Day 91–Chickens (a post by Ellie)

Ellie and the Silky Chick at the Dig In! Conference

Hi, I am Ellie, Deanna’s guest blogger for today, and I am writing about chickens. Chickens are very good pets to have because of the protein in the eggs. Sadly, I live in Cary so no chickens for me, especially because my mom (Deanna) won’t let me have them (hopefully she will give in).

I did some research on chickens and found out that chickens are related to dinosaurs, so their feet look really weird. Chicken eggs have good protein and pasture raised eggs have more protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are really good for your heart. So if you live in a city that allows you to have chickens, maybe you should get them. At this conference I went to called “Dig In!”, I got to hold a hen and a chick. The chick fell asleep in my hands immediately and buried its beak between my thumb and forfinger. But the hen surprisingly would not let anyone hold her but me, and soon fell asleep in my arms. She woke up to a boy petting her the wrong way and she crowed at him then fell asleep again. Chicken eggs range in size, some the size of a robins egg and all the way up to the size of eggs that we buy from the farmers market. My favorite type of chicken is a Polish chicken because their feathers on the top of their heads look like a sideways mohawk.

Polish chicken at the Garden Girl, on the Roxb...

I don’t suggest you get a rooster unless you like to wake up at 5:00 am or you really want to annoy your neighborhood. You can always volunteer on a farm if you can’t or don’t want chickens roaming your front or backyard 24/7. Chickens, like any animal, need feed, water, grooming, and a shelter. So that is a little bit about chickens.

Day 90–Healthier School Fundraisers and Wellness, Part 2

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

It all started with cookie dough. And a well-intentioned effort to raise money for a good cause (See post here).

Now, let me say uprfront, I am not the food police and I am not against a good cookie. In fact, I love cookies. Personally, I don’t buy store bought cookies or cookie dough because I don’t think they taste anywhere near as good as homemade. But that’s me. If you want to eat nothing but commercial cookie dough 24/7, that is your business. Enjoy!

But when teachers and parents spend valuable time teaching young people to make good food choices to reduce childhood obesity and diabetes, it doesn’t make sense to me to send those same children out to sell 3 pound tubs of high fat cookie dough (or chocolate bars or McDonalds gift cards) to their families and neighbors.  We don’t tell them to not smoke, then send them out to sell ashtrays and lighters, right? Young people pay attention. They are watching us. They see us talking the talk, but walking to Krispie Kreme…for money to pay for playground equipment…so kids don’t get fat. Say what???

I may be resisting giant tubs of raw cookie dough, but the good news is, I am not alone! I spent yesterday morning at a healthy fundraiser workshop sponsored by Advocates for Health in Action and came away with many great ideas as well as contacts with other parents and teachers who are involved in school wellness. The good news is that there are lots of creative, non-food options out there for raising funds. The challenge is going to be putting together a team of parents, students and teachers and developing a couple of target initiatives for the coming school year. Here are some things I learned:

  • My county actually has a wellness policy (WCPSS Wellness Policy 5125). While the policy doesn’t give guidance on the nutitional value of foods sold as fundraisers, it does provide some guidance about food in the school. This includes not using food as a reward for student achievement.
  • 49.5% of 12-18 year olds in NC are overweight or obese. I’m not math girl, but that is one out of every two teens in my state!
  • In 2010, North Carolina spent $107.18 million to treat medical conditions related to children with diabetes, high weight and inactive lifestyles. That is just children–not adults!

So what is a PTA, booster club, or youth league to do? There are plenty of options available! Here is a sampling of what I discovered:

  • Fun runs, walks, bike-a-thons take a lot of work by volunteers, but they can be very lucrative for schools.
  • Selling flowers, plants, rain barrels or delivered mulch can tie into a school’s gardening efforts and encourage environmental awareness. One local high school is selling mulch that is delivered and spread by the football team!
  • Selling coupon books, magazines, and school spirit apparel raise money without any large deliveries of goods required.
  • Talent shows, plays, dances and concerts highlight student achievement and give young people a chance to shine. Depending on the community, they can also help foster relationships with nearby neighborhoods.
  • In our area, The Produce Box offers a fundraiser vegetable box!

The workshop also addressed the issue of concession sales at games and/or meets. The goal with concessions is not to take away all the unhealthy options, but to offer healthier options, make them more convenient and price them a bit lower than unhealthy options. What might these include?

  • Soft pretzles
  • Low-fat popcorn
  • Tortilla chips with salsa
  • Sandwiches
  • Turkey burgers
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit kabobs
  • String cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Trail mix
  • Water
  • 100% vegetable juice
  • Unsweetened bottled tea

I also learned a great deal about wellness grants available in my community that pay for anything from athletic equipment to healthy food tastings.

Clearly, there is life beyond the cookie dough!

Day 89–Industrial Products in Food–Ok or Troublesome?

Orthophosphoric acid H 3 PO 4

In an effort to be more efficient, I often look for “two fers”–that is, one solution that will address more than one issue. Sometimes this works wonderfully and other times, if I try to force a solution where it doesn’t quite fit, I have (as Ellie says) an “epic fail.” In the food industry, these “two fers” often use industrial products and ingredients to address issues with processed food stability or to lower the cost of food production. This isn’t illegal and in many cases may not be harmful, but maybe you want a higher standard than “not necessarily harmful” in your food supply. If you are trying to eat more whole foods and limit your intake of highly processed ingredients, it is interesting to see how these ingredients are used elsewhere. Thanks to Experience Life magazine for this information.

Olestra–This chemical is used to make fat-free potato chips and snack foods. It has no flavor or nutritive value. Olestra works by bonding to fat and preventing it from being absorbed in your body. But that method can have drawbacks, including diarrhea and abdominal cramping, especially for people with sensitive digestive systems, with irritable bowel syndrome or for small children. Interestingly, olestra is also used in paints and lubricants. 

Calcium Chloride–Calcium chloride is a chemical blend of salt and chlorine that has been deemed safe for food use by the FDA. It has no nutritive value and is not used for flavor. It is used as a stabilizer for some canned foods, an electrolyte in sports drinks and is an agent in some pickling. It can cause upset stomach, and irritation of the digestive tract, especially in people with digestive issues. Calcium chloride is also the key ingredient in road salt and ice melt.

Phosphoric Acid–This chemical is used to make foods–specifically sodas–more acidic. It has no nutritive value. Because it is so cheap, it has become the standard acid in sodas, replacing natural sources like lemon and lime. Phosphoric acid has been linked to decreased bone density and kidney stones, the former is especially a problem for women over 40 who have a history of osteoporosis in their family. Oh, yes, phosphoric acid’s industrial use is as a rust remover known for its ability to rapidly eat rust on metal. Your dentist may also use small amounts to etch/scar your teeth before putting in a filling.

Calcium sulfate–Calcium sulfate is a desiccant (drying agent) and a coagulant. It has no flavor or nutritive value. It is often used in foods, including tofu, to bond molecules together. It is also the key ingredient in plaster of paris. The use of calcium sulfate can cause abdominal swelling and abdominal pain in some people. Industrially, it is used to make plaster and drywall.

Cornstarch–Cornstarch is a thickener that, unlike the above ingredients, is typically found in most households. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn grain and is a cheaper industrial substitute for the more simply processed arrowroot. It is used in puddings, chewing gum, gravy, ice cream, sauces and some canned foods. Because cornstarch is used so heavily in processed foods, it may pose a hidden sugary carb risk for those trying to eliminate processed carbohydrates or sugars from their diets. Cornstarch is also used to make rubber tires, plywood and some insecticides.

Corn syrup–Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is probably the most insidious and highly contested ingredient on this list. It is made from processing corn starch to release all the glucose in the starch, then processing it some more to shift most of the glucose to fructose. Because it is very cheap to produce, it has replaced most beet and cane sugar as well as honey in sweetened, processed foods. It is present in many processed food products, including ketchup and other condiments, cheese spreads, marshmallows, dehydrated soups, cake mixes, snack foods and frozen foods. Both the chemical nature and high level of use of corn syrup have linked the chemical to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Corn syrup is also used to make shoe polish, metal plating and explosives. 

Maybe these all seem ok to you, maybe not. Regardless of what we choose to purchase at the grocery, it is important to make informed choices. In some cases, the “two fer” works in our favor and in others, it isn’t a win-win situation for our bodies.

Day 88–Worm Composting from The Soulsby Farm

At the Dig In! conference we attended, we learned a lot about vermiculture, or composing with earth worms. Apparently, these suckers can eat a great deal of vegetable scraps, paper and coffee grounds and turn it fairly quickly into rich compost. We’re interested in trying it, but I have to admit to being a bit squeemish about worms in my house. I was going to post instructions, but another blogger, The Soulsby Farm, did such a great job, you should just go to their site for more information. Check it out–it is pretty fascinating!

Let’s Build a Worm Farm!  http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/lets-build-a-worm-farm/

Day 87–Making Room For a Freezer

“I feel the need…to freeze!” Apologies to Tom Cruise.

In preparation for the spring and summer garden bonanza of fresh fruits and vegetables, I’m reading a lot about food preservation strategies. Thanks to Tom, Ellie and I have a nice setup of canning supplies just waiting for this year’s strawberries and blueberries, and I’m studying how to put them up without killing anyone. Really, that is a fear I have, but I’m working through it. In reading about food preservation, I am understanding that I need to reframe my way of thinking. When I think of “preserving,” I typically think of canning foods. But drying, freezing, and refrigerating are other options for food preservation that are even more accessible than canning.

Using a freezer to preserve foods isn’t a huge revelation, I know, but I haven’t really thought about using my freezer as a way to put up fruits and vegetables for winter. I typically think of my freezer as a holding area for ice cubes and our week’s worth of frozen fruit for our smoothies, not as a place to store our jackpot of string beans from our CSA.

The only issue with this is space. We have a nice sized freezer drawer on our refrigerator and I love it, but it doesn’t have a huge amount of room for long-term storage. Which brings us to the issue of the deep freezer. I’ve never had one, but I’ve thought about it in the past. The issue comes back to space again, because where in the world can you put a deep freezer without causing an issue?

It may be that our laundry room will provide us with the space needed, but that will involve some cleaning out of all the “treasures” currently stored there. If we can make it work, our family will have some delicious projects ahead of us!

All of this makes me realize that the world of possibilities and options is almost always larger than what I am currently thinking. Hell bent on canning, I neglected to think of the larger opportunities of freezing and drying. Tree, meet the forest. This, to me, is the wonderful part of our journey–re-framing things in my own mind, learning, growing and becoming more aware and mindful.

Now, excuse me, because I have some serious re-organizing to do 🙂

Day 86–Planning Your Garden (from Dig In!)

Produce doesn’t get more local than your own yard or patio. It’s gardening season again–what are your plans?

This week, we are finishing up plans for our vegetable and herb garden. We have made some changes to our gardening to take advantage of our strengths and minimize our challenges (which are many). Our raised beds now make a more cohesive gardening area in our one patch of full sun, and we have plans for a mulched walkway leading to the back yard, which should make our sunny side yard a little more appealing. Although we had hoped to fill our raised beds with compost this weekend, several days of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings (nature’s way of telling us to watch more basketball) kept us inside. Our goal is to get a LOT of work done over the next two weekends so we can take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get plants in the ground a bit early. One thing we need to do once we decide the raised beds will stay, is have a water spigot added to that side of the house. In the hot summer, even water from our rain barrels isn’t enough to keep the plants going and hauling a hose from around the house while mosquitoes are attacking me is not my idea of a good time.

Previously, we planted only vegetables in our raised beds, but this year we are adding more herbs to the mix. Not only will the herbs complement the vegetables we receive from our CSA, many of them will overwinter, saving us some work and expense next year. They will also save us a good deal of money this year. Those packets of fresh herbs at the grocery are crazy expensive!

Are you planning a garden this year? We received some wonderful information and support at the Dig In! conference, sponsored by Advocates for Health in Action. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself before you start picking out plants and digging your garden beds.

  1. What do you want from your space? –Do you want flowers for the table? Food for your family? Both? Herbs to season your food? Does the garden need to be decorative?
  2. What are you willing to put in?–This is an important question and my guess is that most gardeners (myself included) don’t confront this question honestly. I swear to myself that I WILL water the garden even when the mosquitoes are as big as horses and coming after me. This, of course, is a lie. Think about what you can really give in terms of time, money, work, effort and space.
  3. What kind of land do you have?–Is your plot of land a balcony? A small farm? A suburban lot? A plot in a community garden? The kind of land you have (and how much) will dictate whether containers, raised beds, or a tractor are in order. Even a small space like a balcony can, with the right sun, be a vegetable garden.
  4. Get your soil tested!–I don’t do this because with our tree roots, we use raised beds. We fill them with certified, composted material and fertilize with fish emulsion and as long as we are watering (read #2 above), we do well.
  5. Know what soil your plants need.–If you like boggy plants (sweet flag, some irises), put in a pond. If you want roses, you will need a richer soil. We like many Mediterranean herbs (oregano, rosemary, basil), and these don’t require rich soil or a great deal of attention, but they also don’t like to be overwatered as their natural climate is hot, dry, with rocky soil. Any good garden center will be able to tell you what your plants need.
  6. Create a friendly space.–If you want to spend time in your garden puttering around or if you have outdoor animals (or small children), don’t plant thorny or toxic plants. This sounds obvious, but some stunningly lovely plants can be toxic if eaten. And if you want your child (as I do) to feel comfortable tasting in the garden, you need to check out your plants!
  7. Consider all the senses.–Consider taste, scent, appearance and texture in the garden. Good plants to start with are swiss chard, lemon balm, rosemary, fig trees and strawberries.
  8. Compost!–We have a rolling composter that is wonderful for using up the many leaves we have in the fall plus the coffee grounds and vegetable trimmings. Homemade compost practically makes itself and is almost like free gold for your garden! If you have a patio garden, there are smaller composters that do not take up much space or you can try worm composting (more on this later).
  9. Use readily available materials.–If you have a patio or container garden, go to your local garden center and ask for larger black pots that shrubs and small trees come in. They may charge you a bit or they may be so happy to find someone to use them that they will be free. Also, if your town does some landscaping, they may have all kinds of pots for you. 
  10. Consider an herb spiral. These spiral shaped gardens use brick, rock or other materials to create a spiral with plants added between the lines of the spiral. See one here from another blogger, The Kale Yard.

Here’s to the optimism of spring, when all gardening miracles are possible! Have fun planning your garden, whether it is a few pots or a few acres!

Day 85–Starting Week 13–Budget and Menu

The title for this week should be “how I blew my budget on fresh scallops.” We are way over budget this week at $136.40. I think that might be a record in our 13 week journey so far! How did we go so far afield this week? Well, there are two reasons (really, three, but I’m not counting my lack of self-discipline):

  1. We ran out of several staple ingredients (flour, organic sugar, butter, vanilla, olive oil) and stocking up the pantry added to our weekly bill. Because I don’t track how these ingredients are used, I don’t cost them out over the weeks so they are reflected in this week’s budget.
  2. Locals Seafood had the year’s first fresh caught jumbo NC scallops. I caved. At $22/lb they were definitely a splurge. I also increased the amount of fish I ordered since we are all big fish eaters and I seemed to have disappointed faces when all the fish was gone.

Here is how our budget worked out for the week:

  • Locals Seafood (fresh NC scallops, fresh NC striped sea bass): $63.00
  • Heaven on Earth Organics (broccoli, swiss chard, onions): $13.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, Ezekiel bread, organic sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, organic lemons, soy milk, sardines, pasta): $50.40
  • Singing Turtle Farm (whole wheat pastry flour): $10.00

That is a whole lotta money. I’ll be under control more next week 🙂 What are we having this week for such a large sum? Here’s the menu:

  • Sunday–fresh caught NC jumbo scallops and lemon zest served on lemon pepper pasta; lemon blueberry pound cake
  • Monday–Pasta con sarde (pasta with sardines), salad
  • Tuesday–Scrambled egg Florentine
  • Wednesday–leftovers
  • Thursday–Pan seared rockfish (striped bass) over greens w/roasted carrots
  • Friday–leftover fish, broccoli and salad
  • Saturday–Pizza

So, austerity it isn’t, but a special feast every once in a while isn’t so bad, is it? With the exception of the pound cake, at least it is all low-fat and healthy–and at least the pound cake is homemade with whole wheat, locally milled flour and not store-bought. But still, when I look at our weekly budget, I’m seeing a lot of rice and cous cous in next week’s menu 🙂

 

 

Day 84–Beautiful Swiss Chard

20120323-142129.jpg

Some vegetables are so lovely that they are almost ornamental in the garden (and on your plate). Bright Lights swiss chard is dazzling to look at in the garden with its stalks of fushia, neon yellow, bright green and ruby red. In the late winter garden, when everything looks so brown, chard adds some visual happiness to the landscape. It’s also a super healthy and delicious addition to our diet.

This is one of our famer’s market finds this week! Happy market shopping!

Day 83–Healthy School Fundraisers and Wellness

The universe has presented me with an opportunity. Three actually. Life is funny that way, isn’t it?

The first is an upcoming, free workshop on healthy school fundraisers, offered by the organization Advocates for Health in Action. Considering my last rant about selling vats of raw cookie dough for the band, this was perfect timing. Not only is the workshop free and timely, it will be held about 2 miles from my home in Cary! I am registered and ready to go! And since I can’t take you all with me (although that would be beyond fun!), I’ll share what I learn here, just in case you can use the information.

The second is a possible new fundraiser for the band. I contacted the band director and asked if maybe a benefit concert by the steel drum band would raise money for their upcoming trip. Seems like a win-win–we can encourage school spirit and raise some money while the steel drum band gets extra practice. And it doesn’t involve asking people to buy raw cookie dough. He’s looking into it! Putting my time where my mouth is, I offered to help if it works out. I really hope it does.

The third opportunity is to start a Wellness Committee at Ellie’s school. I haven’t done anything like this, so this is new territory. We have a relatively new PTA board coming in as well as a new principal, so the timing may be right to get something started! I’m thinking of a school committee that would involve parents, teachers and students to identify and address issues that are significant to a middle school population. The current PTA board is encouraging, so I’m moving ahead with a proposal. We’ll see!

Sometimes, when I think the universe is not paying attention, I find that I am really the one who needs to pay attention and be mindful of what is around me. Rather than curse the darkness, I will light a candle. Or maybe three. 

 

Day 82–Saladpalooza

Our inaugural saladpalooza ingredients!

Spring is salad time! Spring greens are so fresh and tasty here–the lettuce is still sweet and not in danger of bolting, carrots are in and broccoli is still coming in from the winter gardens.

My family loves a salad bar–it’s nice to have choices and build a salad just the way you want it. But restaurant salad bars tend to use bagged lettuce and pre-cut vegetables shipped halfway across the country. And don’t even ask where those eggs on the salad bar come from. So, I wondered to myself, how can we make a better salad bar concept at home?

Enter Saladpalooza! Why “palooza”? No reason except it sounded good to me at the time. It’s all in the marketing, right??

Saladpalooza night featured our farmers market finds, all cleaned, chopped and ready for salad-building.

We had:

  • Organic Red leaf lettuce from Ben’s Produce
  • Broccoli from the state farmers market
  • Organic mushrooms (leftovers)
  • Hothouse tomatoes and cucumber from the state farmers market
  • Organic carrots from Coon Rock Farm
  • Avocado
  • Organic spring onions from Heaven On Earth Organics
  • Hard boiled eggs from Water Oaks Farm
  • Leftover grated cheese
  • Homemade ranch dressing from Creative Noshing’s recipe

    Spring is the time when fresh lettuce shines! This red leaf was sweet, crunchy and delicious!

Similar to our pizza challenge, everyone gets to choose what goes on their salad and no one gets pestered to eat something they don’t like. When there are only good choices, it doesn’t matter who chooses what! And the mini-salad bar uses up small amounts of leftover vegetables, making it a good “clean up” meal.

I’d love to say Ellie ate loads of vegetables, but in truth, she didn’t eat with us last night, so that is still untested territory. Tom and I declared it a delicious success and will be trying it again soon!

Try a saladpalooza night this spring and see if it’s a hit with your family. As for us, this is all that was left!