Thursday, August 26, 2010
For a few years I've been looking forward to the day when I could contain my kids. Their stuff, their noise, their messes. I wanted it contained into one room. Or at least one floor of our house. I never liked having their stuff in the basement, the family room, the kitchen, the loft, and their rooms. And the garage. And the backyard. Does it ever end? Their stuff? Their noise? Their messes?
Finally...yes. It does end. Or at least it is endING.
When we returned home from Mexico, I knew that my kids were finally old enough to have all of their stuff upstairs. First, because they have less stuff. Second, because I can mostly trust them not to destroy a room when I'm not there with them. We used to let them have space in almost every room in the house because I needed them to be in a spot where I could see them. I needed to ensure that they weren't scribbling on the walls with a black Sharpie. It seemed that whenever they were left to their own devices, they found a Sharpie. And the Sharpie found the walls every single time.
So the house has been reorganized. Or at least it is beING reorganized.
And one bit is finished. The girls "pink kitchen," which Scott and I built for Brynn's 3rd birthday, has made its way up to our loft. The bookcases that hold their toys are now in the loft. The computer that they use has been hidden in a re-vamped media cabinet. In the loft. Aside from the "homework drawer" which is down in the kitchen where I can help with homework while I make dinner, all of their stuff is upstairs! Out of my way! And I live downstairs! Where I don't have to see it! Hurrah!
I'm quite happy with the way it all turned out. Here are a few photos:
This is what I see when I come up the stairs. From the kitchen I can see a bit of the back of the white bookcase in the foreground and a bit of the art hanging on the wall. But not much else. Which is, of course, exactly how I want it.
Here is the frontside of the bookcases. They were very neat and tidy the day I finished putting the room together, but I didn't kid myself about them staying that way. I knew they'd end up messy like this but...who cares? I don't have to look at them!
The girls' pink kitchen...still in decent shape after almost five years of heavy use. I thought maybe they'd be too old for it by now, but they spent a ton of time in there this summer. Lots of "restaurant" and "house" being played. The girls' artwork is hanging on a string, held up by little plastic clothespins from our MiniSuper in San Pancho.
And next is the solid pine media cabinet passed down to us from my mom. It served us well in the days of a tube TV, but we don't have a tube anymore. I thought about selling the cabinet, thought about giving it away and then thought...eh, hmm, wait a minute. It's the right size for the girls to stand at while they're on the computer. They won't become chair potatoes on the computer because they won't want to stand there all day. It has a sliding tray for the keyboard. It has electricity built in. It's got doors to keep everything out of sight. I'm not letting go of this thing!
So, we (wait, not we...I) painted it. Four coats of primer (the new low-VOC Kilz rocks, by the way), two or three coats of watered down (to keep it smooth) low-VOC Martha Stewart paint in Milk Glass...or was it Glass of Milk (nearly identical to Kelly Moore's New Linen which I LOVE and have used in several other places around the house). We took off the back panel which had cutouts for the tv and vcr and replaced it with a new sheet of plywood. We put the electrical outlets back where they would work best for the new arrangement, adjusted some hinges, put on new hardware, built a stand for the computer and...voila! Computer cabinet.
Here is how it looked while serving as a TV cabinet.
Here is how it looks now! I'm very pleased with how it came out! Check it out! The modem and Airport (aka wireless router) are up top, the computer on the new stand, the keyboard underneath, shelves down below to hold camera gear and the printer, drawers for paper, CD-Rs, a notepad or two. I love it. And if my children can prove that they will not abuse their computer privileges, maybe someday I'll buy them a stool so that they can SIT while they work. Or play.
Edited to add: it just occurred to me that this media cabinet arrangement wouldn't work for you PC people. Oh, so sad. No computer tower is just another benefit of owning a Mac, I suppose.
Friday, August 20, 2010
While mentally scouring my fridge for ingredients to combine into a palatable dinner meal tonight, I realized I had the makings of a decent raw Asian meal. I had a few packages of Vietnamese rice noodles (fettucini width), plus a fridge full of organic veggies from our farm. I always keep ingredients for Asian sauces on hand.** With a little help from the shredding attachment on my food processor, this meal came together in about 45 minutes and the dishwasher is taking care of all the cleanup. I'm a slow cook - you could probably pull it together in half an hour. I'm easily distracted while in the kitchen. I'm also not good at keeping track of what I put in my meals, which is why I can rarely recreate a recipe. So take these measurements with a grain of salt. This recipe provided enough for large portions for Scott and me, smaller portions for the girls, and the bowl of leftovers pictured above. This is one of those meals that will probably taste even better the next day.
For the slaw:
20 oz. rice noodles
oil (peanut, walnut, or vegetable oil)
toasted sesame oil
1 cucumber, shredded
3 carrots, shredded
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 broccoli stalks, shredded (not the florets, just the stalks)
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
5-6 basil leaves, finely chopped
handful chopped peanuts
For the sauce:
juice of one large lime or two key limes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T sesame seeds
2 T peanut butter
1 T fish sauce
sugar, honey, or other sweetener
red pepper flakes
Cover noodles in boiling water and leave them to soak for 10 minutes or until al dente. When the noodles are finished, drain and rinse in cold water. Toss with oil, rice vinegar (I used unseasoned), and a dash of sesame oil until the noodles are coated. Combine with shredded cucumber, carrots, cabbage (red would look nicer but green works fine), broccoli stalks, green onions, cilantro, basil, and chopped peanuts. Shredded red, orange, or yellow bell peppers would make a nice addition. Combine veggies with noodles and put in the fridge to chill.
For the sauce...the ratios really depend on your taste. It would work best to combine the sauce ingredients in a blender, but I did it with a fork in a 2-cup Pyrex because I don't like to use more than one appliance per meal and I'd already used the food processor. If you don't keep fish sauce around, leave it out. I am low on honey, so I used sugar instead. Probably around 2T of it, maybe a smidge more. If you're using seasoned rice vinegar, you'll use less sugar/honey. I didn't add enough soy sauce to begin with, so I ended up tossing the noodles with a bit more after we started eating. I'm a mix/taste/add/repeat kind of cook.
**For Asian cooking, you should keep your pantry stocked with soy sauce (duh), toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce or oyster sauce, sesame seeds (buy them in a big bottle in the Asian section, not in the little expensive bottle in the seasoning aisle), peanuts or cashews, red pepper sauce and/or red pepper flakes. I also keep hoisin sauce, red curry paste, and (finally) tamarind paste (for pad thai), which is ridiculously difficult to find in my neighborhood. (I think this paragraph needs a few more parenthesis.) What pantry items am I forgetting?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
A Dozen Eggs for $8? Michael Pollan Explains the Math of Buying Local
By BEN WORTHEN
Michael Pollan, author of "Omnivore's Dilemma" and other popular books, has become a figurehead for the local-food movement, which advocates buying in-season produce from nearby farms.
Proponents say such food is healthier and that the way it is grown and shipped is better for the environment. But it often is more expensive. Mr. Pollan says the real problem is that subsidies keep the prices of some, largely mass-produced foods artificially low.
Still, he tries to strike a middle ground between advocate and realist. In his Berkeley living room, the 55-year-old Mr. Pollan discussed where he shops for food and why paying $8 for a dozen eggs is a good thing:
Michael Pollan in the backyard of his Berkeley home in 2007.
WSJ: Do Bay Area residents eat and shop for food differently from people elsewhere?
Mr. Pollan: The food movement really began on the West Coast, and you can make an argument it began in the Bay Area. There is a much higher level of consciousness here about where food comes from, about eating seasonally and locally, than there is in the rest of the country.
But we have certain advantages that few other places in the country have. We can eat from the farmer's market 50 weeks of the year—the only reason they close is to get a break Christmas and New Year's.
WSJ: What do you attribute the greater enthusiasm to?
Mr. Pollan: A consumer who is willing to pay more for better food. That's a matter of consciousness and a palate that has been educated by the chefs locally. Paying $3.90 for a Frog Hollow Peach, there are a lot of people here willing to do it. I don't know if you can find a more expensive peach in America. My little rule, "Pay more, eat less," is followed by a lot of people in the Bay area.
WSJ: Where do you shop for food?
Mr. Pollan: I shop at the farmer's market on Thursdays. I shop at Monterey Market, and I shop at Berkley Bowl. Those are the big three, and then I'll get household cleaning products, cereal, things like that at Safeway.
WSJ: How do you suggest people in New York or other places with a long winter eat seasonally?
In much of the country eating seasonally in winter is challenging, though there are options people overlook. A salad of grated root vegetables, for example, is a refreshing change from lettuce, and far more nutritious. But it all depends on how hard-core you want to be. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.
WSJ: Do you only buy certain things from certain places?
Mr. Pollan: No. I'm pretty flexible. I'm not a zealot, contrary to what people may think. I've told stories about being busted at Berkeley Bowl buying sugary cereals for my son when he was younger.
WSJ: Are there rules for shopping that people interested in eating better should follow?
Mr. Pollan: The most important is to buy things that are in season.
It's nice to skip [things] until they are in season when they are so much better and cheaper. It becomes something of an occasion when the tomatoes come into the market, or the strawberries, or the asparagus.
WSJ: Does eating local, sustainable food have to be a lifestyle priority, or can people do it casually?
Mr. Pollan: People can do it casually. There are people who go [to a farmer's market] every week, and there are people who go when the mood strikes them. To eat well takes a little bit more time and effort and money. But so does reading well; so does watching television well. Doing anything with attention to quality takes effort. It's either rewarding to you or it's not. It happens to be very rewarding to me. But I understand people who can't be bothered, and they're going to eat with less care.
WSJ: Is eating well just an indulgence for people who can afford it?
Mr. Pollan: If you're in the supermarket buying organic versus not buying organic, you are going to spend more. But buying food at the farmer's market, if you compare it to the prices at Safeway for stuff that's in season, it actually beats the prices in my experience. People shouldn't assume that they are going to go broke at the farmer's market.
WSJ: What do you wish people here understood about their food that they don't now?
Mr. Pollan: We've been conditioned by artificially cheap food to be shocked when a box of strawberries costs $3.
But it's important to know that farmers aren't getting wealthy. When you see strawberries being sold for $1 a box, picture the kind of labor it takes to pick those strawberries and the kind of chemicals it takes to produce those kinds of strawberries without hand weeding.
Eight dollars for a dozen eggs sounds outrageous, but when you think that you can make a delicious meal from two eggs, that's $1.50. It's really not that much when we think of how we waste money in our lives.
Write to Ben Worthen at firstname.lastname@example.org