Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Food Revolution Update

I wrote last year about our Food Revolution and have been asked over and over about our progress since then. To say that it has been life-changing for us is not, in any way, an overstatement. The food revolution led to an overall chemical revolution, and our eating and shopping preferences have not been the same since. I not only have learned to cook, but I have learned to enjoy cooking, to want to cook, to cook to escape and for the pleasure of creating stuff from all these ingredients. Dare I say, it has become Fun? Of course, I still have moments where I stand at the cupboard at 5pm and say, "What are we going to have for dinner?", but by and large, those stressful days are gone.

So where are we?

We cut out almost all processed food. it took several months, of course, and really almost two years now to get fully comfortable and confident in the kitchen. We make most everything from scratch, usually local and usually organic. There are some places, however, where we still cheat. We cheat:
1) I still buy processed condiments--ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise basically--and salad dressings, although I do buy all of these organic. Salad dressings are easy to make from scratch and I do it sometimes on the weekends, but I confess that I still use the "store bought" balsamic vinaigrette and ranch dressings for every day.
2) Spaghetti sauce--last summer, when I had fresh tomatoes regularly, we made plenty of spaghetti and pizza sauces. However, for the vast majority of the year, I buy (organic) spaghetti sauce as a "starter" and add veggies, ground beef, herbs, etc. to it. We also cheat on pastas, of course, as I have never made homemade pasta and don't foresee me doing that until one or more kids go away to college.
3) Breakfast cereals. While the kids eat hot oatmeal with fruit and honey once a week or so, they also eat plenty of quick cold cereal. I buy the Kashi Organic or Barbara's brands, but it is obviously still processed. (I do make the granola from scratch).
4) I buy chicken broth. Again I know it's not hard to do from scratch since I cook whole chickens pretty regularly. A girl only has so much time though.
5) Hershey kisses. My good friends know that I have a secret stash of hershey kisses when I need a sweet fix. Usually I just need one. We also have the 70% cocoa chocolate bars for occasional dessert (usually fruit is dessert) that I know you are "supposed" to eat instead, but a hershey kiss is a nice grab and go treat. No food dyes, obviously. Don't know about HFCS.
6) White sugar and white flour. I still use both of these 75% of the time when I bake (as opposed to WW flour and agave and other sugar substitutes). I know that white flour is so refined that it is almost as bad as sugar, but WW flour often makes things so dense and I just haven't had enough play-around time, to come up with ratios of WW to white. (Now that I'm parenting this Sourdough Starter, I'm assuming I will have more opportunities to experiment.)

Lisa from" (a blog I read religiously) has a 5-ingredient rule that we try to stick to where possible for when we actually buy processed foods. I'm sure there are other places we cheat which I am forgetting right now, but I guess the bigger point is that it means that the vast majority of the time, we are cooking and eating homemade, hopefully local, primarily seasonal, and usually organic whole food. That is a victory. And while I'm linking (or Almost-Linking), I also love these two magazines: Eating Well and Edible Piedmont.

We do all the obvious stuff that is trendy right now in terms of organic or local and grass-fed meats, eggs, and butter, farmer's market and CSA, etc. And we avoid HFCS and food dyes. As a rule, I allow the children to eat what they want when at church, preschool, friends' houses, etc., hoping that I am instilling values for the long-haul, even as my 4-year old begs for Oreos at our neighbor's house. We don't eat out a ton because we have four young kids, but suffice it to say that they get their fair share of hotdogs elsewhere. I just try to keep it right--and real--at our house.

Once I started reading endless magazines, books and blogs about food and pesticides and processing, it of course led to concerns about chemicals and other scary stuff. Little by little, we have made other non-food lifestyle changes in the Great Cleanse of 2009-2010:
--Given BPA (and BPA substitutes) concerns, I have tossed out our plastic storageware and have all glass storage containers.
--Given PFOA concerns, I tossed out our Teflon pots and pans for stainless steel and cast iron.
--Given BPA lining issues, we avoid canned foods whenever possible or choose Edens Organics which has BPA-free liners. The exception, of course, is tomato sauce and paste which we buy canned and which apparently have the worst BPA levels due to the tomato acidity. Hmm.
--Given water quality concerns, we installed an under sink filter for our tap water.
--Given endocrine-disrupting parabens and fragrances, we converted to--if not always organic--at least safer and more environmentally sound personal care products--shampoo, shaving cream, sunscreens, and the like. And truthfully, we tossed most of them and just simplified our product usage.
--Given the prevalence of triclosan in anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, we quit buying these completely and went back to old-fashioned bar soap, mostly homemade by my beautiful friend Rea.
--Given pthalate concerns, we tossed the vinyl shower curtains for cloth ones.
--Given pthalate concerns, we tossed the kids' soft plastic toys (mostly bath) and try to buy wooden toys when we can. (Not always possible, since most are hand-me-downs and I'm too cheap to buy new for the last kid.)
--Given PBDE's, we tossed any pajamas that were labeled as flame retardant. Luckily, most of our pj's are hand-me-down Hannas anyway.
--We were already taking other precautions--avoiding pesticides in our food and on our lawns, eating whole grains, omega-3's etc, buying an arsenic-free cedar playset several years ago, cleaning with vinegar most of the time, testing the kids annually for lead since we live in an old house, etc.

So there you have it--our healthy home clean sweep. Most of this stuff comes from the EWG's Healthy Home Checklist which can be found here. For some reason, I still can't master the hyperlink. Sorry about the cut and paste necessity. EWG also has a great safer sunscreens list, cosmetics database, and mobile phone database. Another of my favorite blogs is, while I'm Almost Linking again.

We made these changes over the course of a year probably, so it wasn't one dramatic, expensive day where we swiped out the old and brought in the new. And I'm sure that we missed some potential toxins (the mattresses, the particle-board play kitchen!!), but we have found a happy comfortable chemical-free (or at least a chemical-less) place. And that's a victory. I don't deny that I've become a bit consumed with this stuff--it is most of what I read and really what interests me right now, outside of the children. I spent the first half of my life obsessed with historic preservation (old buildings) and wonder if the second half will be consumed with this sustainable, healthy living stuff. I could do worse, right?

Ciao a tutti.

Since 1899

My previous post about Dr. Louise Nelson's Sourdough Starter prompted me to write a brief entry about our local book club. My dear friend June (happy 80th birthday, June--Eighty IS the new sixty) shepherded me into Booklovers in late 2007. I was secretly sort of intimidated at first as it includes a good many faculty and faculty wives, and yet I was in the throes of diapers and Dora and was really seeking some adult conversation with critical thought. I so appreciate and enjoy the intellectual curiosity and the smart wit of many of these women.

Booklovers is the oldest book gig in town, having begun in 1899--yes, you read that right, 1899. For those of you who know my love of history, you'll know that being a member of a 112-year old Book Club makes me downright giddy. (For those who are REALLY interested, the College has Archives of early Minutes, starting in 1901.) Super cool. ).

Booklovers is a bit unusual in that we don't all pick a book one week, all read it during the month and discuss it together four weeks later. Each year a program committee comes up with three topics, on which the group votes one for a theme for the year. 2008 was "Women: Fact and Fiction", 2009, "Hail to the Chief" Books by and about American Presidents", 2010, "A Book that Changed my Life", and upcoming in fall 2011, "The Dark Continent: Books Set in Africa" (No, I didn't choose that last one, but you can bet that I voted for it). (Other nominated themes that have not yet been chosen over the past few years: "New Economic Frontiers: A Tribute to Louise Nelson", Nobel Laureates Write: Works by Recent Prize Winners", "Utopias/Dystopias", and "Books by Margaret Atwood"). So we pick a theme and then each month, an individual member presents on the theme. According to the Archives, 1923's theme was "Studies in the History of Architecture." Dag that I missed that one!

Booklovers is one of the real joys of living in a college town--rich in tradition and century-old book clubs--for when I can't watch one more Max and Ruby or play one more game of Candy Land.

Ciao a tutti.

sourdough starter remediation

One of the lovelier things about my altogether lovely town is Dr. Louise Nelson's Sourdough Starter. You can read the story of the starter here, but the long and short of it is that Louise had been tending that sourdough starter for 25 years before she passed away a few years ago. Twenty-five years. That takes some kind of fortitude. Louise was an econ professor at the College and was also in my Booklovers Book Club, so I got to know her briefly before she passed away in 2008. Because I enjoy cooking, I have been interested in acquiring some of her legendary Starter for several years now, but have generally been intimidated by yet one more thing for which I would be responsible. I mean, four kids AND a hungry Sourdough Starter?!

However, my friend Mary M brought us some yummy whole wheat/flax sourdough bread when SF was born and soon brought me the starter, as well. I made my first loaves a few weeks ago and they turned out well, if not a little ferment-y. Given my propensity towards slightly undercooked cookies and muffins, I assumed I undercooked it a bit. And then I had a little mishap feeding it last week (while trying to make breakfast, pack lunches, look for ballet shoes, nurse the baby, check Facebook, etc.), and so another friend, Brenda B brought me another batch yesterday.

I'm sort of in Sourdough Starter Remediation. I aim to do better this week.

I am honored to help carry on Dr. Nelson's 25-year tradition of maintaining the Starter and sharing extra loaves with friends.

So, if you see me on a Wednesday evening from now on, remind me to feed that hungry fifth kid, too . . .

Ciao a tutti.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life with Four: An Early Assessment

So here we are. Seven weeks after baby girl made her entry to make us a family of six. I still turn around in the ole minivan daily and am shocked to see all those little people for whom I am responsible. (And God help us all--for whom I am required to get places on time.)

It will never happen.

I digress.

So how is life with four? She was my easiest labor, oddly (?) enough. Perhaps by this time, you know that even such excruciating pain is bearable because it is temporary, a form of expectation management. Or perhaps it just hurts less because your body knows what to do. Regardless, I was grateful.

I would say the hardest thing is, not surprisingly, the lack of sleep--and the inability to make it up elsewhere in the day because you have others that need attention, dinner that needs to be planned, homework to be monitored, t-ball practice, ballet, etc.

Welcome to life in the suburbs, baby girl.

Truthfully, the assimilation has not--yet--been as difficult as baby #3 was. Our first three were 16 months and 19 months apart, and for the first four months, we had THREE IN DIAPERS. Our third baby was our easiest baby and yet, I distinctly remember crying alot in the shower at that time. When I was able to take a shower, I mean. I have yet to cry alone during these first two months with #4, so I suppose that is a good sign.

Aside from the sleep, I think meals are the hardest--also not surprisingly. When we arrive home from preschool, everyone is about to DIE of hunger and well, I can't fix lunches and nurse at the same time. I have learned over the past few weeks to pack snacks with us for preschool pick-up to satisfy the "big" kids until I can get SF fed and hopefully cozy in a chair so she can watch the chaos. My friend Steph says I could also fix lunches before pick-up and have them plated and waiting in the refrigerator, which sounds like a great idea, but one I have yet to actually accomplish.

I also have a tremendous husband who is on duty the second he walks in the door. There is no way that we could do this without his partnership and "all hands on deck" attitude. Unfortunately, he has a paying job for which he has to leave the house everyday.

So far, none of the big kids (ages 6, 4, and 3--sort of amusing to call them "big") have asked to send her back or been unkind to her at all. As a matter of fact, they are more likely to kill her by smothering her with kisses or trying to pick her up to love on her than by drop kicking her off of any low slung roof. Almost-six year old BB was acting out at school last week, so that may be attributable to New Baby, by way of general attention-seeking or it may be that we are getting to bed almost an hour later because of juggling bedtime with newborn (not to mention tball practices in the evening twice a week).

So, my assessment thus far is that Four seems to be easier to assimilate than Three, although I reserve the right to change my mind next week. Or after lunch.

Ciao a tutti.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Belated Valentines Day

I have never been accused of being Martha Stewart. I'm not very craft-y. I don't make cute holiday thingees to hang around the house. A dear friend sews buttons on for me. I don't own a glue gun and truthfully, I'm not sure if I know what one looks like.

However, in an effort to avoid the Princess/Cars/Star Wars valentines at CVS where you write your name, attach some candy and move on, and in an effort to be more eco-friendly (although I'm not certain it was very sustainable given all the paper we used), I decided that we would make homemade valentines this year. From scratch. 52 Valentines among three kids, plus loads of teachers.

Given the piercing look that Husband gave me about half-way through the three-hour+ process, I'm fairly certain we will be going the CVS Princess/Cars/Star Wars route next year, but I was kind of proud that we did it this once. And the kids were totally into it and writing (or dictating) special personal notes to each classmate on the inside. At least for the first 33 or so.

Ciao a tutti.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Green Juice

OK. So I made Dr. Oz's healthy green vegetable juice that he allegedly drinks every morning. I don't know if it was the electric green color, the texture, or the predominately cucumber and ginger taste, but I couldn't down the whole glass. Yes, even me. I have had several friends offer variations on his theme, so I'll try those next . . .

Monday, November 8, 2010