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Can't Buy Me Love
Feb 14th, 2012 by Chris

cupid1With quiver loaded, Cupid is taking careful aim, but don’t let the barrage of blush-shaded marketing prompts caress you into breaking your heart-shaped budget.  Valentine’s Day has, like so many holidays, evolved into a manufactured excuse to consume more stuff in greater quantities.  We are encouraged by smiling, hugging and kissing couples to purchase jewelry, flowers, candies and all manner of amorous enticement.  It is suggested that we solidify and reaffirm our affections by opening our wallets, yet I maintain that an expression of love need not come with a price-tag attached.

If your sweetheart requires an emailed reminder from FTD to say “I love you” and that sentiment is shared only once a year, your relationship is no bouquet of roses.  The real currency of love is sincerity, shared not on single, date-book occasions but always, and mostly without sparkling accoutrement.  True expressions of devotion are rarely found on racks of greeting cards.  Affection is displayed in showy flourishes, but love distinguishes itself steadily, in all seasons.

I’m not totally frowning on gifts—if you’re feeling flush, by all means, share the wealth.  But you don’t have to buy-buy-buy just because a cut-out Cupid offers alluring promises at 20% off.  No perfume, trinket or charm can adequately prove love (though many jewelers will swear a diamond comes close).  If you want to impress your feelings upon someone special, carefully consider what they might actually need before bringing out the bankcard.  Caring means providing what your significant other really wants without them ever requesting it.  Most importantly, remember that your sentiments are more sincere when accompanied by acts of kindness.

Of course, Lunchsense suggests…lunch.  Perhaps a Chicken Caesar Salad, wedge of French bread, orange slices and chocolate truffle.  Make it any day, include a sweet note and you’re positively proving how much someone is loved.

Foodie Tuesday: Turkey stock
Jan 24th, 2012 by Nancy

Turkey soup made from homemade stock.  Mm good.Some days I just can’t do much.

‘Worked all weekend at the Good Earth Show (it was wonderful!) but I’m still trying to get my energy back.

Could it be that my achy, snuffly, feverish daughter has passed her bug over to me? ‘Hope not…time will tell.  In the meantime, I need to power down, take it easy, recoup for a few days. But I’ve got the van to unload, inventory to check in, receipts to tally…and a turkey carcass in my fridge to deal with.

The turkey will be the easy part.  While I tackle the rest of the post-show chores, I’ll make stock.

If you haven’t tried it before, I’d like to nudge you – gently – to try making your own stock.  Really, it’s about as difficult as sorting, washing, drying and folding a load of laundry – you’ve pulled that off a few times, yes? – and the results are so very worth it.  It’s the gastronomic equivalent of throwing a blanket over your shoulders, and given the season and our precarious health conditions this week it’s exactly what we all need.

You may ask, “what are you doing with a turkey in the fridge in January?” A fair question.  Turkey is a cheap, healthy protein source, and if you have a large enough freezer I highly recommend buying a couple turkeys in November and cooking them up over the winter.

TURKEY STOCK

When you cook a turkey, toss the parts that you might not use – neck and giblets – in a container, and freeze them.  When you have finished enjoying all the cooked parts of the bird, throw all the remaining stuff – bones, skin, whatever – in the container as well.  NOTE WELL that you have raw and cooked pieces in this container.  They will all eventually be cooked together, but until they land in the stockpot treat them as raw meat.

I usually wait to make stock until I have at least five or six pounds of parts and pieces.  A single big turkey will provide this; if you’d like to make chicken stock this recipe will work nicely, but you may have to collect two or three chickens’ worth of goods to have enough to go to the trouble of making stock.  However, if you don’t have a really big stock pot, this will all work fine with just a couple pounds of bird.

1. Weigh the frozen turkey pieces to the nearest pound or so, and put them (still frozen is fine) into the biggest pot in the house. Place the pot on the stove now; once everything is in the pot it will be pretty heavy!

2. For every POUND of parts and pieces, add:

  • 1/2 a carrot, broken in half (no need to peel it)
  • 1/2 a celery stalk, broken in half (leaves are fine, in fact preferred; old-ish stalks are fine, and stock is a great way to make use of the inner parts of the celery bunch)
  • 1/2 an onion, cut in half again
  • a peeled garlic clove (no need to cut it)
  • 2-3 whole peppercorns
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 t oregano & thyme, dried (double or triple that if using fresh)
  • 1 quart of water

3. Turn on the heat, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, partially cover the pot with a lid, and leave it alone for an hour or two. If you are nosy you can give it a stir occasionally.  Your house will smell heavenly.

4. If you wish to add parsley or basil, they are wonderful in stock but only need to be added in the last half hour or so.

5. I usually leave mine to simmer for about 3 hours, but there’s no rocket science to stock.  The only guideline I’d offer is that it will need at least an hour.

6. When you think you’re ready to deal with the next step (after 1 to 3 hours of simmering), turn off the heat.  Set a colander over the next-largest pot in the house, and place it next to the stockpot.  Start moving everything solid – meat, bones, vegetables – with tongs or a large slotted spoon into the colander and let drain for a minute.  The stuff in the colander, once it’s drained, can be pitched – I double bag these leftovers before they go in the garbage.  It will be hot, messy work, but will make the stock pot a little easier to handle.  Keep doing this until you have removed and drained a significant portion of the solids.

7. Now you’re ready to salt the stock.  Starting by adding about a 1/2 t salt for every quart of water, stir, and taste the results.  Keep going until you’re satisfied, but don’t overdo it – it’s easier to under-salt now and add more when you’re ready to use the stock.

8. Finally, drain the rest of the stock through the colander to remove the last of the solids, working in batches if necessary.

What you will now have is pot full of liquid gold.  Divide it into freezer containers, label it, and stash it in the freezer, where it will last for at least 6 months.  That which you refrigerate should be used within a week.   I freeze pints and quarts, mostly, though some recommend freezing small quantities in ice cube trays to have them handy to chuck into sauces as needed.  I’ve just never had occasion to use less than a half a cup at a time, and even then I don’t mind having extra stock in the fridge for a couple days.  It makes a perfect rainy-day, low-energy light snack on days…just like today.

The absolutely true story of a nine year old and his lunch
Sep 21st, 2011 by Nancy

iStock_000013297428SmallI scored big on the lunch-making front today.

I was prepping bits and pieces of lunch for my nine year old as I passed through the kitchen – mixing leftover turkey soup from last night with the last half cup of noodles from a few days back, getting it started in the microwave, locating the wide mouth thermos in the cabinet, that sort of thing.  I checked with Evan about the rest of the lunch as we passed in the hall:

“Do you want watermelon?”

“Nah.  Do we have any peaches?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll check.  Plums…and yes! A peach.”

“Yay! I’ll have peach. And carrots too.”

In the medium (and large) lunchbox, the thermos fits nicely to one side, which leaves room for three side-dish-sized containers, or two containers and a drink.  I don’t put the ice pack in the lunchbox when I use the thermos – they sort of compete with each other, leaving us with cool-ish soup and warm-ish milk by lunchtime – so I don’t pack milk on thermos days either, and I let Evan either buy milk at school or carry water.

I chopped up a carrot (Insider’s tip: the most nutritional value is in the peel, so cut the carrot into many thin slivers and they won’t notice you didn’t peel it)(better yet, for boys chop them into arrowheads – they love that) and put it and half a peach into two little containers. I popped these into the lunchbox next to the thermos, and tossed in one of the unmatched spoons from the silverware drawer that I really hope he loses at school someday.

Evan noticed the empty spot and said, “hey, there’s room for one more thing.”

I never pack a treat in my kids’ lunches.  Have you ever emptied out a lunchbox at the end of the day to find that your child didn’t eat anything…except the cookie?  And you wondered why that kid was cranky and whiny after school?  Our house rule is this: eat your lunch, and you can have a treat when you get home.

So I was surprised and a little horrified to hear these words coming out of my mouth: “How ’bout a cookie?”

I guess I figured that homemade turkey soup, a peach and carrots was certainly a good enough meal to justify a cookie, but I was breaking my own house rule which every parent knows is a sure-fire way to lose all pretense of authority forever and ever.  I waited for Evan’s response.

“Okay!”

No surprise there.  But then the kicker:

“Oh, but wait, there’s no water.”

Trying really hard to mask my shock, I said as casually as I could muster, “You want water instead of a cookie???”

MAMA’S BIG WIN FOR THE DAY: “Yeah, water.”

And he trotted out the door to get his bike out of the garage.

HALLELUJAH! AND AMEN!

Revisting Our R's
Apr 28th, 2011 by Chris
Photo uploaded to stock.xchng by hortongrou.

Photo uploaded to stock.xchng by hortongrou.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/because three/is a magic number.”

Jack Johnson’s “Schoolhouse Rock” mash-up underlines an important point about the New Age “R’s”—there are three!  While tremendous strides are being made in the areas of recycling AND reusing, not enough people are making a concentrated effort to reduce the amount of waste they create.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the recovery rate for solid municipal waste (SMW = trash) through recycling (and composting) was up to 32% in 2005, a significant increase over the less than 10% recycled in 1980.  However, the creation of SMW has risen 60% since 1980.

The EPA estimates that each American still makes about 4.5 pounds of waste each day (most in the world), and that’s just not getting the job done.  No matter how much we recycle (or reuse), if we don’t reduce the amount of trash we’re producing, we’re going to rubbish our green Earth.

It’s true that we live in an age of increased environmental awareness, and more and more people are “going Green,” but these changes continue to occur primarily within our “comfort zone.”  It’s easier than ever before to recycle, and buzz-words like “vintage,” “antique” and “eBay” have given rise to an entire thrifting culture, but it takes a real effort and some humility to learn to make do with less.

Consider these facts:

  • Every year Americans use about one billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste (Clean Air Council).
  • In 2008, paper and cardboard accounted for 31% of municipal waste; plastics were 12% (EPA).
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day an extra million tons of waste is generated each week (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 2009).
  • Somewhere between 827,000 and 1.3 million PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil; and nearly 77% of them ended up in landfills (U.S. Accountability Office).
  • 30,900 tons of food scraps were discarded in 2008, or 18.6% of all materials going to landfills or incinerators (EPA).

In spite of our idiosyncrasies, we generally move in large groups over the smoothest path, and collectively share the suffering or the success of the passage.  I’m one to think that conditioning plays a larger role than nature in determining how we act, and we’re not born with some fundamental need to wreak havoc on Earth’s ecosystems.  On the contrary, our “survival instinct” should preclude irreparably trashing the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.  It’s obsolete consumerism that has conditioned us into irresponsible behavior patterns.  We continue to celebrate excess in the United States like it was 1955, and we still aspire to have more.

It has been standard corporate policy in our country to sell more stuff, therefore making more stuff and consequently convincing us to buy even more stuff.  We simply need to change our thinking.  We have to shift from “wanting more” to “needing less.”  We must favor products and industries designed to reduce waste.  And, we should demand responsibility from the companies we support.

Any change in our national psychology has to start with the adults, but must really take hold with our kids.  Education is always money in the bank, so we should rightfully start with the 3 R’s and reiterate the order of preference—“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!”

Most kids already have the hang of the recycling bit, and my own boys frequently trade toys with neighbors and even recently conducted a used toy sale (which netted an amazing $125).  They also make good use of second-hand clothes.  BUT, they still want the latest and greatest (evil commercials) a lot of the time, and as loving parents we frequently try to give it to them, caving in to “everyone else has one” pleas.

It’s important to remember “Reduce” comes first for a reason.  Admittedly, it takes a decided change in attitude to shrink our super-sized appetites, and it’s not easy to get by with less, but it is possible.

Lunchsense is committed to reducing food and packaging waste by providing an Earth-friendly, reusable lunch kit that puts the “R’s” in their proper place.  Recycling can’t do the job alone.  Reduce and reuse first, “because three is a magic number.”

Lunches My Kids Will Actually Eat
Oct 13th, 2010 by Chris

tuna-pitaEvery once in a while, we here at Lunchsense like to do, yeah, you guessed it—lunch.  Many adults hurry through, or dismiss it altogether; but, for our children, this noontime meal remains a treasured respite from the rigors of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Most will tell you they really look forward to it.  Visit your school’s cafeteria sometime—you’ll likely be greeted by a swirling jangle of sliding, metal chair-legs, eager, chirping voices and a heart-quickening buzz of unleashed energy.  You’ll also find a ton of wasted food.  This is often the result of over-packing, but it’s just as frequently caused by fickle tastes or “bor-ing” options.

Many kids love lunch-time, but the food—not so much.  “Come on, Dad—ham and cheese again?”

In an effort to make sure my kids are properly refueled for their afternoon lessons, I try to mix-up the menu a little bit, and I enlist their help in deciding what’s sure to get eaten.  Here are a few of their (somewhat) surprising favorites:

  • Hummus, cheddar and fresh spinach wrap.  I didn’t discover hummus until I was in my early 30’s, and now it’s one of my favorite snacks.  My kids love it in wraps and with tortilla chips.  It’s a solid source of dietary fiber, folate and some essential minerals.  It’s also very low in cholesterol.  The nutritional value will increase significantly if you find a good recipe and make your own rather than purchasing the pre-made kind.  Be sure to read the label if you opt for store-bought.  I use whole-grain wraps, of course; and ever since I showed my sons some old Popeye cartoons, they’ve found spinach (fresh, not canned) more appealing.
  • I call it a “Yunch.”  It’s simply a cup of low-fat yogurt, granola and some mixed berries.  What’s not to like?  Works great for quick breakfasts too.  Protein, vitamin B-12 and riboflavin are among the vital nutrients found in yogurt.  Try to use “plain” and be careful of sugar content when selecting a brand-name.  The berries (one of the world’s healthiest foods) and maybe a smidge of honey should make it plenty sweet.
  • Tuna salad pita pocket.  This traditional standard gets the job done.  Some kids have an aversion to it (probably the smell of a freshly opened can), but my boys really enjoy my own special recipe.  I go light on the celery and add a couple of tablespoons of sweet pickle relish.  I use fresh chopped greens and a whole-grain pita when assembling.  There are healthier choices, but white albacore tuna is another great source of protein that is low in saturated fat.  It also packs a nice B-6/B-12 punch with a decent niacin kicker.  You should use your mayonnaise cautiously to limit the damage, and don’t add any salt.
  • Tofu pâté.  If you haven’t tried it, your kids probably haven’t either, and you’re all missing out.  Tofu, while nutritious, gets a bad rap from the meat-eaters of the world; and truthfully, it is a poor facsimile of meat (Tofurkey?!?), but the pâté tastes really good.  I buy the packaged, “Toby’s Mild Jalapeno” variety because they introduced me to the stuff.  It’s like a combination dip/spread that can be scooped up with tortilla chips, or spooned into pitas and wraps.  It also works great with a bagel, instead of cream cheese.  My sons gobble it up however it’s served.  The tofu itself is mostly flavorless, adhering to the spices used in preparation.  I’d recommend sampling some different combinations.  It may not taste anything like meat, but if used properly, tofu can offer an excellent, alternative protein.
  • “Ants on a log” and an apple.  I’m talking about celery sticks smeared with peanut butter and dotted with raisins (or craisins), of course.  It’s healthy, simple and fun—what could be better?  Unassuming celery does its nutritional job with plenty of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium and some manganese for good measure.  The apple and raisins provide another vitamin boost and additional carbohydrates.  The peanut butter is the protein, but check the sugar and sodium contents; and utilize portion control to limit the unavoidable intake of fat.  Note also that if your kiddos take peanut butter in their lunches, they should steer towards the “peanut” tables in the cafeteria, and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

It’s easy to take a less involved approach to your kids’ lunches.  The creative energy isn’t always there, and neither is the time.  But, letting younglings fend entirely for themselves in the lunch-room can be nutritionally dangerous, and it misses a great opportunity to model healthier living.  They really need the midday nourishment, so put your heads together—find out what they like, teach them what’s good for them, and make sure their lunches are about more than just socializing.  The quicker you can get your kids eating right, the sooner they’ll start developing healthy habits that will last their whole (long) lives.  And, that’s just using your Lunchsense.

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