All the biking

I just returned from my first (of many?) bicycle trips to Fontbonne University.  I am in the process of enrolling in their dietetics program, though it’s not yet a done deal.

Anyhow, it would have been 15 miles round-trip, but on my way home I went an extra mile out of my way to bypass a stopped-on-the-tracks train (see reality of delay).  Definitely farther than I’m used to riding these days, especially in warmer temps, and very full sun on the way home!

The past week has been all about the biking (78 miles total, which is a lot for me these days).  Last Thursday, I biked to the store to get some supplies for Saturday.

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On Friday, G and I biked to his school for some end of summer school festivities.  After seeing him take to this [much too small] bike on the school playground, I joked that maybe we just needed to get him a pink bike.

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It was pretty hot when we biked home (he was on the tag-along), but he was a trooper.  He took a great nap that afternoon!

Saturday was a scorcher, which made it perfect for the World Naked Bike Ride.  I decided that after two years of the blue tutu, I needed to change things up a bit.

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“Lady of the Lane” refers to lane control, as I explained to a few inquiring minds throughout the course of the evening.

‘Twas another great WNBR in StL — always sad to see the ride come to an end!  We did continue the festivities at a lovely after-party hosted by some friends, where we were joined by additional bikey friends, some who rode, and some who didn’t participate in the ride.

We probably covered 25 miles in the course of getting to the ride, the ride itself, and then back home, and on Sunday, I was okay with having a little bike break.

It wasn’t a complete break, though.  On Saturday afternoon, I assembled the Hooptie for Big Blue, and we installed it on Sunday morning (the installation was MUCH easier than the assembly).

Unfortunately, we discovered a big oil stain under the rear wheel — for whatever reason, the internal hub was leaking.  I decided riding the bike in that condition might damage the hub (maybe equivalent to driving a car around without any transmission fluid?), so other than a tiny Hooptie test ride, Big Blue is out of commission.

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We removed the rear wheel (thank goodness for YouTube tutorial videos!), and I dropped it off at The Hub yesterday.  I’m hoping we have it back in time for my family’s upcoming visit — I have big plans for all of us to go on a bike ride, but Big Blue is an important part of being able to accommodate the whole group (five adults and two kids).

On Tuesday, G and I covered a good bit of ground, including a lab visit for routine blood lead testing.  He did great and was all smiles afterward.

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That afternoon marked G’s first trip to Tower Grove Park (~3.5 miles away) on “Green Bike” (i.e., the tag-along).  He was very excited because it also marked his first time riding Green Bike on Kingshighway — we just used it for a short stretch, during which he pedaled along singing, “We’re flying; we’re flying!”

Last night, Matthew and I biked to the second-to-last Whitaker music fest at MoBot.  (Next week, we are hosting a Cycling Social ride for the final concert of the season.)

And that brings us up to my morning adventures.  I was a might disappointed to arrive on the Fontbonne campus and, after a bit of searching, find this less-than-inspiring bike rack:

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You have to weave through parked cars and then traverse the rocky surface to access it.

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The longtail might have been in danger of getting hit by car doors.  After my appointment, I did stumble across some nicer racks . . .

20150723_094747. . . though clearly they are not expecting too many bicycle commuters.  There is a covered walkway to the left in the above pic, and I would love to see the bicycle parking covered as well.  Secure, convenient, and well-designed bike parking is an important piece of encouraging bicycling as a mode of transportation.

On my return trip, I was plenty ready to be back home and out of the sun.  All was well until I encountered this:

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Not only did the train come to a stop, it actually started rolling backwards for a bit (we were also delayed here on the way to G’s school last week).  After walking up to the tracks and confirming that the end was NOT in sight, I resigned myself to lengthening my trip a bit.  Fortunately, as a savvy cyclist, I had the skills I needed to easily navigate the reroute (east on Manchester to south on Kingshighway to west on Shaw), which included construction-related lane closures and the oh-so-special gutter bike lane on Manchester (I chose the travel lane and motorists were able to easily pass me using the center turn lane).

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Wonderful whole-grain waffles (without the sticking)

Along with pancakes, whole-grain waffles are part of our normal breakfast rotation around here. Our waffle iron was one of the few items on our very small wedding registry (this makes it easy to remember its origin) and is a gift from my parents.

From the beginning, getting the waffles to release nicely was a tricky proposition.  I don’t know if the issue is our waffle iron, our recipe, or some of both, but until we discovered our secret weapon, the first waffle of the batch always stuck.  I don’t mean it was a little tricky to remove; I mean we were scraping chunks of what should have been a beautiful waffle out of a hot waffle iron, cursing the thing while trying not to burn our fingers and swearing that we’d never make waffles again.

This happened with the first waffle (and sometimes the second and third, to a lesser degree) regardless of how much oil we used.  In addition to the environmental issues with disposable aerosol bottles, commercial non-stick spray is not recommended for waffle irons (or anything with a nonstick coating, really), because the propellant gunks up the surface, so we used a pastry brush to apply either canola oil or melted coconut oil in between every waffle.

Subsequent waffles usually released better (except for this one time when I swear every. single. waffle. in the batch was a hot mess, as was I by the end of it), and by the end of the waffle making session, our frustration would have faded a bit, eased by the fact that we were eating delicious waffles.  But the effort required made me eschew waffles in favor of pancakes on more than one occasion.

Enter the secret weapon.

On the way back from a camping trip two years ago, we stopped to do a little shopping.  I believe we were at T.J. Maxx, and, not unusually, I was much more interested in looking at their kitchen wares than at clothing.  They had a Misto oil sprayer, which I’d contemplated before, but never purchased due to concerns about how well it would actually work.  Matthew was interested in having something like that for applying oil to the top of rising bread dough, and we decided that for ten dollars, it was worth a try.

Back home, it sat in the box for a couple of months before I actually cleaned it (to remove any residual chemicals from manufacturing) and filled it with oil.  It then took another few months for us to think to use it to apply oil to the waffle iron, but once we did, holy moly, what a difference!  Consistently beautiful, easy-release waffles were ours!

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There have been a few hiccups along the way.  Every so often, the Misto clogs and needs to be cleaned (if you have one and it is refusing to spray anything but a sad stream of oil, this is likely your problem).  You need to wait for it to air-dry before refilling and using again, so if it just happens to clog in the middle of a batch of waffles, you’re s.o.l. (yes, I learned this the hard way).  I have not done so, but I’m somewhat tempted to buy a back-up so I have a clean, dry Misto waiting in the wings for just such occasions.

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WHOLE GRAIN WAFFLES
Recipe adapted from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles

Quantities here are for a double recipe — enough to feed a crowd or freeze a bunch. Cut in half if you want less.

Ingredients
3 c. whole wheat pastry flour*
1 c. other flours (I use a mix of almond and/or cashew meal, coconut flour, and corn meal)
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. baking powder
2 2/3 c. milk
2/3 c. oil
4 eggs, separated
2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. rolled (NOT quick) oats, optional

Directions
In a large mixing bowl (big enough to hold wet and dry ingredients), sift together flours, sugar, and baking powder.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form (do this first while the beaters are still clean).  Then, use the mixer to combine the milk, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla.

Preheat the waffle iron.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet.  Stir gently until just combined, folding in the egg whites toward the end.

Apply oil to the hot waffle iron, ideally with a Misto.  I spray the bottom first, add the batter (I use about 1 cup of batter per waffle; this doesn’t totally fill our waffle iron, but that’s my preference) and then spray the top just before closing.  In our waffle maker, on a “medium” setting, these cook in about 3 minutes.  If you still see steam coming out of the waffle iron, it is probably too soon!

If it does stick a bit, use something wooden to help it release (metal will scratch the iron’s cooking surface).  Place on cooling rack.

*You can play with the ratios of different types of flour a bit, but I would not go much below 2.5 cups of whole wheat pastry flour.

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We make big batches and freeze them to enjoy over a few weeks.  To freeze, place thoroughly cooled waffles in freezer bags.

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In the morning (or at snack time), let thaw at room temperature for a bit and reheat in the toaster for an almost-as-good as fresh waffle!

These waffles are fairly sweet on their own.  I usually top with butter and just the tiniest bit of real maple syrup or homemade fruit sauce; chocolate chips and cherry sauce are the topping of choice when I’m feeling decadent (and nostalgic, as that was my go-to combo when using the Belgian waffle maker in the Notre Dame dining hall).

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The best birthday in the whole world

We spent a good chunk of the weekend celebrating Gabriel’s fourth birthday with family and friends.  Four is indeed a fun age, as evidenced by his excitement and enthusiasm for [almost] everything.

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The first present he opened was a pirate ship.  This was an unplanned gift — less than two weeks before his birthday, I was searching Craigslist for a pirate costume (he specifically wants a Captain Hook costume).  I didn’t find any costumes (not really the right time of year), but I did find someone selling this fabulous wooden pirate ship.

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It’s in really good condition, and it was quite a steal.  G is a big fan!

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But he was equally elated about the little things, proclaiming, “I LOVE banana chips” as he opened this [bandana-wrapped] present.

After gifts and breakfast, Matthew and Gabriel headed out to the garden for the day, leaving me time to prepare for Sunday’s party.  (I was pleasantly surprised at how easily G separated from his new gifts.)

We met up that night for dinner at Papa and Nana’s house.

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We enjoyed a delicious birthday meal of spanikopita, Caprese salad, and fruit salad.  Then is was time for the main event . . .

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Seeing the birthday cake for the first time

. . . a homemade (by my FIL) black forest cake!

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The above picture was a little fuzzy, but I loved his pose.

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Spontaneous joy at turning four!  After eating his piece of cake, G declared it, “the best birthday cake I have ever had in the whole world!”

After dinner, we headed over to the fireworks show at Sublette Park.  The display is usually closer to the 4th of July, but they also always choose a Saturday night, and I’m guessing they didn’t want to compete with the fireworks on the actual 4th.  It worked out well for us though — fireworks on your birthday, what could be better?

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Well, a lot of things, as it turned out.  The above photo was taken at the very beginning.  A few moments later, I looked down to see G with his hands over his eyes.  He was wearing earplugs, but it was still quite loud, and we had front row seats, and I think it was just too much sensory input.  (This was also WAY past his bedtime — the first time we’ve ever kept him up for something.)

I tried to help by covering his ears, but he just didn’t look like he was having a good time.  I finally asked him if he wanted to stay or leave, and he said leave.  We were parked a couple of blocks away (parking was a mess, and we regretted not biking, but we didn’t have time to go home for the bikes after dinner), and as I carried him to the car, he was able to look back and see some of the show.  He seemed much happier in that position.

Once we were a block-and-a-half away, I paused to look back with him, and a woman sitting out on her front steps invited us to sit with her.  My arms needed a break, and Gabriel was game, so we sat.  She then offered Gabriel a popsicle.  I temporarily shushed the “corn syrup and food dye” monologue in my head, and said yes.  It was his birthday after all, and I wanted to end the note on a good night.  (When people asked him on Sunday what he thought about the fireworks, he simply responded, “Good.”  I think we’ll skip a few years before trying that again.)

Sunday was “friend party” day.  We rented a pavilion at a local park.  Gabriel and I made a piñata, and I brought musical instruments so the kids could have a parade.  Otherwise, we kept things fairly simple (though I wouldn’t mind simplifying further for future years!).

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My MIL made angel food cake (“the best angel food cake in the world”), which was G’s special request.  After cake, came the piñata.

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He did have a breakdown when it came time to let his friends have a swing at the piñata, proving that turning four is not a magic pill for such issues, but he recovered fairly quickly.

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As the party ended, he declared it “the best birthday party in the whole world!”

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Summer, summer, summertime — Part 1

It’s been quiet around here, but life is anything but — retreats, travel, bicycling, weddings — here’s a peek at the past 30 days.

On Friday, June 12, my mom and her friend Catherine traveled to St. Louis to join me for a mindfulness retreat.  Before heading to the retreat center on Friday night, we had a fun dinner at Lulu’s Local Eatery.  I had my first taste of jackfruit (just featured in Feast Mag) in Lulu’s “BBQ Jack” sandwich — sooooooo good!  I’m looking forward to purchasing canned [in brine] jackfruit from one of our international grocers to I can experiment.

After dinner, Matthew and Gabriel headed home, and the rest of our party journeyed to South County for the Awakening Joy retreat, a non-residential mindfulness retreat (based on the eponymous course and book) led by James Baraz.

My first weekend mindfulness retreat was non-residential, and my plan was for my next retreat to be residential, but even though it didn’t fit with my plan, the Awakening Joy retreat sounded too good to miss.  Between the retreat and working my way through the book, I’m learning a lot about how we can “rewire our brains for happiness.”

Anyhow, we left the retreat center on Sunday afternoon (June 14), picked up Gabriel from the garden, and drove to Iowa.  G and I spent four days with my family before flying back to St. Louis on the 18th.

I had tentative plans to pick blueberries on Friday, June 19th, but the weather had other ideas.  It had already been raining in St. Louis for most of the week, and we had another inch on that Friday alone, so I delayed until Saturday, still not sure what I’d find after all the rain.  On Friday night, we had an impromptu date night — Clementine’s for ice cream and then a walk in Lafayette Park, where the fireflies treated us to an unexpected show.

Despite my fears of a muddy, buggy mess, on Saturday I mostly found blueberries, glorious blueberries!  There was mud on the way to the bushes, but the rows between the bushes were heavily mulched and not muddy at all.  The berries were at their peak — both bigger berries and larger clusters that were ripe led to faster picking.  I picked 20 quarts in three hours.  (For comparison, my MIL and I picked a little later in the season last year and got about the same amount of berries with two pickers.)

On Sunday, June 21, we made a Father’s Day brunch for Matthew’s dad.  That evening, Matthew and I had a bicycle date night to see fireflies in Forest Park (they were good, but not better than the unplanned viewing on Friday night).

The week of June 22 brought a meeting with someone in the dietetics program at Fontbonne University and lots of prep for our CyclingSavvy course.  Friday night and Saturday (June 26 & 27) were all about CyclingSavvy.  We were blessed with amazing late-June weather (no rain and warm, but not hot), and we had a great group of students complete the course.

Sunday morning we rested (by which I mean I rested some and did some cleaning and Matthew prepped and roasted a ton of veggies!) before heading to a wedding in the afternoon and evening.  We left the reception just in time to get caught in a really bad storm (buckets of rain, hail, really strong winds, lightning, etc.) — fortunately, we’d taken the car instead of biking, but it was still really scary.  I was glad to make it home safely (of course by then the worst of it was over).

I’ll leave things there for now — but the summer fun is not over: parades, parties, weddings, and naked bike rides are still to come!

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G at Three

My days of being able to write a post titled “G at Three” are numbered!  I first started drafting this post almost a year ago, with a collection of cute words and phrases from my little guy:

  • “I not mind about it” (wishing this attitude hung around for a little longer, though it may be making a bit of a resurgence)
  • “Maybe yes, maybe no”
  • “Mommy Teapot, wake uuuuuuupppp” (his morning greeting, which he still uses; ideally we do not hear it until after 6am!)
  • Bo-nanas (for “banana;” also pronouncing the name of one of his teachers as Mo-donna, instead of Madonna)

There is no doubt that Gabriel is no longer a baby, nor a toddler, but a little boy.  A little boy with a mind of his own.  Lately, he likes telling us all about his “plans,” and heaven help us if his plan is not actually what is going to happen!

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While there were challenging moments, we made it through the “terrible two’s” without much of the terrible.  The first few months of the three’s were similar, and then the bottom dropped out.  My easy-going little guy turned into a completely irrational creature who would melt-down and be inconsolable over THE most ridiculous things:

  • I used the wrong knife to put the peanut butter in his oatmeal
  • I gave him a spoon when there was already a spoon on the table

I’m sure there are many other examples, but those were two that happened with some frequency.

A friend suggested Susan Stiffelman’s Parenting Without Power Struggles.  It was a useful book — I took a lot from it, and will likely revisit it.  One of the main themes was “coming alongside your child,” rather than fighting them, by acknowledging their emotions, and while it makes sense in theory, finding the patience to empathize with Gabriel feeling really sad that his favorite knife wasn’t clean (for the hundredth time) was challenging.

I often thought, and sometimes said, “That isn’t even a thing.  Who cares what knife I used for the peanut butter?  You cannot be upset about that because it isn’t even a thing.  Be thankful that you have peanut butter!”

The good news is that, after several trying months (Tyrannical Threes?) things do seem to be getting better in the ridiculous breakdown department.  And, looking back, even at its worst, these were only moments within days that were mostly good.

In the last few months, we’ve moved into the “why” stage.  For some reason, I was thinking that happened earlier, and we just got lucky and missed it, but no.  Sometimes it is fun explaining, but it can get old quickly.  This too shall pass!

Other highlights of three:

  • G loved his Montessori preschool (and who wouldn’t, with Grandma as a teacher?)
  • He continued to received speech therapy, and make good progress
  • He loves his “green bike” (the Burley Piccolo tag-a-long), and we’re going for longer rides
  • He does not like riding Lightning (his two-wheeled bike with training wheels), much to my dismay and frustration
  • He’s continued to be quite the little foodie, and he’s a pretty good kitchen helper
  • When he’s in the mood, he’s also a good helper at the garden
  • He tells these amazing stories, often centered on his toy cats (Mama Emily, Little Emily, Meow, Watermelon, Flower Hiding, and Knocking Crane (a stuffed tiger cub, who is the latest addition to the crew))
  • He’s also very into art projects and loves making things for people
  • He loves books, but is not reading yet (I know it’s technically early, but I have friends whose kids were reading by four, and while I enjoy reading to/with him, I’m looking forward to this sometimes being an independent activity).
  • He also likes dressing up; favorites include his tiger and Peter Pan costumes, and, most recently, “Super Cape,” a made-up costume using a beautiful scarf made by Matthew’s great aunt

Gabriel loves parties and celebrations, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with him on the upcoming fourth anniversary of his birth and to seeing what this next year will bring!

 

 

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On the bike: Driver behavior — start ’em young!

Cute little bikey story from a couple of weeks ago . . .

Gabriel and I were headed home on Big Blue.  We were on a one-way neighborhood street with parked cars on both sides, leaving a rather narrow effective travel lane.  I was headed uphill and moving none too fast.  There was a car behind us, and after crossing an intersection, I moved over to facilitate a pass (they ended up turning on the cross street — isn’t that always the way?).

I noticed quite a bit of broken glass in our path (as is common toward the edge of the road), and I commented on it to Gabriel as we re-established our position in the debris-free portion of the street.

I couldn’t help but use it as a teaching opportunity to talk about why we don’t drive our bike on the edge of the roadway: more debris = more flats (not to mention other dangers).  It wasn’t the first time we’d talked about lane position on the bike, and he picked up right away, remembering a time we’d been in the car and seen some other bicyclists.

Gabriel: “Yeah, remember that time we were going to Baba’s and we saw those bicyclists riding on the very edge of the road?  That was NOT good!”

I agreed.  He went on, “It made me so angry my brown eyes turned black!”  Wowza, that’s angry!

We talked a little bit more, about how we didn’t want to be angry with them, we were just concerned for their safety.  I recounted the story to Matthew when we got home, and he said this had come up in a conversation he’d had with Gabriel a week earlier.  It’s rewarding to see him picking up on these things, and it helped reinforce my decision to go by bike, even on a really hot day!

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Black-eyed pea potato salad for a picnic

Last summer we made is to less then one Wednesday night Whitaker Music Festival (I didn’t say “zero” because we picnicked with G and some friends one night, but left before music started in order to get someone home to bed).*  We’re set to remedy that abysmal count this summer, with standing Wednesday night childcare (by which I mean grandma).

Whitaker nights mean picnics and picnic food.  Last week I whipped up a pasta salad full of veggies, including scapes, kale, and fennel from the garden, plus sides of pickled beets and artichokes.

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On Sunday, I cooked the very last of our garden potatoes.  We ate some for lunch, and I turned the rest into this potato salad.  While I usually cook in large batches, the remaining potatoes dictated the size of this recipe.  You could, of course, scale it up.

BLACK-EYED PEA POTATO SALAD

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 2-3

Ingredients
5-6 egg-sized potatoes
2 T finely diced onion
2 T finely diced garlic scapes (or 1-2 t minced garlic)
1/3 c. chopped bell pepper (I used frozen)
1/8 c. finely diced celery
2/3 c. cooked, drained black-eyed peas
1-2 T olive oil
1 T mayonnaise
1 t dijon mustard
2 T plain yogurt
1 t white wine vinegar
S&P to taste
Fresh herbs**

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Directions

Clean the potatoes.  Then place whole, skin-on potatoes in salted water.  Bring to a boil, and boil for 10-12 minutes until tender, but not over-cooked.  Cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Prep your veggies.  Toss potatoes, beans, veggies and all of the other ingredients in a bowl to mix.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

**Fresh dill would be great here, but our fresh dill is at the garden, which is miles away.  So.

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I’m rounding out tonight’s meal with some leftover kale-quinoa quiche (which is great at room temp).  Artichokes will also make another appearance — they’re somewhat time-consuming to eat, which makes them not-so-great for meals with little ones, but perfect for relaxed, open-air dining.

Here’s a quick peek at our standard picnic gear.

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Clockwise from top left: Mason jar wine glass, water bottle, s&p, cloth napkins, cloth utensil holder, and our fancy “plates.”  Not pictured — an insulated bag to keep everything cool in the 90-degree heat!

Our go-to picnic plates consist of the top and bottom of a large take-out container.  This option is perfect for picnics (or potlucks) — one person uses the container and the other uses the lid.  This system requires no on-site clean-up; when the meal is over, just put the lid on for no-mess transportation.  (I saw some people washing dishes in the restrooms last week, and, while I appreciated their attempts to avoid disposable options, the remaining bits of food and oils were clogging the sinks.)

Sadly, after years picnic and potluck use, our plastic container-plate is getting more than a little worn.  I’d like to find something similar, but made out of stainless steel, as a replacement.

I’ve been wanting to make a “chicken” salad (using chickpeas), and I’m having fun thinking of other picnic food ideas.  What’s your go-to food for a picnic?

**Check out the Garden’s “Hit a Green Note” challenge/pledge for sustainable picnicking :)

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