Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cooking for Groups

Okay, to start out with, I must admit that my husband calls me the "Queen of Quantity Cooking". Anyone who knows me or reads this space regularly is not surprised. Usually I make a huge batch, divide it up, and then freeze meal sized portions. Today's cooking made me feel more like a caterer than a housewife though.
I know scale's hard here but that is my large crockpot and the blue tea kettle in the background holds 40 oz. Anyone else ever wondered what 4 lbs. of cooked spaghetti looks like? Now we know. I hated the idea of giving up so much of my remaining marinara, so the pasta sauce is actually 2 qts. diced tomatoes, 1 1/2 qts. marinara, lots of basil, oregano, and finely minced garlic, and 3 packages of soy "ground beef" crumbles.

My class is having their play performances tomorrow, at 11a and 7p and I wanted to give them a hot, protein packed lunch celebration after the first show. I figure if I get the crockpot going in my classroom in the morning, it will be hot by lunch and the diced tomatoes will have had a couple more hours to integrate into the marinara. The plan for the pasta is just to soak it in some hot water for a few minutes (okay, in a lot of hot water) and serve. I admit, I'm making them grate their own parmesan on an as needed basis though. I hope I didn't go overboard but my experience is that 7th graders eat a lot. I also have a habit of inviting people to eat when I cook so our lights person, her little daughter, and the kids previous teacher are all potential guests besides the 8 students and me.

Hopefully, I'll put together a play post in the near future so I can capture all the work we've done in the last couple of weeks. We all worked to create 2 backgrounds (one painted, one chalk). There was also a lot of sewing. This was in addition to the most important work - they memorized all their lines and cues for this one hour production. Having this under our belts makes me much more confident about tackling Shakespeare next year, an 8th grade tradition at our school. It will be abridged to about 1 1/2 hours, but still, that's a tall order. People often don't give fourteen year olds enough credit for how capable they are though. Wish us good fortune!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Jamie Oliver/State of American Food Rant

This link appeared in my comments today after I mentioned that I'm a bit addicted to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. It's a thought provoking, excellent article and links to several other good ones.

I should start by saying that I don't really watch reality TV. I admit that I was suckered into The Sing-Off (although we muted it every time Pussycat Doll simpleton opened her mouth). Besides that, I avoid it like the plague because they are all created drama, heavily scripted "reality" which is edited to create a certain picture. I have been working on the assumption that everybody on the planet knows this. Apparently the author of the article (and perhaps many others) are taking this entertainment really seriously. Does anyone actually believe that Jamie Oliver was truly planning to change a city's or even a school's or even a family's eating habits in the course of four months? He doesn't seem that stupid.

Change is only something that happens due to inner resolve. Speaking from personal experience, it takes a whole lot of exposure to new ideas from many different angles before I really commit to changes. Then there's a spark, a single moment - some factoid from a news article, an arbitrary weight on the scales, meeting a certain person - where everything coalesces. The time is now and all the halfway waffling is just done. It happened when I decided to run marathons. It happened when I committed to buying only local fruit and vegetables. It happened when we started buying only local, ethically raised meat. There are many other things but it all boils down to the difference between knowing one should do something and just doing it.

I will give Jamie Oliver's critics full agreement that he's a bit of a prima donna, a posturing drama queen, going teary the moment something doesn't go his way. That's part of what makes him good entertainment - everybody likes feeling a bit superior and there's no guilt involved when you're laughing at a man whose net worth is more than I would make in several lifetimes. America and a lot of the rest of the world is now constantly on the hunt for amusement. He provides that as a remarkable showman. Hundreds of pound of fat? A tarp full of chocolate milk? P.T. Barnum would be so proud.

Similarly, the tear-jerking absolutely most horrible stories that he can find of people struggling with their health or eating truly repulsive diets are more showmanship. These people are willing to participate, everything is edited to the most poignant edge of pathos and we all get a nice empathy moment. Does the audience know that the people he has found are not "everyman? I certainly hope we do.

So, here I am, proclaiming my love for a show that I freely admit is a circus run by a charlatan which claims to be a serious piece of "revolution". Why? Because we love a circus and the circus is starting a new level of consciousness. We can be smug as Jamie's magazine is caught out showing a "healthy" lunch recipe containing over 1100 calories. But it makes us think. Maybe that memory, "I know what kids should eat", will stop that overworked parent the next time the reach for the Lunchables because it's just so easy. This show is opening up a new awareness about food issues to a new audience. People who look up information on the show because it intrigued them will, through the magic of the internet's endless links, get led into a deeper understanding of current food issues than a TV show could possibly provide. And then they may stop the next time they're driving by the local farmer's market.

I know I live in Oregon, which may sometimes be quite far left of normal, but I get really worried when this appears in an article linked from the previous one.
"One promo shows a bewildered Oliver as he tries (and fails) to get a room of healthy-looking elementary students to correctly identify tomatoes, a beet, an eggplant, and a cauliflower. (Never mind that the latter three are obvious ringers many healthy adults couldn’t identify in their raw forms...)"
Really, many adults can't recognize eggplant, beets or cauliflower? And this is okay? How far removed from our food are we? It seems like somebody who had ever even walked through a normal grocery store's produce section should have picked up the names. It's not like he was holding up bok choy or kohlrabi.

I agree with the article that focusing on the schools is not the way to actually solve our food problems but, again, as far as a great place for sound bytes and captive audiences it will make the best entertainment. And, again, it's a great place to wake parents up. As a parent, I would be running through the checklist - do my kids know how to use utensils? Have my kids ever seen a green vegetable? Are my kids so overindulged and spoiled that they only eat pizza and french fries?

By the way, when did we start constantly worrying that kids needed to "like" what they're served, even when they're 4 or 5. Best moment of the most recent show - Jamie: "Why are you getting white milk?" Kids: "Because our teacher wants us to." Kids thrive when the adults around them are right authority figures - people who love them and care enough to shepherd them through the world, not just letting them have what they "want".

Here's the alternate picture - a picture given to me by the engaged, thoughtful parents of the students in my class. The kids I know discuss what their favorite salad dressings are and love making them. They occasionally get a bit of fun by rolling veggie sushi. They mourn when the frozen blueberries from last summer run out. And they sure as hell know what an eggplant is and that eggs come from chickens and milk comes from cows. They have had sensible parents teaching their bodies what to eat by not giving options from the time they were small and now many of them, even if they like the taste (which not all do), will only eat small amounts of junk food if given the opportunity. They don't like the way it makes them feel. And many of them are already more accomplished cooks at the age of thirteen than I was when I went to college. (Note - I grew up on home-cooked meals made from conventional groceries in a suburban area - no visible local food web. I know that my upbringing did save me from truly being part of the first junk food generation, despite my age.) These are the kids that we could easily be raising all across America. What does it take? PARENTS!

I appreciate the struggles facing many families when it comes to getting food on the table. I know that I, and most of the people I know, are extremely fortunate to have so many fresh food options available and be able to afford them. I can't even imagine the "urban deserts" that Michelle Obama is calling awareness to, places where people need to buy all of their food from convenience stores because the grocery stores are so far away. In that way, I really agree with the article when they say that the idea of choice is a construct and not a viable reality for many people.

That said, the lack of true choice has less to do with any of those outward circumstances than it has to do with a lack of education. Somehow, children need to be inspired to retain their natural inquisitiveness into adulthood and be given the skills to allow them to be self-directed learners. And we need to provide a rejuvenation of those facilities in the many adults who have currently been numbed into corporate obedience. Wake up, Hot Pockets are not food and being able to eat a "meal" while skateboarding was not really a need waiting to be filled! This is what I hope junk TV like Jamie Oliver combined with education efforts of the "Let's Move!" federal campaign will do - inspire people to ask questions and educate themselves. So what if I live in an "urban desert"; if I want to change, if that spark of urgency to "do it now" is lit, I can easily find plans for putting a planter of lettuce on the window sill - $2, endless greens. Or a few pots of tomatoes on the fire escape. I can learn how to cook and season food so this statement (again from the article) is proven to be untrue - "Many people opt for flavor-intense, highly processed, calorie-dense food because it's cheaper, easier and more fulfilling than cooking healthy foods from scratch." Huh? I've been known to make a delicious dinner for two of us (with lunch leftovers for the next day) on less than a dollar a person. Is it organic at that price? No. Is it more time consuming? Yes, but the hour it often takes is far less than most people spend watching TV each day. Is it less flavorful or less fulfilling than processed food? Absolutely, unequivocably no.

Okay, rant's done. At the end of the day, we need to reconnect to the fulfillment of our most basic physical need - food. And a cocky Englishman with a huge budget and a huge ego is helping push that dialogue out to a much greater audience than it previously had - great, whatever it takes. I truly believe that through reconnecting to our body's needs we will reconnect to our other, more ephemeral, needs as well. Maybe being able to recognize an eggplant is the Prozac nation's first step toward actual happiness and spiritual fulfillment. Maybe it's just a step toward every American being fit enough to take a walk on a fragrant spring day. That would be enough.

Up Close Bees

The bees are going crazy today so I decided to lock the cats out of the bedroom, crack the screen, and see what I could capture with the camera zoom. I just like this shot's composition but I did also succeed in what I was trying for...
...taking a picture of a heavily laden bee. It's not quite in focus but you get the idea. This guy isn't even the most loaded one I've seen. They're also coming back with some orange-tan pollen and white-yellow as well right now.

New Baby Sweater

My mother-in-law was hoping to buy a size 1 baby sweater to be delivered when Q made his way to Colorado. He left this morning at 6a. The sweater was finished last night at 12a. My class play is coming up this week and I've been so busy with it that I haven't had time to do much knitting lately. I was also making up the pattern as I went, which of course led to a few "frogging" (ripit, ripit) moments, especially in designing the neckline. In the end I'm happy with how it came together though. I like the lack of ribbing. The bottom edges naturally formed cute little points due to the lace pattern and the neck just got two rows of single crochet when I did the button bands. The crochet works nicely to give the floppy lace pattern a bit of a boundary.
On to the specs - it's knit of Baby Bamboo (from the awesome sale I found last year), 20" chest circumference, sleeves 8" circumference. Body is 7" long from the armholes and sleeves are 7 1/2". Knit on size 6 needles using the "alternating leaf" lace pattern from the Big Book of Knit Stitch Patterns (which I love, by the way), the body has 111 stitches, sleeves 45. It's totally one of those knit in squares then assemble type patterns. The body was knit as one piece; at the armholes I cast of 2 st at each one and attached new yarn, keeping all three pieces even. Sleeves were knit simultaneously as two rectangles. Sew shoulder seams, sew sleeve seams, set in sleeves, crochet on collar and bands.

My favorite part of knitting lace is how the pieces look crazy and uneven after you cast them off and then, through the magic of blocking, they turn into these light, airy pieces of fabric, ready to be made into a garment. Anyone who doesn't believe in blocking has never knit lace.

Other interesting things that are not class play related (just gotta remind myself there are other things going on...)
  • Q had a nice high fever yesterday after being sick for two days before that. Thankfully, the fever broke last night before he had to fly out this morning. I feel like I barely saw him for the last 3 days because he was always sleeping. I'm glad I didn't have to send him off super sick.
  • Q had a pudding craving for his poor sore throat. The curse with making pudding is having egg whites that then have to be used. Dad had a craving for divinity at Christmas so I made a batch of that to use the whites. (Q took it with him to CO to deliver it.) I followed that little sweets making binge with the weekly yogurt making. For anyone who's ever made those three recipes, it will not be surprising to hear that I spent almost a solid 2 hours yesterday slowly stirring one thing or another at the stove as it heated. Thankfully, one can read and stir.
  • The weather's gotten super nice and the bees are now working almost twelve hour days. Their pollen baskets have been so loaded that they seem to practically fall out of the air on to the landing area in front of the hive. We're going to check on the need for new frames next weekend.
  • Speaking of bees, we also apparently still have the hive in the cherry tree. There's also always a cloud of bees up at that opening as well. Most well-pollinated neighborhood ever.
  • Twelve asparagus plants are now putting up impossibly small shoots. On the dark side though, almost all of my early rhubarb leaves have withered and died off. I'm hoping they pulled back to conserve in that cold snap and will come back in full force if this warmer weather sticks around.
  • I've become addicted to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I do like food. It amazes me that what he's doing is considered so revolutionary. Of course, I know that the changes he's implementing are being and have been implemented all over but meeting resistance to something that seems so obvious is weird to me. It's also creepy that those school lunches that he's replacing look exactly like what they served in my elementary school 25 years ago. Of course, with the level of processing that stuff has undergone, they could still be using up batches from back then... :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April Garden Update

Somehow, I only have about three of these tulips. Aren't they a great color and shape?

A large chunk of time this afternoon was spent transplanting the tomato/pepper/eggplant/basil/cauliflower/broccoli/cabbage flat to larger containers, using every plastic tub, old terra cotta pot, and nursery container that I have saved for that purpose. Q was kind enough to drill holes in the bottoms of the plastic. The small flat was replanted with melons and squash. They apparently can be a challenge to transplant but I wanted to try. Worse case, they die and I resow outdoors at about the same time I would have anyway.

Of the direct sows, the peas are the most impressive right now. I've also got tiny carrot sprouts, radishes, spinach, and lettuce to small to have their picture taken. I planted a whole bunch of flower seeds yesterday. Hopefully they'll start coming up in a couple of weeks here.
I think that between the indoor flats and direct sows outside everything is now planted in one place or another except the corn.

The new posts will soon have wire stretched taut across them to support the grapes which are currently invisible sticks halfway between each set of posts. The small splotch of green at the back of the post line is the raspberry. The strawberry bed is putting out bunches of new leaves. Three plants have even put forth a few blossoms. I think they will regret that. It's still too cold.

Nine crowns look like this now.

To finish the yard report, we checked in on the bees yesterday. We've got brood (baby bees) and they've built up about 40% of the frames in their hive body with comb. Not bad, considering the horrendous rainy, cold weather that has descended upon us recently. We went to bee weekend at Glorybee Foods on Saturday and saw a bunch of people picking up their packages of bees. We also watched a demonstration of a hive install. Fun stuff. And, best of all, I didn't get stung this weekend! Spraying ours with sugar water worked brilliantly as a diversion and I was wearing my new veil.

New Summer Dress

Here's this year's addition to my summer collection of "playclothes" made from the same easy sundress pattern. (Side note - I just noticed that in previous years I'd added 1 1/2" to the pattern. This year I forgot that. I thought the dress was a bit more snug. I'm glad that my assumption that I'd just gained that much weight was incorrect! I'll have to decide whether it's comfortable to wear.) I bought the striped material as a remnant so I had to supplement it with a brown bodice. I designed and embroidered the lotus on to tie it all together a bit. I know the pocket stripes aren't lined up with the dress body. I decided that that was better than foregoing the pockets, which was my only other option with such a limited amount of fabric.

Astoria Trip

My class is going to Astoria for the end of year trip this year so Q and I went up to spend the night and check out the Maritime Museum and Ft. Stevens State Park. We went on the first weekend of April and there was a fierce storm which made the ocean crazier than I've ever gotten to see it. We were very glad we had a yurt and weren't tent camping too as mighty gusts of wind and occasional hail storms buffeted the coast that night. We also got in a bit of geocaching.

We'd picked up a "50 States" Travel Bug that had never been to Washington when we were in Portland the day before. Since Astoria is only a bridge crossing from Washington, we found a cache just on the other side. Wow, the wind was blowing.
I love the camouflage on this one.

Here's Q in our yurt in the morning while he waited for the oatmeal water to heat.

This is the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a ship that wrecked near the turn of the last century at the beach which is now part of Fort Stevens State Park. It's size is pretty impressive, even now. Apparently the bar where the Columbia River dumps into the Pacific Ocean is the most dangerous place on the entire U.S. coast line due to the violent meeting of the massiveness of the Columbia and the ocean combined with relatively shallow water with unpredictable snags and weather. When the shipwrecks are placed on a map, they almost completely cover it.

This eagle was on the top of a very tall pole near the Peter Iredale site. It turns out he was "guarding" the place where the cache we were seeking was hidden. He looked down on us with disdain as we approached.

The most daring cache of the day, which of course meant it was the most exhilarating find.