Thursday, May 29, 2008

Healthy hospital food?

I think this Slow Food blog post is so interesting. I remember eating the hospital food at Good Samaritan after Brynn was born and ending up SO plugged up, I couldn't have a b.m. for days. It may have even been a full week. I blamed it on the hospital food -- they should have given me a salad and some fruit to keep me loose, but instead I got lots of starch. Not good after childbirth. When I saw this blog headline today, I was encouraged for those moms-to-be out there and anyone else who is going to stay a few days in a hospital. Hopefully what happened to me won't happen to you. What I like just as much is that since lots of these hospitals are choosing to buy not only more produce, but also more local food, the changes they're making will be good for local economies and the environment as well. Now, if we could get school districts to make the same changes, we'd be on the right track...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Am I in a bad mood?

Or is it just my personality that causes me to enjoy putting people in their place? Why do I always need to be right? These are questions I've been contemplating for a few years now -- especially when I see the same trait in one of my daughters. My know-it-all-ness tends to makes my skin crawl. But, there are times when I just can't help myself. Reading the comments on this IHT asparagus blog post was one such instance. After reading what the commenter (did I just make up that word?) from Oregon said, I was so annoyed I couldn't resist posting a comment in response. Of course, I did it in the nicest tone I'm capable of. Unfortunately, my fake smile doesn't come through the written word well. My comment is still awaiting moderation (if I'm lucky the moderator will leave it on the cutting room floor), so here's what I said to the cheap-asparagus-lover from Oregon:

Oh, how sad! If you’re getting asparagus year round, that means it’s being shipped in from various parts of South or Central America at least nine months out of the year. That means your year-round asparagus is leaving a huge carbon footprint which makes it not so cheap after all. The best part of asparagus is the novelty of eating the locally-grown variety in season and only in season. A good challenge for all of us asparagus lovers!

What I forgot to say is that if she would try eating asparagus only in season, she'd realize how much better it tastes when it's eaten at its peak of ripeness instead of after sitting in a shipping container for two weeks.

Actually, to give myself a little slack, I didn't know any of this about asparagus until I read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She goes nuts for fresh, local asparagus in her book and I've taken her attitude on as if I were an asparagus farmer selling my crops at the local farmer's market, dependent on locavores to buy my produce. Yeah, sometimes I get crazy about topics that seem a little out there. This might be one of them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New entry closet.

I first learned about mudrooms in 2003 when I read Sarah Susanka's book, The Not So Big House. Even in a small, efficient house I remember her singing the praises of a well-organized mudroom. I've wanted one ever since, but also had lots of other wishes on my house wish list when we bought our current home, and a mudroom wasn't my top priority. Plus, any houses that had mudrooms already in them were way out of my price range. When we moved into this house four years ago, I knew I'd want to re-organize the entry closet to serve as a mudroom on a miniature scale. At least it could be an organized catchall for bags, coats, shoes, hats and gloves. So, why did I finally do it? Well, I was inspired by this blog entry and by my in-laws coming to town. They're handy -- both with home improvement projects and with watching the kids. Scott told me to think of a job for them, so I figured it was time to work on the closet. I pulled out a pad of graph paper (I have a few of them stashed around the house for when I need a quick place to put inspiration to paper) and started drawing.

This habit of sketching out my life on graph paper is something I learned (or maybe inherited?) from my mother. We used to cut out paper representations of furniture to scale, sketch my bedroom on graph paper, and then move the furniture around on paper before moving it around in my room. I'll never forget her excitement when she found a professional-style graph board that came with furniture in typical shapes and sizes to move around on the graph board. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I come by my graph paper obsession honestly. Unfortunately my math skills and my creativity don't often match up. Here are the plans I made for my miniature mudroom/entry closet:

Here's a photo of the closet before (although I'd already started emptying stuff from the top shelf before I thought to take a photo):

And our closet now:

I really wanted the inside to be the color of a ripe tomato but ended up with a closet the color of an almost ripe tomato or a ripe chili pepper. Fitting, I guess, since the name of the paint was chili pepper. There was no tomato-colored paint. The closest was called grenadine and, although it was only one number over on the color spectrum from chili pepper, it was too pink for me. I don't do pink if I can help it. Normally when I can't find the color I want, I mix my own paint and have the paint guy match it. But, really...this is a closet. Not worth that much effort, right?

The new closet makes much better use of space than the old one. The kids can now reach their jackets and put their shoes away in their sliding baskets. They've each got a cubby, which I'm thinking will be used for hats, gloves, scarves and other cold weather gear, but for now it's got their ballet backpacks. The cubby shelves are angled so that they come all the way to the front of the closet, making the best use of every last inch of space. The girls and I have our shoes tossed in the baskets, which works well for us. Scott's shoes are enormous, so he keeps his in our bedroom closet but was thrilled to find out he was allotted a basket to do with whatever he desired. So, his is filled with his running gear (lumbar water pack, ipod, and of course his Cleveland Sucks button pinned to the front of the basket).

Putting this closet together was a bit more labor intensive and precise than other closets we've done. We used stock Home Depot organizers on the girls' closets but I knew that I wouldn't be able to customize a stock organizer as much as I wanted to for this closet. So, we bought two sheets of MDF (only needed one, but after the inevitable screw up we were back at the Depot buying another), four lengths of 1x2, four Closetmaid sliding baskets, a metal closet rod, and a gallon of paint. I think the final cost was around $200 for the whole project...and worth every dime.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Best burger ever!

This is Scott writing. Today (Mother’s Day) I ate the best burger I’ve ever tasted. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of burgers, and this one takes the cake. How did this happen and what was so special about this burger?

Brynn, Callie, and I went shopping yesterday for Hillary’s brunch. (It was supposed to be brunch but Callie woke up at 6:00AM so it ended up being breakfast.) Anyway, the plan was to make Hillary a Dutch Baby topped with blackberries, strawberries, and whipped cream along with mimosas, maple blueberry sausage, and bacon. This was going to be quite a feast and had me taking the kids all around the city yesterday for the berries (Costco), champagne for the mimosas (Colorado Liquor Outlet) and the bacon and sausage (Whole Foods). I got a little too excited at Whole Foods and bought 1 lb of bacon and 1 lb of sausage. Whoops. That is 2 lbs of pig, and there are only 4 of us, and 2 of the 4 are quite small. Needless to say, we had some leftovers.

The leftover bacon came in handy tonight, and I was glad I didn’t stuff myself with it at breakfast. We took the extra bacon and used it as a topping for bison burgers, combined with avacodo, grilled red onions, tomatoes, and Memphis BBQ sauce (which Hillary made from scratch a few days ago for our ribs). Put it all together, and you’ve got the best burger ever. Here’s the recipe:

Best Burger Ever

Whole wheat burger bun
¼ lb ground bison patty with salt, pepper, and garlic mixed in (if you can’t get bison, use grass-fed beef…don’t go near that CAFO beef)
2 strips of cooked bacon (from a free-range, happy pig of course)
¼ avocado spread onto bun
1/3 red onion, grilled
4 tomato slices
1 piece red leaf lettuce
Memphis style bbq sauce (see recipe below)

Memphis Style BBQ Sauce
(makes 24 ounces – just enough to fill an empty ketchup bottle)

1 C cider vinegar
½ C prepared yellow mustard
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C ketchup
2T worsershire sauce
1T molasses
8 drops smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
12 turns black pepper

Simmer to thicken if desired. If you don't have time, just mix it together and enjoy!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Could I get away with this?

Our HOA is great for the way it mostly stays out of our lives but at the same time keeps people from causing our neighborhood to look like junk. Having said that, I also have to say that they're not the most forward-thinking or innovative bunch, so I know that if I approached them with a proposal to build a small chicken coop in my backyard, they'd scream "NO!" before I could even finish my question. But, if I dug it into the side of the hill that our house backs up to, I could keep it a bit hidden. And if I shared my eggs with the neighbors, that bribe might be enough to keep them quiet. And if I don't have any roosters, how will anyone hear my hens? I might have a new summer project...check out this article.

A Chicken on Every Plot, a Coop in Every Backyard

I mean, really, if city dwellers can get away with this, this suburban mom should be able to, also. I'm serious. Scott, get out your shovel.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My new lens is here!

I think I might be in love. With my new camera lens. I hope my husband won't feel threatened as he sometimes does by my sewing machine and books and computer. After all, they all take away precious moments from his time with me. This lens might cause some serious jealousy.

Here are some of the photos I took with it a few minutes ago:

I had no idea Anna's face was so dirty. Since I took this one close up, her ear and the background are more blurry than in the one below this.

This one is taken from the same distance as the shots I took of Libbie with my other lens, but her nose is more blurry because this one was taken at f/1.8 and the others were at f/4.5.

I love how Brynn's closer eye is in focus and the one that's farther away is blurred.

This doesn't show off the lens much, but mischievous expression is so Callie. Not so much in love with the gunk under her nose.

I think the identical expressions on the girls in this and the next photo are great. Especially since you can barely recognize Brynn, but you can tell she's got the same look on her face as Callie. By the way, Callie was wearing two hats in these photos. She's got her green "touchdown maker" hat on and a white faux fur bucket hat over that one.

Brynn working away at her favorite activity: coloring.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A few new photos.

I'm planning to buy a new lens for my camera -- one that has a low f-stop. The new lens is a 50mm lens that goes all the way down to f/1.8. My current lens only goes to f/4.5, which isn't low enough to get close-ups with really blurry backgrounds. In anticipation of the new lens, I took some shots of Libbie using my current lens on it's lowest f-stop.

Libbie is such a great model! She's much more patient than my girls and she's obedient, too. Plus, she never fakes a smile or tries to look like a princess. I appreciate that. Here are a few of the shots I took yesterday while she was alternately napping and staring out the window of the loft. The chair that she's lying in is the only piece of furniture she's allowed on. She loves to lie there in the afternoon sun while the girls sleep.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Whole Foods paradox

The LA Times article below came up on the Slow Food blog today. It explains a paradox that I think about frequently when I shop at Whole Foods. Michael Pollan detailed the paradox in his first book on food politics, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Apparently Whole Foods did some serious damage control with its employees after Omnivore came out. I have a student who works there -- she said the management team got them all together to refute some of the negative arguments Pollan makes about Whole Foods in the book. They do sell produce from small family farms now, and our store has started offering grass fed beef, as well. They offer organic versions of almost every kind of produce in the store, giving consumers the opportunity to choose produce that doesn't contribute to the toxicity of our soil and water. They also donate thousands of dollars every quarter to our community and encourage customers to donate also.

Still, Whole Foods has a much larger carbon footprint than, say, our local farmer's market, our CSA, or our little co-op where we pick up our milk and buy beef and wheat. In turn, though, Whole Foods offers variety and convenience that I can't get any other way. I shop there a lot, mostly because it's so close to Brynn's school that it's easy to stop in whenever I need to. Next year (when I go back to only leaving the west side of the city once a week) my trips to Whole Foods will become fewer and farther between. My errands will go back to being efficient trips like they were before I started driving to the other side of town ten or more times a week. I'm looking forward to improving my carbon footprint.

Pasadena’s Whole Foods Market: Is It Sustainable Design?

The giant supermarket on Arroyo Parkway calls itself eco-friendly, but it may be too much of a good thing.

By Christopher Hawthorne
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

April 6, 2008

The massive new Whole Foods Market on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena represents the height of one-upmanship in Southern California's increasingly competitive grocery store trade. I'll see your three brands of soy milk, it says cockily to Fresh & Easy, and raise you two.

But the store is even more striking for what it says about the similar discontents plaguing the organic food and green architecture movements. The way they come together in this Whole Foods--a piece of green architecture designed to hold an organic food emporium--suggests that both may need to adjust their priorities. Or at least start acknowledging that they've become victims of their own success.

The trouble begins with the fact that both movements have their roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Growing your own food was one way for Americans, frustrated by the rising power of agribusiness, to stake a claim for regional culture and individual values. The same was true of early efforts at eco-friendly architecture. The first generation of hay-bale, sod-roof structures represented a do-it-yourself aesthetic in the extreme.

Then, roughly a decade ago, both movements began to take hold in the center of the American consciousness. A few corporations, such as Ford and Bank of America, began building their plants and corporate headquarters in accordance with strict green design principles: using recycled materials, energy-efficient water systems and solar panels to minimize the effects of constructing and operating a new facility. At about the same time, Whole Foods and its competitors began showing up in cities other than Berkeley and Seattle--including places that might have seen the principles of organic food as faddish, or even freakish, a few years earlier.

Somewhere along the way, for both organic grocers and the corporate patrons of green architecture, the line between planet-saving and aggressive marketing became blurred. Companies realized that promoting themselves as eco-friendly could be a powerful sales tool. Some, not surprisingly, concentrated more on the marketing message than on their green practices --a strategy that became known as "greenwashing."

Some, if not most, organic food outlets--including Wild Oats, which Whole Foods acquired last year--suggest that the shopper's goal should be to do more with less. But the genius of the Whole Foods approach, under hard-driving Chief Executive John Mackey, has been to realize that many American consumers have a vague desire to buy organic and live healthier but have no interest in dispensing with selection or comfort.

The Whole Foods regional flagship in Pasadena, designed by the KTGY Group in Santa Monica, is an architectural monument to this idea. Along with the Ecolution hemp shopping bags for $7.49 and the "Certified Organic" cotton candy near the checkout aisle, the store has a salsa bar, a coffee bar, a nut bar, a noodle bar, a tapas bar with 20 wines by the glass, a soup bar, a pudding bar and a charcuterie. And a chocolate fountain. There is a sign promising "custom butters," the first time I have seen that word in the plural.

On the Sunday I visited, a group was settling down in the center of the second floor, just behind the pizza oven and not far from the roast-beef carving station, for a full-blown Champagne brunch. TVs hang everywhere so you can watch PGA golf (that's what was on when I was there) while you pick out fair-trade roses from Ecuador.

It's Vegas with organic, gluten-free scones.

On the second floor, near the elevator, there's a large sign--marked "Green Mission"--describing all the store's sustainable materials. They include Neapolitan bamboo ("a highly renewable resource") and Fireclay tile ("made from 50% post-consumer and post-industrial waste"), among others.

"We source materials that rapidly replenish themselves and do not contribute to biodiversity loss," the sign reads. "We support growers of forest and other sustainable products that are responsibly managed."

But the first rule of sustainable architecture is to keep new buildings as small and efficient as possible. With its soaring 30-foot ceilings and endless aisles, 280 subterranean parking spots and all those TVs flickering day and night, this place is neither. It's more like the grocery store version of a hybrid SUV made by Lexus or a 12,000-square-foot "green" house with a swimming pool and six-car garage accompanying its solar panels and sustainably harvested decking.

As food writer Michael Pollan has pointed out, there is a paradox at the heart of Mackey's plan for Whole Foods, which is that to be sustainable the company must keep topping itself. The stores will have to keep getting bigger and more impressive, their revenue growing, new corners of the country conquered--all in the name of reducing resource consumption, supporting small farmers and bringing the planet back into balance. Mackey responded last year to complaints along those lines with a pledge to change some of the company's ways--to buy more fruits and vegetables from local producers, for example, and to pay more attention to how its meat suppliers treat their animals.

But the architecture of the Pasadena store suggests that the fundamental approach hasn't changed. Forget about doing more with less. This green-tinged cornucopia is all about doing more with more.