Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Hiding in Those Eggs?

Easter is only a few days away. In previous years, I’d be prepared. This year, despite its late date, it snuck up on me. Considering there was snow falling from the sky last night (enough, already!), it’s been hard to get in the mood. Yesterday, and again this morning, my youngest, most subtle child, said, “I hope the Easter bunny’s figured out what he’s going to put in the eggs this year.” This child knows me. He’s also a snooper and has probably noticed the lack of stashed treats.

It’s hard to bring myself to buy crappy candy. Yes, I know, this is what Easter’s all about. Candy is part of the deal. Still, it grates on my soul. Tomorrow I will drag myself up to the Wolfgang Candy outlet in York and buy the obligatory sweet stuff. At least I’ll be supporting a local company.

One year, when I was more ambitious, I actually made organic homemade chocolate covered cream eggs. Who was that woman and where did she go?

Every year I try to think of other things to stuff the plastic eggs with beyond sugar drenched, food-dye laden, artificially flavored lumps (because really people, that’s what this is).

Now, don’t take me for a scrooge. I’m all about Easter. I love watching the kids hunt for eggs. I love surprising them with a few nice things in their Easter baskets. I just wish I had something better to offer them in their eggs.

My older kids are always looking for a handout, so money is an obvious option. I’ll fill a few eggs with cold hard cash. But what else fits in that tiny egg? I turned to the internet for ideas.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Garden Remodel and Mint Invasion

The peas are in the ground! Finally! I don’t know that I’ve ever planted them this late. (the picture of the planted peas was just dirt, so I took a picture of crocuses instead.)  This year’s garden is going to be a haphazard affair, it seems. We’ve got a construction project going which has forced me to relocate my strawberries, another chore I took care of this weekend. They wouldn’t all fit in the temporary bed I prepared for them, so some of them went in pallets. I’ve never tried this, but am hoping it works.

The driveway is being expanded and repaved- a project that has been overdue for at least ten years. New terraces and swales are being cut into our hillside to fix drainage issues. In the end, I’ll have two new huge garden beds! Well, since I’m losing one (the strawberries) in the process, it’s only a net gain of one bed. But as long as I’m still sending the garden to lawn ratio up, that’s all that matters.

This is the garden that's going -(I built that wall myself ten years ago by the way)

I’m a little nervous about one aspect of the garden remodel. In the bed where the strawberries used to reside there is mint. And when I say there is mint, I mean the entire bed is overrun, underrun, completely overtaken by mint. The strawberries have generally been able to hold their own in the battle for control, but the mint has always been on the winning end and I have to ally myself with the strawberries by mid summer and ruthlessly pull out any and all mint I can find. That still leaves plenty by fall when I cut it and dry it to make mint tea. My concern is this – when the old bed is bulldozed and the new beds are terraced into the same hillside, will the mint be EVERYWHERE?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DIY Organic Spice Mixes

Cooking is all about spices. This I’ve learned. If you’ve ever watched professional chefs work, you’ll notice they add spices, and particularly salt, by the handful, not the teaspoonful. I like a lot of spices. I want to taste my food.

When we turned over our organic leaf, I struggled to find organic versions of the spice mixes I’d become dependent on for seasoning taco meat, spaghetti sauce, pizza, seafood, and steak. It was hard to give up McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning (the secret ingredient in my husband’s famous burgers) and who wants steamed shrimp without Old Bay seasoning?

Most commercial spice mixes contain MSG, plus all kinds of preservatives that most people would not even consider food. For instance, Old El Paso taco mix contains silicon dioxide which is the same thing found in those little packets that say “do not eat” in your shoe boxes. It also features ethoxquin which is a preservative AND a pesticide. If you google ethoxquin you’ll find a huge controversy swarming around its use in dog food. Apparently dog owners don’t want their pets eating pesticide! Well, I don’t really want my kids eating pesticides either.

Organic versions of popular spice mixes are silly expensive and not always easy to find. And there’s no need to – you can make your own!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PARENT BEWARE: Your dry cleaning, toys, pretty lawn, and even your tap water may be poisoning your child's mind

Are toys, dry cleaning, and pretty lawns dangerous to your kids? Maybe, maybe not, but the evidence is certainly mounting.

According to a recent Harvard study, common chemicals in your house can wreak havoc on your child’s brain development. These toxic chemicals may be responsible for neurodevelopmental problems such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, but they may also be the culprit behind harder to pin down problems like slower development, lower math scores, hyperactivity, poor motor skills, aggressive behaviors, or just simply brains that never realize their potential.

The study is not conclusive, but there is plenty of evidence connecting neurodevelopmental issues and toxic chemicals found in dry cleaning, flame retardants (used on furniture, toys, and clothing), pesticides commonly sprayed on lawns, and even tap water.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fat Kids Are Not Healthy or Happy: A Prescription for Parents

As a formerly fat kid, I feel somewhat qualified to address this issue: Childhood Obesity. I’ve kind of ducked and dodged the touchy issue on this blog, mentioning it in passing but never really facing it head on. Well, here goes.

I remember being dragged to the doctor as a chubby 8-year-old and being told I needed to eat more carrots and melba toast and less orange soda and cheese puffs. I felt guilty for every bite I put in my mouth after that. I look back on photos from those years and I certainly was chunky, but I wasn’t “obese.” Still, from the moment I stepped on that scale at the doctor’s office and he frowned, I only ever thought of myself again as fat. Even after I lost those pounds as a teenager, I never lost those pounds in my mind. I’m still conscious of every bite I take and I still judge myself by it. So trust me when I say I’m sensitive about this issue and my heart aches for kids who face it. I know it will color their lives.

Childhood obesity is complicated. It’s not about putting kids on a diet and it’s not about getting them active. Those are two strategies that will put a temporary bandaid on a lifelong sickness.

What we have to do is teach kids to live healthy and care about their bodies. As parents there is much we can do to set them up for success. But it will take time, effort, and a willingness to set an example. Most heavy kids have at least one parent who has, or is, struggling with their own weight. If it’s hard for us, how much harder is it for our kids?

Here’s what you’re up against –

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Start Some Seeds - Bring on Spring!

Here’s the view out my window:

So you can understand why it’s hard to imagine Spring will ever come, which makes it equally hard to start my seedlings.  Still, I have faith that someday the snow will be gone (not this week apparently since more is forecast for tomorrow).

I’ve written about starting seedlings in the past, but thought I’d toss out an updated version.

Need a reason to start your seeds yourself instead of buying already sprung plants from Home Depot?
Reason #1 – Much better selection and you can plant weird tomatoes, rare hot peppers, and expensive flowers.
Reason #2 – Sometimes those cute little already-blooming- awkwardly-on-their-tiny-stems specimens bring not only an instant garden, but some years (think 2 years ago) - the blight. A nasty early blight wiped out entire tomato crops on the east coast several years ago and its origins were traced to seedlings from Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Reason #3 – It will give you great personal satisfaction, save you money, and make spring come sooner (that’s my own personal philosophy).

First things first. You need some stellar seeds.

 I buy mine from Pinetree Seeds and Landreth Seeds. Both sources have no GMO seeds and sell a huge selection of heirloom and organically grown seeds. If you order online, your seeds will arrive in a few days. Don’t jump the gun and buy those mass-marketed seeds at Wal-Mart. Don’t do it.

Next you need a container system and the right growing medium. In a normal year (as opposed to the Ice-age we are experiencing this year), I mix compost, vermiculite, and perlite as a growing medium to start seeds. This year my compost bin’s access door is still snowed in,
 so I’m opting for peat moss and vermiculite with the full knowledge that I’ll have to feed these babies some organic fertilizer once they’re up and at ‘em.

I use clean, empty yogurt containers 
with a few holes drilled in the bottom
 (You could use a box knife but since my hubby has more tools than Tim the Toolman, I have a drill bit just for this purpose!).

I’ve heard of people using egg shells as containers for seed starting. This sounds very organic and earth-friendly, but las with so many other things that sound great in theory, like cross-country road trips with the kids, it could be a disaster. Half an egg shell doesn’t seem like enough space to grow a real seedling, and how do you keep them from falling over? I decided to kind-of try this method this year. I’m starting some seeds in an egg carton. It’s biodegradable and I should be able to plant them  directly in the garden. I am skeptical of whether the plants will grow large enough to transplant well, but we shall see.
 (I’ll update you in May. Notice I only planted flowers – veggie seeds are too important to use for test purposes.)

It’s important to wet the planting medium thoroughly. A day or two before I'm ready to plant the seeds, I dowse each container until water comes out the bottom. I want this dirt wet all the way through. This might be a great project to do while you’re waiting for your seeds to arrive.

Before I put the seeds in, I write the name of the plant on a popsicle stick and place it in the container. I scatter 2-3 seeds on the dirt and cover it with the appropriate amount of growing medium. Your seed packet will tell you this, but it’s basically the same depth as the seed is tall, so that’s not very deep. Tomatoes will get ¼ inch or so, onions nearly no covering.

Next, I place these containers in a plastic under-the-bed box or show box, so that I can water them from the bottom once they sprout.

After the seeds are planted, I wet them with a spray bottle. You need to water gently at this point or your seeds will be washed in to the corners or too deep in the dirt to ever find their way out. Pick up a few empty spray bottles at the hardware store. These bottles are cheap. I try to keep an extra one on hand because you get what you pay for (they break/jam/refuse to work easily).

Place your seeds in a warm place under lights. (Actually for most seeds you don’t need the lights until they’ve sprouted.) We have a growing space with lights on a timer. You don’t need those special expensive grow lights. Really. An ordinary old fluorescent bulb or a warm sunny window will also work (although if you use a window remember to turn your pots regularly and expect a slightly slower growth rate).

Wallah – you’ve done it. Your garden is started!