Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer is really here!

With such wonderful weather, I have not posted all the lovely garden happenings or the farmers' market experiences OR the biggest news for me personally - my weight loss journey while eating real food.

Garden Happenings
Our strawberries are turning pink and almost red!

This picture only shows green berries. Clearly I need to take new pictures. However, I know that at least some of these are pinkish. My kids are practically ready to tear down the netting to start the berry harvest. We need 1-3 more days of sun before we have a worthy harvest. I did notice one berry had been bitten, so we may have to study the netting's integrity.

In other delightful growing news, I mentioned that our squash and corn had truly sprouted. Here is some visual proof of that! The picture is old enough now (4-5 days old) that I can honestly say the plants are bigger now.

The corn (right side of picture, back of bed) looks like wide grass as of today. I expect to see a nice squash harvest given the size of the plants. We also talked about possibly needing to transplant some of our cucumbers or carrots based on how many actually took root and have sprouted. They look rather tight.

The only sad news to report is that not a single pepper plant seems to have sprouted from seed. Humph. That's what I get for ignoring the instructions on the package, I suppose. At least I think it's the peppers that didn't take... I didn't label my rows, relying on my fuzzy memory and somewhat alphabetical planting. *shrug* We plant; we learn.

Farmers' Market
Week 2 of the local farmers' market brought more lettuce, the return of chicken wings (meh to me, but Aaron loves them), hanging baskets of flowers for the front porch, tasty bread, and more lovely soap. Our vegetable man says he will have strawberries this coming week, and I'm SO looking forward to REAL strawberries.

Weight Loss Journey (again)
With my kids growing up and my own frustration at my size in mind, I decided it was time to get myself back in whatever shape I thought I might have been pre-kids. It's time to be truly healthy - for myself, for my husband, for my kids. I want to be around for a while, and losing the extra 40 pounds I have on my frame should help with that.

My doctor thinks I'm healthy as I am. He expressed no concern about my weight because I exercise twice a week. Yes, he actually told that to me. I challenged him and informed him that I knew I was not a healthy weight. He said he knew the weight would come off as I exercised. Yeah, well the weight wasn't coming off. I had been exercising for months and remaining at the same weight. I suppose I should be glad I wasn't gaining yet more.

I knew my food intake must be out of whack, so back to Weight Watchers (WW) I went. I am not being paid to endorse them or anything like that. I'm just writing about my own journey. I was hesitant to return to WW because I refuse to eat lowfat cheese and I don't want to give up cheese, but I know that it is a lot of points for a small quantity. Points, for those unfamiliar with WW, are a way of measuring the calories, fat and fiber in a food. Based on several factors, you get a certain number of points per day plus a weekly allowance for splurging. You can earn points from exercising (i.e., exercise enough to have more food). WW basically encourages a low fat, high fiber diet with lots of vegetables.

I've been successful at losing weight with this method before, and my only "failing" at keeping the weight off came from eating without thought when pregnant. I lost weight before conceiving Caleb. I lost weight after Caleb was born by joining and following WW. I expect to lose weight again, and I do believe I can keep it off. This time around, I actually have the activity/exercise component already in place. I actually like exercising - or at least, I don't hate it and I feel better on days when I do exercise.

In my first week of WW, I lost 2.8 pounds. :) I ate full fat cheese in very limited quantities, and I discovered full fat yogurt as a dessert option. I thought I didn't like full fat yogurt, and boy was I wrong! Trader Joe's makes a lovely full fat yogurt that basically makes me feel like I'm eating fruity fluff. I ate lots more veggies, but I also noticed I ate more fruit. I don't eat as many bread/cracker/cookie type foods. Perhaps more important than what I'm eating/not eating is the fact that I actually don't miss what I'm not eating (much), and I feel really good about what I am eating.

I also decided to mix up my cardio workout by attempting to follow the Couch to 5K program described here. I had seen this program many times and kept telling myself that I am not a runner. I still don't think I'm a runner, but I think I could be.

So how does this affect what I feed my kids? After all, this is a blog about what I feed my kids. :) Well, again it's about example setting. I want my kids to see what appropriate portion sizes are. I want my kids to see what well-balanced meals really are. I want them to understand that all foods are OK, in the right amounts and frequencies. I also want them to learn that a lot of things that look and taste like food aren't purely food (high fructose corn syrup, for starters). I want my kids to see that their mom takes care of them and takes care of herself.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Great Garden Update

With my teaching responsibilities finished for another few months, I can write more about our garden. OK, yes I have to go to one more function for the teaching job, and yes I have to plan courses for the fall (once I know what I'm teaching), but this blog is about food and that means garden for the time being.

After a busy weekend of soccer, preparing for Ellie's birthday, celebrating Ellie's birthday, and finishing my year of teaching, I took the time to water our plants tonight. Much to my delight, we have new sprouts! In our back bed of squash, pumpkin and corn, there are loads of healthy looking, completely noticeable to the blind eye sprouts. This means we will have to figure out the fence for that bed now (the bean bed is fenced and needs a "lid"), but I'd much rather have that challenge than the challenge of suburbanite squirrels.

Speaking of the foul word squirrels...

Aaron and our friend Ben evicted the squirrels from our house. Yes, they had moved into a hole in the trim along the roof of our house. We heard them scampering and doing who-knows-what dance along the roof and exterior walls. I chased them off our deck, hollering in an extraordinarily ridiculous and immature fashion. Ben emptied the hole (EW!!!!) and covered it with flashing. It doesn't match, and I don't care. Interestingly, I saw fewer squirrels in our yard this weekend even with our all-you-can-eat buffet for wildlife and vermin.

I don't have pictures of the beautiful sprouts or the potentially amazing strawberry harvest yet. However, I'm again giddy with excitement of the possibility of feeding my family from our very own yard.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In Memoriam

Something destroyed my sunflower seedlings. They were healthy and green and cute as of yesterday early evening. Today I am left with 2 of the 7-8 plants.

I am cursing the garden pest who thought my garden was its buffet. Squirrel? Rabbit? I'm not sure I care.

I was upset enough to make the trip to Home Depot with Ellie and without Aaron (my trusty guide and brave companion who will talk to people when my social anxiety flares up). I approached the first knowledgeable looking staff person (a WONDERFUL guy named Jim), told him my woes and asked for garden fencing while telling him that I knew I was screwed as far as the squirrels are concerned. After all, the squirrels can scale our stucco house.

And yes Aaron (I assume you're reading this), I checked the garage for leftover fencing from last year first.

Now we have much fencing to surround our lovely raised beds and the sunflower patch AND I bought more sunflower seeds. IF Ellie entertains the idea of a nap today, I may tackle the fencing project during naptime. I'm not hopeful for that time slot and am anxiously watching the clock and the garden until Aaron returns home.

I'm sorry sunflowers for not protecting your delightful greenness.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Natick Farmers Market!

As promised, I am sharing some thoughts on the first week of our town's farmers' market. The Natick Farmers' Market is a weekly event, every Saturday from 9AM to 1PM on the town green. The number of vendors varies each week, though there are regulars as well. The market is not just a food market, in fact it used to have more non-food than food! Aaron and I go for the food, especially the produce. The kids go for the samples and for the prospect of playing in the town green ("When can I climb the gazebo?!?").

At the opening week, we saw many of our regular vendors. Scott Freitas from Freitas Farms was selling beautiful flowers, herbs, and some greenhouse squash (HUGE zucchini). We are looking forward to his vegetables in a few weeks. His produce just looks pretty and smells great. Chestnut Farms had their stand and their van full of humanely raised meats. They provide the best chicken I've had since I was a child. We are hoping to take a trip to their farm for a tour this year. I saw the fish and seafood vendors, Tangerini's (another excellent vegetable vendor), and at least 1-2 flower vendors. Several of the craft vendors were there, as were different bakery-type stands - artisan bread from Framingham, delicious quick breads from Natick, cookies, and so forth. As I write about it, it seems like there was so much and yet there was not a lot of produce since it is May.

If you're curious what we bought:
  • Rosemary bush (the very one in my flower box)
  • Zucchini for enchiladas later this week
  • Whole wheat bread
  • 4 chicken breasts (nom nom nom)
We sampled delicious dessert options and managed to resist their pull - for now. I also foresee buying more of Pam's Black Bean Salsa and her wonderful pea creation called Salstina (looks like guacamole, but less fat and just as yummy).

Besides the farmers' market, we saw a table from our local sporting goods store. The owner is the father of one of my students, so I have more than one reason for trying to support the business. We ended up walking over to the store to buy Caleb a soccer ball so he could practice.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of last year's vendors return (Natick Community Organic Farm, for example) as well as the return of the fantastic fruits and vegetables. I love that the farmers' market is part of our regular summer routine and that my kids meet people who raise and create excellent food.

Why So Many Gardening Posts

So if my blog is about feeding my family (and specifically my kids) real food, why am I writing so much about my sprouting garden?

Caleb gave one answer to this question after I transplanted the lettuce plants into our flower boxes. Suddenly the kid wants to eat lettuce ALL THE TIME. We walk out the door and "Mommy, can I have some lettuce?" We come home and "Mommy, can I pick and eat some lettuce?" Plus he keeps wanting to suck on the rosemary leaves or sprigs or whatever they are officially called. How many 4 year olds ASK for lettuce? Yes, the lettuce is new to us, and novelty explains his wanting to eat it somewhat. However, I don't think he would continue asking if the lettuce didn't taste good to him.

I write about our garden because I think it is part of what helps us to eat more real food as a family. My kids buy into the idea that vegetables are a normal part of meals because they see us raise and eat vegetables and fruit. They see us get excited about the garden, the produce at the farmers' markets, and our CSA. Our excitement is apparently contagious, and they get excited with us and decide to give vegetables and fruit a try.

I imagine that most people in the United States could raise at least herbs or maybe one of those hanging tomato things that fascinate me. Give it a try and see how your kids react!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Yet MORE Planting (and pictures)

Today brought gorgeous weather, so we took advantage of it to finish the planting of our vegetable garden. Here is an inventory of our plantings:

In the large raised bed, we have planted:
  • 6 tomato plants
  • 2 pole bean "tipis" (many seedlings)
  • 1 row each of carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, swiss chard, and broccoli
  • 6 marigolds in a feeble attempt to ward off our local nemesis - the Eastern Gray Squirrel (I think I heard them laughing at me as I placed each plant)

I'm not sure you can see the tomato cages in the corners of the picture, but this gives you an idea of what it looked like after planting and watering this afternoon. You might be able to see some of the bean plants perking up around the dark poles at either edge of the bed. The sticks between each set of bean poles marks a row of vegetables. The small bits of yellow you may see near the bean plants are the marigolds.

In the smaller raised bed, we planted:
  • 3 "hills" of corn (4? seeds in each hill)
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • pumpkins (can't remember the count at the moment)
On the side porch flower boxes, we planted:
  • A LOT of basil
  • a rosemary "bush"
  • 2 types of lettuce - a red leaf and a green leaf variety
I didn't have to zoom in to capture the basil seedlings, if I can be bold enough to call the little leaves seedlings.

OK, this box is really crowded, but the guys at the nursery told Aaron it would be fine. The green leaf lettuce is to the left (I think it's a Great Lakes variety?), and the red leaf is to the right (and I don't recall its having a unique name). The tall thing in the middle is the rosemary. I'm planning to use the lettuce for sandwiches and the rosemary for poultry and soups. Yum yum yum... I love rosemary.

We also planted sunflowers along the back fence because sunflowers make me smile. :)

In other progress, our berry bushes are still producing flowers and SOME of the flowers might be making the shift from flower to fruit. Take a look at these pictures and let me know if you think fruit is coming soon.

The bottom flower in the strawberry picture seems to be missing petals. I *think* this means that the center will be changing to a berry soon. Thoughts?

The flowers on the blueberry bushes seem less petal like and more closed... almost like tiny bulbs. They aren't blue yet (duh, you can see they are the whitish things along the fence), but maybe some more time will transform them too.

Today also was the first week for our town's farmers' market! More on that in another post. The short version is that I know CSA season is coming soon!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thoughts about Food and Time

A friend of mine from high school mentioned that she didn't feel like she had time to prepare real food for her family. I don't know what she does for a day job (outside of the motherhood job which is more than one job even with only one kid!), but I have been thinking about her comment for a while now and wondering whether I had anything to offer to her and people who feel similarly.

I don't work outside of the home full-time, but it isn't like I can spend my day cooking either. Two young kids make sure of that. :) Still I imagine I probably have more time to cook than the average full-time work outside of the home parent. On a good day, I can spend an hour cooking dinner. A good day means that Aaron is home before 6 to entertain the kids OR the kids are miraculously self-entertaining and not requiring peacekeeping forces. On other days, I have much less time to cook, but I still don't feel like I'm feeding my kids junk. I know when we feed them junk or heavily processed food, and I know it isn't every day. So how do we do it?

For starters, it really is a priority for us. I struggle with food very deeply. Like many Americans, I am currently overweight and struggle with eating the right amount of food even when the food I'm eating is good for me. When the food I'm eating is something like decadent awesome dessert, forget it! Anyway, feeding my kids healthy food is part of my battle with food. I want to show them what good food is, to prove that it is better than junk, and maybe in the process I can selfishly transform my own eating.

Since food is a priority for us, we make a point of planning at least a few dinners for each week. I plan for variety and preference. I think about what the kids typically enjoy and what I want to try or bring back for that week. We actually have a menu plan on our fridge to suggest basic meal themes for each weekday.
We don't plan our weekend meals largely because we know we have more time.

Monday - chicken
Tuesday - "Mexican" (quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, etc.)
Wednesday - pasta
Thursday - something quick like fish n chips, spinach pie from Trader Joe's, cheese sticks (not healthy but quick), etc.
Friday - fish, green veggie, rice, challah, sometimes squash kugel

Since first creating that plan, we have switched things around. Monday has been "Mexican" night many times. Thursday has been more elaborate instead of ready to eat. Sometimes we focus on clearing out leftovers from the weekend.

We make a grocery list every week. We keep it posted on the fridge to add to it when we think of things we need or want. When we get ready to shop, we think about whether we have any cravings for a meal (or if I feel like making something specific). I find that I'm more likely to cook something if I buy the ingredients. I hate wasting food, and not cooking something I bought ingredients for means I may end up letting good food go to waste!

But the time issue remains - when do I cook? How do I make that time? What do I do when there isn't time to cook?

I never cook for only one night, if I can help it. If I'm going to make the effort of cooking, enjoyable as it is for me, then I want that meal to be available more than one time. That takes care of lunches and the dinners when I don't have time or inclination to cook. Cooking more than one of something saves loads of time in the end. It doesn't take that much more time to double a recipe, and most of what we eat saves well for a few days.

I try to cook those larger dishes on the weekend when I know I have the time to cook more. I don't dedicate separate time on the weekend for it. I know some people plan a cooking day or evening to cook ahead for the week. I'm not quite so rigid.
I just make the weekend meal larger or in 2 dishes so that I know I'll have leftovers. Having chicken on the grill, green beans, mashed potatoes? OK - make double the chicken at least. Leftover chicken = sandwiches, reheatable lunches, filler for enchiladas/burritos, etc. Making up a spinach lasagna? I make two in 9x9 dishes instead of only one in a 13x9. I can choose to freeze the extra for months later or store it in the fridge for that week.

When I think about how long people are willing to wait in line at a popular restaurant for dinner, I wonder why the same people say that cooking takes so long. I welcome your thoughts on time and food!

Yes, more garden updates

Every clear day I check the garden. I count seedlings/sprouts/plants. I examine tree leaves as though I might learn something (I haven't yet). I think about whether the netting around the berry plants is adequate (unlikely but I'm hopeful).

When it rains, I look on the bright side that I don't have to water the garden. Caleb even cheerfully announces that the rain is good for all the plants. He names each one, which I find endearing. It is as though he knows each plant needs its own amount of water, sun, and nutrients to come to fruition. Maybe my crazy Hasidic story about the angels encouraging each blade of grass to grow sank in.

Anyway, today I counted bean plants, and we easily have between 20 and 25 plants, even without the one Ellie harvested. Each plant will grow into a tall vine, wrapping around a pole to form (hopefully) bean tipis/teepees. The beans we planted are appropriately named pole beans for just this reason. They produce a yellow or green bean, a la string or wax style you might have seen or even eaten. :) I'm enjoying their development.

The apple tree leaves are looking less eaten, but I don't trust it and fear for the tree. I intend to buy an organic spray called thuricide. Apparently it is some kind of bacterium which poisons the moth larvae. Fine by me. I want my tree.

The rest of the garden seems quite stable - leaves getting a bit bigger, plants looking taller, and a few more berry flowers. I can hardly wait for berries. Gardening is good for teaching me how to wait.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Planting

Late this afternoon, Caleb and I planted more vegetables. Our back raised bed now has little mounds of potential corn, zucchini, yellow squash, and pumpkins (sweet pie variety, not jack o' lantern variety).

Ellie attempted an early harvest of a bean sprout, and Caleb nearly cried. I replanted the attacked sprout and forbade Ellie near the bed for today. That lasted for 5 minutes. It may be time to bring out the deterrent fence we used last year... for Ellie and the squirrels. :)

And in sprouting news, another 1-2 sprouts of beans came up around the one pole which had no sprouts until today!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Garden Update

Caleb and I water the garden every day that it doesn't rain. Sometimes Aaron and Caleb water the garden. We have what I think is a nice hose, with an especially nice nozzle. The head of the nozzle has a lot of settings which can be fun. Anyway, last year, I helped Caleb much more with holding the hose while watering. This year he is getting much better with his aim. I still tell him when to move on to the next set of plants, but maybe next year he will do it on his own.

The sun and water are doing our plants a lot of good. Since my picture posting, some of our beans have sprouted. I planted six seeds around each of three poles. Aaron counted about 18 plants so far. The sunflower seedlings are getting a bit taller and stronger looking. I transplanted one from our raised bed to join its friends along the fence. Our strawberry plants are continuing to produce cute white flowers as well, so I'm excitedly anticipating fruit soon.

The fruit trees are my only real concern. And actually, I'm only concerned about the apple tree. We have a pest, or several pests, who have decided the leaves are tasty. I'm pretty sure the culprit is the winter moth larvae (aka "inchworms"). I'm not sure what to do about the little buggers yet, but I'm hoping to ask a nursery or even Home Depot this weekend. In the meantime, I've been watering the branches with the hope that I might disturb the critters' habitat a bit.

Kid bedtime is upon me, with Ellie clinging to my leg, so I must sign off here. More later!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Garden Pictures

My cousin has been taking and sharing pictures of her garden on her blog. She lives in The Netherlands, and it is fun for me to see what she is doing. She writes much better than I do, and she probably is a much better gardener. That said, I figured I should put some pictures of my garden online because it makes for more enjoyable blog reading.

First, Caleb helped prepare the beds. I don't have pictures of his help with getting dirt/loam from our neighbor's truck to the wheelbarrow, but I do have proof of his help.

One of the raised beds
Flower boxes for herbs:

After preparing the beds, we planted and are now seeing the early results.

Buds on the peach tree:

Buds/leaves on apple tree:

The apple tree

Sunflower seedlings

Blueberry flowers

Strawberry flowers!
Note the netting to guard against the evil vermin known as squirrels.
Also there are more flowers than these, but I liked this pic.

Basil - it's the little green dots

A view of the yard/garden.
You can't quite make out the poles for the beans, but the brown wooden thing in the center is our large raised bed. The berries are to the right of the box, along the fence. The fruit trees are to the left, peach tree in partial shade at the time of this picture.


I am SO excited! Rather than try to write well, I'm just going to share. As of noon today, we have almost 20 strawberry flowers!!

It was a bumpy morning, not too surprising since we had a bumpy night of sleep... or should I say non-sleep? Molars are evil. I want soundproof walls between my children's rooms. Anyway...

So we had this bumpy morning, complete with meltdowns over utterly ridiculous things like Ellie playing with blocks when Caleb wanted to clean up the blocks (WTF - My son wanted to clean?). After morning music class and a somewhat frustrating playground time, we returned home for lunch outside. It was in the upper 70s, maybe low 80s, at lunch time. If every day looked like this, seasonal affective disorder would never exist. ANYWAY, I finished my sandwich long before the kids were done dawdling through theirs, so I decided to take a peek at our potential garden.

The peach tree's buds are getting longer/bigger. There seems to be one small branch without leaves, but I'm not touching it for now.

The apple tree's leaves no longer look like buds, but instead look like honest to goodness leaves.

The sunflowers seem to have become seedlings. Or I have a new weed? ;)

The blueberry flowers are transforming slowly into berries (anyone else hear the song for the cartoon Transformers?).

And as mentioned, I counted almost 20 strawberry flowers!! Ellie would live on strawberries if I let her, so this is a fantastic development.

Feeling optimistic about the garden, I walked over to our side porch where I had put the flower box of basil. I was delighted and shocked to find little green "dots" in the box - the start of seedlings.

I have another flower box of dirt waiting for herb(s), but I haven't decided what I might like to grow. Thoughts? We use a lot of basil, oregano, and parsley. I've heard mixed reviews about the success of growing cilantro, and we don't use it as much (despite my loving it). I adore rosemary, but we pretty much use it only on chicken and potatoes. Maybe that's enough to justify some rosemary? Anyway, if anyone actually reads this and has a suggestion for 1-2 herbs, let me know.

Off to take some pictures!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Time to Sow

Occasionally I wonder why my kids actually will eat vegetables mostly willingly. I have lots of hypotheses, but one of those ideas is particularly timely this week.

Our own vegetable garden.

Last year, we planted tomatoes in very large containers, reused from Home Depot. Maybe they were 5 gallon size? We also planted in medium size pots some of our frequently eaten vegetables - cucumbers, peppers, beans. Along the back fence we planted strawberry plants and blueberry bushes. We also planted a bunch of basil ina flower box. We enjoyed our meager harvest, though it certainly could not sustain us on its own.

Still I considered last year a success by any measure that mattered to me. We actually enjoyed fruit/vegetable from our plants (except for blueberries - more later). We got tomatoes which were unaffected by last year's blight. We had enough basil to make several batches of pesto. We made salads and added beans to our plates. Equally important to consuming our produce was the act of planting and tending to it.

Caleb watered our garden almost daily last summer. He came to see when there were new flowers on the plants. He showed friends and neighbors our garden. He saw how strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes start out green and eventually become red. He picked beans and cucumbers to bring to our kitchen. I think he even felt a sense of pride about these actions. His curiosity about the world encouraged him to eat the thing he had helped to produce.

We just started to plant for this year. Two weekends ago, we planted basil and sunflowers. Last weekend, we planted beans. About a month ago (maybe more?), Aaron purchased 2 fruit trees - an apple and a peach tree. We are starting to see buds and leaves on them. Caleb has started his watering duties again and is delighted to see the changes to our plants. The strawberries have spread like wildfire and are standing tall. The blueberries are showing their first flowers. It's wonderful to hear him talking about and to the plants - "ooh, those flowers are going to be fruit soon!"

How could he not eat the fruit of his labors?

I'm excited for Ellie to join in the act of sowing, tending, and reaping this year. She hasn't shown interest yet, but it's hard for a 2 year old to be excited about such small changes. I think she'll be on board once she sees bigger changes to the garden.

Now that planting has begun, I imagine I'll have more to report here!