Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chickpeas and Spinach Stew

'Tis the season for spinach recipes! I picked up a beautiful two pound bag of big green leaves at the Farmer's Market this weekend. It was gone before we knew it. Spinach is so incredibly versatile and nutritious, and it's one of the easiest foods for us to get local and organic. I received this recipe in my "Green Guide" e-mail yesterday and decided to give it a try. This is modified only very slightly. This is a quick and easy dinner that plates nicely and is very satisfying. Made with bulk rice and beans, it's also inexpensive--especially if you don't burn the first batch of rice. Not that I did.

Chickpeas and Spinach Stew

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 cup veggie stock
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
12 ounces fresh greenmarket spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups cooked brown rice
Plain Yogurt

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and spices and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Cover pot, lower heat and simmer 7 to 10 minutes. Add chicken stock, canned chickpeas and tomato; cover and cook 10 minutes at medium-high. Add spinach, cover for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve over brown rice, Top with a dollop of plain yogurt, and a sprinkle of spices.

I originally followed the directions to cook for another 10 minutes after adding the spinach, but I think it would have been nicer to let the spinach retain more of it's natural brightness and bite. The chicklets ate a modified version--brown rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and cumin. They had baby carrots on the side for their veggie. It was a big hit. Leftovers were great too. Enjoy cooking local as more variety becomes available!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Early Spring in the Garden

Now that Spring seems to have taken hold over the late spurts of Winter, the Gardens are starting to take off. It's so nice to see things popping in to bloom. I'm pleased to say that as of right now, it looks like we may have lost only a few plants. My perrenial snapdragons have yet to bud out, but I haven't given up hope yet. The clematis we put in last year had a rough year and I don't think it will return, and it's too early to look for hostas yet. Our Wood Poppies are probably my favorite native that we have. They live in our partial shade bed, liking wooded edges in their normal habitat. They've done so well over the past few years. I shared a picture earlier this week, but here's a better shot of the plant, now that the flowers aren't bent over.

Our cushion spurge (Euphorbia epithymoides) is some of the earliest color in the garden every year. It's bright yellow foliage belies the fact that it's flowers are actually tiny little things set in the middle of the riot of color. (They are related to the pointsetia, which has the same characteristic.) Our flower lady recommended these when I first had the garden set 3 years ago and was looking for anything I could put in in the earliest days of April. I haven't been dissapointed. As it fills in, it will create a mass (cushion) of these yellow "flowers", that really create a nice chunk of bright color in the early garden.

The last of my favorites to emerge is our Indigo. This is actually a lovely hybrid of two natives, and is known as Baptisia Purple Smoke. I sought our it's lovely shoots under their blanket of wood chips, and was finally rewarded with the lovely purple spears. As they open up their leaves, they lose some of the dramatic color, so these shoots are one of my favorite stages of the plant. They're quite pretty after they go to bloom, and it looks like they're happy where they are--lots more shoots this year than last. Beo loves it too because it's a nitrogen fixer, so every year we add a few more indigo to our gardens.

Last fall we finally decided to plant bulbs, and we've been rewarded with some spots of color as most everything else fils out it's leaves. This narcissus just opened up today to contrast it's yellow cousins. I look forward to continuing to share as our gardens grow and new things come in to bloom.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Dinner 3

Last night we had our third annual Earth Dinner. These dinners, founded by Organic Valley, are a wonderful way to celebrate local, organic, and sustainable foods. It's always fun to try to plan a local dinner in April here in Wisconsin. Some years I wish Earth Dinner would wait until July when things are in full swing! As I've come to learn though, there's more available than one might think. I started yesterday with a rare solo trip to the Madison Farmer's Market. It was the first day of the open air market this year. What a wonderful thing! It was great to see some of our favorite vendors back, and our winter vendors with a much bigger selection. I got lettuce, spinach, radishes, potatoes, beautiful flowers (hyacinths, daffodils, freesia), honey and grass-fed-goat organic feta.

Our menu: Vegetable Lasanga with Farmer's Market Spinach Organic Valley cottage cheese and eggs, homemade pasta; Tossed Salad (all local); Rolls made with Organic Valley eggs; Roasted Heirloom Baby Potatoes from the Farmer's Market; Pear-Applesauce, brought by our neighbors and made from their own pears; Chocolate Chip Cookies brought by our neighbors made with their own maple syrup; wine brought by our friends, from a local winery; pasta salad brought by our friends. I also made a key-lime cheesecake with Organic Valley cream cheese and eggs. The limes came from my fruit angel, so they were quite local for her. It was a sumptous feast (that somehow managed to get eaten amidst the 6 children under 5 that were chaos personified and a complete joy)!

We celebrated last night with two families new to our lives, one from our church and another from just around the corner. It was great to celebrate this event together. I put out our Earth Day cards (pictured above) but the conversation was so lively, they went untouched. I highly recommend these dinners for a way to bring neighbors or friends together in a celebration of local food.

Our Earth Day celebration continued at church this morning, with a lovely service and the planting of a native garden by the children. What a wonderful way to celebrate the Earth! What's more, it was 80 degrees out! That made it especially nice to be outside enjoying our environment. For my favorite Earth Day tips, check out last year's Earth Day post. Thanks to all of you for the things you do to walk more lightly on our planet. Happy Earth Day!

100th Post

Happy Earth Day! This is my 100th post. Yep, it is. I thought I'd show you a number of different things for this momentous occasion. Here's some things growing in our yard. Here's our great groundcover:
Here's one of the native plants in our shade garden: Beo's latest rock wall: Here are the flowers I got at the Farmer's Market Saturday:

Here's my little beauty and my big dopey hound:

Here's me really, really happy that Beo felt 100 posts deserved a new camera! (Actually the 100 thing was a bonus to the fact that Beo got a bonus at work and has secretly been planning to get me this. What do I call him in my profile? Enviable? Yes, I think that's apt!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bird's Nests

The birds all but disappeared this winter. Despite our food stock for them, our goldfinches, sparrows, and house finches were seldom visitors. This week, as Spring arrives (again), we've finally been graced with sweet songs from some of our favorites. Today there was a cheeky little house finch, singing his heart out from a sapling in our front yard. I watched as he flew down to our garden and tore a few pieces of newspaper from a piece of mulch in our garden. He inspired me to provide some more material for our guests.

The kids and I gathered up some used scrap paper, and yarn ends, and set to snipping them into beak-friendly pieces. Four inches is the reccomended length for thread, yarn, etc. While searching for that handy fact, I saw this great article on building a nesting materials site for birds, in Wonder Time. I actually subscribe to this magazine but rarely find time to read it. They suggest using a mesh onion bag to hold the materials. We packed our yarn and paper into an onion bag, pet the dogs for a little more material to add, then the kids snipped small holes around the bag for the birds to be able to poke around in. We tied it together with a piece of yarn at the top, then hung it in a small tree near our feeder.

This was a nice little Earth Day project for the kids--free and simple, and I plan to have it be an ongoing project as we come up with things like dryer lint that we can add to our nesting collection. The kids were thrilled, and are anxiously waiting at the window to see if we get any takers. I'll keep you updated on whether we have success on the bird's end!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Veggie Kids

Our household is one of "Virtual" vegetarians. In our case, this means that in principle, we don't eat meat. However we do make exceptions where we feel that not eating something is actually less ethical. (We'll eat a dish that's served to us rather than it going to waste is the bottom line.) Rather than get into the difficulties of helping the kids to understand the ethics behind that particular dietary choice, I thought I'd focus on the tips I've learned as a veggie momma. I hope that these will help mommas of any food choice help their kids to make healthy choices.

First there are the health aspects. I'm proud to say that we've had two very open minded pediatricians who haven't batted an eyelash at the fact that we eat veg. (At Sprout's 4 year old well-child visit, the pediatrician asked Sprout if he liked turkey, and Sprout very sternly said: "We do not eat turkey!" Both of these docs know that kids (and grown ups) can get all of the nutrients that they need from a plant based whole foods diet. Most Americans get far more protein than they need. Our kids get plenty in milk/soymilk, beans, and even whole grains, nuts, and vegetables. A quick google search will give you plenty of information on veggie kids and nutrition.

Does that mean your kid has to be a non-picky eater? Nope, you've just got to work with their likes to figure out what will work. Most kids love quesadillas. Made on a whole wheat tortilla with black beans and shredded carrots mixed in, you've got a well-balanced meal. Try stirring peas or beans into (whole grain) mac and cheese. Offering dips of any kind can encourage kids to try new things. I can't count how many foods I've finally gotten the kids to eat by offering to let them dip it in ketchup. (Just make sure you're using organic ketchup--high in all the good nutrients, no HFCS.) The kids love pan-fried tofu in any shape as long as there's a healthy side of ketchup!

Still no luck? Try letting your child help choose meals or partcipate in preparation. Offer to let your child choose the side vegetable. Make pizzas on whole wheat pitas, and let your child choose their toppings, spread the sauce, sprinkle the cheese. Try a kids cookbook like one of Mollie Katzen's--Salad People and Pretend Soup are both big hits at our place. It takes a bit more time, but it helps the kids get excited about their food. I couldn't believe it when Sprout loved "Green Spaghetti"--he wouldn't touch pesto before! Even just letting the kids have a couple of turns stirring a bowl can give them a sense of ownership and pride that will encourage them to try something new. Similarly, offering the kids free snack choices can be empowering and help them make healthy decisions. Sprout and Bird know that they are welcome to raisins and baby carrots most anytime, and they take advantage of that! Other favorite (but limited) snack choices include almonds, PB& Celery, string cheese, and yogurt. Sometimes choices can make things complicated (Sprout will only drink soymilk now, while Bird prefers cow's milk) so be sure to offer things where you'll be happy with any choice.

Make food fun! I occasionally have time to be as creative as Vegan Lunchbox, as evidenced here by my polenta dinosaur in a marinara volcano, spouting parmesan steam in a broccoli forest, but more often than not it's about making everyday food creative. Make mashed sweet potatos into a mountain, with a plain-yogurt stream. Make a veggie smiley face on a bagel, or just out of plain veggies on a plate. Even names can make a big difference. When I first made Mollie Katzen's "Carrot Mushroom Loaf", I didn't tell the kids what it was. I let them name it, and they loved it so much they called it "Second Thanksgiving". They didn't even notice the 'dreaded' mushrooms throughout. We also have "Green Goddess Quiche", and tacking "Magic" on to many things is enough to do the trick. Tofu dogs wrapped in a tortilla become "Perritos"--you get the idea. Think "Ants on a Log"!

Lastly, don't give up. Repetition can go a long way. Encourage a "try it" bite of everything, but don't push too hard. (Easier said than done, I know, and there are plenty of time food goes uneaten on Sprout and Bird's plates.) Eventually, your child may find a new favorite in a previously shunned meal. I hope I've offered a few new tips for Moms of little veggies and picky eaters.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Refreshing Veggies

We're not talking about a crisp cucumber in the summer's heat. Nope, this is about revitalizing limp, tired veggies that were formerly destined to the compost heap (or your veggie broth scrap bag)! It doesn't happen as often now that we cook so much from scratch, but perhaps you understand my occasional celery bunch that's discovered wilting in the very back of the bottom shelf, or those floppy carrots you discover under a bag of potatoes in the crisper. I've read before that dunking these sad little veggies in ice water can perk them right up, but I didn't believe it. Then during a recent round of pantry cleaning, it was perk up those veggies or eat a soggy veggie stir-fry, so I went for it. I was pleasantly suprised to find out that it worked just fine! I don't know if there are any nutritional drawbacks, obviously veggies are best eaten fresh, but it certainly works on the texture. So far I've just tried carrots, and celery. With celery, I just stick them in the fridge in a container of cold water. (Remember the experiments in elementary school with food coloring that left you with blue celery leaves?) These pictures were taken after an overnight in the refrigerator, but even after 30 minutes they've perked quite a bit. (No doctoring was done to these photos, it just works!) I hope this saves the next droopy veggie in your crisper.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Happy Ostara (a bit late) to all. I hope everyone had a nice Spring celebration. Things have been busy here and as they settled down I found myself dealing with a bit of depression again. Ah well, life goes on! We managed to do a few Ostara activities. We made little nest treats for a sweet activity. An outdoor egg hunt turned out to be a disaster (two children in tears, baskets blowing away) but what do we expect with 27 degree weather and flurries in April? Spring made a brief appearance but appears to be feeling a bit shy! Our Ostara treats came from Sweet Earth Chocolates this year. I highly reccomend them! Their customer service was great, shipping was exceptionally fast, and the goods are GOOD! We tried all of the different "eggs" (mint crunch, peanut butter crunch, dark and milk chocolate, and the bunnies. Their chocolate is fair trade and organic, and they have a number of vegan options. Be sure to check them out the next time you're in the market for sweets. (I see they have Mother's Day specials on their website today!) They made a lovely basket, joined by a small amount of precious Surf Sweets Organic Jelly Beans. Bird's Ostara cardigan got finished in a nick of time. Luckily I'd made my own shawl last year, so no worries there. I hope Spring is showing it's face wherever you are this week. Happy Ostara!