Friday, July 31, 2009

No, tomatoes are not balls...

I don't know what happened in Indiana this week, but I'm suddenly swimming in vegetables. I came home from a three-day trip to find my garden overflowing with tomatoes, beans and onions ready to be picked. (The weeds went crazy too, but that is another story.)

So I set to work, and picked a mixing bowl filled with beans, probably a dozen onions and more Romas than I know what to do with.

And, then, from the corner of my eye, my littlest helper started picking his own tomatoes. And not the ripe ones. Then tossing them around. "Ball!" he announced.

Before I could stop him, we had a half-dozen "balls" decorating my lawn. Ugh. It's an occupational hazzard of gardening. Guess I've got some spaghetti sauce to start up!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fall gardening - where to get seeds

This month, I've attended a virtual fall gardening class led by Sharon Astyk. I've learned a lot and feel humbled by the amount of information I'm trying to digest.

If you're considering fall gardening, Sharon has posted a resource guide to places to get seeds. As most places I see seem to focus on spring plantings, this is a great resource.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Celebrating a life well lived

Today we are celebrating an amazing woman. My grandmother passed away this weekend at the age of 97. She lived through the trials of the Great Depression, the challeneges of working on a farm and raising seven children, and the joys of seeing not only her grandchildren but her great-great grandchildren. Few of us can say that.

She was a woman of amazing love and amazing faith. She was an avid painted, an avid gardener, and I wish I had inherited half of her talent.

While we celebrate her life today, I hope you don't mind me sharing some memories I had of my childhood visits to Wisconsin and a fabulous recipe for her raspberry dessert, which us cousins clamoured for the recipe for.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So here's the plan

Last week I alluded to the fact that I was actually going to attempt a fall vegetable garden. Well, here's the plan. For now.

As the tomatoes, summer squash and beans die off, I'll start replanting my small beds with new rounds of spinach, carrots, garlic, etc. I realize this is very much a work in progress - I don't think, for instance, that melon transplants or potatoes may make it after all.

I'm heartened to know that I haven't missed my window of opportunity. According to the Purdue University Extension, I'll still have time after my unexpected absence to get some planting for this year. According to its calendar, I have a few more weeks for fall planting - and even into September for radishes. So maybe I can pull this off after all!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fall gardening? It’s not even summer yet.

Yes, I realize the calendar says late July. Tell that to my garden.

While I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our wet, cool summer – I think the warmest it’s been all month is 85 degrees – it’s not done much for my garden, other than the unauthorized additions. The weeds are thriving.

So when my fall gardening class began a deep discussion of plans for not only fall plantings but also plans for the winter, I was floored. Fall planting? It’s not September (when I drop in the garlic). And winter? Isn’t that five months away?

I started reading a book on four-season gardening, which hit the point home. Yes, you can have your seasons of gardening tasks: planting in the spring, weeding all summer, staring sadly at the remains in the fall. Or you can take a more ongoing approach. It’s more “do” and a little less do-or-die as far as planting and maintenance goes. And it means that you could be working – and reaping the rewards – for weeks and months beyond your neighbors.

’ll admit it’s taken a major shift in attitudes for me. After a decade of working in publications and the media, I’m comfortable in thinking seasons ahead for my day job. And I’ll be the first to confess I typically wrap up Christmas shopping by Labor Day. But planning for cool-season crops before the tomatoes turn red? It feels strange.

Still, I am slowly getting into the groove of thinking fall. I’ve flipped through a few Web sites and ordered a few fall garden catalogs, a few of which I’ve already had to steal back from my 4 year old. I’ve started marking up my garden plan, which I’ll post next week when I feel it’s a little more final.

In the meantime, if you have suggestions of things to start in my garden for fall, I’d love to hear them!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quiet week

News flash: I'll be a little quiet this week.

There's a lot going on the next few days:
  • We're rapping up planning for a long-anticipated retreat this weekend.
  • I'm behind on my online fall gardening class, and trying to catch up before it ends! (Have learned some great tips that I can't wait to share.)
  • I'm busting my butt at boot camp and hobbling around to prove it. (Great for the body, not so great on a limited time schedule.)
  • And of course, there's work and family as well.

So if I'm quiet, there's a reason or two!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

August APLS Carnival

The APLS Carnival is back!

Join us for a discussion of "Green on the Cheap" in August.

Has the economy impacted how you live green? Do you buy fewer green products to save money? Or have you redoubled your efforts to live sustainably? What have you learned about living environmentally friendly on a budget? Let us know your thoughts!

Please send links to your posts by Aug. 15 to Even if you're not a regular contributor to the carnival, we'd love to hear your voice.

We'll post a wrapup of what other writers have to say here on Aug. 19.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Squash recipes redux

I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere!

Dr. Seuss may have been badmouthing Green Eggs & Ham, but the latest banned food in our house is none other than the humble yellow summer squash.

Let me first state for the record that it was my oldest who was attracted by the bright yellow vegetables on the plant label. Apparently, she should have stuck to admiring the pictures.

As my squash keep growing, I've been trying desperately the last week to find some kind of squash recipe that the kids will tolerate. What I'm finding is you can dress them up, but squash is still squash. Raw, sauteed, even fried, those kids know it's squash on their plate.

It didn't matter that a cooking show this weekend featured fried zucchini as a recipe. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show my little chef what the recipes actually turned out like in person. Right. One bite, and she was done. I even stretched things and tried a recipe for fried squash blossoms. The kids were all for that - and why wouldn't they be? The flowers are so thin it was basically fried flour.

No matter what I've tried, I haven't succeeded in convincing my kids to try more than a bite without tossing it on the floor. However, I've made a meal out of summer squash with toasted garlic and lime and experimented with a summer squash "pasta," of which no one really enjoyed. (Sorry, the julienned squash was just too mushy for this al dente girl.)

Right now, after my vast experiment with summer squash recipes, I'm about ready to simply call a truce. I think I have some coworkers who appreciate a little free food!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Site worth sharing: Sierra Club trails search

Hiking is a favorite activity of our family, though one we don't get to do as often as we'd like. We are always on the lookout for regional trails to check out when the hiking bug bites.

The Sierra Club has recently launched a new site, Sierra Club Trails. It houses descriptions of trails across the country - which you can rate and add your own feedback on. Best of all, it's a wiki, so if you see things that are missing (like I know there are more than six trails in the state of Indiana--heck there are probably at least that many in Brown County alone, which stands out in its absence!) you can add your information to the site.

And it's more than just "this is a nice wooded trail." A Sierra Club rep told the Green Phone Booth:

So if I post a trail in, say, Yosemite, and you've been there recently and saw that part of the trail is really muddy, or the bugs are bad this time of year, or if camping spots are getting really popular and should be reserved in advance, you can update that.

The site is very easy to use and search for the trails you need. (Note to techies: It needs scripts enabled, or you're completely out of luck, especially in FireFox.) It's definitely worth bookmarking for future use. Thanks to the GPB for pointing this site out!

Another reason I'm mother of the year

I confess. For all of my talk about limiting TV in our home, we make friends with the electronic babysitter from time to time. OK, maybe more than I thought.

We've tried to limit our kids' viewing to children's shows we've screened and cooking shows. Sports were fine, until we realized that the commercials for some of the movies and video games out today were scaring the 4 year old, causing some of our bedtime battles.

And we thought that decision was OK. Until yesterday.

My daughter was doing her usual cooking with water routine - typically it's making "chocolate chip tea." Or so I thought.

Lined up on our kitchen table were two child-size tea cups and her brother's sippy cup, which she picked up and started shaking up and down. "I'm making cocktails," she proudly said.

What?? We're not teatotallers by any means (we have the occasional glass of wine or beer), but we certainly don't have leisurely chats about "cocktails."

"Sandra Lee on the cooking show makes cocktails," she informed me. "I'm making water cocktails."

Yikes. They keep you on your toes, don't they? Time to rethink what they're watching, yet again!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer squash recipes

We are swimming in summer squash at our house. It is going crazy in my garden. The hand-size golden flowers are just a gorgeous break in the greenness of my vegetable garden.

This is my first attempt to actually grow summer squash, and I can tell you a few things I've learned so far:
  1. It's really easy to start from a small plant. It's taken very little effort other than watering. I'm adding this to the "anyone can do it" list (along with lettuce and onions).

  2. Farmers market vendors are making a steal. For $1.50 I bought a package of five vegetable starts. Three of them made it through the night. Of those, I've already plucked a half-dozen squash, and there's many, many more blooming or still growing. Compare that with the $.75-$1 each they're selling for now at the market.

  3. Summer squash is better small. I am finding that the larger squashes have larger seed areas and tougher skins.

That being said, the last week I've had to force myself to be more creative in hunting down summer squash recipes. I'm used to munching on it raw, but that is getting a little old. (Not to mention that my kids tend to decorate the floor with it more than eat it raw.)

The trick, I'm finding, is finding recipes for summer squash -not zucchini, as most recipes seem to be. Here are a few I've stumbled on so far and some interesting ideas I've gotten from others.

Summer squash sauteed

Simply slice and saute with a little garlic and olive oil.

Summer squash sauteed with pine nuts
adapted from the July-August 2009 Vegetarian Times

My well-meaning coworker gave me this recipe for zucchini with pine nuts, capers and raisins. I subbed the summer squash and dropped the raisins. It tasted well enough, but the brownish color and strong flavor of the balsamic vinegar turned off my kids.

2 medium summer squash
2 T. olive oil, divided
2 T. pine nuts
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. capers

Cut squash into matchstick-size strips. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat and add squash. Saute until squash is tender. Add pine nuts and garlic and heat. Stir in vinegar and capers, heat up. Serve with pasta.

I'd love to see other squash recipes. If you've stumbled across any good ideas, please let me know!

Serving up blossoms?

The other idea I've gotten is to actually eat the blossoms themselves. Eating flowers is a new idea to our family, so I'm not sure how they'll warm up to it. Chile advised me that squash blossoms "don't have that strong floral taste like salad flowers."

I admit I thought this was a crazy idea, but there are a lot of recipes for this online, including squash blossom frittatas, quesadillas, stuffed blossoms and, in the ultimate healthy form, fried (both American and Thai versions!). Apparently they are fine to eat raw too, according to the University of Illinois extension site. Who knew?

These plants are not going to quit any time soon, so start sending those recipes and cooking ideas on!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Shopping local can save you money

Shopping sales and clipping coupons is an easy way to save some cash when planning your weekly meals. But here's a secret: The biggest sales aren't in stores.

Sure, you can scour the weekly ads trying to do the mental math as to who was the best deal on ground beef or milk or pasta that week. And you can quickly spend hours scanning the Web for coupons and other hot deals. But I'll be honest. It makes me crazy. And all too often those ads and printed-off coupons lay untouched. I'm not alone in feeling, frankly, burnt out.

Want the truth? The farmers market is where it's at. In our area, we've got another three months of locally grown produce to enjoy, and I'm all for that. Why wouldn't you hit one up? It's easy. It's fast. It's healthy. It's got easy parking. The "checkout" people are friendly. And you get better bargains and variety than you would at your supermarket, where it's been shipped from who knows where.

Take last weekend. For less than $10, we came home with:
  • a bunch of garlic
  • a cantelope (which I'm proud - or scared, not sure which - to say my 18 month old insisted on carting around the market!)
  • 3 zucchini
  • a foot-and-a-half tall basil plant (I didn't want to strip my poor ones at home bare for a recipe).
  • 3 kolhrabi (which I've been curious about trying)

Compare to the grocery store:

  • $4 for a bunch of garlic. It's a little larger, but not significantly
  • $3 or so for a cantelope, trucked in from who knows where
  • $1 or more per pound for zucchini, depending on when you hit a sale
  • $4 for a few old stems of basil, wrapped in plastic and wilting
  • and I've yet to see kolhrabi.

The trick with this is watching the seasons. While you can save by shopping seasonally at the grocery store, the savings increase even more when you buy local. Sure, I could pick up a bell pepper at the store for the $1 each they're on sale for right now. Or, if I wait a few weeks, I can buy them often for three for $1 at the markets.

The next time you shake your head about the sales or wonder about what coupons to clip, set the stress aside and eat local instead!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Our 'Ace of Cakes' birthday

When asked how they'd like to spend their birthday, some children want to go to the game center. Or an amusement park. Or

Not my child. She wants the $200 cake.

Let me explain. About a month ago, I asked my daughter what she wanted for her fourth birthday. Her answer? A Jasmine cake.

Um, yea. Mommy doesn't have that kind of talent. Can I scrapbook? Sure. Design all kinds of publications? Sure. Take a photo or two - in focus? Of course. But drawing a Disney princess in frosting? I don't think so.

So I break it to her gently. "Mommy can't do that," I pleaded.

"Sure you can. Like 'Ace of Cakes.'"

I silently vow to add the Food Network to the list of banned television in the house. I hedge, then counter: "What about an 'Ace of Cakes' party?"

Bingo! She was all over that. So excited, in fact, that she started planning who would sit where in the minivan, and which friend required a booster seat so that we could drive to the "Ace of Cakes" location for the party!

Needless to say, Indiana's a long drive to Baltimore. But today's not the day for a geography lesson. "Well, I was thinking we could make cakes like the 'Ace of Cakes,'" I suggest.

Sold. Thank goodness.

As party day arrived, our kitchen table was covered in three types of frosting, three dozen cupcakes and six potential toppings to decorate said cupcakes. And she and her friends huddled around the table with their "stash," and with an artist's touch (at least a preschool artist's touch), they smothered those poor cupcakes until no frosting, candies or sprinkles were left.

Sugared up, they dashed to the birthday girl's for a rendition or two of songs from "Mama Mia." At least they were burning some of it off, I thought.

And at the end of the party, those creations went home. Not much mess, no leftovers to sweat over and a very happy guest of honor.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Independence Day! We wish you a safe and happy holiday weekend.

If your family is like ours, you're likely having a picnic this weekend as part of your celebrations. My mother-in-law was famous for bringing homemade ice cream, which we all had to take turns cranking.

So, in honor of Grandma Merle, here are some homemade ice cream recipes - many of which don't require an ice-cream maker!

* requires an ice cream maker, but I think you could probably make it work without it.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Protecting ourselves: Lessons from "The Body Toxic"

As a parent, you want to do everything you can to protect your children. What worries you most are the things far beyond your reach.

We bottle-fed our non-nursing son during the height of the BPA controversy, wondering if we were doing the right thing. In my ignorance, I didn't realize it was a minute tip of the iceberg.

And then I read "The Body Toxic: How the hazardous chemicals of everyday things threaten our health and well-being" by journalist Nena Baker. It's quite possibly the scariest book I'll read all summer.

In it I learned about the breakdown of my government in protecting our nation's health. Spurred by lobbyists from the chemical industries, we've evolved the last 50 years into a toothless siutation where weak laws and tiny budgets leave littel room for our government to examine what chemicals are truly hazardous to our health. In fact, we're often lagging far beyond Canada and European nations in taking action against known harmful substances.

What's scary is that the chemicals you're exposed to come from the most unthinkable of everyday places:
  • the microwave popcorn packaging
  • your shower curtain
  • the flame retardants in your TV
  • non-stick skillets
  • grease-resistant food packaging

One interviewee in the book likened the situation to 9/11, where the hijackers were under the radar screen and grabbed control. "Certain contaminants can hijack the control of gene exppression, contributing to a number of illnesses on the rise."

What frightens me the most is potential damange not done to me but to future generations. Tiny bodies are more susceptible to the chemicals exposed to during pregnancy or through breast milk and every day life outside the womb. (Not that formula is immune - chemicals can leach from its packaging, too!)

So what do you do?

  • Write your political leaders and encourage stronger legislation (an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act) regarding oversight of chemicals, and larger funding for those oversights.
  • Choose organic whenever possible.
  • Ditch plastic, particularly for food and drink - reheating can cause hazardous substances to leach out.
  • Avoid stain protection treatments from floors and upholstery.
  • Filter your tap water rather than use bottled.
  • Use low-VOC paint.
  • Choose cast-iron or hard anodized aluminum pots.
  • Think twice about using air fresheners.

It's a little overwhelming, to be honest. Keep in mind that the author writes: "I don't obsess about chemical pollutants; I make informed decisions based on my understanding of the hazards of pesticides, plasticizers, flame retardants and stain protectors."