Friday, September 30, 2011

Real Food, The Working Mother and The Mid Life Crisis

Welcome to my mid-life crisis! I am glad that you decided to join me, if at least for just a moment. Don’t be afraid, these things aren’t contagious. So let's get cozy.

Actually I am uncomfortable in labeling this as a mid life crisis because that means I would die by 64. And that seems too young. And a quarter life crisis also seems too weird because that means I would live to be 128. And that is way way way too long. I think I would like to go between 80 and 90, preferably quietly and on my own terms. But now I am way off topic.

I have had a mid/ quarter-life crisis before. The year before I met DH I had just graduated from college with a degree that wasn’t going to get me really anywhere. I was working as a retail store manager and I imagined trying on every hat to figure out the direction of my life. I had been exposed to very little and didn’t know what the inside of an office looked like at all, much less what someone in ‘marketing’ or ‘finance’ really did. Every hat felt awkward or required more schooling and with every path eliminated I felt more discouraged. I felt sure that this weird period of my life was a one time deal. Once I got on the right road I have been on a straight and path since then, work, get married, buy a place to live, move beyond an entry level position, have kids, continue to grow a career. The path has been deliberate and thoughtful, yet not so creative or even all that distinctive.

But there are things about having children that change everything. I read an article recently that showed that women tend to peak in their careers just before they have children. The article may have been specific to finances. Perhaps certain mothers' gains are offset by others who drop out of the job market completely. Perhaps others seek out other employment that allows them a better quality of life with fewer hours and a lower salary. I don’t think the study went into any great depth. Either way, having kids makes working more complicated. Be it time off for school in-service days, stomach bugs or just the old, ‘I gotta run before my daycare turns my kids over to ACS’, there are countless things about being a parent that make one less desirable as an employee. So if one wants to shine, one often has to work harder to get more accomplished in less time, be crafty with one’s schedule, and all around be more organized to get everything done.

Lately I have been feeling like a doll whose two arms are made out of one long piece of rope or yarn. You pull on the doll’s left arm and the right arm goes short. If you pull on the right arm, the left arm goes short. These days everytime I reach to put out some new fire I end up dropping some other ball that I was juggling. Surely the transition to school has been the culprit. It has only added to our routine and made things harder for everyone. I know the kids are getting less sleep than before. For someone like me, type A ever-so-slightly-lazy-overachiever all the extra drama has been unnerving. Cooking real food after so much work and commuting with toddlers is almost too much. If my kids would eat any of the local take out, I’d probably call in at least once a week. Since they don’t like Indian Korma, leftovers and hotdogs (the farmer’s market ones) have become an easy weeknight dinner. Blogging has become tough. And my recent slow traffic has me reminded that I only will get out of this what I put into it. In fact, as I am stretched so thin, I am coming to that conclusion about virtually everything.

Upon examining my life, I want to do so much more. I see my career and I want to be better, smarter and more capable. I see my kids and I want to be more involved in their daily lives, keep up with their latest assignments and get to know other parents in the school. I see this blog and I want to drive traffic to the site, participate in every blog hop that will have me and possibly turn it into a book to help other working moms. But thus far I seem squished by the enormity of it all. And all I can see through my glasses are the ‘Meet the Teacher’ events that I have missed, the late running trains, the overly emotional drop offs and the projects that I wish I was suggesting to my boss rather than the other way around. Why is it that trying to push oneself to get more done often has the opposite effect? Why does it seem sometimes that my kids make me a worse employee and my job makes me a worse parent? Six weeks ago I felt like I was balancing both fairly well and managing to continue my hobby, this blog, in my spare time. Today all I see is my shortcomings.

That would be enough to meditate on, until it hit me. The future of my career, this blog and my being a parent relies solely on me. I must have the vision to create this next step of my life. I always had a vision of what my twenties and early thirties would look like. And I have a good idea of what I want my fifties and sixties to look like. But these meaty years of raising kids and getting them to turn into functioning adults, my thirties and forties, I really don’t know what I think they ought to look like. And after waking up at 5am to run and pack bags, my brain isn’t operating in visionary territory. It is barely in functioning territory.

We are limited by the hours in the day and the simple laws of physics. No matter how rich or well connected you are, you only get 24 hours in each day and you can only be in one place at a time. Perhaps someone might tell me to get organized, do some tasks the night before or wake up 15 minutes earlier. But since making our huge tranisition I have had over an hour's worth of chores to do each night, packing lunches, dishes, laundry or making kefir. I have always believed that drive, hard work and sheer sweat would be enough to carry me through even the most trying times. Today I am saddened because I think I finally hit the outer limits of my capabilities. I am now evaluating what I have to give up rather than how to work smarter. I am finally living the stereotype of the stressed out working mother.

My conclusion? We are too busy. Most of us are. Our culture expects us to be on the go. And many of us have to be super busy in order to pay rent or mortgages. So where do we cut corners? We don't clean house every night (or even on the weekends sometimes), we skip errands, and we phone in dinner. It is so easy for a blogger, food author, editorialist or politican to slam the average citizen for not eating better. 'People need to be more responsibile and cook more! They should show some initiative and take care of their families!!', they cry as though the problem is as simple as laziness. I am far from lazy, yet I have recently found myself going to bed without dinner because I am too tired to cook anything. Is this really what we expect of the average citizen?

This should be the part of the post where I suggest that everyone take on less and get back to the land or nature. But I am obligated to the modern world. I gotta make this work. Five acres in the country and homeschooling just isn't in the plan for me. Do I ever make it sound easy? I hope I never do. And if you are trying to do the same in balancing work, kids and real food, well, kudos to you. I truly believe that it is worth the extra effort.

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays

Monday, September 26, 2011

Recipe: Savory Sausage and Eggplant Casserole

I cannot deny fall any longer. School has been up and running for 3 weeks already, the carnivals and harvest festivals are everywhere. And in one week buildings around the city will legally have to turn on the heat if the overnight temperatures fall below 55 degrees. (Or something like that.)

Yet saying goodbye to summer has been bitter this year. Perhaps it was the killer tan I had this year during the days when I actually got sun. Perhaps it was the time off from work. Perhaps it was because my DH was home for several weeks this summer playing with the kiddos and helping out around the house. Our schedule was leisurely, our fridge was full of fresh fruit and although it was wickedly hot much of the time the sun felt clean and clear on our skin. Now here I am sorting through my closet, up to my ankles in corduroy and opaque Spanx, and I can't find any excitement about it at all.

This time of year DH is always playing Simon and Garfunkel and reminding me how they conjure fall for him. His memories of all-boys Catholic prep school will forever endear him to the fall season. Starting school gave his life structure and meaning. I normally find excitement this time of year in pull on boots, corduroy skirts with over sized belts or sweaters that hit just below the waistline. Oh! And brightly colored cardigans. But this year. I just keep looking at my sun dresses and white pants with melancholy.

Eggplants and tomatoes are the fruits of a dying season. Nurtured by long hot days they seem to come of age just as the days begin to shorten. While tomatoes are coaxed into being for much longer seasons by farmers who know that the tomato is a cash cow, eggplants are free to do their own thing. Not every person you know will eat an eggplant this season. And my family and I might only have 2 or 3 in any given late summer. But they are some of my most favorite of all vegetables.

Eggplants cook down into a mush that is not sweet and not bitter, but yet a bit of both. They are also usually cooked in so much olive oil that this fatty and creamy texture is cooked right into the vegetable pulp. The following recipe is not one that will be kind to your waistline. It is quite the fattening dish. But it is one that will help to coax out some of those tears that you have been unable to shed over summer's demise.

Sausage and Eggplant Casserole
1 pound sausage (preferably pork, but that isn't entirely necessary, definitely ethically raised though)
1 peeled and cubed eggplant, about 3-4 cups (any variety)
1 medium sized onion, chopped to a medium dice
2-3 cups prepared tomato sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped kale (in a chiffonade if you will)

5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dry polenta
1 cup heavy cream

Fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses

In a larger skillet than you think you need (that has a lid), begin to cook your sausage. When the sausage is cooked through but not yet brown, add your onion and eggplant and stir. Cover and cook until the eggplant begins to soften, maybe 30-40 minutes. At first the eggplant will soak up all the fat in the pan. But as it cooks it will release it all back into the dish. Notice I didn't say drain the fat from your sausage? Well, that is why this recipe is so good. The fat is crucial to the flavor of this meal. If your sausage is very lean like turkey sausage, add about a quarter cup of olive oil during browning. This oil will prevent burning, don't remove any of it.

When the eggplant becomes very soft add the prepared tomato sauce and the chiffonaded kale. The reason for the stipulation on the kale is that while you want to add some more vitamins to this dish, you don't want it to be thick and chewy. The idea is that the kale will melt into the sauce. You can completely omit it if you prefer. Allow the sauce to cook for another 45 minutes to an hour until all the flavors have combined.

In another pot, bring your 5 cups of water up to a boil with the teaspoon of salt. When the water is at a rolling boil, add your polenta while whisking to avoid clumps. Allow polenta to cook. I recently saw on TV that polenta that is fully cooked naturally pulls away from the pan when stirred. It reminded me of when bread dough comes together. I added my cup of cream when this happened. It is worth it to note however, your polenta will likely not look like bread dough coming together. It just won't be quite so amorphous and sticky. It will get very thick when fully cooked. Undercooked polenta is NOT delicious.

Pour your cooked but still hot polenta into a casserole dish. Spread evenly over the bottom. Do not wait for your polenta to cool before you put it in the casserole dish. Cooled polenta will take on whatever shape it was in while cooling. You MUST get it into your casserole dish while it is still warm. Layer your sauce on top of the polenta, and also spread in an even layer. Lastly top with cubed or sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan.

Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven until the cheese has become melted and yummy looking on top.

Serve, and try not to eat the whole freakin' pan. It will be hard. But you can do it. Think of the amazing lunches and leftovers you will have!!! And yes, you are reading correctly, this recipe takes apx 2 hours to cook. It is definitely a weekend effort. But it does freeze beautifully. Even better, make a double batch and eat one and freeze one!

The Things did NOT eat this meal. Neither one said they liked sauce that night. Go figure. They are difficult to understand and even more difficult to anticipate. Oh well, more for me!


This post is shared with Melt in Your Mouth Mondays and Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Mommy, There's Chemicals In My Food!'

It has now been two weeks since we started our new school and daycare routines. And I gotta tell you. I am beat. Like crazy beat. Like blind and ready to feed the kids pop-tarts. Okay, maybe not that tired. Though more than ever I totally get it. Most people aren't too lazy to cook. They are just way too tired to cook from all the other stuff they have to do to keep their lives in balance.

We have been managing well enough with school food. I have packed a healthy lunch, a bottle of water and a whole fruit everyday for Thing 1. The routine of preparing lunches in the evening is getting easier. Now if I could just same the same about the morning routine!! For the most part, Thing 1 eats my food and not the school's food. He does drink the juice that the school provides almost every day. That is something I do not buy at home, so it's a huge treat!! I have not checked if their juice is additive free, but right now it is a peace keeping measure. So while I assume that there might be some yuckies in there, I can't possibly take his juice away.

I have asked several questions of my biggest Thing every day after school. Did you like your lunch? What was the school serving? What didn't you like in your lunch? Were you full enough? Many days he comes home with about one third to one half his lunch uneaten. But that's the thing about whole foods, whole grains and full fat foods, they are filling. We are so accustomed to overeating in our culture that to see a child with an already small tummy eat real food, well it can seem like they are only picking at their food. My kids could down a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting. But give them an egg and raw cheese on whole wheat and they won't finish it. It isn't because they don't like it, it is just that real food is filling. Give the kids good foods and they will figure out how much. We as caregivers can't be swayed to give them junk foods just to see them actively eat.

On the third day of school Thing 1 brought me home a present. A single serve bowl of Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch Cereal. This sweetened corn and rice cereal contains both natural and artificial flavors. Oh joy. The cereal contains only 12 grams of sugar. There are 6 grams of sugar in each teaspoon of sugar. And since those 12 grams include any natural sugars from the corn, 12 grams is on the low side for sweetened cereals. I was surprised enough to check the ingredient list for sugar substitutes. Nope, none. Then I thought...since the serving size is only one ounce (or three-quarters of a cup), sugar still makes up a sizable portion of the total cereal. You see, one ounce weighs in at slightly over 28 grams. This one ounce of cereal has 12 grams of sugar, so the cereal itself is around 43% sugars by weight.

Thing 1 brought home the cereal because he said he had had it for breakfast and he liked it. He said it was a present for me. So sweet. He has begun to bring home little cups of juice and other treats for DH and me. I need to do better about consuming these gifts. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I also don't want drink artificially colored juice.

This brings me to the next part of this post. You might be asking yourself 'If you don't want your kid drinking colored juice and fake food, why not just put your foot down?' That is a valid enough question. In the first few days I told Thing 1 that he was free to choose the food he ate. He ate some food from school and some from his back pack. I didn't like the trend so much, so I had a talk with him during the weekend. I told him that Mommy would not be mad at him for eating the school food. I wanted it to be his decision. But that I wanted him to look at certain things as treats, like that cereal, as opposed to every day meal items. And then I dropped a bomb on his impressionable little mind. I told him that some of the school food has chemicals in it. And I would prefer that he eat the food that mommy makes from scratch.

I define the term 'bully' as a person who is mean because they can get away with it. A bully is someone who picks on people who are smaller, weaker or otherwise not in a position to fight back (I am sure everyone knows an office bully who hides behind some trumped-up title). I have questioned, was I bullying my child by telling him that his food had chemicals in it? On one hand, I really wasn't. The Malt-O-Meal cereal contains artificial flavors, synthetic vitamins and BHT to name a few. That cereal does indeed contain chemicals. Do I know for certain that all the food the school serves contains chemicals? No, I do not. I did notice that after our chat, far less school food was consumed. On the other hand, I know that Thing 1 does not fully understand what it is to eat food containing chemicals. Does he believe that there is cleaning solution in his favorite grilled cheese sandwiches? Does he believe that there is lighter fluid in the juice? Even the average educated adult can't explain the difference between chemicals we know are bad for us even in small doses (think posion control) and the items that the FDA says are Generally Regarded As Safe in the doses they prescribe. I certainly can't. I just know I don't want to eat ANY chemicals if I can help it.

I want my kids to want to eat clean food too. My search for a better meal isn't just about ethically treated meat, or local foods, or even pesticide free foods. There are dozens of chemicals that seep into our food supply in myriad different ways. I simply want as many of them out of my chow as possible. And I want the same for my kids. Did I resort to scare tactics when I exploited my young child's impressionable mind? I suppose I did because I didn't give him the full story. I haven't told him yet why there are chemicals in our food, how they got there or who put them there. How can he make an informed decision with only half the story? In this case I am a little too much like the New York Post.

But while I negatively motivated Thing 1 into eating clean last week, I did not accomplish the ultimate goal. I do not want my kids to be afraid of processed foods. I want them to be confident and empowered to eat clean, fresh, healthy foods. I don't want them to feel guilt when they will undoubtedly be faced with Cheetoes and Coca-Cola. I want them to have a varied experience. And while I want them to ultimately choose to eat ethically sustainable raised clean foods, I want them to choose it because it is what they want. That is true empowerment.

Of course I do still intend to TALK with them about their food choices. My children are a captive audience for me. While I want them to make good choices for themselves on their own, I do fully intend to sell my viewpoint. And considering that I work in sales for a living, this is a deal I fully intend to close. Though I promise to not be too judgemental if they grow up to be men that eat McDonald's every other day and drink Coke with every meal. Right now I think Thing 1 is squarely in my camp while Thing 2 might end up in the food industry's camp. Time will tell...I promise to keep fighting the good fight.

This Post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays

Monday, September 19, 2011

Humble Spuds: How to Perfectly Roast a Potato

When I was a brand new mama, I had to completely relearn how to cook. I realized that pretty quickly. Was it that the only food I ate for the first week of Thing 1's life was cheezits straight from the box? Or was it me in the kitchen trying to mince and sweat onions in a dutch oven while my little red baloney-loaf screamed his head off in the bouncy seat? More than one night ended with both of us hungry and in tears.

It was for this reason that I found 'the walk-away'. 'The walk-away' is when you put something on to cook and instead of sticking around to futz with it you simply...walk away. Don't mess with a sausage frying in a pan. Don't check on boiling or steaming veggies. They really don't need you until they need to be strained. Chicken baking in the oven doesn't need you except for maybe one baste. Just walkaway. Go and nurse the baby, fold the laundry or in my case, put your purse away, change clothes and spend some quality time with the kids. 30 minute meals are awesome, but 45 minute meals with only 10 active minutes are way better.

Granted, the 'walk-away' does require medium heat otherwise you might burn something. I always loved how Emeril Lagasse used to pull the knob off his oven on his Food Network show and tell the audience 'You know these come with knobs for a REASON!!' Medium heat is really the best for the stove-top walk-away.

Now all this leads me to the humble baked potato. Steaming. Buttery. Starchy. Filling. I LOVE baked potatoes. But before I had children I don't think I had had more than two baked potatoes in the prior ten years. Post motherhood I began eating them several times a week because they are the best hot walk-away meal! When I would get home from work I would get Thing 1's dinner together and pop my potato in the oven, maybe with a chicken breast or maybe not. By the time the little bugger collapsed in sleep my spud would be fully cooked and I could start my evening. I have tried lots of different ways of making a baked potato. But I am an exacting lady. I am always looking for the absolute best way to cook simple food. I believe I have perfected my potato baking techniques.

How to Perfectly Bake a Potato

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

First, select a good medium sized potato, one that is longer than it is wide. A good baker is one that feels heavy for its size. I also like potatoes that have a uniform shape, so that it won't be raw on one side while overdone on the other. There is little in life that worse than underdone potatoes. Flat tires maybe, mornings without coffee definitely.

Scrub your potato. I sometimes use soap and even a rough cloth or clean sponge to get it seriously scrubbed. After all, I eat the potato skin. OH! I should have mentioned that sooner. If you are just eating the inside of your taters and tossing the skin then you are missing out. Potato skins are a tremendous source of fiber. But I eat them because they are so delicious. Interesting....In researching this article I discovered that according to The Straight Dope (a website), potato skins contain toxic compounds called glycoalkaloids. Green potatoes especially have these compounds (so don't eat those). But, you have to eat alot to suffer consequences. I have certainly not had any adverse reactions and I have eaten alot of potato skins. While not all the nutrition of a potato is locked in it's skin, they are really tasty. And they do contain lots of billing fiber!!

Take a fork or a sharp knife and poke a couple holes in your potato. It doesn't have to turn into a crime scene. Seven to ten pokes is more than enough to let the steam vent.

Next pour a teaspoon of olive oil into your hand, then massage it into potato. Lastly pop him in the oven and wait 45 minutes or so. Check the doneness of your tuber by squeezing. The outside should be crispy and crackly while the inside should give and feel soft. A larger potato will need an hour and possibly more depending on size.

When your potato is done, eat it right away or else the super crunchy skin will soften and be significantly less delicious. Favorite toppings? Butter, full fat greek yogurt and plenty of sea salt and cracked black pepper (as seen in all the pictures). But also chili and cheese is sublime. I have even been known to whip up a cheese sauce and soften some vegetable up in there. Cheese sauce, green beans and broccoli to smother a perfectly baked potato? Delish.

Definitely try the walkaway. And definitely enjoy your potatoes!

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Earth That Nourishes Us: A Visit to Our CSA Farm

Every year Ted and Jan Blomgren of the Windflower Farm in Washington County, NY invite their CSA shareholders to the farming for some camping over, a pot luck dinner and a farmhouse breakfast. I have always wanted to go, but between diapers and pregnancies, nursing and overflowing bags of baby equipment we just haven't been able to get it together. This year however we really wanted to make it. It was a priority!

The weekend was originally scheduled for the last weekend in August, so that everyone could go to the Washington County Fair. But Irene blew through that Saturday night, so everything was cancelled and rescheduled for the weekend of September 10-11th. Frankly I was relieved to be out of town on September 11th. The 10th anniversary of that awful day meant tight security, an increased threat of terrorism, street closures and tons of out of towners. I didn't lose anyone in the tragedy, but my husband lost several of his high school classmates, guys he played football with. I was downtown that day as I was a manager at a South Street Seaport store that fall. The images of people walking while holding their shoes, tawny colored dust billowing through the sky and sheets of paper catching the sunlight as they gently wafted in the breeze are burned in my mind. Equally burned are the memories of the first building which splintered from the top down while I stood watching in Chatham Square and the second tower which seemed to split in the middle and just free fall to the ground. I will never forget the shock and the ungraspable reality that such a thing could happen in our glorious coutry. I worked in the World Trade Center during college, I can still hardly believe that the places I remember so well are wiped off the face of the earth. But this life is ephemeral at best. I walked nearly 100 blocks that day to escape downtown and ran the last two into DH's arms who wasn't even officially my boyfriend yet. Though the events of that day cemented us together like nothing else could. So understandably I didn't want to watch the ceremony on TV and I didn't want to explain it to the kids. I don't worry about forgetting. I never will.

So off to the farm we went on a glorious clear late summer day. We left Saturday late morning an arrived in the early afternoon. Ted had parked the tractors on the back lawn and I can't thank him enough!! My boys were thrilled to pretend to drive them and sit in the big wheels. Thing 2 just kept repeating 'Big Big Tractor' over and over.

Ted led a farm tour shortly after we arrived where he showed us the plastic covered greenhouses or 'tunnels' which housed the nursery, herb pots, onion curing areas and big beautiful tomato plants. Ted spoke plainly about the focus of his operation, how he tries to invest in affordable equipment, juggle small working spaces and attempts to limit his waste. But he admitted that his farm, while they look for recycling opportunities wherever they can, does create some waste. I appreciate that they even consider and make efforts to reduce their ecological impact. But I appreciated even more his honesty in discussing such matters. It is easy for us city folk to wear our rose colored glasses proudly and believe that wasteless farming and clean country living are easy things if you simply have the commitment to ecologically responsible living. Ted informed us that no, they are not always easy. Such ideals require hard work and money and ingenuity.

After the tunnels Ted led us up the road to his equipment parking lot. I was very impressed with his wealth of knowledge. He took us through each machine, where it was purchased, who made it, what it did, it's strengths and weaknesses. He told us his yearly equipment budget and how proper equipment could not only help fewer people do more work, but help them do it more comfortably. Ted cited all the hours he has spent hunched over in the fields planting seedlings. The farm has machines that water and poke holes in the ground, machines that lay drip tape, that till the soil, you name it, they have it. Yet much of the work is still done by hand.

Ted also talked about their efforts to control weeds and pests since they don't use pesticides. They cover some of their fields in a fabric that lights water and most light in but still effectively covers the plants, keeping pests out. He does this especially when the plants are babies (though I might have fabricated that in my mind). Also to keep pests at bay they separate plant families and rotate the beds every season. The bugs he explained have evolved alongside certain plant families. So some pests might attack mustard family greens, but not lettuces. Keeping specific family plants apart from one another in the field is important because it gives the bugs less of a feast day. And since many insects lay eggs in the soil the pests can return the following year when you till and replant. Rotating crops around from bed to bed keeps the soils fresh but also keeps you one step ahead of the buggies.

There is one fungicide that is allowed in organic farming and that is copper. A bluish liquid that can be sprayed, copper does something to keep fungus or molds from getting into the plants system. Ted expressed concern over the use of systemic fungicides in farming conventional. These are fungicides that are incorporated into the systems of the plant itself, so that a chemical sprayed on the top of the leaf of a plant could also protect the underside of it as well. Frankly I share his concern. While I have heard rumors of "pesticides that get into a plant" I had never had the process explained to me in terms that I could understand. What I want to know now is which conventional crops are more likely to contain systemic fungicides. However a short Google search yielded very little. The most common fungi mentioned were late blight of potatoes and tomatoes, but the articles I looked at mentioned cereal crops like wheat and barley too leading me to believe that the use of systemic fungicides is widespread. This makes me want to eat organic even more. I know that the EWG keeps sending out their 'Clean Fifteen" list, but if the chemicals are INSIDE the plant, who cares if you peel off the outer layer. It is my body and I buy organic.

What struck me the most was the complexity of what Ted discussed. From farm maps and plan-o-grams to specialized equipment, it was clear that Ted has many years of experience under his belt. My thoughts turned to my own misguided attempts to grow tomatoes in my house. Farming is not easy. It is possible, but organic farming especially, requires a lot of effort and specific action. It is far easier to grow crops in huge fields of monocultures. It is far easier to douse your crops with pesticides and fungicides and fertilizers than to run around covering crops with expensive batting to keep away the bugs and wind. But the biggest irony? Even the farmers that do farm conventionally don't make a ton of money at it. So it is time to stop always associating conventional farming with evil huge wealthy factory farms. According to USDA data 49.2 percent of all the farms in the US are less than 100 acres. 34.7% are between 100-500 acres. Only 16% of farms are larger than 500 acres. Windflower is run on land totaling about 50 acres, of which around 35 are in use. I was surprised by how small 35 acres is. If the land were flatter, it is likely that you could see from one end to the other. Yet they manage to feed almost 1000 CSA shareholders. Of course we eat other things besides his vegetables, but Windflower produces a lot of good food for such a small acreage.

The experience of visiting our CSA farm was meaningful in two ways. First it was wonderful to see the actual farm where our food is grown. It was wonderful to meet the hands that harvested it. I have a sense of understanding now. These acres 160 miles north of my city are the bits of dusty earth that nourish me and my family. We are what we eat. So we are this land. But secondly I realized how rich farm life could be when you can actually produce a product. Ted and his team grow around 45 different vegetables over the course of the year in a brilliant polyculture. All around me I saw the abundance of overflowing tomato vines and raspberry brambles and greens surging out of the ground. It looked like such a plethora of food!! But I don't own this land or any other land. As a Manhattanite I am vulnerable, at the mercy of those who grow food. I am fortunate to have found an organization like the Washington Heights CSA. But how many others have not? All of us who are not prepared to grow food in our backyards or do not have backyards will always be looking to buy. Shouldn't our culture and our country do more to promote and sustain the hard work of people like the Blomgrens and their team? Couldn't we use a few more of them? I for one am thankful for what they do. Although Ted is clear, his farm is a business that he has passion for, I rather think Windflower is performing a public service. They are taking me a little closer to 'off the grid' all from the comforts of my 12th floor apartment.

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Foodie Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays and Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chocolate Covered Potato Chips??

A few weeks ago, Thing 1 and I took a special trip just the two of us to visit Mimi and Papa in Memphis. It was wonderful to have so much special time with just one of my boys. I think it was special for him too!

Flying is a big excitement for a four year old. Everything about the experience was titillating. For me not so much. I worried about making connections, getting picked up, letting him walk too far in front of me. You name it I worried about it. That OF COURSE included food. Because we all know how hard it is to eat healthy while traveling.

I found myself in Cibo Express again in LaGuardia Airport. This time I saw this. I knew I had to share it with you.

That's right-a chocolate bar with crushed up potato chips inside. Bust my buttons. The lady at the register said I was not the first person to take a picture of it. I wonder if the other photographers thought the bar was awesome or appalling.


This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our First Week of School & School Food

Last week began a new adventure for all of us. After four years with a full time babysitter, Thing 1 started full time big boy Catholic School and Thing 2 started full time daycare. The reasons for the change were largely financial. Thing 1 needs to now be in a full day school, which can be pricey. And Thing 2 needs to start some kind of school environment to learn basic socialization and even 10 hours of preschool, as many of you well know, can cost you $15-20 per hour. Add on a full time nanny and you have a recipe for bankruptcy. So we decided that instead of the shorter programs that we'd go full on into full day programs and let our longtime well loved babysitter go. It has been a difficult and emotional change for everyone. But even after three days I think we all agree that we made the right decision.

Thing 1 started in school last Wednesday. We like his teacher. He comes home every day saying that he has made new friends, but he doesn't know the children's names. Thing 1 is slow to warm up. The very first day when the teacher called them to come to circle time all the children made a circle and Thing 1 sat on the outside. That's him. Even at 10 months old he was moving in the opposite direction of the crowd. He just takes his time to get into the middle of things. But he tells us that he likes his school and for that I am grateful.

Thing 2 has been less happy about the turn of events. This poor second child has always gotten hand-me-down everything, including hand-me-down attention from parents and caregivers. So just when he stood to have lavishly long days of one on one solo care we decide to stick him in a chaotic school environment with a dozen other children and half as many caregivers. Let's just say he wasn't thrilled. Day one was a true nightmare where he cried all day, did not nap and did not eat. I blame myself (as per usual) for not preparing him more. I am not sure I even told him about his new daytime routine until the day before, and even that was spotty communication. I spent the entire summer preparing Thing 1 for his new school. I trust that in a couple weeks he will fall into line. Even on day two he ate and took a nap with the other children-a HUGE improvement from our puffy red-eyed first day!

School food was something I also hemmed and hawed about. Both the daycare and the school told me that both breakfast and lunch was included in the tuition costs. Great...except that I know a little too much about school food. It was hard enough to have a daily babysitter plying my kid with treats. At least, of all the junky snacks I know my kids were getting, our baby sitter cooked meals from scratch for the kids and even brought home-prepared food in to share with them. School food is an altogether different thing! All summer I weighed our options, do we opt in? Or do I pack a lunch for them?

A week or so before school started I noted in the parent's handbook that the school lunch program followed the Catholic Diocese's Nutrition Program, whatever that means. I figured it was basic My Pyramid, (sorry.....) My Plate, kind of stuff. But I was stressed about all my new food responsibilities, so I was willing to let him eat at school. Several schools have good food programs!

So two weeks ago I called the school and asked, what was the menu like? Could parents access upcoming items? I was told that children needed a note from their child's pediatrician in order to opt out of the program. And that the note needed to cite allergies or some other medical reason. In response to my questions about the menu I received a voicemail from the principal saying that the offering was pretty standard, "It includes a protein and vegetable and a starch and typical meals are like pizza, chicken nuggets or cheeseburgers." That was pretty much all I needed to hear to know that I was opting out.

For Thing 2 I took a different approach. He doesn't eat. And now he isn't even eating hot dogs (bun only now-a-days) So I am down to fresh fruits, milk and juice, anything in the wheat family and turkey sausage. Oh and if he could he would eat as many French fries, potato chips or other junky foods that he could get his hands on. I am pretty sure I have a future food hoarder on my hands. I decided that given his pickiness that he could benefit from a room full of kids all eating the same thing. It might to help him to branch out. And it isn't like I know what he wants to eat anyway. Much of my packed lunches would likely go to waste anyway.

Thing 1 has been doing okay with the packed lunches. But a curious pattern has begun to emerge. The first day of school he ate just about everything from both his breakfast and his lunch. But he told me that in addition to the oatmeal that I packed him that he had the juice and pancakes that the school served. For lunch he just ate his home food. Okay...And then last Friday he ate the school's offering for lunch, 'square cheese' sandwiches with chips (CHIPS???) and a plum. On top of their lunch he ate about half of the lunch I provided. For breakfast he just ate what I provided. He seems to be double dipping when he is hungry, which I am surprisingly okay about. I want him to make his own decisions. It is clear that he doesn't want to fess up about what he has been eating. After a couple of years of me on my health kick he knows that I am the food gestapo of the house. And that makes me a little sad. I keep telling him that mommy won't be mad if he eats the school food, but would he please just tell me what he ate? It usually takes that promise to get him to come clean. The dialogue now becomes about how and WHY to make good food choices. I don't want to swoop in and force him to eat carrots and hummus. I want him to come to that conclusion on his own. That's how he becomes a functioning healthy adult.

But he is FOUR. It is hard for him to make good food choices. And there is something else besides simple menu offering that I NEVER thought about, peer pressure. The very first day I packed Thing 1 breakfast I made a smoothie and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins. He ate everything. But just before bed he told me out of the blue that the kids at school said his smoothies looked gross. He said they told him not to drink it. (Okay okay, I snuck some kale in there, so sue me-it's not like he could taste it!!!!) So I swallowed hard and asked what he thought of the smoothie. He said it was good and that he drank the whole thing. So I said okay, what do those kids know anyway? I went on to say that it was a good thing that they thought it was gross because then he wouldn't have to share any of it. I said to him 'If you had been holding a bag of cookies, they each would have asked you for one.' That made sense to him.

I know this is going to be hard. This is the first time that he has been exposed to peer pressure. This is the first time he has had to eat meals outside of his house every day. He is going to begin to see how other people live. It is an opportunity for me to explain why I make the decisions that I do. My greatest hope is that he comes home and tells me the food I pack for him is so much more delicious than the processed food he could get at school. My greatest fear is that he will come home and tell me that the kids are making fun of him because he is eating too healthy. Food shouldn't be an opportunity to alienate people. But then again, adults at my own office have been known to make a little fun of me because of my choice of grub. I see him trying to sort out all this information to find out where he belongs and where he wants to belong. As much as I want to intervene, the decision is his to make.

As I mentioned, Thing 2 did not eat his first day of school, except for some pear I had sent with him. The second day he did better. I imagine it will get slightly better each day. Until then I am going to make him breakfast in the morning before we leave. I can fry up some green eggs, soaked pancakes or a bowl of oatmeal. Anything to get some good nutrition into him before he goes to daycare and refuses to eat. Then he will get dinner in the evening. Anything in-between 7am and 6pm is gravy.

The transition has been tough. My flow has been completely turned upside down. But each day I am learning more tricks, and in another month I am sure I will have established a routine. Stay tuned for some tips about how to get out the door on time with everybody packed with food they like!

What tips and tricks do you have for packing lunches?

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Flooded Hudson Valley: Organizing Help Post Irene

(Photo Credit: Just Food)

Although I glibly posted about throwing a hurricane party last weekend, it was in most part because New York City did not experience much damage. I apologize to anyone who felt that my post was insensitive. It wasn't until after my post went up that the stories of total devastation and flooding came out about our upstate NY farmers.

My CSA farm, Windflower Farm, was spared most damage. And our deliveries should continue as normal. But other farms have see minor flooding, the loss of certain fields and some have been washed away entirely. One of the main problems of farming is that it has only a few big payouts per year, in harvesting. Given weather, seasonality and the sheer time needed to realize the harvest, it is impossible to recoup dramatic losses that occur late in the season. The mornings are already chilly here. The winds blowing into the region are cold. Summer is over, it is obvious. And though the growing season will continue for several more weeks, now we are coming upon the time for root vegetables and squashes and late season greens. The farmers who have flooded fields will have to wait until next year. This is where you come in!!

There are ways that you can help the devastated farms of the Northeast. I have listed several links below that will point you in the direction of folks accepting direct donations, organizing homegrown fundraisers and large scale NYC dining events whose proceeds benefit upstate growers. We are what we eat. And if us New Yorkers want to keep eating goods grown in our home state, then participating in these events should be of top priority.

From Scratch Club's Fundraiser for The Denison and Kilpatrick Family Farm and Fellow Blogger Amanda- Christina from the FSC was the blogger who inspired me to write this post in the first place. She has, in all her lack of time, organized a fundraiser/ auction for not just her beloved Kilpatrick Family Farm but for the Denison Farm and also for her friend and fellow blogger Amanda who lost her house in a fire that was caused by the flooding of Irene. Check out the FSC for more links on the storm damage, local coverage, ways to participate in the auction as well as just plain donate.

Just Food NYC's Hurricane Relief Page- Just Food NYC is a fabulous volunteer organization who helps folks organize and lead their own CSA's. I blogged about attending their CSA conference last March. Their suggestions for helping out with the Hurricane Relief is to donate a percentage of the profits of their upcoming Let Us Eat Local event to hurricane relief, as well as accepting donations directly.

GrowNYC & NYC Greenmarkets- The organization GrowNYC that organizes all of NYC's Greenmarkets is offering a beautiful poster designed by artist Claudia Pearson for each donation of $50 (there are two different designs, though I downloaded just one from the GrowNYC website above). 100% of the donations will go to Greenmarket Farms affected by Irene. They are also encouraging folks to eat locally in September. It is still the height of the season and there are still crops in the farmers markets. We can show our support by buying the goods that have made it to market. Visit the link provided for more information.

Dine Out Irene- On September 25th participating NYC restaurants will donate 10% of their proceeds to Just Food and GrowNYC. For a list of participating restaurants (and there are some good ones), click the link provided

Hudson Valley Food Network- Another interesting group, the Hudson Valley Food Network has tons of information on their website forum. Megan Murphy, the site's organizer is trying to pair eager volunteers with farm who needs helping hands. Look to their site if you can give sweat, but not cash.

And finally, in an attempt to help out those farmers who still have product to sell, I would like to propose a 100% local pot luck to be attended by you, the readers of The Table of Promise. If you would like to participate please email me at thetableofpromise(at)yahoo(dot)com before September 20th. The pot luck will be held on Saturday September 24th at 4pm, location to be determined. I haven't exactly told my husband yet-so if dates or times change, don't be upset with me. If you are interested, please email me, I will start the email chain of what to bring and where to go! I would love to break bread with my readers and if organizing a local dinner can help out our local farmers then let it be so!

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Fresh Bites Fridays and Fight Back Fridays

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

'Hoarding Food' or '5 Ways to Stock Up for Winter Even If You Don't Have a Garden'

Indooring gardening failures aside, I am quite concious of the challenges that await me during the winter months ahead. Last year we had trouble eating locally and seasonally during the off season. The winter was long and punishing. By January we were seriously tired of winter vegetables. By February our Winter CSA share was over. And by March I had virtually given up. Deeper into the season, it seemed like every vegetable we bought was from California save our apples, onions and potatoes, oh and the occasional butternut squash. Pastured meats and milk are available year round, but instead of a 50/50 farmer's market/ grocery store split to my food spending, it ended up being more 25/ 75. I prefer to buy local, but that wasn't the biggest issue. It was that in an attempt to eat more local, we ate fewer vegetables overall. Winter veggies are hard to prepare. They require chopping and peeling and boiling. And insanity or not, I felt some guilt buying things that were technically out of season for my locality. But eating locally just wasn't working for me 100%.

So this year I am trying to take action now. I only have one fridge and in it a moderately sized freezer. I store all our meat in the freezer which doesn't leave a ton of space for frozen vegetables but I am trying to stock up on items that I know we won't have in a couple of months.

1-Frozen Greens I have mentioned it before, but we have gotten alot of greens this summer at our CSA and I haven't quite gotten through all of them. So I have chopped and frozen much of the kale I got this year. I have made pesto from the basil and spinach. And I have heard that one can even make pesto from swiss chard. I have to try that since I have two bunches of chard on hand and I am going on vacation soon. Pesto freezes so beautifully! That'll be delightful on a pizza in mid winter.

2-Chicken Feet Pastured chicken is a truly seasonal item, available only in the summer and early fall. I have mentioned before that we just don't eat as much chicken these days. Chickens are expensive to raise ethically. I find the pastured varaities for around $8 a pound. That's high, but then you have to buy a 5 pound bird? There you have a special occasion, $40 meal. Then consider that much of the bird is inedible, even if you make stock from the bones. That's the reason we are eating more pastured beef. Beef is cheaper and I can buy a pound at a time as I like. But chicken feet are a wonderous thing! The dairy farm that provides my milk also raises pastured chickens. And while the feet would be throw away parts for many producers, they make the BEST chicken stock! I regularly buy up all of her feet. And at $6-$7 for a bag of feet that produces 4 quarts of stock that stands up as thick as jello, I'd say that's a bargain. But the chickens will only be around a few more weeks. So I need to stock up on feet if I want them during the winter.

3-Pasture Butter I normally buy Organic Valley's Cultured Butter, a great product. But every summer they produce a green foiled Pasture Butter. It became available in June and when I first bought it, I noticed the difference right away. The smell is sublime and the color is a deep yellow like egg yolks when the butter is melted. I don't have access to pasture butter year round. My dairy does not currently produce butter. And while I could make my own from the Milk Thistle cream, $8 for a half a pound of butter seems especially steep when I consider the effort expended. I mean, I do have a full time job and two kids. If I ever win the lottery maybe I will start making my own butter. But until then I don't think it is a viable solution. Even the local butter by Ronnybrook Dairy (another exceptional dairy) is only okay. It is good, but I happennto like the OV Pasture butter better. Since it is a seasonal product I have been slowly stocking up all summer. I currently have 7-8 pounds of butter in the freezer. We go through about 1/4-1/2 a pound of butter every week (who am I kidding, 1/2 a pound) so I figure I have 14 weeks of butter. I think I'd like to get just a teensy bit more. Thank goodness my ice cube maker isn't working because that has freed up space for butter storage.

4-Sweet Corn Corn is such a wonderful thing. This summer it has been especially plentiful and exceptionally sweet. Our CSA has been providing 4-5 ears per week. That's enough to feed our need for corn on the cob, but not enough to store. So I hve started to buy extra ears at the FM. I plan to take the corn, cut it off the cob, blanch it in hot water for thirty seconds and then cool it, bag it and freeze it. So far though all those extra ears of corn have just gone into my family's bellies.

5-Dried Herbs Fresh herbs have been so wonderful to have around this summer! I have enjoyed dill in my potato salad, hottttt cilantro and jalepeno salsa and basil and kale pestos. But all good things must come to an end. So slowly I have been trying to dry the inexpensive bunches of fresh herbs that I can get at the farmer's market, dill, basil and even chamomile. I have saved some small glass spice jars for storage. Though it has been tough. Drying the herbs means that I can't just eat them fresh.

So there you go! 5 Ways that even a city girl with an itty bitty freezer can store local foods to get ready for the winter. Thus far my husband has been very supportive of my 'crunchy' eating habits, but he has been unwilling to buy a stand up freezer to compliment the tiny one we already have. His biggest problem? That the freezer won't fit in the kitchen and would have to live in the living room. Well...I guess he has a point!!

This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays and Healthy 2Day Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Fresh Bites Fridays and Fight Back Fridays

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Well, it is about that time again! Vacation! I am hitting the with Thing 1 and having a special Mommy and Thing 1 trip. I hope you guys have an awesome Labor Day and I will catch you back on the other side of this summer!!

I have some interesting posts planned for next month. Here's to hoping that I can get them all researched and written!