Day 115–Go Play Outside!

My back yard would make Martha Stewart hurl.

I mean, we’re not all Sanford and Son or anything (I realize I am dating myself with that reference), but my back yard is a mash-up of a swing set that is almost never used for swinging, two Adirondack chairs and two painted children’s chairs. In addition, there are yards of tulle from some long forgotten project, a volleyball, a pink playground ball, a few leftover Halloween decorations and some pots full of Japanese maple seedlings that Ellie and the neighborhood children have “rescued”. Last weekend, the gang on our street managed to start an amateur worm farm and they somehow caught a vole that lived for a while in an empty strawberry bucket. His name was Doug (dug).

Martha Stewart it ain’t. I was feeling twinges of suburban guilt that my back yard is not picture perfect and sometimes I sense that other parents aren’t so thrilled with the freedom I give children in our yard. I mean, we have rules of a sort–it’s not Lord of the Flies. But parents want their kids to play organized games. They want them to swing nicely on the swing set. They don’t want them to get dirty. They need to get a grip.

So in my ever swirling realm of mommy-guilt, it is a relief to find that other people actually advocate for children to get outside and explore. And exploring can be messy. I don’t let Ellie roam the neighborhood by herself because today’s world is just too weird. But our backyard is ours–it is a place where she can explore. Where a swing set can be an animal hospital or a train or a fort. Adirondack chairs turned sideways can be a doghouse or a cave for Katniss Everdeen or a fairy house. Sometimes the dog has a role in these games, sometimes not. Does Ellie get filthy? Yes. Does she learn the hard way that sliding down the slide in our winter sled is not a good idea? Yes. Do I care if she is dirty? No.

Today, I opened up Twitter to find a new blog resource for getting our children outside and fostering their creativity in fun and inexpensive ways. It’s called Play Outside! Of course, this is an Australian blog–they seem to do the coolest things with outdoor education and children. They are compiling ideas in outdoor education from around the blogosphere and the database of ideas is searchable. So cool and such great timing for spring and summer! I think I’m going to try hanging a clothesline and a sheet for a curtain and see what kind of drama comes about!

You know, my daughter is 11 and I have just a few more years with her where she wants to play outside. There’s time for a Martha Stewart yard. But not yet.

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Day 106–Starting Week 15–Budget and Menu

I absolutely love this time of year. Our farmers markets are full of fresh, spring produce, strawberries are ripe and we don’t have scorching temperatures yet. In some ways, shopping at the markets was easier in the winter–now I find myself completely smitten by all kinds of beautiful produce NOT on my shopping list. A good excercise in self-control. And–TA DA!–this is the first week for our Produce Box deliveries! My box of lettuce, greens, strawberries and hothouse cucumbers should be delivered Wednesday afternoon. We’ve planned a Saladpalooza night to celebrate!

This week’s budget is pretty good! I spent $94.40on our groceries for this week. I spent an additional $18.00 on strawberries that have become jam and frozen berries for later (recipes to come this week). Since we are getting more in our Produce Box, I went ahead and put almost all of the strawberries up for later. So, technically, I went over budget at $112.40, but the six half pints of jam and quarts of frozen berries will be used throughout the year. That should save us over the course of the year. We have a busy week ahead, so no super involved dinners. Hopefully we will get some rain this week–we sure do need it.

  • Water Oaks Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Produce Box (lettuce, greens, strawberries, cucumbers and more): $23.00
  • Farmer’s Market, various vendors (bok choi, potatoes, onion): $13.00
  • Farmhand Foods (skirt steak from Meatbox): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (broccoli, chicken thighs, frozen fruit, soy milk, Ezekiel bread): $39.40

What’s on the menu for this week? Well, here it is–pretty simple, but good!

  • Sunday–grilled skirt steak, sugar snap peas, potatoes, salad; carryover frozen lemon blueberry pound cake and strawberries for dessert
  • Monday–chicken and veggie stir fry with spicy peanut sauce
  • Tuesday–grilled cheese with leftover Hillsborough Cheese Co cheese and frozen chicken soup [What’s On Your Plate? screening]
  • Wednesday–egg salad sandwiches, carrots and strawberries for dessert
  • Thursday–saladpalooza!
  • Friday–leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–family pizza night, salad

A great moment for me this week was completing my first 5K road race in a long time. I have never been able to finish a race running the entire distance (I usually have to do a run/walk thing toward the end). But I ran the entire way and felt absolutely great! I am owing a good part of this to our better eating and more conscious exercising. We’re looking for the next race to run!

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the beautiful spring weather wherever you are!

Day 103–What’s On Your Plate?

I heart Advocates for Health in Action (AHA). I think I’ve learned more from this local non-profit than I have from any other single source. Their acronym, when pronounced (Aha!) is a sound I make frequently when learning from them–how convenient! We enjoyed the Dig In! conference on community gardening last month and I picked many healthy fundraising ideas from a recent workshop. Now, we have another opportunity for family learning through a public screening of a documentary called “What’s On Your Plate?”.

“What’s On Your Plate?” is a 75 minute documentary produced by two 11-year-old girls. That’s right–11 year olds. Inspired by a really great local tomato they had while on vacation, the girls decided to explore why their fresh farm tomato tasted better than what they found in their local market. This led to a fuller exploration of where food comes from, how it is processed and how it gets to your table. Really, any documentary that investigates funyuns is ok in my book–I still can’t figure those things out.

The screening is free (reservations required, click HERE) on Tuesday, April 17th at the Cary Arts Center. Doors open at 6:00 and community booths, including Great Harvest Bread Co., the Cary Pocket Garden and others will be on hand with goodies. The film starts at 6:30 and is followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with a pediatrician, nutritionist and others. If you complete a challenge following the film, you can enter to win all kinds of healthy prizes. I saw a preview of the film and it looks wonderful–funny, smart and engaging–just like the young ladies who produced it. We will post a review of the film after seeing the full production, but if this is showing in your area, you might want to take advantage of it!

Day 95–Easter Menu and Honey Dijon Ham

Easter eggs

I love making Easter supper. Maybe it’s the cute bunnies and eggs that decorate our table, maybe it’s the ham. Maybe it’s that all my holiday cooking is a safe 4 months behind me and I’m ready to tackle a big meal again. This year, we are having a locavore Easter feast (dessert is our exception) and I am ready!

The centerpiece of our Easter supper is a locally produced, mini boneless ham from Wilson County. We had one of these back in January and it was AMAZING. The recipe is below. Here is our menu:

  • Honey Dijon ham from Wilson County with NC honey
  • Roasted asparagus from Johnston County
  • Broccoli salad w/organic broccoli from New Hanover County
  • Deviled eggs from Durham
  • Whole wheat buttermilk biscuits w/wheat from Benson and buttermilk from Chapel Hill
  • Nutella silk pie (homemade from grocery store ingredients)

Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, the Spring Equinox or Earth Day, I hope you have some wonderful celebrations centering on the local spring bounty from your area farms!

Honey Dijon Ham

5-6 lb. boneless, uncooked ham

1/2 c. local honey

3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 c. water

  1. Remove ham from refrigerator and packaging and let stand for 60 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Place ham in a shallow roasting pan. Add water to bottom of the pan and cover the ham with foil.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes covered.
  5. Combine honey, mustard and brown sugar in a small bowl.
  6. Uncover ham and baste with honey mustard. Continue basting every 30 minutes until ham is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. In my oven, this is about 1.5 hours more.
  7. When ham temperature reaches 160, remove from oven, baste again and let rest 10 minutes.
  8. Carve and serve to your astonishingly hungry family!

Day 93–Gambling With a Garden

Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged in an aest...

Gardening is gambling with dirt.–Mark Twain

I am, typically, not a gambling person. I don’t buy lottery tickets, never been to Vegas, and don’t play bingo. Probably, much of this is because I do not have that “winner’s luck” required to succeed at games of chance. My mother has it. My brother has it in spades. Clearly, it skipped me. But still, I do get “the fever.”

You see, my gambling fever strikes me each year in February (no, not March Madness; my gambling there is with my pride, not with money). In February, we have the onslaught of the commercial seed catalogs. By the late winter months, I have forgotten about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the 95% humidity of a North Carolina summer. I have put last year’s gardening behind me and am staring at leafless trees and a brown landscape. Then, I open my mailbox in early February, and see color photos of beautiful, lush gardens, perfect flowers and tomato plants so full of juicy tomatoes that they need heavy-duty staking. It’s seed porn and it has me hooked. I am ready to take the risk. I mean, this could be the year, right? Right?

Betting on the success of our Cinderella garden, we spent the weekend organizing our gardening space to increase the odds of our success. We used the garden planning questions from the Dig In! conference to seriously think about what we have, what we can give and what we need from our little garden. Our garden is not large–just four raised beds–3 are 6′ x 3′ and one is 3′ x 3′. Not so much that we will get overwhelmed, but enough to keep us in the game. Here are some decisions we made using our planning questions.

  1. We know we hate to tote water around the yard. Knowing that watering is a chore in the heat of summer, we moved the raised beds from the scattered patches of sun in the yard to one central area, close to our rain barrels. This was helped greatly by the loss of a huge oak tree last fall. We may be eaten alive by mosquitoes come summer, but at least the sacrifice will be quicker.
  2. We are planting to save money and shopping time. In looking at what fresh items were the most expensive at the store and market, we planted the herbs that we most commonly buy–several kinds of basil, oregano, mint (in pots), lemon balm, rosemary, dill, flat leaf parsley and chives. These are typically pretty expensive and sometimes hard to find. In addition, many of these herbs overwinter here or at least re-seed themselves, so hopefully our investment will be seen over several years.
  3. We know what we want and we want fresh salads. Instead of buying a huge assortment of vegetables that we don’t consume in great quantity, we bought what we like to eat the most–cucumber, several tomato varieties, green peppers and eggplant. I’m betting (!) that we will get out and water in the heat if we know that the goal isn’t just random vegetables, but better salads.
  4. Our garden will be organic. I have never used pesticides other than insecticidal soap and I don’t plan to now. With that in mind, we understand we will need to be extra vigilant for bugs, bunnies and other critters that find our garden as appealing as we do.
  5. We want our garden to look nice. All our beds are now in a side yard that is easily visible to our neighbors. They are terrific neighbors and don’t complain, but we’d like the garden to be attractive for them when they look out their windows. We also want it to be a contemplative space for us. So, we’ll be adding a mulch path, some butterfly friendly flowers and other decorative elements as we go through the spring months.

Maybe our gambling luck is turning in our favor. Hours after filling our beds with compost and planting our initial garden, we had a very scary storm that included hail. “Good grief,” I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” (Tom can attest that my words were, indeed, stronger than “good grief!”) Lo and behold, the next morning we checked on the garden and not a plant was touched by the hail.

If I were a betting girl, I’d say that was a sign…

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Two of our raised beds in their early stages!

Day 92–Starting Week 14–Budget and Menu

After last week’s budget buster, we are back on track with plenty of fresh vegetables and good things to eat. We were glad to find fresh spinach fettucine by Melina’s Pasta at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market. We can’t wait to try it! This weekend was spent at the market and getting our own garden ready for action. We’ve planted a salad garden of tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers and some Japanese eggplant. I love eggplant, but a large, full-sized eggplant is a lot for us to eat. The Japanese variety are the perfect size for us (and they ripen quickly!).

Here is how our budget played out this week, with a total of $95.62:

  • Local’s Seafood (summer flounder): $18.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (fresh mozzarella): $6.00
  • Coon Rock Farm (chicken and fresh eggs): $21.00
  • Farmers Market–misc (asparagus, swiss chard, broccoli): $10.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettucine): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (organic garlic, ground turkey, tortillas, frozen fruit, soy milk, cous cous, onions): $34.62

And here’s the scoop on this week’s menu!

  • Sunday–cornmeal dusted flounder, sautéed kale (the end of our garden kale), homemade cornbread w/NC cornmeal
  • Monday–Chicken curry cous cous w/chopped veggies, salad
  • Tuesday–Turkey taco night w/quinoa
  • Wednesday–Eggs nested in swiss chard and mushrooms
  • Thursday–Pasta w/ham and spring asparagus, salad
  • Friday–Leftover pasta, salad
  • Saturday–BLT sandwiches with carryover Mae Farm bacon

Not bad for $95! Looks like we are back on track again! Thanks to everyone who read Ellie’s guest blog post and commented. It was a real boost to her (and a boost to her chicken advocacy efforts!).

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 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 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 81–Cracking the Cookie Code

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Ok, I had mixed emotions about the two-month-long cookie sale for our Girl Scout troop. I don’t love the idea of young people out peddling highly processed, sugary food when we already struggle with getting them to eat healthy. But, in the spirit of tradition (and out of fear of the Girl Scout Council), I pushed ahead, stayed positive, kept my issues to myself and we all survived. We counted cookies, set up booths, counted some more, hit up our neighbors, collected money, counted some more and then…we were done! No. More. Cookies!

Then, I received an email from Ellie’s middle school band director. The band’s booster club had chosen a fundraiser to purchase some badly needed equipment and defray the cost for the steel drum band to perform at Disney World. This fundraiser…is…wait for it…selling tubs of raw cookie dough. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH. Are you kidding me?

First, let me say that I am a huge supporter of PTA’s and school arts programs, especially band programs–how cool is it that we even have a middle school steel drum band? And I am a big fan of our school’s band director–he is amazing and, for patiently teaching all those hormonally charged young people, he probably deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I contacted the band director immediately and explained our dilemma. Did I say how awesome he is? He is awesome. I suggested that instead of purchasing a vat of cookie dough, we make a family donation to the band boosters to cover the proceeds of what we might have sold. No problem.

Except there is a problem. And that problem is called “sales incentives”. Or as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: the “Extreme Fundraising Prize Pool”. The dazzling array of cheaply produced, made-in-a-sweat-shop goods had Ellie smitten. And, there is some social peer pressure involved. Those of you without children, do not judge. It’s unfathomable the frenzy these cheap prizes cause within a school. So, after a great deal of discussion, we decided to find out what is in the cookie dough, and if it didn’t seem too terrible, we would see if our neighbors wanted any. If there were unpronounceable ingredients or big health issues, we would pass. No problem.

Except there was another problem. And that problem is called “we’re not going to tell you what is in our cookie dough”. Or, as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: “Secret Ingredients”.

After a fruitless online search to find ingredient lists, I called Entertainment Fundraising to see if they could email me a list of ingredients in their cookie dough. In this day of food allergies, that didn’t seem like a crazy request. I spoke with “Charles” about this at length. Our conversation went something like this:

C:   This is Charles at Entertainment Fundraising!!!! How can I help you!!!!

Me: Hi Charles, our school band is selling your tubs of cookie dough this spring…

C:  Great!!! The cookie dough is super!!!

Me:  Yes, well, I’m looking for a list of the ingredients in the different doughs, but I can’t find one online. Can you help me with this?

C:   Oh (no more exclamation points). No, we can’t give you the list of ingredients.

Me:  Um, ok, why is that?

C:   We cannot communicate with anyone except the fundraiser chairperson.

Me: Um, ok, why is that?

C:  They have the special code to download information from the website.

Me: Does this information include ingredients?

C:  Probably.

Me: But you can’t send it to me?

C:  No.

Me: And why is that?

C: Your fundraising chairperson has the special code.

Me: Hmm, well that seems odd, Charles, but I’ll try to get in touch with our fundraising chairperson…

C: Ok, great!!!! And thank YOU for supporting the children!!!

Me: Whatevs.

I thought for sure, I would never see an ingredient list. Then, this morning I received several pdf files from the band director in my email (because he is awesome). Ingredients lists! Overall, the cookie doughs use a lot of partially hydrogenated oils (which by their nature include trans fats), several different kinds of sugar including fructose and some of the cookies include parabens. Being raw cookie dough, they also include preservatives, which is not a huge surprise. I showed the list to some folks I work with and they all agreed that 1) a vat of cookie dough is, in principle, gross and 2) they were not interested in foods with such a high level of fat.

In the end, this has spurred a lot of thinking about how we talk the talk of health with our children, but we really don’t put that into practice when it counts. We tell them to make good choices, then send them out to sell poor choices to other people. As a result of all this, I have made an offer to the PTA to start a Wellness Committee of teachers, parents and students at the school, but haven’t heard back.

But for reals now, I am done with cookies…