Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio

It’s time for another book review. Well, OK, the truth is I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. I wrote the review back when I used up my last "renewal" at the library and had to return the book, and then I forgot to actually post it to my blog!

I found this beautiful coffee table book fascinating, and not just in the way the authors intended. In brief, the couple who wrote the book traveled around the world visiting families in 24 countries and recording what the families ate for a week. At the end of the week, they took the families shopping to buy "a week’s worth of food" (paid for by the authors) and photographed each family with their groceries. They wrote a few pages about each family and included statistics about the country. The families were not chosen to be representative of the whole country, and sometimes the authors used multiple families from the same country to show differences in, for example, the diet of rural versus urban residents.

The pictures in the book, and it is as much a photography book as it is anything else, were outstanding. The lists of groceries (written in microscopic print!) were fascinating. But what I enjoyed the most was that the text and photo pages of each family gave a snapshot of ordinary life in that country. (There was no attempt to be consistent and some families got pages and pages while others got very little. I noticed that whenever there was a particularly cute young child in the family, the family seemed to get more press time!) I enjoyed the book so much that instead of devouring it in one sitting, as is my usual manner, I rationed myself to four families per night so I could string it out as long as possible.

I found it both encouraging that there is so much local food culture left in the world, and depressing that our processed food culture has spread so far. The one thing I wish the authors had done differently is I wish they had converted the local prices not only into US dollars, but also into what the food would have cost if purchased in the US. That would have been a really difficult task, though, so I can understand why they didn’t do it.

Overall recommendation: Outstanding!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Munchkin's Saw Quilt

Last July, I took Scott and Munchkin with me on my annual pilgrimage to the quilt show in Sisters, Oregon. The guys, particularly Munchkin, were mostly unimpressed with the over 1000 quilts hanging out in the breeze. Then, after looking at many, many quilts, Munchkin got all excited and started shouting, "Saw quilt! Saw quilt!" I realized he was pointing at a quilt made with a "sawtooth" pattern, and the quilter had quilted it in spirals, making it look like there were sawblades. Pretty sharp for a two-year-old.

In October, I got Munchkin up from his nap one afternoon and he said, "There's a saw quilt in Sisters. We should go there and get one of those." Wow. So, what's a mom to do? I made him one. I couldn't find a similar pattern, so I printed out the picture from Sisters, enlarged a section of pattern to the size I wanted, and measured it. I made the quilt the size of a bedspread for a toddler bed since we're converting his crib sometime next weekend.

We have video of Munchkin unwrapping his "saw quilt." I was a little disappointed that he didn't recognize it at first, but then I held it farther away from him so he could see the pattern. After he figured out what it was, he jumped all over the "sawblades" saying that they were sharp and cutting his toes! I think he'll enjoy it.

Saw Quilt Pattern




Here are pictures of the quilt Munchkin saw in Sisters (left) and my version (right).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Casualty

About 15 years ago, when Scott didn't have money for Christmas ornaments, he baked a batch of gingerbread men to hang on his tree. By the time we met, some of them were missing limbs, but they were still cute, so we used them. Every year, I put them away with the ornaments, and every year when we get them out again more of them seem to be missing parts. This year, I picked out one that was a little moldy (I think), but he looked better than the others and he was only missing his eyes. I hung him high on the tree where little hands couldn't reach. Then came Trouble Day.

Munchkin had a day last week when he just couldn't be good. Every time I turned my back, he did something he shouldn't. At one point, I was on the phone when my "mommy radar" went off, and, tired, I ignored it. When I got off the phone, I didn't notice anything out of place except for Munchkin's lego bin stuck under the tree. I moved the bin and didn't think anything of it until later when I saw this little guy. He was still on the tree where I put him, but, well, the picture tells the story. I called poison control and the guy laughed and said it happens all the time. Munchkin didn't even get the tummy ache he deserved!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Local Meal (week 11): New Discoveries


This is the last week of the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge (unless, of course, somebody decides to continue it!). Can't believe I made it and I've still got a ton of local food in the fridge and freezer! I have a little less in the (laundry room) pantry, but you'll just have to keep reading to learn about that...

This week's local meal was one of our standby favorites: beef stroganoff. It turned out very tasty served over mashed potatoes (even though I actually prefer it over rice) and we also had cut up raw veggies. The local ingredients were: grass-fed beef, potatoes, leeks (a great substitute for green onions!), sour cream, butter and carrots. Non-local were the mushrooms (Someday I'll get brave and try the local ones, I promise!), spices (allowed), and the celery, which was a goof. I thought it was local, but when I bit into it I remembered that I had purchased some at the store as well. I noticed because it wasn't half as good!

One of my own challenge "rules" was to source a new local ingredient each month. For December, I chose flour, the ingredient that seems to challenge everybody. I've done some research trying to find Oregon wheat flour and was puzzled for a while as to why I could find an Oregon Wheat Growers League, but no local flour. It turns out Oregon farmers grow soft white wheat, which is good for making pasta, and and they ship most of it to Asia. You need hard red wheat flour to make bread, but it grows no closer than Montana. Even local companies like Bob's Red Mill get their wheat for bread flour from outside the state. (Some of Bob's Red Mill soft white flour does come from Oregon.)

Then I learned about a company called Azure Standard. They serve as a distributor for many other companies (mostly organic), but they also have their own farm called Azure Farm where they grow small amounts of wheats and grains, which they mill into flours. Not everything sold under the Azure Farm label is grown at their farm, so I inquired about the source of the wheat. The flour sold by the pound (5 lb. up to 50 lb.) is from Utah, but the flour (including whole wheat and white flour) sold by the ounce (eg. 27 oz. package) is from their farm. Wa-la! Oregon flour!

Azure has a unique distribution method since to send their food by normal shipping would be prohibitively expensive. They have truck routes throughout the pacific northwest and there are drop sites on each route. You figure out what route you are on and then call them for the name of the person organizing the drop site. If the group order comes to $400 or more, shipping is free. An individual gets free shipping for an order of at least $40 that is part of an at least $400 order to the drop site. The truck comes once a month or more for some routes. Make sense? I had to call them to get it all explained. So anyway, I ordered a catalog and got the name of the person with the closest drop site. I'm planning on placing an order sometime soon. I'm not sure it really matters (except to an "Eat Local" challenge) if I buy Oregon or Utah organic wheat. What is nice is knowing that if I use the flour to bake my own bread, I don't have to be concerned about whether the bread contains weird products added to wheat gluten that came from China. (I admit I'll probably keep buying bread a lot of the time for convenience, but at least I finally found Oregon flour!)

One final note: There has been a lot of ideas proposed among the challenge blog writers about how to use butternut squash. I found a use that no one has mentioned, yet. You store the squash in a paper bag in your laundry room, which is sort of heated since it's in your house, and then one day you pick up the paper bag. The squash falls out the bottom of the bag, rotted. It lands right on your shoe. Clean the goopy glop off your shoe and then clean the floor which hasn't been mopped in months. Butternut squash can inspire housecleaning!

Thanks, Laura at Urban Hennery, for the fun!

Workman in the Moon

Somehow, the subject of astronauts came up the other day and I told Munchkin about Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. This was followed by the following conversation:

Munchkin: What was his name?
Me: Neil Armstrong.
Munchkin: Does he have tools?

And a few minutes later...
Munchkin: What kind of tools does a moon man use, Mommy?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to all!!!
And may all your kids take their naps this afternoon...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Local Meal (week 10): Not eggxiting, but I like it

I went to college in Wheaton, Illinois, a city we Wheaties called "Evangelical Mecca." On Sunday mornings, a row of buses from local churches would line up outside the college dining hall and students would board the bus of whatever church suited their fancy that morning. Church seemed to be as much a social event as it was a spiritual event and after the services, people would go to each others’ houses for brunch/dinner/whatever you want to call it. It was so much a tradition that on Sunday mornings spouses would ask each other, "Do we want to have people over today, or do we want to go to someone else’s house?" If they decided to invite people over, they put something in the oven.

It was in Wheaton that I discovered the brunch egg dish I later learned was called "strata." I loved it, but being a college student who lived in the dorms, I never thought to ask anyone for a recipe. In later years, I unsuccessfully tried different recipes to recreate that dish. I finally meshed two recipes together into a combination that comes close to what I remember from school days. Our local meal this week featured my strata accompanied by sourdough toast. Everything was local except for the spices and the bread. Since Laura, the very nice founder of this challenge, is looking for egg dishes (She has chickens! In town!), I’ll include the recipe. Everything is flexible – I use whatever I have.

Egg Strata
6-8 slices of bread, chopped into cubes (it’s better if you take the crust off)
1-2 c cheddar cheese, grated
1-2 c cooked diced ham or cooked bulk sausage (could substitute vegetables)
5-6 eggs
2 cups milk
Garlic salt (not too much)
Seasoning salt (whatever kind you like)
Lemon pepper (this one is the most important)

Combine bread cubes, meat and half the cheese in a buttered baking dish. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together until smooth. Shake seasonings into mixture until it seems like there’s a lot floating on top (that’s my measurement – I’m afraid you’ll have to make up your own). Mix well and pour over bread, meat and cheese. Top with remaining cheese and poke down into the liquid a little. Refrigerate overnight (it works fine to bake it immediately, but the bread cubes will be more evident). Remove from fridge at least one hour before baking. Bake one hour at 350 degrees, uncovered. Use a knife inserted in the middle to test for doneness and serve immediately. Serves 4-6 people and one picky toddler.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seattle

I don't know if I can do this one justice, but I'll try. The other day, Scott casually mentioned to Munchkin that someday he wants to take a train ride to Seattle and go see a Mariner's game. A while later, Munchkin decided he was going to Seattle. He began before dinner, talked all the way through dinner, and went into overdrive after dinner talking about his trip to Seee-attle and "packing" the entire contents of one of my kitchen cabinets into paper bags. We asked questions a la "Kid's say the darndest things" and Munchkin had an answer for everything. At one point we turned on the video recorder and left it on until it ran out of tape. It's too bad it's too long for America's Funniest because it's worthy. The length is part of its charm, though. Some sample questions:

How would he get to Seattle? By car, plane, train and taxi.
What would he do when he got there? It wouldn't be dinner, yet, so they would cook him dinner.
Where would he stay? He had Seee-attle friends.
Does he know Bill Gates? He does NOT.
Has he bought the plane tickets? He has.
How did he pay for them? He has a cash register. He bought it at Walmart.
Why is he packing all the water bottles? They might not have water in Seee-attle.
What else is he going to eat? He's bringing yogurt.
Did he bring any ice cream? No, he forgot ice cream.

It went on for at least 90 minutes. Munchkin talked continuously as he energetically packed and packed. What a hoot! By the next morning, he was on to something else.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Local Meal (week 9): Almost!

This week I began four different meals that were supposed to be our local meal for the week. Each time I added something that broke my "only one non-local ingredient" rule and disqualified the meal. :o So here's a chronicle of my attempts:

Sunday: We cut down our Christmas tree (see Our little logger) and on the way home we stopped at a wonderful farm stand where I stocked up on some end-of-fall foods. Among other things, I bought a big bag of spinach which I used as the base for salads all week. Scott is happy to eat spinach raw, but if I dare cook it, no way! It was really nice to have green salads again. For dinner we ate at Scott's parents', and celebrated Christmas early. I received a pasta maker!

Monday: I made crockpot chili (which turned out delicious -- especially the leftovers!) with local ground pork, onions, garlic, and bell peppers. The beans, tomatoes and spices were non-local. Realizing I had already exceeded my one non-local limit, I added mandarin oranges and French fried onions to the spinach salad. I also baked cornbread and used up non-local eggs since I wasn't going to make this my local dinner after all.

Tuesday: I made omlettes with local eggs (I found them at the winter farmers' market!!!), Tillamook cheese, and local milk. To this I added spinach salad with local carrots and red onion. So far so good. Oops! I topped the salad with those tasty French fried onions! I also made blueberry muffins which turned out to have a ton of non-local ingredients in them, but the blueberries came from 8 feet outside my kitchen window, so I think that makes up for it! This meal came the closest, but I still wasn't satisfied.

Wednesday: I tried again with a spaghetti dinner. I used my last bag of (local, homemade) spaghetti sauce from the freezer and added local sausage to it. We ate more salad, and I just couldn't resist adding the decidedly non-local French fried onions -- they were so good and I wasn't going to be using my non-local ingredient anyway! I had grand plans for the noodles -- I was going to make my own pasta with my new toy! That is, until I got it out and read the instructions. I think I'd better allow a couple hours the first time I try it. So I used spaghetti noodles from the store. Almost made it.

Thursday: We had dinner at Scott's work Christmas party.

Friday: In one final attempt at an all-local meal, I made a simple dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches (cheese & butter local, bread not) and cut up raw veggies (the last of my local celery and some local carrots). But it didn't look like enough for dinner, so at the last minute I added a can of tomato soup to it. Two non-local ingredients again.

The surprise: Even though I didn't succeed in a "challenge meal" this week, I'm using a whole lot more local ingredients than I used to!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beethoven

Yesterday morning I found Munchkin standing in his crib singing softly into his stuffed tiger's tail. I asked, "Is that a microphone?"

Munchkin answered, "No, it's a horn. I'm Beethoven."

Then he went back to his song, "I like trains. I like trains. I like trains. I like trains..."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Our Little Logger


Munchkin's ready to saw down our Christmas tree! (He discovered, though, that his little plastic saw is more effective for digging in the mud!)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Local Meal (week 8): A Little Change of Plans

I made quite a find since my last post where I almost quit for loss of local ingredients – I found a farmers’ market that continues until Christmas! Believe me, I loaded up on all kinds of food I can no longer bear to buy at the grocery store! Good thing, too, since nobody has come up with any meal ideas for me! :)

Last night’s meal was supposed to be an all-local slow cooker beef recipe that we really enjoy. I figured I had just enough time to put it all together before I had to leave for work in the morning. When I heard the blood-curdling scream that woke me out of a sound sleep, I didn’t worry about it since my husband was up early and taking care of Munchkin. A few minutes later, Scott woke me up saying, "I have a problem..."

Turns out what led to the scream was Scott dropping an open jar of mayo on the kitchen floor, splattering everything and landing right on Munchkin's Elmo and Tigger. Scott did a great job of cleaning up, but when I came into the kitchen, the floor was nice and shiny... Scott asked, "Is there oil in mayonnaise?..."

So I spent my extra time mopping the floor, which didn’t really work. Tigger and Elmo both got baths today and Munchkin had such a great time giving them their baths that he's in his crib carrying on right now when he's supposed to be napping! Dinner became (not slow-cooker, but all local) pot roast with carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. Scott probably preferred it that way anyway.

The surprise: The local potatoes looked just like the brown ones in the grocery store, but they must have been some other variety because they were just a little sweet! Or maybe I'm starting to notice the change in the flavor of vegetables depending on the season. Anyway, they were very good. The roast needed something -- probably a nice long nap in the slow cooker.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Questions, Questions, Questions

Munchkin has entered his "Questions" stage. He can ask questions non-stop from morning ‘til night. I’m starting to record some of the more unusual ones before he drives me completely crazy! :)

"How do wires ‘nnect?" (How do telephone wires connect to telephone poles?)

"What tools do you need to make a sawblade clock?... You maybe need a flashlight."

"What does Frosty Snowman eat?"

And my current favorite...
"Do trains stick out their tongues?"