Barbara Kingsolver would be proud

As the temperature hovered in the 60s yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel that autumn is quickly approaching. The cool weather inspired me to finally make some headway with food preservation for the winter. I’ve done a little bit of preserving thus far – mostly freezing blueberries and strawberries – but I haven’t been motivated to do much more than that. While I spent a lot of time last year canning, I haven’t been excited about doing any this year (perhaps because we still have lots of jam left) – yet.

This weekend, however, I tackled zucchini and yellow squash. While I’ve only grown one measly zucchini in my own garden so far this year (which I pureed with a can of black beans and made into Black Bean & Zucchini brownies*), I managed to score enough off of Freecycle to make me a happy camper. On Friday evening I picked up 17 lbs of zucchini and yellow squash from someone in a nearby town. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it all when I got it, but I knew I would figure something out. In the meantime, the kids played with it. 🙂
(Please excuse the quality of these pics. They were taken w/ my iPhone.)

On Sunday I got to work. I shredded and froze 16 cups of zucchini to use during the winter for baking or adding to soups.

I also used 3 additional cups to make a triple batch of Barbara Kingsolver’s Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies (from the awesome book Animal Vegetable Miracle).

Then I used one huge yellow squash to make Kingsolver’s Disappearing Zucchini Orzo for dinner (I added spinach to it to give it a little more color and tomatoes as a garnish).

After all of that, I still have two large yellow squash remaining! I may chop and freeze them and throw them into a casserole at a later date.

*Below is the recipe for Black Bean Zucchini Brownies. The other two recipes (cookies and orzo) can be found on the Animal Vegetable Miracle web site. I was very skeptical of the idea of beans in my brownies at first, but now that I’ve made them, I can’t imagine going back to the traditional way. They are sooooo good (and, as Jody will tell you I like to argue, healthier!) Yum!

Black Bean Zucchini Brownies
Ingredients:
1 box brownie mix (I prefer the kind that has chocolate chunks in it)
1 can black beans (do NOT drain)
1 small zucchini (Optional. You can make the brownies with just the beans and they will turn out just fine. If you want to add a little extra vegetable in though, add the zucchini.)

Puree entire can of black beans (including the liquid) in blender or food processor. Add the zucchini and puree until smooth. Add the beans and zucchini to the dry brownie mix. Mix well. Pour into greased pan and bake according to directions on the brownie box. You may have to bake a little longer than recommended on the box because there’s a fair amount of liquid added between the beans and zucchini. You could also add in some flour (maybe a 1/2 cup or so) to even it all out. When a toothpick or knife comes out of the brownies clean, they are done. Cool, cut and serve.

Jody, the kids, and I loved these brownies. And yes, I told them what was in them. Nobody cared. 🙂

Nearly 17 lbs of squash used or preserved in one way or another this weekend. I think Barbara Kingsolver would be proud.

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A mama’s thoughts on sending her daughter to kindergarten

Last Wednesday, my little girl grew up a little bit more. She went from attending a small home-based Waldorf preschool to attending kindergarten in a classroom of more than 20 children (I think there are 27) in a school of more than 400.

As I said previously, I’ve been filled with a mix of emotions with Ava starting kindergarten in “the big school.” There are some things about it I’m not fond of: like that they use hand sanitizer before lunch and snack instead of washing hands, that Ava – who is normally a social butterfly – said she was an “only lonely” at recess on Friday, the not-so-healthy snacks, that the hot lunch program is pretty much all fried, unhealthy foods, and that after two full days of school her teacher doesn’t appear to know her name yet.

I could be overreacting. I mean, I want my girl to be happy and safe and healthy, but it was only the first week of school. Perhaps once they get into their routine, hand washing will happen more regularly instead of hand sanitizing (the teacher did tell me that washing was her preference – if there’s time). And I’m sure her teacher will learn her name soon. This week they are focusing on “making and keeping friends” and maybe that will help Ava fit in a little better.

Yet, regardless of all of this, there was something about taking Ava to school that first day that just didn’t feel “right” to me. I’ve made a lot of parenting decisions in the past five years and I have to say I’ve felt peaceful about pretty much every one of them. Sure, I made some wrong choices here and there, but as for the big decisions, I’ve felt good about them. However, there was something about dropping Ava off that didn’t feel peaceful to me.

Last week I reread a post I wrote almost a year ago called Is Home Schooling Right For Us? At the time, I was leaning toward home schooling, but wanted to keep my options open. Jody and I ended up visiting a few public schools including a charter school, a regular public school and an International Baccalaureate World school (also public). We made our decision and hoped for the best. Somewhere in there the idea of home schooling got lost in the shuffle. Also, I was dealing with some heavy duty anxiety as I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder this winter and didn’t feel like I could add another thing (home schooling) to my plate.

Now here we are, a week into the school year and I’m reconsidering home schooling. There’s a great, very active home schooling community in my area and I feel like, if I wanted to pursue this, I’m in a good head space to do it now. However, I am not going to make any rash decisions. We are going to see how it goes for now. I’m going to do more research. There were a slew of helpful comments with links in my Is Home Schooling Right For Us? post and I need to read up on them. What I’d like to do is supplement a bit at home while Ava is in kindergarten and see how she responds to that and how I do with it too. If the supplemental home schooling goes well and I feel like she could learn from me and if I don’t fall in love with her school over the next several months, then we might give home schooling a try for first grade. We’ll see.

For now I’m going to try to stay positive (especially around Ava) and go to a volunteer orientation this week so I can start volunteering in the classroom and do some reconnaissance help out and see how it all works. I’ve already been emailing with the principal about the possibility of donating a Clean Well wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser for the classroom (by the way, I’ll be giving away some Clean Well products soon!) and to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (boy, are those a fun read :P) so I could take a look at what kinds of cleaning products are used in the school. I hope I’m not coming off as a pain in the ass, but rather a parent who’s concerned about the health and well-being of her child and all children in the school. The principal did encourage me to stay in touch, thanked me for my interest and said “parents like you are what make “X” the great school it is!” That last part struck me as a bit form letter-esque, but I’d like to think that she means it.

I like that I have choices and the option of changing my mind. I like that I can get involved and maybe make a positive difference. And I will keep asking my questions because knowledge is power.

I’ll be posting the rest of Ava’s first day of kindergarten pics soon. (Yes, I finally picked up my SLR again after a several month hiatus and it felt good.) 🙂

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Bit by the gardening bug

I’ve been working on honing my gardening skills for the past four years. In 2005, I participated in a couple community garden plots with a group of friends. That’s where Ava and I got our first taste of gardening. We liked it and we wanted more. 🙂

How’s this for a blast to the past?

In 2006 and 2007, not yet ready to commit to my own garden plot either in a community garden or my own backyard, I did some container gardening on my patio.

By 2008, I could stand it no longer and had to put in a “real” garden, so Jody and I cleared out a patch of grass in the backyard and I got to plant my first real garden on my own. I grew strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and green beans, as well as feverfew, sunflowers and chamomile. I planted everything way too close together because I was working with a very limited amount of space and totally underestimated how big everything would get. Still I got quite a bit of produce and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

This year, once again feeling the next to expand, I was hoping to find another patch of space in my yard that gets a decent amount of sunlight to convert into another garden. (It’s both a blessing and a curse that most of our backyard is shaded by the large trees that grow back there. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about the kids getting sun burned, but it’s a pain because there’s very little space to grow anything that requires sunlight.) After much deliberation (and cursing as we kept running into large tree roots), Jody and I decided on putting in two raised garden beds. Jody built the beds for me using both new and used wood. It would’ve been nice and significantly cheaper to get all used wood, but we didn’t have time to search for it for that long.

As of tonight, I have three little gardens in my yard (woohoo!) – the one that was already in place, and two raised beds, as well as some potted plants. So far I have planted seven varieties of tomatoes and two varieties of eggplant (all started by my friend Julie), basil, strawberries, five raspberry plants (but only 2 are currently growing), as well as cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash and zucchini that I planted from seed. I’m still itching to plant more (like green beans, carrots, greens, and watermelon at the very least), but I’m not sure I’m going to find the space for them this year, though I may be able to figure something out to sneak of few of them in. 😉

Today while Jody and Ava wheeled dirt to fill up the second garden bed, Julian and I collected worms (as I had done with both kids earlier in the week) to add to the dirt. My kids love worms and had no qualms about retrieving them from the compost bin (where hundreds, if not thousands, live).

Digging out worms: Yes, the kids are saying “Ewwww,” but only because I told them to. 😉

And now, for those of you who are curious, here’s a little tour of my garden. 🙂 (FYI – These pics were taken with my iPhone so they aren’t the best quality.)

A view of my first garden (that we made in 2008), as well as the clothes line and compost bin.

Inside the garden this year: strawberries and feverfew (and raspberry plants growing in the pots outside the garden)

Inside the garden this year: more strawberries and cucumbers

The new raised garden bed: tomatoes and basil

The second raised garden bed: eggplant, tomatoes and squash

More pots on the patio with raspberries, volunteer dill and a yellow pear tomato.

I’m quite pleased with all that we’ve managed to get in this year and am thankful to Jody for building my raised beds for me. All of this digging in the dirt has been really good for me. I remember having this feeling last spring/summer too – gardening is very therapeutic. Now that the gardens are in we can again focus on finishing up redoing the backyard – a project we started about a month ago and still have a fair bit of work to do. It will be wonderful when it’s completed and I can sit back and enjoy it, of course while still getting my hands dirty as I dig out weeds.

Gardening is one of those things that seems to be in my blood. My mom always had a garden when I was growing up and I remember helping her pick green beans and eating some of them right off the plant. I hope my kids have fond memories of gardening with me (and playing with worms) someday too and decide that gardening is something they want to pursue and share with their kids as well.

One thing I don’t have to stress about – my Stonyfield BlogHer sponsorship


It’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of stress and anxiety in my life lately. In fact, I’ve tried to write about it pretty openly in hopes that, if nothing else, my story might help someone else who may be suffering from something similar.

I decided several weeks ago, despite my anxiety at the time, that I was going to sign up to attend the annual BlogHer conference this year for my very first time. Of course I have been and still am anxious about a lot of it – traveling by myself, leaving my kids for three nights (for the first time ever since Ava was born), being unsure about what to wear (are cute shoes a must?), and meeting so many women for the very first time. But there is a lot I am excited about too like rooming with Annie from PhD in Parenting, as well as the opportunity to learn a lot, have a great time, and meet so many women who I currently only know virtually. (Yes, I’m both super nervous and totally excited about meeting everyone.)

Another thing I thankfully don’t have to stress about is how I’m going to pay for my trip. When I signed up to attend BlogHer I had considered looking for a sponsor or two to help me fund my trip, but then with everything I’ve had going on I never found the time to actively look for one.

Of course, for me the decision to take on a sponsorship means it would have to be from a company I could morally and ethically support. As with the ads I accept on my blog, I need to feel like I can honestly endorse the company without any conflicts of interest.

Luckily for me, fate stepped in and I was contacted by a PR person representing Stonyfield Farm who said they were looking for bloggers to sponsor to BlogHer! You can imagine my excitement that a) a company reached out to me and b) that the company is one I know and love, is organic and cares about the environment!

Stonyfield is a company founded on the belief that business must be part of the solution to our environmental problems. Some of the ways Stonyfield is involved in the environment that I feel are particularly noteworthy are:

  • All of their yogurts are organic.
  • In 1997, Stonyfield became the first company in the country to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions from its facility energy use, and has been carbon neutral since.
  • Stonyfield works hard to reduce amount of packaging they use, and use #5 plastic since it’s the most lightweight.
  • They’ve also partnered with Preserve, which takes their excess plastic cups, and the one’s their consumers return to them to create toothbrushes and razorblade handles.
  • Stonyfield Farm donates 10 percent of its profits to efforts that protect and restore the Earth. Since the program’s inception in 1993, the company has contributed $7 million to environmental efforts around the corner and across the globe.

Stonyfield recently started making Greek yogurt called Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt. I wasn’t familiar with Greek yogurt until recently, but basically its thicker, creamier yogurt with more protein than regular yogurt. One of the really nice things about finding a thicker yogurt when you have a yogurt-loving toddler in the house is that thicker means doesn’t fall off the spoon and make a huge mess the way regular yogurt does. Nice! The kids and I tried it the other day and thought it was delicious (and Julian didn’t turn into a yogurt-covered mess after eating it!).

Oikos is the only organic Greek yogurt among the three leading Greek yogurt brands, and is available in plain, vanilla, honey, blueberry and strawberry flavors.

FREE OIKOS YOGURT! If you’d like a coupon to try a free 5.3 oz. container of Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt, please leave me a comment telling me which flavor you’d like to try. I’ll randomly (using Random.org) draw three names on Friday, May 22. Be sure to include a valid email address so that I can contact you.

Thank you, Stonyfield Farm. 🙂

**In the interest of covering all of my BlogHer expenses, I am still seeking other sponsorships. If you are interested in discussing a possible sponsorship with me, please send me an email.**

A naturally beautiful rainbow of colors

For the second year in a row, I made our Easter egg dyes out of foods and spices. This year’s dyes were made from the following ingredients:

Pink – canned beets
Orange – chili powder
Yellow – tumeric
Green – spinach with tumeric and purple cabbage mixed in
Blue – purple cabbage

I have to say I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. 🙂 Yes, it was another year of mommy having more fun dyeing the eggs than the kids. But the kids had a great time finding the eggs (over and over again) in our Easter egg hunt, so it all evened out. 😉

Here’s my best shot for this week – a rainbow of eggs:
2009's batch of naturally-dyed Easter eggs

Want to know how I did it? Check out my tutorial on dyeing Easter eggs naturally.

I’m also fond of this picture, which isn’t my usual style, but I liked the motion blur of the kids off to find more Easter eggs while daddy paused to recall exactly where he hid them all. This so perfectly represents life in our home on most days.

The kids look for more eggs, while daddy ponders where he hid them all.

For more Best Shot Monday pics, visit Mother May I.

Michelle Obama to grow White House organic victory garden

ABC News has reported the Obamas are going to plant a vegetable garden at the White House*. The New York Times also announced that work on the organic garden will begin as early as tomorrow when Michelle Obama, accompanied by 23 fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, will begin digging up a section of the White House lawn to begin planting. Although the 1,100 square foot garden, set to be located in the south grounds, will be out of the main view of the house, it will still be visible to the public on E Street.


First Lady Michelle Obama recently told Oprah‘s O magazine about her garden plans:

We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet. You know, the tomato that’s from your garden tastes very different from one that isn’t. And peas – what is it like to eat peas in season? So we want the White House to be a place of education and awareness. And hopefully kids will be interested because there are kids living here.

Who will take care of the garden?
In addition to the White House grounds crew and kitchen staff, Michelle mentioned to The New York Times that nearly all family members will play a part in maintaining the garden.

Almost the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing. “Now Grandma, my mom, I don’t know.” Her mother, she said, would probably sit back and say: “Isn’t that lovely. You missed a spot.”

What will they grow?
The 1,100 square foot plot will feature a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits to include 55 varieties of vegetables, a patch of berries and two bee hives for honey. The organic seedlings will be started at the executive mansion’s greenhouses. “Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.”

The organic garden will feature raised beds “fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.”

Organic seedlings? White House compost? Natural pest control? I’m sorry, but I know I’m not the only one who is absolutely ecstatic over all of this?! 🙂

In fact, groups like Eat The View and The WHO (White House Organic) Farm, as well as author Michael Pollan and chef Alice Waters, have been advocating for a White House garden pretty much from the time President Barack Obama was inaugurated and I bet they are all whooping it up right about now.

What will they do with all of that food?
Eat it, of course. The White House chefs will be planning the menu around the garden. Eating locally and in season? Aiiiieee! Be still my heart!

This is not the first time a vegetable garden has been planted at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eleanor Roosevelt had a Victory Garden planted in 1943 during World War II and there were gardens before that as well.

Hopefully the Obama’s new garden will inspire the people of our country to begin growing even little bits of their own food. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes – from little pots in a window, to bigger pots on a balcony or porch, to a little raised bed in the sunny spot in your backyard, to a community garden plot, to a much bigger plot. Every little bit helps us live more sustainably, protect our food supply, and reduce our carbon footprint. Perhaps sweetest of all, food grown in your own backyard tastes so much better because it’s fresh and hasn’t made a week or two-week long journey half-way around the world!

What do you think? Will the new victory garden start a resurgence in gardening in America? Has that resurgence already begun? Have you planted a garden in the past? If not, do you plan on it this year?

*Thanks to Nature Deva for the tip-off!

Whole Wheat Honey Pizza Dough Recipe

I got this delicious whole wheat honey pizza dough recipe from my friend *Heather (A Mama’s Blog) a few months ago and have been enjoying it regularly ever since. It’s quick, easy and sooooo good. My family loves it too!

Whole Wheat Honey Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
4 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons honey
2 to 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix yeast, water and honey and let stand 5 min.

Combine flour through cornmeal in a large bowl.

Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, stir up a bit, then add in olive oil. Knead until everything is well combined. If it seems a little dry, you can add a bit more water at this point, but I don’t generally need to.

Cover dough in a bowl with a towel in a warm place for 30 min.

Punch down and roll out dough, add toppings and bake @ 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until done.

Makes enough dough to cover one whole cookie sheet (which is what I do) or (probably) two round pizza pans. I usually end up with a little extra dough too that the kids like to roll into balls and eat or last night I used the extra dough to make a big cinnamon roll for the family to share for dessert.

Enjoy!

* Recipe adapted from MyRecipes

Note: You should be able to use more wheat flour and less AP flour, but you might need to adjust other ingredients (like add more oil) to make the consistency work.

Joining the Food Waste Reduction Challenge

I’m joining the Food Waste Reduction Challenge that begins today over at Crunchy Chicken. I think we do a fairly good job with minimizing waste in our house, and the food that does go bad goes into the compost bin, but there’s always room for improvement. There are definitely occasions when we could eat leftovers instead of making something new and we do just the opposite instead and then the leftovers end up going bad, etc. Composting food waste rather than throwing it into the trash is definitely preferred, but it’s still wasting food, money and energy.

According to Crunchy Chicken, “A University of Arizona study showed that 40 to 50% of U.S. edible food never gets eaten. That’s $100 billion worth of edible food discarded every year in the U.S.. It’s a tremendous waste of resources and one that we are all guilty in contributing to.”

Will you join me in taking on this challenge? Visit Crunchy Chicken to sign up. This challenge is for the month of February.