My New Year’s resolutions after a health crisis renews my love affair with plants

Zion, National, Park, Utah, sunshine, hiking

Marty pauses in the morning light. (Zion National Park, Utah)

In October 2015 my husband experienced a mini-stroke. We were traveling in our motorhome at the time, camped near Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. While Marty’s 5-minute episode didn’t leave any outward signs of damage, we knew that inside, something was wrong. “You should consider adopting a plant-based diet,” his doctor said. We did. And the journey has reopened my love affair with plants.

Since I’m writing this at the cusp of a new year, I came up with a list of resolutions. They have a garden theme. Forgive me. I’ve written a weekly garden column for 20+ years. Now if you’re not a plant-hugger, don’t click away from this post, because what I have to say may improve–or even save–your life.

“If we don’t change our mind, we’ll never move our behind.” ~Dr. Terry Mason, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. (A fabulous and inspirational speaker, Dr. Mason champions a holistic approach to health. Watch one of his presentations here).

Rake leaves as if you’re Dancing With the Plants. Or think of your shovel as your new dumbbell. What’s up with this? According to the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) article, Gardening Health and Safety Tips, spending just 2.5 hours a week in a moderately intensive activity, such as gardening, can reduce your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and premature death. Got it?

radish, seedling, sprout, organic, garden

Magic in a radish seedling.

Be a plant ambassador by introducing at least one person to gardening this year. Gardening does so much more than give us a workout that helps prevent disease. Read on…

Start more plants from seed. What can be more magical than planting a seed and watching the miracle of new life unfold? Just ask a child. Of course there are practical reasons: Saving money, having more varieties to choose from, getting a jump on the growing season. (My favorite seed catalogs for cool climate gardening include: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Fedco, Territorial Seeds).

The other beauty about gardening… is that it can be done by people almost any age or ability. Similar to caring for a goldfish, caring for a plant can teach a young child responsibility (as well as a bit about science, nature, and nutrition, if the plant is also a food).
~ From Physical and Mental Benefits of Gardening, Huffington Post

flower, bumblebee, pollen, daisy

Bumblebee at work.

Please donate more vegetables to your local food bank. Or volunteer. Many food banks accept financial contributions and assistance in sorting, packaging, and distributing food.

Beautify the world with more flowers. Many crops, from almonds to zucchini, need pollinators to bear fruit. And it is scientifically proven that gardening lifts the spirit and wards off depression: it is difficult not to enjoy life when surrounded by flowers. When I was co-authoring Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, this theme came up time and time again in the thousands of stories submitted for the New York Times bestseller.

Enjoy more homegrown food. Nothing nourishes the body, tastebuds, and soul like tasty and healthy food that you grew yourself. Whether you add a new raised bed to grow vegetables, cultivate salad greens in a half whiskey barrel, or lease a community garden plot, resolve to enjoy a bigger harvest this year.

Employ more natural solutions to manage pests. Get to know the various pests that frequent your garden, then take steps to deflect problems before you support conglomerates like Monsanto by reaching for the toxic synthetic pesticides. Better to use earth-friendly products that are safe for people, pets, birds, and other creatures.

Broccoli, vegetable, healthy, garden, organic

Having a little fun with broccoli and flowers

Build your plants’ defenses, and yours. (I’ll explain in a moment). Pests are more likely to attack weak plants. Sickly plants aren’t just the result of too much or too little water. Tests show that plants fed a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as Miracle Gro develop weak, juicy stems that attract more pests (aphids!) that plants raised using organic methods.

As for your defenses, here is what Better Homes and Gardens printed in their November 2015 issue about building a strong immune system:

  • 7 hours of sleep per night will make you less likely to get sick.
  • You are 32 percent less likely to catch a cold if you give and receive hugs frequently, thanks to their stress busting effect.
  • 40 minutes a day of moderately intense exercise, like a brisk walk, can cut your risk of cold and flu in half.
  • Meditate every day and you could slash your chances of coming down with a cold by 76 percent.

Believe in the tenacity of plants. “Plants want to survive and live,” reminds Amy Pennington, author of Apartment Gardening. “They will go to great lengths to make sure their genetic strain lives on. They don’t need constant monitoring—they just need a helper.”

Taking it all in while hiking in Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim. More than the grandness, I liked The Big Quiet.

Taking it all in while hiking in Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim. More than the grandness, I liked The Big Quiet.

Take better care of indoor plants. It’s the least we can do for the greenery that graciously brightens the interiors of our homes, hospitals and offices.

Memorize the names of more wildflowers. After a little practice, they will become familiar friends along trails, roads, parks, and forests.

Collect kitchen scraps for making compost or vegetable broth. “Compost,” says New York Times garden columnist Leslie Land, “is the all-purpose answer to everything.” Vegetable trimmings, thrown in a pot of water, makes an excellent, nutrient-rich soup stock.

dew drop, droplet, macro, photography, Marion Owen, flower

Forget-me-not flowers inverted in a dew drop.

Allow nature to soothe and rejuvenate by spending more time in the garden. In our hectic world it’s too easy to think of gardening as just another task on the to-do list. As corny as it may sound, take time to smell a rose or observe nature’s beauty in a tiny dewdrop.

Embrace your own people-plant connection. Why are our spirits so uplifted by flowers? What compels us to behave like lemmings, massing along roads and hiking trails to immerse ourselves in nature? And what draws us so powerfully to savor scenic overlooks? (Highway engineers and national park planners acknowledge this urge). Our ties to the natural world of plants are subtle and often overlooked.

Charles Lewis, author of the marvelous and pathmaking book  Green Nature, Human Nature, describes the positive influences that nature can have on humanity. It’s so much more than how plants provide us with food, clothing, and flowers…

“When people who garden find new friendships with neighbors, when a walk in the woods brings relief from pent-up tension, or when a potted begonia restores vitality to a hospital patient, we can begin to sense the power of these connections.”

So back to our motorhome. It was Saturday, October 22, and we’d just finished dinner when Marty had his mini-stroke. He was on the phone, talking with his daughter, when suddenly he couldn’t form words. We were 40 miles from the nearest hospital in Richfield, Utah. At dawn, we broke camp and starting driving. We didn’t talk much, really. Just listened to peaceful music on the radio and let the views of rolling pastures and sparkling lakes soothe our concerns for the future.

Marty’s mini-stroke was a wake-up call in many ways. For example, I’ve had to learn how to cook all over again. But that’s another story. And although I’ve been a master gardener, teacher, and garden writer for many years, what happened in October changed my view, my appreciation, of plants. Did you know that chlorophyll and hemoglobin bear a striking similarity in structure? Ah, that’s yet another story.

I hope this blog post changes how you think about plants and gardening, too.

Blessings to you for the New Year, and all year,

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

Kodiak, Island, ocean, hiking, park, storm

After returning to Kodiak Island, Marty and I went for a hike to watch storm waves crash against the rocks. It felt good to be home.

Posted in Essays and inspirations, Life coming full circle, Organic gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sustainable Santa knows if you’ve been good

holiday, lights, boats, festival, winter, Christmas, stars, Alaska, Kodiak

Harbor Lights Festival in Kodiak, Alaska with stars overhead. (Photo by Jason Humphreys)

During this year’s annual Harbor Lights Festival in Kodiak, Marty and I joined hundreds of friends and neighbors to walk the docks and vote for our favorite Christmas-y boat. One little boy looked up at us and with firm conviction declared, “Santa Claus is coming to town!” Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town and as the song says, “He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.”

Most of us love family holiday traditions and potlucks. “In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas,” that surge of caring and neighborliness that blossoms this time of year. There’s also a surge of—dare I spoil the holiday spirit—of waste. Lots of it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the volume of household waste generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, creating about one million extra tons of waste in the winter wonderland. If all you want for Christmas is to generate less waste and help the planet heal, there are plenty of ways you can go green for the holidays.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s an eye-opening experience to watch kids tear open gift-wrapped packages. Even more enlightening is the appearance of Mount Holiday Debris. Most of that waste (packaging and boxes, greeting cards, used batteries and old electronics), can be recycled, reused or re-gifted, recyclable or not. Here are a few pre-cycling tips:

  • Wrap your gifts in earth-friendly wrapping such as bandanas, nautical charts, handkerchiefs, magazines, or newspaper (the comics!) you’ve decorated with hand-stamped designs. Avoid ribbons, bows, greeting cards and wrapping paper that contains metal fibers and glitter.
  • Decorate your tree with ornaments, sure, but instead of tinsel, consider strings of popcorn and paper chains from magazines.
  • Rather than wrapping gifts for youngsters, hide the presents and turn Christmas morning into a treasure hunt.
  • Save wrapping paper, cards and ribbons to use next year.
  • Take the Huffington Post’s No Paper Challenge, by Lauren Berg
recycle, Christmas, cardboard, fiber, precycle, reuse, recyclable, boxes

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Deck the Halls!

Turn off (use a timer) or unplug lights during the day to save energy.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

If you purchased (or harvested) a real Christmas tree or greens, please recycle your tree responsibly.

My true love sent to me

There are plenty of gifts that don’t require lots of packaging or wrapping. Experiential gifts celebrate the gift of giving without the extra waste of packaging and paper. They also provide opportunities for the recipient to experiences new things in the way of music lessons, yoga classes, or event tickets. How about gifts of State Park passes, memberships to local museums, and donating to a local charity in someone else’s name? They all provide ways to invest in your community at the same time.

I love promissory notes, gifts that keep on giving: Notes for cleaning, gardening, admission to workshops, coupons for homemade dinners, family getaways, or sharing hikes with a friend. How about investing in your family and friends by contributing to a child’s savings account or education IRA.

Santa, hat, sustainable, recycle, logo, recycling, Christmas

Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! Being good means making thoughtful and conscious buying/giving choices. Remember, small is beautiful. Storing large items has become the albatross around the neck of many Americans. Honestly folks, we don’t need more stuff. Get this: The average American home size has nearly tripled over the last 50 years and one in ten Americans rent a storage unit. Keep your gift-giving simple. One thoughtful present is better than five wrapped packages of unwanted gifts.

Can we talk briefly about hoarding? It’s a problem for many people around the world. Maybe you know a friend or family member who suffers from “Rubble without a cause.” I won’t get into the dynamics of compulsive hoarding as a disorder except to say that if you can clear out some of the clutter in your home (or be a “clutter buddy” and help someone else do it) and recycle or re-purpose what you can, you will giving in ways you never imagined.

Oh, bring us some … (what is figgy pudding?)

If you’re entertaining this season, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Use reusable cups, plates and utensils.
  • Set out cloth napkins and tablecloths instead of disposable ones.
  • Recycle at your holiday party.
  • Prevent food waste with menu planning and smart shopping.
  • Buy local foods.

Do you see what I see?

I’ve listed many tips for making this holiday season an extra special, green one. After the holiday dust has settled though (dust is compostable, by the way), consider two things:

  1. Adopt some of these tips for the whole year
  2. Using the power of the pen and your buying power to encourage companies to rethink some of their packaging methods. Tell them you want a Christmas that celebrates environmentally friendly lifestyles so that everyone can be singing “Joy to the World!”
Letter to Santa, Santa, giving, gifts, naughty, Christmas

A sweet “Letter to Santa” I found in North Pole, Alaska.

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Kitchen Conundrum: How to store ridiculous-sized spice jars

kitchen, design, unreal, fake, gawdy, showy

Barbie Doll kitchens. Heaven forbid you’d knead bread on the counter, let kids and dogs romp on the floor, or place a compost bucket by the sink in these kitchens.

There are a lot of fake kitchens out there. While designing our own kitchen, I came across many soul-less rooms featured in House Beautiful-type magazines. One look at the photos and I’d think, “Are you kidding? Knead bread on the counter? Keep a compost bucket by the sink?” In the process though, I realized there are two major hurdles for every kitchen: Where to install the sink and how to store herbs and spices. Allow me to share a few discoveries with you…

Deciding where to put the sink (the busiest zone in the kitchen) was easy. We live on the ocean in Kodiak, Alaska, so duh, I gave it and myself, the best view in the house. As for storing spices and herbs, the solution wasn’t so immediate. Spice containers come in a ridiculous number of shapes and sizes. And though I loved to cook, I didn’t want to waste time wading through dark cabinets to find that tin of Colman’s mustard. The solution: A large, shallow drawer where jars are laid on their side, labels facing up.

Years have passed since that “drawer revelation” but when I fetched a jar of nutmeg from the drawer the other day, I stared at the label and wondered, “How old is this nutmeg?” Maybe you have a bottle or two of ancient herbs hanging around. Is it still fresh? Should you bother hanging on to it? Hopefully this post will inspire you straighten out your own spice cabinet and at the same time, provide insights about those seasonings that lift every recipe from bland to grand.

Kodiak, Alaska, kitchen, B&B, garden,

Views from our kitchen in Kodiak, Alaska are a never-ending movie. In this case, the vegetable and flower gardens and the Alaska Marine Highway ferry, the Tustumena. Sometimes, and occasional whale passes by… (Marion Owen photo)

Q: What’s the difference between spices and herbs?

A: Spices are aromatic seasonings that come from the roots, seeds, bark, buds, or fruit of certain plants. Herbs are the flavorful leafy parts of certain plants.

Q: Do spices spoil?

A: Seasonings don’t spoil per se. After all, most herbs and spices are irradiated to control insects, mold, and other organisms that cause decreased shelf life. As a rule, unopened spices last up to three years and whole spices last twice as long as ground spices.

The shelf life of spices varies, and remember, you never really need to worry about them going “bad” like other foods do. For example, a bottle of curry powder that’s been around a questionable amount of time probably won’t make you sick; it will just be less potent so you’ll need to use more. Many folks abide by a one-year rule when it comes to discarding most spices. Seems short to me. Spices aren’t cheap and I certainly don’t want to replace all of mine each year. Here are a few “to toss or not to toss” guidelines:

  • Ground spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric): 2 to 3 years
  • Herbs (basil, oregano, parsley): 1 to 3 years
  • Whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks): 4 years
  • Extracts: 4 to 6 years (except for vanilla, which lasts forever)

Sound pretty straightforward? Sure, but unless you keep a “purchased on” or “harvested on” checklist or pay attention to “best by” date stamp, it’s a pain to keep track of how long each and every spice has been kicking around.

store, spices, herbs, seasonings,

I cook a lot of meals from scratch so a large drawer where I could lay containers on their side was the best solution for me.

Q: How do you know if spices have lost their punch?

A: Begin with your senses: Spices should have a strong fragrance, taste potent, and have a rich, natural color. A lack of any of these things means that the spice or dried herb is past its prime and not worth keeping. If a spice has some fragrance left but is far less potent than it used to be, just double the amount called for in a recipe. Otherwise, toss it, compost it, or use it in a soup, stew or other not-so-critical recipe.

And don’t feel guilty if you have to toss and replace a spice. It won’t do any good taking up valuable real estate in your kitchen. By the way, if a spice is rather ancient, you may not want to throw the packaging away. Many folks collect antique spice bottles and tins.

Q: What is the best way to store cooking spices and herbs?

A: You want to keep seasonings within arm’s length of your food prep area, but far from any source of intense heat. In other words, avoid decorating the back of your stovetop or windowsill with a row of bottled spices. It’s a double-edged sword: Heat accelerates flavor loss. And the steam from cooking can cause ground spices, blends, and dehydrated vegetable powders to cake into a sold brick.

Strong, direct light is no friend to dried spices either, so if you purchase seasonings in bulk, store the overflow in dark containers, preferably in a cool spot. And while it might be a no-brainer, keep your cooking spices tightly capped and use dry measuring spoons. Sounds silly, but try to avoid dipping even a slightly wet spoon into the container.

Spice, herbs, how to store, containers, bottles

Spices and herbs come in so many shapes and sizes it’s hard to find a convenient space to store and access them.

My parents encouraged me to learn how to cook, starting with salads and advancing to chocolate soufflés. Mom was a casual cook, but Dad was a nut for orderliness. I used to tease him about arranging his army of Spice Islands jars alphabetically, a method you might find useful if you have a lot of people (kids, grandkids, Girl Scouts) who cook in your kitchen. But if that’s not your style, then grouping seasonings by cuisine might feel better.

Today, for health reasons, my husband and I are following a plant-based diet (no meat, dairy, or processed oils). And most meals I prepare from scratch. Sure it’s time consuming but it’s worth every second. How does my spice drawer look today? Baking spices are corralled together in one area, with savory Indian spices in another. The largest group (all-purpose seasonings like garlic powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, thyme and so on) fills out the middle section. It’s time saving and worth every second.

My note to you: As we enter the high baking season, may your gingerbread men contain an extra pinch of cinnamon and may your holiday be filled with “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Thanks for visiting.

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer


Gingerbread men, cookies, ginger, Christmas cookies, baking

Here’s smiling at you!

Posted in Food and recipes, Kodiak Island, Alaska, Where curiosity leads me | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A pumpkin pie recipe that’s sure to trigger conversations at the dinner table

Our food journeys are most pronounced during the holiday season. We wrestle with thawed-out turkeys, shop for once-a-year ingredients, and open cookbooks to pages stained with last November’s cranberry sauce. For Marty and I, this season opens with dramatic changes as we embrace a plant-based, vegan diet. Our new “no meat, no dairy” mantra means restocking the pantry from top to bottom: Out with butter, cheese, and milk; in with more fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains. And tofu.

Tofu. That bland, soggy, and rectangular solid is America’s most popular meat alternative. (wheat gluten is a better protein alternative, but that’s another story). Meanwhile, I mention tofu because it helps form the base of my new favorite pumpkin pie recipe, replacing my multi-layered, Northern Lights Pumpkin Pie recipe that held the top post for many years.

Pumpkin pie, recipe, vegan, no dairy, no eggs, Thanksgiving, dairy-free, egg-free

Fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice, this recipe which I’m calling Pumpkin Pie for the Soul,  delivers a silky, rich experience. Made without eggs or milk, though you wouldn’t know it. “You can fool a lot of people,” says “They can’t believe it’s made with tofu.”

The recipe I’m sharing began as a recipe.  Then I added my own twists. It’s great as a stand-alone (crust-free) custard, but for some folks, a pie isn’t a pie without a crust. And since we’re in discovery mode, take a look at the pie crust recipe that follows. It’s magic, requiring just two ingredients. To top it off I invite you to try the cashew topping that resembles a rich, whipped cream.

Pumpkin Pie for the Soul

2 cups pureed pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato or yam
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 (10 oz.) package soft tofu (not low fat)
1/8 cup molasses
1 pie shell (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream all ingredients in a food processor. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake for about 50 minutes. Serve warm or chill and top with cashew cream (recipe follows pie crust recipe).

Two-Ingredient Pie Crust

While researching dairy-free pie crust recipes I discovered the 2-Ingredient Pie Crust on Helyn’s Plant-Based Kitchen blog. “Lo and behold. A perfect crust!” she says. “So simple and so nutritious. I was amazed, astounded and shocked that no one had thought of this before.”

  1. 1-1/2 tightly-packed almond flour (use 2 cups for a deep dish pie)
  2. 1 tablespoon ground flax seed (If all you have is whole flax seed, simply grind them in a nut/seed grinder or coffee grinder)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flax meal with 3 tablespoons water and set it aside for 10 minutes. Process almond flour in a food processor and while it’s running pour in the flax mixture. Pulse until the dough is soft, smooth, and sticking together. Drizzle in more water if needed. Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, press it together tightly, shape into a disc, and chill for 30 to 60 minutes.

Roll the dough in between two sheets of plastic wrap and then turn it out into a pie plate, leaving a sheet of wrap on top. Press the dough up the sides of the pie dish. If it doesn’t look perfect, don’t worry. This is not a competition. Finish the edges using your fingers or a fork. Dock the crust (poke it all over with a fork). Bake for 15 minutes until the edges of the crust are golden.

Cashew cream topping

Plant Strong, vegan, Engine 2, diet, Esselstyn, RipChanging to a vegan diet has been fairly seamless since I love to cook. (Every summer I develop menus for 100+ gourmet dinner cruises). Yet I was pleasantly surprised when I learned about this multi-purpose sauce that required no sour cream. Many thanks to Rip Esselstyn’s New York Times bestseller, Plant-Strong.

Sweet or savory, this creamy topping is an easy to make and versatile, dairy-free recipe. Made thick and seasoned with herbs, it’s delicious on crackers, used as a dip, or a spread for burgers and wraps. Add a little more liquid and flavor on the sweet side, it becomes a topping for cakes and pies that holds up well, unlike traditional whipped toppings.

Directions: Cover 1-1/2 cup raw cashews with water (add enough to cover with an inch of water) for a few hours or overnight. Blend in a food processor or high-speed blender until smooth, adding water to make the thickness you like. Store in the fridge or freezer. For a sweet topping, blend in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or 2 teaspoons maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
—Albert Einstein

I just turned 60, so why vegan?

marion owen, Kodiak, AlaskaWhile Marty and I have personal (health) reasons for avoiding meat and dairy, the over-riding facts spur us on. Check this out: One in three Americans and one in six children are obese. We’ve heard all this before–maybe numbing us with such figures–but you’d be crazy to ignore these recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Nearly half of all Americans use some kind of prescription drug and nearly one out of every two adults have at least one chronic illness.

In an article published in the Cardiology AdvisorHeart Disease, Stroke Among Top 5 Causes of Death, Per CDC, heart disease continues to top the list of likely cause of death among Americans.

Despite doctors’ attempts to medicate away our illnesses, Americans are sicker than ever.

So what is the leading cause of heart disease? Plaque. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Plaque buildup thickens and stiffens artery walls, which can inhibit blood flow through your arteries to your organs and tissues.” The bottom line: heart disease is correctable by adopting a healthy diet, getting exercise, achieving an optimal weight, and by not smoking.

For decades, the studies have been mounting: One of the fastest ways to stop heart disease in its tracks is by adopting a plant-based diet. In the Harvard Medical School’s Heart Health Letter the article, Halt heart disease with a plant-based, oil-free diet supports that eating more plants is the key to optimum health. “Diets that emphasize vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can even reverse the amount of cholesterol-clogged plaque in your arteries.”

You can’t be an environmentalist if you’re not eating a plant-based diet. And you can’t walk the walk in the world of the future, the world ahead of us, the world of our children, not eating a plant-based diet. — James Cameron, film director

The evidence over the last 25 years supporting a low-fat, plant-based diet is overwhelming. Just ask former President Bill Clinton who, after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and another surgery in 2010 to insert a pair of stents, regained his health and lost 24 pounds after adopting a plant-based diet.

So as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner remember to give thanks. Then ponder what you’re eating. If you’re inwardly flustered and confused, consider what Bill Clinton shared in his interview with AARP, “I wanted to live to be a grandfather,” he said. “So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.”

Thank you so much for visiting. Happy Thanksgiving to you all,

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer




P.S. Who’s eating a plant-based diet:

  • World-famous track runner and Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis says he had the best race of his life at the 1991 World Championships, after he turned vegan to prepare for the race.
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson turned vegan in 2010, and has since loss 100 pounds.
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Former vice-president Al Gore
  • And the list goes on…









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Why take another photo?

I’ve been carrying a camera around since I was ten, recording events from my “magic carpet” as I tour this life. I started with a Brownie Instamatic camera, a gift from Mom and Dad, and now I use various digital Whats-its.

Sometimes I’d wonder, “Why do I take pictures?” I mean, aren’t there enough photos in the world already? Well yes, according to the New York Times article, Photos, Photos Everywhere, “The growth in the number of photos taken each year is exponential: It has nearly tripled since 2010 and is projected to grow to 1.3 trillion by 2017.” You can thank smartphones because “Seventy five percent of all photos are now taken with some kind of phone.”

berries, hiking, Kodiak, Alaska, island, fall, autumn, colors, iPhone, photography, Marion, Owen

I was hiking with a friend on a splendid September day on Kodiak Island. I turned to say something to her and spotted these bright orange bearberry leaves; and then the clouds shuffling across the blue sky, and so on. “Wait!” I said. I whipped out my iPhone…

Still, after 50 years (okay, do the math), I love making images. When everything comes together I want to shout, “Yes, that’s IT!” and I’m filled with a special connectedness and joy. 

This why-take-another-picture question held court on the back of my mind for years. Then I recently came across a passage by Paramahansa Yogananda which inspired me to mindfully reach beyond the physical activity of tripping the shutter.

Any time you become fascinated by some material creation, close your eyes, look within, and contemplate its Source.
—Paramahansa Yogananda

Brother LawrenceTo ‘look within and contemplate its Source’ is something we should do at all times. It’s called ‘practicing the presence.’ All true spiritual disciplines say that to improve our lot, we must think of Him (Her, Divine Friend, Spirit, Allah, whatever works for you). Such devotion does not take away from enjoying life, rather it enhances it. “There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God,” said Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived in the 1600s.

I’m no saint. I struggle mightily with restlessness and distractions when I sit to meditate. But what continues to drive me onward is knowing that the only difference between me and a saint is that saints don’t give up.

My question for you is: What are you thinking about as you quilt, cook, run, paint, garden, golf, hike, program computers, walk your dog, dance, dine with a friend, backpack, study the stars…?

And does the world need another photograph?

Just askin’…

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I posses god in as great tranquilly as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament. — Brother Lawrence

Posted in Life coming full circle, Photography, Where curiosity leads me | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Got the sniffles? A sore throat? Try oregano-garlic tea

In Kodiak, Alaska, with winter breathing down our necks, there’s a lot to do. In the garden, it’s time to pick and put up mega-crops like potatoes, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They’re pantry fillers for sure. And while a home-grown onion is a beautiful thing, it’s easy to overlook petite plants like parsley, sage, and other herbs. Herbs don’t fill pantries and bellies as fast as fruits and vegetables do, but some have a power-punch that most veggies can only dream of. Take oregano, for example…

oregano, tea, cold, flu, cure, herbs, herbal, liquid, hot, seasonal, sore, throat

Just as I arranged a clump of oregano in this orange vase, an orange boat came into view. How lucky can you get?

No longer confined to jars in the spice cabinet, new research is discovering more properties and uses for oregano as antibacterial and antifungal agents for example. And here is something you can share at your next coffee shop meeting: Oregano is also being tested for its ability to reduce the methane production (hmm, I think that’s called farting) in cows, which emit about 100 kg of the greenhouse gas per year per cow.

An important culinary herb, oregano leaves are used in cuisines of the Mediterranean, the Philippines and Latin America. In Greece it adds flavor to the classic Greek salads as well as their famous lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies fish dishes. In southern Italy, oregano (a member of the mint family) is used extensively with roasted, fried, or grilled vegetables, meat, and fish. Its popularity in the U.S. is said to have been sparked when soldiers, returning home from WWII, brought back a taste for the ‘pizza herb.’

On our front deck, by the door closest to the kitchen, oregano shares a large container with sage and parsley, the three herbs that I use to enhance baked potatoes. The recipe is called Stained Glass Potatoes. I sprinkle the chopped herbs on a baking pan that’s been coated with olive oil, toss on a few calendula blossoms and then set halved potatoes, cut side down, on top of the herbs. After baking the spuds for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, the herbs and flowers create beautiful patterns on the potato “pallets.”

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Oregano-garlic tea has pulled me through a cold or two. Try making a dried version of the ingredients and give it as gifts.

Fresh sprigs of oregano also flavor our vinegars, soups, butters, salad dressings, muffins, yeast breads, and tea. Yes, tea. When I feel the twinges of a cold coming on, I brew a batch of oregano-garlic tea. The original recipe comes from a student who demonstrated how to make this tea as her final project in my college Organic Gardening class. Like the container on the front deck, oregano shares the stage with other ingredients; in this case, some unlikely ones.

Over the past several years I’ve been able to substantially reduce the symptoms of a cold or stop it in its tracks altogether by drinking this tea.

So the next time you feel a sore throat or cold-flu coming on, give this tea a try.

Oregano-Garlic Tea

2 cups water
A few slices red onion
4 to 6 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or 2 Tbl dried
4 to 6 slices fresh ginger
2 Tbl lemon juice
2 tsp honey or other sweetener
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions: Place water, onion, garlic, oregano, and ginger in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and steep for 15-20 minutes. It will turn a nice pink-blush color. Remove from heat and stir in lemon and sweetener. Pour into a mug and take small sips; inhale the steam, too.

I admit, oregano-garlic tea might not be the tastiest hot brew on the planet (especially in the morning), but you’ll get used to it. Besides, if it doesn’t cure you, it won’t hurt you either.

Let me know what you think about the tea. Cheers,
Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

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Seven prayers for peace

Every year, the International Day of Peace falls on September 21. But why not celebrate peace every day? I’m not suggesting you run around with a billboard declaring, “World Peace or Bust!” That accomplishes little. To realize true peace, true happiness, you need to practice it as you go about your daily activities, however grand or mundane they may be. Soon, peace will feel as familiar and comfortable as your favorite shoes. And that’s the kind of calmness you want to radiate so that when people come into your presence they think, “Wow, I want some of that, too.”

I invite you to download these posters, which I created from my photographs. Use them on your desktop, your iPhone; print them, share them. “Give peace a chance,” as John Lennon said.

Thanks for visiting. With blessings,

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer


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Posted in Essays and inspirations, Life coming full circle, Our world, Photography | 10 Comments

When celery is cloaked with diamonds

Let’s face it, celery is an unappreciated vegetable. A little goes a long way for me. Still, I grow several plants in containers on the deck where it’s convenient to harvest, but mostly to discourage slugs.

This year’s celery crop was a culinary failure though. The flavor was so strong and bitter, I didn’t dare chance even a soup with it. But instead of cutting it down in favor of say, spinach, I let it grow into its natural form. At that point, I pretty much ignored it.

Then, on a misty morning, when I was busy prepping for the night’s dinner cruise, I looked out the kitchen window and saw hundreds of celery flowers, heavy with dew and shimmering like stars. They looked like gems, yet in the moment, they were more precious than diamonds.

Celery, garden, photograph, sparkles, macro, seeds, Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska

When a friend of mine saw this photo she said, “Wow, I love the watermelons in the background!” By the way, can you spot the little bug in the photo?

I set the paring knife down, grabbed my camera gear, (shutting out the lazy thought, “Oh, I’ll shoot it tomorrow”) and headed outside.

Returning to my kitchen chores, I thought about something a fellow photographer shared with me this summer; something he learned during a photo workshop. In essence: “If, when you go out to take pictures, you have narrow expectations or you’re restless in the head, then you’ll miss the gifts that the Universe is sending you.”

I think this is so true in anything we attempt in life.

Feel free to download this photo to use as your phone’s wallpaper or desktop background.

And many thanks for visiting!

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer


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In praise of: Winter spinach, easy refrigerator pickles, and aronia berries

This article was originally published as one of my weekly garden columns…

Let me begin with a gentle apology: Professional columnists say you should never devote your columns to more than one topic. Fat chance. Here in Kodiak, Alaska, there’s so much going on that it’s impossible for me to follow their advice. So this week you get a bonus: Three topics for the price of one. (Of course I’m kidding about the price). I think you’ll enjoy the variety:

  1. How to overwinter spinach (harvest fresh greens in February)
  2. My favorite refrigerator pickle (mix ‘n match veggies)
  3. What’s an aronia berry? (hint: It has more nutritional punch than blueberries)

The fall season means prepping the garden for next spring. But it’s also planting time. Yes, while you’re yanking out faded pansies and tired lettuce, spinach seeds need to be planted. Now you might be thinking, “But it’s September, in Alaska. Why are you telling us about sowing seeds?” This is a heads-up for anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon line: The first two weeks of September is the best time to sow spinach for harvesting next spring.

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This spinach leaf is so big I could use it for sandwich wraps! Spinach is my favorite winter green: Sow seeds in September and enjoy spinach salads in March. (Marion Owen photo).

Kale and cress might be the Rock ‘n Roll stars of veggies, but spinach is the best winter green for northern climates. It loves cool temperatures and tolerates winter weather if, and only if, the seeds are sown early enough for the plants to establish roots.

1) How to overwinter spinach: Our favorite winter green

I learned about overwintering spinach through Eliot Coleman, while reading his landmark book, The Winter Harvest Handbook. “In cold houses,” he says, “Spinach continues producing new leaves all winter unlike, say kale, another cold-hardy crop, which stops new growth during the cold months.”

In Kodiak, we sow spinach seeds in outside beds, greenhouses or hoophouses. Favorite varieties include Olympia, Space and Tyee. For outdoor raised beds, you’ll want to provide a protective cover such as a cold frame, fiberglass or perforated plastic. The plants will grow to 2 to 4 inches in height, and then when the day length drops below 10 hours (around October 20 for our latitude), growth slows to a crawl.

To access the Duration of Daylight table for your latitude, click here.

During the winter months, keep the soil barely moist (not soggy). Too dry and the seedlings won’t have enough root structure to produce a crop in March.

Around February 20, the day length (for our latitude), crests over the 10-hour mark. Like magic, the spinach resumes growing, and you’re on your way to fresh salads.

While you’re waiting for your spinach seeds to germinate why not make a batch of pickles? Below is my all-time favorite refrigerator pickle recipe. They are easy to make and require no processing in a boiling water bath. And you can mix and match veggies: cucumbers, carrots, green onions, onions, green beans, bits of cauliflower, zucchini, you name it.

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What can I say? My favorite refrigerator pickle recipe gives me an excuse to be creative in a quart jar.

2) My favorite refrigerator pickle recipe

This recipe is excellent for anyone who is new to pickling and since many vegetables are pickle-friendly, you’re not limited to cucumbers. (If love pickles, be sure to try rhubarb pickles). Yields 2 quarts.

Brine ingredients :
4 cups water
2 cups white vinegar (For a sweet ‘n sour pickle use cider vinegar and add 1 cup sugar to each 2 cups vinegar)
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tsp non-iodized (kosher or canning) salt
Several sprigs of fresh dill
1 tsp each celery seed, coriander seed, and mustard seed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns (optional)
Crushed red peppers
Vegetables (6-7 cups):
Cucumbers, sliced into 1/8-inch slices or into cut lengthwise into sticks
Carrots, small whole, or cut in half lengthwise
Green onion pieces
Green beans
Chinese snow peas
Edamame (soy beans)
Cauliflower pieces
Sliced white turnip
Fennel slices

In a stainless or other non-reactive pan, bring water to a boil, reduce the heat, add the garlic and let it simmer for about for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt (add sugar now if you’re going to use it), raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring until everything is dissolved. Remove from heat. Into each 1-quart jar, pack a few sprigs of dill and a pinch of crushed red peppers. Divide the seeds and garlic between the jars. Then pack the jars snug (but not too tight) with vegetables. Bring the brine back to a boil, pour it over the vegetables to cover completely. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. The pickles will taste good in a few hours, though better after a couple of days. They’ll keep for 3 to 6 months.

3) What are aronia berries?

With all the emphasis on eating local foods (that includes foraging), it’s nice to find trees and shrubs that work double-duty in your garden, that is, as an ornamental plant and as a food source. Meet aronia, an overlooked member of the Rosacea (rose) family, that’s native to the Eastern U.S. and is often found in wet woods and marshy areas.

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Picking berries from our aronia bush requires wearing a life jacket (just kidding) because the plant hangs over the cliff at our oceanside home/B&B in Kodiak, Alaska. The effort is well worth the stretching exercises, though. (Marion Owen photo)

Aronia, also called chokeberries, produce red or black berries, depending on the variety. fresh, but because of their tartness, most people process them into jams, jellies, juices, teas (Poland) and wine (Lithuania). The midnight blue berries mix well with black currants, blackberries, and blueberries. Another tidbit about aronia berries is that they are also used as a flavoring or colorant for beverages and yogurts. By the way, blogger Donna Stewart has an excellent recipe for GLAM Jam, that’s Ginger, Lime, Aronia and Maple.

Aronia berries’ deep color should give you a clue that they contain a healthy amount of polyphenols, especially anthocyanins (antioxidants). In fact, chokeberries contain some of the highest anthocyanins measured in plants, said to contain three times the antioxidants than blueberries.

But that’s not the end of aronia’s beauty. After a summer of dainty white blossoms which give way to purple-blue berries, this shrub really comes into its own in the fall when its leaves turn a pleasing yellow, orange and red. It’s these leaves that I see from my kitchen window as I sip coffee, watch eagles fly by, make pickles…

Thanks for visiting…

Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

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Why sea otters put on a happy face

At one million hairs per square inch, sea otters have the densest fur on Earth.  That’s more hair than on a black lab dog. All that hair means extra warmth for sea otters. And extra work. Sea otters aren’t insulated with blubber like whales and sea lions, so they spend much of their time cleaning and grooming their fur. In the process, sea otters do funny things: Scratch their bellies, nibble their toes, practice yoga, and make funny faces.

One morning we came across an otter, comfortably wrapped in a seaweed “seat belt.” He was massaging his neck and cheeks, which all seemed so businesslike, when suddenly his face erupted into a giant grin. I laughed out loud into the back of my camera.

What a great smile and what an impressive set of choppers, don’t you think? Healthy sea otter teeth are no accident, though. Remember, these guys dine on crabs, clams, sea urchins, and an occasional octopus. According to Science Magazine, sea otter teeth are twice as tough as human tooth enamel. Dentists should use photos of sea otter smiles to encourage patients to brush and floss their teeth!

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Mr. Enhydra lutris (sea otter) smiles back at our cameras during a wildlife photo workshop on our boat. He had us ALL laughing! (Marion Owen photo)

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