Monday, March 31, 2008

Smart kid

A "cute Munchkin" story for those who don't read my blog for my "challenge" posts...

Munchkin took five naps last week! I don't know how I got so lucky! I told Scott I thought Munchkin must be growing again. That led to the following exchange...

Scott: Are you getting bigger?
Munchkin: Yes.
Scott: When are you going to stop growing?
Munchkin: When I'm big enough.

Technology Free Day Challenge Results

Melinda at Elements in Time (a wonderful blog if you have a fast connection, better to subscribe by email if you don’t) issued a challenge for the month of March. The challenge is that every week in March you spend one day removed from technology, defined as "flickering stuff built since the 50's." The idea is to slow down and spend quality time doing non-techno stuff. She will have a recap on her website sometime very soon, and I hope I got my post up early enough to be part of that. Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to get her little do-dad to work until now. :)

Anyway, I chose Sundays as my techno-free day. For me, it meant no TV (pretty easy) and no computer or internet. The first Sunday, I had "Mountains Beyond Mountains" (see review) freshly checked out of the library. It’s easy for me to avoid the TV and computer when I’m engrossed in a good book!

The second week, I picked up Michael Pollan’s new book from the library on Friday and had to put it out of sight so I’d save it for Sunday reading. I eagerly awaited the book - actually started it Saturday night - and then tried to find time to read on Sunday. Beautiful weather called and I took Munchkin to the park during my "reading" time (OK, I would have read, but he didn’t take a nap). But I finally carved time to read that evening. Sadly, I was underwhelmed by the book, but my review tells that story. Techno-free was easy as I didn’t have time to watch TV or browse the internet anyway!

The third Sunday (Palm Sunday), I enjoyed my non-techno time reading "Cook with Jamie" by Jamie Oliver. It was very good, but I had only gotten through about a third of it before it was due, and our library won't let you renew if someone else has requested the book. So, sorry, no review. I've got some local readers and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it was one of you who put the hold on my book before I was done with it!

I didn't quite make it techno-free on the fourth and fifth Sundays, although I resisted the call of technology until after Munchkin went to bed at night. After hosting Easter, I was too tired to want to do anything other than veg, and yesterday evening I was planning to read, but my husband lured me into watching a movie with him. :) However, I took a great walk yesterday afternoon during time I normally would have been web surfing. It was wet and about 38 degrees out, so I bundled up and took a walk in the snow (!) and then in the sunshine. There's a saying in Oregon, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." I also began a book that looks like a winner. The book is, "Three Cups of Tea" by Mortenson and Relin and it appears similar to "Mountains Beyond Mountains," only it takes place in Pakistan. Look for a review, soon!

The challenge was fun and I spent time reading a bunch of new books, but I don't think I will continue techno-free Sundays. The truth is, I would have read all those books anyway, so the difference was that I saved them for Sundays. I think there is real value in turning off technology and tuning in to real life, but for me, I think I have an OK balance, even though I spend too much time reading your blogs! I will, though, be quicker to go ahead and take that walk in lousy weather. It was fun to be out in the cold, all bundled up and with a mega-size umbrella. Thanks, Melinda, for your great idea!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dark Days: Final Thoughts

The Dark Days challenge officially ends March 31 (the final recap will be on April 7) and so I wanted to include some reflections in my last Dark Days post. The best part of the challenge experience for me has been getting to be a part of the little Dark Days blogging community. I will miss them when this is over (sob!), but I’ll keep reading my new favorites! Thanks so much, Laura, for all your hard work!

I signed up for the challenge (see my first post) thinking I’d learn more about finding and using local foods, but I took a delightful side trail that led me into making new types of foods from scratch. The most successful was pasta, but I’ve also learned how to make bagels, refried beans, grape juice and I'm still working on cheese. Next on my list to try are tortillas and butter! Even though the challenge is over, I plan to continue my quest to eat more local foods and write about cooking topics. I enjoy it. I hope my "cute Munchkin" stories readers do, too!

It struck me this week that as a result of the challenge, I have tuned in to what is currently in season. Munchkin was recently given a book that is saccharinely sappy. Naturally, he loves it. While reading it to him, I realized that I could accept that the little bunnies made a strong, beautiful, sweet basket for their mama, but it just wasn’t right that they used spring flowers and ripe blackberries at the same time! What was the author thinking?!! My husband laughed, but I told Munchkin that even though we’re checking the garden daily for spring tulips, he will have to wait until August for ripe blackberries.

As I've navigated various, shall we call them, "challenges," to eating local, I've been working on my personal philosophy. I was planning to write a grandiose post in the tradition of the elusive "theory of everything," but I find that my ideas continue to evolve. There's some great thinking out there on this topic from the simple: Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." to the hierarchy: "Eat local. If local is not available, then family farm. If not family farm, then organic, etc." to the complex: an excellent and thought provoking essay by Gary Paul Nabham (Coming Home to Eat).

I think the bigger the picture, the better when it comes to this sort of thing. Even the latest energy-saving advice contradicts itself given enough time (consider the conflicting advice on using compact fluorescent light bulbs). While it's great to eat such fresh food, I want my choices to have a positive impact on more than just my taste buds. Also, for me as a Christian, if it doesn't pass the "Love your neighbor as yourself" test, it doesn't pass -- meaning we shouldn't exploit others to enrich ourselves. For example, I agree with the philosophy behind the Fair Trade groups, even if it makes certain foods too expensive to eat every day. It also matters how the farm workers, factory workers and even the animals are treated. The problem is, we live in a complex mixed-up world and choices can't always be pure. I think our American consumer lifestyle is also so mixed-up that to fix it means really, really radical changes. I could write pages more, and some day I will, but that's a snapshot of where I am right now. I welcome your comments.

I've really enjoyed the challenge. This is my last Dark Days post (unless I bake the last of my frozen berries into Laura's Triple Berry Upside Down Cake before Monday!). Thanks to the many Dark Days readers who have checked out my blog. I hope you keep visiting!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Aye, aye, Captain!

Today, Munchkin went on a very special outing to a big fire station! He wasn't interested in sitting in the cab of the fire truck -- he wanted to see inside every single compartment that might have tools in it. When he got to the saws (wow!) he asked a fireman to take one out of the truck. Munchkin looked at it and said, "Put it back in, now."

The fireman quipped, "You sound just like my captain!"

I think in about 25 years Munchkin will be the captain!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dark Days: Homemade pasta just keeps getting better!

We recently visited some friends in McCloud and they served us a delicious pasta dinner. Although this particular pasta was purchased, the husband is Italian and knows a thing or two about homemade pasta and so I inquired. A hush-hush discussion between husband and wife followed as to whether it was OK to give me grandma’s recipe. It was decided that I could have the recipe for the pasta, but NOT the sauce. I don’t dare print the recipe here, of course, but I’ll tell that it had more ingredients in it than the recipes I’d already tried.

Tuesday afternoon I began "grandma’s" pasta dough. Attempting not to wake Munchkin from his nap, I quietly cracked an egg and promptly dropped half of it on the floor. The proceeding clean-up woke up the napper. After a snuggle, diaper change and a snack, I finished making the dough and then read books to Munchkin while the dough "rested." We then got out the pasta machine and rolled out the pasta. I found the dough much easier to handle than my two previous attempts. The special new tool I'd bought to make pretty edges on my pasta was quickly surrendered to Munchkin -- it was so dull it couldn’t possibly hurt him.

Anyway, I used the pasta in a favorite recipe and the results were fantastic. Besides local eggs in the pasta, I used leftover local ham from Easter, local butter, milk, non-local parmesan cheese, organic flour & some spices. I made a cheesy white sauce and combined it with the ham and cooked pasta, topped the mixture with more parmesan and toasted it under the broiler for a few minutes. Hardly low-cal, but scrumptious! Scott saved leftovers for his lunch, which is his highest compliment.

The whole process took longer than I thought (I hadn’t calculated the extra time needed for Munchkin's "help") and so I added non-local frozen veggies to dinner. Hardly any produce is local, yet, anyway. Last week, I broke down and bought some (non-local) asparagus at the grocery store, but it was disappointing -- I know what the local stuff tastes like! Our farmers’ market ended last fall just as I was starting to really appreciate it and it reopens sometime next month. I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Grace

God, thank you for the food... and... saws... and... have a nice day!
-- Munchkin

Monday, March 24, 2008

Too funny

Scott likes to park in a particular spot at the end of our church parking lot because there is always enough room to get Munchkin's car door open. Of course, some days we aren't the first to get there. Easter morning, we drove past the (filled) spot without comment when Munchkin said, "Pooooor Daddy! Somebody took his spot!"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Egg Art by Munchkin

Happy Easter, everybody!
As we were cleaning up, Munchkin decided to dunk the green eggs in the purple dye, the purple eggs in the green dye, etc. He was very, very careful so he only dropped six of them. I used wrappers from a couple years back to brighten up the eggs and to try to hold together their wounded shells. But it's all OK. Munchkin had so much FUN making yucky colored eggs. :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

How to entertain a toddler

Recently, our smoke detector started chirping and going off without reason. Not exactly fun when it wakes up the small child... Anyway, we ended up having to replace the whole unit and Scott installed it. Munchkin was soooooo excited! Daddy used tools and a ladder!!! To replace a fire alarm!!!

After the smoke detector was up and the tools were put away, Munchkin got out his Little People and had them replace the "fire alarm" in his lego house. He then put the "broken" alarm in his dump truck and drove it to the Get Well Shop to be fixed.

This morning Munchkin built a "chicken coop" out of his bed and some boxes. He made it for the yarn Easter chickens and their eggs. After building the whole coop, he installed not one, but two smoke detectors. He said that was because there were two chickens. He also said it would go off whenever they cooked something... (Our new unit is so sensitive it's driving me crazy!) Anyway, the coop was cute and I wanted to take a picture, but Scott took the camera to work this morning. Maybe Munchkin will do it again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan’s "The Omnivore’s Dilemna," along with books by some others, helped launch the "local foods" movement into a national phenomenon, and so I was eager to read his newest book, "In Defense of Food." The cover says it all: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and it’s almost all you need to know about the book. The other 244 pages left me so bored that I found it hard to stay awake.

Pollan writes to defend food from food-like substances stocked in grocery stores, which include most items on the shelves in the center of the store. I enjoyed his admonishment to eat only "something your great-grandmother would recognize as food." The problem with the book, I think, is that it had its genesis in an essay and perhaps there was not enough meat (ha ha) in Pollan’s essay to warrant a full-length book. I felt like I was reading a bunch of repetitious filler padded with multi-syllable words. Consider this sample sentence, "And while everyone can agree that the flood of refined carbohydrates has pushed important micronutrients out of the modern diet, the scientists who blame our health problems on deficiencies of these micronutrients are not the same scientists who see a sugar-soaked diet leading to metabolic syndrome and from there to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer." (In Defense of Food, p.140)

If the above sentence floats your boat, read the book. Otherwise, I recommend that you read the cover and skip the pages inside. Or you could check the book out of the library and read just the last section, which is the best part by far. Read the whole thing if you suffer from insomnia. My apologies to Mr. Pollan’s fans, but I rate the cover of "In Defense of Food" 5 stars and the pages inside a measly 2 stars out of 5.

Not exactly Farmer Boy

This morning I got out our Easter stuff for Munchkin. Very quickly, Munchkin's Easter basket turned into a tool basket, and his tool box became a chicken coop filled with plastic eggs and Munchkin's great-grandmother's funny little knitted chickens. We giggled as we put eggs inside the chickens and then said, "Bwock! Bwock!" when the chickens "laid" their eggs. When I reminded Munchkin of the real baby chicks we saw last spring, Munchkin asked, "Mommy, do chickens use batteries?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This little piggy gets around!

The story of the little piggies continues to change each time I trim Munchkin's nails. He cracked us up last weekend when he improvised, "This little piggy went to Home Depot. This little piggy went to True Value. This little piggy went to Bi-Mart... Mommy, where else do they sell tools?"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dark Days: Pizza Night

It seems everyone in the Dark Days challenge has taken their turn at pizza. It’s one of my favorite foods, too, so it’s about time I write about our own local version.

Sunday afternoon, I began making pizza by putting all the crust ingredients in the bread machine. (By the way, the only way I was able to get a new pan for my machine was by purchasing a whole machine on eBay. I don’t mind, though, since the price was what I would have expected for just the pan, and now if my machine breaks, I have a spare in the garage!) I used a combination of local whole wheat flour and organic all-purpose flour from Utah. My machine makes pizza dough in an hour, so that was plenty of time to prep the rest of the ingredients. I can’t seem to get the dough spread out thin enough when I let the machine punch it down, so I turn off the machine a minute early, before the punch down.

For the topping I cooked up some sausage from our pig (very local) and non-local mushrooms (I know, I know, maybe this summer I’ll get brave enough to try the local ones.) I also used my last (sob!) package of homemade pizza sauce from last summer and grated Tillamook mozzarella.

The pizza tasted great, and it makes my heart glad that Munchkin will eat two pieces of my pizza when he will only nibble the crust of the frozen kind. The only thing I can’t figure out is why my cheese always melts in a large, removable slab. I use all mozzarella and a normal grater. The cheese ends up solid and a little toasted on top and gooey underneath. Maybe I’m cooking it too long, or at the wrong temperature. Anybody know?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Future opera star?

He was supposed to be taking a nap, but instead Munchkin sat on his bed "singing." The words went something like, "da da da da da," and the melody changed pitch a little, but not to anything recognizable. It was at a bearable volume.

Then, I heard him command, "Loud!" and he repeated his song at top volume.

Then, he shouted, "Louder!" and he proceeded to do accordingly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

I picked up "Mountains Beyond Mountains" on the recommendation of a reader (thanks, Katrina). It is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical work in Haiti and beyond. Dr. Farmer’s philosophy is that the poor, and he works with the poorest of the poor, should come first. They should receive top-notch medical care. They matter.

I found the book to be riveting. The jacket describes Dr. Farmer as a "world-class Robin Hood," but I hardly think that does him justice. This is a man who can exhaust the Energizer Bunny. He builds a state-of-the-art hospital on an impassable road and then walks from that hospital seven hours to see one patient. He actually changed the way the whole world health community does medicine for the poor. Although he gets his philosophy from Catholicism’s liberation theology, Dr. Farmer does not come across as a Christian. Nevertheless, his compassion for the poor looks a lot like Jesus.

I heartily recommend the book, but with a caution. Although Dr. Farmer’s life may look like Jesus, his speech often resembles Junior High graffiti. To be perfectly clear, since this is a family-friendly blog, the dialog includes a lot of swearing. For that, I’ll give "Mountains Beyond Mountains" four stars out of five.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dark Days: Homemade lasagna (again)

This week’s local meal was easy because, well, we had leftovers. I’m not sure how I missed writing about my Valentine’s Day lasagna, but this evening I reheated the part I had frozen and it was almost as good the second time around.

In an attempt to duplicate the house lasagna at our favorite Italian restaurant, I made my own noodles nice and thin. I used eggs (can't remember if they were local!), Oregon flour and a little Semolina flour. I almost bought a fancy lasagna noodle cutter, but before I did I decided to try just cutting the noodles with a knife. Of course, you can’t see the edges of the noodles after they are cooked into lasagna. Not sure why anybody needs the fancy cutter.

I used local garlic, onions, sausage, ground beef, mozzarella and cottage cheeses, but I confess I purchased sauce. I like a certain tomato and basil sauce much better than mine -- I still have work to do on my recipe. Anyway, I wanted this lasagna to be good, so I bought sauce. I also topped it with non-local Parmesan because I could (I already had some in the fridge). The resulting lasagna was not quite authentic Italian restaurant quality, but it was certainly the closest I’ve ever come!

With the lasagna leftovers this evening, we had homemade rolls and a green salad with local lettuce (bought from my new favorite grocery store). The rolls used local honey, but the rest of the ingredients were from farther away. Something bizarre has happened to the price of flour in the past month and so I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any more Oregon flour anytime soon. Organic flour from Montana or Utah is going to have to do. On Valentines, we had homemade truffles for dessert. None of those are still remaining!

The (original) lasagna dinner was a lot of work, but I realized with surprise how different it was from the dinner I cooked for Scott on our first Valentine’s Day. That dinner had the same menu, and I’m actually still using the same lasagna recipe, it’s just that I’ve added onions, garlic, sausage, Parmesan cheese, seasonings and homemade noodles (made with "help" from a toddler)! The salad now includes fresh local ingredients. Rather than store-bought bread, there are homemade rolls. And the iced brownies I made 12 years ago cannot possibly compare with homemade truffles.

When Scott and I got married, my cooking repertoire consisted of lasagna and (boxed) macaroni and cheese, and Scott didn't like my mac & cheese. Even when I made it really special by adding hot dogs to it! Instead of complaining, Scott decided to support and encourage me in my attempts to become a better cook -- he says it was purely altruistic. ;) Who knew that someday I'd be publishing my cooking escapades on the world wide web?!! Thanks for reading.

This little piggy went to Home Depot!

When I trim Munchkin's fingernails and toenails, I use the "Little Piggy" rhyme to make it more fun. Recently, Munchkin changed the words. It now goes something like this: "This little piggy has a scroll saw, this little piggy has a compound miter saw, this little piggy has a router, this little piggy has a hammer..."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hollow leg

This morning Munchkin polished off two cups of milk and three bowls of cereal. As he was getting down from the breakfast table, he asked, "When's lunch?"

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Great Pacific what?!!

I’m interrupting the cute Munchkin posts with some depressing environmental news. If you don’t want to know, tune back in tomorrow...

I just learned recently about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It sounded so far-fetched that I checked it out with various sources, but unfortunately it looks like it’s all too real. Depending on the source (and probably the year the article was written) there is an area anywhere from the size of Texas to 25% of the earth’s oceans that is a mass of floating plastic junk. The "island" in the Pacific Ocean (there are islands in other oceans, too) is floating between Hawaii and Los Angeles. Other types of garbage eventually decompose, but plastic just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. The effects on marine animals that mistake the plastic for food are not pretty.

If you want to learn more, here’s a link to an article that is pretty good. It’s enough to make you want to never buy anything made out of plastic again. There’s a lady in Oakland, CA who’s trying to do just that. Her blog Fake Plastic Fish tells her story.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thanks, kid

Somehow, Munchkin ended up bringing his prize possession "ear muffs" into the grocery store this morning. Naturally the checker, who happens to be our favorite grocery store clerk, asked about them. I didn't hear Munchkin's response, but I did hear the checker repeat back loud and clear, "You wore them last night when your Mommy cooked bacon and the smoke alarm went off?"

It's so great having a kid who has perfect diction. Sigh.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A new definition of "Tool Man" (Update)

Ever since Munchkin got over his little "tummy bug" he's been eating us out of house and home. This morning he ate a big (for him) bowl of cereal and two cups of milk before he began browsing through a flyer from a local hardware store. As he "read," he chattered, and it went on for a very long time, so we'll break into the middle somewhere...

"...If I eat too many table saws, I'll turn into a table saw. If I eat too many routers, I'll turn into a router. If I eat too many skil saws, I'll turn into a skil saw. If I eat too many 'ciprocating saws, I'll turn into a 'ciprocating saw. If I eat too many compound miter saws, I'll turn into a compound miter saw. If I eat too many tool belts, I'll turn into a tool belt. If I eat too many hammers, I'll turn into a hammer... (Short pause) I'm still hungry!"

Update: I read this post to Scott and Munchkin and Munchkin was quick to add, "I said wrench! I said wrench!"