Milk: What kind we buy, and why

I love saving money, yet I routinely buy half-gallon cartons of milk that cost twice as much as the cheapest milk in the supermarket!  Furthermore, two half-gallon paper cartons cost more than one gallon plastic jug, for the same amount of milk!  What am I thinking?!

Several years ago, Daniel and I decided that milk that is healthier for us and the Earth is worth more money.  The extra expense was hard to swallow at first, but the fact is that my overall thrifty shopping habits lead us to spend less on groceries than the average American family of our size, even with the expensive milk.  Also, we don’t use as much fluid milk as many American families–it’s mostly for cereal and coffee in our house, and it’s unusual (though hardly against the rules) for any of us to drink a whole glass of milk.  We get most of our calcium from yogurt and non-dairy foods.  Using less milk allows us to spend more per ounce without breaking the budget.

UPDATE: Manchester Farms Dairy is now out of business.  Read here about our #1 milk choice in 2017…but also keep reading below for details of our reasoning about which milk to choose.

Here’s what milk we buy, when, where, and why: Read more…

What to Do with Bread Heels

Some people consider the ends of a loaf of bread to be the best parts. My family, though, prefers the middle slices. Daniel often will eat the heel that is at the top of the bag, but by the time we get to the bottom of the bag, the other heel is less appealing. (This is despite our policy of keeping the bread in the refrigerator most of the time. That prevents mold, but the last bit of the bread does get very slightly damp so that it isn’t so appealing, especially if a fresh loaf  is available.)

We go through at least a loaf of bread a week, thanks to our seven-year-old’s fondness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so every few months I notice that there are a lot of bread bags with one heel in each one, lying around in the back of the refrigerator. What to do with all of them?

Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding!

Read more…

Dessert: A Matter of Emphasis

Food on Fridays
THE SCENE: Our dining room, last night.  We are finishing up a dinner of Honey Baked Lentils and baked butternut squash.  Nicholas, age 7, has gobbled two chunks of squash but only a few bites of lentils.

NICK: Okay, I’m done.  Can I have dessert?

MAMA: (noting lentil level) Hmmm.  You could have Bean Fudge.

NICK: (emphatically) I said DEE-sert, not DUH-sert!


Both parents found this hilarious, even though we weren’t exactly sure what he meant.  My best guess is that it was a distinction between the kind of indubitably treat-like food he wanted and the sweet-yet-healthy kind of thing Mama allows when one has not eaten enough dinner.  I had no idea it was a distinction of pronunciation, though!

(He ate some more lentils and then had some of his candy left over from the Fourth of July parade.  We’ve got to get rid of that stuff before Halloween!)

What to Serve for Coffee Hour

Many places of worship, and a lot of non-religious organizations, have a “coffee hour” or “fellowship time” or some other name for “when we all mill around and have a little something to eat and drink.”  At our church, this is a particularly vital time.  Many interesting conversations happen, friendships are formed, and plans for activities are worked out during coffee hour.  We’re really into food, too, especially healthy and/or unusual food, and we have a lot of people in the parish who enjoy cooking–but we don’t get competitive about it.  Coffee hour is not a time to outdo each other with as-seen-in-glossy-magazines fancy cuisine, just a time to share some good food.

I’ve been to a lot of churches where the food served alongside coffee is always super-sweet stuff like cookies and donuts.  I appreciate a treat, sure, but with my metabolism, a cup of coffee plus a snack of white sugar, white flour, and vegetable oil leads to a carbohydrate/caffeine buzz that feels a little scary while it’s happening (I can lose my temper quickly in that state!) and even worse when it drops me suddenly, hungry and shaking, just about the time I get home.  A coffee hour that follows a late-morning event is being served around lunchtime, when most people’s stomachs are pretty empty, and then it may take a while to get home and cook lunch . . . so it’s better to serve food with some protein and/or fiber so it digests more slowly.  Remember that it’s not a sit-down meal, though!  You want to serve finger foods that aren’t too messy to eat off a napkin or small plate while standing.  To allow for various tastes, provide at least two kinds of food, and if you know that someone in your group is allergic to a food (or abstains from a certain food for some other reason), bring a food that is free of the allergen and label it accordingly.  Because people do like sweets and may feel annoyed if the refreshments seem “too healthy”, serve something that’s at least somewhat sweet–but it doesn’t have to be nutritionally bankrupt!–and also something savory, creating an appealing variety of foods.

My seven-year-old Nicholas and I have a lot of experience serving coffee hour!  All his life we’ve taken several turns a year to bring the food, set up, and clean up.  Nicholas gradually has become more and more helpful, and these days he does nearly half the work of choosing serving plates, arranging food on them, filling the cream pitcher and ice-water pitchers (or sometimes we make lemonade), and getting out the napkins and sugar bowl and coffee-stirring spoons and coffee cups and water glasses and, if needed, small plates and/or forks and/or serving utensils.  (We always use real dishes; it’s easy now that our church has a dishwasher, but even when I had to hand-wash, it didn’t take a whole lot of time.)

I’m going to share our menu for coffee hour this past Sunday, and then I’ll list a few other foods that have been popular at other coffee hours.  Read more…

I wish I was a crayon.

Nicholas, age seven, recently remarked–seemingly out of nowhere, but I’m sure there was plenty of context in his mind

“I wish I was a crayon.  Except that people would be scraping my head off all the time.”

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” Review

I was an avid viewer of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when I was a little girl, and I renewed my appreciation of the show in my late twenties when I read that Mister Rogers was about to retire and programmed my VCR to record his final three episodes.  I enjoyed them several times before my son Nicholas was born.  Once Nicholas was old enough to watch television, we began watching Mister Rogers, both on my tape and on WQED, the public television station here in Pittsburgh where the show was filmed.  A few years ago, WQED took Mister Rogers out of the weekday line-up to make way for newer PBS Kids programs, but they still showed an episode at 8:00 Sunday morning.  For some reason, they only replayed episodes from his last decade or so–the program is basically timeless (except for the fashions worn by some of the “neighbors”), and I would love to share with Nicholas some of the episodes I enjoyed in the 1970s.

More than a year ago, I read in the newspaper that WQED was planning a new program called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” based on the puppet characters from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe and that it would be done by the people who made “Blue’s Clues” and “Super Why”–two of the most inane (though basically harmless) recent children’s “educational” programs I’ve seen.  I had a bad feeling about this.  Nicholas got really angry when I read him the article and showed him the picture of the animated Daniel Tiger:  “His head is too big!  His eyes are too staring!  And he puts on Mister Rogers’ sweater and sneakers?!  This is going to be dumb and horrible!!  And they’d better not replace Mister Rogers!  He’s still good!”

When Daniel Tiger premiered on Labor Day, I urged Nicholas to watch with an open mind.  I reminded him that this is a program for little kids, so if it seems babyish to him as a second grader, that’s not a problem.  I set my own perception filters on the most flexible setting I can achieve without intoxication.  We watched the entire premiere episode.

Well…the most positive assessment we can give “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is that it’s a safe, adequate program for a preschooler to watch when there is nothing better to do.  It’s kind of cute.  It’s making an effort to teach positive thinking and a few very basic academic concepts like counting and color identification.  It depicts adults being gentle and helpful with children, who are respectful to the adults and cheerfully follow their instructions.  Fine.  But a program that takes on the hallowed name of Fred Rogers needs to be better than fine, and there was not a single minute of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” in which we felt the magic of Mister Rogers.  This mildly acceptable children’s program seems unaware of the gaping void where its soul ought to be. From its core concept on up, it is missing all the most important things Mister Rogers knew about how to reach children.  It imitates some traditions of his show in ways that only reinforce how little the people now running The Fred Rogers Company comprehend his legacy. Read more…

Three Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners for Early Autumn

Hearth and Soul Blog HopFrugal Days, Sustainable WaysFood on Fridays

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish.  That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.  Here is what we made for dinner (and a few lunches) the past three weeks, using many vegetables and mushrooms from our community-supported agriculture share in a farm here in Pennsylvania.  I hope it gives you some new ideas for meals based around the local foods of the season!

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: We had a parish lunch at church.  The cooking crew had made pancetta, an Italian bread salad kind of thing with plenty of fresh local vegetables and crumbled cheese.  It was delicious except for the celery, which I could pick out.  (I detest celery.  It astounds me that some people claim it has no flavor; to me it’s strong and repulsive!)  There was such an abundance of the stuff that a lot of people took home leftovers in reused yogurt buckets; I got two buckets and had it for lunch at work the next two days.
    • Dinner: Spaghetti with my latest batch of marinara sauce, which includes apple, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, basil, and kale from the farm.  After dinner, I packed up two jars of sauce for the refrigerator and a plastic quart bucket for the freezer, so all references to spaghetti sauce in this menu refer to this sauce.
  • Monday:
    • Lunch: Our seven-year-old Nicholas had a day off school for Rosh Hashanah, so I planned a lunch menu for him and his father Daniel to eat while I was at work.  They had mac&cheez from a box, cantaloupe, and grapes.  I don’t like that powdered cheese stuff anymore, but I remember loving mac&cheez when I was little, so I’d agreed to Nick’s request to buy a multi-pack at Costco.  We won’t be doing that again for a while because he hasn’t been interested enough in the stuff to eat it before it reaches its use-by date, which is fast approaching with one more box on the shelf!
    • Dinner: Masoor Dal (Indian-style red lentils with carrots), rice, and lettuce.  Some of the carrots were from the farm, but we haven’t gotten many carrots from them so far this year, so we have some from the supermarket as well.

    Read more…

Sing a New Song!

I’ve had a busy few weeks with very little time for writing!  But when I saw that today’s Works-for-Me Wednesday headline post is about finding balance in your life, I thought of something I’ve been doing on my way to work many mornings that helps me to feel balanced within this vast and complex world.

This is based on a hymn we sing in church, which is based on Psalm 96 and not specifically Christian.  If you are not religious at all, I bet you could “sing to the whole universe a new song” or something to make it work for you, too.  The hymn is called “Earth and All Stars” and begins like this:

Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets,
sing to the Lord a new song!
O victory, loud shouting army,
sing to the Lord a new song!

He has done marvelous things!
I, too, will praise him with a new song.

Here are the full lyrics.  There’s a verse about weather, a verse about music, a verse about industry, a verse about schools, a verse about learning and praying–all making the point that everything we Earthlings do can be part of one big Song we’re all singing along with the whole cosmos.  I’ve found that the structure of this hymn makes it really easy to think of new verses to work in whatever you’re doing or seeing, and singing this hymn in my mind helps to lift my spirit and connect me to the big picture. Read more…