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After much anticipation, I harvested my two windowsill radishes on Sunday.  They were terrible.

Maybe I waited too long. Maybe I should have popped them up when I first noticed them pushing their pink and white heads out of the soil. But I was waiting for a special time, when I could really enjoy them.  As I gnawed on the spongy tasteless bitter rood, I thought,  if I had to grow all my own food,  I would be really hungry.

Fear of starvation. It is clearly one of my themes.

But truthfully, despite my worry, buying and eating local food is not as much of a hardship as I had expected. True, I have learned that if I want to be a true locavore I need to plan better in the summer. So as I continue to research where to find local, organic canned tomatoes, I’m keeping track of how many cans of tomatoes I would actually need to get me through a winter.  So far, I have bought 4 cans. I am also investigating local hydroponic tomatoes.

I’m starting to look at some of my core winter recipes and experimenting with ways to create tomato-less versions. For example, sweet and sour cabbage soup is an Eastern European winter delicacy — it involves raisins, tomatoes and brown sugar. Last winter, I figured out how to make it meatless — it was a hit. This winter, I am experimenting with other types of cabbage soups that evoke that homey feeling but cater to a green market shopping list.

This Red Cabbage and Barley soup is my first attempt. It is inspired by two of my grandmother’s classic soups:  chicken soup with  barley and beans (“Grandma soup” as we called it) and the sweet and sour cabbage soup that my mother made with a big chunk of beef. For me, barley says warmth and comfort. It’s also supposedly healthy. It’s also helps fight Type 2 Diabetes for starters — a bit of a concern for both John and I since we each have diabetes in our immediate families.  I have been looking for ways to build it into our diet more.

What’s harder is trying to feed the kids from the winter garden. They are not big on root vegetables or squash. It’s a challenge and I am not as concerned with being as strict about limiting their produce to local. So far, I have bought cucumbers grown in California and a bag of frozen peas (Whole Foods organic).  In terms of fruit, I still buy banana and I have bought  a pineapple and a case of mandarin oranges from Spain.  But mostly, for fruit we have been focusing on apples and pears which are still available in abundance in the green market. And, starting next Saturday, I get my first winter share of the CSA. I’m hoping their greenhouse will produce a prolific assortment of greens!

All and all I am very mindful of where produce is grown and how it gets to my table. So are the kids. Basically, we are getting into a different routine. I am not sure if we have maximized our sustainability but we have definitely raised our consciousness.

 

Red Cabbage and Barley Soup

1/2 red cabbage cored and cut into slices

1 -2 big carrot cut into chunks

1 parsnips cut into chunks

1/2 a celery root cut into chunks

a bay leaf

2 quarts of vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you are not a vegetarian)

3/4 cup of pearl barley

Sour cream (for garnish)

Saute the root vegetables in two to three table spoons of  olive oil for about 5 -10 minutes. Add in the cabbage. Saute again to coat the cabbage. After another 5 minutes add the vegetable stock, the salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Rinse the pearl barley. Add it into the gently boiling soup. Cook for 1-2 hours, or until the root vegetables are soft.  Puree the soup with a hand blender of regular blender. Leave some chunks of vegetables. Cook for another 10 minutes to let the soup thicken. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

 

KID NOTE: Z would not go near this soup. B said he would try it, but in the end didn’t. He tasted it, and said he didn’t hate it.  I think if I keep offering, eventually, his palate will expand. B was completely grossed out when I butchered a chicken to make chicken soup. “When I grow up,” he told me, “and stop liking kid food, I’m totally going to be a vegetarian.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This kid who won’t eat beans. He won’t eat potatoes unless they are french fried. He won’t eat most vegetables. What did I do wrong?

When I first started to rethink the way I chose to eat, I was thinking mostly about myself. I’ve certainly thought about kid food, but I haven’t really incorporated the level of restrictions I was applying to my diet to my kid’s diet. I did cut out a lot of processed foods because I started to be aware of the amount of packaging a box of organic granola bars and organic pop tarts created.

Moving away from processed food has been more of a symptom of my attempt to eat sustainably and less of a focus. And there are a lot of kid shortcuts I haven’t eliminated. For example, I make my own bread (thanks to a great Irish Soda bread recipe and the bread machine) but I buy bags of store-bought pasta. I could make pasta, but wow, I think we would be eating a lot less pasta.  I guess I should give it a try.

Right now, I plan two menus for every dinner. (Two choices if I’m lucky.) One is a kid’s choice — which frequently involves an animal-based protein (hence the search for grass-fed local beef and affordable pastured chicken). The other is grown up meal, which tends to be vegetarian and locally sourced.

My biggest kid food success since I’ve started is that I got my older son and his best friend to eat kale chips. (I used a What Would Cathy Eat recipe and left out the spice).  Tonight, I’ve brought back carrot soup which used to be a bi-weekly staple. But it must have been off the menu for a while because when I suggested it the kids didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Hey,” I said to Blaise, “I think I’m going to start making that carrot soup you used to like.”

“What carrot soup?”

“You remember. I used to make carrot soup for you guys. You liked it.”

“Mom,” Blaise said. “When’s the last time you made food for us during the week?”

Ouch.

I stumbled upon a websites that has made me rethink my you eat your stuff, we’ll eat ours way of living. Table of Promise is by a mom (who happens to live in my neighborhood) who, in the last six, months has gotten her family off processed food. I really applaud her efforts. And I’ve been checking in with her blog for inspiration.

I worry that my kids don’t eat adult food because I don’t eat dinner with them enough. I often have to work late.  It’s hard to ask a babysitter to force your kids to eat my friend Cathy’s recipe for Stuffed kabocha squash with quinoa and chickpeas — which is on the menu for John and I this week.

That being said,  I am committing to making getting home for dinner more of a priority. And, over the next 6 months, I’d like to discover at least 1 meal (other than pasta) everyone will eat at the same time.

Wish me luck, and send in your suggestions. Please!

RECIPE: Kid-Friendly Carrot Soup

1/c cup of chopped onion
1 stalk celery (chopped)
1 small piece of fresh ginger (minced)
1 cup of cubed apple (about a 1 apple)
2 cups fresh cauliflower florets (optional)*
5 cups cubed carrots (tops removed, peel on)
1/2 stick butter
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups of vegetable stock or 4 cups of vegetable stock and 1 cup apple cider
Salt and pepper to taste.

Saute the onion in a half a stick of butter and the olive oil. Add chopped celery. Cook for about five minutes until the onion and celery are translucent. Add the ginger, apple and cauliflower. Saute until the apple is soft. Add about five cups of chopped carrots and cook for about ten minutes checking to make sure nothing burns.

Add the stock and cider. Cook for another twenty minutes to let the flavors blend. Puree with a hand blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Makes about 8 servings.

* Add any vegetable that you want to sneak into their diet. Cauliflower is good because it will not overwelm the taste of the carrots (and it’s still in season). But you could probably use zucchini or another mild vegetable as well.

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I have a confession to make. This weekend, I bought my kids super-processed, sugary, fake-flavored, packaged in Peoria, and shipped-across-the-country-breakfast cereal on Saturday. We were in Target buying track pants and the boxes were there in front of me as we walked in to check out.

Here’s the rub. The kids didn’t ask for them. I wasn’t standing in line waiting  for hours– so I they weren’t staring at me and tempting me. They were there as I whizzed in to the empty cashier and as I saw them out of the corner of my eye, I grabbed them.

The kids were excited. Frenzied. Almost titillated. They’ve come to expect my slightly erratic food choices. I can go ballistic over a white bagel and then turn off the high way for ice cream. It makes no sense.

“Where is my mom and what have you done with her?” they ask when I say yes to a root beer float or piece of candy.

There is a tiny bit of method to my madness. Although I’m not sure my argument really holds water – as I test it out.

You see, I have, what I call, a “cultural pass”. That means on occasion, I will allow myself to indulge in non-local, potentially garbage making food if there is a cultural benefit to it. This pass works for street tacos, (although I won’t eat non-grass fed beef), any ethnic restaurant including my lunchtime Cuban favorite Sophie’s, and sometimes, it appears, Halloween-inspired breakfast cereal.

For me, a “cultural pass” is either:
1) Something that allows me or the kids to experience another culture
2) Something that allows me to share with the kids some kind of food experience from my past
3) Something that allows us all to take part in a cultural event – like thanksgiving, or Passover, or Halloween

So by these completely random rules, the A & W Rootbeer Restaurant in Lake George gets a “cultural pass” because I remember it from my childhood. But MacDonald’s get a literal pass — that’s a bye bye to the drive through. Even though, when I was a kid, my mother used to take us to MacDonald’s for a “special treat.”

I never liked Booberry and Frankenberry when I was their ages. But I remember the appeal of all that Halloween drek and I remember wanting it. That childhood longing came out in full force, so strong, I didn’t need the nag factor to sweep the two boxes into my card.

Buying those garish boxes of cereal for my kids gave me a lot of pleasure. But here’s the problem. Now that they are in the house, the kids want to eat it! Imagine that.  They want to eat that cereal for breakfast. They want to eat that cereal for a snack. As I say “no” I realize how ridiculous I must sound to them.

I think there is some value in creating balance. But I don’t want to  set up processed or junk foods as something special – they’re not. They’re the opposite of special. But, I was raised in a time and place where cotton candy and chocolate MacDonald’s milkshakes and cartoon-inspired breakfasted cereals were something you got on special occasions. And sometimes that comes back at me with the force of a tsunami.

Am I sorry I bought Booberry and Frankenberry? Yes. Will I do something like this again. Maybe. We are faced with a million choices everyday. I’m trying to make up some rules for myself that will help me make the right choices more often than not. And apparently, sometimes my rules are not working perfectly.

Yesterday morning, when Zane asked for Booberry again, I said, “No, you need to eat something healthy. Those cereals are not the healthiest choice.”

He didn’t argue –much. In fact, he seemed to understand. And actually, that’s a pretty big thing.

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September cycling

A few weekends ago, Zane and I rode our bikes down the bike path from 181st street and then across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum. It was hot but since we live in Washington Heights, the ride was mostly down hill and doable even for an 8-year-old. Still it was a first for us, and a big accomplishment for Zane.

There are a lot of people in my neighborhood who routinely ride with their kids to get where they need to go in the city. In the Spring, they ride to Sunday morning baseball at the field in Inwood. And during the summer, my neighbor across the street rode his daughter to the Urban Park Rangers Program in Inwood Park. I am ashamed to say, until a few months ago, I drove and wanted to drive to these places. But now I want to be one of those bike people — the kind who jump on their bikes, not just to go for a ride, but to get someplace.

A few years ago, I started biking to work a few days a week. I was training for the Bike New York, 5-Boro Bike Tour. I loved it, in a way. It was like getting a vacation in before work. The ride only takes about a half an hour more than the subway and the scenery is gorgeous. It was the first time I had seriously considered my bike as something more than just recreation.

Biking as a way of commuting is certainly becoming a trend — even in New York. In fact, I was excited to hear that  the city is thinking about developing a bike-sharing program which could make doing short hops in the city completely bikeable. Modeled on the Paris Vélib’ program, Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s vision starts with 10,500 bikes available for rent which will eventually spread to 49,000 bikes. Here’s a link to the CBS news report that talks about it.

I got so excited about it all, I decided I would start to ride my bike to work again. So I made a commitment that for the month of September, I would ride at least 1 day a week.  Of course, last week (the first week in September) I was off. Then, when this week rolled around (no pun intended), I kept rescheduling the ride. Now I’m left with just tomorrow because Friday I need to wear nice clothes.

While I was searching around for info on the City’s rent a bike program I found a lot of interesting tidbits of info, Like if your kid outgrows their bike,  Recycle-a-Bicycle will swap out their old bike for one that fits.

And Cliff Bars, through  2 Mile Challenge is giving over $25k to three charities.  The team with the most points on October 31st, 2010 earns its organization a bonus grant,  upping the take-home check of $50,000. I figured, if I’m going to be biking more, I should support a green charity. So I joined the Blue Team which is riding for the Alliance for Climate Eduction (ACE). ACE educates high school students with free multimedia climate presentations and helps them kick-start climate projects.

According to the 2 mile challenge website, 25% of the CO2 emissions comes form Motor Vehicles and we make 20 lbs of carbon dioxide pollution with every gallon of gas. Ok, it’s not news that driving isn’t green, but we are so desensitized to that message, I think it’s useful to be reminded of the facts once in a while

But the truth is, I seriously don’t want to ride my bike to work tomorrow. I’m tired. And like everything else sustainable, I know it’s going to be  inconvenient and hard. (It’s 7.5 miles each way!) Plus, I take the subway so I’m not really saving any carbon emissions by pedaling to midtown.  Ok,  I will burn some calories. And it will save me subway fare. Those are pluses, but, the real reason I want to make myself do it is because I want to model green behavior for my kids.

If I can get  into the habit of riding to work, I can start to establish other biking habits like riding to Fairways on 125th street — it’s practically on the bike path along the river.

Like a lot of the things I’m choosing to do the biggest impact I think I’m making is on my kids. They grumble and moan about my “healthy” eating and my “recycling” but when push comes to shove, they are on board.

Last weekend we went out to dinner with my father. When Blaise was done eating, he still had three slices of  pizza left in his personal pie. I had noticed that the restaurant was using Styrofoam boxes for take out, but I didn’t realize he had, too. When the waitress came over,  he asked if he could have the pizza wrapped up.

“Can you give me something other than Styrofoam to wrap my pizza in?” he asked her.

“Sure,” she said.

The next day we were at a family party, he was so proud of himself, he said, “Tell them how I asked to take home the pizza without making garbage.”

I told the story then, and I’m telling it again now. And tomorrow morning, when I don’t want to get on my bike to commute to work, I’ll think about it again. Hopefully, it will continue to help me move my good intentions into greener actions.

How to find Recycle-A-Bicycle in New York City:

East Village (Manhattan)
75 Avenue C (between 5th & 6th Streets), New York, NY 10009
212-475-1655
Hours:Mon-Sat, Noon to 7PM (Not open on Sunday)

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Zane named one of our local tomatoes Tomatoanna Jones. This little red friend who came from an amazing local grocery store called EarthFare went on a bunch of adventures with the kids.

On our way to Tennessee, I bought a bunch of locally grown tomatoes from a gentleman in a town  in Virgina called Damascus. I asked him if he knew where I could buy eggs and he made a phone call to a friend. Unfortunately his friend was out of eggs. I was worried. I’d tried to do my research before we left, but the farmers markets I’d found on-line were on Saturdays. We arrived on Sunday. I thought I would find farm stands along the way. No luck.

Boone, North Carolina is the closest large town. Our next door neighbor promised that I’d find a lot of organic produce at a supermarket called EarthFare. She was more than right. EarthFare is an amazing grocery store. philosophically, they were very in line with where I am right now. In fact, they claim that they only sell meat and dairy that has been humanely treated. Here’s what No Inhumane treatment means to EarthFare. In addition to buying local produce, buying humanely non-industrial meat and dairy has been at the top of my list.  I bought bacon for the first time in months.

My niece Emily told me that she and Tomatoanna Jones fought a black bear, a mountain lion, and a bobcat -- all before lunch.

I also loved that they labelled what was local. I was able to buy local, organic Vidalia onions, cucumbers and  of course tomatoes. Plus the prices were really great — from produce to dairy to bulk grains and flours.

Tomatoanna Jones went for a dip in Lake Watauga before he joined us for dinner.

I think we even bought  enough tomatoes to make gazpacho — a normal summer staple that I haven’t made yet this summer. Sorry, Tomatoanna Jones. Today may have been your last adventure.

For a quick overview of organic labeling and the basics of why you might want to eat and buy organic, check out this video from EarthFare:

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Today’s family breakfast at Zane’s school ended with twenty some odd 2nd- and 3rd-graders singing Michael Jackson’s  Man in the Mirror.

“I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”

The tears really kicked in when all those kids started to sing. Even though  a lot of the time I struggle between feeling foolish for trying to implement eco-conscious restrictions on our buying habits, hearing all those little voices singing strengthened my resolve.
The teacher asked the kids what the song was about they said, “Being good to the earth.”and “Stopping the oil spill.” and “Being good to people.” The words of course were right on.  People clearly want to do the right thing. But as I looked around the room at the piles of garbage, I couldn’t help but worry.

I baked a dozen blueberry corn muffins to bring to the morning feas
t. Since I’ve purged myself of a lot of my plastic containers, I ended up packing them in a white basket lined with a red cloth napkin which actually looked very pretty. When Zane carried it, he said, half jokingly and half proud:
“Look. I’m Little Red Riding Hood.”
A lot of times, my home-baked goods get passed by — the kids are bedazzled by the Dunkin’ Donuts, the store-bought bagels and muffins which, this time, were festively bright and yellow. I helped a harried mom wearing a nurse’s  scrubs unpack plastic box after plastic box of these gleaming muffins. The dozen  left us with three big packs of plastic. She, like me, wants to be a good mom and make her kids proud. I saw the worry in her eyes:  What time was it? Would she be late for work? How soon could she duck out without  her daughter feeling neglected.  I knew what she was thinking — I was thinking the same thing.
Her daughter , a lovely little blond second grader seemed completely unaware. She proudly told me:”We brought the mini-muffins.”

“I know,” I told her admiringly, “they look delicious.”

Sometimes it’s all too clear that there’s a big gap between knowing what’s eco-friendly to living it
. Sure, everybody believe what Michael Jackson sang about, everybody wants to the right thing, We want to look in the mirror, but half the time we don’t know what we’re looking for. The other half of the time we don’t have the emotional energy or the financial where-with-all to make the most eco-friendly choices.

I’m not judging anyone. But I wish there were a way to start a bigger conversation, to encourage more people to make those little choices everyone talks about all the time. Like not to use plastic bags at the grocery store or to think about how much garbage what they want will create. There are so many of us, if we all just made a few of those little changes it would make a big difference.

I thought about how the man at the recycling booth at the Inwood Farmer’s Market said  most people don’t recycle what they can in the current city programs.  I thought about how many times since I started this year of  thinking sustainable, I’ve wanted to drop it all and just buy a bottle of water.

I’m not saying that we should all go cold turkey and quit consumer convenient foods — but there are certainly times when a little bit of thought and planning and resolve could make a difference.

“If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”

Of course, it’s hard to keep it up. Tonight, I bought the kids two boxes of individually wrapped ice cream pops even though we’ve had numerous discussions about how that kind of ice cream makes lots of garbage.

“I can draw on the wrappers,” he said, “then it will be like recycling.”

I gave in on the ice cream because like the mom at the breakfast, I wanted to create a moment that my kids would enjoy. My mother used to buy me those kinds of ice cream pops after she picked me up from school.   For me in that moment, the tug of nostalgia was stronger than the pull of living green.

When the teacher had asked the class what Man in the Mirror was about, Zane hadn’t raised his hand. So as we were walking to the subway, I asked him. After some prompting, he and Blaise came up with the right answer,”It’s about doing the right thing. The man in the mirror is you.”

That’s why I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do,” I said, “I’m trying to figure out how we can make changes in our life to make the world a better place.”

They both nodded, put the Popsicle sticks in our reusable bag so that they could be recycled at home. They looked like they got it. One can only hope.

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