Remembering Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2010

“Are the trees part of Thanksgiving?,” my four-year-old asked from the backseat as we drove past a stand selling Christmas trees.

It was the day before Thanksgiving.

“No,” I started to answer, before the radio’s Christmas carols interrupted.

When did Christmas become a part of Thanksgiving?

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Admittedly, Advent comes early this year – it starts tomorrow – but that’s clearly not the answer, since what I call “the commercial Christmas” bears no relation to the Christian practice of Advent, the period of waiting for Christ’s birth.

When I was a kid back in New Jersey, Thanksgiving traditions were a blur of football, parades, long walks through the fallen leaves, and of course, the feast we all still relish.  In my memory, there was a long break between Christmas and Thanksgiving…..they didn’t seamlessly merge together as they do today.

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But perhaps that depends where you live. I was relieved to find the site New Jersey football, which shows high school games still being played on Thanksgiving Day.  Unfortunately, here in Bethesda and the surrounding DC area, the high school football season wraps up in early November.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday for three reasons:

1)    simplicity

2)    unity and

3)    meaning.

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I love the fact that Thanksgiving doesn’t require fancy gifts and over the top decorations. It’s a simple holiday – one anyone can celebrate just by making a lovely meal and giving thanks. It unifies us: all Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. No need to worry about one’s religious affiliation or fear offending anyone. And doesn’t it make sense for all of us to give thanks?

But now, Thanksgiving seems like a few hour weigh station on the eve of Black Friday.

How are you keeping your Thanksgiving traditions alive?  Can we really counter the early onslaught of the overly commercialized holiday season?

– Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

Wednesdays at the CSA: Going Local & Seasonal for Good

August 19th, 2009

It used to be that I looked forward to the weekend. I still do, but it’s Wednesdays that I find most relaxing. That’s because Wednesdays are CSA Day, the day when I pick up my weekly share from the biodynamic  farmer’s coop I’ve bought into.

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In addition to the wonderful food, it seems I always walk away with a pearl of wisdom. That’s probably because the CSA is located at an ashram, so there’s often a wise old yogi nearby speaking wise thoughts.

Today’s was: “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Boy, was that ever what I needed to hear today!

But back to the food…the tomatoes have just been killing me this season. They’re so fresh, so flavorful, so delicious, that the other stuff they call “tomatoes” that we buy year round at the grocers? Fuhgeddabout it!

That’s right…we’ve been so taken with the freshness and bounty of eating in season, that we’ve decided to try it year-round.

No more wasting money on expensive, out-of-season organic tomatoes in the dead of winter. I’d rather save my money for expensive, in-season, delicious local tomatoes during the summer!

This winter? I’ll stick with purple potatoes, nuts, and other foods we can eat seasonally.  Of course, it’s a lot easier to make that type of commitment now in the heat of summer than in the cold of winter.  I just have to remember that even in winter CSAs are More than Just Kale.

What about you? Have you made the switch to eating all local, all the time? Have you tried it? Leave a comment and share!

– Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

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Stinging Nettles Need a New Name!

May 14th, 2008

Belonging to a CSA is an incredible experience. You gain exposure to produce that you might normally never buy – and certainly would never find at your local market. I’ve posted here about CSA biodynamic and organic treasures such as Jerusalem artichokes, persimmons, celeriac, black radish, salsify, purple top turnips, passionfruit, kabocha squash and sweet white turnips.

But sometimes, trying to expose a kindergartner to nature’s bounty has its challenges.

Just imagine you were 5-years-old. Would you eat stinging nettles? You’d have to be brave, wouldn’t you? After all, “stinging nettles” sound like scary creatures from Harry Potter! They might sting your tongue, don’t you think? And in fact, they really do sting before they are cooked. You saw this warning sign with your own eyes.

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But after nettles are sautéed in olive oil with leeks and onions, they are quite delicious, thank you very much. Try telling that to a skeptical boy, eyeing you and the stinging nettles warily!

Fortunately, this kid is well aware of Organic Kid Marketing. So Mom tried to explain that since the stinging nettles come directly from a farm to the CSA, they haven’t been marketed and packaged properly by Organic Kid Marketers. Perhaps he had some ideas?

Yes! Organic Cobra Stinging Nettles, packaged with free stickers of cobras and drawings of cobras all over the box.

Great idea! Cobras are way cool! We love cobras!

Just imagine these nettles came in that cool cobra box. Now eat your nettles!

Not a chance….

Sigh…

Check out some other cool CSA and farmers market fare recipes here at Beth Bader’s Farmers Market Fare and some make-your-own concoctions at Surely You Nest.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Green and Organic Savings Friday: Coffee, Water Bottles and Phthalate-Free Bath Toys

May 9th, 2008

Welcome back to Green and Organic Savings Friday at OrganicMania! Sorry for getting this post up a little bit later than usual this morning, but with two sickos in the house (DH and Big Boy), things are not going exactly according to plan! I’m sure all of you can relate.

Last Friday, we focused on organic tea. This week, the coffee drinkers get equal time. OrganicMania has blogged here about the fabulous biodynamic espresso beans and coffee available via mail order from Café Altura. It’s a great buy at $11 a pound, including shipping. We splurge on this coffee because DH is a coffee snob. (And I admit I’ve become one too).

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But for some folks, coffee is coffee is coffee. They want Fair Trade coffee, but $11 a pound is too expensive. Well, how about $5.88 per pound? I haven’t actually tried this Sam’s Club Fair Trade coffee, but I haven’t seen a better deal. If any of you OrganicManiacs™ out there have tried it, please leave a comment and tell us what you thought! I found this on a scouting expedition the other week to check out Walmart’s organic lines, which have been getting a lot of press. (Yes, if you ever see a Mom with two kids and a Treo snapping pictures in your local store, that’s me! Say hello!) I also reviewed Walmart’s display of Clorox Green Works products during that same trip, check that out here.

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Of course, there’s been a huge amount of press lately about the BPA and phthalates leaching into plastic bottles, sending Moms out to the stores in droves looking for eco-friendly green alternatives. The problem is that doing the research to replace your existing water bottles and bath toys can seem like a nearly full time job! If I can save any of you some time with these tips, it would make me very happy!

If you’re anything like my family, you had about 30 or 40 little plastic bath toys floating around your bath tub. They were so cheap, they seemed to invade the house. Well, one advantage to replacing the Cheap Plastic Crap bath toys with phthalate-free bath toys, is that they’re so much more expensive, you won’t have a boatload of them invading your house! But don’t make the same mistake OrganicMania did initially, and buy them separately for $5 to $15 a pop (ouch!) Instead, you can find reasonably priced tubes or boxes of Safari phthalate-free bath toys for around $8 to $10 for 10 to 12 bath toys. Here‘s one spot you can order them – and they’re on sale. Or, if you happen to be at the Delaware beaches, check out Big Boy’s favorite bookstore, Browseabout, which has a great selection of Safari toys – that’s where Big Boy scored his new bath toys.

And finding that perfect BPA-free water bottle? Well, I haven’t found one yet that’s priced right. So in the spirit of reduce, reuse, recycle, here’s what I’m doing….reusing a glass Honest Tea bottle.

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Did you find any great deals on green and organic products this week? Leave a comment and share!

COMMENT NOTES – NEW COMMENT FORM EXPLANATION: (Sorry for caps!) I’m experimenting with a new program from Mr. Linky. If you are a blogger and want to link to this post from your blog and show a link back from OrganicMania  (which Technorati will count), please leave a comment in the box marked comments and when it asks for URL, leave your URL post where you will link to this post.

If you just wish to leave a comment without linking, leave your comment in the regular WordPress comment box.

Sorry for any confusion – first time through with new technology!

Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Ten Tips for Throwing a Green Party

April 20th, 2008

Hope you all had a great Earth Day weekend. I found myself at a book party for Big Green Purse author Diane MacEachern, whom I interviewed here.

Talk about pressure to be green! But it turns out I wasn’t the only one wondering how to dress. That question actually came up at the party. And according to Diane, recycled fibers are best, followed by hand-me-down or “vintage” clothing, and then organic fibers like hemp or cotton. Cotton actually takes a lot of water to grow, organic or not!

Many of the women in attendance had on very chic recycled jewelry made of buttons strung through string and other natural fibers. Apparently a lot of eco-boutiques are carrying these necklaces or – you guessed it – it’s pretty easy to make yourself.

One thing really struck me about the party. Despite the savvy of this crowd of Prius-drivers, even they complained that it’s still hard to find “green” party supplies. People were trading tips about where to find corn-based disposable, biodegradable plates and cutlery.

Here are a few tips I picked up from the Master Green Party Givers, mixed in with a couple of my own suggestions:

1. Skip the paper invitations and use an email invitation program like evite.

2. Decorate with natural materials like plants.

3. Finger food means finger food. Why use forks at all? You can serve foods like asparagus, stuffed mushrooms, cut vegetables, baked brie, cheese, mini-sandwiches, and small pastries or cookies.

4. Go organic! Of course! This includes the alcohol. You can find great organic beers on sale like this one and of course even better is biodynamic wine.

5. Re-usable cups are important. No one likes plastic (least of all your green friends). But even the biodegradable ones are still kind of plastic-y, so why not use real glass or durable re-usable plastic (if you already have them at home)?

6. Cloth napkins are always elegant, but they take on new meaning at a green party. They don’t need to be fancy. You can even use handkerchiefs or odds and ends from a variety of sets.

7. Biodegradable plates are good for the environment, and they feel sturdy, too. They’re actually much nicer to hold than regular paper plates.

8. If you must use cutlery, opt for your everyday stainless. You can wash it. It’s better than plastic that gets thrown away.

9. There’s no need for party favors. People don’t need more stuff, least of all the greenies. If you do want to give something away, a nice reusable bag is always appreciated.

10. And as Diane pointed out, you can compost the left-over party food!

–Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Remembering the Edible Schoolyard

March 10th, 2008

Last week OrganicMania published a series of posts about “How to Get Organics and Healthier Foods into the Schools.” A comment from MamaBird led to today’s guest post, where she writes about her time teaching at a school with one of the nation’s most progressive school lunch programs. What else would one expect from Berkeley, California?

In my students’ minds, the crisp lettuce in the field we skipped through on our journey was just as fascinating as the computers that waited amidst the stacks of books at our local library. It was 1998, and most of the young men and women loping
past the garden had no access to computers at all (many had just arrived in the country). But it was the vegetables that held their attention. On a field trip with an English Language Learner class, I couldn’t help but marvel at the audible excitement and interest over the garden and its teen gardeners. Teacher Patti Rathwell got her students into King’s school kitchen routinely, brought food into the class to illustrate
everyday concepts, and the students’ families brought in delicacies representing cuisines from all over the world to mark special celebrations. Speaking over a dozen languages, the premium form of communication among our students was laughter,
gesture, and the anticipation of flavor.

In 1998, I was a student teacher from UC Berkeley’s MUSE Program apprenticed to two classrooms at Martin Luther King Middle School. The nascent Edible Schoolyard
program, started in 1996 by a collaboration between Chez Panisse and the school
(via the Chez Panisse Foundation), was thriving by the time I landed at King. As I recall, the kids called it the “Peace Garden” and every one of the kids I taught, from
middle school second language learners ranging from 6th to 8th grade, to the 8th
graders in my humanities class, was itching to get their hands dirty. You could almost see the infusion of energy into the crops. These kids were fascinated with what their peers were creating, with their bare hands and brains. They longed to be longed to be outdoors, to work with the soil. But even more, they longed to be in the kitchen, chopping and slicing and mixing and…eating! I’ve never seen such a worthwhile channeling of teen squirm in all my life.

I’ve been thinking about the Edible Schoolyard recently, as I face the reality of
public school lunches here in DC for my daughter and her friends. I’m heartened by the fact that Berkeley, and other schools like Wisconsin’s Appleton Central Alternative School (ACAS), have adopted programs harnessing the power of
delicious and satisfying food to improve not just health but performance. Lunch
Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
, by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes, is a riveting book that chronicles success stories like the Edible Schoolyard and
Appleton’s ACAS, while giving parents concrete suggestions: healthy recipes and contact info for organizations working to effect change in lunch programs.

One school that’s crafted a school environment rich in healthy food and a focus on physical education is Appleton’s ACAS (which banned vending machines and instituted fruit-and-vegetable rich breakfasts and lunches). Appleton has quantifiably documented the impact of providing “nonchemically processed foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.” Improvements seen include: more focused on-task behavior, increased cognitive development,
fewer health concerns, fewer discipline problems, better attendance, and better nutrition outside of school.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of our schoolchildren (many of whom rely on school
breakfast and lunch programs as their primary source of nutrition) got a side of nutrition education and sustainable agriculture with their salad bar lunch?
Where to look for more info about transforming your own school? Check
out the following organizations for ideas.

The Center for Ecoliteracy, Lunch Lessons, Better School Food, Food for Change, and Farm to School.

MamaBird from SurelyYouNest

Copyright 2008 MamaBird

Six Reasons to Love a CSA (They’re More than Just Kale!)

February 11th, 2008

Some Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups have a reputation for providing their members with little more than an overabundance of kale, chard, and root vegetables with a few sprigs of parsley thrown in. CSAs, as you may know, are collectives formed to purchase a farmer’s or a group of farmers’ crops. Members share in the bounty (or the loss) and the farmers are guaranteed a set price for their crops.

CSA Pick-up Point

While it’s true that through my recent CSA experience, I have learned I prefer chard to kale, the recent growth in the “buy local” movement and the growing popularity of CSAs means that if you join one, you’re likely to enjoy a far broader range of foods than in years past.

Following are six reasons to love a CSA (Part 1 of 2 Posts on CSAs)

1. Variety – It’s easy to fall into a rut at the market, picking the same familiar veggies and fruits every week. Through a CSA, you may be exposed to celeriac, black radish, salsify, purple top turnips, passionfruit, persimmon, kabocha squash, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet white turnips, and Big “Florida-type” avocados, in addition to those CSA stand-bys, chard and kale! Some CSAs also provide fantastic farm fresh cheese and wonderful varieties of home-baked bread.

2. Commitment – Since you are required to pre-pay for your CSA membership, you’ll likely make it a point to get your CSA share every week. C’mon, admit it. How many times have you resorted to processed or convenience food because you simply hadn’t made it to the market for something fresh?

3. Inspiration – With the abundance of new foods to experiment with, odds are you’ll have to dust off that old cookbook and take a look at some recipes for the unfamiliar produce in your share. Cooking and discovering new recipes are all part of the CSA adventure! (Check out this blog with recipes matched to shares from the Spiritual Food for the New Millenium CSA).

4. Family Learning – My kindergartner is learning about where food really comes from, how delicious fresh organic and biodynamic food tastes, and even how to carefully measure produce on the scales. As part of our volunteer commitment to our CSA, he’s also learned how to bag flax seeds and practiced counting and sorting more than 100 bags.

5. Health – Between the variety of food, the desire to cook more healthy meals at home, and the forcing function of receiving a pre-paid weekly CSA share, odds are your regular diet will become much healthier.

6. Fun – I love visiting the CSA with my children. It is a fun, relaxed escape from the surrounding urban area.

And of course, the most important reason to join a CSA is to help the environment by supporting local, organic and biodynamic farmers.

Please check out this post explaining what’s behind the biodynamic food in some CSAs, and come back next Monday for the second part in this series, which will discuss how to choose a CSA that’s right for you.

To find a CSA near you, visit LocalHarvest.org.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

The Day After Super Tuesday: Need a Good Cuppa Joe?

February 6th, 2008

I was planning to post more today about green and organic alternatives for Valentine’s Day, but like many of you, I suspect, I can’t stop thinking about last night’s thrilling election returns. I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, so commenting seems off-topic. But what do we politically aware, green and organic Dems, Republicans and Independents all have in common? We’re probably all tired from staying up late last night waiting for the returns!

Now here’s where the dividing line may occur. Some of you may have sworn off coffee for health reasons. But I’ve seen just as much science showing that coffee in moderate amounts can be good for you. Since espresso has less caffeine than coffee (and I think it’s more delicious), I drink café lattes in the morning to get me going, especially on a day like today. After getting to bed at midnight, today was a three latte morning.

And if you’re looking for a good cuppa java to help you make it through the day, I’d like to introduce you to Café Altura. I love this stuff! It is biodynamic, organic, and fair trade. What’s more, as you can see from the photo, they deliver! So convenient and so delicious! And at under $11 per pound (including shipping), it’s a great buy, too! (Lest you wonder, I have no affiliation with Altura other than the fact that I drink their coffee, which my darling husband buys! In other words, this post is not a paid post or advertisement! In fact, to-date, OrganicMania has not accepted any advertising).

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By the way, MamaBird at Surely You Nest had a great post about Fair Trade recently…great explanations…check it out.

– Lynn

Biodynamic: The New Organic

February 1st, 2008

There’s a secret I’ve been keeping. It’s my family’s recent devotion to biodynamic food. The reason I haven’t mentioned this before? I thought I didn’t understand biodynamics well enough to blog about it.

Yet after hearing someone ask if biodynamics were “bad for you,” I realized an introduction was needed to this amazing yet uncommon food. There is a sense of mystery about biodynamics because biodynamics is shrouded in spiritual mystique. In fact, the biodynamic food my family eats is called “Biodynamic: Spiritual Food for the New Millennium.”

So no, biodynamics is not bad for you. On the contrary. I wish everyone could benefit from biodynamic food, which raw and living food expert Sharon Greenspan of Wild Success™ has dubbed “The New Organic.” While biodynamics pre-dates the organic movement by two decades, to most people, the concept of biodynamics is new. Biodynamic food harkens back to an earlier era in the organic food industry, a time before it was an industry, before there was organic processed food and before organic was anything other than local food.

For six years, I sampled incredibly delicious biodynamic fruits when my yoga teacher would leave them out as snacks at her Shanti Yoga ashram. Biodynamic food is simply the freshest, best tasting food available. And its most ardent devotees claim it is also the most nutritious, “rich in vitamins, minerals and life-force or ‘prana,’ ” according to Victor Landa of the Spiritual Food for the New Millenium organic and biodynamic CSA.

I risk sounding strange by admitting this, but I swear that the first few times I ate biodynamic food, I felt a rush, like my blood vessels were opening up or something incredible was going on in my body as it received this incredibly pure, wholesome food. When I asked my yoga teacher about what made biodynamics so special and how it differed from the organic food I could pick up at the supermarket, she said, “This is better than organic. It has spiritual forces, the forces of life.”

The spiritual forces she mentioned are tied in with the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, father of the Waldorf movement and developer of the biodynamic method of farming.

Tennessee’s “Barefoot Farmer” explains on his website that Steiner believed “that the use of artificial fertilizers [would] have a detrimental effect on our soils and eventually our human spiritual development.” The Spiritual Food CSA’s website notes “spiritual food is about more than avoiding chemicals. Growers seek to improve the health and vitality of soil, plants and animals through working with the health-bearing forces of nature on the principle that if the soil is healthy, chemicals are not needed and seeds will bring forth plants that are true to their own unique nature and have more life-giving vitality to offer.” But biodynamics is about more than avoiding the use of chemicals – it’s about tapping into the cycles of the sun and moon to foster nature’s bounty. As the Spiritual Food website explains, “Steiner farmers avoid chemicals, hormones, and non-therapeutic antibiotics. Instead, they seek to understand how living things behave, how they interact, and the spirits that underlie them. They use the cycles of the moon and planets to guide their planting schedules, and treat their soil and seeds with preparations made from organic plant and animal elements, developed by Steiner and his compatriots.”

Despite skepticism about what my husband calls “these fruity nutty granola elements,” we took the plunge and joined the ashram’s biodynamic CSA, which provides us with a potluck assortment of biodynamic and regular organic food every week. As we’ve marveled at the incredible flavors of the persimmons, eggs, bread, squash, citrus, apples, and other wonderful grains, vegetables, and fruits, my husband has tried to figure out what it is that makes biodynamic food so special. Finally, he surmised that maybe it’s because the spiritual farmers pay so much attention to the growing process, it is nearly perfect. When I told my yoga teacher about his conclusion, she laughed in her quiet way, and said, “That’s right!”

Although one of the goals of the biodynamic movement is to make the food “available to as many people as possible” because “biodynamic food nourishes the body and the spirit,” unfortunately it’s simply not possible to feed everyone this way because there are so few biodynamic farms. Even in our CSA, which is a leader in the biodynamic movement, we can’t expect all of our CSA shares to be biodynamic. Instead, we enjoy healthy, local organic food as well.

If your family is unable to participate in a biodynamic CSA, you can still eat healthier this year by buying local and organic food. I’ve blogged about the prices and availability of organic food at places like Giant, Safeway, Target, WalMart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Balduccis, local organic markets and co-ops, and new regional organic chains like Roots. Now, thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network, I’ve learned that the Kroger chain offers organic foods as well. This means that no matter where you live in the US, you should have access to organic food. And that’s good news for Mother Earth and mothers everywhere.

Links to biodynamic farmers and resources:
San Diego County’s LaVigne Farms (wonderful persimmons and other fruit!)
Nebraska’s Massena Farm (amazing oats and flax seed and other grains!)
Pennsylvania’s Kimberton Hills (best bread and more!)
New York’s Threshold Farms (amazing apples and more!)
Indiana’s Fragrant Farms (fragrant flowers and more!)

Spiritual Food of the New Millenium CSA (Shares can be sent by US postal service nationwide!)

Local Harvest (List of CSAs, including biodynamic CSAs nationwide)

Bon appetit!

– Lynn

Copyright 2008, Organicmania