Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hey Carmel, here's where you can stick your school supplies

I don't know whether you read the Sunday Star, but the front-page feature was on a public school teacher determined to have supplies ready for each of her students this fall.

So determined she was, and knowing that many of her students were impoverished, she ended up dumpster diving at the very affluent Carmel Public Schools. She ended up with three carloads worth of school supplies, many of them in wrappers.

This story really struck a nerve with me. And the more I've thought about it, the madder I've gotten.

It's not even about the wastefulness of tossing these supplies. It's that these could have with very little effort gone to brightening someone's day.

So, Carmel (and any other school where this occurs), here's where you can stick your school supplies:
  1. Scout troop.
  2. Freecyle.
  3. Vacation Bible Schools, preschool programs and Parent's Day Out.
  4. Day care centers.
  5. Homeless shelters.
  6. Any social service organization - many clients may have to take their children with them, and art supplies and notebooks would occupy them while they are waiting.
  7. Goodwill.
  8. Garage sales.
  9. Survival packets to take to church (or any other place where kids have to be quiet but struggle.) It's great to be able to hand a frustrated parent some extra crayons and pages to color on!
  10. Retirement homes. You'd be surprised what craft supplies will do to help our older generations who just need some stimulation!

Any place else I missed? Where else would you tell them to stick it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Full moon kind of week

I am so glad this seven-day stretch is nearly over.

Keeping up with two kiddos is tough enough under normal circumstances. Toss in a sick husband (I'm not sure what it is about colds that makes it like kryptonite for men...), vomiting followed by more time out of daycare for pinkeye for the toddler, 5-year-old meltdowns as we adjust to school life, the kitchen sink leaking everywhere (some seal broke), and the dishwasher suddenly deciding to do little more than click-click-click and we're ready for the week to be done. Currently, we're sitting here waiting for the repairman to take one of our worries off our list. (I will never be so glad to wash dishes!)

I suppose it could be worse. Take the case of our neighbors, who lately have been rivaling us in the bad-luck stretch category. Their house was struck by lightning. The daughter, who was laid off from the school, was suddenly denied unemployment because the state can't find records from her teaching the last two years. The future son-in-law has had his car totaled not once but TWICE in the last two weeks.

Really, it's been a full moon kind of week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not tired of zucchini yet?

For you zucchini lovers who need some more inspiration, I stumbled across this in my grandmother's recipes. I can't speak to how it tastes as I don't can yet and I don't recall trying it.

Zucchini Jam
6 cups peeled and shredded zucchini
5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
20-ounce can crushed pineapple (drained)
1 can pineapple juice or water

Cook altogether for 6 minutes. Add 6 ounces strawberry jello and cook 6 minutes more. Pour into pint jars. Put into hot water bath 15 minutes to seal.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Roasted Corn with Basil-Shallot Vinaigrette

Amazing. That's all you need to know.

Roasted Corn with Basil-Shallot Vinaigrette
originally published on eatingwell.com

4 ears corn
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss corn and oil to coat and spread out on a large baking sheet. Bake, stirring once, until some kernels begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Combine basil, shallot, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the corn; toss to coat. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Squishy food

Packing school lunches is an interesting task for us. The good news is my daughter loves a lot of food.

The bad news are 1) I think her classmates' habits are rubbing off on her and 2) she's lost a front tooth. Which means along with it, she's lost her confidence.

Gone are the baby carrots we bought the first week of school. Gone are the shiny, red apples. Gone are crackers, or anything else with a crunch.

In the hopes of packing any kind of produce in her lunch, I've been reduced to the "fruit-only" bars and prepacked containers of applesauce.

Any other suggestions to make a meal?

Summer, it was good to see you

Over at the Green Phone Booth today, we say our goodbyes to the season before we take another excursion outdoors...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How does your garden grow? (Or not?)

Ninety-plus degree temps. High humidity. No rain. No relief.

I moved out of Kansas to avoid that.

But still, eight years later, this weather has found me this summer. Weeks of unseasonably hot weather has wrecked havoc on people's patience - and my plants.

I wish I could say I've had gardening success. But I've gotten less tomatoes than I have tomato plants; my lettuce and broccoli bolted before I harvested anything. My melons are the size of plums and don't grow beyond that. My zucchini I think just now is kicking out its first fruit - of three plants. In fact, I'm giving up (at least in the short term) on growing much other than a small amount of compost.

The only thing that's doing well - and very well at that - are my asparagus beans, which are vining over my raised beds and throughout my yard, producing lots of leaves and a few beans that are the length of my toddler's arm. And the flavor is wonderful in a stir-fry.

Sad to say, I've been in a holding pattern the last month, hestitant to start any fall planting, but worried that I'll miss my small window of opportunity before the October frost begins.

So how has your season held up?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hot oatmeal peaches

The other day, we stumbled on fresh peaches at a local farm stand, and each kid bought a bag. Which meant we had a lot of peaches to eat...fast.

Our breakfast solution was a quick (and hopefully healthier?) version of peach cobbler. The kids couldn't get enough!

Hot oatmeal peaches
5 peaches, chopped

2 T. butter
1 c. quick-cooking oatmeal
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. cinammon
1/4 c. flour

Pour topping over peaches in casserole dish. Heat in microwave for 5 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve as-is, or as a muselix with milk.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome (back) Hermie!

We had a little bit of excitement in our family today. No, it wasn't that tooth, still clinging on, or the first day of kindergarten.

No, it was Hermie, who emerged 14 days after he (she) cocooned.

As my husband was cooking lunch, he noticed poor Hermie beating its head against the top of the container, trying to get out, so the kids said their goodbyes and sent the black and gold, spotted and striped butterfly off into the world.

It's a happy ending for at least one of the Hermies.

"Hermie Hermie," as my toddler calls it, was the only caterpillar our children got to see turn into a butterfly. Two fuzzy caterpillars, Jack and Lucy, met their ends in unpredictable ways. Jake escaped (but we think turned over a new leaf by getting into the other container.) Lucy was unceremoniously tossed into the trash with the container's contents after mom freaked out over Jake's escaping (not my brightest moment, true). Hermie Jack, our latest addition to the family, was another green caterpillar who sadly passed away one afternoon. As there was something liquidy in the bottom of Jack's container, what might have been Jack's chrysallis went out as well.

When you consider all the predators in this world, seeing one out of four reborn isn't bad. And I'm glad the kids got to see nature at its finest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

School lunch review: Keeping it together

Maybe it's a virtue of the economy, but lunch bags and supplies are everywhere this year. Full aisles are devoted to lunch boxes, bags, cooling packs, sigg bottles, etc. It seems not that long ago, I lived in the plastic lunch box with thermos days, so it's a bit of a surprise for a shopping mom.

I realize that I have a little higher criteria than just buying cheap supplies. I want something that holds up well, is easy to clean and hopefully BPA free. And I don't want to invest in boxes and boxes of plastic baggies to store my daughters' particular desire to eat fresh fruits and veggies!

Recently, I had the opportunity to test a few lunch supplies. And when I say test, I mean, packing a picnic lunch, stuffing it in my bags for work, leaving the leftover peanut-butter and jelly smudges and leftovers in the car in 95 degree heat and forgetting to wash it all until the next day. After all, that's very likely my life very soon!

I was able to try out products from two companies: Eco Lunch Gear, a Michigan company specializing in cloth wraps and snack bags, and Kids Konserve, a California company whose products include complete BPA-free lunch kits, thermoses, and stainless steel containers.

I love the fact that both companies were driven by mothers' desires to reduce the amount of waste created by their childrens' school lunches, a fact I'm keenly becoming aware of as I'm planning lunch menus.

Here is what I tested:

Kids Konserve Snak Pak: I have to say, while the name says "Snack," it serves well beyond that purpose. I was able to fit in a sandwich, two drink boxes, the stainless steel cup-sized snack container crammed with goldfish crackers, four granola bars and napkins, with plenty of room leftover. The "food cozy" (which at first glance I really thought was just a placemat) would work as a great solution for damp tables. I found everything easy to clean, which is key for those days that the dishes don't get done at a reasonable hour. And my stainless steel container survived my well-meaning husband's attempts to take control of the kitchen by throwing everything into the dishwasher.

Eco Lunch Gear's Sandwich Wrap: These organic cotton/nylon sandwich wraps claimed to hold in the messiest of sandwiches, promising to keep that peanut butter and jelly from inevitably leaking throughout the lunch. I didn't think fabric bags could contain it all. Surprisingly, they were right.

The bags also are machine washable - great for parents who just don't want to mess with scrubbing them at the end of the day.

Family friendly!
The great things about these items, other than they're better on the environment than boxes of baggies, is that they're easy for a young child to use. Frankly, all the environmental goodness is a waste if my kindergartener can't manage the contents. And the rubber tops and velcro closures made these things easy for her to use.

I'll be the first to admit that my samples took a bit more abuse than they might have by other testers, but it's reflective of a sometimes harried night. And I will say, even on a time strapped night, the products were easy to clean and were dry and ready to go for the morning. Makes making lunches a bit easier!

Disclosure: I did not receive any benefits from these companies other than samples of their products to try.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blue corn cakes

This blue corn cake recipe is adapted from a recipe from Keith Snow's Harvest Eating Cookbook. It was well worth the extra effort for dinner time, and was good even reheated and served with honey at breakfast.

Blue corn cakes
Makes 10-12 corn cakes, depending on thickness and diameter

2 ears corn, silk removed
2 eggs
1 T. sugar
1/2 c. milk plus 1-2 T.
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. blue cornmeal
1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3-4 T. unsalted butter, divided

Toss carn with 1-2 T. olive oil and salt and roast at 375 for 15 minutes. (I roasted extra ears for later.) Cool and remove kernels.

Beat eggs and sugar. Add 1/2 cup milk and baking powder. Mix in cornmeal. Whisk in flour. Add 1-2 T. milk to "create a thick, pourable batter." Fold in kernels. Season with salt.

Health skillet and 1 T. butter over medium heat. Add 1/4 c. batter and cook until golden brown.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Harvest Eating Cookbook: A review

Practically jumping off the shelves at me at the library, Keith Snow's The Harvest Eating Cookbook: More than 200 Recipes for Cooking with Seasonal Local Ingredients is a delight to read. More than 200 recipes - and even more tempting photographs - provide fodder beyond the usual "tomato and basil salad" thought of seasonal eating. And where many "seasonal" cookbooks begin in late spring and progress through fall, Snow provides ideas to keep us going through the winter months as well.

Granted, I'm always interested in ideas for eating with the seasons, but I was just as intrigued by Snow's story. He quit his career as a hotel chef and moved to a rural area to refocus his entire way of life, following a battle with inflammation. He focuses on a need to re-establish a connection to our land, and provides resources for finding local sources of foods - always something of interest.

I dreaded the day I had to return this book. The recipes are fabulous, and I'm sure this will be a book I'll revisit soon!

Want to check out some of Snow's recipes? Visit http://www.harvesteating.com/ to visit his online library.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mommy's little helper?

Lately I've become more cognizant that our family needs to spend our little time together actually being together. And one way I'm approaching this is opening up the kitchen.

Now, I've let my children "help" me in the kitchen since my oldest was one, but on a work night, we've largely shushed them away as we frantically fix a meal. No more. They want to be sous chefs? Great!

So I sent the kids to work with a dozen ears of corn to shuck the other night. Other than needing to start the toddler's ears for him, it was met with much success.

And then I noticed the oldest was skipping off to the bathroom, likely to wash produce. OK, so that was nothing new.

But then she came out, proudly announcing that she "got the strings (corn silk) off" -- using her brother's toothbrush!!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Helping people, helping yourself

"We need to help people," my daughter informed me the other night in the car. "We need to go to the store and buy stuff for people every day."

Now, don't get me wrong, I was impressed by her sudden stance of philanthropy, which I am guessing was triggered by watching the Veggie Tales' Lord of the Beans the other night. But significant shopping? That caught me by surprise.

So I paused. Took a deep breath. And started talking.

"Sometimes we help people, and God calls us to do it in different ways," I stumbled to explain. "Sometimes that's with money, sometimes that's with sharing what we have. Sometimes we buy stuff they need like groceries."

She raised an eyebrow but kept listening.

"And sometimes, we don't have the money to help people, and that's OK too. You can help by doing something or playing or giving a hug or a smile."

She paused for a moment. "OK but we need to buy stuff too."

It's tough to break through to a child that helping people doesn't always have to equal buying something, since that's the most immediate thing they see. But the cool thing about this story was she didn't give up. For the last few days, she's reminded me that we need to help people. And finally, we came up with a solution.

Tonight, we sat down together and made a card to give to a kid who are sick. I'll drop it off at the pediatric unit at the hospital on the way to my office one morning. But the cool thing is, it was her call. And her heart. And that is just fine with me!