Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A recycled posting for my 100th post: natural cleaning products revisited

I just noticed this morning that I have written 99 posts. So I thought in the true spirit of an ecologically focused blog I would recycle my most popular blog post. This was originally written in early April when I only had a handful of followers. Since then, Small at Reduce Footprints has Stumbled the following post and sometimes it alone receives a dozen direct hits a day. The day it was Stumbled it it nearly crashed my site, a new visitor logging in almost every second!

It always makes me happy to see someone showing interest in removing the chemical cleaning products from their home. So for my newer followers who haven't seen this yet I challenge you to give some of these recipes a shot. They're easy, very cheap and your body will thank you for it. Now I must go unclog the bathroom sink with baking soda and vinegar....

Kate reveals her all-natural cleaning product secrets,
originally posted April 3, 2009

The spring peepers are calling like mad in my neighborhood, the herring have been sighted in the fish ladder and my forsythia is about to burst. Spring has arrived on the north shore of Massachusetts and the two days I've been able to open my windows wide has made me itch to do a big spring cleaning. As I round up favorite four (and my ONLY four) cleaning products I thought I'd share my secrets with the world. All you need are these, I'm serious:

Grab some empty spray bottles, a rag or newspapers (ditch the paper towels, a rag works great and you can throw it in the wash and newspaper is a great window cleaner) and you're ready for a toxin-free cleaning!

All-purpose cleaner: one part vinegar, four parts water and a splash of lemon juice, put in a spray bottle. This is the first thing I grab for cleaning counters, windows, sinks, sticky mystery messes my husband leaves on the kitchen table....

Safe scrub: baking soda, plain and simple. I get the biggest box the supermarket has and sprinkle it in my ceramic kitchen sink, my bath tub, my bathroom sink. Just moisten a bit and scrub. Everything is pearly-white in no time.

Floor cleaner: Equal mix of white vinegar and warm water. Add a splash of lemon juice for a yummy scent. For wood floors add a splash of baby oil. I admit, I loved my Pine-Sol. But it always left a chemically odor that I didn't want my newborn inhaling. All the ammonia is not only bad for her sensitive mucous membranes (not to mention mine) but unnecessary.

Drain de-clogger: pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a half cup of vinegar. Don't be alarmed when it foams up! That's how it works it de-gunking magic. Fifteen minutes later pour hot water down the drain to wash it all away. DON'T do this if you've already used a chemical cleaner, the vinegar will react with it and release toxic fumes. Best bet, start with baking soda and vinegar in the first place.

Mold remover: spray it with hydrogen peroxide. One part hydrogen peroxide three parts water.

And my favorite, courtesy of my chemist father-in-law (which I haven't actually tried yet but I'm itching to do because I love a good basic chemical reaction.):

All natural-magical-silver polish: Line a saucepan with aluminum foil and fill with water. Add a teaspoon of salt and baking soda and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling add your silver and let it sit for a minute or two then take it out. Voila! Tarnish-free AND far easier than doing all that polishing! Let me know if you try it and how it works out, my mother-in-law says this is the coolest thing ever and is mad that my father-in-law didn't show her this trick years ago!

What you're never going to need to clean your house:
ammonia: causes damage to mucous membranes and potential burns.
bleach: causes chronic respiratory damage and heart conditions.
antibacterial soap: a whole mess of health problems including antibiotic resistance for you and the creation of super-germs, just don't go there. Get them out of your life for good.

One of the best benefits of getting the scary chemicals above out of my house is I don't have to worry about my almost-crawling baby getting her grubby hands on toxic products and swallowing them.

Happy spring and happy toxin-free cleaning!! -kate

Monday, December 14, 2009

Playing farmer

Friends of ours in a neighboring town occasionally go away and ask us to pet sit. Except their pets include a lot more than their three friendly cats. They also have a goat, two sheep, a dozen chickens, a half dozen peacocks, a flock of guinea fowl, two geese, and a couple of turkeys (I might be forgetting something?)

I have a blast doing this! I've never lived on a farm. I've never taken care of "farm" animals, even though I did aquatic animal care for twelve years, this is much different. My husband and I only own 0.06 acres so unless we move we'll never be able to own more than a few chickens and never a goat or sheep and especially peacocks as they are very loud.

I think it's a great deal: we take care of their animals, get to play farmer for a few days and can take home all the fresh eggs we want. If you've never eaten an egg straight out of the nest box you are missing out. The yolks are impossibly yellow and the flavor is out of this world!

So I will stop typing and share some fun pictures. This is the goat, he eats everything and tried to eat my camera:

I think this turkey is just beautiful. At first they seem quite ugly but just look at those colors! As soon as you walk by them they puff out all their feathers and put on quite a display:

This photo isn't great since it was cold and my hands were shaky, but these are some of the guinea fowl (they keep them for tick control) and there's one of the big male peacocks in the rear center. Have you ever seen a peacock fly? He flew clear across the paddock to perch in a tree and it was very impressive:

This is the last clutch of eggs we got. The brown ones are from the chickens, our friends say the big white ones are also chickens since the geese shouldn't be laying until next year but I'm not sure. They are HUGE! Twice the size if not more than the chicken eggs:

I'm sure we'll get a call again soon for some more pet sitting. Which is fine with me. Ever since I left my job at the Aquarium I do miss taking care of animals. Hopefully some day I'll be able to keep chickens, it will be a great learning experience for my daughter when she's old enough to help with the care. She loves going to the "farm" now, although in the recent cold weather I've had to bundle her up pretty tight. But, I can still hear the giggles through all the layers as she imitates the animals.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Most Hilarious Santa Arrival. EVER.

Before I get to the point, I apologize for letting a month go by without blogging. An explanation (trust me, it's good) at the end of this post.

I live in a quirky seaside town. And I love it. But, the way Ipswich, Massachusetts has Santa arrive is about the quirkiest I have ever seen. This was the first year my husband, our little girl, and I made our way down to the town wharf to see the action and we were not disappointed.

I've seen Santa arrive by fire truck, by sleigh and on a horse. But, in our town, he arrives by fire rescue boat. He motors up the Ipswich River to the town wharf. Then, an awaiting fire truck with a boat trailer picks up the rescue boat and the whole town, I swear the WHOLE town, follows Santa, still in the boat, about a mile upriver to the downtown area.

I'm not finished. There's also a jailed Grinch in the back of the police department's pick up truck. They make him pull up the rear of the Santa parade, I guess since he's in jail he shouldn't be up front in the place of honor with Santa.

I'm not sure what my daughter made of all this. She's only fourteen months so the crowd of mostly older kids was probably more interesting to her than Santa or the Grinch. But I think she really enjoyed the mile walk, the bells her Aunt Bev bought her along the way, and the lights from the fire truck. LIGHTS is now her favorite word, which she has to scream on the top of her lungs. Every time I turn on the Christmas lights in the living room I hear her shrill little voice cry out "LIGHTS! WOW!"

What I've learned in the past few days from the Santa parade, a very unexpected jailed Grinch, a new favorite word and the look of pure yumminess on my little girl's face when she ate a gingerbread cookie is the Holidays are so much more fun with a child. How on earth did I find them fun before? I have no idea. But all the wonderment and magic I felt as a child waiting for Santa is quickly rushing back. You might just find me creeping down the stairs at 3 AM Christmas morning to see if Santa drank the milk and ate the cookies we'll leave out.

I am so thankful for a child to share this holiday season with. And the reason why I've taken a little blogging break is we have another one on the way. I'm ending my first trimester and I'm hoping the nausea and exhaustion will start to fade like it did at about this point with Lizzie. If my kid is napping than so am I, hence the lack of online activity. So I think I'll go have another ginger cookie and go to bed!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why I hate the end of daylight savings

Changing the clocks back by one hour is a cruel joke on parents with small children. I apologize for the profanity in this photo but it's pretty much exactly how I feel at this moment. Having a one-year-old wake up at 4:30 for six days straight just takes all the fun out of that promised extra hour of sleep that people without kids get to enjoy every fall.

It wasn't just my child. Facebook friends from all over the world lamented with me, their kids getting up, like mine, three hours early. You'd think a 6:30 AM wake up would simply go to 5:30 AM, but no. Something in their little brains was thrown way way off and they were all getting up, ready to play, sometime between 3:45 AM and 4:30 AM.

This past Saturday we had our first 6:00 AM wake up, which was the biggest gift ever to parents who had been sleeping an average of 5 hours a night. "Why don't you go to bed earlier?" you might ask. Well, it can sometimes take an hour or so to clean up the mess that that very same one-year-old creates during the day. By the time the toys and books are picked up, the sippy cups washed and the bananas scraped off the kitchen floor it's usually at least 8:30 PM and this parent needs another hour or more of mental downtime before my brain is calm enough to fall asleep.

So if you haven't seen me online much lately you know why. This is one of the first times in the past seven days I haven't napped while my child is napping. I should be but my to-do list has doubled in length since daylight savings time ended.

If you also have a small child and have been walking around like a zombie for the past ten days I know exactly how you feel. It really is a cruel trick played on us. And on top of that it gets dark by 5:00 PM so we can't even go to the playground after dinner. Just not fair. Who's with me to keep daylight savings time all year? It's dark when the kids are getting up anyway so what's one more hour of darkness? Sounds like a plan to me!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The most excellent news! Mass. DEP rescinds safe yield decision!

A very very big thank you to all of you who signed the petition to alert Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to the idiotic decision of MassDEP setting safe yield water withdrawal levels at a point where many of Massachusetts' rivers could get pumped dry. Initially I thought Gov. Patrick was behind this horrible decision, but when I heard the whole story apparently he was very upset and was able to take action to reverse it.

Just yesterday Mass DEP posted this on their website:

MassDEP suspends the safe yield interpretation and determinations that were announced in October 2009. MassDEP clarifies and explains that its interpretation of the term safe yield under the Water Management Act includes environmental protection factors, including ecological health of river systems, as well as hydrologic factors. MassDEP will work with stakeholders to quickly develop interim safe yield determinations based on this interpretation that will be used in WMA permitting on a short term basis."

Basically that legal jibberish means that they have to determine safe yield based on many factors
including environmental ones, which they claimed last month were no longer a factor. In the Water Managment Act they themselves wrote, which was upheld in court a few years ago, environmental factors were listed in their safe yield policy. So they were caught red-faced to say the least.

What will happen in the meantime? According to the Ipswich River Watershed website

DEP will re-determine the safe yields of all the river basins in Massachusetts within a year, and will include aquatic habitat protection factors in the evaluation. DEP will also work with the other state agencies and stakeholders to develop a sustainable allocation methodology that will include standards for more effective protection of ecological values"

I will keep you updated, but again a big thanks for reading, signing and your concern. The governor received a record number of signatures on this issue.
This means fish won't die and the recovering herring run will be allowed to recover. And, hopefully this will mean that next summer the river that flows a few feet from my house will look like this:

and not like this:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Drive smart = save gas = save planet

I've been meaning to write a post about how considerate and careful driving can actually save the planet. Yes, it actually can. You know those idiots who have to gun the gas to go one block and then slam on the breaks? They are burning quite a lot of unnecessary fuel. I was stuck in a car last spring with a woman who did this just from one side of my small town to the other. She must have hit 45 miles an hour in the busy downtown area where the speed limit is 25, and she didn't get me home any faster. Not to mention I find driving like that very disrespectful to the passenger. Especially when that passenger is me.

I recommend visiting for some very helpful tips on how to save gas that go beyond the obvious making sure your tires are properly inflated. To save you time and sum up the site the rules are pretty simple:
  • Drive sensibly: Our government reminds you that "Aggressive driving - speeding, rapid acceleration and braking wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town." I believe it. I love when I see a Prius speeding and weaving down the highway. That is the truest form of hypocrisy I can think of.
  • Remove excess weight: This is one I am always guilty of. The back of my car currently contains a jogging stroller, a 22 pound SCUBA weight belt I've been too lazy to take out, a beach chair, various beach toys and a 1 gallon jug of windshield washer fluid. I estimate that's about 40 pounds of unnecessary weight.
  • Don't idle: There are actually laws about this which you can check by state here. In Massachusetts you can't idle for more than 5 minutes or you will be fined not less than $100.
  • Don't speed: This graph says it all. As tempting as it is to fly down the interstate at 80 miles an hour it is actually extremely inefficient. Highest fuel economy is around 55 and drops fast after 65 miles an hour.
I hope I have convinced you to take a deep breathe and calmly depress your accelerator the next time you take off after a green light. You'll be doing our planet a favor. A big thanks to Small at Reduce Footprints for reminding me that I've been meaning to write about this for some time now. Sensible driving and taking care of your car is the theme of this week's Change the World Wednesday Challenge.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween: My grandmother's pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

This year's Jack-O-Lantern creation, even pumpkins love to eat pumpkins!

This is a very special recipe passed down from my grandmother on my father's side. We made dozens and dozens of these every October and I even won a cooking contest with them back in college. I hope you enjoy!

Grandma's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Mix together the following:
1 cup pumpkin (canned is fine, fresh baked from the oven is better)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

Dissolve 1 tsp baking soda in 1 tsp milk. Add to pumpkin mix.
Mix well with above ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

Drop on greased cookie sheet (about 1/2 tsp size)
Bake 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy! And Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A busy week, a gift from Kansas and an eagerly awaited vaccine

Who would have though that by quitting one's job and staying home full time with a one-year-old would give you less time? I actually did expect this. Even with the one-year-old still napping twice a day I still barely have time to come up and breathe. I've been so busy that I actually forgot today was my anniversary! My mother had to remind me this morning.

It has been a good week though. I received a very happy package from deborah all the way from Kansas. It was the two pen and ink drawings I won from her blog contest. It was really cool to hear the thump on my porch as the package arrived from a woman I've never met or even spoken with. They were even better in real life than in photographs (close-up to the right). I can't wait to hang them once I have a chance (might take a few weeks at this rate). She will have a little thank you from the seashore heading her way soon....

Other amazing things have happened too, which didn't escape my very busy notice. A rogue giant red poppy bloomed in the garden yesterday beating all temperature odds and a fall snowstorm. I'd take a photo of it but it's already been ruined by today's rain. I made the best pumpkin soup straight out of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I received word from my child's pediatrician that they just had a shipment of H1N1 shots for kids under two and we're all set to go get one tomorrow.

That was probably the best news I've had all week. I'm in no way a germaphobe. I don't use hand sanitizer, I willing let my kid chew on the handle of shopping carts, pet's tails and random kid's toys hoping it will make her immune system stronger. But, this swine flu is getting to the core of my motherly instincts. I still let her chew on the shopping cart yesterday, I sent her to her little in-home day care center today so I can clean the house (and catch my breath!), but I've kept her out of the YMCA day care room until she gets the vaccine. There's just way too many kids that go through there everyday and the flu has hit our town's schools in force. I can put off my workouts one more day.

I hope every one's families are healthy and to those that have already been hit I hope you've recovered with minimal damage. A big thank you to everyone who signed the petition to keep our rivers flowing. Rumor is the governor has received more petitions about this issue than any other environmental issue in recent memory. It has captured his notice and we're expecting a turn around on policy any day! If you haven't it and would like to the link is at the top of my sidebar.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Petition to protect the Ipswich River is ready for signing

As promised, I'm posting the link to a very important petition to protect Massachusetts' rivers and streams. As I mentioned in a (bit angry) previous post our Governor, Deval Patrick, has allowed the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection to roll back critical "safe yield" water withdrawal levels.

What is "safe yield"? Simply put, that's the maximum amount of water that can be pumped out of a river system without damaging the river: i.e. pumping it dry. In previous summers when my local river, the Ipswich River, ran dry withdrawals were at 28 to 32 million gallons a day. The DEP was sued and levels were dropped. The past three summers the river has flowed, wildlife has flourished and the herring are starting to return to spawn.

Just when I was starting to relax and jumping for joy over this recovery the DEP has decided that the new "safe yield" for the Ipswich River will be 55.5 million gallons a day. YES: 55.5 MILLION gallons a day. That's almost twice the levels that pumped the river dry.

What will happen? All the fish will die and the river will look like this. I'm fairly sure those are dead fish in that puddle in the foreground. So no fishing, no kayaking, no working beaver dams, and most definitely no herring fry getting out of the river to grow up in the ocean.

Please visit the Conservation Law Foundation's website to sign a petition to rescind this action. I signed it yesterday and immediately received the following reply from the governor's office:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with Governor Patrick. The Governor values your opinions and enjoys hearing from people across the Commonwealth. Please know that your views are always welcome in this administration.

The Governor and his staff strive to review every piece of correspondence in a timely manner. If appropriate, we will forward your message to the appropriate staff member, department or the state agency that can best address your concerns.

If you need an immediate response, please call the Governor's Office at 617-725-4005 to speak with a Constituent Services Aide. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your ideas with Governor Patrick. Stay involved and engaged...this is your government!

I'd like to think this is positive, but I'm not very hopeful. Thank you everyone for caring about the little ecosystem at the end of my road. The Ipswich River was listed as one of the country's top ten most endangered rivers, how is it ever going to recover if this policy goes into action?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Final organic garden tally and lessons learned from the backyard garden

The Monsanto Sucks, Michelle Obama Rocks Organic Garden is done for the season. We've had our first below freezing night here in northern Massachusetts and I doubt the few remaining zucchini blossoms will come to much. My sunflowers by the front door are no longer blooming, this photo was taken two weeks ago. I'm just waiting for migrating birds to pick them clean. But, even though the garden is closed down, I have a lot to reflect over. Most of which were lessons I learned after my first large organic vegetable undertaking.

Lesson #1: Read and follow the planting instructions on the seed packets. I got a little carried away and squeezed six zucchini plants into a space that could really only accommodate two. They sort of took over the string beans. oops!

Lesson #2: When late blight hits the entire state of Massachusetts' tomato crop don't get complacent and follow the quarantine protocols you set in place (i.e.: only wear your garden clogs in the tomato patch and not your flip flops which flip and flop all over the New England area....)

Lesson #3: Get your seeds in earlier. This was mostly my fault since I had two yards of soil to move, a needy six month old back in the spring, and a job. It took a bit longer than I though to build the bed and move the dirt. The first seeds didn't get in until late May.

Lesson #4: Be patient with your carrot crop. It was the first time I grew carrots, it was exciting and I couldn't wait to pull them up. Had I waited another month they would have been twice as big. But, they were still super tasty!

Lesson #5: Order your praying mantids before aphids take over.

There are many things I did right though. I went organic. I planted crops I knew I would eat. I picked a good spot in the yard for the raised bed. I never ran out of irrigation water since I added a second rain barrel this year. All in all it was a success!

So, for the final garden tally. Here's what I grew in a mere 6 by 14 foot piece of soil:
  • blueberries: 42
  • strawberries: 35
  • salads: 5 large
  • zucchini: 13
  • cilantro: 5 large bunches
  • green beans: 313 (about 3.5 pounds)
  • carrots: 136
  • basil: more than I can count!
  • tomatoes: 14
  • cucumbers: 9
I hope if you're on the fence to start your own little garden patch then my journey of this past summer has inspired you to try next year. It was super fun, and I'm looking forward to learning from my mistakes to make next summer's harvest twice as big!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Massachusetts governor drops the ball on river restoration

I don't like to write when I'm angry, there's too big a risk of me saying something I will regret. But, at the same time, anger often drives my motivation to get people's attention. I just heard the most angering news that our governor, Deval Patrick (who I actually voted for since he made some great promises) just reversed a very key river policy which set water withdrawal limits and protected the Ipswich River from running dry in the summer. If he gets his way, and this policy goes into action, summer kayak trips, like this one above which I lead this past August, will look more like the one below.

The full article with details is here, but some key points are the following:

"...under the state's new safe yield calculation, 165 million gallons could be drawn daily from the Charles River - nearly four times the current limit of 46 million gallons per day"

"Under the new policy...the state could draw an extra 22 million gallons per day from the Ipswich River basin."

The governor should be calling for more water conservation, not more consumption. I am baffled and irate at this decision. The Ipswich River Watershed Association will be posting a petition on their website soon. Please sign it, even if you live far far away, it will mean thousands of aquatic species won't die in order to water someone's enormous lawn.

To learn more about herring and water conservation in the Ipswich River please visit my earlier posts:
And to Governor Patrick who is running for reelection: you just lost my vote.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Goodbye hilarious little mandarin fish

I want to introduce you to another animal that I will most definitely miss when I leave my aquarium job in a few days to become a full time mother. For years and years these little guys have been on the top of my favorite list. This is a male mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus, and he's splendid indeed! This is one hilarious fish. Once he sees you lurking outside his tank he will follow your finger all over the glass if you put it out for him to follow.

When he's showing off he'll lift that amazingly colored dorsal fin as tall as it can get as if to say, "this is MY territory!" It's believed that the colors are there as a warning, as these fish give off a foul-tasting mucus if you attempt to eat them. Not that I would, they are way too much fun and far too beautiful.

We keep this species for two reasons. First, they're simply just a pretty little fish and the public loves them. And second, they love to eat flatworms which can plague salt water reef aquaria.

I will really miss them during my morning check-ins when I make sure all the animals are OK, their life support is running, and there's no major floods anywhere. This particular individual is always hanging out right in front of the glass and always lets me "play" with him for a few minutes while I'm scrubbing the nose, hand and face prints off the windows from the previous day's visitors.

While playing around with my camera a few years back I attempted to capture them. It's tough. They rarely sit still long enough.

But I did get these photos and if you play around with i photo some of the colors really turn into art. These are close-ups of that amazing dorsal fin. The first one is just a crop of the real thing. Nature sure is the best artist.

This one was altered by iphoto, even more amazing when you boost the colors!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Starting the goodbyes - goodbye cute little lumpfish!

I have three days left of work. If you've read this blog before you'll know that my job is a huge part of who I am. I've been working at a public aquarium for over twelve years and have taken care of many of its animals for over ten years now. I can't even begin to go into how much I'm going to miss my coworkers, they are a second family to me. It's hard not to get close to someone when you work with them often wearing nothing more than a thin wetsuit!

I'm comforted knowing that my human friends are a quick email, phone call or visit away. But the animals are a different story. Will they know I'm gone? Probably not. The birds might react to me during a visit with familiarity but they won't mope like a dog missing its human companion. Yet, I will miss the animals immensely.

I really love bratty animals. The more personality the better. I've cared for jellyfish for about five years now and, despite their beauty, they bore me. The shorebirds and a few fish species are another matter. One of my favorite fish is a lumpfish, and I've been very fortunate to have worked with dozens over the years. I mean, look at this fish, don't you just want to squeeze her?
Ok, so I'm a bit of a fish-geek. The average reader might be thinking, "no, I definitely do NOT want to squeeze a fish!" But trust me when I say most of my coworkers and interns think we should sell stuffed animal versions of lumpfish in our gift shop. Once you work with them and see their cute little personalities you will most assuredly want to cuddle with one.

They have a modified ventral fin that's evolved into a suction cup so they can stick to rocks and kelp in the intertidal zone, keeping them stable in the surge. Believe it or not they seem like a happy puppy to me. You can pick them up with your bare hands and place them on your palm and they just sit there, mouthing the air, looking for food. You can actually train them too as one of our marine mammal trainers did last winter. They will eat out of your hands and come over, I swear wagging their tails, when they see a staff member approaching in our ubiquitous green uniform shirts.

I will introduce you to more of my favorite animals over the weeks to come as a form of therapy for me while I adjust to full time mommyhood. It will be a joy to go through my iphoto files and reminisce over the fun aquatic personalities I have known over the years.

If you're interested in learning more about what I do you can read my shorebirds blog at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My lucky day

Today is October 1st, my daughter's first birthday. It was a lucky day a year ago when she came a month early, yet with no complications from being a preemie. And it is a lucky day again this year because I have won a pair of drawings from deborah at A Muse in Kansas that I was really hoping to win!

Deborah is a fantastic artist, I especially love her interpretations of Kansas and Vermont landscapes. She ran a contest last month and the winner received these, two original pen and ink drawings that I admired the minute she posted them a few months ago. I'm very excited and can't wait to frame them! If you have a minute check out her art, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Farmer's Market Challenge: local apple crisp

Almost any farmer's market in the northeast this weekend will most assuredly be selling local apples. We have a great pick-our-own orchard down the road, but I haven't been yet although I am planning on going soon. And when I do I will definitely be making many many pies and, even better: apple crisp!!

To finish up my weekend of Squirrel Queen's Farmer's Market Challenge I bring you another cane sugar-free sweet recipe, this time adapted from Carrie Davis' The Naturally Sweet Baker. (To see yesterday's Honey Cornmeal Muffin recipe, and why I bake without processed cane sugar click here).

Apple Crisp (with no cane sugar!), adapted from The Naturally Sweet Baker by Carrie Davis
Fruit Filling:
6 large baking apples (I use granny smiths or galas or whatever the market has)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 unsweetened apple juice
1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 1 quart shallow baking dish.
Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges and put in large bowl. Toss the apples with cornstarch and cinnamon. Put the apples in the prepared baking dish. Pour in the juice and dot with 1 tablespoon of butter.

In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, flour, baking soda and salt.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat. Stir in the brown rice syrup and vanilla in to the butter. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Spoon batter evenly over the apples.

Bake about 50 minutes. The juices from the apples should be bubbling. If the top begins to brown before the apples are done cover the dish with aluminum foil pierced with a fork to let the steam escape.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farmer's Market Challenge: honey cornmeal muffins

Sadly, I am stuck at work this Saturday and am missing our local farmer's market. Because I love to participate in Squirrel Queen's Monthly Farmer's Market Challenge I will bring you two recipes this weekend made with local products. Today, one made with yummy local honey and, tomorrow, one made with equally yummy local apples.

I bought a jar of local honey from Marshview Apiary at our Ipswich, MA, farmer's market back in June. I use honey mainly in winter baking, and since there's a frost warning for this weekend I'm getting ready to fire up the oven and pull out my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Before I had a baby last fall my mixer would be making is lovely whirring noise almost every night as I baked up yet another cane sugar-free delight, now I am often too tired to bake!

When I found out a few years ago I was sensitive to cane sugar, and that it triggers my Crohn's Disease, my husband and I went on a search to find sweet things - without the processed white stuff - that could satisfy my incurable sweet tooth. I ordered two cookbooks that are now lovingly dog-eared and sticky: Joy with Honey by Doris Mech and The Naturally Sweet Baker by Carrie Davis. After doing more research it turns out that everyone should avoid processed cane sugar, our digestive tracts just aren't cut out for it, and neither are our waist lines.

Honey Cornmeal Muffins - adapted from Joy with Honey by Doris Mech
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour (Doris calls for pastry flour but regular wheat flour works fine)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey (local if you can find it!)
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter (Doris calls for 1 1/4 cup buttermilk in lieu of the milk and butter but I never have any on hand so I altered the recipe)

Sometimes I toss in local blueberries if they're in season or I have frozen ones left over from July's farmer's market.

In a large bowl mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda. In another bowl combine the honey, oil, eggs and milk and butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the honey batter. Stir gently until moist. Spoon batter into buttered muffin tins. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 12 muffins.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Raising kids to be stewards of the earth: GO OUTSIDE!

Reduce Footprints has issued another great Change the World Wednesday Challenge. This week it's all about raising kids to be green. Just because my little girl is a week away from her first birthday doesn't mean she's too little to do eco-friendly activities with. Don't forget: children love to mimic their parents. So at her age it's all about what I do, everything of which she sees and stores in her little developing brain.

So just in this week alone Lizzie and I have:
  • picked up our local farm share from Green Meadows, and while there we said hello to the pigs, chickens and her favorite, the turkeys.
  • eaten homemade organic food as a family (all of us, she rarely eats store-bought jar food and we rarely eat take-out).
  • left the car at home many times and walked to the post office, bank, library, and local coffee shop.
  • picked produce from our organic garden, ok, I picked produce and Lizzie tried to eat the grass.
  • but most importantly: we went outside.

It's this last one that I feel will leave the biggest impression on her. Before she was born my husband and I already spent most of our free time outside. I hope Lizzie will grow up to be the same. There are alarming data showing kids these days are actually vitamin D deficient because they spend too much time inside watching TV. How are they going to learn to appreciate nature if they only see it on television? Show them a real frog, butterfly, turtle, piping plover or beaver and watch their faces light up.

Every morning Lizzie and I walk the 100 feet to the end of the street and look for birds and frogs along the river. Then every afternoon we walk to the park and play on the swings and look for grasshoppers. If I'm lucky and there's enough time between morning nap and lunch we go for a real adventure. This morning we went to Crane's Beach, a short drive to the other side of town and one of the most beautiful stretches of sand for miles.

We picked up lots of soft shelled clams and I explained how the holes in their shells were made by the drilling, toothed tongue (radula) of the moon snail. They drill the hole, injected the clam with hydrochloric acid, and then suck the dissolved meat out through the hole. COOL HUH?! I know she probably didn't understand a word of what I said but someday she will.

And then we found a real live moon snail buried in the sand waiting for the incoming tide, its foot all tucked up into its shell as far as it will go. We touched the slimy foot and had a few giggles at the texture.Then we found a nice wet puddle left behind by the tide and put the moon snail back, only to find another one already sitting in the puddle! So we waved them around a bit, got all wet and sandy, and then let them be.

So go ahead and send your kids outside and let them get dirty. And don't be too quick to pull out the Purell every time they touch something. I neither own hand sanitizer nor allow it to be used on my child. Let her eat dirt, it's good for her immune system and will lower the chances of her having allergies. And the more they play in the dirt the less they will fear nature and the outdoors. If you freak out every time they get mud on their faces they will learn to be afraid as well. Touch shells and acorns and frogs and slugs and bark and even slimy moon snails. Your kids will grow up to love and appreciate them and they will become stewards of our beautiful world.

Visit Reduce Footprints for more Change the World Wednesday challenges.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vote with your fork: the Michael Pollan interview

A short note from me before I send you on a field trip to NPR's "Living on Earth" where they interviewed Michael Pollan this week, author of In Defense of Food, on his views of health care reform. The main point he makes is that until we, as a country, eat better we will continue to see rising medical costs.

"Michael Pollan says if we want to cut health care costs and help save the planet it's time to stop subsidizing the industrial production of junk food."

Most scary is the skyrocketing rate of type II diabetes, which is entirely preventable.

"'ve got adolescents in this country that are on average getting 15 percent of their calories today from soda. Most of the experts that have looked at the question say that if you could reduce soda consumption – and not just soda, but all sweetened beverages: ice tea, Gatorade, all those products – you would help with that problem, and you would save an awful lot of money because every case of type-II diabetes costs on average about more than about $7,000 a year to treat, to maintain. And the mystery is why don't we talk more about this as we're debating our health care system?"

So vote with your fork, as Michael Pollan urges. Take back your diet. Eat less meat, less corn and soy (subsidized by our government therefore making junk food cheaper than vegetables).

Click on the icon below to read the whole interview, it's short and very worth it! Enjoy your trip!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In search of quiet

Yesterday, I set out on the trails of Appleton Farms in neighboring Hamilton to seek out some migrating song birds and some quiet. When you have a one-year-old, the sounds of crashing books, musical toys and even squeals of delight can sometime overload your senses. I put Lizzie in the jogging stroller and went in search of the Appleton cow herd.

We did see lots of cows and learned a new word: "caa-ow" (until now cows were "dogg--oo", which I guess makes sense since they do look like large dogs). But more importantly I had an hour of quiet and sunshine.

I want you to study this photo taken on the farm as I looked up into one of its majestic old oak trees. Imagine what you might hear if it had a sound track. Now imagine what you can't hear: no cars, no farm equipment, no airplanes or church bells or sirens. No human created sound of any kind.

All I could hear was the sound of the wind in the leaves and the crickets in the grass. Even Lizzie was quiet, taking in the smells of the cows and the feel of sunshine on her little face.

Perhaps I shall walk there again today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Late blight hits my organic tomato patch!

One of my favorite parts of coming home from vacation is seeing the magic that happened in my garden while I was away. This homecoming, however, only gave me disappointment.

The day I left for Cape Cod started with me finding my beautiful and healthy tomato patch (to the right) stricken with late blight, the fungus that caused the famous Irish Potato Famine.

It literally happened overnight. One day the plants were beautiful and green and the next half the stems were black and the leaves were starting to wilt. I harvested the few fruits that were ripe enough, packed the car, drove to the Cape and crossed my fingers. Some farmers would spray with chemicals, but being organic I can not. It was a risky bet I chose to take to protect my family's health. And I lost.

When I returned a week later the tomato patch looked even worse. There was barely a single green leaf left.

Peering out from my back window I thought the fruits could at least be salvaged, but on closer inspection it was a total loss:

So now my tomato patch looks like this, the tangled, dead branches in a pile waiting to be carted off to the town's leaf dump. And I have only myself to blame. I've been hearing the news of the devastation for two months now and I've been very careful with my own garden quarantine. Usually I only wear my garden clogs from the front door to the tomato patch. But I slipped up a few weeks ago and lazily wore my flip flops in there to do some extra staking. That's when I must have tracked the deadly spores in.

So the fruit are in a sad pile waiting to be composted. I couldn't bear to count how many tomatoes I could have had, I'm sure it would have been at least fifty if you count the fourteen I managed to harvest before the blight hit.

From what I hear late blight has completely ruined all of Massachusetts' organic tomato crop with the exception of a few farms. Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, where we get our farm share, was spared but not without a fight. They managed to run a strict quarantine and we received a few tomatoes every week, but not the usual two to three pounds I'm used to from previous years.

I need to do some research to figure out if I should throw out the stakes I used, disinfect them, or let them over-winter outside hoping the cold kills the fungus. I hope throwing the decaying fruits in the compost pile doesn't infect the compost for next year. If anyone has any advice on this it would be much appreciated! And I promise next year to be more careful....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Great white sharks take a bite out of our surfing vacation

Every summer for the last few years a great white shark has been spotted off of Chatham, MA, drawn by the growing grey seal population. The sharks have mainly stayed out around Monomy Island and haven't ventured too near the popular swimming and surfing beaches. Both my husband and I have still paddled out every September at our favorite spot in Eastham, which is at least fifteen miles from a shark sighting. Until this year. (photos are from the MA DMF website)

Almost two weeks ago at least five great whites were seen around the mouth of Chatham harbor, still fairly far from Eastham's Nauset Light Beach. My husband paddled out last Sunday and Monday and attempted to on Wednesday but it was too messy to ride. I chose to hang back. Like I said in my previous post: I'll risk one great white but not five. Personally, I think my husband was a little nuts to surf, but the reports were still saying the sharks were miles away where the big seal colony is. Until Wednesday.

That evening we drove out to Chatham again to see the seals in the harbor. The previous Friday there were a few tourists checking them out, but overall it was pretty quiet. This time there was a Channel 5 satellite truck in the parking lot and about 30 people with telephoto lenses and binoculars. They were mostly ignoring the 500 pound pinnipeds cruising within feet of them. All lenses were aimed off shore. Sharkapalooza had begun.

Apparently that afternoon at least twelve great whites were spotted in the area and, according to the Boston Globe, one of them hunted a diver who had gone in to retrieve video equipment that was used while DMF was affixing satellite tags to one of the sharks. The diver was tethered and pulled out when the shark was 100 feet away. And even more scary was the report from the spotter plane claiming a great white had come to within 100 yards of a surfer that had luckily rode a wave in and got out of the water, not even knowing the shark was there. That surfer was on a beach only a few miles from our surfing spot. The next day we left Cape Cod to return home and the shark-free northern waters near us in Gloucester, MA and Hampton, NH.

Greg Skomal, a senior biologist with the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries, did a great interview on the Today Show. It includes excellent footage of the taggings. And to read more about that amazing effort and to view even more amazing photos visit the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries website. The satellite tags will pop off in January revealing much needed data on where these guys spend their time.

Great white sharks, as well as their prey the grey seals, are protected under federal law. Therefore they can not be hunted. I have a feeling with the exploding seal population (to the left) we'll be seeing a lot more of these amazing hunters in years to come. It's important to remember that sharks have a key role in the health of the ocean. They are the wolves of the sea. Without them seal populations could spiral out of control much like deer populations in many wooded areas of the US. I like to remind myself of that every time I launch into the waves with my surfboard. But it doesn't exactly make me feel any safer....