desk so it fits right between the two living room windows.

Steven and I recently switched office spaces (he moved into the office room; I moved into his living room desk space) and now I have a great view of some of our wildlife garden. In the last week alone, I saw:

  • A rambunctious chipmunk chasing a very perturbed dove. 
  • A pair of American goldfinches chowing down on the seedheads of some bee balm, while a chipping sparrow waited her turn.
  • A hunched-over raccoon sloping through my front yard and into the back, perhaps in search of a cooling drink on a 90-degree day.
  • Multiple hummingbirds sipping nectar from the bee balm, flitting from one tubular petal to the other. Just this morning, a female ruby-throated hummingbird hovered by my window, seeming to stare at me as I looked back at her just as curiously. <3
  • Countless birds, bees, squirrels, and other wild friends just living their lives.

It’s distracting! But also lovely. 

Socially, my introverted self has been… just fine, to be honest. Weekly video chats with my college friends have sustained and cheered me; it’s been so nice to reconnect with them all as a group and to just be silly together. I connect with home-friends and here-friends; I talk with my family; I’m doing OK. I’m enjoying backyard picnics and getting into cocktails and supporting my local businesses by getting takeout every so often. 

I’m taking the bright sides and the silver linings wherever I find them, basically. 

A vine twines around a wooden fence; its leaves are covered in raindrops and one little mouth-like flower bud pokes up at the center.

Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle) in early spring after a rainstorm.

Of course, lockdown has also been stressful AF. There were times (early on, especially) where everything felt so dark and hopeless, especially as our ignorant turd of a president seemed determined to get us all killed. To see and hear scientists and epidemiologists provide recommendations, only to have them laughingly ignored by the president/various state officials/”BUT MUH FREEDOM!” people, is just… beyond infuriating. As a perhaps overly empathetic individual, I’ve had my heart broken over and over again during the past four months. And that was even before the latest spate of racist police violence spewed into our collective consciousness.

I protested. I broke our fairly strict quarantine to go to a nearby small city and join a BLM protest because I couldn’t not do it. I donated, because my stimulus check could be put to better use elsewhere. And when Steven and I drove to Rhode Island last month to meet our new nephew, born in May, I had heartfelt and scary and hopeful (socially distanced) conversations with resistant and confused family members.

The tenor and intensity of these conversations felt different. I felt empowered to speak with more passion, and I felt my family members listening with more open ears than they might’ve in the past. It was good. 

A top-down long-arm selfie of two young women, one middle-aged woman, two young kids, and a baby in a front pack.

My sister, me, my mom, and my nephews on an easy little hike in Rhode Island.

And about that trip home: That was good, too. Steven and I quarantined carefully beforehand and then drove up to RI with minimal stops, only pausing to get gas and let the dogs potty. With careful avoidance of liquids, we didn’t even need bio breaks for ourselves! One week of expanding our little quaranbubble to include my immediate family was just what we needed. Paddling in my parents’ pool with my nephews, drinking my dad’s home-brewed beer, playing games… it felt so normal. We even saw extended family, from a distance. The return back to real life was a bit rough, but so it goes.

So here we are, approaching the middle of July, as our national ability to exercise self-sacrifice and self-restraint has apparently reached its limits and we’ve just accepted a second wave of infections, worse than before, as the price of… well, what, exactly, I’m not sure. I, for one, am staying the eff home. I will confine myself to my books and my garden and my backyard and my video calls. I will wear my mask. I will indulge in our twice-monthly grocery store trips, and maybe an occasional visit to my beloved Saturday morning farmers market (but probably not, because people were crowding each other the last time I was there and it made me a little panicky). 

I hope you’re all as well as can be, under the circumstances. I’ve been reading, even if I haven’t been commenting, and I appreciate those of you who’ve been able to keep up with normal posts as the world disintegrates around us. I hope to be back soon, to share some of the meals Steven and I have made recently. We shall see. :) 


Bits ‘n Bobs ‘n Buffalo Cauliflower

Hello, hello, hello!

While I haven’t exactly missed the daily MoFo blogging, I have missed feeling connected to my blogger pals. All the more incentive to keep up a semi-regular posting schedule, right?! (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m still catching up on MoFo posts, yikes.) And so: My first foray into non-MoFo casual diary-style blogging. It feels weird. I still feel like I need a “point” to my posts, a recipe to share or a restaurant to review. And I do have a few of those in the works: an extremely overdue post about my trip to Copenhagen last March (!!!), a review of a vegan-friendly local diner, etc. But for now, something much simpler. :)

We kicked off September with Labor Day weekend. Three-day weekends are just so magical! I had a pretty great one, full of fun knitting and good food and a nice solo hike, where I spotted this tree with a little heart motif. I agree, tree. I heart being outdoors too. On Sunday morning I whipped up a tasty (if monotone) breakfast: tofu scramble, home fries, and a kiwi. It’s much healthier than that bland palette suggests! I used this tofuevos recipe, which is my absolute favorite bare-bones (i.e., no veggies) scram. I always reduce the soy sauce, though, because two tablespoons is just too much. A half tablespoon is perfect, plus a little sprinkling of black salt for some eggy flavor.

What else, what else… I haven’t been photographing my dinners, partially because MoFo is over but also because the sun is setting earlier. :( Ugh, autumn. Please stay away! I did snap a quick pic of this buffalo cauliflower and tofu I made last night. I used Chocolate Covered Katie’s baked buffalo cauliflower recipe as a template, with some modifications: I doubled the cauliflower to a whole head, added a block of pressed firm tofu, and switched up the sauce a bit (1/3 cup of Frank’s Red Hot plus two tablespoons of vegan butter). It was spicy enough for me! I served it with some homemade vegan ranch and fresh raw veggies. (About that vegan ranch: It’s mayo-based and so simple! I omitted the raw garlic and instead used a few cloves from this amaaazing garlic confit I made last weekend.) This is a dinner that feels indulgent but is actually decently healthy, with lots of protein (half a block per person!) and plenty of veggies (~half a head of cauliflower, plus pepper and carrots on the side). Yes, please.

I’ve also been enjoying the fruits (…veggies…) of my gardening labor, as I mentioned in my recent MoFo post. Today I picked a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, a few carrots, and LOTS of those fun little sour gherkins. So colorful! The tomatoes went right into a panzanella salad, along with some rosemary-garlic sourdough squares, basil, green pepper, and a garlic-lemon dressing.

And finally, here’s a sweet shot of Maggie (formerly Margaret), a hound mix we fostered for six months (!) last year. She was adopted by our close friends about six months ago, which is amazing: She gets spoiled to within an inch of her life by our friends, and we get to see her frequently! We hung out with Maggie and her canine and feline brothers on Saturday night while celebrating our friend Rachel’s birthday, so we made sure to snag some cuddle time on the couch. This girl is incredibly sweet and goofy, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see her enjoying life in her forever home. <3

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Late Summer in the Garden | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Thirty

A bit of a departure for today’s post! Rather than talk about prepared food, let’s talk about ingredients that come straight from the source — my garden!

Things are wild out there this time of year. All the vine-like plants are twining themselves around any upright stalk they can find, creating dense vine-y thickets. The tomato cages are groaning under the plants’ weight; after a rainstorm, I have to go outside and set them upright because they’ll invariably have fallen over. And finally — finally! — my pepper plants are thriving, even the ones that I planted months ago, right when the weather got hot, the way they like it.

Today I trial-picked a few carrots. I’ve never had much luck with carrots, possibly because my soil is pretty dense, even when I mix in compost and add a few bags of garden soil. But this year things are looking promising!

I planted purple nebula carrots, and although they’re a bit short and stubby at this point, they’ve got a unique and slightly tart bite. (Unfortunately, they’re just plain orange on the inside, not purple!)

I plan to do some fall sowing this year, and I think I’ll go heavy on the carrots — I received a few packs of free carrot seed samples with various seed purchases earlier this year, so I’ve got some fun varieties to try out.

I’m also growing these fun Mexican sour gherkins — basically, tiny roundish cucumbers (although they’re not truly in the cucumber family). These plants really took off about a month ago and have gone bonkers since then. They’re actually the prime offenders when it comes to vine sprawlage: They’ve spread out over my middle garden bed, climbed up my pepper plants (pictured at right), and have even jumped across to the first garden bed, where they’ve hitched a ride on a tomato cage. They definitely require some serious trellising, but this makeshift approach works just fine too.

The plants are producing like mad, and I picked a few today to try them out for the first time. I’m not sure how large they’re supposed to be when you pick them, so it’s possible mine were slightly immature. (Shown at left in my carrot-stained hands.)

I loved the taste and texture — crisp and refreshing and just a bit sour. They have a slight resistance but burst in your mouth easily, a bit like a cherry tomato, in a very pleasing way. I’m all about veggies you don’t have to cut or peel to enjoy. Easy snackin’! I’ll happily grow these guys again. They’d be fun and rewarding for kids to grow and pick, too; they require very little attention and are clearly opportunistic little buggers, even when you don’t provide a trellis!

There’s plenty more going on, too, from big mystery squashes that may’ve been cross-pollinated to the stalwart green beans, which are only now beginning to slow down. A single okra plant is only just beginning to take off, and there are already a few baby okras growing. (I don’t know why they didn’t do well this year! Last year the plants were taller than me and produced like mad.)

And, of course, the tomatoes are going strong as ever. They’re all exceptionally sweet this year, making them a real delight to eat right off the vine. Although the cherry tomatoes are most prolific, my larger slicers are finally picking up, and I’ve got quite a few big green ones slowly ripening.

Here’s a funny sight — a mystery squash growing on the opposite side of the house, opportunistically climbing up the fence between our neighbors’ and our yards, between the pokeweed and the hedges. This is pretty close to the spot where our neighbors have their garden, so I bet this is a volunteer from one of their plantings last year (or maybe some escaped seeds from this year). There are two of these plants between our yards. The fruits look like immature butternut squash to me, but we’ll see! I’ve done literally nothing to nurture these little babies, yet look how strong and vital they are. Sometimes I think it would be fun to literally throw a bunch of seeds into the wild patches of my yard and see what comes up. :)

Garden-Fresh Green Beans and Garlicky Tofu | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Seven

After work today, I opened the front door to head into the garden and found myself face to face with a hummingbird. Well — practically face to face. We were maybe four feet apart, and it was magical. There were two of them at first, flitting around one another, but one flew off as soon as I stepped out. The other remained for a good five seconds, seeming to stare right at me, before taking off for the safety of a nearby branch.

I love that we’ve creating a safe environment for wildlife by filling our yard with native plants. We do supplement with a hummingbird feeder, but our fast-moving friends also love to sip from bee balm and swamp milkweed, too. Steven has a little “office” in the corner of the living room right by two windows, and he’s constantly sending me photos and videos of the critters he spots throughout the day. We see both ruby-throated and rufous hummingbirds (the only two found here in Maryland!), and I’ve identified a particular branch where one of them likes to perch between feeding sessions. More often than not, if I look out the window and toward that branch, I’ll see a little one resting there. So sweet.

We had another heavy rainstorm this afternoon, and apparently it was strong enough to knock over my tomato cages — I had to fix up two of them. Yikes! I harvested a nice haul of green beans and a handful of cherry tomatoes while managing to avoid being absolutely savaged by the mosquitoes. (I think I only got bitten once.) It’s funny; I have terrible luck with full-size tomatoes, even though I plant plenty of them every year. There are a few growing now, but they’re still green and it’ll be a meager harvest. But my cherry tomatoes (of various types!) go bananas every year, and I had tons of volunteers this spring. I won’t complain; fresh tomatoes of any size are orders of magnitude tastier than any you can get at the grocery store. Eating them warm from the vine is one of summer’s greatest pleasures.

Those green beans went right into the dinner pot, metaphorically speaking. Well, I guess literally speaking, too — I cooked them in the same pot as the rice noodles I was making, for efficiency’s sake. I also lightly pan-fried a block of tofu and served it all with this fantastic garlicky black pepper sauce. I’ve been digging sweet and spicy sauces this summer, and this one’s a winner. I used Earth Balance rather than olive oil, reduced the soy sauce a bit, and substituted a large shallot for the red onion. I also used a bulb of fresh garlic (harvested from my garden last week!) rather than the 10 cloves called for because fresh, uncured garlic tends to have more of a kick than what you can buy at the grocery store. Delicious and surprisingly filling.

I’d love to hear your go-to sauce for simple meals; please share if you’ve got one! I like this one, too.

Farmers Market Haul (and Bonus Baby Bird Content!) | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Three

Ah, summer Saturdays. My weekly ritual is to have a quick breakfast, pop in my earbuds, fire up an audiobook, and walk to my local farmers market. It’s about a mile away, and although I’m usually pretty sweaty by the time I return, I enjoy the walk.

This week, though, I left a little later than usual because I was distracted by a very important duty: monitoring a fledgling! An adorable catbird baby was just hanging out by our laundry room downspout, a puffy grey ball peeping away while Mom watched nearby and frequently flew over to drop insects into the baby’s beak. I was a little concerned because although the baby looked nicely feathered and mature, she didn’t have tail feathers and was only hopping around, peeping piteously. And when I looked a little more closely, I saw a few ants crawling on her. :( This behavior is appropriate for fledglings; they often leave the nest before they can fully fly, so Mom monitors and feeds them while they finish learning. But this little one was worrying me a bit. I tried calling our local wildlife rehab center to get their input, but nobody picked up. Generally, it’s best to leave babies in the wild with Mom — they have a much better chance at survival, and rehabbers are so busy this time of year that you never want to take up their scant resources with cases they really shouldn’t have to deal with.

Steven was helping our neighbors/friends with a desk-building project, so I went over there to report on the bird’s status and express my concern. When I got back home just a few minutes later, my little friend was gone! So was Mom, who’d been staying nearby and monitoring (including angrily squawking at a female cardinal who crossed her path!). The funny thing was that I could still hear the baby’s peeping, and it seemed to be coming from the eaves, where I know a few birds have nests. So I figured all was well and headed off to the farmers market.

The market is small, but it gets the job done (I ignore the gross butcher stall). I frequent one particular produce stand and one fruit stand, although there’s also an Ethiopian stall with veg options and even a cookie stall with a vegan choice or two. I hit up my two regular stalls this week and came home with a respectable haul.


Although some of the veggies are packaged in plastic pint containers, I always switch to my reusable produce bags at the market. The vendors seem to appreciate it; they get to reuse the containers. (Though I did keep the mixed salad greens in their plastic bag; I don’t think they’d reuse a bag like that, so it’d go to waste anyway.) I’m particularly pleased with that bag of peaches and nectarines — I asked the fruit vendor whether they ever sell seconds, since those bruised, bumped, and otherwise visually imperfect fruits make just as good pies, crumbles, and jams. They sold me three pounds for $3, a respectable deal. I’m going to do the same in apple season so I can make applesauce. :)

I took advantage of the slightly cloudy weather when I got home from the market and did some weeding in my garden. Things are looking good out there! I pick a handful of various cherry tomatoes every other day, and the green beans are just as plentiful. The squashes and melons are flowering and some are fruiting, while my carrots are finally taking off. I have terrible luck with peppers every year, so this year my dad brought some seedlings when my parents visited in July. I transplanted them about three weeks ago, and they’re finally beginning to flower. Crossing my fingers they fruit, too!

After a good 45 minutes of weeding, pruning, and becoming a buffet for the mosquitoes that are going nuts this year, I realized I was in dire need of lunch and headed into make that most perfect of summer meals: a big ol’ salad with fresh veggies. I used mixed greens, a cucumber, a pepper, and a gorgeous heirloom tomato from the farmers market, then topped it with a super-simple dressing: lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a clove of garlic to infuse a little flavor. I also piled on some chickpeas and nutritional yeast. It was sublime. The tomato was just… *kisses fingers* (I also chopped up some radishes from my garden, but they were bitter and tough so I didn’t end up eating them.) Ugh, I love meals like this.

After lunch, Steven came back from his desk-building with an update on the fledgling: Our next-door neighbors’ kids had found the baby bird in their yard, and went to our desk-building-help friends (also vegans!) for advice. The kids left the baby near where they think the nest is located and have reported that Mom is still feeding the baby, so I’m crossing my fingers she just needs time and strength to start flying.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a shot of a female Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly who was enjoying the Joe Pye weed this afternoon. We have a big pollinator garden filled with native plants, so I’ve been trying to overcome my fear of bees by photographing the literally dozens of pollinators who feast on the mountain mint and Joe Pye this time of year. The butterflies are much easier to capture without giving me a panic attack, though! ;)

Q&A with The Humane Gardener — and a Book Giveaway

The plant charmed me the first time I saw it. With its lanky stalk and cloud-like clusters of white flowers, it reminded me of a slightly more unruly version of Queen Anne’s Lace. From a distance, the plant seemed to have a few large flower heads; up close, those flower heads resolved themselves into hundreds of tiny white blooms. Looking even closer, each little flower sported a few tendrils of white, snaking up toward the sky. Bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of wingéd friends crowded in for a snack, like thirsty office workers bellying up to the bar at happy hour.

I wanted to identify the plant so I could add it to my yard. After coming up with a few possible options, I posted a photo on Instagram and tagged my go-to plant expert. “Is this boneset?” I asked.

Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener, responded quickly to my query. “That’s boneset!” she said. “The best plant ever!”

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

That enthusiasm for what’s commonly considered a weed typifies Nancy’s approach to the world outside our doors. She’s an advocate for all that’s green and good, and for the creatures small and large with whom we share the globe. In her work as the Humane Gardener, Nancy advocates for a return to plants that support our native wildlife and for a gentler, more tolerant approach to living with those animals. She blogs at humanegardener.com and recently published her first book. The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife introduces key concepts for making your backyard a haven for wildlife, and its gentle, welcoming tone makes the subject approachable and inviting. (Read on for a chance to win the book!)

I had the pleasure of working with Nancy for a few years, and today I edit her Humane Backyard column for All Animals magazine. I invited her to answer some questions about her work to share with Go Vegga readers, to introduce everyone to the concepts she espouses, and to give some helpful, actionable tips for making your own green space — whether it’s a big backyard, a tiny apartment balcony, or even a shared communal green space — more hospitable and welcoming to wildlife. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring a concept as I do. (And I hope you’ll enjoy her photos as much as I do!)

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

First, what does being a humane gardener mean to you? And what are the benefits of gardening this way?

A humane gardener is someone who is compassionate toward all creatures, someone who appreciates the milkweed beetles as much as she appreciates the monarch butterflies who also visit the milkweed — who understands that rabbits and groundhogs and deer all need to eat plants just as much as we do. A humane gardener knows that the outdoor spaces we care for, whether it’s two acres in size or a postage stamp yard or even a balcony, are not really “ours” to cultivate in whatever way we deem pleasing to us. The earth and the sky belong to all species trying to make a life here, and our actions need to reflect that.

Milkweed beetles mating on milkweed while a voyeur looks on. Photo by Will Heinz.

We are so heavily marketed to by lawn care, pesticide, and nuisance wildlife control industries that we often think there is a right and a wrong way to garden. We buy into the notion that the plants that help wildlife most are “weeds,” that animal nibbling of plants is “damage,” and that some of the most life-giving habitat elements — dead wood, leftover stalks, fallen leaves — are “messy.”

It’s usually the animals themselves who break through this negativity. It often takes only one discovery — that the holes in the rosebush leaves are the handiwork of a mother leafcutter bee lining her nest with leaf pieces, for example, or that the dead tree slated for removal has become the perfect nesting spot for bluebirds — to change a gardener’s whole perspective. Watching a rabbit chow down on a dandelion becomes a revelatory experience. I actually get chills, and my spirit lifts, when I walk among the plants around our home and see all the creatures large and small who are eating, nesting, and sheltering there. What could be more joyful than knowing how much difference we can make for so many lives even in a small space?

A rabbit takes care of the weeding. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

How has your personal journey as a humane gardener evolved? What led you here, and was there a single moment when you started thinking about gardening and land usage differently?

I’ve never been a fan of lawns. I grew up in Bowie, Md., a community built in the 1960s by the Levitts, famous for pioneering cookie-cutter homes in communities known as Levittowns in New York and New Jersey, and for implementing strict lawn requirements that associated masculinity and the paternal-family-man ideal with manicured turfgrass. My father resisted all of that and planted flower gardens in the front and back yard when I was a kid, and those were the places I would gravitate to. I watched ants under the trees and played with my dolls on the pine needles and made little bouquets of spring flowers in Fleischmann margarine tubs for my teachers. Wherever there were plants, there was life and beauty and great joy. It was apparent to me even back then that life did not thrive in a frequently mowed, heavily fertilized space treated with pesticides.

Mama Goose and her baby. Photo by Jennifer Howard.

But what really opened my eyes to the tragic consequences of conventional landscaping was a conversation with wildlife biologist John Hadidian in the late 1990s. He and I were both working for The Humane Society of the United States at the time, and he was leading an effort to help people resolve conflicts with geese humanely. Unfortunately the standard answer to perceived goose “overpopulation” was to cull them by rounding them up and mass gassing them; that practice continues today in communities that decide they can no longer tolerate their presence.

From John I learned that geese are attracted to mowed-down landscapes directly adjacent to water — a common landscaping aesthetic in the U.S. These environments provide visibility and easy access to the water, where geese can quickly escape from predators, especially during nesting season. Efforts to revegetate such areas with native plantings had already proven successful, creating natural buffers that made geese just uncomfortable enough to avoid nesting there.

Well, this was a revelation to me! I was just becoming interested in native plants at the time, but I hadn’t yet made specific connections between plants and their effects on wildlife. I began to refer to the idea as “humane landscaping,” and I put it into practice in my own yard, but it took 12 years for me to begin really writing about it and exploring it as a career.


Nancy’s husband Will found this young Eastern box turtle in their lawn. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What are some common actions or behaviors that are actually harmful to animals and/or the environment? There are so many things we don’t even think to question, like using netting to protect vegetable gardens!

Rescuing a snake trapped in netting. Photo courtesy John Griffin.

Oh, there are just so many. Yes, using netting is a perfect example because it seems so innocuous, yet it can so easily strangle animals, especially birds and snakes. Another action people mistakenly think is humane is relocation of squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs and other mammals. There are so many detrimental effects of relocation. First, you could be separating a mother from her young without even knowing it. Also, the stress of transport to another territory could be overwhelming for the animal. But just as importantly, even if that animal is not being separated from her young, and even if she survives the journey, what then? What is she supposed to do in a new territory she’s never seen before? She no longer has a cognitive map of where her food sources are, where she can escape for cover, and where the threats and competitors are. Imagine if someone forced us into a car and drove us to a foreign land with no money, no map, no knowledge of the local customs and people. We would be very vulnerable, and that’s often what happens to relocated animals; they are easy prey.

Of course, it goes without saying that pesticides of any kind — insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, can be very damaging, both in ways that we can see and in ways that we can’t. Mowing kills countless animals — from the turtles and toads to the butterfly caterpillars. When we first moved to our home, we accidentally ran over a turtle with a mower. It was awful. And turtles can live for many decades, yet they reproduce very slowly, so the untimely demise of just a few can lead to local population extinction. To help these animals and many others, we have to reduce our lawns. Keeping a play area for kids or dogs or a hammock is fine. But do we really need the 42 million acres and counting that we have in the U.S.? Most of it is not even used by anybody! What a travesty.

Green metallic bee on coral honeysuckle. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What does the ideal humane backyard (or apartment balcony, or communal strip of land, or whatever!) look like to you? What have you done in your own yard to make it welcoming to wildlife?

Beautiful broomsedge. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ll start with the second question because I think it leads naturally into the first. The best way to describe our evolution is to say what we haven’t done. We stopped mowing more than half of the backyard. In place of lawn, there are now broomsedge and purpletop grasses, both native plants. (And I almost bought these plants once at a nursery before coming home to realize how many hundreds of them were starting to volunteer on their own!). Goldenrods and boneset and native sunflowers are also coming up in this area; some of these plants were likely seeded by birds in their droppings, while others were likely already dormant in the seedbank. They just needed a chance to sprout without constantly being mowed down.

In the other half of the yard, we’ve added as many native plants as time and money allow. I’ve grown a lot of these plants from seed — it’s very easy to do! — and I’ve also bought many of them at native plant sales and nurseries over the years. What you’ll usually find with natives is that — since they are accustomed the soil and have longstanding relationships with animals who eat and spread them — you might start with one or two plants but eventually have lots of offspring to transplant and share with friends. I’ve heard people call this “planting it forward,” and I just love that!

In the front of the house, we’ve also planted and nurtured as many natives as possible. My neighbors have become very interested in the plants because they are seeing just how insanely attractive they are to an amazing variety of butterflies, bees, wasps, and so many others. Really, animals help sell these plants if we let them. People understand that our pollinators are in crisis.

Green tiger beetle on leaves. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

We never remove leaves from the property, instead using them to create new garden areas. A nice layer of leaves will kill grass and enrich the soil and the plants as they break down. We also create brush piles out of twigs, fallen branches, sticks, and we line beds with branches and logs. This creates habitats for salamanders, beetles, and wood-nesting bees (30 percent of our 4,000 native bee species nest in cavities) — and then the birds come to forage on all these little creatures.

So really, the ideal humane garden is the thoughtful one — the one that takes into account what’s already there for wildlife, nurtures that, and then modifies in ways that will enhance that space for our fellow creatures. There isn’t really any one recipe for a given space, and I think that’s what people get hung up on — they worry about whether they’re doing the right thing, but if you take a little time to watch the animals and plants, they will help guide you.

Masked bees mating on shrubby St. Johns Wort. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

When I think about this movement towards humane gardening, it seems to me that it’s above anything else a mindset change — it’s altering how we view and understand different elements of nature, and then further altering our behavior to do what’s best for those elements. (I’m thinking of the “A Harvest for All” chapter of your book in particular, and especially about the poor maligned rabbits!) What mindset changes do you think are crucial?

You are exactly right — it’s all about questioning our long-held, culturally ingrained assumptions and learning to view the world from the perspective of other species, both plant and animal. One of the most unfortunate phrases I hear from people is “I have a brown thumb.” There is this notion out there that plants need constant coddling and inputs to survive, when the truth is that plants were far better off on this planet without our help! They managed just fine without us for about 700 million years. We are a blip in evolutionary history, yet we’ve managed in a very short time to obliterate many species across the planet.

We need plants to survive, but often what they need most of all from us at this point is for us to just leave them alone. One mistake made by many people trying to care for a plot of land is to assume that the things they didn’t plant are “weeds” — that whatever wasn’t purchased or designed by humans is somehow of less value. In reality, the opposite is often true. Whereas our big-box centers and mainstream nurseries are experts in selling invasive plants that crowd out wildlife habitat and sometimes even directly harm animals through toxic berries and leaves they can’t digest, nature excels at providing everything our local flora and fauna need — if only we would let her.

Groundhog eating lawn forbs. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

The dominant societal attitude toward plants has a direct impact on animals. That is one thing I really want my animal-loving friends to know. If you care about rabbits, leave clover and dandelions and other forbs in your yard for them to eat; grow hedgerows where they can take shelter. If you care about groundhogs, leave your fleabane and sassafras volunteers and other herbaceous and woody plants that will get them through hot summers and long winters. If you care about bees, nurture native plants that feed the specialists — the native bees who’ve evolved to gather pollen only from violets or spring beauties or asters or goldenrods or common evening primroses.

Don’t buy into the idea that there are “too many” deer or too many of any type of animal; who are we — the species that has taken over the Earth and holds her fate in our hands—to declare that? Deer were nearly shot out of existence, as were geese, and then bred and released back into the wild in many regions in an attempt to restock them for hunters. Humans have subjected many different kinds of animals — turkeys, mountain lions, wolves — to cycles of decimation and reclamation. Then we get angry with them when they do happen to start to thrive again, instead of looking inwardly and challenging ourselves to ask: What mistakes have we made in the past, and what can we do now to avoid further harm? In the case of deer, for example, our mowed-down landscapes create inviting habitat for them because they like open land near woods’ edges. There are so many things we can do to change this, starting with planting more plants and nurturing the ones we already have.

Great spangled fritillary and pearl crescent on Joe Pye weed. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

For folks who are reading about this concept for the first time, it might seem overwhelming. What are some simple yet effective first steps people can take to start turning their outdoor space into a more humane area?

Cardinal munching a caterpillar. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Start by looking at what you already have, and don’t assume that everything good and helpful to wildlife has to have our imprimatur on it. Many people first learn the connection between native plants and wildlife through this essential statistic quantified by entomologist and ecologist Doug Tallamy: 96 percent of North America’s terrestrial bird species feed their young spiders and insects — mostly caterpillars, and often thousands of them just to raise one brood of chicks to the fledgling stage. Those caterpillars rely heavily on native plants; 90 percent of plant-eating insects can eat only plants of certain lineages that they co-evolved with. So if we don’t have native plants, we’ve broken the food supply chain for baby birds.

That resonates with people, and when they start to understand the connections, they want to replace all their plants right away. This is not a reaction I want to discourage, necessarily, because a garden filled with native plants is the ideal. However, it’s not exactly doable for most people in the short term, both for time and financial reasons. But I also worry about this from the animals’ perspectives. For example, we have a forsythia bush that’s been here since we moved in. It was once the only bush in our expansive backyard. Animals need shrubs for cover and nesting, not just for food. Cardinals, catbirds, rabbits, finches, and many others use that large bush. Of course, since it’s not a native plant, the forsythia likely doesn’t provide the same level of floral and foliage resources to bees and caterpillars that native plants would. But instead of ripping it out and leaving one less space for birds to nest in, we started adding native bayberry and spicebush near it — so that eventually we will have a native hedge that can expand. At some point I will then be more comfortable with reducing the forsythia presence.

Forsythia and bayberry in the backyard. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ve begun to think of this concept as the Three Rs, something I borrowed from the animal protection field — which of course uses the Three Rs as a way to advocate for reduced consumption of animal products and reduced use of animals in research. My husband and I apply it to the outdoors in this way:

  1. Reduce invasives and lawn areas through gradual removal.
  2. Refine plant choices by buying only native plants, which have been proven to be more helpful to wildlife they co-evolved with.
  3. Replace nonnative plants with native plants whenever possible.

So it’s not hard to start. I like the advice of Ken Parker, a horticulturist I interviewed in my book: Start with a dozen native wildflower species — four for each season of bloom. Add a few native grasses, a couple shrub species, and a couple of nut-bearing trees. But if that’s too much, start with three native wildflowers and one shrub. You don’t have to go crazy. Just do what you can, and it will be more than the animals had before.

Do you have any favorite animals or insects, ones always put a smile on your face when you see them hanging out in “your” space? Any plants that you particularly love?

Sleeping bee on mountain mint. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

It seems almost impossible to choose! I can’t help but love the little guys I affectionately refer to as the bachelor bees or the sleeping bees. Every evening and morning in the summer through early fall, male bumblebees find a flower to sleep under. Usually they hang upside down, and often they choose flowers with umbrella shapes that will protect them from rain. Male bumblebees aren’t really allowed back in the nest once they leave; they pollinate flowers and, if they’re lucky, get to procreate, but they otherwise aren’t helping the colony the way the females are. Sometimes they hang out in clusters to sleep. I think of them as little ancient Romans; they sleep all night under a beautiful flower, wake up when it’s warm enough, and climb onto a nearby flower to start drinking all over again!

We have had some rare sightings, including a scarlet tanager who showed up in the staghorn sumacs just beyond our patio for about half an hour one night this summer. That was a real treat, and I didn’t realize just how difficult it is even for experienced birders to see the species. To me it validated how inviting our place has become.

Seeing a groundhog or a fox, hearing a coyote in the middle of the night, coming upon a fresh molehill in my walks around the land—all of these things are magical experiences for me, too. I tend to gravitate toward the misunderstood animals and plants. The plants that give me real joy are the ones that grow in the cracks of the driveway or pioneer a disturbed spot in the meadow. Often they are the ones most helpful to wildlife, too; boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) sprouted here on its own and has spread to many spots, drawing more and more bees, wasps, butterflies, bee flies, and others with each passing year. Other plants that warm my heart are blue mistflower, ironweed, Joe Pye weed, milkweed, jewelweed — all the species that aren’t really “weeds” at all to our wildlife. They are self-seeders, self-starters, lifesavers, and survivors.

Newly hatched male monarch drying his wings. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’m so grateful to Nancy for answering my questions with such thoughtfulness and candor.  Trust me when I say that this open-minded, gentle tone is exactly the same approach she takes in her book — which is partially why I’m giving away a copy!

The Humane GardenerTo enter, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter giveaway below. And why not purchase an extra copy, for yourself or for someone else? The Humane Gardener would make a perfect holiday gift for someone who might want to invite more wildlife into their yard!

While Nancy’s book does focus on plants and wildlife common to the U.S., her principles are universally applicable. If you live in the U.K. or Europe, Nancy recommends A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm, A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees, and Moles (The British Natural History Collection).


This giveaway is open from Wednesday, November 29th through Sunday, December 10th, to entrants from any country.

Please read the Rafflecopter instructions carefully. You must leave a comment on this blog post to enter, and then you can earn extra entries in a few other ways.

>>>Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!<<<

The giveaway is closed! Stacey W. of the USA is the winner. Stacey, I’ll be emailing you shortly! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing items through my links costs nothing extra to you, but it does help me cover hosting costs.

Roasted Green Tomato Galette with Tofu-Walnut Ricotta (Vegan)

What’s the weather like where you are? Here in Maryland, we’re experiencing an uncanny second summer: 80˚+ temperatures in the middle of October. Heat-lover though I am, I can’t quite get behind this divergence from the natural progression of the seasons.

I’d already started preparing my garden for the winter — trimming back unruly tomato vines, pulling dead plants — when the temperature skyrocketed. But with this return of the heat, tomatoes I’d long since given up for green are getting a second chance to ripen. I’d already picked some of the larger green ones, thinking that even a week of warmth wouldn’t be adequate for those big ones. And so, here I am with  a few pounds of green tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.

After trying my hand at that Southern classic, fried green tomatoes, and finding them lackluster, I knew I couldn’t rely on traditional uses for my unripe fruit. What to do? How about a galette, where green tomato slices are roasted to tangy perfection and layered atop a creamy tofu ricotta base? Seasoned lightly and ensconced in a crunchy cornmeal-laced crust, this is the perfect way to elevate those green tomatoes to the level of their more revered ripened brethren.

This recipe requires three components and might seem time-consuming. But individually, each piece is relatively simple, and the ricotta can be made ahead and let sit overnight. The result is a flavorful yet sturdy green tomato tart that you can slice and eat like pizza — no need to dirty a fork.

Roasted Green Tomato Galette with Tofu-Walnut Ricotta / #vegan / govegga.com

Roasted Green Tomato Galette with Tofu-Walnut Ricotta

Serves two as a main and four as a side


For the tomatoes

  • 12 oz. green tomatoes (about 6 small tomatoes) sliced into ~1/8″ rounds
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1-2 T balsamic vinegar (I prefer less, but you might not!)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • A few grinds black pepper

For the crust

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, chilled (refrigerate it for a few minutes before starting the recipe)
  • 1/4 cup cold water

For the tofu-walnut ricotta

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts (you can omit these if you’d like; see Notes)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 2 tsp white or yellow miso
  • A few grinds black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

While the oven is preheating, prepare the tomatoes. In a large bowl, drizzle the sliced tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossing gently to coat. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, oregano, and pepper on top and stir again to coat.

Pour the tomatoes onto the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. At the 10-minute mark, shift the tomatoes around gently.

While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the crust and the ricotta.

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and oregano. Drizzle in the olive oil, and use clean hands, a fork, or a pastry cutter to work in the oil until it forms sandy  crumbs. Drizzle in the cold water and stir to combine, using your hands to knead if necessary. Work it gently until it comes together into a soft dough, but do not overwork. Form into a ball and place in the refrigerator, either wrapped in cling film or with a tea towel.

To make the tofu-walnut ricotta:

Use your hands to gently wring out any extra liquid from the tofu, then crumble it into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and use your hands, a spatula, or a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. If possible, let sit for 30 minutes before using to let the flavors develop (though this is not necessary).

When the tomatoes are lightly browned and bubbling, remove them from the oven and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 375˚F while you prepare the tart.

On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rough circle or oval about 1/8″ thick. Transfer to a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. (This is a delicate dough, so rolling directly on parchment paper or on the sheet might make this step simpler.) Leaving a 1 1/2″ border, pile about half the ricotta in the center, then layer the tomato slices on top, overlapping slightly. Fold the edge of the dough over the filling.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, just until the crust starts to brown.

Roasted Green Tomato Galette with Tofu-Walnut Ricotta / #vegan / govegga.com

  • If possible, make the ricotta the day before to let the flavors develop and to save time.
  • This recipe requires a half batch of the ricotta, so you can either halve the recipe or save the remaining ricotta for another day. (Stuffed shells, anyone?)
  • I included walnuts in the ricotta to add texture and a little extra protein. They’re not necessary, so feel free to leave them out.
  • You can use more tomatoes if you have them on hand.

Disclaimer: his post includes affiliate links. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies to help cover hosting costs.


Attack of the Mutant Zucchini [Bread] of Doom!

Fact: Desserts baked during eXtreme weather are eXtremely good (though maybe everything tastes delicious when you’re just glad to be alive).

Last Thursday, in the midst of tornado warnings, torrential downpours, and freakishly-colored skies, did I hunker down in my building’s basement like a smart person would? If you guessed “absolutely not,” you are correct – instead, I ignored the tornado sirens and baked me up some zucchini bread. I needed to use up the obscenely large zucchinis from my garden, and teh interwebz led me to this scrumptious-looking specimen of a recipe. Despite my way-too-late realizations that 1.) my applesauce was moldy, 2.) the recipe was for 2 loaves, when really I only wanted one, and 3.) I used spaghetti squash for about half the zucchini amount, my oven spewed forth some of the most moist and delicious zucchini bread I’ve had in recent memory.

Eat me up, Scotty!

Okay, I’m gonna say that again – I used spaghetti squash in place of zucchini. And… it wasn’t really on purpose. Yeah, I know. See, I planted some spaghetti squash seeds earlier this year, but only one plant survived the transfer from its cozy potted home to the rough wilds of Wisconsin soil. But then I thought it died because I only saw zucchini growing in the area where I’d planted the spaghetti squash. Except… they weren’t regular zucchini. They were large and spherical, but with the exact same mottling as a regular ol’ zucchini. Instead of accepting the logical solution – that they were immature spaghetti squash from the plant that survived – I instead decided that they were mutant zucchinis, the perfect accompaniment to my monstrously large real-zucchinis. But they weren’t, as I discovered when I hacked one open in search of more zucchini flesh for my bread. Nope, they were straight-up spaghetti squash, just a little green on the outside. Durrr.

I just went with it, though, and guess what? You’d never guess that an imposter is hiding in the loaf or amongst the giant muffins. Nah, it’s all just one smooth, slightly spicy, moist and delicious loaf of yum.

And that, my friends, is the way I like it. :)


Holy green goodness, Batman!

Oh, what’s that, you ask? Oh, y’know… just a giant bowl of organic kale that I just HARVESTED FROM MY GARDEN. No big deal.

JK, it *is* a big deal – it’s my first harvest of the season! And I did it at 8:30 at night!! It’s totally worth the 8,639 mosquito bites I sustained in the process!!! Totally, totally worth it.

My work offers garden plots for free to employees, since our company owns 500+ acres in semi-rural Wisconsin. The garden is organic – no nasty pesticides allowed. The kale is one of only two plants I didn’t start from seed; when I saw organic kale plants for sale at the farmers’ market a few months ago, I couldn’t resist. And it’s doing well, as you can see! I look forward to a summer full of green monsters. :)

I haven’t been blog-absent because I’ve been diligently working in my garden, though. I actually spent last week at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park (along with Universal + Disney) with my family as a semi-surprise belated 30th anniversary gift to my parents. It was FREAKING AWESOME and totally magical. If only I could really live at Hogwarts. Siiigh.

I’ll post some geektastic photos later, but I’m not sticking around too long – tomorrow I’m hoppin’ a plane for Austin, Texas for a weekend mini-reunion with some of my best friends from college. We graduated a year ago – it’s insane! It’s going to be great to catch up with everyone and pretend we’re young again. :)

Has anybody else been anywhere fun lately?