Friday, February 27, 2009

Canning and Preserving

[biggest+kitchen+table.<span class=

Thanks to Rhonda Jean from Down to Earth for The Biggest Kitchen Table: Discussions on Simple Sustainability. This Kitchen Table Topic is about Preserving and Canning. What a fabulous idea!

Last summer was the first time I've canned / preserved. I've had a large garden before in my previous home, but just last year had the opportunity to expand from two raised beds. Last spring we put in a large garden (in addition to the raised beds) and a small orchard along my side yard. Both of these areas replaced grass that we no longer have to mow. We have one large patch of grass left in the front yard for the boys to play sports.

In the garden I planted perennials such as rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries - all of which I should be able to harvest from this year. (Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam anyone?) In the orchard, I planted 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, 2 peach trees, 1 apricot tree, 1 Bing cherry tree and 6 blueberry bushes. I am looking forward to harvesting and preserving these fruits in the future. 

While my trees, bushes and perennials were in their infancy last summer, I grew about 20 tomato plants among many other vegetables. I checked out a canning / preserving book from the library, purchased some canning jars and got busy. For all of my tomatoes I used the water bath method of canning. I had purchased a pressure-canner, but to be completely honest, it looked (and the directions seemed) so intimidating that I didn't use it all summer! Isn't that horrible?! Well, anyway, I canned both whole tomatoes and tomato puree. The thing about the whole tomatoes was, even though I packed them down with all my might before sealing them and putting them into the water bath, when the jars of whole tomatoes came out of the bath, they had settled down lower than the amount of space you're supposed to leave at the top. Hmmmm. (Input anyone?) I was very nervous about using my first canned tomatoes. I studied books and articles online to recognize canned food gone bad, like I was studying for a bar-exam. I'd never done it before and pretty much taught myself (and asked a good friend a few pertinent questions at the last minute), so I didn't have a lot of confidence that everything would work out well. But guess what?! They were fabulous. When I opened my jars through the winter (I just used my last one, last week -- alas.) the seal was super tight and the tomatoes smelled fresh from the garden. Wonderful! 

The other thing I did with my large harvests of tomatoes was dry them in my new dehydrator. I tried making sun dried tomatoes the old fashioned way in the sun over 3-4 days, but before they dried completely, mold struck. I think it's just too plumb humid over here in the northeast. It's tough because you need several days in a row of perfect sunny days with low humidity. Colorado would be perfect. Massachusetts . . . no so much. After my failure, I invested in a dehydrator. It was quick and easy to slice loads of tomatoes and line them up on the dehydrator shelves. They have kept well all winter long (just used up the last jar) and we've enjoyed our own tomatoes in our favorite pasta dish. Next year I will be doing even more with my dehydrator. Tomatoes, Fruits (for granola), Herbs, Herbal Tea. I can't wait.

The other thing I canned / preserved last year was jam. I have a big PB&J guy here, so I figured I'd save by picking my own strawberries and blueberries, and making my own jam. Plus, I was hoping that, like with most things, when they are homemade they taste even better! The wonderful thing about preserving jams is that as long as the fruits are high acid fruit, you don't have to run them through a water bath or pressure-canner. You simply sterilize the jars, make your jam, load them up to the correct height, run a spatula around the sides to make sure the air bubbles are out, put the tops on and let them cool. Voila! Jam! My strawberry jam came out the best. I could eat it right out of the jar and the strawberries taste so fresh. 

Here is the recipe:
Strawberry Jam
7 lbs. strawberries, hulled
8 cups sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
Put all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to a boil for about 5-8 minutes until you have reached the setting point. Put into sterilized jars. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Link Rhonda Jean's blog here to read other posts on canning and preserving HERE.

Seedling Progress

As you know I have embarked on this years seed starting. Here is there progress, for your viewing pleasure.
(Footnote: leek and onion seeds are only good in the first year. I learned this from Kathy, and then confirmed it for myself. So, go ahead, plant them all -- find a spot for them or give them away. Otherwise, the seeds will just end up in the compost.)
Floppy looking onions. This photo is a week old, they are looking perkier now.
Tomato seedlings. I love several varieties of tomatoes. Not great for seed saving in my smallish garden, but I can't handle just one variety. I went ahead and planted a bunch, many of which are from last year. I don't know if the seeds will last another year, so I went ahead and planted most of them remaining from last year. Gifts anyone?
I was just about ready to give up on the celery I'd planted, when . . . look what I found!
Same thing goes for the eggplant. I was just about to reseed, when . . . 

The more you work with God's creation the more you know He is real.
From the honey bee, to seedlings, it's all miraculous. Truly.

For all of you moms out there . . .

For all of you moms out there struggling to balance the things on your to do list, your interests and quality time with your children, I encourage you to take a peak at Raingarden's Tuesday post. I've been "munching" on it ever since I read it. It's so honest, thoughtful, poignant, practical and brilliant. Take a look: HERE

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tea and Honey

It occurred to me awhile ago that the only way to drink tea responsibly is to buy is loose tea. Usually I purchase our coffee at The Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street in Providence. The owner was selling and roasting "fair trade" coffee long before it was a buzz word. He has also invested in the families living in the region by creating his own organization Coffee Kids

While I'm waiting for my coffee, I've been noticing the loose tea that they sell there. They don't sell a lot of it, but they sell the basics. When another customer strolled in and ordered a bag of black tea, I started to feel . . . guilty. All of you tea drinkers out there, go and take a look at your pantry. See all of those boxes and individually wrapped tea bags? (granted, not all of ours are individually wrapped) Not very environmentally responsible. Whenever I purchase anything (especially food) I look at the packaging and deliberately avoid things that are bagged, boxed and then wrapped in plastic! (I'm an specifically thinking about those chip snack packs you buy at Walmart or Shaw's.) Think about all of the wasted energy and raw materials (or worse, chemicals to make the plastic) that went into all of that packaging. Think about all of the recycling you'll have to do. Think about how much of it isn't recyclable and will end up in the dump. 

So, when I was out of Peppermint Tea, I went to the Coffee Exchange and purchased some loose tea. This enormous jar of tea cost $4.80 . Wow. Nice savings -- on several levels! 
My Mom gave my sister-in-law and I these fabulous little single serving tea pots. The interior is lined with a fine screen that prevents the loose tea from being poured into your cup. It's also very easy to make another pot with the same leaves -- yes, you will still get a nice pot of tea. 

There are several types of tea pots that work nicely for loose tea. When I was in China everyone had a glass tea pot with a basket that set inside, then on the top there was a plunger that looked and worked just like a french press coffee pot. The Japanese restaurant we sometimes go to simply uses a fine strainer over your mug of tea that they remove before bringing it to your table. Then, of course you have the metal balls and such -- which are okay, but a little bit cumbersome. You do have to clean out your tea pot rather than just dumping the bag into the trash (or better yet, your compost!). But really, we can handle that, can't we? We use a French Press Coffee Pot at home. Not only does it make fabulous coffee, but it is glass (not plastic) and we don't have to spend money on coffee filters. All of these things add up. Before you realize it, you'll notice that you spend less time at the grocery store / Walmart / Target and save. Incidentally, coffee grounds are great in your compost! If you don't have a compost, you can sprinkle them around any acid loving plant -- like blueberry bushes! 

Since we are talking about tea, let me tell you about my 2nd Honey Bee class last night. First, our class has grown. We are all jammed into an Agricultural High School classroom -- all thirty of us, along with the large assortment of teachers. I am amazed at the commitment the teachers have to the aspiring bee keepers. Most of them are men, bringing in all kinds of supplies to show us, putting in a ton of thought into the classes with a PowerPoint presentation and even a syllabus. It seems like there's no place they'd rather be than cultivating future bee keepers and answering all of their random questions. You really get the feeling you could call these guys up at any hour of the day with a bee emergency and they'd walk you through it like they have nothing they'd rather be doing -- and maybe that's just it. Our teachers are happy bee keepers. They are in awe of the honey bee, and rightly so. Honey Bees are amazing. 

  • Do you know that the Queen (of which there is typically only one per hive) lives 2-5 years and in her lifetime only has one mating flight where she mates with 7-15 drones (the males that do nothing but mate and eat honey) then stores the sperm and uses them to create eggs. Amazing. 
  • After the mating season (spring) the Drones just hang out and eat honey. By July / August the Worker Bees (the gals) have kicked the Drones out of the hive and they die of exposure. Our teacher says you'll see the poor rejected dudes laying on the ground by the hive. 
  • There are about 5-7 guard bees at the entrance to the hive (these are the ones that will sting you if you threaten the hive aggressively ... no the whole hive doesn't come out and attack, fyi)  These Guard Bees stand at the entrance and check every bee that goes in and out of the hive to make sure that intruders (like a yellow jacket) stay out. The funny thing is, if a honey bee from a different hive comes and tries to get in, they will reject the honey bee -- unless that bee is carrying nectar and honey in which they say "Come on in Honey!" Smart little bees. 
I'll close by showing you a picture of Ripley doing Yoga. The other day he got my matte out and said he wanted to do some Yoga. So, I got my package of Yoga cards out and he did various poses one by one -- trying his best to duplicate what he saw on the card. Too cute. Honestly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The True Joy of Parenting

My oldest boy, Benjamin is a very smart, bright eyed child. He is always "ready" for anything and generally embraces everything with a "Great!!! Let's do it!" attitude. He is enthusiastic and intense. Benjamin also requires a lot of "work". With his brilliant, intense personality, that boy can give you a run for your money. But I've always felt, that if properly parented, these traits will be a great benefit to him in the "real world". I won't lie to you. It can be tiring and discouraging. 

Yesterday, while cleaning the house from "stem-to-stern" I pulled back Benjamin's curtains to dust the window sill and what did I find?

A Valentine's Day Card
To God.
From Ben.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Do you . . . Fondue?

I have written about the importance of connecting, relationships and friendships before. Life can get so busy or routine that you don't stop and take time to develop and nurture friendships. The irony is: Relationships are what life is all about! Do you find this is true? 
Our church has become fairly large, so the good old fashioned potluck really doesn't "happen" (much to my chagrin). So, I took a concept an old girlfriend of mine had invented called the "Grub Club" and used it as a way to connect with other couples at our church and encourage simple friendship and fellowship. First, you gather about 12 couples together who are interested in connecting (you don't even have to know each other well to start). The concept is that once a month you all gather together at one of the couples houses for dinner. Because you have about 12 couples, you should only have to host once a year. Everyone brings a dish to share and a beverage of choice, with the exception of the hosts -- they just have to have a house ready for company! We come with our food, and leave with our dirty casseroles. We do give permission for one night of paper plates, if only to encourage people that you can have a crowd of people over to your house without stress. So often times this seems to be such a hindrance to inviting folks over to one another's homes. The perception is "We are all so busy, and it's just too much work!" We created an EVITE account for our group. The hosts send out the EVITE in time for everyone to obtain babysitters, usually people will create some type of theme with a little guidance on food. When you RSVP, you write down what dish you plan on bringing -- just so everyone doesn't end up bringing green bean casserole! We have been at it for about one year, have developed deep friendships, and when the EVITE goes out, we all scramble to get our sitters / grandparents lined up so that we can join in the fun! Now you may have done the math and thought to yourself -- EEekkk, 24 people in my house! But, invariably, sadly, people get sick (we missed you Sue and Dave!), have other plans, or can't get a sitter. However, we have proven that even those houses folks say are small -- we can jam into and be perfectly happy!

(Any of you Community Covenant Folks out there ... we are looking for people to start another group, if you're willing and interested. Let me know!)
L-R: Matt, Victor and Me (Sandy)
I'd like to point out my groovin' retro 1970's fondue pot here, inherited from my Mom.

L-R: Carl, Michelle and Kara
Tracey, Peter and Kayla (and Vivian and Jacob's hands "dipping")
Vivian and Jacob
Carl - Cooking a meatball, and being a ham.
Tracey and Peter introduced us to the Oil Fondue, 
where you fry various things in boiling oil. Read about it here.
Victor and I saw a broth version of this called Hotpot while in China -- read about it here.
Invariably, good conversation ensues . . .
If not intense debate and discussion about nearly everything under the sun.
Top good food and good conversation with some healthy competition.
Usually, we get around to playing some games.
(Look at Michelle, eager to buzz Jacob for the smallest slip-up. 
Word on the street has it that she's is gifted at this game. Watch out!)
I think Carl is praying that the "guys" break daunting odds (based on the incredible skill and wisdom of the gals) and win the game of Taboo.
Kara, Matt and Peter
Kara and Matt
Vivian, always the Timer Czar.
(No grace from the timer czar, just in case you were thinking of asking for some.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Portugal and our favorite Portuguese Restaurant

We treated ourselves to a dinner-out last night at our favorite Portuguese restaurant, O'Dinis. (Pronounced all slurred together like you have a few marbles in your mouth "O'Din-iSH". Continental Portuguese pronounces "s" like "sh", unlike Brazilian Portuguese.) O'Dinis is in East Providence, Rhode Island at 579 Warren Avenue. The phone number is 401-438-3769. (They do take-out as well.) We stumbled onto O'Dinis in search of a Portuguese restaurant that reminded us of our travels through Portugal the previous year. For Victor, it reminds him of "home". He maintains his Portuguese citizenship by choice and has been a permanent resident here in the United States since he was 6. 

-Relaxing after a home cooked meal in Portugal-
Victor's Tia (aunt) Amalia, Ripley (9 mos) and Teo (uncle) Fransico
When we went to Portugal, I was still slimming down after having had Ripley and had tried to cut back on my carbs to knock off the last 7 pounds that didn't want to leave me. Boy was I in for a surprise! When you sit down to a meal in Portugal you are served meat or fish, potatoes, rice AND bread -- all at the same meal! Typically there will be sliced tomatoes, sweet onions and lettuce on the side. If you're in a restaurant, you have to ask for the "salad". The salad is always left for you to drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. To this day, Victor has to force down dressing from a jar. This has been great for our family because it's better for us and less expensive! As you can see, often fresh fruit (and I mean fresh!) and a pudding or flan follow the meal. 

-The little Catholic Church in Victor's small northeastern town of Cavadoude-
(Cavadoude sounds like "cavadoit", said really fast, when you hear it.)
That's Benjamin and Victor in the picture.
Here is the adorable little house that Victor grew up in.
Sadly, no one has lived there for years.
Wouldn't I love to!!!
Here you can see the other side of the house, and how it sets into the hillside.
Victor's mom has a knack for finding truffles (yes, apparently they have them in Portugal as well as Italy) and dug them up from this hillside. Yes, truffles in the back yard. Not too shabby.
Here is the view from the front gate of Victor's house. Lovely. 
The hills in the area run 2625 feet (800 meters) to 3281 feet (1000 meters) high.

The best restaurants we went to in Portugal were the small "nothing fancy" places that the locals went to. Victor and I will never forget tripping onto this dive-like restaurant after driving around - lost - in Algarve after a long trip from the North. We were starving and ready to eat just about anything. There weren't any fancy-shmansy tablecloths, just the most incredible grilled chicken we've ever had to date. FAB-U-LOUS. (With fries (incredible Portuguese fries) and rice, of course. And don't be putting ketchup on the fries, either!!) 

O'Dinis isn't a "dive", but it's not fancy-shmansy either. Simple tables, paper place-mats, and simple tasty Portuguese Food. It's like rolling over to your Portuguese neighbor's house after work on a Friday night. They know you well, you're like family, so they don't get out the nice china, but the food it great. Everyone who works there is either family -- or they've been working there for so long, they are like family. To say that it's kid friendly is an understatement. Most Portuguese people I've known swoon over children, and it's no different here. The staff will talk to the kids more than you. 
Speaking of kids, when we were visiting Victor's mother's cousins (Follow that? Although Victor still calls them Tia and Teo.) outside of Porto (sadly, I have no pictures) when you sat down to eat at their table, all of the children were served this incredible Portuguese soup. Where was mine?? I wanted to know. (I finally spoke up and asked for some, but I was the only grown-up eating it. God only knows what everyone was saying about that wacky American girl.) Kids start with soup. I think it's their sneaky way of getting vegetables into children. Well, Ripley is true to his Portuguese blood, as soup is one of the few ways I can get good-for-you-stuff into that boy! The soup at O'Dinis is different every time, there is only one kind offered, and usually Ripley eats an entire bowl of the stuff -- even if there is tons of kale in it, go figure.
Here is Ripley with his soup, and a special treat, an ananas Sumol - a Portuguese fruit soda available in pineapple, orange or passion fruit.
What to get: Generally, their specials are fabulous. If they have "Frango" (grilled 1/2 chicken) don't even think about it, GET IT! If they have grilled or pan fried fish -- GET IT! Often they have snapper. It's the whole fish -- with the head and bones, but that's the way it's done in Portugal, get over it. They could probably lop-off the head for you if you want. :) The fish comes with boiled potatoes, rice and salad. Boiled potatoes sound awful, but trust me, they are drizzled with olive oil and are incredible. Seriously, try them. If you like cod, take the time to try the Bacalhau na brasa. (I think I have the spelling right. Bacalhau sounds like "Bac-i'll-ya" when you hear it.) It's salted cod, that they soak to get the salt out, then grill with tons of onions and garlic and olive oil. Yum doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Served with boiled potatoes, rice and salad. It takes 45 minutes to cook, so sometimes Victor and I call ahead to get the ball rolling. If they don't have my favorite specials, and we don't have 45 minutes to wait for the bacalhau, I order the pork (argh! for the life of me, I can't remember the name of this dish!) that's pounded thin, marinated in garlic and a spicy piri piri sauce -- served with fries and rice. It comes with spicy peppers sliced on top. Yum. there are tons of other things that friends have ordered and loved. These are just our favorites. For appetizers get the grilled chourico, simple but delicious. Also, another favorite, if you like little necks, get the little necks steamed in a white wine and garlic broth. Yum Yum. Benjamin often gets this for his main dish. The sauce is great for dipping your bread into -- especially with a little olive oil!  For dessert: Don't even think about it, get the flan. Even if you don't like custards, try it. Soooo yummy. The "flan lady" cruises in with cookie sheets of flans a couple of times a week. Top this off with a "bica" (espresso) or a "galao" (coffee with steamed - frothy milk). For whatever reason the cappuccinos come with whipped cream on top. Stick with the galao.
Here is Victor with - as he called it - a cheesy smile. 
Our favorite wine here is Vale de Terre. It's all reasonably priced here. 
A lot of folks get the standard Monte Velho red, but we like the Vale da Torre better. 
It looks kind of quiet in the restaurant, and it was at first. At O'Dinis there are two major shifts. One, at 5pm, it's packed. Another around 7pm. We arrived at 6pm.
Sometimes on Monday nights after 9pm, the owner of the restaurant sings Fado with his guitar. 
They didn't have my favorite specials -- so for fun, I tried grilled quail. I'd never had quail before. But, I guess it's a Portuguese thing. Victor said that his mom used to make it. 
My dish came with (count them) three quail! 
Check out those carbs, would ya?!
Victor got the seafood kabob special. It was excellent. Moist, not dry.
Check out those boiled potatoes. Melt in your mouth goodness.

The family that owns O'Dinis is from the island of St. Michael (or Miguel) in the Azores. The food there tends to be a little bit spicier than on the mainland. Generally the food I ran into "on the mainland" as they call it, is simple with tons of garlic, onions and olive oil. 
What's better than that???

My First Bee Class

What is a "Bee Class" you ask? It is a class that I'm taking where you learn how to keep bees. Last night was the first class out of six at a local agricultural high school only 20 minutes from here. I feel fortunate that there is a class and an association so close by. I don't think I would have the nerve to start without the guidance of folks who know what they're doing. 

The collection of beekeepers that run the bee school are a laid back group of people. No need to pre-register for the annual Bee Class, just show up. I wondered to myself if they've ever had only one person show after all of their efforts to prepare. I don't think that has ever been the case -- at least in the recent past. The local association here has been in existence for about 50 years. At 6:30, a half hour early - as instructed, about 25 New Englanders - young and old - poured into the classroom after writing our checks for $45 and sat down in a semi-circle of high school desks. Like good New Englanders that we are, no one said one word to each other before the class started. I read my new book "Beekeeping Basics" that accompanies the class. Finally one of the six beekeeping teachers saved us and started gabbing about bees. 

When class officially started we did the obligatory introductions going around the room, stating your name and why you have an interest in keeping bees. I was surprised by how many people in the room are simply fascinated with bees and want to keep them because they are amazing insects (which, the more you study them, the more amazing you realize they are). One man, probably in his 60's, doesn't like pets, or insects, or honey for that matter -- but he is fascinated by bees and would like to keep them. Not interested in harvesting the honey. Hmmm. To each his own. There were several people like myself who want to keep bees for better pollination of their gardens and / or orchards, in addition to getting some honey out of the deal. 

All of the teachers were very passionate - to the point of adoring - about their bees. A big part of their passion comes from their concern for the honey bee population. They are hopeful that we will all decide to keep bees for the sake of the future of the honey bee. You have probably heard about the mite brought over from Asia that's been plaguing the honey bee since the 80's. And more recently, their hives have been suffering from colony collapse disorder. Now there are concerns by the government that this has been caused by the pesticide they approved to kill the mites with. In addition, (I believe just this year) the government is requiring bee keepers to replace at least 20% of their combs annually, because apparently pesticides applied to farms end up leeching into the combs (wax) and they are concerned that eventually this hurts the bees who live in, lay eggs in and raise their young in the combs. Gee, surprise, surprise. Before the 1980's bee keeping required very little effort. Now, because their strength has been depleted, they require more effort and education.

A few quick points that were mentioned last night:
  • The teachers were very enthusiastic about the positive effects keeping bees has on your garden / orchard. They said that the bees make an enormous difference. As I mentioned last fall, on a large sprawling pumpkin plant with numerous blossoms, I only got three pumpkins. I actually tried my hand at hand-pollinating my summer squash plants because the blossoms kept falling off -- fruitless. This worked, but it was labor intensive!
  • Many fruits and vegetables need to be pollinated up to 5 times to produce good "fruit".
  • The honey bee is a very docile bee. 
  • The teachers were quick to point out that yellow jackets give the honey bee a bad name. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Our Addiction to Soda

I have been slowly plodding through The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is a very informative read about the United States food system and it's evolution. And it's not a pretty picture. 
When I was reading through portions of the book that talk about "HFCS" or High Fructose Corn Syrup and how much of it sneaks it's way into our diets thanks in part to the U.S. Government's policies encouraging the modern farmer to produce corn, corn and more corn, I was taken aback when I read just how much soda the average American consumes annually. (now I can't find that exact quote in the book, so I looked it up online) As of the year 2000 the number was at 53 GALLONS of soda per person, per year. That's in addition to any other sugary / HFCS that Americans consume. Soda is the #1 source of sugar in the American diet. The average teen in America consumes 750 cans of soda a year. Soda contributes to about 10% of calories in the American diet. 

According to the USDA, in 1983 boys consumed more than twice as much milk than soft drinks, and girls consumed 50% more milk than soft drinks. By 1996, boys and girls consumed twice as much soda as milk.  Wow. That's BOYS and GIRLS! Children. This is mind boggling to me. 

Just this week I watched a segment on 20/20 by Diane Sawyer titled "Children of the Mountain" where she interviewed children in eastern Kentucky. She was exploring their schools, their standard of living, coal mining, alcoholism, drug addiction and their diet. Apparently folks in the mountains of Kentucky are addicted to Mountain Dew. Adults are putting the stuff in sippy cups! This is the children's main beverage. When a traveling dentist featured in the show (who gives children free dental care) asked children whose teeth were rotting (brown and misshapen) what they drank, the children responded "Mountain Dew". Not "milk, juice, water and Mountain Dew". Nope. Just "Mountain Dew".  As an aside, the folks at Pepsi who make Mountain Dew came out (trying to put a damper on this public relations nightmare) and explained that they were concerned "about overuse or misuse of the soda by small children" and promised to buy the traveling dentist an additional van to compliment the traveling dentist office (built on a 18 wheeler flatbed truck). This was after making a hideous statement claiming that Diane Sawyer's news was " . . . old irresponsible news . . . " and that " . . . it was preposterous to blame soft drinks or any one food for poor dental health". Really? Then how about diabetes? 

This is not just relegated to the mountains of Kentucky however. We followed our long time pediatrician to a clinic when he had to close his office. The pediatric clinic serves a lot of low income, inner-city families. When we went there recently, our pediatrician explained that there was an incredible pediatric dental office upstairs. He added that this was a good thing and a necessity because so many of the children were given so much sugar in their diet that their teeth were rotting. Children would go into the clinic and have multiple teeth pulled at their first visit. Sad. 

Since Benjamin was a baby our pediatrician has encouraged us to serve only milk and water to our children for beverages. Our pediatrician has discouraged us from giving our children juice because of it's highly concentrated sugar content (albeit from fruit). 

What are we thinking? Why are we consuming all of this stuff? It's an addiction to caffeine and sugar. There is no nutritional value in soda -- (and diet soda is just as bad thanks to all of the artificial sweeteners). Water from the tap is pretty much free -- even if you get a water bill -- and has more regulations to pass than bottled water for safety.  Mountain Dew incidentally has 50% more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi, and has a high acid level making the risk for tooth decay even worse.

One of the things that Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore's Dilemma is the lack of nutritional value per calorie when we are eating processed foods with (even without) HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). There is wisdom in eating unprocessed, whole foods. If you are looking for nutritional value, whole foods are less expensive. Sadly, an unhealthy meal from McDonald's with very little nutritional value and plenty of unhealthy ingredients, is very inexpensive. But processed foods with little nutritional value leave you unsatisfied and wanting more. Why are Americans suffering from obesity and diabetes? Gee, isn't it obvious?

What do we have on hand to drink in our home for our children? Water (filtered, from the well) and Milk, from the local milkman.  What do we have on hand to drink in our home for the adults? Water, Milk, Green Tea, Herbal Teas, Coffee (our one cup a day!) and Red Wine. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seed Progress!

Starting your own seeds continued . . . 

As you can see, my leeks and onions have germinated and poked up through the soil. How wonderful! The other benefit of starting your own seeds is seeing that spring is coming in a very tangible (and hopeful!) way. 

A lot of books suggest watering your seeds from the bottom -- where you put water in the bottom tray and let it soak up through the soil and roots. That sounds good, and I get the concept, however after trying it on and off for years I always find that the water doesn't soak up evenly. So you have one side that's managed to get drenched, the other looks like one step from the Sahara desert -- or you'll have 3-8 cubicles that are bone dry. If I water from the top I feel like I have a lot more control and the "failure" rate is zero. I like those odds better. :)
I have started my tomatoes, eggplant and celery. As I've mentioned in a previous post, after starting my seeds (like tomatoes) 8 weeks before the last frost date -- as instructed in books and on the seed packets -- they were only two inches tall (at best) by the time I planted them. Too small. I think this is partly because it was too cold downstairs, but I'm not willing to have mini plants again this year. So -- I'm planting earlier. We'll see how it goes.
Some time this week, I will start my pepper seeds. I am planning on soaking them (for about 8 hours) before planting them. I did that with my tomato seeds and they are already starting to sprout. Exciting!!

It's not to late to start your own! Start small. But, get started! 

During school vacation week, it's a great thing to do with your kids. The younger ones can help stir water into the dirt, and scoop it into the flats. The older ones can drop the seeds into the holes that you make (at the right depth). It's surprising to learn how many children don't understand where their food comes from. You don't need a huge garden. Start with a small raised bed, or a small bed along the side of your house, or even some planters on your patio or porch. 

Have fun!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Old Fashioned 10 Miler!

We did it girls! Yesterday 20+ of us (some ladies met us at the race) drove to Foxboro, MA and ran The Old Fashioned 10 Miler! We all finished and were proud to have conquered the very hilly course. I am stooped down in the front row with the navy jacket on. I ran with Katie (2nd row, right side with the maroon jacket on) and Liz (2nd row, left side with pink jacket on). We were a good team and managed to keep up 10 minute miles through out the race. 

This all started for me after committing to exercising more regularly in the new year. Katie (friend and neighbor) invited me to join this running group of gals and it's been fabulous. Not only have I learned that you can run outside in the winter, but it's actually quite enjoyable. Especially when you are running with friends you can talk to! 
See, look at us, don't we look happy after finishing our 10 mile run?! 
You betcha!

Here I am with Katie. We literally sprinted to the finish together once we (finally) had the line in view. (Note to self: over-smiling is not a good look for you. Not the best picture of me (ha!) but I was happy and proud.)
Snacking on free food after the race . . . 

Way to go team! It was a blast! 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's a wonderful thing when . . .

your child learns to buckle him or herself into their car seat! Isn't it fabulous? The joy of being able to go around to your car door without opening your child's door, standing there in the cold and wind while they climb in, then leaning over with 5 things in your arms to buckle them in. Ripley has just learned. He was egged on by a rather -- less than positive remark -- from his older brother, Benjamin. Something to the effect that "BBBIIIIIGGGGG boys know how to buckle their own seat belts." Well, that's all that Ripley needed. I have to say that he has more patience than me. In the beginning (of the week) he would struggle with the belt over and over again until he got it. Meanwhile, I was steaming in the front seat wanting to get underway. Ripley would try 2 times, start talking to his brother, try again, talk to me, try, look out the window . . . you get the idea. But, after several days, he's now gotten it! Wonderful. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Game Night - Date Night

Last night Victor and I scheduled a date night to celebrate Valentine's Day early. We don't go out on Valentine's Day anymore. The restaurants are mobbed, many places have a "fixed" menu - so you can't order your favorite thing - and because of the high volume, the food just isn't as good. We went up to "The Hill" -- which is the Italian District here in Providence. We went to a sheeshier place, Siena -- it wasn't outrageously expensive or anything, it was just hoppin' happenin' and had a mood. The place was packed. Of course I thought to myself, "OK, just where is the recession?" Rhode Island has one of the worst unemployment rates  in the country. Anyway, after dinner Victor and I decided we were better off with the local Italian joint we went to last time, Andino's. Nothing fancy, but everything tastes like it was cooked by your friend's Italian grandmother. (Read about it at the bottom of this post.)

We scheduled our date night for 7pm. Before we went out, we spent some time with the kids. I made homemade pizza using the 5 minute bread recipe that I heard about through Kristi's Blog. I have to say, it really is terrific. Especially for speed. You basically make a vat of bread dough, then pull off what you need that day. The rest of the dough just sits in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, ready to be used. Cool eh? Read about how to do it at Plain Old Kristi. I cooked the pizza at 450 degrees F for about 15 minutes. I had frozen a little bit of marinara left over from pasta, so I used that on the pizza. Yum.
We played an air hockey tournament, and a game of Parcheesi. 
As an aside, yesterday I made blueberry yogurt with honey. Yum. Yum. Yum. I just added about one cup of thawed frozen blueberries and some honey to taste, and stir. Wow was it good. Ripley asked after lunch when he'd be able to have more blueberry yogurt. Tomorrow at breakfast, I told him. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Frugal Living - Cutting Your Children's Hair

My boys could count the amount of times they've been to a professional hair "salon" on their two hands -- even Benjamin, and he's 9! My dad grew up with his father cutting his hair - down at the farm - in Maryland. So, when my mom and dad got married, my grandfather (aka: Gramp), taught her how to do it. She would need to know after all, right? Therefore, the tradition was continued when I was growing up. Mom always cut my father's and brother's hair.(As an aside, my mother tried to cut my hair once. She has blond stick straight hair and I have brown very curly, frizzy hair. No knowing the idiosyncrasies  of curly hair, she gave me the haircut she'd always had when she was little - A Buster Brown haircut, with bangs. Of course those cute little bangs shrank up to my hairline and it wasn't pretty. At some point, she gave up. But really with girls curly hair just keep it long and stay away from bangs and you'll be all set!) When I had Benjamin, going to a hair salon didn't cross my mind. Even at the cheapest of places, a cut costs about 8$, plus tip. $20 can buy an awful lot of food. 

So, last night after homework and dinner, we sat down to watch a little Little House in the Prairie and cut hair. Even though I'm not a big fan of the television, it's a fabulous tool for cutting your children's hair. 

I have had my supplies for years now, so they have long since paid for themselves. Plus, hair scissors (a must), comb, cape (well worth it!), and buzzers just aren't that expensive. Depending on how many children you have, they will pay for themselves in a month or two. I even gave Victor's hair a "clean-up". 

In an effort to save money during these uncertain times, I've decided to grow my hair out again. When I look through our expenses, I just can't stomach spending $60 to get a trim. That's how much my gal costs. The grays on the other hand . . . I always thought I'd go "natural". That was before I started getting grey hair. However, I am considering asking a girlfriend to do a hair-swap. You dye mine, I'll dye yours. Currently, I pay $60 a month for the "good-bye grays".

For Boys:
  1. First: Cut the hair line. Be careful of the ears.
  2. Second: Buzz the sides, set on medium.
  3. Third: Trim uniformly working from front to back in a pattern from ear-to-ear (across). Keeping the hair longer at the top and shorter at the sides.
  4. Forth: Check for evenness by trimming uniformly, working from one side to the other in a pattern from the back of the head to the forehead. 
Girls would be a lot simpler, just keep it even all the way around, and if her hair is straight you can give her some bangs. Presto! 

On completely different subject: Benjamin had another swim meet this weekend. Doesn't he look happy? He loves to swim. He loves the competition, the team support, but also the independence of the sport. Plus, he works off all of that pent-up energy! It's so fabulous to see all of the kids cheering each other on. 
And Ripley did a little, er . . . decorating over the weekend. Isn't this bear cute?
Well, Ripley decided he needed a paint job. Good grief.