Summer

While I’m not taking a full summer vacation from blogging, things have been a little slow in this space, which, as usual, indicates that life is anything but slow!  Despite the craziness, life is actually pretty darn good right now, and I have lots of future post ideas stored in the drafts folder for a rainy day.  Until then, here’s a peak at foodie and bikey happenings.

We celebrated last week’s unseasonably cool weather (highs in the mid-70s) — picnicking with friends at the Botanical Gardens and a trip to the zoo, both by bike.  The cooler temps didn’t stop Gabriel from getting soaked in the raccoon fountain at MOBot.

IMG_4886[1]

Our return trip from the zoo marked my first time climbing the Macklind hill on Roadrunner.  I enlisted my cheer leading section to chant “Go, Mama, go!”  We were slow but steady on our climb to the top.

On Saturday, I spent a rare day at the garden, ostensibly to help dig the last of the potatoes.  That didn’t happen so much (potatoes were dug, just not by me), but I harvested edamame, gave tours to a couple of friends who will be helping with the garden (and enjoyed catching up in the process), and cleaned and sorted a boatload of carrots!

IMG_4901[1]

That’s less than half of the harvest!  Carrot harvesting was not on the list for Saturday, but, despite all of his anti-vole efforts, Matthew found evidence of vole-damaged carrots, so out they came!  Fortunately, we got to most of them before the voles.

After a couple weeks of a trickle of cherry tomatoes and a couple of other small varieties, we harvested our first big tomatoes over the weekend, which meant Caprese sandwiches on Sunday.

IMG_4911[1]

Plus carrots and green beans!

Our “low-key” Sunday involved picking and freezing a couple quarts of basil, pickling some cucumbers, baking a coffee cake, and making bread dough.

Posted in Biking, Food, Garden, My Life | Leave a comment

Food philosophy: Great grains

Variety is the spice of life, and I certainly take that to heart when it comes to grains (and food in general!).  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t go for lo-carb or fad diets (as a health- and eco-conscious vegetarian, a decent number of my calories come from whole grains and legumes), but I DO avoid eating large quantities of refined grains.

The first step for me was switching to products (bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, crackers, etc.) that were 100% whole wheat.  Growing up, my family used a lot of whole grains, and did most of our baking with 100% whole wheat pastry flour, so this wasn’t a huge switch for me, overall.  [Tip: when trying whole wheat pasta, start with angel hair; also, brand can matter.]

But there’s a lot more to the grain-scene than wheat, and, while I don’t have a medical reason to avoid wheat, I realized there were health benefits to expanding my grain consumption.

Fortunately, there are now a variety of easily accessible options in this department:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Oats, including oat groats (for risotto)
  • Corn meal (for polenta and cornbread)
  • Potatoes

That list is by no means exhaustive.  Some of the above straddle the line between grain vs. seed or starch vs. vegetable.  For my planning purposes, I tend to treat them all as grain/starch, though the distinctions can be important, nutrient-wise.

Avoiding an all-wheat, all-the-time diet does require a bit of effort, and it’s become part of my [informal] meal planning.  Sometimes it’s tricky, especially with a toddler, who, while a great eater overall, is not always into quinoa or millet.

Here’s what an average day looks like for me, grain-wise:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal (I use a mix of rolled and steel-cut oats)
  • Breakfast #2/Morning snack: Wheat-based — 100% whole grain pancakes, waffles, toast w/peanut butter or egg, or quick bread
  • Lunch: Alternate grain
  • Afternoon snack: Often wheat-based, though sometimes granola, whole-grain corn chips, or non-wheat leftover
  • Dinner: Wheat-based

Lunch and dinner flip-flop, so if our lunch one day is wheat-based, I try to prioritize an alternate grain for dinner.  If I know we’ll be eating away from home (whether a restaurant or someone’s house), I usually assume the meal will be wheat-based, and plan accordingly throughout the day.

Even with a concerted effort to eat a variety of grains, I end up eating a decent bit of wheat — it’s pretty ubiquitous in the U.S. diet.  Here are some of my thoughts and experiences with the wheat alternatives.

Potatoes
We grow almost all of the potatoes we eat, which is great, because we know they’re not full of chemicals (a problem with conventionally grown potatoes), but not so great in terms of prep time.  Potatoes store best unwashed, so that means meal prep involves not just chopping and cooking the potatoes, but also rinsing and scrubbing off a substantial amount of dirt.  Strike one.

I also feel like, relative to other grains/starches, potatoes require a large amount of both fat (butter, olive oil, cheese, sour cream, etc.) and salt.  Strike two.

But there’s no strike three.  Potatoes are one of the only calorie crops (think grains and legumes) that don’t require special processing like milling or shelling, which make them a great option for the grow-your-own scene.  If you eat the skins, they are a good source of several nutrients and they help increase variety.  I didn’t realize how much the potato option helped with grain/starch variety until we ran out of potatoes in March.

Quinoa
Technically a seed, quinoa is one of the highest protein grains out there.  It also cooks relatively quickly (faster than brown rice) and works in a variety of dishes.

The protein and nutrients come with a price though, as this is one of the more expensive grains you can buy, even if you stick to “white” quinoa (still a whole grain, just a different variety than the more expensive “red”).  Until recently, I found the bulk bins at Local Harvest Grocery to be the best bet, priced a bit under $4/lb (making it cheaper than the WF bulk bins).  Unfortunately, on my most recent LH visit, the price had jumped to over $7/lb!

I was so surprised that I asked the cashier if the price was correct.  He confirmed that it was, though he didn’t know why.  (I haven’t gone back to see if there was a similar price jump at WF.)  I plan to continue eating quinoa, but at that price, I may not increase my consumption (currently averages one dinner plus one lunch [leftover] per week).

Toddler tips
Grain variety is a bit trickier with babies and toddlers.  Wheat-based products, like bread and noodles, lend themselves to little fingers (and are often kid favorites).  While you can buy alternate-grain version of pasta and bread, they tend to be pricey.

Adding peanut butter (or another nut butter) after cooking rice, millet, or quinoa is one trick that worked for us.  The nut butter a) increases tastiness and b) makes the grain easier for a toddler to handle on a spoon or fork (or even with fingers).

Before G was using a spoon, I made him oat clusters instead of oatmeal.  To prepare, I made a really think batch of oatmeal on the stove top, then chilled.  In the morning, I served bite-sized chunks of the oatmeal, dotted with peanut butter.  Perfect for little fingers, if a bit labor intensive.  Now he eats oatmeal with me every morning; I intentionally keep his on the thick side, for ease of spooning and less mess.

Finally, potatoes are a great finger food for babies and toddlers.

Your turn: what is your favorite non-wheat grain, and how do you use it?  Anything I should add to my regular rotation?

 

 

Posted in Food, Health | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Three!

Our weekend was filled with family, friends, and cake, as we celebrated Sir’s 3rd birthday.100_1025

We kept things pretty simple and low-key, which also equated to planet-friendly.  The only “disposable” item that I purchased was the pack of party hats, but they’re all in good enough shape to be used again.

Matthew suggested that we look for some kind of reusable (ideally cloth) birthday banner that we can pull out at this time every year (his family had something like this growing up), and I think that’s a great idea!

100_1042

Sir requested strawberry birthday cake, and I delivered, using frozen garden strawberries (I used the Jell-O-free recipe here, subbing whipped cream and sliced berries for the icing).  I also pureed a bit of roasted beet for extra pink oomph — the batter was a lovely bright pink, but, as you can kind-of see in the above picture, the finished product just barely had a pink hue.  Sir didn’t mind!

I’m on the hunt for a kid-sized table and chairs for G (not necessary, but might be fun for him, so if I can find something nice, at a reasonable price . . . ), so in the meantime, we borrowed my MIL’s.  Fun place mats belonged to Matthew and his siblings.

Birthday presents were also pretty low-key: a deck of Uno cards (he plays at Mrs. L’s house) and a new-to-him bulldozer, which, not surprisingly, was a huge hit!  (I picked up the bulldozer at a thrift store last fall, intending it as a Christmas gift, then forgot about it.)  While I think gift-giving can be a nice part of birthday celebrations, I really prefer that the acquisition of more stuff not be the focus.

My planned birthday gift for Sir is/was a new-t0-us, three-wheeled scooter.  I’ve been keeping an eye on CL, but not really finding anything.  My first choice would be a Mini Kick Scooter (reviewed here), but I might have to compromise on that, if I’m also set on buying used.  Either way, I’d like to get something so he can zip around like the adorable kids I saw in London.

100_1003

Sir’s weekend fun also included not one, but two, trips to Grant’s Farm, first with Baba, and then with my family, who came from Iowa for the weekend.  Gabriel had lots of fun running around with his cousin Noah and riding the “train.”

 

Posted in Green Ideas, My Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Returning to normal time

Have I mentioned that I like routine?  Because I really, really, really like routine.  I admit there would be some advantages to being more go-with-the-flow and less into routine.  Some people thrive on spontaneity and change.  I am not those people.

So it’s no surprise that my little world was in a bit of a tailspin last week, when both my primary (Mrs. L) and secondary (my MIL) childcare providers were on vacation.  For the ENTIRE WEEK (how could they do that to me???).  It felt like even longer, and, in fact, it was, as the week lasted from Friday the 27th through this past Saturday.  Nine, count ‘em, NINE days!

I’m used to having 8.5 hours of childcare, 4-5 days/week, including an overnight most weeks.  To drop from that to almost nothing was a bit of a shock to the system.  (Also, my MIL being out-of-town means we have extra garden duties, which is a double whammy.)

To be fair, the last weekend in June was a vacation, as we spent Friday through Monday in Illinois at a family reunion.  That was easier, with other adults around to spend some time with Sir, plus cousins to play with (though “play” is an optimistic term at this age, as it involves plenty of adult supervision and intervention — maybe we should just let them duke it out like puppies).

IMG_4611

For Sir, the highlight of the weekend was the “train” shuttle at our resort.  If I could have strapped him into it and let him ride it on his own, we’d have been set for hours!  Alas, it required adult involvement.

Though the term “vacation” is an oxymoron when you have a child, it was a nice weekend, We enjoyed time with my family, including rare time with extended family from Texas, and manged to sneak in a few short hikes at Starved Rock State Park (from which we miraculously escaped without getting poison ivy).

But the weekend ended, and the week of no childcare loomed.  I made it through one-and-a half days.

Then, to help save my sanity (and give me time to actually put a few hours in on my paid job), my mom came for a short visit — 28-hours that provided two afternoons and one morning of reprieve, leading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

In my experience, having two parents home is really not that much less exhausting than having one parent home, as you are either the parent who is “on” with the child, or the parent trying to get something else done, while the child begs for your attention, even though he has the attention of the other parent (I imagine having more than one child might change this equation).

The chorus of, “You want to play with me?  You want to go for ride on my tractor?” seemed never-ending.

To mix things up a bit, we planned a few outings for the weekend, starting with a parade on the 4th.  We originally planned to attend the community parade with my FIL in Webster Groves, but when I read about the VP Parade (the official 4th of July parade in StL), and realized this might be the one year in my lifetime that the parade was held in Forest Park, plus the fact that the parade featured numerous marching bands, we changed plans.

IMG_4628

We were quite the patriotic bike family, with Matthew and Gabriel on Roadrunner (AKA Big Blue) and me on fire-engine red Baby Jake.  We arrived early, and were able to bike right along the staging area where the floats were lining up (in retrospect, I wish we lingered a bit longer on this part).  Cars were [mostly] not allowed in the park over the weekend, so bicycles had free reign!

IMG_4636

The parade was awesome!  I’ve never seen anything like it — the intricate floats, fancy costumes, music from both marching bands and live bands playing on the floats — spectacular.

We left a bit early, but we didn’t really miss much, since we biked back toward the parade start and were able to see most of the floats that hadn’t passed us yet.

Unfortunately, we didn’t leave early enough for Pookie.  He didn’t want to go, but was clearly tired, as evidenced by his nodding off in his bike seat.  This made the ride home not-so-fun for me.  I felt bad that he was that tired and that we hadn’t gotten him home sooner , not to mention worried that we’d blown our chance at him taking a real nap that day.

Fortunately, he was strapped in (though he looked really pitiful with his head all over the place and falling forward on the bike), and his bike nap, by some miracle, did not take the place of his regular afternoon nap that day (important because we also wanted to nap in preparation for fireworks [sans Sir] that night).

Saturday morning dawned much too early for the two family members who watched fireworks on Friday night, but we dragged ourselves out of bed and got in gear in time to both make pancakes and get out of the house on the earlier side.

Our outing involved a visit to the Botanical Garden as well as a [rare for us these days] stop at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market.  We have plenty of produce from the garden, so the stop was solely to pick up some snacks for the morning.  At my insistence, we managed to time this outing to avoid any bicycle napping.

I don’t know if I can express exactly how much I’m looking forward to a “normal” week.  I survived the interruption to our normal routine, but it wasn’t always pretty, and it left me more than a little burnt out!

 

Posted in My Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Deadly effects of stress: A health scare revisited

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s health scare, when, after a long, hot day of gardening, he landed in the E.R. with severe abdominal pain.*  The events of that weekend seem almost surreal to me now.

We still don’t really know what caused the blood clot.  Tests last fall (repeated in the spring) showed no conditions, genetic or otherwise, that would predispose him to clots.  He has next-to-no lifestyle risk factors (eats well, exercises, doesn’t smoke), and his cholesterol and blood pressure have always been well within the healthy range.  There was just one “little” thing . . .

. . . STRESS!

Earlier this week, Matthew sent me a link to this Time article, which reports new findings on the link between stress and blood clotting.

We suspected extreme work-related stress may have been a factor in last summer’s blood clot, and, afterward, Matthew took some steps to reduce and better manage his stress levels.

The odd thing is that almost all of us, are, at some point in our lives fairly stressed, whether it’s due to work, home life, finances, health, personal relationships, or some combination of those factors.  We may, at times, be walking around with elevated white blood cell counts, perhaps even with low-level, early stage clots that our bodies dissolve on their own.

But we don’t all have serious blood clots that land us in the hospital for a few days, especially when we’re young and healthy.  So what made Matthew “special?”

That’s the million-dollar question, really.  Of the two of us, I would say he’s better at dealing with stress and not worrying or getting stressed in the first place.  Perhaps the chronic stress he was experiencing at work just overwhelmed his body’s ability to deal with the blood clot before it became a problem.

At any rate, it’s a good reminder that we can eat nutritious food and exercise until the cows come home, but our bodies are not just machines.  We also need to nurture our mental health.  Deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises are good places to start.  This is very much a work in progress for me.

What are your tips and tricks for managing stress and relaxing?

*To be on the safe side, I’m keeping him out of the garden this weekend!  (Though the garden is, in general, one of his stress-relieving activities.)

Posted in Health | 3 Comments

Blueberry boy

So, I did it.  I sucked it up and went blueberry picking with my toddler.

The night before, I posted this to Facebook:

Torn about taking G blueberry picking tomorrow. It would be easier w/o him, and I wouldn’t have to worry about nap timing if I leave him behind. Someone tell me it will be okay if I take him?

I was really on the fence.  I liked the idea of sharing the experience with him, but I was fairly sure I would accomplish more without him, and I really don’t like messing with nap time.  Some things are sacrosanct, and nap and bed times fall into that category around here!  And I could always take him next summer, right?

But I was going to have my MIL along to help, so I went for it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan well, so Tuesday morning found me madly running around the house, trying to get our lunch packed, self dressed, potty and some toys packed . . . . I really almost called the whole thing off then and there, and the first five minutes in the car, on the way to meet my MIL were no better.  Whiny toddler, still-stressed and frazzled mama — not a pretty picture.  I forced myself to take a few deep breaths and just drive.

Anyway, my game plan was to start early and tire the little Pookle out enough during the morning that he would nap in the car on the way back (car napping = often not his strong suit).

The blueberry patch was already hopping by the time we arrived (and unfortunately, already fairly picked over — there were, technically, plenty of blueberries out there, but at this stage, it took longer to pick a given amount).

As expected, Gabriel went right to work, picking and eating blueberries.  I love that my not-quite 3-year-old totally knows how to identify ripe berries.

[Note: if the video is not working, try a different browser or adjusted settings.]

My goals for the morning were to pick 5-6 gallons of blueberries and keep G from turning into a blueberry, a la Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka.

Turns out the second was more of a success than the first.  After about twenty minutes of Sir eating everything he picked (and asking for contributions from us), I stumbled across “construction site blueberry picking.”

My big bucket was the dump truck, and Sir’s little bucket was the backhoe scoop.  His mission was to fill the backhoe scoop with berries, and dump them into the dump truck.  This game yielded almost an hour of picking and [mostly] not eating!

IMG_4489

In the end, given the not-so-great picking conditions, my MIL and I, combined, only picked about 4.5 gallons of berries.  She’s planning a trip to Wisconsin and hopes to find more berries there, so she very generously gave all her pickings to us.  Still short of my goal, but not bad!

My nap plan sort-of worked: within 5 minutes of leaving the blueberry farm, G was snoring in the backseat.  However, I made my plan thinking that the farm was about 90 minutes from home, instead of the 50 minutes it actually is (I was aware of the corrected driving time, and thus reduced nap time, going into it).  I knew he would almost certainly wake up when we exited the interstate, but I wasn’t willing to drive extra just to extend the nap.  A 35-minute nap is NOT ideal, but better than nothing!

Posted in Cuteness, Food | Tagged | 1 Comment

Weekend: Muny by bike and Sustainable Backyard Tour

Nothing like spot thunderstorms and showers to make summer outings interesting, but we didn’t let the weekend weather dampen our plans.

We kicked off the weekend at the Muny.  I biked over and arrived at the crack of dawn 5pm to get in line for free seats.  I felt a little silly when I pedaled up and saw next to no one in line, but I did achieve our goal of having a pick of the free seats, as well as a fairly shady spot to wait.  I needed the shade because it was HOT, especially after biking.  I’d finally started recovering from my ride when Matthew joined me, followed by a friend who’d planned the outing.

Our picnic dinner consisted of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that — leftovers that needed to be eaten and that worked well for chilled or room temperature dining.

IMG_4486[1]

Clockwise, from top left: fennel mozzarella bread salad, [homemade!] soba noodles with cooked greens, broccoli salad, and a summer fruit medley (served with whipped cream).  It felt like a ton of food for two people (we shared some with our friend), but it was none too much over the course of the evening.

By the time the seats opened at 7pm, we’d just finished our dinner, and dark clouds were threatening.  We staked our seats and went back to catch the pre-show, just a big, fat raindrops began falling.

If you’re familiar with the Muny, you know there’s not a lot of cover.  We huddled under the roof at the top of the theatre, and waited out the storm (unfortunately, there was not cover for our bikes, and it was Roadrunner’s first drenching; even though we ride in the rain, I prefer to keep the bikes dry).

The skies finally cleared about twenty minutes before show time, allowing the stage crew to make everything dry and safe for the performers.  We dried our seats as best we could, and settled in for Billy Elliot.  It was a great show, though, as always, it made for a very late night for us early-birds — worth it sometimes, but probably not a weekly occurrence.

Saturday was a standard Matthew at garden, me doing stuff around here day.  I made big batches of bean burgers and English muffins.  We’re out of our homemade bread (and bread-baking is Matthew’s bailiwick — it still intimidates me), but I can do English muffins!

Sunday brought the Sustainable Backyard Tour.  Our garden was on the first annual tour in 2011 (mentioned briefly here — I looked a little different then!), but we skipped both 2012 and 2013.  It was fun to host visitors again this year.

IMG_garden tour
(photo credit to Mackenzie — I had good intentions, but didn’t get a single photo)

Of course, the weekend and tour would not have been complete without another spot rain shower.  I dashed to rescue our sign-in sheets and roll up the car windows.  Some guests dashed for their cars, while others huddled with Matthew under a big tree and managed to stay fairly dry that way.

We had 80 people on the official sign-in sheet, and we think out total number of visitors was probably close to 100!  Most frequently asked question: “Do you eat all of that food?

Posted in Biking, Garden | Leave a comment