Spicy Peanut Dressing

UPDATE: I’m linking this post to Real Food Friday in 2016 because we still enjoy Spicy Peanut Dressing frequently! We just made a batch last night to go with a big salad made from lettuce, spinach, and green onions we received in the summer’s first box of local, organic produce from our community-sponsored agriculture farm!  Did you know that eating fat with salad is important for full absorption of the vitamins from the vegetables?  Spicy Peanut Dressing contains two kinds of fat, peanut butter and sesame oil.  We also put some tofu on our salads–except for 11-year-old Nicholas, who wanted a fried egg instead–and that made a full and satisfying meal.

hearth-and-soul-buttonSpicy Peanut Dressing is a versatile sauce.  It’s delicious as a salad dressing for lettuce, spinach, kale, or other greens with carrots and cucumbers.  It’s good on tofu, room-temperature or hot, over salad or noodles (try buckwheat soba noodles) or rice.

Take a blob of peanut butter–I never measure because it’s too hard to get it off the measuring spoon, but I use about 1 Tbsp. per person–and melt it, either in a small pot over low heat or in a bowl in the microwave.

Add a good slosh of soy sauce, a good slosh of apple cider vinegar or lime juice, a good slosh of sesame oil, and a small blob of honey.

Sprinkle heavily with cayenne pepper flakes or hot pepper sauce, garlic powder or granulated garlic, and ginger.

Mix thoroughly.  It will look weird and curdled, but if you keep mixing you’ll get a uniform paste.  Taste it and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Mix in water or fruit juice (apple, orange, pineapple are all good but have different effects on the overall flavor) until it reaches a pourable consistency.

Store in a glass jar at room temperature, and use it up within about 5 days.

The TV Game

My brother and cousins and I came up with this game when we had been sent to play in an upstairs room at our grandparents’ house and were wishing there was a television to watch…

One person is the TV. Everybody else sits down facing TV, each holding an invisible remote control. TV stands there looking blank until somebody presses her remote and says, “On!” Then TV acts out a show–it can be a show you’ve really seen or something you make up. Read more…

There go the helpers!

One day when my son was a tiny baby, I was walking with him along the main street of our neighborhood when an ambulance went screaming past.  Just ahead of us on the sidewalk were a little boy and his mother, and they jumped up and down shouting happily, “There go the helpers!”

Wow.  What a nice way to think of emergency vehicles: as helpers hurrying to help people in trouble.  (I’ve since learned that Mister Rogers advised this approach, too.)  I resolved that this was something I, too, would say to my little boy.  I do say it often, and sometimes Nicholas and I talk about the specific type of emergency vehicle it is and what kind of help it may give.  I hope this is giving him a sense that we as a society help people who need it and that if he is ever in an emergency, helpers will come to him.

But long before my child was old enough to understand this talk of helpers, the idea began to have a profound effect on meRead more…

response to “The Urban Archipelago”

I just learned that an article several people forwarded to me just after the 2004 election now has its own Website.  “The Urban Archipelago” has one very clear, important point: The states of the United States are not as different from one another as the cities are different from the small-town and rural areas.

But after making that point, it degenerates into a mean-spirited and short-sighted rant.  Yes, it makes sense to focus more on our own local issues because they have more direct effect on us and we have more leverage to affect them.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore and insult everyone who doesn’t live in a liberal city.  That’s not tolerance.  That’s not compassion.  That’s not even in our own self-interest, because many of those issues with no obvious direct impact on us will, in fact, affect us in the long run. Read more…

Offering Choices

An often-repeated tip for coping with young children is to “give them choices.”  Sometimes that works wonders…and other times it doesn’t.  It’s all in how you do it.

My grandma said that one of the most important things she learned as a parent was this: Don’t ask a child IF she wants to do something unless “no” is an acceptable answer. There’s a big difference between “Would you like to take a bath now?” and “It’s time for your bath.”  Adults tend to think that phrasing a request as a question is more polite, but to a literal-minded child it sounds like a question whose answer is up to her.  That can be discomforting for a child.  It gives the impression that the adult doesn’t know what should happen and is looking to the child to direct the situation.  When the child makes the “wrong” choice, and the adult is annoyed, the child can sense that she’s “wrong” without understanding how or why.  This doesn’t mean that parents have to bark orders all the time!  Just use a declarative statement instead of a question.

Another thing I learned about choices, in my years as a babysitter and camp counselor, is: Don’t ask an open-ended question unless all options are open. Read more…

One Portable Feast

Nicholas and I recently spent a wonderful day at the Carnegie Museum, which included lunching in the sculpture garden.  We brought our lunch from home.  It was tasty, healthy, and affordable and produced very little garbage.  I’ve been hearing lately, from real parents and in the media, that packing a meal or snack is just not feasible because the individually-packed foods you “have to” use are just as expensive and trash-creating as food purchased at the destination, or assembling the food takes too much time and effort.  As a counter-argument, I’m sharing our menu:

I made two sandwiches of peanut butter and all-fruit spread on bread.  One had strawberry spread and one blackberry so that Nicholas could have whichever one he wanted and I could eat the other.  After cutting the sandwiches in triangles, I wrapped each one in a sheet of waxed paper, folded it around, and secured it with a couple of surplus return-address labels.  (See Household Hints.)

I filled two 10-ounce glass bottles with cranberry juice from the pitcher we’d mixed up from frozen concentrate.  These bottles held single servings of orange juice when I bought them 4 years ago.  I’ve been washing and reusing them ever since.  (Nicholas has been able to drink from a glass bottle, without breaking it or spilling significantly, since he was under two years old.  That’s unusual.  If your child isn’t up to this, pack a lightweight cup and pour the juice into it.)

I also packed a full-size can of mandarin oranges (with pull-tab top), two spoons, and two washcloths.  It all went into the nylon lunch bag in which Nicholas takes his food to childcare.  At the museum, we hung it in the coat-check room until we were ready for lunch.

After unwrapping the sandwiches, we used the waxed paper as plates.  I used the labels to stick Nick’s waxed paper to the table so it couldn’t slide away and take his food with it.  We ate sandwiches and drank juice, then opened the can of oranges and ate them out of the can.  Nick had trouble reaching into the can with his spoon far enough to get the oranges once they were about half gone, so he asked me to scoop some slices onto his waxed paper, which I did.  He ate those with his fingers.

We used the washcloths as napkins.  Then I dipped one in the nearby fountain to get the stickiness off Nick’s hands and face.

Total cost: $2.44
Total trash: 2 sheets waxed paper and 4 labels
Total time: 10 minutes to make and pack lunch + 5 minutes to wash 2 bottles, rinse can for recycling, and put washcloths in laundry = 15 minutes
Number of items used that were purchased in individual packaging: 0

I know it can be difficult to find even 10 minutes to pack food when you’re racing to get out of the house with an excited kid!  But when we buy food at our destination, often we spend at least 10 minutes figuring out what to get, waiting in line, ordering, and paying.  Usually it costs a lot more, too!  The cost of this meal is estimated by guessing what fraction of each food we used and calculating that fraction of the food’s total cost (example: 4 slices is 1/5 loaf of bread; 1/5 of $3 is 60c).  We used all-natural bread from our neighborhood bakery, natural peanut butter, and fruit spread instead of jelly; choosing less expensive options would make this meal cost even less.

Household Hints

Add a slosh of white vinegar–about a tablespoon–to the sinkful of hot soapy water when washing dishes.  I started doing this last spring, when we’d all been sick, because vinegar kills germs.  I found out that it also cuts grease and makes the dishes really squeaky clean!  (Vinegar has many other uses, too!) Read more…

Organic Chocolate Made Cheap & Easy!

by Ben Stallings [Becca’s brother]

I’ve just discovered the simplest, cheapest way to make really good organic chocolate!

I like chocolate a lot, but I’ve cut way back since I learned that most chocolate that isn’t certified organic and/or fair trade is made from cocoa processed by child slaves in Cote d’Ivoire.  When I asked my favorite chocolate chip manufacturer (Guittard) whether their product was made by slaves, they said, “We’ve tried buying fair-trade cocoa, but it’s just not up to our quality standards.” So I don’t buy from them anymore.

But here in Fairfield, my only organic chocolate options are high-end candy bars and chips (about 3x the price of slave chocolate) or bulk Dutch-process cocoa powder, which is affordable but not very versatile.  Read more…