Thursday, August 30, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Is Parenting Permanent Damage?

An article in MSN (via Redbook) states that an infant's cries and feedback actually cause a mother's brain to change in order to become a better parent for his specific needs. So, it's my brain, too? Not just our lifestyle, sex life, financial situation, vocabulary and sleep patterns? Come to think of it, I have noticed some new traits in myself since becoming a parent. I had chalked these up to conditioning from learned helplessness.
  1. I've grown accustomed to being sticky all the time. I don't even try to figure out the source anymore.
  2. I will leave the house in much the same state as when I got up, bed head and all. More than once, I have found out later that part of my clothing was on inside out. On a good day, it's just my underwear.
  3. I no longer cringe at consuming partially eaten food off her plate, some bits I look forward to.
  4. I've used the car window as a hair dryer on my commute. And thought the resulting "style" looked okay.
  5. I have a remarkable threshold for caffeine that defies scientific reason.
  6. I've memorized every one of the Clifford books, and now make up new story lines just to amuse myself.
  7. I like watching Old School Sesame Street more than my child does.
  8. I have suddenly remembered all the lyrics to stupid childhood songs. And I thought that trick was only good for the theme song to Gilligan's Island.
  9. I will sing. In public. And this is frightening to all of us. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
  10. I can continue about my day no matter what and how much of a substance (usually, not always, food) has been spilled on me.
  11. I remembered how funny it is to fart out loud (yeah, in public) and shout, "I pooted!" while laughing.
  12. I have more fun than my child does when we play chase through the house. I worry about having to grow up and play dolls soon, 'cause that game will require me to think.
  13. I eat things off the floor even though I am the only one who knows just how filthy it is. We don't have a dog.
If anyone has seen the full study from this research, please let me know. I am quite concerned that some of these changes may be permanent.

You can find a link to this post (I hope) and others at the upcoming week's carnivals. Last week's features were mentioned in:

The Carnival of the Recipes: Let's-Do-Lunch Edition
The Carnival of Family Life, Dubai Edition
The Vegetarian Carnival #6
91st Carnival of the Green at Green Options

Summer Freeze

This September, the Eat Local Challenge is offering a whole range of ways to participate in the ELC September Challenge. With so many ways to participate, we can all join in the experience. You should check this opportunity out at the Eat Local Challenge site.

This year's challenge has special emphasis on learning how to preserve your locally grown food for winter. I decided to put up some corn and beans so that I would have more vegetables on my Local Thanksgiving table. The rest of the stored produce can be used for soups and stews this cold winter. You can find my directions for preparing and freezing your fresh corn and green beans at the Eat Local Challenge site.

Purple Hull Peas and Ham

“What’s all this? Politics, parenting, humor? I thought I was going to get recipes here, Woman.”

Yeah, yeah. It’s a kitchen. Kitchens are places for food, yes, but have you ever noticed that at every gathering, people always end up in the kitchen? It’s a place where life happens, this kitchen, the place where we are all instinctively drawn to share that life together. Like family. So, pull up a chair, kick off your shoes and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine depending on when you arrived here. You can even help cook if you want. You are family now, afterall.

Because we do food around here. Lots of food. Lately, you can sit at the table and help shell some peas while we chat. I have just discovered the joy of fresh-shelled peas and beans. I sat up alone one night (where were you?) and shelled a pound of purple hull peas. I thought, this must have been a great excuse to just sit and talk, this pea shelling thing. It doesn’t get in the way of talking, and you are forced to just “set a few” and be together. Why don’t we have those kinds of activities anymore? Oh yeah, TV. Damn that infernal box. I think we will just leave it off and shell peas.

I picked up the purple hull peas on impulse. I had no idea what they were. I just wanted to know if fresh shell peas (beans) tasted substantially better than dried ones. Turns out, the purple hulls are in the same family as southern peas like black-eyed peas and crowder peas. They are thought to have originated in Africa and to have arrived here with the slave trade. Purple hulls are said to be the tastiest of the “southern peas” as well. I was surprised to find out there is an entire Purple Hull Pea Festival held in June, and as the web site describes it (

“For most of us who were raised in this area, growing purple hull peas is sort of second nature. We've been doing it since we were youngun's, and it's sort of like learning to spotlight deer - you never really forget.”

Definitely southern. So, I reached deep in my own rural roots and ruminated a bit on what to do with my freshly-shelled peas and could only figure on one dish. It needed to be basic soul food, a real comfort dish. Something involving parts of animals not normally used by most of us post-megamart with its gleaming pre-packaged, watered and additive-added ham steaks. Something more like “hog jowl” or “ham hock.” Yeah.

Purple Hull Peas and Ham
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This turned out so well that people at work were following me down the hall to find out what my lunch was. The Kiddo took a couple dainty bites, then dived in like I’d starved her for a week. Comfort food works that way. There were no leftovers to photograph.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blame it on Sesame Street

In an effort to keep commercial TV at bay, I bought the Kiddo the "Old School" Sesame Street DVDs. These were the first years of the show that aired from 1969 to 1972. In other words, the years that I watched the program. While I remembered a few things like Kermit singing "Bein' Green" (Kermit was my favorite), I never "got" how amazing the show was, what groundbreaking social commentary it provided.

In the clips of the show, people like Jackie Robinson, Johnny Cash and Lou Rawls appear. Two male characters live together. Everyone, including the monsters, had emotions — not just vapid happiness. The cast was among the first multi-racial casts to ever appear on television. And was shown living in harmony in a single community. In 1969. Jesse Jackson appears with a group of children, leading a chant, "I may be small, but I AM SOMEBODY. I may be on welfare, but I AM SOMEBODY. I may be black, brown, or white, but I AM SOMEBODY."

If that was not enough, the first episode showed a real life clip on where milk comes from. Folk music in the background sings, "Oh, Cow ..." softly as the sun rises on content cows with calves eating grass in the pasture. The farmer leads them gently into the barn for milking, patting them. I nearly cried.

This is stark contrast to the big dairy-sponsored film at the petting zoo that announces cows eat Corn! and shows how great technology is that puts the cows on a big rotating platform to be milked by the hundred at once, looking like cogs on a factory wheel.

What's happened to us in the last nearly 40 years? Not just the loss of reverence for our food animals, but the lack of a stand for real change in the world. The mass commercialization of a show that was once so altruistic and bold?

Elmo showed up, and the whole street drank the wrong kool-aid. Character licensing, corporate sponsorships, mass marketing. Nick Jr. and children's TV for profit. In the changes I see in just one children's show, I see the downward spiral of the last four decades. The hope and the efforts of that first Sesame Street cast left unanswered.

I miss you, Kermit. I still believe. I am hoping that we are starting back down that better path in the wake of disillusionment so similar to what was going on in 1969 that it is frightening. Now that I am grown, maybe it's up to me, to my generation, the target of that first great message, to bring it back.

China Bans Buddhist Monks from Reincarnating

Yeah, right. Now, how does that regulatory process work? How do you know who to arrest?
The whole story is even more infuriating. Oh, China. Obviously, they played with their own toys coated in lead-based paint as children.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

A Different Label to Read

I saw an interesting article on the front page of my local newspaper recently. The article gave part of the blame for the lead-based painted toys from China on the Bush administration.

Now, I am all about blaming Dubya when I can, but how could these two things be related? It seems, the article suggests, that the Bush administration stalled efforts to get greater regulations on imported children's products, and also shifted the Consumer Product Safety Commission's efforts to a more manufacturer-friendly path. Even when that path included allowing lead-based paint in toys to slip through the system.

China's deputy director of global trade, Guo Li Sheng, is currently pushing for international rules that would allow lead-based paint on children's products. His argument is that labeling the products would be adequate instead.

The thing is, Mattel never allowed for lead paint to be used in the manufacture of its toys. The paint was just cheaper to use, so the Chinese manufacturer used it.

Now, let's add logic to the mix:

Logically, Mattel would never know (unless they tested, and did) that the toys contain lead since that was not part of the specifications provided to the Chinese manufacturer. Logically, no toy company would want to try and sell toys labeled as containing lead either, since they would not sell in the first place. Labeling is not a good solution. Thus, if toys made in China may contain lead, and won't be labeled, there is only one logical thing for us parents to do.

Just look for the label that says "Made in China." And leave it on the shelf.

They're our children. It's our decision. The powers that be don't care about our children's safety, we do.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Perfect Summer Tomato Soup

After dueling with the mandoline while trying to make a zucchini gratin, (the mandoline won), I figured comfort food was in order.

I like the gratin recipe, but am not in love with it. I'll be working on that one next weekend! Hopefully, I will keep all of what's left of my thumb next time.

"Okay, ER or dinner? Hmmm, got company coming. Stitches are expensive ..."

Brilliantly cruel piece of kitchen gear that mandoline.

Okay, so comfort food! This recipe requires just a handful of ingredients, but a bit of time. You will need to peel the tomatoes. The easy way to do this is to cut a half-inch by half-inch "x" in the bottom of each tomato. Have a large pot of boiling water and a larger bowl of ice water ready. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water (tongs are handy, no need to add burns to other disfigurements). Bring back to a boil by putting the lid on as this helps get the temp back up. Remove the tomatoes (tongs, please) and put each immediately into the ice water for at least one minute. The peel will pull away easily from the flesh.

At this point you will want to core, seed and dice the tomatoes. Coring removes the hard whitish center, which is important to do. Seeding is also important to get rid of the excess moisture and seeds. Left in the tomato, this "goo" will make the soup runny instead of thick and creamy. You want to just have the meat of the tomato. You can seed tomatoes by cutting in half, and scooping out the seeds and gel, and also giving it a gentle squeeze. Will splatter, could stain, be warned.

Seems like a lot of prep work, but it is well worth it. The only other chopping is a third of a cup of fresh basil. Here's the ingredients:

Perfect Summer Tomato Soup
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

My child will drink two helping of this recipe. I cheat a bit and call it "pizza soup" since her favorite pizza is Margherita with fresh tomatoes and basil. Served with crusty bread, it's about as close to pizza soup as you can get.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Terrible" Karma

I’ve taken a couple Thursdays off from parent humor duty. I owe you guys.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this parenting thing, I got blindsided by the Terrible Twos. Actually more like blindsided, run over, backed-over again, then hit in the head with the car door as I raised up from the pavement. Wow.

It seems as if my sweet little one is quite the independent thinker. If she’s not likin’ the status quo, she just gets up and does her own thing. And leads others down the path with her.

Naturally, I see this capacity for questioning authority as a good thing — in about twenty years. I also know, possibly, how she came by the trait. Somewhere in heaven, my father is laughing at me. Hard.

Down here, paybacks are hell. There are two approaches to handling the Terrible Twos. There is the illusive "right way." And there is the tempting but misguided path. Oh, so tempting. Oh, so misguided.

Tempting, But Very Misguided:
1. Drink. Heavily.
2. Throw your own tantrum. See if it works for you.
3. Earplugs, those really expensive noise-reduction ones. Ahhhh.
4. The velcro toddler suit and matching fuzzy time-out chair. Patent pending. Earplugs sold separately, see above.
5. A pocket recorder that repeats automatically. The first time you answer a “Why?” you can just play the recording for the next twelve times it’s asked again.
6. A t-shirt to wear on errands, just in case, that says, “No, this is NOT my child.” No one has to know the truth.
7. Pound your head against the wall until the whining stops, or you get knocked out. Either way, you get a little peace and quiet.
8. Give in to get five minutes of rest. And pay for it the rest of your natural born life.

Hmmm. Nope, not such good ideas. I guess I am just going to have to suck it up and burn the bad karma from my own Terrible days.

Here is what I am currently thinking is my “Right Way.” Subject to change. Daily. Hourly. Note, I did not say "the" or "our." I have enough on my hands, I don't have time to give advice like I know what I am doing. Clearly, I'm the student here. Teach me.

My "Right Way:"
  1. I have to stop repeating myself. After the first, “No, thank you, put that down!” the other five repeats just made the game more fun. I was driving myself nuts. The Kiddo was helping.

    These days, if I don’t get a response on the first try, I help. As in, “Please put that glass down, or Mommy can help you.” Or, asking, while extending a gentle hand over hers to help her put the wine glass back on the counter and to stop her from trying to drink the backwash left in it. Hey, it's my backwash, I should get to drink it.

    What I’ve learned is that my independent Kiddo would rather comply than miss out on doing something for herself. Man, is it nice not to have to listen to myself, too. So freakin’ nice.

  2. I need to keep it shorter. I think I was getting beaten up with the “Why” so long that I did too much explaining up front. You really can't cover your ass with a two-year-old.

    I finally realized this comes out like the Far Side cartoon, you know the one: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah …” These days, I try to write the script for the Short Attention Span Theater. And keep the instructions crystal clear. I find this also works at the office. My career is going to skyrocket.

  3. The polite “Okay?” at the end of the requests was killing the whole authority voice thing. I had to make the offer into something that could not be refused.

  4. I am not a yeller by nature, so I’ve done pretty well at the whole modeling calm thing. Sometimes my “calm” comes out more like “exhaustion and a quiet slip over the brink of sanity,” but it’s calm.

  5. After a rough day, this one is hard, but really important. I have to remember to make things fun, or at least pleasant. It all just works so much better. However, using the Cookie Monster voice is making me sound like I have a three-pack-a-day habit.

  6. Focus. Hmmm. How many times have I said that word to my child?! This time it’s for me. I need to do a better job of listening to her when I am busy. Everyone likes being heard, not just Mommy. I admit, I can't always understand her, but she knows I am trying.

So, I am going to practice. And practice. If I am lucky, I might get it down by the time the Kiddo reaches puberty and all the rules change on me again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Big Events in a Small City

I've been having a lot of Atlas Shrugged days lately. These are the days where I look at the world around me and wonder how it all got so insane and illogical. Days that prompt last Thursday's 13 rants. It did not help my mood when Dubya himself managed to make me an hour late for work just because of his choice of breakfast spots.

In fact, as I sat there in traffic watching the motorcade go by, the dark cloud lowered even more. We've had a parade of other political figures arriving — Hillary, Obama, John McCain. And yet, none of this really cranked up my excite-o-meter. Now, had Mr. Bush decided to visit me in my hometown to announce his resignation, that, my friends, would have been one helluva party. Save the date, kids, we have to hope.

No such luck. Yet still, to my great fortune, our city was graced with another group of visitors, ones that I was very excited to meet indeed. The Sustainable Table, an organization that promotes and supports sustainable food choices, made a stop here on their Eat Well Guided Tour. The day's events included lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, farm tours, a dinner at another favorite place, and a film festival.

I was fortunate enough to be at the lunch tables, along with so many others in our food community including farmers, chefs, activists and journalists. As I looked around the room and saw all of these people together, I got such a feeling of hope, of momentum, of shared goals and efforts. I stopped feeling so alone and started feeling empowered again. I realized something very important.

You see, while I can't control what China is putting in food or toys, what the federal government does (or does not do) to the farm bill, the war in Iraq, Dick Cheney in general ... so many things I cannot control ... I can control my own choices, my support for my community, for a sustainable future. I can choose to support local farmers. And, best of all, that these choices do make a difference. That felt really good. Really, really good.

At that point, Diane Hatz, Founder/Director, Sustainable Table; Executive Producer, The Meatrix stood up to speak about the Eat Well Tour. She spoke about this same feeling happening to her, nearly bringing her to tears, in all the places that she visited. She spoke of all the people across the country who shared this same goal and vision. Everyday people, like you and I, together. My heart swelled even more. She said that the "movement has already moved. It's a lifestyle now. It's mainstream."

Diane Hatz has kindly agreed to let me interview her post tour, so look forward to that soon!

I had the great fortune of sitting with Diane, and also with Simran Sethi, who writes and co-hosts Sundance Channel's "The Green". Sethi will be joining the tour as it makes its way to Minneapolis. She is as lovely and warm as her photo appears. It was an extraordinary lunch. The food was good, too!

At the meal's end, I hesitated, my poor brain could not form a logical sentence. I kind of stood there like an idiot. (Sorry, Diane). I just didn't want it to end. I was ready to pack a bag, grab the family, and get on the bus. For good. But the tour had to leave.

The good news is that the rest of these amazing people; the farmers, activists, chefs, believers, are staying. Right. Here.

Oh, and Dubya got on his plane, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Some Like it Hot

So, what do you cook when it is over 100 degrees outside? Nothing if you can help it.

But still the tomatoes and peppers show up at the market and in the CSA bag. It's a good time to make fresh salsa.

Now, some people cook salsa, and I have been known to roast my jalapenos and tomatoes for some added flavor, but basic salsa tastes great fresh, especially when the vegetables are straight out of the garden or field.

Fresh Salsa
3 large tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
1 small red onion diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 green pepper or mild green chile, seeded and diced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno, cored, seeded and diced (2 for hot)
1/2 tbs. vinegar
1 tsp. lime juice
kosher salt to taste

Once everything but the garlic and cilantro has been chopped and measured and put in a bowl, take about 1/3 of the mixture and place in the workbowl of a food processor. Add the whole garlic cloves. Pulse until chopped fine, but not total puree. Add the mixture back to the bowl, add the cilantro and adjust the salt to taste. You can adjust the heat by adding an extra pepper (or using more mild green chile), or even using a hotter variety of pepper, right up to a habernero, if you can take the heat. I also like to use yellow, orange, green and red tomatoes for extra color and flavor instead of all red ones.

For roasted salsa:
Do not dice the tomatoes, onion or the peppers yet. Quarter all of these instead. Toss with a bit of olive oil, place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 450 degree oven until the vegetables start to brown and caramelize a bit. Let cool, then dice all and proceed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Random Rants

I've been so busy lately, I had not read much of the news. Maybe that was a good thing. Or maybe trying to run four miles in the 112-degree heat index just blew a fuse. Here's a recap:

  1. The Farm Bill got shredded, even after tons of email asking the House to pass an effective bill. It's in the hands of the Senate now. I'm not an optimist. I have a letter from my senator in hand. It's one of those frustrating letters that basically says, "Yeah, I got your letter. I am not promising to do anything about it." This is followed by a cryptic message (exact quote):

    "While the Federal Government does play an essential role — especially in the areas of defense, commerce and transportation — I do believe that many other important decisions are better made at the local level where individuals have faces, and are more than just numbers or statistics."

    WTF? He IS my representation of local interests at the federal level. I am taking this to mean that he is just going to go with what the large-scale lobbyists want, and we'll just have to fend for ourselves back here at "the local level." My tax dollars in action.

    We need to keep an eye on what these guys are up to at the federal level. I sent this guy an email and told him I was watching his vote, and my own would be based on it. I guess that puts me on a list somewhere so Dick Cheney can read my email now.

  2. Dick, in case you are reading, you are a blight on humanity. I wish daily for impeachment of you and your sidekick, Bush. Thought I would make it really clear since you are busy and all.

  3. My favorite rant source, China, adds THREE to the rant list this week. First, let's talk Mattel. Here's a good quote from the New York Times:

    “If I went down the shelves of Wal-Mart and tested everything, I’m going to find serious problems,” said Sean McGowan, managing director and the toy analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. “The idea that Mattel — with its high standards — has a bigger problem than everybody else is laughable. If we don’t see an increase of recalls in this industry, then it’s a case of denial.”

    True. See, I do fault Mattel for having so many things slip through in the first place. But I do commend their efforts at cleaning up the mess. I am sure, as the quote suggests, that other toy manufacturers are just slinking away to the corner until the storm passes. And that sucks.

  4. Baby bibs made in China, contaminated with lead. See above. But read this one too, particularly the statement by Kathleen Waugh of Toys R' Us. That reeks a bit like the pig farm down the road from my childhood home.

  5. Okay, lousy segue, but a serious issue regarding a new swine flu happening in China. The disease is devastating hog populations in 25 of China's 33 provinces and spreads rapidly leaving tons of deaths in it's wake. China has not fessed up to the issue and the magnitude, surprise, raising international concern.

    “They haven’t really explained what this virus is,” says Federico A. Zuckermann, a professor of immunology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. “This is like SARS. They haven’t sent samples to any international body. This is really irresponsible of China. This thing could get out and affect everyone.”

    Irresponsible? China? No! I can't imagine.

  6. Speaking of pigs, I caught a bit of Food Network the other night. It was a commercial with Paula Deen's syrupy southern accent telling us, "Y'all just check out my yummy pork recipes at the Smithfield Farms web site." Ali at Cleaner Plate Club first alerted me to Smithfield's status as one of the worst environmental polluters in our nation.

    Food Network, shame on you. You were hanging by a thread when you canceled Mario's cooking show, and fired Sara Moulton while crap like "Unwrapped's" tribute to processed junk food stays on the air. Teetering on the edge with your banal "Next Food Network Star." Now this. I have lost faith in you. I still love you, Alton. I will miss you since I am no longer going to watch your channel.

    Yeah, since I don't watch TV much, this rant matters as much to FN as did my letters on the Farm Bill to my representatives. Not. At. All. I'm still going to write them.

  7. Despite legislation that mandated wellness programs and nutrition reforms for schools, 23 states, including mine, still received an "F" in the Center for Science in the Public Interest's review of school food programs. While the lunch itself has to adhere to 30-year-old food pyramid guidelines, the ala carte and vending machine foods are still crap.

  8. Fast food brings us a new menu item with eight slices of bacon, four slices of cheese, two "beef" patties on white bread. Competitive chains step up with the "Baconater." A whole day's calories in a wrapper. Thanks for paying attention to the obesity epidemic, guys.

    Tell you what, why not just make a few extra bucks by selling ad space on the wrappers for cardiologists? How about this ad:

    "Chest pain? Numbness? Shortness of Breath? That's not indigestion, Buddy, that's a heart attack! Call Dr. Feelgood now, buy two bypasses, get the third for free."

    Scary thing? The menu items are a response to demand. Healthy food does not sell.

  9. FDA is reevaluating the safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medications for children under the age of 2. Drug makers respond by trying to deny there is an issue.

    From the NYTimes article:

    "But the drugs’ makers say that the F.D.A. approved the drugs because they are safe and effective. Virginia Cox, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said that the drugs’ labels already advised against their use in children under the age of 2 unless a doctor approved. Ms. Cox said there was no need to raise this age limit to 6.

    Some of the drugs have drawings or pictures of infants in diapers on their labels."

  10. Here's an interesting connection: CARE, one of the largest charities in the world, turned down $45 million worth of food assistance from the U.S. Their reasoning was that the commodities shipped prevented the African farmers from succeeding by having to compete with the U.S.-provided grains and commodities.

    "CARE’s decision is focused on the practice of selling tons of often heavily subsidized American farm products in African countries that in some cases, it says, compete with the crops of struggling local farmers."

    So, I guess the screwed up Farm Bill is harming local farmers in Africa as well as our own country with the exact same subsidized industrial-farmed crops? Niiiice.

  11. Ah, Disney. Just as I was seeing a ray of hope post-Ratatouille. University of Washington researchers published a new study that suggested that infants and toddlers under two were not only receiving no IQ benefit from Baby Einstein programming, but that the children's exposure to the media may actually have caused a slower rate of language development. Disney's CEO Robert Iger (Disney owns Baby Einstein) wrote the researchers and demanded that the press release for the study be retracted. Disney has yet to provide valid proof that the study is wrong, or that the product has any of its claimed benefits.

    The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood invites you to email Disney yourself and request such proof. C'mon, you know you want to do it. How many crappy food products and movie-related toys have you been forced to buy? Go ahead, poke the mouse.

  12. A new study by Stanford researcher, Dr. Tom Robinson, showed that pre-schoolers' perception of taste was altered by the packaging. The children in the study consistently preferred foods wrapped in McDonald's packaging even though the foods were identical.

  13. For lucky 13, I have to just turn it over to someone who is vastly superior in the whole "rant genre." Here's a personal favorite from Mark Morford (I love this man) titled, "Scooter Libby in Hell: What do Dick Cheney, Paris Hilton, "The Sopranos" and colon spasms have in common? Find out here!"

    Dick, you still reading? Go to bed already, it's after midnight there. Uh, while you are up, can you explain your complete 180 on war in Iraq since 1992? You sounded so, well, sane in that video clip.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

I went for a run (well, more of a walk) today at noon. It was friggin' 112 heat index. Think cool thoughts. Snow. Mountains. Giant moguls and two feet of powder. Think.

A Word of Thanks

Sending a thank you to the carnival hosts for doing a great job reviewing and managing all the entries and links:

Vegetarian Blog Carnival at Country Kitchen Pantry
Super-Mommies Humor at The Adventures of Super Mommy and Spit-Up Boy

Where Do Recipes Come From?

I'd like to say that I just dream up every thing I cook with no help at all. But, I don't, and frankly, even the best chefs don't either. All the things that go into creating a recipe are the things we learn as we go. The greatest dishes on menus at four-star restaurants draw from the same principles as those in use for hundreds of years. Chances are, each of us has created, or at least recreated a recipe without even realizing it.

Whether it's that extra bit of cinnamon in your sticky buns, or adding a pinch more of this and a pinch less of that, it's all part of the process. Some recipes here in the site are inspired and really original, many are just me saying, hey, you could make this healthier if you just added this and used less of that. There is no magic trick.

That said, I invite you to create your own adjustments to a recipe. I started with the one for Basil-Corn Pudding from Gourmet. Their version used an entire cup of cream, four eggs, a cup of milk — so as much dairy as there was corn. I lightened it by taking away half the cream, using only 3/4 cups of two percent milk, and one less egg. To keep the body with less pudding in there, I used kernels from an additional ear of corn, plus 1 tbs. of corn meal, and an extra bit of sweet using 1 tbs. of honey. It's a basic enough dish that you can really create your own version easily.

So, experiment. Go spicy with green chiles instead of basil, go sweet with more sugar or honey, add back the butterfat for decadent, whatever. Post a comment and let me know what you came up with. With fresh corn in season, sweet and cheap, it's a great time to play around in the kitchen (okay, maybe next week AFTER the 100-degree heat wave is over ...)

Baked Corn and Basil
Kernels and milk from seven ears of fresh corn
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup two percent milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup basil
1 tbs. corn meal
3 tbs. flour
1 tbs. sugar
1 tbs. honey
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350.

Pulse half the corn in food processor until chopped fine, but not total mush. Add basil and pulse a couple more times until chopped. Put back in bowl with other corn. Add the dry ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal and pepper. Mix. Add honey. Add the eggs and cream and milk and fold together. Pour into a two-and-a-half quart shallow baking dish. Bake in oven for about one hour until edges are puffed and brown and center is set. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. You can also use individual ramekins to make this a nice dinner party dish.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Meaning in Life

I was all fired up on Thursday to do a good "13" rant, just had to stop by my sister's and see my nephews first — and survive another evening of Terrible Twos. I wasn't going to go. Finally, I figured, aw, what the hell, maybe we need a change of scenery and off we went.

The Terrible Twos vanished in a moment as my child found herself passed between four older, and adoring, cousins. She was entertained, carried, and doted on in general. And, basking in it. I felt my insides relax. The evening found Kiddo and I, her four cousins, my sister and brother-in-law, and a couple other kids around the family table.

We bowed our heads and said Grace. We laughed and ate together, talking about everything. It was what I call Happy Chaos. I love this, I love the family table, even when I found it as a stranger in a strange land and was welcomed there. Happy Chaos is universal bliss.

I thought, sitting there, "This is it. This is the dream. This is what matters." And the rant just vanished.

No Logic Here

In reading a New York Times article about the coming ethanol boom, it occurred to me that this whole approach is short-sighted and makes little sense. Here, an excerpt from the article:

"In short, the ethanol boom is accelerating the inequity in the rural landscape. The high price of corn — and the prospect of continued huge demand — doesn’t benefit everyone equally. It gives bigger, richer farmers and outside investors the ability to outcompete their smaller neighbors. It cuts young farmers hoping to get a start out of the equation entirely. It reduces diversity in crops and in farm size."

By removing diversity in crops and turning over our farms to ethanol production, we are only trading the import of fossil fuels for importing foods. And, we've seen from China, our third largest imported food source, what that means for food safety and quality.

It's not a valid solution: risking your health by relying on imported foods so you can keep driving a Hummer to the grocery store that is a half mile away where your food has been shipped from thousands of miles away. There's just no logic here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Burying the Treasure

I'm beat up, and angry both. No, not more crap from China, or maybe it is, I didn't check the label. But then, they don't label food origins, do they? No, this time the frustration is a whole mess of stuff colliding at once.

First, we're going through the Terrible Twos right now. Which, all of you parents know, is a real pain in the butt. Next, as my child moved up to pre-school, she now has to get all of her stars in order to get a reward at the end of the day.

The reward? The coveted treasure? Candy. Oh sure, there are miscellaneous stickers and other items, but once the Kiddo got ahold of that first ever High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup-laden, artificially-colored-flavored sugar bomb ... well, any hopes of steering her toward a boring sticker were toast. And, recently, so are most vegetables on her plate. Ones she used to eat. Cause it's damn hard to sell green beans after a hit of the old HFCS. Damn hard.

Needless to say, with the Terrible Twos in full throttle, stars are hard to come by. Then Mommy gets to be the bad guy on pickup when the Kiddo can't have "treasure." Let me tell you, after an hour HOUR of screaming and all-out tantrum, taking candy from a baby is NOT easy. It downright sucks. After a long day at work, it really sucks. Over a friggin' piece of crap food I do not want her to have in the first place.

No, it is not the school's fault that my kiddo is having normal Terrible Two issues. That's just par for the parent course. I can hack it. It wears me out, but I can hack it.

But. Here's what pisses me off:

Study after study shows
that using candy as a reward does nothing but increase the desire for this substance. Using candy as a reward has already undone part of the work I do to help my child learn how to eat healthy. Frankly, certified educators should know better.

On the outside chance that they didn't, I told them. I printed the information and requested this practice end. You know what I get? "Well, there are other things in the treasure box to choose from."

Yeah, those things aren't nearly as compelling as a sugar blast. And, what kind of reward is it when Mommy is standing over you telling you, "Oh no, you have to take this strange plastic object even if you don't know what it is. You can't have what you want." Yeah, that'll work.

I offered to bring healthier items. I brought organic fruit rollups, no added sugar. They flew out of the box. My child was not excited about them. She gets these at home, bring on the crap! So, that plan failed. And, it was expensive for me to spend $10.00/day for other people's kids to make better choices.

I talked to the teacher. She said she was going to change the system. One reward a week, and a better reward. Good! Hasn't happened. She's trying.

To top it off, this whole delayed gratification thing is tough for an Under-Three to grasp. The association between stars and treasure is just not there yet. So, Mommy is just mean for withholding the goods. Which, as it turns out, also increases a child's desire for the forbidden substance. Probably even more so than the reward system. Double the pleasure. Double Mommy's fun.

To make the whole matter worse, let's review a page from the book on Reinforcement Theory. Using such a reward system, children learn to perform behaviors we want only when there is a reward. No reward, no good behavior. The child never learns to value positive behavior as the true reward. Over time, a child even grows bored with the reward. It loses its value, so the reward has to be increased. It's not a sustainable system, even if the short-term goal is achieved.

My only option at this point is the other "box" at the school. This would be the suggestion box. I attempted this path once, but if at first you don't succeed, flood the friggin' thing until you drive them nuts. Enlist the other moms to do this as well for this school, and all schools. This needs to stop.

It's time to bury the treasure.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ginger-Vanilla Cherry-Berry Cobbler

I don't make dessert that often because I don't get to work out that often. Call it the abstinence form of dieting; if it's not there, I can't eat it. 'Cause if it's there? Oh, it's gone quick.

I decided to try and make one of those drop biscuit cobblers with some cherries and blackberries we had. But I don't like that bland plain old biscuit dough with some sugar as the topping. Calories should taste good. I modified the biscuit topping, and in thinking about a friend, Rachel, I got rid of the egg that some recipes call for. I don't bake enough to take these risks with batter, but I went for it. I figured it would be edible if imperfect. The end result was light, fluffy, delicious biscuits surrounded by just-sweet-enough fruit. I liked it. A lot.

Ginger-Vanilla Cherry-Berry Cobbler
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Brain

I heard about a study published sometime last year, I forget the date, about women's brains shrinking during pregnancy. My first instinct was to laugh and guess that the study was likely done by men with stay at home wives. Here's the actual story and some good commentary on it.

See, I have my own theory on this whole idea. I don't think my brain got any smaller at all, I think that post childbirth, I am now trying to cram so much into it by remembering everything for me, for work, for my spouse and now my child, that there's just a whole lot more to cart around up there. There is no more vast, open space up there to contemplate things such as the meaning of life, the mystery of the universe, or why anyone finds Paris Hilton interesting.

No more space for such pursuits. At. All. Instead, we women must now drag around the following information at all times:
  1. The location and estimated expiration date of every item in the refridgerator at any given moment.
  2. Every social committment, personal calendar of each family member, birthdays of obscure relatives you've never met, and thank you notes required for every occasion throughout the year. Even if you are still trying to get last year's thank yous written.
  3. What the entire family needs from every different store at any given time, every week.
  4. The theme song to Reader Rabbit (or whatever DVD you play for the kiddos). No need to try and remember this, it sticks really well.
  5. What to fix for dinner for every day of the week after you forgot what you really needed from the store or market earlier that week.
  6. Which of the 1,000,000 toys was recently recalled by Mattel that you thought you saw buried under the other 1,000 plastic toys made in China that could be recalled next.
  7. Where you put the 20 lists of other things you need to remember to do.
  8. To breathe. Must remember to breathe.
  9. The complete details of every one of the ten different projects on your work desk at any given time.
  10. The last time each of your household chores was done, and which one most needs to get done next. Has it really been a month for dusting, or can it wait another week?
  11. Every bump, scratch, fever, strange rash, new tooth, illness, vaccination, allergy and any other incident by exact date and location for your child's pediatrician who supposedly keeps these records for you, but doesn't seem to have them.
  12. Which socks match which tie, jacket, shirt and pants in your husband's closet even if most days your personal fashion high point is not having anything on backward, or "too many" wrinkles or food stains in obvious places.
  13. Thirteen things to post on Thursdays.

A Few Notable Links

Mother Earth News has a good article on eating seasonally written by Joel Salatin. For those of you who have read Ominivore's Dilemma, you will recognize Joel as the farmer from Polyface Farm.

Mattel has now recalled 1 million (MILLION) toys due to possible lead paint exposure. Most of these toys are sold under the Fisher-Price label and are intended for those in just the right age to lick or chew on toys. Yes, they were made in China. The full list is on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's web site.

So, a couple must-read articles for the day. The recall list is extensive and includes many Dora and Sesame Street toys.

One more, is this interactive map that shows the growth in obesity rates across the country in the last ten years. Frightening.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Shark Week

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas

My husband came home from dropping off the kiddo at school. He explained that her teacher had told him how she and some other kids would peel up the turf on the playground to look at bugs in the dirt. Often, our child would also eat said bugs and dirt.

Not a shock. My child has always been one of those adventurous kids that put absolutely everything in her mouth except various vegetables at various times. Considering that she is now pre-school age, and drops to the sidewalk during a walk saying, "I get drink!" then proceeds to try and lick the rusty water off a manhole cover, you can well imagine how the first couple years went when this hand-to-mouth exploration thing was in full throttle.

Fifteen minutes later, we're at the dinner table, and that same little one is turning up her nose at fresh corn from the farmers market. Let's see ... bugs, dirt, rusty water ... fresh corn. Nope, can't figure it out. But the rest of us at the table are a bit more orthodox in our food choices and we have to eat as well.

I fixed these quesadillas that night. Once I finally, finally got the kiddo eat a bite, she agreed they were GOOD! and then ignored them again. Go figure.

Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

They make a great side dish as is. Well, better than bugs and dirt at least.