An Abundance of Apples

Returning from a family vacation last Tuesday, waiting at a traffic light around the corner from our home, I glanced up and noticed many red apples decorating the trees at the edge of a neglected parking lot. This lot belonged to a restaurant that closed several years ago, and the building’s been vacant ever since. Nobody is using that parking lot. I doubt that anyone feels a sense of ownership about those apples. I’m almost certain that nobody would bother spraying pesticides on those trees, which means the apples are organic. FREE ORGANIC APPLES!!

I love saving money, and I love saving food from being wasted. Also, it was a nice day, and we were getting home with time to spare before dinner. As soon as we’d unloaded the car, my eight-year-old Nicholas and I walked over to the parking lot with a couple of bags and started picking apples.

We soon found that most of the apples were out of our reach. Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (summer)

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’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in July and August. Normally I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners. However, in the third week shown here, Daniel was out of town, so I had to do all the cooking. It was difficult because I was picking up our eight-year-old Nicholas from his day camp near my office at 6:00 each weeknight, and then it took us a while to get home, and he’s supposed to be in bed by 8:30, and some nights we had to fit in an errand…. We ate in restaurants more often than normal, and I did some food prep at night, and it all worked out, but I certainly am glad to have Daniel home again!!

We buy a share in a local organic farm every summer and get a crate of fresh produce delivered to our neighborhood every Wednesday, so many of our meals are structured around the veggies we got from the farm.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Tangy Honey Apricot Tofu, Salty String Beans made with green beans from the farm, and rice.
  • Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I made the previous week–similar to this marinara sauce with maximum basil, except that I didn’t use any bell pepper in this one.
  • Tuesday: Bean Burritos including green onion from the farm.
  • Wednesday: Out to dinner at the Dumpling House, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. We had the steamed vegetable dumplings, Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and tofu with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
  • Thursday: Big salad of lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato, all from the farm. We tried this Five-Ingredient Salad Dressing and liked it a lot! This was a very hot day, and none of us was feeling hungry enough to need some protein or bread as we normally would with a salad meal.
  • Friday: Nicholas wanted the few potatoes we’d gotten from the farm to be served baked, with garlic butter. Daniel baked them in the microwave. He also sauteed zucchini, green onion, and herbs, all from the farm, in olive oil. He and I ate the veggies on our potatoes, but Nicholas wouldn’t even taste them.
  • Saturday: I thawed the last of these Nutshroom Burgers that I’d made a couple weeks earlier, and Nicholas grilled them while I made a batch of coleslaw out of a cabbage from the farm. We kept a little bit of coleslaw for our lunches and donated the rest for volunteers from our church to serve at a homeless shelter. I’ve done this a few times because of my limited tolerance for cabbage–if I eat too much of it in a short time, my stomach gets upset–and because I’ve been told that the homeless men of Pittsburgh really like coleslaw!

Read more…

A Week of Vegetarian Lunchbox Lunches

Daniel is the lunchbox-packing parent in our family. He was in charge of grinding up leftovers for baby Nicholas to eat at childcare, and he has packed a lunch for Nicholas to take to school every day for the past three grades and to day camp every day for the past two summers. We love the Planetbox lunch kit and just recently replaced the carrying bag after three years–the box itself is still going strong, along with the Little Dipper and Big Dipper containers for holding moist foods.

When Daniel went camping for a week, I took charge of packing Nick’s lunch. I had noticed in the preceding few weeks that Daniel was grumbling about having trouble thinking of things to put into the lunchbox that Nicholas would eat. For a long time, I’ve been irked at Daniel’s tendency to ignore the lunchbox when it comes home and not clean it until the next morning, just before repacking it–and then complain that any uneaten food in it is no longer edible and therefore wasted, and that it is hard to clean because food has dried onto it. I also knew it was crucial to allow time for packing the lunchbox, since it’s not part of my normal routine and the public transit schedule this summer is such that leaving the house just a few minutes late means Nicholas and I have a long wait for the bus and get to camp 15 minutes late!

Therefore, I set myself up for success: Each night after getting Nicholas to bed, I poured the remaining water in his water bottle onto the garden and put the bottle in the dish drainer, then opened the lunchbox, ate any remaining food, cleaned out the box and Dippers with a soapy cloth, and set them to dry. While I was doing this, I thought about what I might pack for the next day’s lunch and maybe made a few notes. I listed what I packed each day at the side of my dinner menu page for the 4-week period, to help me remember what I’d already packed that week, to have some ideas to pass to Daniel when he got back, and to be able to write this post! I set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than normal so I’d have time to pack the lunch in the morning.

Why didn’t I just pack the lunch the night before? I’ve often seen this advice. But we were having refrigerator problems that caused unpredictable puddles of water; I didn’t want the lunch to get soggy. I wanted to pack some foods that are stored and eaten at room temperature; if I refrigerated them overnight, they might get wet with condensation when they came out into the hot, humid weather. In my experience with packing my own lunch, some foods change texture or just seem “less fresh” if cut up the night before.

Here’s what I packed in the five lunches:

Read more…

11 Blogs Worth Reading

Back in February, I received my second Liebster Award and was supposed to nominate 11 other blogs for the award.  At the time, I found this difficult, because I don’t read all that many blogs, and many of the ones I do enjoy are so obviously popular that they don’t qualify for this award, and I didn’t want to overlap with the 5 blogs I nominated the first time around.  I got up to 6, used #7 to point readers to some of the funniest stuff online even though it doesn’t meet Liebster criteria, and then paused.

Now I’ve finally finished the list!  I updated the original post–which also includes a lot of stuff about myself, if you’re interested–but I wanted to put this list of great blogs in a new post, too, so nobody misses it.

  1. Click Clack Gorilla is an American-born musician, writer, and mother now living in a Wagenplatz (kind of like a hobbit-style trailer park) in Germany.  Here’s a recent day in her life.  She also writes about interesting things like gender differences in country-music ballads about murder and who’s better than Harry Potter.
  2. This (sorta) Old Life is the story of Rita and Cane fixing up the house where they live with their children from previous marriages.  It’s part how-to manual, part eye candy, part philosophy, and always grounded in the uniqueness of these particular five people and the things they find to make their home.  I normally find home-improvement blogs pretty tedious.  Here’s what makes this one different.
  3. My Sister’s Pantry is written by two sisters who like to cook healthy, frugal, mostly vegetarian food, working from the basic principle that keeping a variety of good ingredients in stock makes it easy to cook good meals.  They cheerfully talk us through the process of improving kitchen habits, with plenty of encouragement and recipes.  We recently tried their Mac & Cheese Without the Box, and it was every bit as easy and tasty as promised!
  4. Green Idea Reviews evaluates various ideas for reducing one’s environmental impact.  Victoria, who is employed outside the home and expecting her third child, finds time to try a lot of little things that make a difference, and she writes them up in a consistent format that’s pretty objective while also giving her personal opinions and experiences.
  5. Small Steps on Our Journey is Rachel’s story of her family’s ongoing efforts to be good stewards of God’s Creation while still enjoying good food, fashion, and fun!  She has an even easier way to use up the bread heels than any of my unwanted bread tricks. (I think her kids must be a little less annoyingly observant than mine is!)
  6. Unintended Housewife was a woman who was unemployed and working out how to be a housewife, when I first saw her blog.  Now she has a baby and is in more of a typical stay-at-home mother role, but I still really enjoy her perspective on life, especially her Are You Freaking Kidding Me?! series.
  7. Hyperbole and a Half is a dead blog–the author didn’t post for quite a while, and even her explanatory update is a few months old now–and that’s why I’m not linking to the homepage.  But if your sense of humor is anything like mine, you’ll want to read every post in this collection of personal stories, many of which are illustrated with the author’s own cartooning.  [WARNING: Some posts contain effusive profanity.  Some are unsuitable for children in other ways.]  These are just a few of my favorites:
    • Sneaky Hate Spiral: A hilarious yet perceptive explanation of how a few little annoyances can add up to overwhelm you with rage.
    • This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult: An excellent depiction of the relationship between responsibility and morale, complete with graph.
    • The Alot: A handy strategy for coping when you see terrible grammar and punctuation on the Internet.
    • Skeleton Man: Unusual temporary school building + inappropriate Halloween story = months of torment for a second-grader.
    • PLEASE STOP!!!: An extremely effective strategy for controlling children’s behavior…and the work-around.
  8. Tell Me Why the World Is Weird is the musings of a female math nerd, raised in the United States and now living in China, who is still a Christian but questions many of the popular ideas of fundamentalism on such subjects as love and modesty.  She also posts some great collections of links to other interesting things on the Web.
  9. Kate’s Apartmentsteading is about a single mother’s efforts to “homestead” in an apartment.  Kate is an interesting vegan Muslim hippie artist who writes about all sorts of topics, from how she repaired and repainted a yard-sale rocking chair to the disturbing effects of a common cereal preservative on her child to why she quit wearing a bra.  She’s even taken on the difficult topic of how Muslims contribute to anti-Muslim bias in the United States–complete with funny ironic graphics.
  10. Amber Strocel has been writing her site for a decade and still has only slightly over 200 followers, so I think she deserves this award for her supposedly unfocused collection of writing!  Many of her articles are about raising her children, but her name isn’t Mommy.  She also thinks critically about Earth Day and shares 10 Things to Love About Canada and explains why she’s willing to walk alone at night.
  11. Stuffed Veggies is a food blog written by a Greek Orthodox vegan who shares helpful advice for coexisting with omnivores.  She posts lots of recipes for interesting salads, variations on traditional Greek foods, and even breakfast ice creams.

Should Your Family Be Child-centered?

This is a controversial and confusing question.  Some people go on and on about how parenthood melted their selfish hearts and made them realize the importance of devoting themselves fully to making their children’s lives perfectly wonderful and completely safe.  Other people go on and on about how children are hedonistic little leeches whose spirits must be broken to show them who’s boss, and responsible parents must schedule their babies’ lives in 15-minute increments.  Then there are a lot of points of view in between.  It’s very easy, as a parent in this fast-paced society, to put a lot of energy into getting everything together for your kid and suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting yourself–or to rush around Getting Things Done and suddenly realize that you’ve been treating your child like a task on a checklist and haven’t focused on his sweet little face for days.  Where’s the balance?

Well, I can’t claim that Daniel and I have it all perfectly worked out, but in our 8 years 8 months as parents of Nicholas, we’ve done pretty well with this basic attitude: “We are all people together.  We are the same in some ways and different in other ways.  Experienced people help newer people learn how to do things.”  Nobody is the center.  This is the approach my parents seemed to be using when I was a child (I don’t know if they’d explain it in the same words) and I noticed from an early age that some other families had a different attitude.  Of course, every family is different, but I think all families could work from the basic principle that we’re all in this together and no one person is the most important.  It seems to me that whenever I wander away from this idea–either by getting dramatically self-sacrificing or by demanding that everybody take care of me–it works out badly.
Here are some of the issues parents often struggle with, and the ways they’ve worked out for our family.

Is it child-centered to allow your child to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy?  Is it better to have a strict schedule?

Read more…

Can you scramble frozen eggs?

Food on FridaysHearth & Soul Blog HopWaste Not Want Not Wednesday
Apparently, yeah, if you let the eggs thaw a little, you can make totally normal scrambled eggs out of them. At least, I did.

I guess I’d better clarify that I’m talking about chicken eggs. In our scary high-tech world, “frozen eggs” often means human egg cells that have been frozen for later attempts at reproduction. If you have that kind of frozen eggs, do not scramble them. The results could be disastrous, or at least not very tasty.

My chicken eggs were in an 24-pack from Costco stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Poor old Rator has not been feeling well lately. We think it was the extremely humid, hot weather last month that caused trouble for our refrigerator, which is the type that has one temperature control for refrigerator and freezer compartments. (NOTE: If you are choosing a new fridge+freezer, choose one with separate controls for the two sections. We used to have that kind, and it was much easier to correct problems with one section being too cold or not cold enough.) A lot of frost built up on the upper back wall of the refrigerator section of this supposedly frost-free appliance, and puddles of water appeared at unpredictable times either inside the refrigerator or on the floor next to it. Daniel eventually realized that a drainage tube was totally blocked with ice and cleared it out, and that helped a lot. However, the recent condition of the eggs indicates that the problem isn’t completely solved.

Last weekend, I found that one of the three eggs remaining in the previous carton was broken–even the yolk had broken, and the fractured shell was sitting in a puddle of partly-dried raw egg. I threw that in the compost, cooked the other two eggs, and bought a new carton. I carefully checked that all the eggs were intact before buying.

Wednesday, I needed an egg to make Cheesy Walnut Burgers. It’s lucky that I brought the whole carton out of the refrigerator, rather than just opening it and grabbing the egg closest to me, because this way I noticed the four cracked eggs. Visible cracks across the tops and down the sides, but no leakage of egg white. The cracks appeared sort of glued shut. Huh?

Read more…