April 15, 2010

baby epicure

scarfing down a dessert of bananas

There's nothing as much fun for someone who likes to cook as an appreciative eater. The Little Pea is a loud, lip-smacking, spoon-waving, groaning and mmm'ing appreciative eater - I've never cooked for someone so enthusiastic about their three squares a day. She makes it easy to be adventurous in the kitchen.

I've really enjoyed making baby food for her, and thought I'd share a little of the fun with you all. First, a couple of books that we love:

Simply Natural Baby Food, by Cathe Olson
Feeding Baby Green, by Dr. Alan Greene (love love love Dr. Greene!)

The first book is a great little cookbook for babies and toddlers. We were pleased to realize that you can feed a little baby just about anything (natural), as long as you prepare it properly for her. This book taught us how to cook all sorts of veggies and grains to make them safe and appealing for babies who are just starting solids, and well into toddlerhood.

Dr. Greene's book is one of those big advice books written by a pediatrician, but he is very down-to-earth (and all about saving the earth), and we were inspired by his adventurous approach to feeding little ones.

Since babies can't have salt, and since we don't tend to like our vegetables smooshy, the little one isn't eating much of our table food yet. But boy, is she eating diversely. We found that it's fun, easy and cheap to steam up a big pot of vegetables, puree them (when she was tiny) or cube them (so that she can practice feeding herself) and then use ice cube trays to freeze them in individual portion sizes. That makes it really easy to give her a very well-rounded meal full of interesting foods, with very little work.

I have to say that making your own baby food is also far cheaper than buying it at the store, and you get a lot more variety too (not to mention the ability to serve everything organic). We found that depending on the particular ingredients, home-made baby food is anywhere from one-third to one-tenth of the price of store-bought. And of course there's the environmental benefit of less consumption, packaging, transport, production energy, etc.

My partner was particularly inspired by Dr. Greene's book to try to feed our little one something from all 21 plant families before she turned one. The ones in italics are plant families she hasn't tried yet:

1. Mushrooms
2. Amaranths - spinach, chard, beets, quinoa
3. Umbrellifers - carrot, fennel
4. Cruciferous vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower
5. Bromeliads
6. Composites - lettuce (swiped from the garden beds)
7. Bindweeds - sweet potato - the all-time favorite!
8. Gourds - butternut squash
9. Heath plants
10. Legumes - peas and all sorts of beans
11. Lilies - onion
12. Woody trees - banana
13. Sesames
14. True grasses - oats, brown rice
15. Rosy plants - apple, peach, pear, plum
16. Citrus - lemon
17. Nightshades - peppers
18. Grapes
19. Laurels - avocado (best lunch on-the-go)
20. Myrtles
21. Loosestrifes

Hm, seven plant families to go. Perhaps we'll be having mushrooms, pineapple and tahini for lunch tomorrow. Yum!

April 9, 2010

Dig in!


if you are in the LA area and are in any way connected to a school (or community) garden come on down! it is sure to be worth your while...

April 8, 2010

Calling All Amateur Gardeners

Hello Sew Green readers! I'm Jennifer and I usually blog about vegetarian food over at It Ain't Meat, Babe. This is my first post for Sew Green so I decided to focus on my current non-cooking obsession: my garden. Enjoy!

My friend Shawn has been a gardener as long as I've known him. He comes from a family that planted, no joke, one hundred tomato plants every summer. And even when we were both in our early twenties, when all my other friends were more interested in booze and rock 'n roll, Shawn and his partner Katie were thinking about, talking about, and growing their own food.

For the past decade I've had sporadic container gardens. When my living situation allowed for it, I'd have some basil, lettuce, and tomato plants on the back deck. I always wanted to grow as much of my own food as possible, being very aware of the positive effects it would have on both the environment and my health. I liked those little container gardens just fine, but I dreamed of something bigger. Then I moved into a home with a vast yard and my lovely partner built a fence to keep the dogs out of the sunniest part of it. I finally had my chance. Last year was my first year as a full fledged, in-the-ground, gardener. I was terrified.

As anyone who has ever started a garden knows, it can be completely overwhelming. I didn’t know what to grow where, let alone which specific variety of organic tomato to order from which fancy seed catalogue. So, I played it safe and bought plants from a local nursery, not trying anything from seed. I found the thought of seeding my own plants wildly intimidating. With the plants from the nursery, I reasoned, all I had to do was keep them alive. Someone else had the daunting task of growing them from seed.

side yard with laundry

Truthfully, the selection of vegetable plants at the local nurseries and markets wasn't that great. And the food I grew was nice, but not as amazing as the heirloom vegetables I got at the neighbourhood farmer's market. It was enough to make me want to conquer my fears of seed starting as I moved into my second year of small-scale urban farming. I started reading up on how to seed my own plants.

One of the problems that a novice gardener faces is how to navigate a whole internet’s worth of contradictory gardening advice. Sites discussing seed starting were no exception. You need grow lights! You don't need grown lights! Start your seeds in paper towels! Just shove your seeds in the ground! Seed them in toilet paper rolls! Seed them in the largest pots possible! It was enough to make me put my head down on the table and weep.

Which is when I turned to Shawn. I figured with the years of gardening experience he had under his belt, he'd probably give me reasonable advice on the delicate art of seed starting.

He did. He told me one thing in particular that has been echoing in my head since I read it in the text of his advice-filled e-mail. The most important piece of advice anyone has given me since I began my gardening adventures.

He said, "Plants grow through f@#*ing cement."

In other words, relax. Plants know what they're doing.

Besides that priceless piece of advice, Shawn told me that for seed starting, a south facing window was going to be my best friend. Check! The window in our kitchen faces south and has a nice wide sill. He told me to get whatever potting soil mix I liked, then add my own compost (which, for our vegetarian household, is rich and plentiful), fill up some trays, cover them with one of those clear plastic domes, add water, and wait.

I nervously hovered over my seedlings for a few days, wondering if anything at all would pop out of all that soil. Then I forgot to check one day and by the time I remembered, about a dozen skinny green seedlings were poking their way up out of the dirt towards the light.

And that's where we are right now in this long and lovely gardening process. I removed the dome as soon as I saw green (also Shawn's suggestion) and I've been using a spray bottle full of water to gently dampen the trays of seedlings every day (again, Shawn). This weekend I planted another tray, this one full of basil seeds. I can't wait to see them start to poke up out of the soil. Finally, I'm confident that I can do this whole seed starting thing. I may be an amateur, but at least the plants know what they're doing.


April 1, 2010

Green commuting

Here in the Northeastern region of the U.S., spring has officially arrived! We're supposed to see temperatures near 80(F) this weekend, highly unusual for this time of the year. In addition to getting my garden started, I'll be out on my bike. As you can read in my bio, cycling is a big part of my life.

There are lots of good reasons to bike: it's good for your health, connects you to your surrounding community, reduces the amount of your budget for transportation, and reduces impact on the environment. I first wrote about this at RocBike in 2007, but since this is my first post for sew green, I thought it would be a good idea to re-visit the green reasons for bike commuting.

According to The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the 3 priority areas for consumers in reducing environmental impact are: transportation, food, and household operations. These are the 3 areas in which individual consumers can have the most impact, with transportation being numero uno.

The 5 specific recommended actions to reduce your transportation impact are:

1. Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.

2. Think twice before purchasing another car.

3. Choose a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car.

4. Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.

5. Whenever practical, walk, BICYCLE, or take public transportation.

The Earth Policy Institute reports that since 1970, bicycle production has outpaced automobile production, with bicycle production having quadrupled while car production has doubled. The report is optimistic about the potential of bicycling for reducing traffic congestion and pollution.

If you're an aspiring bike commuter, here are a few resources to help you get started:

--Bike Commute Tips blog by Paul Dorn.
--Ten Bike Commuting Myths Dispelled
--and there's always RocBike, which is especially relevant to those of us in wintry climes, but also expresses the sheer joy of bike commuting.

Finally, if you're concerned about safety, check out my post about how I overcame my own fear, after a near-miss accident involving my daughter.

I admire people who are completely car-free, and aspire to be one some day. But I haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen. However, I have been able to figure out how to live less than 5 miles from my place of work/study/yoga practice/spiritual community. I bike, walk, or bus whenever feasible, but since I do have access to a car, I have some guidelines about when I'm "allowed" to drive, which include circumstances such as extremely inclement weather, work-related reasons to drive, illness, and carrying very heavy loads.

What about you, our readers? How do you "green" your commute? Any other bike commuters out there? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments, as well as any suggestions for future transportation-related posts you'd like to see here at sew green.