Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Random Birthday Thoughts

Today is my birthday. The day has been low-key. Phil has strep, and went to bed early, which left me alone, quietly, with things I love:

My Kindle, newly loaded with this month's reading group book (The Shadow of the Wind), a stack of favorite print books, my little knitting bag loaded with a knitting project (We Call Them Pirates hat in the new Amy Butler organic yarn), and a martini -- with blue-cheese stuffed olives, no less.
And Pepper:
Pepper is an 11-year-old Dachshund we're test-adopting. My uncle and aunt had to find a good home for Pepper when they moved from their house on 7 acres to a retirement condo. The family voted 4 to 1 (with Phil as the lone dissenter) to try Pepper out. So far, relatively so good. Current voting has 4 of us loving Pepper, and Phil neutral. But we'll win him over.
I worked from home for 2 days to help Pepper transition to our little family. He was a nice colleague:
Max and Pepper are becoming fast buddies:
Downloading the pictures of Pepper, I found a sampling of random happiness from the last couple months. Like dapper Tommy being ring bearer at Phil's cousin's wedding. Here's Tom hanging out with his cousin and giving himself the photo bunny ears. Goofy boy:
Tom took his role very seriously; it's unclear if this is a wedding or funeral:
Aren't the bride and groom adorable?
And here's Sylvia peeling a hard-boiled egg. Shirtless:
And helping me with the lavender harvest. Pantsless:

My new favorite thing in the world: the Pioneer Woman's Potato/Leek/Bacon/Goat Cheese Pizza. Try it if you haven't. You'll thank me. i think I was the only one eating this one:
Twenty-four more minutes of my birthday. The family's asleep. Pepper's in his cage. I might just get a little crazy.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Compact Update: Can You Live Without New?

I started a modified Compact a couple weeks ago, trying to lessen my environmental impact by limiting my purchase of new products. Overall, not a biggie, although I was sad to get a 15% off birthday coupon (with a wacky birthday candle necklace) from Anthropologie and realized I'd be breaking my Compact to have a girly birthday bender. Oh, how I love Anthropologie.

My hope was that a by-product of the Compact would be saving some money, although it wasn't my primary goal.

Today. Oy, today. I had a 7:15 am flight to get to a lunch meeting in DC. I was getting into the city early enough to meet one of our publishing partners for a casual meeting before the lunch meeting, so had a couple pieces of business during my in-and-out trip. I got to the gate at 6:30 a.m. just in time for the announcement that the flight was delayed two hours due to mechanical issues, so cancelled my first meeting. Four delays later, I was not going to make even my lunch meeting and threw in the towel. I decided to work the remaining day from home.

On the drive home from the airport, I happened upon two yard sales. The first was an annual event some neighbors throw to benefit charity. The second was a family fundraiser to fund an upcoming trip to celebrate the mom being five years cancer free.

Total, I spent $20 at the two sales, and here's what I bought:
  • Small stoneware brownie pan
  • Pizza stone (we broke ours two days ago)
  • Vera Bradley glasses case
  • 2 glass piggy banks -- the kind you have to break to get the money; Sylvie has one, so these were for the boys
  • Vintage fabric cut into three-inch squares that I'm going to use to make a quilt for Sylvie
  • Vintage sewing notions, like rickrack with its original 10-cent price sticker
  • Glow-in-the-dark Perler bead kit for the boys
  • Leather Coach backpack
  • A yet-to-be-revealed Father's Day gift
  • Jeans for Sylvia
  • Spiderman action car for Tommy's Spiderman action figures
  • New package of sewing machine needles
  • Three-piece food mill for making applesauce
  • 2 DVDs for the boys (Mythbusters and Superman Returns)
The biggest-ticket item was the Coach backpack at $5. I'd coveted this backpack at Coach stores in years past. I think it retails for somewhere between $300 and $400. The yard-sale edition had no wear, and cost less than the Venti Skinny Cinnamon Latte I'd bought in the terminal after the second delay was announced.

Not too shabby. And not too much suffering, despite eschewing new products. I might keep up this Compact thing after the summer.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Scenes from the Garden


Tom watering the plants with the water I'd left in the car from driving back from Michigan this weekend. I figured the plants would be fine with any plastic leeching into the sun-heated liquid. Sylvia accompanies him doing I don't know what.

American Gothic.
The little 8 X 4 raised beds I made this spring. Please don't scrutinize the craptacular workmanship.
Phil and Sylvia working on their circus act.
Beets, carrots, and kale. I love the color of beet greens.
Welcome, little out-of-focus cayenne pepper. Max will be so happy to see you. He's currently obsessed with the idea of feeding hot peppers to unsuspecting folks.
Hey, there, whatcha knowin'? I've come to watch your pea pods growing...
I'm seeing kale chips in my near future...
Wow! This alien carrot is as big as a grill!
...or smaller than a five-year-old's pinky.
Our neighbor took out his circa 1920s cast iron front rails and gave them to us. I think they lend a Grey Gardens vibe to the original, appropriately overgrown, little garden plot.
The end of the rhubarb and the start of the sweet peas. I froze the rhubarb to pull out mid-winter for Angry Chicken's rhubarb hand pies. Man, those things are delicious.
I keep thinking the little lettuce patch, which now has a couple zucchini plants interspersed, is exhausted and ready to be tilled over. And then I cut more greens. Here's tonight's cutting; we're a very healthy family:
Oh, dear. Is that a leftover Cinnamon Poptart in the background?
Pretend you didn't see that.

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Consider the Banana

An old and dear friend and I recently got into a modern-day kerfuffle -- over Facebook -- about the BP oil gusher. He scoffed at my Liking someone else's status update suggesting we boycott BP. His thinking is that if you want to boycott something, boycott oil, which is so entrenched in modern culture as to be an almost impossible boycott. My retort was that, my feelings about BP notwithstanding, oil dependence can't be cut off cold turkey, but there are steps to take that can lessen the current, frightening dependence. I don't agree that because oil is impossible to eliminate for almost every American, we should throw out the baby with the bathwater and just live with the current dependence. Most of us work jobs outside the home where we have to drive to work; that doesn't mean we have to do it in a Hummer.

I was struck when I saw An Inconvenient Truth (oh, Al and Tipper, I'm so heartsick things didn't work out!) that the first tip at the end of the film for making a difference was changing to fluorescent bulbs. Changing a light bulb? That's it? But it's little changes like switching light bulbs can make huge differences. A couple winters ago Phil turned the thermostat down a degree while we were awake and in the house, and turned it down significantly when we were going to bed or heading out. Our monthly bill went down 15% almost instantly.

Likewise, I never accept plastic bags in stores. This has been awkward when a quick dash to the grocery without tote bags in hand has ended in buying more than I expected, and having to precariously balance my haul out of the store. But if everyone in America just started using tote bags, we'd eliminate the annual need for the 12 million gallons of oil needed to make the bags we consume in an average year. (Click here for some other sobering plastic-bag stats.)

In looking at some of the changes Phil and I have made in the past couple years, I think of the banana. I know, I know. Bananas are harvested under often inhumane conditions and shipped halfway around the world to get to my Fresh Market. I know; if I truly was making a difference, I wouldn't eat bananas. But hear me out.

It used to be we'd buy a bunch, and eat them until they got spots. Then Phil and I would wait for the other to eat the spotty ones, which didn't happen. So sometimes I would throw the old bananas wholesale into the freezer with the intention of eventually thawing them out and squooshing out the contents to make banana bread. But I rarely make banana bread, so would generally find an unseemly chocolate-colored lump in the back of the freezer many many months later. Often, we'd just throw out the old bananas.

In the last year, we've started composting, so organic waste always goes into a pile to nourish the garden and our future meals.

So, banana consumption today: We buy a bunch of bananas, and what Sylvia doesn't consume in one sitting (that girl does love her some bananas) sometimes start to get spotty. When the fruit gets too spotty for even Sylvie to eat, I peel the bananas, break them into three pieces, and throw the pieces in a bag in the freezer. The peels go into the compost bin.

The frozen parts could be used for banana bread, which we still don't really eat, but generally go into smoothies. Two of our favorites:
  • Double-Milk Banana Smoothie: I got this from one of the What to Expect books, but we drink them all the time now. In a blender, whir up a cup of milk, the amount of powdered milk required to make a cup of milk (usually about half a cup), a frozen banana, a bit of vanilla, and a teaspoon or so of cinnamon.
  • Sylvia and Tommy's Favorite Breakfast Smoothie: A cup of vanilla yogurt (Trader's Point Creamery is their fave), a bit of milk (maybe a quarter cup), a frozen banana, and a handful of frozen berries.
So now, when a banana comes into our house, it doesn't go out in the trash. The flesh eventually gets eaten, and the peel goes into the garden. Our banana routine isn't eliminating the need for oil, but it's a tiny change that, along with the hundreds of other tiny changes we're making, can start to move the needle.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Kale Chips

The little 8 X 4 garden box I planted in the spring is exploding. Pea pods, beets, onions, and carrots are about ready to be picked. The radishes have been eaten and replaced by tomatoes. And we've got kale. Oh, do we have kale.

My favorite two ways to eat kale are either sliced very thinly and eaten raw on salad, or sauteed with garlic and olive oil. But a friend told me about kale chips, and with the kale regenerating what seems like nightly, I tried them the other day. I like them. Phil wasn't even in the mood to try one. So you'll have to trust me when I say they're good.

Kale Chips

Just pick (or buy), wash, and dry a big bunch of kale. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fold each leaf in half and cut out the thick vein running up the back. Then rip the leaves into about 1-inch squares. Spray cooking spray on a couple big rimmed cookie sheets. (You can also cover the sheets with parchment paper.) Put the kale pieces on the sheets, drizzle lightly with a little olive oil (and spread it around if it's uneven -- try to get some on each kale piece), sprinkle on some kosher salt, and pop in the oven for about 10 minutes. When they're done, they're crispy and golden on the edges, but not burned.

You won't mistake them for potato chips, but they have that same salty, crunchy thing going. And they have a unique greeny flavor. I loved them. I made my chips a little large, requiring biting into them, which was a mistake. The variety of kale I planted (Red Russian) came out very thin in chips, and biting into them meant a sprinkling of green tiny kale pieces. But Phil's got band practice tonight, the kale exploded again while I was gone for the weekend, and I'm in the middle of a great book (Twelve by Twelve), so I'm seeing some chippy goodness in my near future.

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