Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The joy of line drying laundry

I just walked inside from hanging a load of laundry outside on the line, and I realized what a gift this simple little chore can be. OK, sometimes it's nothing more than a burden, but sometimes- most of the time- it's a few minutes of peace and quiet that I get outside with my thoughts. I steal away for five or ten minutes, and methodically hang my family's garments up to dry, being  mindful of the soothing nature of rhythmic work. I come back just a little more centered after accomplishing a little something good for my family and good for the earth.

Simple Mom thinks so, too. Check out her fabulous post on the top 5 reasons to line dry clothes. I'm a believer!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Value of Imperfection

It happened to me again today as I was making dinner. That same old feeling- tonight as I tried to arrange slices of turnip into a pie plate; I became frustrated at the odd shape of the vegetable. Yes, really.  Very, very frustrated, in fact. Thanks to the differing sizes of the turnips I'd used, they simply weren't aligning to create the pattern I wanted, but instead were overlapping and creating *gasp* second layers in some places! Some were too big, some too small, some were irregular because I'd peeled to much skin away...or not enough. "Stupid vegetables," it began in my head, "why don't you just do what I want?! It's not hard, and I'm not asking for much. Just size yourselves up right so that I can make one layer of turnip in the bottom of my pie plate!" Do I sound crazy yet? Just wait- it gets better.

This line of turnip-related-coup-thought naturally gave way to a much more sinister thought pattern, of the "How I Never Get What I Want" variety. Ever been there? It's a real peach of a place to visit. A place which rockets you from a slight sense of disappointment because dinner isn't going to be as pretty as you'd imagined, to self talk convincing enough to ensure that you never attempt to cook dinner again lest the result be a similar abysmal failure. Yes, it's embarrassing but true...and it's so easy to get there.

Thankfully though, the gods of reason intervened on my behalf. Maybe it's been the ridiculous number of self-help books I've been reading lately, or the quiet coaching from my husband, or perhaps it's been the silent prayers I've been uttering for weeks begging for a break in the "it must be perfect or it's not worth doing" attitude. Whatever the reason, I stopped it tonight. I actually stopped thinking that it had to be just right.

I suddenly, and quite without warning, found myself holding a slice of turnip- imperfect as it was- and appreciating it anyway. It was a red turnip, a variety I've never cooked with before, and it had the most amazing little purple veins through the hard white flesh. When I stopped to think about it, it was beautiful in the same way snowflakes are- a marvel because they are so delicate and unique. Encouraged by this first positive thought I began to consider all the things this little turnip had going for it- it was grown organically about a mile from my house on our CSA farm. It was hand picked by farmer Steven or his wife, and chosen by my son from a bin of a hundred other turnips. It smelled fresh and pungent- I could begin to guess that the au gratin dinner I was preparing was going to offer my family some wholesome nutrition made from local ingredients. In one short hour I would be extolling the virtues of said turnip in order to solicit a bite or two from my more reluctant dinnertime diners, so why was I berating them now? Because they didn't work into the pattern I had planned? Suddenly it seemed to silly.

There is a Chinese proverb which says, "gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect." I would tend to agree, and I would add that neither can things be perfect. By definition we live in a world of beauty and awe, but not perfection. We're mortals, and the best we can hope for is aspiration to improve ourselves and our circumstances; in the meantime we must seek the artistry and value in the process. We have to be content with, if not happy about, our imperfect little turnips.

And for the record, dinner was delicious.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eating Locally

We hear so much about eating locally these days, don't we? It seems simple enough: we should try to eat food that is produced as close to home as we can. The challenge, however, is in the application. Unless you've tried to eat local foods lately you might not even be aware of how much of our food is transported from afar, creating a huge carbon footprint in the process.

So what are we to do? Start small, I say. I've compiled a few simple tips that have helped our family to enjoy the natural abundance of local foods:

1. Find a Farmer's Market. This is an easy way to integrate local food into your diet, and it supports local farmers in the process! Farmer's Markets are usually held once or twice a week and they allow farmers to come and sell consumers their foods directly, which eliminates the expensive "middle man." You may not pay any less for these foods, but your farmer is keeping more of the profit, which helps to ensure that she'll be there next year to sell you some more great food! Want to find a farmer's market near you? Click here.

2. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Once you've mastered the farmer's market, you can take it to the next level by joining a CSA. These programs are designed to generate revenue for farmers in the spring, when their costs are highest, and to allow patrons to share in the bounty of the harvest all summer long. Patrons sign up directly with the farmer and physically visit the farm (or designated pick up spot) once a week to pick up a box of vegetables which have been produced that week. Full shares tend to be around $600 for the season in our area, but that can vary significantly by region. Our family has discovered it to be great fun to go to the farm each week to pick out our produce, and then to find applicable recipes to use! This week we've had ginger beef with bok choy, turnip gallete, and taco salads thanks to the fresh produce from our farm! (Hungry yet?)

As a side note: for those who eat meat, CSA's are available for that market as well. Our family purchases meat in bulk from a farm about a mile down the road from us and we store it in a deep chest freezer. Some farms will also sell meat in smaller portions, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Milk, eggs, and cheese can also be purchased through CSA's. 

3. Support a local business. Another great option for securing local food is to patronize, and really get to know, your local grocer. While it might be tempting to frequent a huge box store where you can get everything on your list, it's far more important to build community relationships, keep the cash flow among neighbors, and to develop a meaningful relationship with your food supplier so that you're always comfortable knowing where your food came from.

If a local marketplace isn't an option in your area, be sure to ask for local foods at your supermarket. Some big chains are getting on the bandwagon and are now labeling food that is produced locally so that you can make an effort to choose the tomatoes grown at the farm a couple of towns over rather than in another country. If you don't see clearly labeled local food then go ahead and ask for it. One local chain in our community didn't sell any local food at all until consumers began to demand it! Especially in today's economy your purchasing dollars have a lot of sway, so make them count.

4. Grow a garden or raise some animals. I am not naturally a gardener. Ask anyone- I can kill anything green faster than it takes to say, "oops, I forgot to water the plants." That aside, I've made some strides in recent years in terms of growing food, and my husband has been good enough to take on a considerable amount of that load. We don't grow all of our food by a long shot (that's what our CSA is for!), but we do grow some. Our garden this year includes watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, dill, mint, thyme, lemon thyme, basil, rhubarb, onions, scallions, lettuces of several varieties, strawberries and raspberries. Sounds like a lot? Not really- we've used container gardening, bag gardening and raised beds to make it more manageable. After all, we have three kids under six so it's very important that our plan is simple!

Raising backyard chickens, a dairy cow or goat or a few meat animals are also an option for some. Granted, space requirements are challenging for many (as is the desire for many more!), but some families find great satisfaction in raising animals to meet their family's needs via meat, milk, eggs, wool and more.

5. Foraging. Believe it or not, this is still a valid form of securing nutrition! Here in Maine, we find wild blueberries and strawberries all over the place and are able to make great jams and sauces. You can do this anywhere in the country, but you need to check before you eat!

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