Friday, November 27, 2009

Making Food

Even with the year's biggest food holiday behind us, I'm still focused on food. Always. I watched Food, Inc. earlier this week and was not shocked by the revelations of Big Business producing 95+ percent of our meat, but I was nauseated by the disregard the industry seems to have for our health.

One of the more disgusting things I learned from this movie: a corn-fed cow has far more bacteria in its gut than a grass-fed cow. If you started feeding grass to a corn-fed cow, bacteria levels in the cow's stomachs would return to more natural levels in a couple of weeks or so. The problem with all that bacteria? E. coli food poisoning. Oh, but that corn is so cheap, easy to produce, and fattens up our food (and our bodies) so quickly...

All in all, I thought the movie was a little unbalanced in its reporting and focused too much on meat and corn producers. I wished for more information about the mass production of vegetables and the benefits of buying local and natural. Nevertheless, the movie is one to watch. It will make you think twice about many things. No more mass produced meat for me. But I'm one of the lucky people who can afford local and organic. Unfortunately, I can see where a large part of our population won't be able to make the same choices.

On the lighter side of my food obsessions, this is what my storage room holds after the fall harvest:

Two kinds of pickles (fresh packed and brined), raspberry and golden raspberry jams (with some blueberry left from last year), applesauce, tomatillo salsa, tomato puree, picked hot peppers, corn/zucchini relish, potatoes, garlic, and butternut squash. In the freezer, I've also stored blueberries, cucumber salad, corn, zucchini, blanched apples (for pies), and bags of hot peppers.

It's a small stash (for a lot of work), but I'm using a squash for our dinner salad tonight, and that brings me great satisfaction. Earlier this week, we also used tomato puree for a chili, the salsa for samosas, and my boys choose my applesauce over packaged applesauce any day in their lunches. Small steps with large implications: The packaging is reused year to year. Everything but the fruit comes from our own backyard, grown organically. (The fruit came from local farms; next spring, I start my own apple orchard.) And my kids see it all in action--from seed to plate or Ball jar.

To think what I could do with a goat, an olive tree, and a wheat field...

(428 words)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

(Dis)Comfort Food

I'm currently recovering from a sinus infection, so I'm inclined toward things that bring me comfort--blankets on the couch, mindless TV, food like Mom used to make.

Despite my health, I went to Costco near lunchtime today, and I found myself migrating to the snack bar for a comforting slice of pizza and a Coke.

But last time I ate a piece of pizza at Costco, it wasn't very good. Yet today, I went back for more...

Angel: You should get that berry smoothie instead. It would taste better.
Devil: Nothing is better than cheese.
Angel: That berry smoothie even looks better in the picture than the pizza.
Devil: But you've been sick, and your husband is traveling. Go for the cheese.
Angel: Refreshing, healthy...
Devil: Cheesy...

I went for the cheese. After peeling off about 3 pounds--in the interest of better health--I ate the huge, soggy slice, and didn't enjoy even one bite. Why does the devil always win?

(163 words)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dear Will

Dear Oldest Son:

It has been nearly two months since you turned 10, and I'm just now writing you a birthday letter...

Why the wait? I'm not sure. I think it may be because you're such a enigma to me. You live more in the moment than in your head. And I find this mysterious, puzzling--and completely refreshing. I guess I didn't know where to start, until now...

So let's start with onions. You love raw onions. I bet you could eat one like an apple. But what kid loves raw onions?

Second, you think your father is "hilarious" (when I think he's mostly ridiculous). Nevertheless, I love to hear you laugh loud and hard at his jokes and antics.

You've always been our most outwardly affectionate child, yet you turn and push away when I worry aloud about you. "I'm fine, Mom. Just leave me alone." Affection on your terms only, I suppose. (This should come as no surprise given your gender.)

You're clearly stuck in the middle of being a kid and a tween. You're walking around wearing your iPod or chatting online with girls one minute and making blanket and pillow forts with your kid brother the next. You could seemingly care less about clothes, but you looked through all the racks at Target a few weeks ago until you found a purple polo-style shirt. "I just like purple," you said. News to me.

You're smart but incredibly unorganized. I can hardly look at the mess of ragged papers stuffed into your "organizer". But you seem to be standing solid academically in your first year of middle school, and I can see you trying.

Frustrating to me, you show no interest in animals and the natural world--a self-proclaimed "more of a cat person". But you enjoy a PBS "Nature" show as much as the next person. I was so pleased when you saw a snail come out of its shell in slow motion on TV the other day, and you thought it was "cool!" I hold out hope that you'll notice it all someday.

This past year, you've grown taller and skinner. You've clearly expressed your desire for longer hair. And there's always flat-brimmed hat on your head. You also push your sister's buttons constantly and hold stubbornly to your points in sibling arguments. You're both in the same book group at school right now, and the group leader told me that you volunteered to be the first to speak about something in front of the group last week. As usual, you will NOT be overshadowed by her despite her advantages in age.

This next year, I wish for your continued confidence in knowing exactly what you like and want, the everlasting lightness of taking life one day at a time, maybe a little maturity to help you navigate your first school dance and the girls you're chatting with online, and more loud laughs at your dad's bad jokes.


(496 lovingly chosen words)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Girls Will Be Girls"

At a recent end-of-season celebration for Daughter's x-country team, two boys stood up, and each gave a gift to two of three coaches. For the third coach, four girls stood up to give one gift; of course, only one of them spoke. Quietly.

Later in the week, at a high school play, the girls, naturally, walked around the theatre in groups, looking for seats, friends, or to be seen. [Except that being seen would be difficult because they all looked and dressed the same.] A boy or two occasionally puppy-dogged behind.

Then it seems that every weekend, Daughter tells me she needs something new: jeans, sweats, boots, ballet flats and so on. My instincts tell me this is because Emily or Alison (of her school pod) came to school with something new.

Ladies. When are you going to stand on your own?

I don't know the answer, but JoAnn Deak in Girls Will Be Girls is going to tell me. This book is a great resource for better understanding the physical and emotional development of girls--in other words, why they do the silly things they do.

JoAnn (I use the first-name familiar because she is such a good friend to me--even though we've never met) refers to the group thing as "amoebas" and the "cocoon of cliques". She says that "surrounding oneself with those who look alike, talk alike, and act alike makes the world feel safer and allows movement away from the influence of significant adults to be more comfortable." Makes sense.

JoAnn goes on to assure me that around age 14, the cocoon starts to feel suffocating, and our girls affiliate themselves with groups (boys and girls) having common interests. Preparing for a more adult like existence, perhaps? By a girl's senior year, she accepts everyone, regardless of social standing or interests. "Teachers and parents temporarily regain their status. It is a very emotional and holistic time."

This information isn't really new to me. I lived it once. But where's the book on how to have enough patience and understanding to get me from now to then? How do I can I bite my tongue when she leaves the house skinny jeans or baggy sweats tucked into UGG boots--just like every other 12-year-old in the school?

Some days I can; some I can't. So on those days I'm really stumped, I visit that wise JoAnn. She helps me realize that everything is on track, normal, and complicated.

People make jokes about how some people need a manual for parenting. But that's me, and hopefully it will get Daughter and me through the tricky years without too many scars, piercings, tattoos, or bright hair colors.

(450 words)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Secret Money

BACKGROUND: At the bank last week, an account manager looked up my accounts online and made reference to three: two checking and a savings.

"Two checking?" I inquired. "Hmmm. Are you sure? Is there money in it? Is it active?" Several other vague thoughts [concerning Husband] went through my mind.

"Yeah, it's active," he said. "And you're listed as the main account owner."

Probing further, we discovered that the account was for our family camp. All legitimate. Silly me to have doubted Husband like that.

Later, I tell Husband this story, and this is what he says:

"Honey, if I were going to have another account, it wouldn't be in the same bank that you use."

Honey, schmoney. Has he actually thought about this????

LAST NIGHT: I tell this same story to some dinner guests, Greg and Tara, and Tara tells me that a similar subject came up in her workplace recently, and one of her co-workers said something to this effect:

"All guys have secret money."

Is this true? In banks? Do they ever actually use it?

I am keenly interested to know if this is a common, unwritten practice. So fess up, men. Anonymously, if you must.

Then I'm going to ruminate on whether I need some secret money too. In a third bank that's different than our family bank and the one where Husband hides his. So don't tell him.

(234 words)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

People Watching

On a morning a few weeks ago, passing through the Burlington International Airport on my way west, I noticed a family -- He, She, and Little Boy -- sitting on a bench together outside the security line. Little Boy had the same short haircut as Him, and She was wearing an ARMY sweatshirt, so my assumption was that He was being deployed somewhere.

None of them were looking at or talking to each other. All three were just blankly staring at the security line, as if that held some interest.

I thought it strange that they weren't getting in final hugs or goodbyes. They were just sitting there looking completely lost and hollow.

I was halfway through security, when they stood up and walked Him to the line. I wondered if "This might be the last time we see Him" was going through their minds. I turned to watch Little Boy and Her walk away from Him, still distant from each other and not talking. I think they had no idea what to say to each other. Little Boy's eyes were brimming and red, and he was clearly trying very hard to hold it all in. I had to turn away, for my eyes started to brim at the sight of such sadness.

Granted, they're just one of thousands of families torn apart by war politics. But I sure hope that guy comes home alive someday so they can hug, kiss, and cry some happiness.

(245 words)