Monday, June 30, 2008

We can't have that!

Recently we spent an afternoon walking around downtown Portland (a real treat, if you've not been there before) and we observed an unusual street musician. He sat at a street corner by a lamp post surrounded by overturned five gallon paint buckets. As we watched, he performed an elaborate percussion solo using drumsticks on the paint buckets and the lamp post. After he finished he offered his drumsticks to Munchkin, but Munchkin was too awed to try it himself. He gets a little tongue-tied around his heros.

Several days later, Munchkin talked about the drummer and declared, "He needs to stop doing that!" I asked why and Munchkin explained, "He might ruin the paint buckets."

Friday, June 27, 2008

OLS #4: Chili & Cornbread

I had other plans for our local meal this week, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, so I looked at our other menus and realized I could use Thursday’s dinner instead. That’s one thing I love about buying local food – it makes it’s way into all our meals!

So anyway, tonight’s dinner was chili and cornbread. I started by cooking the beans and then I added ground beef, beans, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, spices and topped it with Parmesan cheese.

For the cornbread, I used a recipe from one of my favorites: More-with-Less Cookbook. I discovered this cookbook back in my college days and it remains one of the most useful books I own. Produced by the Mennonites, a good chunk of the book is about eating better while living lightly. The rest is from-scratch recipes and I haven’t found a bad one, yet. (Well, except for the lentil recipe that came out looking like dog food... but it tasted fine!) I baked from-scratch cornbread and served it with local butter and honey. Munchkin begged for more.

To complete the meal, I tossed a green salad that made use of Farmers’ market veggies , backyard lettuce and 3 sugar snap peas. My garden isn’t doing very well this year. There were five peas, but when I was outside before dinner, I accidentally ate two of them.

Local - grass-fed beef, Azure farm beans, onion, garlic
Non-local: Canned tomatoes (we’re still waiting in Oregon!), spices, Parmesan

Local - eggs, Azure farm whole wheat flour, milk, Tillamook butter, honey
Non-local - organic flour, organic cornmeal, oil, baking powder, salt

All local veggies
Non-local: dressing

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cheesemaking Attempt #5: Ask a professional!

Like everybody who reads "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I finished the book inspired to make my own mozzarella. I don’t want to discourage anybody from trying, but it’s not as simple as Kingsolver makes it sound. I’d learned many ways how not to make it and had mostly given up when a friend wrote a story on cheesemaking for our local paper. In the article, she mentioned a cooking store that offers a cheesemaking class. I’d looked everywhere, I thought, and had somehow missed it!

I was able to participate in the class last weekend and it was a lot of fun. The instructor used Rikki’s methods and materials and so everything was very familiar. After demonstrating ricotta and mascarpone, he made a batch of fresh mozzarella. The most important thing I learned was that it doesn’t always work (duh!). The instructor called professional cheesemakers across the country to try to figure out why his mozzarella didn’t always stretch, and they could only offer their sympathy. There was a lot of talk about whether the "cheese gods" were smiling.

Anyway, I paid close attention and, at a certain point, the cheese turned into a form I’ve never seen when I’ve tried it at home. But what I most wanted to know was whether it would taste good, since the batches I’ve made were sorely lacking. When the cheese began to stretch, the instructor pinched off samples, sprinkled them with salt, and handed them out. Scrumptious!

I described how my mozzarella turns into icky goo and asked what I was doing wrong. The instructor had no idea, but he knew exactly what I was talking about. The cheese was so good, I guess I’m just going to have to try again. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Too funny

The other morning Munchkin was stacking up legos along the edge of his bed when I heard a pathetic wail, "No, no, no, no, no! My wuv-ly (lovely) barricades! They can't fall down! My wuv-ly barricades!"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Be a bookworm!

Green Bean Dreams has been running a reading challenge the last two months that has become so popular that the Bean is launching a spin-off: The Blogging Bookworm! It's a blog book club where everybody can share about the latest (ecologically relevant) book they've read, check out reviews from others, and more.

The blog site will be maintained by fellow bloggers: Green Bean, kale for sale, Going Crunchy, and by me. Who knew that the little girl who got lost reading in her own bedroom would someday be blogging about books! (Hey, I wasn't lost -- I was reading! It was only my parents who thought I was lost!) Anyway, I'm excited about this new venture and I encourage all my Chocolate Crayon fans to check out the site, grab a cute little worm button if you want, and curl up with a good book!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

To all my locavore friends...

My husband spotted this "Baby Blues" cartoon in the Sunday (June 8) paper and insisted I cut it out... I laughed so hard that I put it up on my bulletin board! I'd post a picture of it, but I'm a little afraid of getting a "cease & desist" letter, so instead I'll refer you to the website and you can laugh there. If you click on this link after today, you'll have to enter the 6/8 date into the archives to see it.

Click here, scroll down to the cartoon and enjoy!

Friday, June 20, 2008

OLS #3: Burgerville!

OK, I’m cheating this week, but only sort of. I’d smiled at the billboards ("Last Burgerville for 24,000 miles"), but never thought of actually eating there until I read "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. This isn’t a review of "Fast Food Nation," but if you haven’t read it, it’s no exaggeration to compare it to Sinclair's "Jungle." It’s somewhat dated, now, but still worth the read. Anyway, after the author’s expose on the American food supply, he praises a few restaurants for serving fresh, local, sustainable food and Burgerville in the pacific northwest is one of them. I’ve been a convert ever since I sampled their fresh Oregon strawberry milkshake. And the Walla Walla onion rings. And the local hamburgers. I’m making myself hungry just thinking about it!

Anyway, Monday night, after a very long and stressful day, we were driving back from Portland and decided to stop at a Burgerville for dinner. I had my usual Tillamook cheesburger made with local-as-possible cheese, beef, lettuce, and California tomato (promised to be safe), real french fries, and of course a fresh strawberry milkshake - Oregon strawberries and local ice cream. Yum!

At the end of the meal, Scott and I waited as Munchkin finished the last of my milkshake. Our food wrappings were on the tray, so when a waitress walked by and asked if she could take it for us, I nodded. All of a sudden, Munchkin let out a blood-curdling scream and yelled at about 110 db for her to bring the tray back. (In Munchkin's defense, he'd had a very stressful day.) The waitress returned and asked apologetically, "Did I do something wrong?" I told her that Munchkin had left half of a french fry on the tray. The waitress left, and a minute later returned with wa fresh basket lined with paper and containing three french fries. She must have been a mom.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'll enjoy it while it lasts...

Munchkin spotted a particular article of clothing that I'd left on the dresser and asked, "Mommy, are those your kneepads?"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tagged - "Getting to know you"

Joyce has tagged me for "Getting to Know You." I have five questions to answer and then I tag more people. The questions are pretty good...

1. What were you doing ten years ago? Scott and I were still newly married and enjoying DINK freedom. I was working a lot more than I am now (at a regular job, I mean) and we traveled out of town at any opportunity.
2. What five things were on your to-do list for today? Grocery shopping. Check my parents' Oregon house to make sure the roof cleaners were doing their job. Go to Costco to buy pull-ups and baby wipes that we thought we were done with (don't ask). Take Munchkin on a walk down our hill to see the latest on the local construction project. Call the meat market to place our order for more grass-fed beef (oops! forgot to do that one!).
3. Snacks you enjoy? Popcorn, homebaked cookies, fresh perfectly ripe fruit, nuts, chocolate chips right out of the bag.
4. Places you've lived? San Francisco bay area, Aspen CO, Wheaton IL, Willamette valley OR.
5. What five things would you do if you were a billionare? I honestly don't know. It would take months to figure out an answer to that question. I would love to find the next Greg Mortensen and fund his projects!
6. People you want to know more about? Most of the people I'd pick have already been tagged, so I'll just add to the list Katrina and Kim. Thanks for the fun, Joyce!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Review: The Long Emergency

I hadn’t intended to read "The Long Emergency" by James Kunstler for Green Bean’s challenge, but it came back to the library before my chosen book and so I started it just because. I can’t even remember where I heard of the title or why I put it on reserve, but it was certainly eye-opening.

Before I read it I thought I knew about "peak oil." I knew that at the peak, which is most likely currently upon us, we would have used up half of the earth’s oil and then the price would go up. What I didn’t know was that oil fields follow a predictable production curve in which they produce the most they will ever produce (in barrels/day) at the peak and then they drop off every year after that. Besides that, the oil gets harder and harder to extract until it reaches the point at which it takes more energy to get it than the oil will produce. In 2004, it was projected that we had 37 years of oil left, but even that statistic is misleading since production levels drop off quickly after the peak. Natural gas follows a similar curve and its production is already in decline.

Kunstler makes a pretty good case for why alternative sources of energy won’t bail us out when the amount of oil decreases, so the ramifications of oil’s drop in supply are staggering. He paints a grim picture of the resulting catastrophes (wars, famine, disease) once the world realizes what is happening. The parts of the book that aren’t incredibly dull read like a made-for-TV disaster movie. I’d love to write Kunstler off as a kook for his predictions, but in 2004 he accurately described the 2008 fluctuations in the price of oil, the housing crisis and the recent decision by the airlines to cut back service. He is not an evangelical, but his long-term predictions also are too close to the book of Revelations for comfort. Still, it's awfully hard to predict the future. Let’s hope he’s wrong about a great many things.

For me, the book raised far more questions than it answered.
1. The science that says we will hit a "peak" and then a decline in oil production seems to be very solid. Do our national leaders know about it?
2. If so, why aren't we putting everything we've got into developing new sources of energy?
3. And why are we setting targets for emissions in 2050 when oil is projected to run out before then?
4. Why is it still allowed to build a new power plant that runs on natural gas?
5. For that matter, why do I still get junk mail trying to convince me to convert to natural gas?
6. Do the models for global warming take into account that we’re going to be burning less fossil fuels in the future?
7. Do either of our presidential candidates understand what’s going on?

Have you seen "Apollo 13?" In order to bring the astronauts home safely, scientists work to solve the problems of energy, carbon dioxide levels, water supplies, medical issues, the heat shield, and a hurricane (sound familiar?). In one scene, a scientist breaks into the discussion and insists, "Power is everything... They have to turn it all off, now!" (Otherwise they wouldn't have enough left for re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.)

That’s peak oil, and if we don’t solve that problem, we may not get the chance to solve the others. If the reduction in oil production is a steep curve, we’ll be in for a wild ride. If we discover more oil and we get smarter about preparing for life after cheap oil, it will be easier. But either way, things will change. I don’t recommend "The Long Emergency" for two reasons: the history passages, which are many, are long and overly tedious, and Kunstler’s predictions are depressingly pessimistic and a lot of empty speculation. But I strongly recommend that you learn about peak oil. There’s got to be a better book on the subject. Anybody want to recommend one?

Friday, June 13, 2008

He's an Oregonian!

The sun is up! Let's go say, "Hi!" -- Munchkin

Thursday, June 12, 2008

OLS #2: Beans, beans, the magical fruit...

After reading about the wonderful meals the pacific northwest branch of OLS cooked up last week, I decided to try harder to use local ingredients! Of course, eating local will get easier when the weather finally warms up, but I should be able to make a meal with what I’ve got now.

For this week’s meal I decided to feature local red beans. I started off by forgetting to soak them, but fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Put dried beans in a pot, cover them with water and bring just to a boil. Then, let them sit for about 4 hours, replace the water and cook as normal. Every time I cook beans I plan to soak them all night, forget, and use the quick method. It works just fine.

While the beans were soaking, I got out my slow cooker recipe book and figured I could adapt a recipe for the stove. I ended up combining two recipes so I’ll try to remember how I did it... After cooking the beans half an hour, I added chopped up bacon ends, garlic, a whole sweet onion including the green part, salt and pepper. I cooked it for another hour, but it needed something, so I tossed in a bay leaf. About 30 minutes before it was done, I added cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. I served it over rice, and with a tossed green salad.

I thought it tasted great. My husband looked at it suspiciously, although I noticed he ate it all. :) I hadn’t served any to Munchkin since he is such a picky eater, but near the end of dinner he wanted some of Daddy’s rice and beans. I gave him one bean and a tiny spoonful of rice. He ate the rice!!! He liked it!!! I know that sounds strange, but he’s never actually swallowed any rice before. Then, Munchkin put the bean in his mouth. I waited and watched as he didn’t spit it out immediately. It took a minute or two, but he decided to swallow it! I offered some more, and he accepted and ate those, too! He told me he's growing up! I think beans really are the magical fruit!

Red beans - Azure Farms, OR
Bacon - our pig
Vegetables (garlic, onions, lettuce, radish, carrots) - Farmers market
Rice - Lundberg Farm, CA (it’s as close as I can get)
Tomato sauce & paste - canned - I haven’t seen a local tomato in Oregon, yet
Salt, pepper, bay leaf - exempt

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So fix it!

This morning Munchkin ran around like a crazy kid and bounced off the walls for no apparent reason. I finally told him to settle down, but he replied, "My settler-downer doesn't work!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shopping "green"

There are many things a person can do to minimize their impact on the environment. Some things will reduce garbage, others use less power, use less water, support organic agriculture, etc. Something not everyone might think of as "green" is to shop at garage sales. Since so much energy goes into the manufacturing of an item, any garage sale purchase that avoids the necessity of a new purchase makes a difference. So buying stuff at garage sales is good for the environment, but it doesn’t hurt the pocketbook, either. I also enjoy it as a no-guilt way to shop. :)

For many years, I really didn’t need much stuff and so I didn’t spend much time visiting garage sales. That was before Munchkin was born. The thing about kids is that they just keep growing! Fortunately, because kids also take up all your time, a friend gave me a tip on a group garage sale that happens once a year in our area. In one large, upscale neighborhood there are 150-200 families who have garage sales all on the same day. And a lot of them have kids!!! Of course, if you don’t have a goldmine like this near you, you’ll have to work a little harder, but it’s worth it.

I’ve been going to the group sale for 3 years, now (hmmm, could that be because Munchkin is 3?). I start writing my list months in advance and so far have never returned home without finding every item. This years’ sale was last weekend. I spent $42, which is the most I’ve ever spent. The most expensive item was the bag of wooden trains and track - I paid $8 for a bag of train stuff that was probably worth over $100 new. For the other $34 I bought (all for Munchkin): a kid-size sleeping bag, a new sleeping bag pad, snow boots, 2 pair of shoes, an almost new rain jacket, a fleece jacket,1 pair of shorts, 2 shirts, 3 pairs of jeans, 5 pairs of sweats, 6 sets of pajamas, 10 hangers, a junior size workbench, a fireman puzzle, and for myself I bought a strawberry lemonade and a chocolate chip cookie from a couple of enterprising kids. Do you think I overspent?

(Thanks to Katrina for suggesting I write this up as a post.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A rhody by any other name...

"Mmm! It smells like a screwdriver!" -- Munchkin

Thursday, June 5, 2008

One Local Summer: The All-Day Dinner

First of all, let me say that I am a mostly stay-at-home mom with a three-year-old son and I don’t normally spend 12 hours cooking dinner. I don’t want to discourage anybody from making their own ravioli. I’m sure it goes faster the second time...

Night before: Surfed internet to find recipes for ravioli filling.
10:15 AM: Decided that this cold and rainy day would be a good day to stay home and make ravioli. Reviewed recipes and found, to my delight, that there was a recipe for artichoke ravioli filling. Surveyed the ingredients and realized I was missing Parmesan and ricotta cheeses. Also had only three eggs left. Checked recipe and saw that I needed two eggs for dough, one for filling.
10:30 AM: Took Munchkin to my favorite corner market to buy cheeses. Choked on the price of ricotta – six-something for a little tub. Decided I’d rather drag out my cheese making supplies and make my own. I’ve had horrid luck with Mozzarella, but ricotta is supposed to be much easier... I bought a chunk of Parmesan and I also wanted a nice tomato sauce to top the pasta, but prices were high so decided to make my own. The local eggs were $6/dozen so I was glad I already had enough.
10:45 AM: Home again, I gathered supplies and read instructions to make cheese. Decided there was not enough time to make it before lunch, so I boiled a big pot of water to sterilize my utensils. Don’t know if sterilization is really needed, but Ricki's book says to do it and I have a preschooler who uses my pots as drums. When I was done, I realized I'd cleaned the wrong pot and so had to do it over again.
11:30 AM: Lunch
12:00 PM: Began making cheese. Maybe the reason it didn’t work was because I halved the recipe. Or I didn’t mix the citric acid with water first. Or I used 2% instead of whole milk. Or I didn’t wait long enough before turning off the stove. Anyway, I got something that resembled ricotta, but there wasn’t much of it, probably because the curds and whey didn’t completely separate. I strained out a few curds and then I started all over again, this time following instructions for making whey ricotta. It still didn't work, so I put in a few drops of liquid rennet (not part of the original recipe!). That generated maybe another 1/4 cup. Miraculously, it tasted like cheese.

1:00 PM: Made the filling for the ravioli. I combined all ingredients except for the egg to save time later.
1:45 PM: Time for Munchkin’s nap. The kitchen shares a wall with his bedroom and if I do any cooking during his nap, he won’t sleep.
3:00 PM: Munchkin’s up. I puttered around until his snack time.
3:30 PM: I fed Munchkin his snack while I mixed together pasta dough.
3:45 PM: "We" began the pasta making process. Munchkin helped, which resulted in flour everywhere. Once we got the first ball of pasta rolled out, I gave him some dough to play with and after that it went much faster. After rolling the pasta into large strips, I hung it up to dry while I finished making the filling. Then, working one strip at a time, I scored each pasta strip, piled up little mounds of filling, stretched another strip for the top, and cut it with a neat little tool that Scott gave me for my birthday. It didn’t cut all the way so I had to separate the ravioli and gently make sure they were sealed. Munchkin ate flour, played with the trimmings and made his own pasta "boxes."
5:00 PM: I had used up all the pasta dough but still had half of the filling left over. I worked hard to make that filling! I made my own ricotta, for crying out loud! I didn’t know how long it would last in the fridge and or if I could freeze it, so I decided to make another batch of pasta dough later. But I was out of eggs, so I bundled Munchkin up and we went back to the market for eggs.
5:15 PM: At the market, I realized that I was going to want something else with dinner besides just ravioli. I picked up a baguette from a local bakery and we bought the eggs.
5:30 PM: It was time to "start" dinner! I made a sauce from canned tomato sauce and some spices. It turned out pretty good – too bad I didn’t write down what I put in it! From our back yard I picked the first lettuce leaves. There wasn’t enough for a salad so I artfully arranged the lettuce on our plates in order to top it with grated Parmesan (check!) and croutons (uh-oh!). I cut a few slices off the baguette, buttered them, diced them and toasted them under the broiler. They were OK, but not terrific, so I sprinkled them with seasoning salt and called them done. Once the ravioli was cooked, I arranged everything on a plate and snapped a picture. Whew!
6:00 PM: Munchkin ate all the croutons and then devoured a ravioli square, oblivious to the fact that it contained a vegetable. Scott went looking for more ravioli (note to self: cook more next time) and it all tasted delicious.
7:45 PM: Munchkin’s gone to bed. Time to relax!
8:45 PM: The rest of the ravioli wasn’t going to make itself so I began batch #2. Note to self: Next time, double the original batch.
10:00 PM: I’m all done. The kitchen is clean. I’ve got enough ravioli in the freezer for at least three more meals. And it’s going to be a while before I make it again!

"Local" ingredients:
(I'm not up to speed on using all-local ingredients just yet. Please bear with me as right now the farmers markets in Oregon have mostly greens which my family won't eat!)
Dough: Secret recipe, sorry. All ingredients local or allowed with the exception of the organic flour. (I can buy local flour, but they doubled the price so I don’t.) Eggs are laid by chickens the farmer claims are "happy." I believe him, too, because the yolks had such deep color that the dough looked almost orange!
Filling: Tillamook mozzarella, homemade Ricotta from local milk, non-local Parmesan, salt, spices, local egg, artichokes canned locally and grown "using environmentally friendly, sustainable agricultural practices." In Ecuador. So sue me.
Sauce: Non-local canned tomato sauce to which I added spices. I used up last summer's homemade sauce months ago and local tomatoes aren't ripe, yet.
Bread: Fresh baked in a local bakery.
Salad: Lettuce from my back yard, non-local Parmesan, and croutons made from local bread, Tillamook butter and spices.
Making it all myself: priceless.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Isn't that what he wanted?

My dad recently told me a story worthy of the "Classics" label...

When I was about 3, Dad sat me on a log and tried to take a picture, but I wouldn't stay still while he fussed with his camera. (Oh, no! Is that where Munchkin gets his wiggles?)

Anyway, trying to give me something to do, Dad told me to count to ten backwards. Right before he snapped the picture, I turned around (backwards) on the log and counted, "one, two, three..."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

With apologies to Johnny Cash

Using only one roll of blue tape, Munchkin has plastered the house multiple times. Before we peel all the little pieces off of the floor, I was inspired by Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere." Sorry there's no music, but if you can hear the music in your head, here's the words...

Blue Tape Everywhere

I was totin’ my son to see local construction sites,
When along came a painter with a whole bunch of supplies,
"If you’d like to see the job, boy, with me you can come."
And so we put on hard hats and promised to keep mum.
He asked me if I’d ever seen a site that’s so much work to mask.
And I said, "Listen, son Munchkin loves to prep. Don’t even ask!"

Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape in my hair, man
There’s blue tape over there, man
Munchkin’s had his share, man
Blue tape everywhere.

It’s in the:
Bedroom, living room, bathroom and on the walls,
Laundry room, Munchkin’s room, our back room and down the halls,
Front yard, back yard, in the driveway, on the car
Here and there, near and far, gave some to the doctor
Kitchen, Lego bin, in the den, on socks and mittens,
Cabinets, on the desk, it’s a mess and I’m not kiddin’.

Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape in my hair, man
There’s blue tape over there, man
Munchkin’s had his share, man
Blue tape everywhere.

It’s on the:
Wall board, floor board, head board, I’m getting bored!
On the floor, out the door, to the store to buy some more.
Blue molding, blue clothing, blue ceiling, trampoline,
Lego zoo, on my shoe, Tigger, Pooh, I’m gonna scream!
Shirt’s ‘n pants, blue houseplants, elephants but not the ants,
Grandma’s house, house on mouse, "Hop on Pop," make it stop!

Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape everywhere, man
Blue tape in my hair, man
There’s blue tape over there, man
Munchkin’s had his share, man
Blue tape everywhere.