Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

I've been following the news stories about the "care-gap/mom's movement" issue pretty closely and to date, Judith Stadtman Tucker's analysis of what's happening around the country and why now is the best I've read. It's short, on-point, and inspiring. Plus, she includes a fantastic round-up of the latest media pieces on these issues that are so profoundly impacting families today. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Local + Seasonal = Good For Us + Planet

Shopping local is near and dear to me. I read many years ago, in a wonderful publication Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (published by the International Society for Ecology and Culture), that now well-worn statistic about the average American meal travelling 1500 miles from farm to plate. I've been actively practicing "localism" ever since. It does take practice, figuring out recipes that work with what's in season. I can hardly bring myself to eat out-of-season produce anymore as the poor quality and knowing how far it has travelled make me lose my appetite. In winter, we eat a lot of kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, plus root vegetables such as beets, parsnips, carrots and potatoes. I do freeze locally grown corn, beans, asparagus, artichokes (we grow the latter two in our home garden) to give us variety. I use those in soups and stews as they aren't quite as crisp and tasty as they are fresh, though my daughter does love green beans straight from the freezer!

My one conscious exception to local food is tropical fresh fruit in winter--this is when we enjoy mango, kiwi, and citrus. Citrus is in season then, even though it isn't grown locally. I figure loading on the vitamin C at that time of year is good for us as well. My favorite is blood oranges; when I was pregnant with my son, I gave into my cravings and ate two or three a day. We don't eat bananas, which is one of those fruits that many families say they can't give up, but no one in my family likes them much, so they are easy for us to forego. I don't know when they're in season, but you might consider only eating them when they're naturally at their best and eat other fresh fruits during the rest of the year.

I have different sources for food during the year. Out here in the Far East of NE Portland, there's Rossi Farm on 122nd & Shaver, open from June through December. They're growing food literally less than a mile from our house, so I take advantage of that as much as possible when they're open. It's not organic, but that's one of those trade-offs we all find ourselves making as we reconcile our green balance sheet. We also have Grower's Outlet at 162nd & Glisan, which is open year-round. I shop at New Seasons quite a bit and appreciate how they label their produce. Less frequently, I go to the Hollywood Farmers' Market, but it's so crowded and kind of far to drive. I am looking forward to the opening of the Montavilla Farmers' Market this spring.

Finally, of course, there's our home garden. It's a shadow of its former self these days, as I haven't gotten back into the swing of things since my son was born last year,
but we do have asparagus, artichokes, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, boisenberries, and blueberries growing perennially and at the very least will grow tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and several varieties of winter and summer squash this summer. I would like to also put in green beans, sugar snap peas, and leeks as well, but will have to see how the spring shapes up for us. Long term, we would like to grow vegetables all year, but it'll be a couple more years 'til we're ready to make that commitment.

We are so fortunate here in the Pacific Northwest to be able to enjoy as much fresh food year 'round, whether grown in our own gardens or grown for us by local farmers. Find out what's in season in your area and start cooking!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Get Outta Town!

Find family fun farther afield this weekend.
  • Spring Whale Watch Week starts on Saturday. Volunteers assist watchers at 28 sites along the Oregon coast. The closest site to Portland is at Cape Meares, west of Tillamook. Volunteers are on duty from 10am to 1pm to help visitors see the marine animals and offer information about their migration.
  • Visit Evergreen Aviation Museum on Sunday for foam glider making, rocket & radio-controlled plane demonstrations, and exploring the Spruce Goose.
  • Prepare otter treats and meet a mammalogist to learn about animal care & feeding as you watch sea otters up close at Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport on Sunday at 10am. Registration required. 541.867.3474 ext. 5319.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Food in Hibernation

I cook for the freezer pretty regularly. I started when I was pregnant with my second (now 14 months) and love knowing that I have delicious meals hibernating downstairs in the deep freeze. I have two distinct processes that work well for me.

One, I cook stews and hearty soups. Burgundy Beef, Flemish Beef, Hungarian Beef, White Chili (chicken, tomatillos, hominy), Chicken-Corn Soup, Coq au Vin, Chicken Paprika, Lamb Korma, you get the picture. I make large batches (usually enough for four meals for my family of two adult and two young children) and then freeze them in meal-size portions. These are fully cooked; all I have to do is defrost/reheat, steam a vegetable, boil some potatoes or cous-cous or reheat some leftover rice to soak up yummy gravy.

Two, I make what I call “freezer marinades.” I put meal-size amounts of raw meat (bone-in chicken breasts, pork chops, cubed leg of lamb are my standbys) in a freezer bag, add a marinade (orange marmalade-ginger-garlic, balsamic-honey-garlic, curry-yogurt), squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag, seal it, and lay it flat on a tray in the freezer (this makes the packages easier to store once they’re frozen). Ideally, I get a package out and defrost it in the fridge for 24 hours, though I often forget to do this the evening before and wind up getting a package out in the morning and leaving it on the kitchen counter to defrost. Since food defrosts more quickly if the package is in contact with metal (which conducts the chill away), I put frozen packages in an aluminum cake pan. Depending on the meat, it will need to cook at 350-400F for 10-30 minutes. Again…I just steam a veggie or maybe do a stir fry while the meat cooks.

For dinner tonight, I tossed leeks from our garden with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and started them in the oven at 425F. I left a little room in the baking dish for two slabs of polenta (leftover from a big batch I made earlier this week and spread on a jelly roll pan) . After about 25 minutes, I put the polenta in the pan with the leeks and Pork Medallions With Balsamic-Honey Marinade in another pan (a wonderful Le Creuset roaster that I won in a raffle years ago). I turned the oven down to 350F and left everything to finish cooking for another 10 minutes or so. I had all of five minutes of prep (cleaning the leeks, cutting them in half lengthwise, and seasoning them) and paid virtually no attention while everything cooked. And Mike only had two baking dishes plus dinner dishes to wash afterward (we plated everything in the kitchen to avoid using serving dishes).

I’ve never eaten or made roasted leeks before. Amazing! Crispy and salty on the outside, creamy allium deliciousness on the inside. This could be the new roasted garlic. And the marinade made a rich savory sauce for the polenta and pork. It was such a satisfying meal; I must admit part of the satisfaction came from feeling rather clever for putting it all together with so little effort.

Here is the basic recipe for tonight's pork. You will want to multiply the quantities depending on how much meat you want to prepare at once. I usually double this recipe when preparing it for the freezer. I also find I prefer more marinade than called for.

Pork Medallions With Balsamic-Honey Marinade
Serves 4-6

1 ¾ to 2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons high heat oil such as coconut or sunflower for searing
½ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Put vinegar, honey, olive oil, mustard, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir to combine. salt and pepper, stir to combine.

Slice tenderloin into 1-inch rounds and season with salt and pepper. Set pan on medium high heat and cover the bottom with oil. When pan is hot, add pork slices in a single layer and sear for 1 minute. Turn and sear 1 minute more. Remove from pan and allow to cool some. Label freezer bags with content and date. Transfer meal-size amounts of pork to bags and evenly divide the marinade between the bags. Squeeze the air of the bags, seal, and then lay them flat on a baking sheet to freeze. Once frozen, I store the bags upright in a plastic shoebox size storage box, making it easy to flip through the bags when I'm looking for something to defrost.

To cook, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 350F. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes or until done.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Knitted Fairy

My daughter's fourth birthday is at the end of April and I already have a wonderful little knitted cotton dress on needles. It's from Lucinda Guy's Handknits for Kids and has been something of a challenge for me. Mostly, because of the colorwork involved, I have to pay closer attention than I'm accustomed to doing while I knit. Chatting away while knitting with my mom-friends when we get together on Monday nights has led to more than one session of unknitting. Another issue comes from knitting with a silky mercerized cotton on super slick Addi Turbo needles; my hands get tired and cramped from being clenched as I try to keep it all from slipping away from me. So, I've been looking for a bit of a break from this project...and seeing as I'm feeling ahead of schedule still, I decided to start something new. Oh, and I had a $25 credit to use at the Yarn Garden which was burning a hole in my pocket for a couple weeks. I gave in on Monday, bought yarn, and began working on the knitted fairy from Claire Garland's Dream Toys.

I'm on total knitted toy jag right now. A few weeks ago, I nearly bought every knitted toy book I could find at Amazon, but thankfully came to my senses and went to the library instead. Besides Dream Toys, I have World of Knitted Toys and Knitted Toys checked out right now (and if you're the person with Knit Toys on hold, don't worry, I'm returning it today). All three are full of wonderul, darling designs, but I have been itching to make every single item in Dream Toys. I'm changing the fairy doll design somewhat...or at least, how to achieve the design. Garland instructs to knit flat stockinette pieces and sew them together, but I loathe sewing and I don't like to purl much either. Instead, I'm knitting in the round, which I'm fast at (my first knitting project, which I did over and over again, was a knit-in-the-round hat, ever since I've just preferred to knit in the round to anything else...I think that's what I like best about making socks) and can knit thusly nice and tight, good for a knitted doll project.

I started the doll this afternoon and it's going well so far. I've knit the torso and about half her head. I need to figure out how to get her face on. She gets felt eyes and lips and a little sewn nose. I'm trying to figure out if I do that before or after I stuff her. Also, stuffing will be a tiny bit tricky thanks to my choice to knit in the round, but I'll work that out. Anyway, I am using lovely soft (in texture and color) pink yarns for the body and hair. Rowan Cashcotton 4-ply for the body (cash as in cashmere...delicious to work with) and Rowan Kidsilk Haze for the hair (ideal fairy hair...super soft and fine with a little silver shimmer). I'm thinking of making her dress a mini version of the dress I'm knitting for my daughter. See, sometimes I'm not such a bad mommy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Not Your Average Joe

I have to tell you all about Joe Mishkin, this incredible balloon artist/children's entertainer I have seen in action the last two weekends. Okay, first, I'll admit, I have a crush on him. He makes me laugh out loud and he's kinda cute, in a hyperactive, fuzzy rodent way. But seriously, the guy is a fantastic entertainer and I highly recommend you check out the calendar on his web site...he has gigs in public venues a couple times a month, so if you want to "see the goods" yourself before hiring him for a birthday party or whatever, you can. He does NOT make balloon animals...silly hats, space hats, fairy/butterfly wings, and magic wands are his thing. Chrissy & I took our girls to see him at McMenamins on St. Paddy's Day and he had them (and us) cracking up...and they loved their balloon art, of course.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cinderella and the Three Little Pigs, Live!

The True Story of Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf.
MARCH 9, 10, 11, 17, 18
Tears of Joy Theatre and Paul Mesner Puppets give us the real skinny on this time-honored tale. This adaptation of Jon Scieszeka's popular book reveals that Alexander T. Wolf just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. Ages 4 and older. 7:30 pm March 9, 11 am March 10 and 17 and 2 and 4 pm March 11 and 18. $16 adults, $12 kids. Brunish Hall, 1111 SW Broadway. 503-248-0557.

Academy Theater Anniversary Weekend
MARCH 10 & 11
Saturday: Joe Mishkin! Not your average Joe! Balloons, juggling, music and having fun! Sing along to the Wizard of Oz, 2:15 and 4:30 on Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday at noon: "Professor Banjo's Old-Time Play Party" starring Paul Silveria. A show for all ages featuring simple dances, sing alongs and audience participation. Sing along to the Wizard of Oz, 2:15 and 4:30 on Saturday and Sunday. Academy Theater, 7818 SE Stark. 503-252-0500

Cinderella, the Musical
March 10, 11
St. Mary's Academy is putting on its spring musical, Cinderella! Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, and $5 for children under six. The Sunday matinee is great for kids because they sit up front, and at end of production, they can go on stage and meet Cinderella and have photos taken with her or other cast members. The cast is make up of great student actors/singers, and the music is live orchestra of students and community members. Be sure and call to reserve tickets since Sunday is final showing. St Mary's is located at 1615 SW Fifth and Market, downtown. There is paid parking across the street, and downtown street parking is free on Sundays. To reserve seats or for more information call 503-721-7712.

Every Family Reads Presents Avi!
Multnomah County Library staff created the Every Family Reads program to motivate families to read and experience books together. Newbery Medal winner author Avi, author of several acclaimed novels for middle-grade and teen readers, inaugurates this new and exciting program. Your family can participate by reading the works of Avi during March and April and taking advantage of the art exhibits, puppet performances, craft workshops and author visits. See the library web page for more information, but here's taste of what's happening this weekend:
  • Adventures of a Snail and an Ant
    Join Amy Gray of Zing Productions as she brings puppets Avon and Edward to life in this adaptation of Avi's story The End of the Beginning. Saturday, March 10, 1pm and 2:3pm at the Capitol Hill Branch. More performances throughout the month at other branches.
  • Puppet Creations
    Bring Avon the Snail and Edward the Ant to life as shadow puppets or create your own moveable puppet with artist Kathy Karbo. Recommended for children 5 and up. Saturday, March 10, 1pm, at the Sellwood-Moreland Branch.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Blog With a Plan

I've decided to resurrect this blog and use it to share my cooking and crafting exploits, ideas for things to do with young children here in Portland, thoughts about clean environments, breastfeeding advocacy, world affairs, whatever catches my interest during the precious free moments I have to write. Posting schedule will be as follows:
  • Monday: Roundup of weekday kid activities
  • Tuesday: Craft update
  • Wednesday: Recipe of the Week
  • Thursday: Roundup of weekend kid activities
  • Friday: Green notes...gardening and environmental activism
  • Weekends: Miscellaneous ramblings about whatever's going on in my head, parenting, breastfeeding advocacy, world affairs, etc.