Sunday, August 31, 2008

Romanticism and reality: Reasons to eat local

"I realize there's something romantic about the desire to know exactly where your food is from," wrote Time magazine's John Cloud.

But there's more than romanticism involved in a desire to eat locally grown food: a desire to impact the local economy, to eat better tasting and healthier produce and to make an impact on our environment.

Why eat local? For me, it started for two reasons: First, food tastes better the earlier it's eaten, and when it's shipped across the country only to sit in a grocery store, produce tends to lose its flavor and health benefits.

Second, it was about helping out the little guy and the local economy. Why not support the farmer around the corner?

But there are many other reasons to consider eating local. You can often get a better variety of produce by trying local than at the grocery. At one local market alone, I can easily find a dozen types of apples, compared to "green" or "red" at the local supermarket.

Reducing our dependence on oil is another reason to consider buying locally. The journal Food Policy even reports that locally food is "greener" than organic due to the impact of shipping for long distances. Reports the BBC:
... if all foods were sourced from within 20km of where they were consumed, environmental and congestion costs would fall from more than £2.3bn to under £230m - an "environmental saving" of £2.1bn annually.

Going local is something to consider, so why not start today? It's Going Local Week in Indiana: a weeklong "challenge" to eat at least one Indiana locally grown or produced food at each meal this week. How can you get started in an attempt to eat local?
  • Shop at local farmers markets, farm stands, and farm markets.
  • Visit an orchard or you-pick stand and harvest your own produce.
  • Ask your local grocery store or market if they sell locally grown food.
  • Support restaurants that use locally grown produce.
  • Participate in a CSA.

Links to get you started:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Raspberry season

Raspberry time. It's one of the things we children clung to when we visited our grandparents in central Wisconsin. August is a horribly humid time to visit, but raspberries were one perk to our late-season travel.

My Grandma Johnson's garden plot seem to stretch forever, and tucked close to the neighbor's trees were a long row of raspberry plants. When we played outside, we'd occasionally check the plants, disappointed if the berries were still white and unripe. Each August, we'd wonder that maybe we'd be able to help her pick the berries this time.

On our weeklong summer visits, if we were lucky, Grandma would trot out small bowls of the bright red berries for dessert, apologizing if she'd forgotten and put sugar on the berries for my mother, who's diabetic.

And, sometimes, we were treated to her legendary Raspberry Dessert. It's such a treasured recipe that when we compiled a family cookbook a few Christmases ago, several of my cousins requested that someone hunt that recipe down.

Each summer, I wait patiently for raspberry season, hoping to score some at the local farmers market (not that they'd last longer than a day). And once again, I've missed it. While wondering this weekend when I might actually see raspberries at a local market, I looked online and learned I'd already missed peak season.

For those of you still fortunate to have raspberries in season, I share with you a family favorite, my Grandma Johnson's Raspberry Dessert. Enjoy!

Raspberry Dessert

1/2 cup margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups flour

Mix until crumbly. Pat into 9 x 12-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until light brown.

While baking, make topping:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Cook until clear in saucepan. After it is clear, remove from heat and add 1 small box raspberry Jello. Cool.

On crust, spread 1 quart fresh or frozen berries. Pour Jello mixture over berries. Refrigerate until set and top with whipped topping.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A little altered art

Green gifts for 7 year olds are not exactly an easy thing to find. Somehow High School Musical and Hannah Montana don't exactly mesh with an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

I didn't set out specifically to give green this year for my niece's birthday, but economics played a role in my creation of altered art. Actually, a small scrapbook.

"Altered books" was a trend that seemed to peak in the scapbooking world a few years ago. Essentially, you'd take a book and repurpose it (with craft supplies of your choice) to make various art projects. As an avid reader, the whole concept made me cringe: Destroying the printed word?

But then, if the book isn't being appreciated for the literary impact on your life, maybe it's time to give it a new home or a new life.

In this case, it wasn't literature but a small photo album that I'd received when my daughter was born. Branded with the information for a formula company, it was a small album that housed a few dozen 4x6 photos.

For three years, it's collected dust while I waited for someone else to dump it on. For about that long, I have had random stickers, including puffy ones that I'd somehow acquired, that have met a similar fate. The two made a great pairing, as the album received a fun facelift.

Throw in a few dozen photos of my kids and my niece, and you have a one-of-a-kind gift for the girl who dearly misses her little cousins many miles away.

Is it simple? Sure. Is it high art? Hardly. But sometimes you have to put a little heart in your art.

Happy birthday, Sam. We miss you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Finding a new life for tired music

Each morning, en route to work, I pop in a compact disc into my car. And each morning, I sigh and mutter, Can't listen to that in front of "them," and hit fast-forward through all my "oldies" but goodies (?). So much for my trips down memory lane.

Guns n' Roses? Gone.

Poison? Plenty of phrases I'm just not ready to explain - or hear my child repeat.

Quiet Riot? Quite the eye-opener when your then 2-year-old parrots back "girls rock your boys" on the first time she's heard the song.

Ugly Kid Joe's "I hate everything about you?" (purchased after being dumped of my now-husband on Valentine's Day) Out of the question when you're trying to knock "hate" out of someone's vocabulary.

Keep laughing. I've probably got them all.... And for the record, my spouse is the bigger problem, with his penchant for burning custom compact discs.

While I'm not prepared to get rid of my compact disc collection just yet, there are some that are admittedly just cluttering up my bedroom. I could probably get rid of those demo CDs from my tenure at the college newspaper, but haven't. Frankly, no one would take them.

There are places you can go to recycle those CDs. Or you can be crafty and do something with them. I've seen them as elements in scrapbook pages. But there's much, much more that people have apparently tried in that bored moment on a rainy afternoon. suggests these ideas (and many more):
  • Christmas light reflectors or decorations
  • Coasters
  • Candle displays
  • Recrafted into bowls
But the most creative use of old music I've seen is this: turn them into weights. Maybe for your New Year's Resolutions, you can tackle two bad habits?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cutting back costs isn't just happening in your kitchen

Are you cutting back on what you pay for groceries? Making substitutions to save on cash?

Guess what: You aren't alone.

Major food companies are doing the same thing. And you'll be paying the price in the convenience foods you buy.

Cheaper spices. Ingredient swaps. Nothing is sacred - not even your chocolate, which is a little less so. Hershey is swapping vegetable oil for cocoa butter, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Some companies are altering ingredients on such a small level that most consumers would never notice. Spokeswoman Nicole Reichert says Cargill has seen increased demand from food makers for dairy substitutes such as enzyme-modified dairy ingredients and starches and hydrocolloids. Starches and hydrocolloids are thickening and stabilizing agents that can replace costlier ingredients like nonfat milk solids in ice cream, processed cheese, yogurt, sour cream and dairy drinks. Adding enzymes to dairy ingredients can substitute milk or cream in some products.

Appetizing, isn't it? Maybe it's time to tinker with the idea of a home-cooked meal or two.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The color of guilt

Red is the color of emotion. Blushing cheeks, a reddening, angry face. But when no remorse is attached, sometimes, redness is the color of humor.

My daughter has abandoned her gardens for the summer. The tomato plants are turning a bleary yellow and quickly ending their production of "baby 'matoes." The herbs are burning. The onions aren't quite ready.

But the strawberries are going nuts. Not that I've had the opportunity to taste them.

I've lost count of the mornings when, watering our plants, our little gardener disappears around a bush, returning with red dripping down her chin. On a really good morning, her cheeks, chin and fingers are covered in strawberry juice, as if she'd gotten ahold of her mother's makeup for the very first time.

And is red the color of guilt, of knowing she's been caught in the act? No. It's the color of pride in her work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Breads, berries and more at Broad Ripple

The Broad Ripple Farmers Market in Indianapolis is hardly the small market I went to years ago. Housed behind Broad Ripple High School, there's tent after tent of temptations.

My daughter was wowed by the rainbow of color available: red chard, orange heirloom tomatoes, yellow sunflowers, green beans of every shape and size, blueberries (of course!) and purple potatoes. Mixes of organic and heirloom produce, many of which I'd only seen in catalogs before, if at all.

And specialty items galore. We were surprised that Three Dog Bakery, remembered from its original store on Kansas City's Plaza, had a booth. So did Trafalgar's Apple Works, which we love to visit in the fall (and enjoy the best apple bread on the planet). Will someone get breakfast treats from Burton's Maplewood Farm or lavendar lotions from Willowfield Lavender Farm this Christmas? Only time will tell.

Our family truly loved the variety of the Broad Ripple market, though it's definitely busier with human and canine visitors, if that's a cause for little ones' fears. Find hours, dates and directions online at

Friday, August 22, 2008

Kudos to the first APLS blog carnival

The APLS blog carnival kicked off this summer, and I have to say, I'm impressed.

This group of bloggers is tackling not so simple topics such as sustainable living and affluence. And they're doing it in a way that might surprise you.

If you're looking for guilt, you're in the wrong place. The reality is each of us is making a difference, one moment at a time, and none of us feel that we're truly "there" yet.

Here's just a sampling of some of the comments out there:

Back to school! Our weekly writer wrapup

It's back to school time, and time to learn a few tips on how to make your life a little bit greener. Here's a sampling of what's out there in the blogosphere.

Home ec:


Political science:
Critical thinking:


Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Growing garlic this fall

The lack of decent garlic at the grocery store the other day prompted a moment of weakness: I ordered some gardening catalogs online the other day.

Nevermind that I have no budget or a garden plot for that matter. I'm determined to have some decent garlic and shallots next spring. Which means we need to get going on some kind of planting this fall.

The first catalog arrived Tuesday, and I have to fight the 3 year old over who gets to thumb through it. What's not to be interested in - flowers of every shape and color, purple and yellow beans, the likes of which she'd never seen before, blueberries of varying shapes and sizes (which of course she's begging to have).

Explaining to a little one that it's just not time to plant berries doesn't work well, but we settled for a discussion of the three pages of garlic varieties. In the past, I've tended to favor the early-season types because I'm just not that patient (and I can re-use that space for summertime planting).

However, we have new criteria now. It's not hardneck versus softneck, or early season versus late. Based on our discussion continued this morning around a bowl of Cheerios, I've been tasked to order the red garlic.

For my little green thumb, it's all about the color.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blending for baby

Homemade baby food? It must be for stay-at-home moms or granola types. That was what I used to think. After all, what working mom has time to make their children baby food?
making homemade baby food like a pro even if you're a working mom

After reading a magazine article touting funds like tuna and blueberries for young toddlers when my first was very young, I was intrigues. After all, there are only so many baby food combinations available in stores, and we eat far more variety than oatmeal, green beans, applesauce and peas. As my daughter wanted to explore ‘big” foods and tastes, I started to explore with her.

By a year, our little foodie was enjoying broccoli, salmon, blueberries by the half-pint, even asparagus. I firmly believe that little ones, if exposed young, will be very open to exploring new tastes. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a short order chef, with one meal for adults, another for the toddler and a third for the baby. I’ve found it’s just as easy to blend or mash a “baby” version of what you’re eating – just chop, microwave to soften, and blend. As for our little one, he’s become quite found of squash, zucchini (which I’ll sometimes add some fresh oregano to) and cantaloupe, things I’ve yet to find in even on the organic aisle. And at not quite eight months, he covets our grilled asparagus spears to knaw on while teething!

Ease isn’t the only reason why I encourage you to at least try making baby food on at least one occasion. Variety, cost and waste are other great reasons to try this. Consider: $1.40 for a 4-ounce pack of organic baby food (nearly $6 a pound) – or blending a few ounces of a new vegetable from the farmers market. The waste is a factor; few companies still package baby food in glass jars, which are recyclable. Gerber packages its food in #7 plastic – not recyclable at all in many markets. If your little one if eating multiple containers of food each day, that’s a lot of plastic waste.

If you’re still a little wary of making your own baby food, here are some tried and true recipes my kids have enjoyed. These are from Annabel Karmer’s The Healthy Baby Meal Planner.

Biter biscuits
My oldest couldn’t get enough of teething biscuits. Then I realized why. Looking at the ingredient labels, I was shocked about the added fat and sugar – they are the nutritional equivalent of an infant candy bar! Both of my children have loved this homemade version, which uses breads of your choice. Healthier, less waste and definitely cheaper.

Slice bread into three strips. Place on cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Going Bananas
1 tsp. butter
Small banana, sliced
Pinch cinnamon
2 tbsp. orange juice

Melt butter in small skillet. Stir in sliced banana. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sautee for 2 minutes. Pour in orange juice and cook 2 minutes. Mash.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Schools love stuff

School has been in session less than a week, and already the fundraising sales have begun.

Friday evening, no less than five minutes after entering my house, our bags barely touching the floor, the doorbell rang. A neighbor girl was at the door, flyers in hand, for cookie dough and magazine sales. Two minutes later, two more girls I’d never even met before pounced, pushing candles. It has begun.

Now I understand tax dollar don’t support education and extracurricular efforts the way they used to, but I tire of fundraising activities for each and every component of our children’s lives, PTA. Soccer. Clubs. Scouts. Once-in-a-lifetime trips. Our old daycare even got into the game – and my child was one at the time!

The amount of junk pushed is simply disgusting. I admit I’ve gotten pickier as the years go by. It used to be in fairness I’d buy one thing per coworker. Now, it’s whether it fits my life.

Magazines? Not so much.

Christmas wrap? Depends on the year.

Cookie dough? If I have freezer space, it goes for holiday guests.

Pizza? You’re getting warmer.

Honestly, I appreciated my cousin’s approach when raising funds for a trip overseas – a direct appeal for cash, which is in the end what it’s all about.

An Indiana brunch

Eating local isn’t as difficult or as expensive as you might think. This weekend, we enjoyed a largely local Sunday morning brunch:

  • Strawberries from our garden, picked that morning (until I was cut off by my daughter)
  • Indiana canteloupe from the Greenwood farmers market
  • Onion, Shallot and Herb Frittata, which included red onions from the market and herbs from our container garden.

Here is the recipe from the May Diabetes Forecast:

Onion, Shallot & Herb Frittata
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
1 c. chopped onion
2 tbsp. minced shallot
2 eggs
4 egg whites
¼ c. minced fresh basil
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp. Parmesan (we doubled that)

Preheat oven to 350. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in large, oven proof skillet over medium heat. Add onion and shallot. Sautee 7-8 minutes. Remove from skillet.

Beat eggs, egg whites, basil and salt and pepper. Fold in onions.

In remaining 1 tsp. oil, heat eggs on medium low. Cook without stirring 8 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake 10 min. or until top is no longer runny.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Greenwood Farmers Market on the rise

The Greenwood Farmers Market has been one of southside Indianapolis’ little-known secrets. In an area sprinkled with farms stands, the market doesn’t have the name recognition of others in the metro: Broad Ripple, Traders Point, Carmel or Fishers. Even nearby Franklin seems to have greater name recognition.

The Greenwood Farmers market is small but diverse. You’ll find a range of produce, handmade soaps and other goods, even a cooking ministry of a local church. But oddly enough, in the three years, I’ve attended there, it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of foot traffic.

Until this weekend. Friday’s Indianapolis Star featured the Greenwood Market, and things just weren’t the same. Saturday morning, there were more vendors, more shoppers, more variety.
I hope it’s a positive sign of things to come.

Have we forgotten the first R?

Reduce, reuse, recycle. I heard this so much growing up. Now it's all about the latter two - and "reduce" seems to be forgotten.

This week, we took our recycling to the curb, and once again the containers threatened to overflow out out of the green box. And each week I briefly wonder whether I should call waste management and beg for an extra container. After all, I'm resorting to traveling elsewhere to drop off my papers. We have too much stuff, even with making about half of our baby's food, those little jars still add up.

The reality is if we just shift our consumption a bit, we might have less to worry about.

Many containers can be bought in bulk, meaning less plastic or cardboard waste overall. Those okastic containers for butter or other things can find a second, temporary life as food storage (before my husband tires of the overflow in the cabinet.)

The key though is reducing what we do bring in. Less prepackaged foods and more produce and home cooking. Cut out the daily newspaper (not sure how we acquired it anywau), and let magazines expire. Buying secondhand kids clothes that are only worn for a few months, anyway. Hiding the paper towels and reaching for cloth kitchen towels and rags.

Eco'burban recently wrote:

...we realized we were recycling too much. Why have a bin full of empty glass
iced tea bottles, plastic milk jugs and aluminum cans when you could make your
own tea or lemonade and have your milk delivered to your doorstep in returnable
glass bottles?

So...are you recycling too much?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Plastic or cans? How about both?

So I thought I was improving on some level on the environmental scale by eschewing plastic in favor of aluminum cans for my soda fix. After all, cans are fixed portions and are more easily recyclable.

Then I read this on the BBC "Month without Plastic" blog:

That aluminium can is not only metal, your cardboard drinks carton is more than just cardboard and a disposable coffee cup is unlikely to be mere cardboard and wax. ...

In the case of aluminium fizzy drinks cans, the lacquer lining is to stop the acid in the beverage from eating into the metal which would weaken the can and taint the drink.

As shown on the website of colourful US television science presenter Steve Spangler, it is possible to dissolve the outside of the can to reveal the thin polymer (resin) inner.

However, this does not affect aluminium's status as one of the most fully recyclable materials.

Furthermore, the lacquers are burnt off in the recycling process and the resulting gasses used to help power the furnace.

Cartons used for juice, milk, soup and other liquids are made up from layers of paperboard and low density polyethylene (LDPE).

It's more than a little disturbing how much plastic has infiltrated out lives. Even my soda isn't safe! One more reason to add to the list why I should be a little more serious about giving it up.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Act on changes to the Endangered Species Act

Don't just roll your eyes about the Bush Administration's lame-duck attempts to mess with the Endangered Species Act. Do something about it!

Thanks to another blogger, Burban Mom, for pointing this out:

Well, I just checked the DOI and the comment period on the proposed rules has officially opened. To read the proposed rule changes, go here. To comment on these changes, go here.

Don't feel like you have to get all fancy and long-winded (although that's great if you do!). But please, please, for the love of Mike, LEAVE A COMMENT OPPOSING THESE CHANGES! Even if it's just as simple as "I deeply oppose these proposed
changes and urge the DOI to reject these rules!". Just don't let slide this one through. Encourage others to leave their comments as well. Please, we really need VERYONE to voice their opinion. Please. Seriously. I'm begging. And that doesn't happen often.

So what are you waiting for??

Second thoughts on continuing my CSA

We're at the halfway point with my subscription with our CSA, and I'm becoming less and less enamoured with the whole thing.

According to the harvest calendar, here is what I should have been able to sample at some point in the last few months:
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Boc Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Green Beans
  • Green Onions
  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Herbs: Basil, Dill, Cilantro, Thyme, Parsley, lavender, chamomile, garlic chives
  • Hot pepper mix: Cayenne, Jalepeno, Habanero, Serrano, Hungarian Hot Wax
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Melons
  • Mustard
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radish (4 types)
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Summer Squash
  • Turnips

Sounds like a deal, right? It's a great opportunity to try a lot of things that perhaps you wouldn't have the opportunity to at the store or farmers market.

Here is my reality: A small sampling each week - not enough to make a dish of anything (i.e. three red potatoes) of:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Green Onions
  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Herbs: Basil, Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radish (1 type)
  • Snow peas
  • Summer Squash

In other words, maybe half the variety that was advertised. Yes, we've had some wierd weather, but it's frustrating. Just about everything except for the mustard greens I could have bought - for far less, mind you - at a farmers market in the area. I don't want to say I've been duped, but I'm certainly giving second thoughts as to whether to do this again.

Has anyone else had similar experiences?

[ Link to CSA's harvest calendar removed on Jan. 30, 2009, following multiple negative communications from their organization. ]

24-hour reprieve

I'm taking a guilt-free 24-hour reprieve from my cutting-back challenge.

Today's been rotten. I find out there's a DNR order placed on my grandmother, my work week has been one frustration on top of another, I'm worn out from teething and nights of worry, and there's been little in terms of positive news on the family's job situation. No news is not good news in this case.

So I've enjoyed some of the cookies in the office, one too many Diet Cokes and a bath. Tomorrow I'll worry about saving the world again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Discretionary challenge midway point

If calories burned are more than calories in, you lose weight. That is the one good, tangible thing about this discretionary eating challenge: I finally broke through a post-baby plateau.

I am halfway through Chili's discretionary eating challenge and I set several lofty and possibly unobtainable goals for myself:

  • Avoiding restaurants, take-out, prepared deli foods, and frozen meals.
  • Avoiding highly processed and refined food stripped of its nutrients.
  • Avoiding sugary foods and drinks.
  • Avoiding food eaten after physical hunger is satisfied (or to fix a low blood sugar).
  • Watching my caffeine intake. Note I didn’t say significantly reduce!!

Why did I do this to myself? Because if I only aim halfway, I won't put in the effort. And the reality is I go out with great intentions and then backslide.

So how have I been doing? Here are just a few candid observations I've made:

  • I'm doing 10 times better at packing lunches for work, but I fail to factor in healthy snacks and have been called to more work-related lunches than I've been to in a long time. I won't call out any coworkers specifically, but apparently our most productive meetings occur at Enzo's Pizza.
  • I struggle with breakfasts. It's tough when you've admittedly been dependent on a morning diet of prepackaged oatmeal, containers of yogurt or Eggos. Even harder when a 3 year old demands frozen waffles or cereal most days - you wind up weighing the time demands of extra cooking plus managing a tantrum when the tired one doesn't get what she wants to start the day.
  • I have more energy overall, but I'm finding my Diet Coke habit is directly correlated with Olympic coverage and teething.
  • I could kill for some really good dark chocolate. Good thing no one's brought any into the office!
  • Is it me, or does everything have added sugar or artificial sweeteners in them?
  • It's a challenge to explain to my husband that I really don't need dinner after a late meeting. He's sees a diabetic; I know I'm not hungry,

I admit it's difficult to see the impacr of a few less envelopes of prepackaged oatmeal or one less soda. But, it's all about a growing awareness of what we produce.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dishing up healthier lunches

School started up in our city today, and it’s little surprise that what’s on sale in the stores are scores of prepackaged bags of single-serving everything.

There’s the potential for a lot of waste – from tossed, unwanted food items to the packaging that wraps each and every item.

I admit that it’s tough to make time to do meal planning for myself, and I have the luxury of a fridge and a microwave in the office. I can certainly see the challenge in creating meals that need to stay fresh until noon or avoid things like peanuts, which are banned in our school district.

You could buy a hot lunch at school, but there’s the impact of tossable trays, plastic silverware and unwanted food, as well as the uncertainty as to whether your child is eating pizza and cookies or healthier fare. Worse, many school districts are lacking in terms of healthy options for lunchtime fare.

So how do you make the most of your children’s school lunches? Here are just a few tips:

  • Invest in an insulated lunch box, thermoses and refreezable ice packs to keep foods at safe temperatures.
  • Get your kids involved. Have them help choose snacks to include, such as pretzels, dried fruit, pudding or string cheese. Even better, help them prepare their lunches ahead of time!
  • Makeover your dinner leftovers for lunch. Make wraps or sandwiches out of leftover chicken, or pack pastas.
  • Include things that don’t need any preparation, such a whole piece of fruit or baby carrots
  • Mix it up. Kick up your sandwiches using different breads, such as pita, focaccia, even rice cakes.
  • Finally, don’t overpack. By packing too much food in your child’s school lunch, you’re setting them up to overeat or to toss the rest, both of which have negative consequences.

Starting school? Here are some resources to get you started on lunchtime meal planning:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sustainability in an era of stuff

Sustainability, I’m sure for some people, sparks visions of persons who grow their own food on wide swaths of land, who make their clothing, who can and live by candlelight.

But sustainability is possible in an era of stuff, and it’s achieved one moment at a time.

The last several months, my family has refocused on what’s needed in our lives and what’s not

First came a new baby (and the resulting suck out of the wallet from medical bills, diapers, day care and new clothing seemingly every month.) Then came a personal challenge. Then came unemployment.

So my husband and I have, with growing importance, taken a look at what’s truly needed and what’s not.

We obviously don’t dash to my husband’s work to say hello after I get the kids from daycare anymore, and our kids are less cranky and overall happier than had we raced around in the early evening, squeezing a slice of parental time among meals and bedtime.

For all the times I’d receive a call of “What do you need me to pick up on the way home?” when I’d rattle something off, I can count one few fingers the times when the tables have been turned and I’ve received that call since. Less hassles, less purchases, less things we found we truly needed.

The dinners that we’d eat out? They’ve been substituted with quality time cooking meals and shopping at the farmers market, involving our oldest many times.

The hand-me-down boy clothes, always appreciated, have been washed and sorted by size. And I was surprised by the generosity I’d been the recipient of and of my stash. Who needs 20 onesies in size 2T? Those leftovers found a new home among a domestic violence recovery organization.

The pants I tried this morning with the unhinged hem? It’ll take a needle, thread and time and will be ready to wear. May not seem like “sustainable,” but you’d be surprised how few people these days can even manage to fix a hem or a fallen-out hem.

Yes, sometimes sustainable living takes time, and I'll be the first to admit I'd not truly there yet. In all honesty, many times it takes much less effort than the headaches of shopping for more. Life is a long series of small choices, and our footprint on this planet is marked by the individual prints we make each moment.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Make bread, make a memory

Cooking is more than a chore in my house. There's a number of nights when my husband and I actually argue over who'll take over the task of making dinner. Chopping, slicing, planning and cooking is a kind of therapy for us after a long day - and some nights, a welcome break from children who behave like, well, children.

But cooking is central to our oldest child's life as well. She loves to join us in the kitchen, whether making pizzas, snapping beans, stirring, dumping ingredients, even assisting with cleanup. She's been helping in the kitchen since she was 18 months old, and loves it.

And frankly, I don't get why more people don't do it. Yes, it's more work, but the reality is, kids will make a mess, regardless. This way, at least you know what you're getting into. You're also teaching them a skill, subtly teaching them about colors, numbers, math and science, and, if you're fortunate to have a garden where you can pluck fresh vegetables and herbs from, you're also helping foster a sense of what nature can actually provide.

There's one more reason to let your kids help you cook: You're creating a memory.

I learned something new about my grandmother this weekend. I'd never met her and know very little about her, as she died when my mother was young. Yet out of the blue, my mother posts Saturday:
One of the few memories I have of my mother is sitting in the shade in the
backyard of my grandmother's house with my grandmother, mother and myself (I
must have been 5-7 years old) and snapping green beans from my grandmother's
abundant garden so that they could be canned for the winter.

Five decades later, in a random comment, I got a little slice of life from a little girl growing up in central Wisconsin. One of my first reactions was one my own memories of pitting cherries with mom at the kitchen table. And I'm sure my children will have their own to share.

Here is one recipe my daughter and I tried recently. The great thing is it's eggless, so you don't have to worry about salmonella in case the dough is sampled. It has just a hint of peanut butter in the flavor, but she inhaled the finished product. (OK, and the dough on the spatulas too.)

Peanut Butter Bread
from Holly Clegg's Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup reduced-fat crunchy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 9x5x3 pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Stir in the milk and peanut butter.

Transfer batter to loaf pan. Bake for 35 minutes.

Note: I used a slightly different sized bread pan and found I had to cook about another 10 minutes to get it cooked completely through.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Meditations on snapping beans

There's something oddly therapeutic about snapping green beans. It's the kind of mindless task that gets things done without a lot of effort. You can wash berries, but you don't feel you are doing anything. You can slice tomatoes or peaches, but your concentration is that of making sure you don't slice your finger yet again.

But beans? Lift, snap, done. Repeat.

It's oddly comforting, and so simple a toddler can do it. Which is probably why I appreciate it. I can listen to the news, talk to my child, pray, listen to the birds, make my list of things I'd forgotten to do at work that day, and not feel that something's been dropped in the process.

Today, I realized just how therapeutic snapping beans can be. We've had a difficult last few months, coupled with a child who's discovered biting as an attention getter, unusual stress with projects and budget season in the office, and a home that's just shy of looking like a tornado whipped about its contents. And yet, after receiving beans not only in the CSA share but also from our sitter, I caved about buying beans today. At the farmers market, I asked my oldest what she'd like to buy after surveying the contents: Green beans, of course.
Well there's always a freezer. And so, I spent nap time standing in the kitchen, feeling the breeze from the unseasonable cool day, listening to the Olympics recapped on the television, snapping beans one by one.

The tomatoes and peaches I'd chopped? Not so therapeutic. Yes, I'll love the Romas in homemade spaghetti sauce this winter, and we'll enjoy the peach cobbler tonight, but I always have that sense that maybe, just maybe, given my clutziness and lack of depth perception that I could wind up a casualty of the process.

But beans? There's a casual easiness to them that's appreciated on the most needed of afternoons. And even more appreciated when my husband cooks them!

My luck (or lack thereof) at the farmers market

Farmers market visits are a standing appointment for Saturdays in our family. We usually choose one of two in the area, and my oldest is known by many of the vendors (so well that they ask about her 'matoes.)

Of course, today was no different. Running behind, I opt to race out the door, sans shower, hair haphazardly slicked back into a ponytail, ratty T-shirt on. By the time we'd get there, it'd be close to 9:30, when your options start to radically drop off.

Today, of course, was the day the local newspaper's photographer came by. And, being an ex-journalist, I know far too well that the cute babies and puppies shots never fail. So yes, the happily shopping toddler and disheveled mom have been captured for all posterity. Nice!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Life without plastic?

This weekend, we watched Jean-Michel Cousteau’s "Dolphins and Whales 3D." The IMAX movie makes a point of sharing which ones are in dangerous risk of extinction due to our actions. I was shocked that a person seated behind my husband grumbled about it being a load of garbage (albeit more colorfully) that we are to blame.

Why do you think we have a dead zone in the Gulf? Or that species of fish are disappearing? Or that lobster fishermen are struggling? (If you need to put a “people spin” on the problem.)

Writes Robert Morley on “One such garbage patch of plastic, located north of Hawaii, covers an area approximately twice the size of Texas.”

“Evidence of our failure to deal with plastic rubbish is everywhere, from bulging landfill sites and countryside litter in the UK to a toxic plastic 'soup' swilling around the middle of the North Pacific, thousands of miles from continental land,” writes Christine Jeavans of the BBC. “Island groups such as Hawaii and Midway which, by their location in the Pacific should be pristine, instead are awash with plastic, killing seabirds, turtles and other marine life.”

The great news is the tides are changing. California is considering banning plastic bags to protect marine life. On a more individual level, attitudes are shifting. We’re investing more in reusable bags, though at a slow pace. And Jeavans is doing something few of us could fathom: She is giving up buying anything plastic for an entire month.


Jeavans kept track of a month’s worth of plastic used in her household – 603 item, from cheese wrappers to toothbrushes. Can she go completely plastic-free for 30 days? Read her blog at “Not my bag” on the BBC Web site.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Notes on the unemployment diet

I'm on the unemployment diet, I have joked to my friends. Eating out is out. Staying in is, for better or worse, in.

During the last three months I've been acutely aware as to how discretionary spending does or does not impact they way we eat. I've been guilty far too many times recently, in trying to save money, of eating leftover bagels or treats in the breakroom instead of a "real" lunch on days when morning meetings prohibited me from carrying my meal.

I've realized how too easy it is to fall into eating traps and why it's so easy for those who are poor to become obese.

Simply, it's cheap to eat crap. For $1, I can buy a burger at McDonald's, which has protein and some carbs. Or I can buy a box of processed macaroni and (powdered) cheese. Or, I can spend $1 on an apple, which does have fiber but will largely burn off quickly. Two dollars will buy a package of hot dogs or 1/2 pound of cheese.

Granted, snacks become an equalizer. I can spend $2 on a pound of baby carrots, or $2.50 on a bag of potato chips these days. But what if you're in an area where fresh produce isn't accessible? Many impoverished areas of this country simply don't have great produce available in their stores.

It's sad. You may "save" cash, but you feel worse, as I can attest. I made sure my children ate healthy, but I put myself off to save money. I was exhausted, my blood sugars were erratic and I was cranky.

After about a month of living that way and a visit to my physician, who never even questioned my diet (being a working mom with two little ones was an easy answer), I looked at ways to help myself feel better. And I decided investing in myself was just as important as watching what my kids ate, even if money was tight.

The reality is you still can eat healthy while on a budget. It just takes a little more work.

Sunday, I spent three hours chopping, freezing and cooking food. I made up a week's worth of lunches, made fajita kits, chopped green beans for dinners and freezing and made a homemade dinner. And yes, I was tired of cooking and was thrilled the next night when my husband cooked.

Day to day, it requires a little planning, attention to what's in season and buying what's on sale. We'll shop based on what we get in our weekly CSA share and at the farm stand first, then fill in from there.

  • I may not be able to have dried mangoes or papaya for my daughter's afternoon snack, but she loves apples, blueberries and oranges. In fact, I give her a bag to let her "shop" and select her own fruit and vegetables at some stands.
  • I may not be buying jarred pasta sauces, but I can toss pasta with tomatoes and herbs fresh from our container garden.
  • I may cringe at the cost of baby food, but I can cook and blend my own from the random items in my CSA shares. (And frankly, those are the most gobbled up!)
  • I may go meatless for several days, but we'll also enjoy steak or fish on occasion when we see a good price.

It's work, but I'm starting finally to feel like me again. Who knows, maybe someday I'll feel good enough to drop my Diet Cokes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Everything into the pot!

My first season as a subscriber to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program has been quite a learning experience. When you visit the grocery or even a farm stand or famers market, you aren't acutely aware as to how fragile everything is. A cool spring backed up our shares an entire month, then flooding and now heat has hit.

The result? I have spent a lot of money on tomatoes, lettuce and peppers - things I would have typically bought at the market or grown myself. No okra, kohlrabi, or other produce that would have branched us out of our culinary comfort zones.

The last two week's shares have been particularly disappointing in terms of size - about half of what was expected when I signed up. It seems, though, that the produce may be picking up.

This week's e-mail from my CSA stated:
Well, we are about out of our slump this week. We expect the shares to be approx
30% below this week and beginning to get back up to size on week 9. We envision
our shares to be up to full size and value again on Week #10. ...We
understand not every farmer is having a slump right now, however we feel it’s
pretty common for each produce farmer to have a lull or two throughout the

My share included some green tomatoes, more peppers (I am to the point of freezing "fajita kits" now) and lots of dill and basil.

Facing company this weekend, my little chef and I took an "everything in the pot" approach to dinner Friday night.

Everything in the Pot pasta
We tossed a package of pasta with the following:
  • roma tomatoes from our container garden
  • ice tomatoes (a yellowish white tomato the size of a cherry tomato) from our container garden
  • yellow onion
  • olive oil to sautee
  • can of white northern beans
  • garlic, garlic, garlic
  • basil from CSA (and purple basil from my pot)
  • oregano and rosemary from the pots
  • splash of marsala
  • 1/2 package leftover shaved carrots
  • parmesan cheese

It was a success - even with my father, who cringes at the site of anything remotely resembling a casserole.

As for the rest? The little guy is getting zucchini this week at day care, and the sitter and I plan to put my dill with her cucumbers to make some pickles.

Link to the CSA blog removed Jan. 30, 2009. Want a CSA for 2009? Find CSA programs in Indianapolis or Bloomington, Indiana, by visiting this posting, or visit to find one near you! ]

Friday, August 1, 2008

Writer wrap-up for the weekend

A friend of mine e-mailed me yesterday and wrote, "How do you have time to write a blog?"

Because I only have two kids? Honestly, I don't know. I make time. It's an outlet for me, and far quicker and less messier than trotting out my scrapbook supplies, which are bound to find their way to a 3 year old's fingers.

Still, it's been one of those weeks when time for my outlet just didn't happen. I admit I've been strangely quiet this week. Coping with several crisises at the office, battles over bedtime and preparations for company this weekend has left me with little time to plan posts.

So, to make up for my slacking, here are a few other writers whose comments I've enjoyed recently:
And, just to know that someone is able to grow things that aren't dying this year, take a look at bloomingwriter's site and feel a little green -- with envy.

Have a great weekend!

Photo from Google images.