Friday, September 2, 2011

Let Your City Kids Taste Farm Life

We've all heard the sad stories about when an adult asks a city (or suburban, for that matter) kid, "Where does our food come from?", and the child answers, "From the store." What do yours say when you ask them? Mine four year old answered, "I don't know. Here?" (we were at a restaurant when I asked). Well, whether yours are well educated on the subject of farm to fork or don't know the difference between a farm and a food store, chances are they have never had the chance to milk a goat...but now they can!

Angelic Organics is my favorite farm ever because they have been supplying our seasonal vegetables since before my children were ever a thought. They also have a wonderful non-profit on the farm called the Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC) who has some really amazing and completely affordable children's programming. Located in Caledonia, IL, AOLC is just under 2 hours away from Chicago. Just close enough for a day trip. Their next event for ages 3-5, Preschoolers! Fresh Food From the Farm is coming up on Sept 9th and includes picking "fresh carrots, gathering eggs from the chickens and trying their hand at milking a goat!" can also try hardboiled eggs from the farm and make a salad snack straight from the field. Now not many preschoolers I know like to eat salad, but most do like to try things that they have a hand in making, and in this case not only will they make it, but they likely get to harvest it and see the ingredients while they are still connected to the soil. How cool is that? I'll bet that increases the chances of their eating salad, right? Your children will learn and expand their palette without even realizing it's happening.

To see a farm in action is an amazingly rich learning experience. For children and people of all ages who have ever wondered how food gets to their plates, nothing is as awe-inspiring as seeing rows upon rows of carrots, lettuces, kale, radishes, etc. This is the food that should be feeding America. It makes me so proud to eat the produce that comes straight from a farm here in IL. It tastes so fresh, flavorful and delicious! So register to take your kids up to Caledonia and visit AOLC this weekend (space is limited), or click here to see if there's another event that better fits your calendar.
(This photo to the right is of hundreds of onion seedlings on a flatbed trailer at AO. The farm now offers extra seedlings free to shareholders on a first-come, first- served basis.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Still Not Sold on Organics?

Since I've started this blog, many people have asked me about my choice to buy organic. Whether in relation to meat, dairy, veggies, and especially grains, I hear "but buying organic is more expensive..." or "I feel like hormone free is more important than organic" or "I can't even tell the difference between conventional and organic". I used to say these things too.
To the first, I think most people could afford to buy organic for at least a portion of their grocery list. It's just a matter of priorities. Years ago people would have (and did...and some still do) say they could not afford to buy pre-sliced/shredded cheese vs. a block to cut or shred at home. Or too expensive to buy soup that can just be heated in the microwave and drank from the cup it came in vs. making it at home on the stove. Or that they couldn't afford cable, or cell phones, or Starbucks. You get my point.
To the second most heard "argument", I would say if you feel that way you should watch Food Inc. Or at least read the link below siting the Organic Consumer Association's top 10 reasons to buy organic. I'm pretty sure they cover the myriad important reasons to go organic other than just to avoid hormones. If avoiding the hormones in dairy and meat products is your main agenda, think of it like this - buying hormone-free milk costs a little more than conventional milk and reaches your goal, but spending just a little more to buy the organic milk also assures you that your milk contains no antibiotics, pesticide residue, no GMO's, etc.
The third statement can be answered two ways depending on my mood. The nice answer is to explain my experience with my CSA, Angelic Organics and my meat share through Cedar Valley Farms. The vegetables I get from AO beat the grocery store (even organic) counterpart hands down every time. I think that the taste of produce has more to do with how fresh it is and when it was picked than whether or not it is organic. Our meat is great from our MS too, and I think that has to do with the fact that the animals are allowed to graze and peck rather than being force-fed corn products all day long. Let me know if you ever want to set up a taste test! And if I'm feeling annoyed at the end of a day I might just say, "If you can't tell the difference, then you should buy organic just to get/give all the other benefits!"

And don't get me wrong. I don't buy 100% organic. But I do when I can and where I feel it makes the most difference. So if you still aren't sure why eating/buying organic is important and worth it, read this article by Ronnie Cummins. It is a pretty detailed and educated view on the 10 best reasons why you should vote with your dollars and buy organic!

Beyond Frankenfoods and Toxics: OCA's Ten Reasons to Buy Organic

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eco, Ovo, Fun!

If you've ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you know it's a feast for the senses. Amazing performances, fantastical costumes, and theatrical music. And now Cirque du Soleil has come to Chicago once again with a new show called Ovo.

Ovo means "egg" in Portuguese and the show features the world of insects living under the radar as we humans go about our business. Cirque says this about Ovo, "The show plunges the audience into the hidden universe alive at our feet; an ecosystem teeming with life and unseen beings - insects that work, eat, crawl, flutter, feast, fight and court among each other in an ongoing explosion of energy and movement." The cast of Ovo is made up of 53 performing artists from 13 countries, comprising jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and more. The story is about a lonely Ladybug who is excited by the possibilities of change when a Foreigner arrives with an egg.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum teamed up with Cirque du Soleil for a free mini-performance recently and it was super fun! The Firefly awed the crowd of children and adults with his diabolos, as he spun and juggled as many as 4 at a time, never missing a beat! The Nature Museum's entrance offered the perfect performance space with it's vaulted ceiling which allowed the diabolos to fly high into the air. The Firefly, Ladybug and Master Flipo were all there to mingle with the audience afterward in full costume. It was really cool to see them up close, giving high fives, fist bumps and waves to the kids. Master Flipo even interacted with my son making a lovely "zurburt" sound when we poked his tummy... The Nature Museum also had several cool insects, bugs and arachnid on display where the audience could get a close-up view. My son particularly liked the walking stick!

Here are the characters in their awesome costumes and makeup.

Ladybug saying "hello" to some little cuties.

Firefly ready to give my little man a high five.

Master Flipo miming, "poke me!"

And then my son and some of the other children got to feel his "feelers" as he bent over to show them his costume up close.

I have not seen the show yet, but my husband and I are planning to get tickets and take the children. They say that some parts are loud and others are dark, but parents are the best judge of what their children can handle, in my opinion. For instance, my daughter is 2 and she loved watching from a distance, but she was not interested in talking to or touching the characters and clung to me as her older bro happily interacted with them.

Overall, I thought the theme of Ovo was a great one for kids. They bring a story to life while touching on topics like the complexity of ecosystems, respecting all creatures great and small, and love & friendship. Sounds like a cool experience to me! I'll update this post if we are able to get tix and go to the show! If you want to experience it for yourself, here is a link to the Ovo site.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recycled Castle Craft!

For my daughter's recent 2nd birthday party, we decided to keep it small. We invited only a few friends and planned it for when the "big kids" would be busy elsewhere so the little ones would have some nice relaxing tea-party action without being bowled over by the lego construction fleet. A small party meant less stress, less preparation and fewer spills...but it also meant less cake.

Baking a big cake seemed a bit like overkill for a party with 4 little 2 year old girls, so I decided to bake cupcakes. But even if I included one for each mom too, 8 cupcakes sitting on a plate seemed kind of lame. Well, since I wasn't running ragged the night before getting 'everything' ready, I decided to try to make the idea that had been forming in my head over the last few weeks materialize. As I set about with paper, tape and a bunch of recyclables on my living room floor, my husband asked, "what are you doing?", to which I replied as if it were the most obvious thing, "ummm, making a castle!". Well, when all was said and done, here's how it turned out.


To make one of your own, you can modify and embellish as you see fit, but this was my low-key method:

Raid the recycling bin and collect...
Paper towel and toilet paper tubes, which are the perfect size for supporting cupcakes!
Tissue boxes. I used the cube shaped ones, but either kind of even a combination will work.
Paper. I used construction paper since I wanted a color-block look, but you could use any paper that goes with your theme. Wrapping paper would be perfect too.

Make the flags and windows.
Cut as many little tissue paper or foil triangles as you have cupcakes and tape the narrow side to one end of a toothpick. It's OK if they are a bit wrinkled since that adds to the effect!
You can also cut out little squares or arch-shaped pieces of paper and glue or tape them to the towers and boxes as small windows.

Start assembling.
I covered the tubes and tissue boxes with the paper and taped the seams. Next I arranged them on a large tray until I liked how they looked, and then used the tape again to tape the tubes to the boxes and a little more tape to affix them to the tray.

Add your cupcakes!
I frosted the cupcakes and then just sat them on the top of each tube. But after trying to add sprinkles to the cupcakes while in place, I recommend you place them after frosting and decorating them! I also learned it's best to put the castle where you'd like to display it before adding the cupcakes to the castle. Then all that's left to do is add your candles and sing the Birthday Song...and eat!

And here's my little princess happy as can be with her cupcake castle. :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Scrambled Eggs: Report Spotlights "Systemic" Abuses in Organic Egg Production

Here's another report on how the label on your "organic" eggs means no more than that the chickens that laid them were fed organic feed. The way these big-ag businesses treat living chickens like a blatant commodity and disregard our health and safety is just unbelievable. The little pictures of barns and silos on the packages are misleading visuals since the vast majority of eggs (conventional and organic) are all laid by hens stuffed wall to wall, and in some cases floor to ceiling, in industrial henhouses. These dark, overcrowded buildings with air that reeks of ammonia, floors that are covered with feces, and next to no access to the outdoors (a stipulation for organic labeling that these big egg companies skirt, taking advantage of the semantics instead of adhering to the values and idea of ORGANIC) are the norm.

Scrambled Eggs: Report Spotlights "Systemic" Abuses in Organic Egg Production

I can attest to the fact that the eggs I receive from my "meat share" CSA (Cedar Valley Farms) are far superior to the "organic, omega-3, free-range" eggs I buy at the grocery in between deliveries. The yolks are a much more vibrant yellow-orange, the whites are more viscous, they cook up fluffier, and in general taste better! I'm always reminded of this when I crack the first "mainstream organic" egg from the carton and see the pallor of it's light-yellow yolk and the watery white spread way out onto the pan. "Oh," I think to myself, "these aren't from the farm." Well, they aren't from a farm that lets the birds walk around pecking at insects and seeds on the grass and soil in the sun. That's for sure.

Yet another reminder of why it's important to buy eggs at from a CSA or at your local farmers' market! These eggs taste better, are actually fresh and they come from hens that live like hens are supposed to. In the process you're supporting your local economy, keeping family farms in business, keeping your family healthy and well-fed, and you're voting with your dollars. And every dollar counts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joining the Army

Chances are you or someone you know has had breast cancer. Chances are, you have worn a pink ribbon, donated money, participated in a walk or otherwise supported breast cancer research. Dr.s and experts have been searching for a cure for decades and though treatment has come a long way, the stats are still grim. Currently, 1 in 8 women can expect to get breast cancer in their lifetime, and 1 in 35 will die from it.

But at a recent event I attended, my ears perked up when I heard a about a hopeful new perspective: looking for the cause, not just the cure. That makes so much sense, right? The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation has teamed up with Avon to form the Army of Women, and in their quest to sign up 1 million women to volunteer for research studies, they say this, "Breast cancer has been around for decades, but it does not have to be our future. We can be the generation that eliminates breast cancer by identifying what causes this disease and stopping it before it starts. Sign up for your sister, mother, daughter, granddaughter, best friend, and the woman you met last week."

I signed up right when I got home. There's really no reason not to, right? I know plenty of women who have battled with this disease. The mother of one of my closest friends passed away after a long battle with breast cancer so this cause is close to my heart. Her memory is still alive and well...but I feel I owe it to her, to my friend, to myself, my daughter and women everywhere to do what I can to help eradicate breast cancer.

So far I have not qualified for any of the studies, but I'm looking forward to being able to participate at some point. It might be just a survey, or it might be a full-blown actual physical study. You can view all the open studies here to see if you fit the profiles and would like to participate in any of them. That's the wonderful thing about the Army of Women - you are in the driver's seat so you don't have to do anything you don't want to. You can participate at your discretion whenever you fit the guidelines of a study. The Army of Women is looking for women all women 18 and over to help fill and complete these studies! So if you are over 18 (and yes, even men can join the Army of Women! Ha!) join here and maybe you can do your part to help find the cause!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shopping and Cooking, Chef-Style!

Every week, many of us grocery shop and then come home and over the next few days or so, cook or otherwise prepare and eat the food we bought. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But last week I did just that and it was great fun with a delicious outcome and lots learned in the process. What was different? Well, I did it all with fabulous zero-waste chef and food guru, Greg Christian.

Christian is well known in the culinary world for his pioneering initiative in sustainability as it pertains to food. He is a nationally recognized for developing the Organic School Project whose focus is to get healthy food choices into schools and help educate children on related topics. I'm personally very interested in the OSP, and you should be too! Greg also ran a zero-waste catering company for several years and is now doing consulting work for restaurants who want to learn how to practice sustainability or move toward zero-waste goals.
Zero-waste means that Zullo's, where Greg is currently consulting, doesn't have garbage service. They don't throw anything away. Everything is either cooked, composted, recycled, or otherwise reused. Imagine the impact on our landfills and out world if we all followed these practices! Other than being very careful about their inputs (not buying things with any or excess packaging for starters) they use re-purposed containers to hold re-useable items like rubberbands. It seems so obvious once you see it yourself, but it's really quite ingenious.

What was originally planned to be a trip to Zullo's kitchen to watch him cook, turned into a shopping trip to buy our ingredients on Wednesday and then making a wonderful soup for my family under his direction on Friday. We headed out to Chicago's famed Green City Market Wednesday morning to get our veggies, and as we walked through the grass, Greg invited me to try something new. Instead of having a list in mind and shopping with that agenda, he said you can learn how to ask what it is you need. Not what you want, or what a certain recipe calls for, but to just look and relax and see if anything jumps out at you. You might even want to hold it to see how it feels. It's the way that he shops and knowing what people need is a gift that he has, but Greg says you can hone that sense and your body and mind will benefit from it.
So I walked around looking at beautiful stacks of colorful, fresh organic produce with that in mind. I'm sure I don't have this gift, or have not yet discovered it if it's there, but what jumped out at me first were these unbelievably sweet, sparkling-red, juicy strawberries. They were so ready to eat their heady aroma hit me before I even reached the table! They were grown by Dave at Leaning Shed Farm, and he was a joy to talk with and get to know. Greg got some too, and boy did my whole family gobble them was that something we needed? hmmm, guess so!
Along the way, Greg introduced me to several of the farmers and friends working the market booths. It was fun to talk to them and hear their stories...of surviving the latest tornado, retiring from a 9-5 gig just to work even longer hours doing what they love, and how they have found such benefit from connecting with the earth and eating such fresh fare. Here's a little video clip of our wheat grass shots being juiced (Thanks again, Greg!). What a great way to start a day. Pow!

At the same farm booth where we got our wheat grass, some dark purple leaves seemed to be calling my name. Maybe I needed them? What were they? Amaranth, I was told. They looked interesting and after we stood with them for a few seconds, Greg got an idea...why not make some soup with the amaranth for my family? How cool! Yes, let's do that! So I bought some amaranth, 2 kinds of young onions, baby swiss chard and some rainbow chard. Add to that black beans Greg gets from a fantastic farm and my chicken broth, and we had the makings of the tasty soup Greg would teach me to make on Friday morning...more on that later.

Our time at Green City Market ended at Zullo's tent, where I ate the most delicious lamb hand pie. It just melted in my mouth, and the pastry was light and tasty. They also offer up pizzas and focaccia, perfect for a hearty snack or a light lunch, and easy to walk around with. And of course good for any time of day, you must try their Zeppole - Zullo's version of apple cider doughnuts that simply are amazing. Served in a paper and newspaper cone, they are easy to pop into your mouth as you walk the market (and then you can recycle the cone!). Maybe a little TOO easy! Yum! You can find the up-to-date list of Zullo's markets here. My family likes to frequent them at the Logan Square Farmer's Mkt. Definitely check them out!

Fast forward 2 days...I met Greg at Zullo's kitchen super early
(as in, I was there at the early time that I usually unwillingly roll out of bed to tend to one of my small children. These guys don't sleep in!) and ready to work. I was set up at the sink and I washed all my produce and laid it out to await instruction. Doesn't that look beautiful? The dark purple leaves at the top right are the amaranth. Onions (white and "red") on the left and the rainbow and swiss chard on the right. Greg showed me how to cut and chop my bounty as we warmed up the chicken broth with the black beans. The cooking experience included a knife sharpening lesson and lots of info from how to make marinara to how to dry herbs, and the time flew by. I went home with enough delicious soup to feed my family 2 dinners and still had some left over for a lunch!. Here it is served up at home with some crusty homemade olive oil bread. I highly recommend you try it! The flavors are surprisingly complex for being made with such simple ingredients, and it's chock-full of healthy vitamins and minerals. I'll activate this link when my in-depth article covering as much of Greg's knowledge as I could absorb is published on, including the recipe for our soup: "Black Bean Soup with Stuff"! Don't forget to check it out (it will probably run by the end of the month). You can substitute ingredients depending on what you find at the market, and depending on what you feel YOU NEED. Now get cookin'!