Sunday, March 22, 2009

Food. It's all about food.

(I really didn't think I would write this much - I had planned just to capture a few recent thoughts about White House gardens, meal planning, etc. And then...)

Earlier this week I was really excited to read about the organic vegetable garden that is being dug into the White House's South lawn - just down from the swing set, I believe. I found this exciting for a couple of reasons. One is that, like the swing set, it makes the White House seem like much more of a home - a place where a real family lives. Maybe it's the presence of schoolage children in the WH (when is the last time that happened?), maybe it is the politics, maybe it the point we are at in national culture, I don't know; whatever the reason, I like it.

I also like that everything grown there will be actual food - it isn't just a show garden or a school project. It's a working, family-feeding garden. Reading about all the different things that will be grown there - especially the lettuces - really made me think about the state of our own gardenspace and about food. I also like that Mrs. Obama knows not everyone has a green thumb or the space to flex it. “You can begin in your own cupboard,” she said, “by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.” (I got my quote from the NYT.)

Reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last summer sparked a mini-resurgence in my efforts to make our eating a little more health and earth friendly. And this idea continues to grow. Of course, we are also in the midst of Cora's toddler diet - the one where her likes and dislikes are entirely unpredictable. She used to like dressing on her salad. Then she didn't. Then she didn't like salad. Then she did. Then tonight she asked if she could have some of my "syrup" on her salad, too. And ate it all. Except for the piece she put on the floor for our cat Arvo. Who ate it. And later threw up.

So we have the usual dilemmas: to what extent are we okay with fixing her a separate meal? I try to either make things we all will like, or overlap our meals. So, while I might put spicy jerk sauce on our baked chicken, I leave hers plain or just use lemon juice and oregano on hers. Or, if we have mutter paneer, she has plain paneer and rice, with maybe a side of pb&j. Some of the same, something to round it out. But, of course, sometimes there is no getting around the fact that she won't eat enchiladas, refried beans, and rice. But, she will eat a quesadilla, and we will all have some guacamole. If we really want to eat something totally out of her league, she can usually bet on getting her quesadilla and guacamole, with a side of banana or applesauce. (And, I do plan out all our meals week by week. The shopping is mostly easier, but mostly it is easier on me because I don't have to make as many decisions throughout the week.)

This summer I plan on a few tomato plants, and definitely herbs. We're going to try some radishes and carrots, but I think we will be fighting the squirrels and odd rabbit over them. I would love to grow some lettuces, because I love lettuces. But, I think for it really be a success I would need a cold frame, and that isn't in the cards this year. So, my grow-my-own plans are fairly limited. But, I continue to try to eat more locally - I made a valiant attempt at getting us a CSA share this year. Unfortunately, finances and jobs are too uncertain to commit to one.

But, we do cook our own meals almost every night. I try to make each dinner also serve for lunch the next day, either as leftovers or as starter ingredients for something else. Breakfasts are mostly cereal or oatmeal. My big plan for once the berries start rolling in is to make some granola and have it with berries and yogurt most mornings throughout the summer. (Will I make my own yogurt? Tune in next season to find out!) We do still eat meat, though I keep trying to reduce the frequency. I'm intrigued with Mark Bittman's idea of being vegan until dinner time. I think being lacto-ovo vegetarian until dinner might frequenly work for us, except for those lunchtime leftovers some days.

We try to avoid processed foods, or at least choose "better" processed foods, like Annie's mac and cheese or Amy's frozen dinners, things like that. We had an interesting experience earlier this winter with high fructose corn syrup and Cora's digestive system - no more fruit snacks! Back to the Whole Foods brand cereal bars! Still, sometimes we all have a craving for chicken nuggets. Sometimes that cheesiest mac and cheese that comes in the blue box fulfills a nostalgic yearning. Sometimes I don't have time to make my own cookies.

Because we do like cookies. And cake. And boy am I anxious to make some pies this summer. And I do believe that when these things are homemade, they are less evil. And I am all about less evil in my pantry.


Mary G said...

I find that what is in the garden relates to how much freezer space I have. You can blanch and freeze stuff in compact chunks, even with only a small freezer compartment in your frig if you do it in small batches. I used to do wax beans; easy to grow, freeze well, kid friendly.
With a big freezer you can do berries - go pick them spread on cookie sheet, freeze, bag.
As for rabbits, et al, carnivore pee is the best deterrent. I know, yuck. But it does work.

Lee C. Thomas said...

You and I are so often on the same wavelength. I've been experimenting with homemade granola too. Let me know if you want to swap recipes.

And boy did I love last summer's fresh herbs from the garden. I must have used something out of there each week.

triciadm said...

We had grand ambitions this year and Carroll spent the whole weekend planting our vegetables. Within two days, though three-quarters of it was gone, thanks to the deer. Ugh.

Still, we'll keep trying to be less evil. My tomato plant in the Topsy Turvy upside down planter seems to be surviving.