It takes a village

I’m not always on top of things in the blogosphere, so I didn’t get the news about Wordbones until I got the HocoBlogs email on Saturday night. It put a damper on what had otherwise been a good Mother’s Day weekend. I’d never met the man in person – I’d never even gone out to any of the HoCo blogging events – but I wish I had. I loved reading his blog. I was very impressed by all of the details that he managed to acquire, and the easy writing style that he used to share what he knew. He really cared about the area, and it came through in his words.

It’s thanks in part to him that the HoCo blogging scene has developed into a crazy, wonderful, and close-knit community. I brooded about his death for a while, unsure of what to say, until it finally occurred to me that it would be a good tribute to acknowledge some of the HoCo blogs that I’ve come to love, that I might not ever have found without the community that he helped create.

First and foremost is HowChow. I don’t know how he does it, but the guy manages to eat all over the place and find out about everything new that’s coming into town. He’s always open to exploring new tastes and cuisines, and his enthusiasm is contagious; thanks to him I’ve got a thick forest of bookmarks for restaurants and markets all over the area. Whenever we sit down at an area restaurant, odds are that one of us is going to pull out a smartphone and say, “well, let’s see what HowChow ordered…” Reading his posts makes us feel like insiders. I still remember the feeling of excited discovery the first time I bit into the al pastor tacos from R&R Taqueria. And I gotta admit I was over the moon the first time he linked to this blog. ^_^ Thank you, HowChow, for making sure that we eat well.

Next, AnnieRie Unplugged. I want to be AnnieRie when I grow up. (Hopefully by then I will also have learned to grow plants without killing them.) To read her blog is to appreciate nature and good home cooking, to glory in the bounty of farms and parks all around us, to delight in beautiful flowers and found asparagus. I’ve already picked up lots of tips and tricks from her blog to prepare meals in easy and delicious ways, and to sock away fresh fruits and vegetables for the winter. I haven’t checked out the Howard County Conservancy yet, but when my kid is older, we’re definitely going on some of those walks.

Speaking of the kid, I should mention Do-It-Yourself Danielle. I’ve never commented on her blog, but I read it regularly and with great admiration. I don’t actually know how to use a sewing machine, but someday when I do, I hope to attain a fraction of her skills. Our cloth diapers are store-bought, but if the elastic starts to go, I know where I’ll turn for help. I love her candid stories about raising her son, and since her kid is just a little older than mine, I feel like she’s blazing a trail for me to follow.

And for when my kid is older still, I’m storing away knowledge from the blog of Lisa B, Mrs. S. I love the mix of topics on her blog, how tips for keeping kids occupied during a long car trip share space with wide-ranging commentary on the county school system and on society at large. She’s always paying attention to how to make the world a better place for her school-age children, and she does it with a thoughtful, flowing writing style that I just love to read.

As for thoughtful writing, there’s plenty to be found on The Rocket Powered Butterfly. He doesn’t post as often, but it’s worth the wait when he does. Each post is carefully crafted, exhaustively footnoted, and often offers me a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.

Posts don’t need to be long to be worthwhile, though. 53 Beers on Tap is one of the first blogs that sucked me into the community. This guy pulls no punches and I sometimes find myself disagreeing with what he says, but there’s no doubt that he cares deeply about the area and wants what’s best for everyone. It’s one of my go-to blogs for local politics, with a side of strong opinion.

I also regularly check on HoCo Rising for a comprehensive debrief of politics around the county. Tom Coale highlights people and news items that I would probably never have heard of, but am glad to learn about. I have no idea how he gathers all of his links but I’m glad he’s there to distill it down for us.

And finally, a world of gratitude to Jessie X, the glue that holds the HocoBlogs community together. When I first hesitantly offered my blog to the HocoBlogs directory, she was immediately welcoming and full of helpful advice. She does a lot of work to keep the community engaged and vibrant. Thank you, Jessie; this place wouldn’t be the same without you.

Happy World Nutella Day!

Today is officially World Nutella Day, a day I’ve happily celebrated every year since its inception in 2007. Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut spread, sweet and luscious and wonderful. When I was a kid, Nutella was a huge treat for me; I’d eat it spread on toast or as a single layer in a sandwich. With its chocolatey taste, it really was like eating candy for breakfast. It used to be hard to find, but now you can pick up a jar at any grocery store (or, if you’re an addict like me, you can pick up a two-pack of huge jars from Costco).

In the past, I’ve made Nutella hot chocolate (just mix with hot milk) and Nutella scones:

Nutella scones

It’s just a basic scone recipe with layers of Nutella folded in. Careful eating these right out of the oven; the Nutella layer is like napalm.

This morning, we didn’t have time to do anything fancy, so we just had Nutella on toast:

Nutella on toast

Eating Nutella toast for breakfast made me feel a little like a kid again. Maybe that’s why people like celebrating World Nutella Day. Anyway, I’m looking forward to a tasty cup of Nutella hot chocolate tonight.

o frabjous day!

This morning could not get any better. First I wake up to the news that a mass murderer has finally been brought to justice, and now HowChow informs us that the Howard County Farmers Markets are opening this week. Does it get any better than this?

(I know, total juxtaposition of the monumental and the prosaic. But that’s life.)

Yay, the farmers markets are back! I’m so thrilled. One of the things I love about the CSA is the sense of community. Members chat with the other members, or the farmers, and trade recipes and suggestions. That’s also the attitude in the farmer’s markets, where people will just turn around and chat with you about how good the strawberries are, or what to do with spinach, and the farmer might even throw in an extra tomato or two if you buy enough produce. It’s a type of community interaction that’s pretty much missing from the big box grocery stores, where you just get stuff off the impersonal shelves and your interaction with the cashier is limited to “How are you?” “Fine, thanks.”

Farmers markets! Words cannot contain my excitement. I’ve had such great experiences at the farmers markets. At the Cedar Lane one, I walked up near closing once and the guy just gave me all his remaining spinach for the price of a pound (“I’m leaving anyway,” he said, “it’ll go to waste otherwise.”). There’s a guy at the East Columbia one who will happily talk your ear off if you just ask him a simple question (“Do you have lemon basil plants this year?” spawned an entire dissertation on the care and feeding of herbs).

Berries in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, apples and cider in the fall… it’s the beginning of a wonderful, bounteous time of year.

half a world away

I visited Japan when I was a teenager. I loved the food there, stands at every corner dishing out bowls of hot ramen, seaweed-wrapped rice balls at the convenience stores, even the McDonald’s where they carefully (and without a trace of irony) arranged the plastic fork and knife in the center of the folded paper napkin on the plastic tray. Everything was so neat and clean and beautiful, even the streets and subway tunnels, and it makes the tragedy and destruction all the more horrible to contemplate.

It seems like a lousy time to think about a food blog, but I think Ruth Reichl strikes exactly the right note when she writes about why food matters.

It is precisely because we are so fortunate that we should do what we can, and appreciate what we have.