How to Build a Raised Bed Garden and Survive the Process

How to Build a Raised-Bed Garden and Survive the Process By: Betsy Bearden

Springtime! Time to focus on emerging flowers, blossoming trees, the migration of birds from the South, the world around you blooming in Technicolor … and it’s also time to focus on the ol’ vegetable garden. This is generally an easy thing for most people, but when you are married to a man such as my husband, Steven, not just any garden will do. No—it has to be a spectacular, extraordinary, get out the slide rule, compass, protractor, level, kind of thing. And not just a flat area of 20 square yards of Georgia Red Clay all tilled up with organic compost blended in. Nope, it has to be a grandiose raised-bed garden kind of thing, or nothing.

So, for ten years, we had no garden.

In Steven’s defense: It would be a moderately expensive project and a time-consuming one at that, so as luck would have it, while we were taking a walk one day, we happened across a pile of landscape timbers laying in a heap at a utility trailer business. The timbers were 8×8, in good shape, but were riddled with two-foot long rods of rebar. After asking the store manager about them, he told us that the timbers had been abandoned by someone whose trailer had been involved in an accident. We gave him our phone number and asked him to give us a call if no one came back to claim them. A few weeks later, he told us to come get the timbers. Free of charge. Petty cool, huh? We brought the timbers home.

Steven rigged up a skill saw with an abrasive cutting wheel, cut the rebar from one side of the timber, and used a stainless-steel rod to hammer out the remaining rebar. Next, we leveled out an area where the timbers would be placed by digging and flattening out a trench. The timbers were stacked on top of each other, three rows high, and brackets were placed on the inside of each corner and screwed in to secure them. The outside corners were enclosed with wood planks which made a small seating area until we topped each corner with decorative wooden post caps.

“Are we done yet?” I had to ask that, especially since 2007 was one of the hottest summers we had experienced in many years. After we cleaned and stained the timbers, the raised-bed was transformed into a beautiful piece of garden art. I wanted to bring it into the house! We stood back and admired our creation. Now we needed to fill it with dirt; a lot of dirt.

After pricing bags of soil at home improvement stores over the Internet, and checking with a few contractors on their prices, we wondered whatever happened to the old saying, “dirt-cheap.” We decided to try a popular website where you can find just about anything in the world you want. After weeding through the prospects, Steven decided on the least expensive small company, and gave them a call. He described our raised-bed garden to the man and asked if he could back a truck up to it and dump the dirt in without causing damage to the raised-bed garden. We emailed a picture of it to him and also pointed out that our backyard was slightly sloped. “No problem,” he assured us.

“Great!” we said. “When can we expect you?” He told us he would call back later—after he had “found” some dirt.
________________________________________

After a few days, someone from his company called and said they were on their way over with the dirt. I dare call it a company; it was one guy and a few of his cousins who looked like they had just come from a hunting club. They showed up in a huge, old Chevy Crew Cab pickup truck, pulling a 20-foot dump-trailer behind it. I am convinced they learned how to drive this monstrosity in route! They backed the truck into our yard, toward the gate. The next thing I saw was Steven, driving his van with a chain wrapped around the back bumper that was attached to the front bumper of their truck! His tires were squealing and whirring in the driveway with smoke coming out from under them, motor revving wildly—pulling their truck back toward the street!

“They got stuck!” Steven laughed. They tried again, but the truck was too heavy, and the slope of the yard would just not cooperate, so we moved on to “Plan B.” We laid tarpaulins on the ground, as close to the gate as we could manage. When they lifted the trailer to dump the dirt, it got tangled in the overhead utility wires. After getting the trailer back down, they tried tilting it again. It wouldn’t function, so they wound up shoveling most of the dirt from the bed of the truck. I have to admit when he told us they had finally “found” some dirt, I think I know from where—the Atlanta Zoo. I have never quite smelled anything like it before.

Now, we had not had rain in over six weeks, but once you get four square yards of exposed dirt heaped in a huge honkin’ pile in your front yard, this tends to tempt the fate of the gods. Steven had gone to buy more tarpaulin because all we had was now under the dirt. The sky started getting darker and darker, the low rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, and the whispering wind taunted, Mud Fest, 2007! One of our neighbors frantically walked over and offered to cover it, but I assured him that Steven would be home very soon. He said he hoped so and would hate to see all that dirt turn to mud. Me, too!

Steven and I covered it and drove stakes in the ground to secure the huge, stinky mound of dirt just in time. Buckets of rain fell; the dirt never felt a drop. However, the next day presented yet another obstacle—getting the dirt from point A to point B, which was approximately 50 yards away. After gathering around the ol’ dirt pile, we decided the only way was to attach the utility cart to the riding lawnmower, shovel in the dirt, and dump it into the garden. We calculated it would only take about a gazillion round-trips.

My job was to drive the lawn mower, with cart in tow, circle the raised-bed and back up to it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have not had classes on backing up a lawnmower with a utility cart full of dirt behind it. This equates to: Me driving the lawn mower+ backing it and the trailer up to the raised-bed=it might take me a few shots before I get it.

We shoveled the dirt, and removed the rocks, tree limbs, and debris from it. With the help of our dear friend, Wally, we managed to get the job done and were able to plant a fall crop of Romaine, Brussels sprouts, collards, and Kale. A few days after we planted, Cobb County was placed under Level 4 Draught Conditions.

I hope this story has not deterred you from building your own raised-bed garden, but if you do decide to build one, I’m sure you won’t encounter the same problems we encountered. Maybe this year the much-needed rain will come, and we can all have a nice crop. Who knows? (If you would like to see the raised-bed garden we created, you can view it on my website at www.creativewrites.net.)

I encourage you to plant a garden of your own. There is nothing like watching it grow and enjoying fresh veggies harvested from your very own garden. Any veggies will do, but if you can find non-GMO, organic seeds and seedlings, then that’s even better. Happy gardening!

Betsy Bearden is a published writer and the author of Normal People Eat Tofu, Too. She has worked as a volunteer chef and cooking class instructor at Kroger’s School of Cooking in Alpharetta, Georgia, and as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper. She is founder and CEO of Creative Writes and you can reach her at betsybearden@bellsouth.net or visit her website at www.creativewrites.net

Don’t Get Sick

Don’t Get Sick
By: Betsy Bearden
Good health is everything. How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t afford to get sick”? Today, that statement could not be truer. Higher health care costs and declining coverage, higher co-pays and out of pocket expenses are enough to make anyone want to stay well. But the fact is, trying to stay well, and actually doing it are two very different things, especially as we age.
Recent technology, research in pharmaceuticals, and rising hospital costs, can practically scare anyone back into a false sense of wellness. More and more people forego tests to determine what causes their aches and pains and in many cases tests that could find and prevent serious illness or disease. Routine screening for preventive care that once was covered at 100% is slowly disappearing. I don’t know the answer to our health care situation, and I don’t have time for someone to “pass a bill to see what’s in it” as far as my health care is concerned, do you?
Normally, I am a healthy person, but for some reason, this has just been a bad year. We all have them. I had an ultrasound in May for something strange going on in my throat. I waited a week to get the results back from that. Then I was told I needed a CT scan. Two weeks later, I had the CT scan. Three weeks after having the CT scan, I was told I had a sinus infection and was put on antibiotics. Although the CT scan confirmed I did not have a cancerous mass in my throat, I still have something strange going on in my throat! Meanwhile the CT scan revealed another issue non-related to the original problem. I was referred to a vascular surgeon. Tell me, does any of this stuff sound vaguely familiar to any of you? I’m betting that it does.
I had actually seen this vascular surgeon about six years ago when I was experiencing an episode of something that felt like someone was snapping a rubber band on top of my right foot. Yes, it was painful. He never did figure out what was causing the snappy thing on top of my foot. I reminded him of that when I saw him again the other day. He asked me whatever became of the snappy thing on top of my foot. I told him I went to a chiropractor, and they fixed it. Silence …
He proceeded to check the pulse in my neck and then he moved to my legs. He looked up at me and said, “Blue toe nails?” I told him I had gone to a pool party and I wanted my toenails to match the pretty blue pool water. He laughed and said, “What did you go as? A mermaid?” To which I dragged out a dryly responded, “Nnoooo.”
But I digress. He apologized for the long wait, and said he was going to schedule an ultrasound. As he was leaving, he turned and said, “A chiropractor fixed it.” Then he mumbled, shrugged his shoulders, and left.
The ultrasound was performed in his office. His technician informed me that the doctor gave all his technicians permission to tell patients what they saw during an ultrasound. She stated that in her professional opinion, it looked to be a moderate blockage in my neck and will most likely need to be checked every six months. The blockage cannot be reversed, but diet and exercise (those two words again!) will certainly help to slow the advancement. I was also told to take a low-dose aspirin every day. She added that I probably wouldn’t need immediate surgery because it was a moderate blockage, and besides that, I was too young! Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone all along!
Do you know why I think this is happening to me? I’ll tell you: it is from lack of exercise and poorer food choices. There is a balance—you exercise, you lose weight, get in shape, and you make healthier food choices to maintain that balance. Conversely, no exercise=weight gain=poorer food choices=poorer overall health and well-being.
My husband and I used to set goals to participate in local charitable 5Ks. Steven ran The Peachtree for 15 consecutive years, and I walked it for three. It’s been three years since our last “Peachtree” or local 5K. Speaking strictly for myself, too much work, lack of commitment to exercise, and a sedentary lifestyle will sneak up and bite you on the rear before you know it. Okay, we do kayak, so at least that’s something!
Going to doctors is not something I want to become a routine part of my life. Wellness checkups are enough! The day is coming when we will be able to monitor our health through home testing. The technology is already available for several at home tests that screen for certain illnesses. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someday, upon birth, we will be given bar codes or have ports installed on our bodies. Then we could just plug in or scan ourselves to check our vitals and the information would be transmitted via cyberspace to our doctor’s offices.
*Cryogenics may some day be an answer to our continued good health and longevity. What if we could freeze our umbilical cord content at birth and have access to our own stem cells in the event of serious illness, or for organ replacements? The stem cells in our own cord blood might be able to save our lives. Future generations may be able to realize an indeterminable life span. Science fiction? Guess again. This is all happening, right now, as scientific research and technology continue to evolve.
**Genetic testing already exists that allows us to “look” into the future and see what conditions we may be predisposed to such as certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and more. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that we ourselves may be able to alter our own genetic makeup somewhat through our environment, eating habits, and exercise. Pretty amazing stuff! So, if we have some control over our genetic
makeup that helps us get healthier, then it is it truly possible to cause the reverse. Welcome to the future.
I eventually needed to have a carotid endarterectomy on my left carotid artery. As I said earlier, there is not stopping it once it gets started. Prevention is the key to avoiding this. Keep your cholesterol down, exercise, and eat a healthy diet, and enjoy the life you have been given. Don’t get sick!
Now, for some much-needed exercise ….
Resources:
* http://drhaiden.com/a-new-vision-2/its-in-the-genes/
* http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA326607
Betsy Bearden is a certified, published writer, and author of Normal People Eat Tofu, Too. She has worked as a volunteer chef and cooking class instructor and as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper. You can reach her at betsybearden@bellsouth.net or visit her website at www.creativewrites.net.

I Dreamed of Organic Gardening (A Gardening Fairy Tale)

I Dreamed of Organic Gardening

By: Betsy Bearden

Hot summer days in Atlanta, Georgia, make it difficult for some of us to plant and maintain an organic garden. However, as a native to Atlanta, it is the first thing I think of when warm weather comes around. Finding the time and energy to keep those pesky insects from attacking our tender veggies without the use of harmful pesticides may seem a daunting task for some. It certainly is for me; but why would you want to approach it any other way? Don’t you just love having fresh veggies in the summer, especially tomatoes? There is nothing quite like the fresh, home-grown tomato.

Ever since I can remember, gardening has been a part of my life in one way or another. My first experience was around the age of five or six, when we visited my grandmother at her home in Mississippi. She had row upon row of yellow squash hidden beneath their flowered “skirts.” I always felt a little embarrassed to lift up the blossoms and peek beneath them, looking for that yellow-gold!

While walking between the rows of vegetables with the hot summer sun beating down upon my little blond head, I was suddenly dwarfed by the giant sunflowers. On the other side of the row, there were green beans growing. They had latched themselves onto twine that was attached to bamboo poles, and spiraled themselves up toward the sun. Birds were singing all around, and I pretended to be in some exotic world no one else knew of, except for me.

It was amazing to see how bell peppers, okra and eggplant grew. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for the vegetables in the produce section of our grocery store that had always appeared to “magically” be there when we needed them. But my favorite of all was the luscious, ripe red tomato. It would be years before I’d come to know about organic gardening, pesticides and something we here in the South have to deal with: the dreaded “nematodes.”

Since then, much has been learned along the way, simply through trial and error; error being the operative word in “learned.” If you would like, I can share what I have learned without getting too technical or boring on the wonderful subject of organic gardening. However, come to think of it, it’s been a long day, and exhaustion is setting in from working in the garden for the most part of it.

Sleep would be so good right about now. I’ll try not to drift off before telling you what I know. As I was saying, it is completely possible to grow a beautiful, healthy, organic garden without the use of harmful pesticides, and with the help of a few companions it could be more easily accomplished ... (Dozing off.)

… Friends to help me in the garden … yes, friends. Oh, if only I weren’t so tired! Let’s see, where were we? I could have Wally tilling up the soil, Linda, blasting the pesky insects with a water hose, Steven, building …  a moat around the raised bed castle, and Brenda, riding upon a dragonfly, floating gently downward … spreading the lime like stardust…

… Evening has fallen in the Kingdom of Hyssop. All the king’s subjects: Miss Garlic, the Tommy-To-Mato family, and Dame Spicy Red Pepper are all safely asleep in their large, raised beds. The royal knights, Comfrey and Dill, guard the fertile grounds. But what is that slimy, icky sound from beneath the soil. Someone is threatening the Tommy-To-Mato family. It’s the lowly Baron Nematode, the root-knotter! Baron Nematode, that wiggly little worm, is trying to get to the root of our luscious tomatoes, and will surely wreak havoc upon the harmony within our organic kingdom of Hyssop.

But galloping quickly over yon hill is one who is feared by most –even by the Duke of Diazinon. It is the evil Lord Sevin. He has come to do battle with Baron Nematode; to swiftly cut him down with his poison. Lord Sevin will surely kill Baron Nematode, but he will also make us sick, as well. He can pollute the water in the moat around the raised bed castle, making all the birds that drink from it, as well as all the good insects in the kingdom, very sick. Not to mention the royal hounds, Yogi and Rocky, who live within our kingdom and lazily graze on the grass around the moat.

Raising his hand, Lord Sevin takes aim to spread his pollution as the tomatoes shiver with fright and rattle their gilded cages. “Save us, please-someone save us. We had rather be limed than slimed!”

Awakened by the commotion, and calling upon their regal stallion, Horsetail, Queen Marigold and King Nasturtium show up and plant themselves firmly into the soil. “Eat my dust, Sevin!” cried King Nasturtium, “you are not welcome here! Be gone from this place.”

Crying out from beneath the soil, Baron Nematode begs Queen Marigold for mercy; to spare his life. “I am here to protect my subjects from you, you little parasite. No mercy for you! Be gone!” she cried.

Every root-knotter nematode within the kingdom of Hyssop slivered for the hills, because they knew they could not do battle against the powerful root protecting properties Queen Marigold and King Nasturtium held within themselves.

Rushing in to assist the King and Queen was Princess Dawn and her constant companions Miss Garlic, and Dame Spicy Red Pepper. “We got together and mixed it up to protect all the subjects who dwell above the soil,” she said. “By spritzing our contents, in a very lady-like manner of course, on all the little veggies, no pesky bug, slug, or thug will stand a chance! Especially due to the odiferous nature of Miss Garlic, here.” Miss Garlic reared her platinum head and shot Princess Dawn a rather nasty look.

“Now, now-You know I don’t mean any disrespect to you Miss Garlic, honey, but after all, you do smell, cute as you are, mind you. And Dame Spicy Red Pepper, well! Not too many will give you a second chance after they have taken a big honkin’ bite of you!” said Princess Dawn. “So, I say let’s celebrate; the Tommy-To-Mato family is safe; as well as all other subjects in the Kingdom of Hyssop; and they will be organically sound to be eaten when the time comes!”

But keeping pesky pests away is a never-ending job. Upon hearing the sound of a cage rattling in the background, Princess Dawn said “Oh dear. Oh dear, dear!”  And with a spritz, she was off …

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Betsy Bearden is a creative writer and the author of a self-published cookbook, Normal People, Eat Tofu, Too. She has worked as a volunteer chef, and cooking instructor for The Kroger School of Cooking; as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper; has nine published articles in State-by-State Gardening; and is a regular contributor to Life Grocery’s Life Line Newsletter. You can reach her at:

betsybearden@gmail.com

www.creativewrites.net

A Brand New Year

A Brand New Year                                                                                               

By: Betsy Bearden

It’s the beginning of a brand new year—a clean slate with an empty agenda. It’s almost as if we have this one chance each year to hit the control + alt + delete buttons and start anew. Well, almost. Speaking for myself, I have learned some valuable lessons from some of the really stupid things I did last year, like buying a brand new pair of running shoes the afternoon before the Peachtree Road Race. I can attest that the recommended break-in period for all new running shoes that I have always heard about, is definitely not a myth! There will be blisters. Oh, yes…there will be blisters.

Among the many New Year’s resolutions made this year, two of them I intend on keeping will be to get in shape, and to stay in shape. The other is to become a better listener. Okay, for those of you who know me, this could be a stretch. Did my husband, Steven, try to tell me not to buy the new shoes the day before the race? Yes. Did the shoe salesman flinch when I told him I intended to wear the new shoes the next day in the race when he sort of mumbled, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” Yes. Did I listen? No.

This will be the fourth year that I will have to push myself to get into shape by July because I don’t stay in shape after July is over! Each year I am gung ho about my goal of being able to run (okay, I do tend to walk most of the way) 6.2 miles under two hours. At my age of…well, at my age of somewhere between 45 and 55, it does not get any easier and regular, year round training is the key to it all.

About two years ago, I was walking up Kennesaw Mountain on a frequent basis. There are always many people of all ages and sizes walking and running the mountain. Most of the time we nod, smile, sigh, or grunt at each other in acknowledgement that we are cool, because we are doing something good for our bodies.

But this one particular day, a young man was hiking with his little daughter. I would say he was around 25 or so. They passed me on his way down as I approached the top. He stopped me and said, “Wow! Did you just walk up the mountain?”  I told him that I had walked up the mountain, half way back down, and back up again. He grabbed his chest and said “No Way! I am going home and tell my mother-in-law about you!” I thought I was going to have to administer the guy CPR right on the spot. Kennesaw Mountain is no big deal. It’s only about a mile and a half up—straight up! My gosh. Does the age of somewhere between 45 and 55 really look that old to someone that young? Just because I was sweating profusely, red faced, and out of breath, I can’t imagine his reaction. Geez, Buddy, thanks.

So, back to the listening thing: Steven also tells me that we need to commit ourselves to participating in 5Ks throughout the year, you know, to stay motivated. I have to admit that come January first, after all that Tofurkey and dressing+cakes, pies, cookies+ yeast rolls and butter= I ain’t fittin’ into those skinny jeans I wore up until July of last year!

I am committing myself right here and now to get in shape and to stay in shape. Okay, the heat is on. The Peachtree will be here again before I know it, and my best time so far is one hour and forty-four minutes. I am planning on making it one hour thirty-minutes this year! That is my goal, so please—if you see me at the sporting goods store on the day before the race, buying a new pair of shoes, promptly take me by the hand and tell me to go home! I promise I will listen.

Happy New Year and may we all be blessed with peace and prosperity.

Betsy Bearden is a published writer, and author of Normal People Eat Tofu, Too. She has worked as a volunteer chef and cooking class instructor and as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper. You can reach her at betsybearden@gmail.com or visit her website at www.creativewrites.net

In Search of Tofu

In Search of Tofu

By: Betsy Bearden

Have you ever had a craving for tofu?  Well—not to worry…most people haven’t. But for now, let’s just say that you might have a craving for it every now and then. Tofu is so readily available in just about any marketplace in the metro Atlanta area, yet it’s still not exactly a hot-commodity in most restaurants.

Imagine if you will, my husband, Steven, and I driving down Buford Highway, into the Chamblee/Doraville Asian District, in search of tofu—in separate cars—Smart Phones in hand.

“Tango Omega Foxtrot Unicorn, to Dark Side of the Moon … come on …”

“This is D-S-O-T-M … come back, T-O-F-U …”

“Spotted anything yet …?

“Not yet … Wait! There’s a Korean Restaurant with “tofu” in its name!”

“You game? Come back…”

“Let’s do it! Come on…”

Standing there upon the threshold of yet another new dining experience, we had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that the name of the restaurant held the promise of what could literally turn out to be tofu bliss!

Upon entering the restaurant and apparently acting totally clueless, the place went deathly silent. I suppose it was due to our being the only two Caucasian’s there? The servers told us to “sit anywhere” as they shot a certain “all-knowing” look at each other. One of them grabbed the menus and headed to our table with the look of “I’m goin’ in,” written all over her face.

The six-page menu was loaded with delectable items such as: Braised beef tips with tofu; Pork tenderloin smothered with kimchi, rubbed with medium spicy Doinjang-jjigae paste (made of soybeans); BBQ beef with soft tofu, (which was probably wrapped in bacon). We looked at each item and read the ingredients very carefully; 15 minutes later, we placed our menus on the table. Our server approached, and Steven explained to her that it was our first time visiting their establishment, and could she offer any suggestions as far as vegetarian items on the menu.

She started speaking quickly, with broken-stabbing English and said, “We do have a soup with spring onions, soft tofu and vegetables. You want that? You want soup?” When asked if we could have tofu prepared as a side dish, with rice and veggies, she went on to explain that the option was not available. They only served soft tofu, and it could not be deep-fried or sautéed as we had requested. Actually, she looked quite appalled at the notion and said, “No! It will fall apart! You want the soup?”

We decided the soup would be fine, but not quite enough to eat, and asked what else might be a good choice. There was rice on the menu. How about having rice with vegetables?  She told us the bowl of rice came with sides of vegetables. We could also have an egg in the rice. So we agreed each of us would have the soup, and two rice bowls with the side vegetables.

Well, let me tell you—I was not prepared for what we were about to receive. The soup came out first, bubbling in a hot bowl which made me immediately think of the vapor trail put off by dry ice packed around a witch’s cauldron at Halloween. I mean this was literally in the state of fusion. Bubbling-hot-liquid magma, in a black stone cauldron!

Next, six separate bowls were placed in front of us. Each held a different vegetable starting with: Kimchi, spicy cucumbers, steamed bean sprouts, sweet boiled potatoes, seaweed salad, and in one of them was something that didn’t look “real.” When asked, we were told it was whole fried anchovies. (Euuuwww.)

Our soup had cooled a bit, so we started placing the veggie items in it. Had we put them in sooner, they would have disintegrated for sure. I had never tried kimchi before; I won’t try it again. Other than that, the soup was delicious. The soft tofu and steamed veggies were perfect. Halfway into our soup, and feeling great about our accomplishment, two servers brought out the rest of the order. I suddenly got that same feeling I did a long time ago while watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” when the Mother-Ship finally appeared and the windows were blown out of the Central Control station…Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, DAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

If I could have crawled under the table, I would have, but there were barbecue pits in the middle of each table, which barely left enough room to even slide up to the table and get your legs under it.

Placed before us were two of the largest bowls of steaming rice I had ever seen in my life! On top of the rice was a raw egg. The bowls were actually called stone crocks, and they were as big as your head!

We sat and stared at the steaming crocks (cauldrons!) of rice with the raw egg on top, not knowing what to do for what seemed an eternity, when out of nowhere our server appeared, speaking in that quick, stabbing English again, “You must stir rice…will cook egg. If you don’t stir rice, bowl is hot, will stick to bottom of bowl and burn! You stir rice!” And then she was gone.

I felt like I had just been spanked. We quickly stirred the rice and mixed in some more veggies. A Teflon-coated tongue and esophagus would have come in handy, but after a while, the rice stopped steaming enough to actually eat it. It was delicious. Not only was it delicious, it occurred to me how healthy the food was.  So, all-in-all—mission accomplished!

It’s not every day that we sit down at the table and dine on kimchi, seaweed salad, steamed bean sprouts and other surprises. I encourage you all to venture out of the “norm” and try something different. I gained a lot of respect for the Korean culture that afternoon, because they are not so different from us when it comes to eating healthy foods.

Betsy Bearden is a certified and published writer, and the author of a self-published cookbook, Normal People Eat Tofu, Too.  She has worked as a volunteer chef, and cooking class instructor at Kroger’s School of Cooking in Alpharetta, Georgia, and as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper. You can reach her at betsybearden@gmail.com or visit her website at www.creativewrites.net

Bacon, Bacon–Who’s Got the Bacon?

Bacon, Bacon--Who's got the Bacon?
                                                                                    By: Betsy Bearden
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the restaurant ...
 
Imagine this, if you will … you're at work, in the middle of a heated budget meeting, and someone notices it's lunch time. Ahhhh, lunch time … music to a growling stomach!  Visions of bean burritos and cheese enchiladas covered in cheese, and topped with grilled veggies, smothered with more cheese immediately popped into my head. Sweet!  But my co-worker, Sandra, suggested we all take a vote, (you know the type). "It's already noon, much more to streamline on the ole budget yet- so, let's all go somewhere close." A vote was taken, and the majority ruled. The closest restaurant was the STEAK HOUSE!  Ugh! Steak house+vegetarian= disaster!
 
"Table for 16?" asked the server. We were all seated, and I was contemplating another house salad with a baked potato on the side. The majority of the office will be having a nice juicy steak cooked to their specifications, ordered anywhere from rare, medium or medium-rare. I could just imagine the server asking me, "… and how would you be having the salad and baked potato prepared today, Ma'am?"
 
"Oh, I'm thinking salad … fresh, and with a mix of young tender baby greens, and a baked potato; baked  with the skin on, which has been lightly hand-rubbed in extra virgin olive oil and rolled in Kosher salt; no foil." But then, upon taking a look at the menu, hope sprung eternal! There were two things which I might be able to order- it would be tricky, they'd have to be altered, but it could be done.
 
No stranger to this scenario, I could order the chunky potato soup, which came with crispy bacon bits, and the house salad which the menu stated was, "loaded with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet Vidalia onions, red peppers, tender baby greens, and drizzled with a warm, spicy honey- mustard dressing, all topped with grilled chicken strips, parmesan garlic croutons, and… 'you guessed it', crispy bacon bits."
 
Our server approached; she started with me, naturally. Well, no pressure here. The entire table was all of a sudden completely silent. You could have heard a microchip drop. Gulp! I squeaked out my order, and she repeated it back in a booming voice, "Potato soup, no bacon, and house salad, no chicken strips and no bacon." Perfect. She proceeded to take everyone else's order.
 
Appetizers were promptly brought out and placed around the table. There was calamari wrapped in bacon, bruschetta topped with sun dried tomatoes and bacon, deep fried mushrooms-fried in bacon fat no less, and a creamed spinach dip with fresh slivers of Parmesan cheese which had probably been aged in a bacon factory somewhere.
 
Sandra leaned over to me and said, "Oh, why don't you just try some of the Calamari? No one will ever have to know." Oh, I get it. It's kind of like, what happens at lunch stays at lunch?
 
Our server brings the order, and I am starving! "House salad without bacon," as she looks at me with a raised eyebrow, "and our specialty of the house— chunky potato soup with EXTRA bacon." Yes indeed, just when you thought it was safe. ...
 
You may remember the article I wrote for the March/April issue of the Life-Line, entitled: Tofu-Thirty Years Ago. In that article, I wrote about the challenges of being vegetarian and how far we-meaning restaurants and mainstream grocery stores, and society, in general, have come over the past thirty years. But after episode, upon episode of, "hold the bacon," I have to ask, have we really come that far?
 
OK, enough of that! Summer is almost here, and I'm ready for some fun, how about you? I would like to share one of my favorite picnic foods with you. With the upcoming Fourth of July celebration and all the summer picnics we are looking forward to over the next few months, I hope you will try this recipe. Even if you aren't vegetarian, I guarantee you will like it!
 
Vegetarian Baked Beans
3 cups cooked navy beans
1/2-cup light brown sugar
2- Tbs. mild mustard
1/2-cup molasses
1/2-cup any barbecue sauce
1- large sweet onion-diced
1/2-container firm tofu-diced (tofu optional)
3 cloves garlic-minced
1 large (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes- do not drain
1/4 cup olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place olive oil in skillet and sauté onion until tender, about 4-5 minutes
  • Add garlic and sauté for two minutes and remove from stove
  • Place beans into a 2 quart rectangular casserole dish
  • Add cooked onions, garlic and remaining ingredients into casserole dish and mix well
  • If you are adding tofu, make sure to drain the tofu well, dice it, and gently stir it into the ingredients
  • Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Now, if anyone at the picnic steps up and tells you this is good and all, but… "Where's the bacon?" You totally have my permission to bean them.  I know-I had to add that. Sorry! Have a happy summer!

Tofu

Tofu: Thirty- Years Ago
Written by:
Betsy Bearden

I made the decision to become a vegetarian in my late teens. Although having subconsciously flirted with the idea all my life, the idea finally stuck after a visit to a cattle/pig farm in Alabama. I will spare you the details.

Do you have any idea what it was like in the ’70s to be a vegetarian and not live on a commune somewhere? There were no salad bars, no “Have it your Way” burger options and very few vegetarian restaurants. God forbid someone found out you didn’t, you know … EAT MEAT! Social life came hard in those days.

At that time, I was working for a jeweler at a mall in the metro Atlanta area when I heard of something that really piqued my interest. A local television news station was taping a segment of their broadcast, “What’s Bugging You?” at the mall that day. As an adventuress, I asked if I could air a grievance on the show. The cameraman was quite obliging, and told me what time to be there for the taping.

I marched myself right up to the podium and stood in front of the camera without a moment’s hesitation. A crowd of people huddled around, the lights were fixed and ready, the cameraman pointed at me, and I began my dissertation: “What’s bugging me is that I live in the biggest city in the South, and unless I visit the two existing vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta, I’m out of luck for a vegetarian meal. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into a non-vegetarian restaurant and requested a meal without beef or chicken, and the servers just look at me as if I had lost my mind. Why can’t all restaurants offer vegetarian items on their menus?”

Well, I thought I was going to be the Norma Rae who spoke on the behalf of the vegetarian masses. My fellow vegetarians would be thankful; alas, not quite. As I stepped off the podium, there was a mixture of applause, laughter, disbelief, cheers, and I think I caught the cameraman off guard because he looked very surprised! Maybe he was a vegetarian; probably not. Nevertheless, I made the cut and was on the local news that evening.

I would like to say “thank goodness” for all the Health Food Stores! How would we have ever made it without you? You were truly the pivotal element which launched our local grocery stores into zeroing-in on our needs. I don’t know why, but it seems to me that Tofu has always been treated like the slightly eccentric relative whom no one speaks of openly. You know the one who is known to take a little “nip” in the closet every now and then. Face it- tofu just gets a bad rap.

Thankfully, one or two local grocery stores carried tofu back then, but they seemed quite secretive about it. It was always located way in the back of the store- in the corner- in the dark, and much of the time the product had gone past its expiration date. If I asked anyone where the tofu was, it was like I had suddenly spoken Martian or something. Well, somebody had to know what it was, didn’t they? Who placed the order for it? Fess up!

After many years of going through the checkout with tofu on board, I have been asked about tofu so many times that I’ve lost count. Can you believe I used to get embarrassed when the cashier would ask me, “What is that?” Heaven help me if the price was not on the package or listed on the product code data sheet.
I want to share with you just one of the many embarrassing “tofu moments” I have encountered over the years. More often than not, the tofu would not have a price on it, or for some reason, it wouldn’t register when passed over the scanner. Let me tell you something-you have not lived until “Herb,” grabs the tofu up, sprint across the store carrying the tofu like a football cradled in his big bulky arm, on a quest to get a price check. He stopped halfway across the store, held the tofu up in the air, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Where did you get this stuff? What did you say this is?”

“Tofu,” I murmured.

“What- fu?” He said, scratching his head.

I am red faced as all-get-out by now, as the cashier yelled back to him, “IT’S TOFU, HERB! To-fu! Look in the produce section!” She looked at me and began to speak in a tone, which almost seemed to be a soft-spoken confession, “I have an aunt who used to be a hippie and she ate that stuff. Mom says she was always a little weird. I think she lives in Oregon or someplace like that now.”

Well, the store became deafeningly silent, and the orange flashing light over the cash register started twirling around like a beacon in a lighthouse, summoning lost ships at sea, and Herb was the ship-lost in the foreboding dark corner of Tofu World! I felt myself starting to break out into a cold sweat. Meanwhile, my husband sighed heavily, and started drumming his fingers on the magazine rack next to him, and muttered something like “Why do we always get stuck in the wrong line?” The people in line behind us had grown mildly curious as they started craning their necks, taking inventory of the items in our grocery cart.

Finally, Herb made it back with the price check. “Man! I didn’t think I was ever gonna find it. I’ve never noticed this stuff before. What is it,” he asked, as he poked his finger at it like it was some kind of science project.

“Give me that!” I said under my breath, reaching for the tub of tofu.

You know, in retrospect, those days were fun. Even though my family thought I had completely taken leave of my senses, it was still fun. Even when I would go to lunch with my co-workers and stand in line to order a burger without the meat, only to watch them scatter in different directions, it was fun. I know this has happened to you as well. How many times have you requested “Please . . . look . . . all I want you to do is just make me a burger, minus the beef. Just put the lettuce on the bun with tomato, onions and cheese. I’m willing to pay the full price for the whole thing- just sling the beef! I’ll even come back there and make it myself.”

Simple, huh? I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that squeaky, whiney voice say— “WE CAN’T DO THAT!”

Fast forward thirty-years and we are now living in Veg-Heaven. I knew someday it would be this way if we hung in there and ate enough tofu. You can find tofu everywhere now: on cooking shows, in every grocery store (up front and center, I tell ya), fast food restaurants, swanky restaurants, not so swanky restaurants, convenience stores, road-side stands; it’s everywhere. There is even a little restaurant in Chamblee, GA called “The Tofu House.” How cool is that? Do I tell my friends and family, “See, I told you so?” Absolutely! Are they now eating tofu? No. Sigh.

However, more people than ever have started to take notice of this little white cake in the squishy tub because the nutritional benefits outweigh any reservations they may have had about it. Tofu comes in many different forms these days. We didn’t want to eat hamburgers, so someone came up with a way to make a soy burger, hotdogs/ soy dogs, smoked ribs/soy ribs, Italian sausage/soy sausage, etc. It’s the greatest thing that could have ever happened to the mighty soy bean.

Yes,thirty-years ago it was nearly impossible to find tofu anywhere and every now and then, depending on how rural an area I happen to visit, it can still be a challenge, and I will suffer a “Son of Herb” moment, but that just makes life a little more interesting.
End.

Betsy Bearden
Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Burger King for being the pioneer and living up to its promise that you could, and still can, “Have it your way.” No other fast food chain in late 1970 or into the ’80s, allowed you to ask, “I’d like a whopper; just sling the beef!” Thank you for that convenience.
Betsy Bearden is a certified and published writer, and the author of a self-published cookbook, Normal People Eat Tofu, Too. She has worked as a volunteer chef, and cooking class instructor at Kroger’s School of Cooking in Alpharetta, Georgia, and as a reporter for The Paulding Neighbor Newspaper. You can reach her at betsybearden@bellsouth.net or visit her website at www.creativewrites.net