Monday, March 21, 2016

The High Price of.... Bananas?

We go through a lot of bananas in this house. Loaded with potassium, they are portable, delish, and oh-so-good-for-you-that-Mom-will-never-say-no. I love them after a run to stave off cramping muscles. The kids eat them faster than I can buy them. If they hang around long enough to get brown, I freeze them to make banana smoothies and banana bread. So imagine my alarm when I stumbled across an article in Time magazine this week that trumpeted the impending surge in the price of bananas!

Apparently the big banana growers, Del Monte and Chiquita are planning on passing on the increase they’ve experienced in the cost of fuel. Never mind that bananas are the most frequently purchased fruit in America (which is kind of funny to me since they are one of the only fruits we can’t grow here), even Wal-Mart can’t save us from the inevitable price increase. I already pay a high price for organic bananas, so what caught my attention in the article, wasn’t the price gauging, but the fact that bananas are picked green and loaded on to special boats in to gas chambers where they are then blasted with ethylene gas so that they will ripen by the time they reach the stores.

This led me to wonder – are my organic bananas being gassed? After much too much time casing the internet, I have to conclude that I don’t know. Maybe. The federal government approves the use of ethylene on organic bananas. Their argument is that that ethylene simply speeds up a natural process. Hmmm. That smells of some powerful lobbyists.

So what are the dangers of ethylene gas? Ethylene gas occurs naturally in most fruits and vegetables, but the ethylene being use to gas most bananas is not the natural version – that’s too costly to justify. The ethylene gas being used by the big growers is a petroleum-based synthetic imposter that does the same job. It’s most dangerous to the people handling the gas before it is applied to the fruit. Workers exposed to the gas have reported nausea and dizziness. I couldn't locate any long-term studies on the effects of ethylene gas on the workers who handle it. (My guess is the guys loading the bananas in South America haven’t got the funds for a good lawyer) Another danger of handling ethylene gas is that it's explosive and at least one factory was destroyed by improperly handled ethylene.

So how do you avoid gassed bananas? Most likely, you can’t, unless you move to South America. But you can opt for the bananas that are green which may mean they were not chemically ripened or at least, only minimally. It’s easy to ripen them yourself at home. Just put the bananas in a paper bag with an apple. The apple lets off a natural ethylene gas which will ripen the bananas.

Some organic bananas are wrapped in plastic to ripen. I haven’t been able to verify that these bananas weren’t gassed, but I’m guessing if the company took the time/expense to individually wrap the banana cluster in tight plastic, they were opting out of the gas chamber.

So are organic bananas worth it? I’ve read in several sites that non-organic bananas are just fine, presumably because they are protected from the pesticides by their lovely natural yellow wrapper. This makes sense only until I remember that a banana, like all fruit and vegetables, comes from the ground in which it was grown. So if that ground is laden with pesticides and insecticides and heaven knows what else they use to boost production, the banana is full of it also. So as long as my kids consume bananas at the rate they do, I’ll stick to paying about 30 cents extra per pound to know I’m not serving them a side of chemicals with every banana.

I’ve always relished the banana for the shot of energy it delivers, but look what else it offers:

A medium banana has 100 calories and….

1 gram of protein
3 grams of dietary fiber
26.9 g carbohydrates
23.9 g sugar
467 mg Potassium
43 mg Magnesium
27 mg Phosphorus
7 mg Calcium
1.3 mcg Selenium
.4 mg Iron
Also trace amounts of zinc, manganese and copper
95 IU Vitamin A
11 mg Vitamin C
22.5 mcg Folate (important during pregnancy)
.7mcg Vitamin B6
.6 mg Niacin
.31 mg Pantothenic Acid
.67 IU Vitamin E

Wow! So what’s so great about all those vitamins? Well, for starters potassium doesn’t only help avert muscle cramps, it also helps regulate blood pressure and can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. We all need all the fiber we can get. Vitamin B6 is a tricky one to load up on but it boosts your immune system and helps regulate your nervous system. The calcium and protein are a boon, not to mention Vitamins A & C. So much good stuff, what’s not to love?

And here’s a few fun facts I collected while surfing the web:

- Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little "stringy things" off of it. That's how the primates do it.

- Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster.

- A banana really is a natural remedy for many ills. When you compare it to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in potassium and is one of the best value foods around. (

- You should store your bananas over the counter at room temperature until they reach the ripeness you want, then you can store them in the refrigerator. The peel of the fruit will darken in the refrigerator but the banana inside will remain firm and delicious. To ripen a banana faster, it should be put in a brown paper bag with an apple or tomato overnight. (

And just in case you need something to do with the bananas sitting on your counter turning brown, here’s my favorite banana bread recipe:

Banana Oat Quick Bread

3/4 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick oats
¼ cup flaxseed meal
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (or more if you’ve got it)
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil)
2 eggs
¼ cup quick oats
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons butter

1. Combine flour and next six ingredients. Make a well in center.
2. Combine banana, buttermilk, oil, and egg; add to flour. Stir just until moist.
3. Spoon into 8”x4” loaf pan coated with spray.
4. Combine ¼ cup oats, walnuts, brown sugar, and butter and sprinkle over batter.
5. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Monday, February 15, 2016

10 Simple Things You Can Do to Lower Your Grocery Bill

How'd you like to cut your grocery bill, improve your health, help the planet, and eat food that tastes great? It's within your reach. Here are a few ideas for making it happen. 

1. Don’t Buy Rinse Aid, Windex, or odor-repellents.

Use good ole white vinegar in place of all of these products. You may have to refill the rinse aid dispenser more often, but since vinegar costs about a tenth of those fancy, expensive, toxic, earth-polluting commercial rinse aid solutions, you’ll actually be saving money (and not contributing to the poisoning of our earth, sorry for the guilt-trip, couldn’t help myself.) Vinegar diluted with water, is more effective, creates on build-up, is non-toxic, and works great on windows, mirrors, and nearly all surfaces. Got a stinky trash can? Spray some vinegar in there and let it evaporate – it will remove the offending smell. Before you ask – yes - in all these uses, the vinegary scent disappears in minutes. There are lots of other ways to use vinegar to replace expensive cleaners.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Yes! You CAN Raise a Daughter Who Loves Her Body!

[Note: This is a guest post from an amazing woman I met via twitter. I'm super excited to share her writing and her message! I think it is a CRITICAL message for everyone who has a daughter. Give Hilary a shout out via twitter or in the blog comments if you agree!]

If I had read the title of this post a few years ago, I would have had two reactions: ‘that’s not possible’, and ‘tell me more.’ I would have been split down the middle between believing that we exist in a world where loving our bodies as women is nearing impossibility, and wanting desperately to know that it didn’t have to be that way.

But all of that doubt changed a few years ago. When trying to pick a topic for my master’s thesis, I kept coming back to the fear that I would one day have a daughter who struggled with her body in the same way I have. So, my supervisor and I set out to find young women who loved their bodies, and learn from them and their mothers what went right.

Over hours and hours of conversation with these women, and their mothers, we learned two very important things.

First, it is possible for young women to love their bodies, and their mothers absolutely had a role to play in that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You're Responsibility Vs. Deep-fried Twinkies....

After what seems like a very long hiatus, I’m back at it. I haven’t abandoned you my Kid Friendly Organic Life people! In fact, one of my New Year’s resolution is to get back to blogging regularly here.

Honest confession – it’s not just that I’ve missed you (I have! I have!), but also my jeans are getting a little tight and there’s just a bit too much white sugar creeping back into my world. My excuses are long and layered, but they amount to nothing more than distraction and laziness
I have discovered that I write about what I most care about, and lately that has been rescue dogs, fiction writing, and my own navel. Not that those are bad things, but it’s time to turn back to my health. I’m turning 50 this year which is a shock to me. Instead of running from that fact, I’m embracing it and that means getting serious about staying healthy.

We should all be serious about our health. There’s much too much taking-it-for-granted-until-it’s-too-late happening. In honor of that, I thought I’d tackle the NEW nutrition guidelines that have been behind a flurry of redundant filler articles turning up in every news outlet in town
Dietary Guidelines for Americans is published every 5 years for health professionals in light of the latest and greatest nutrition science. This momentous occurrence just occurred as the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines were published this past fall. If you want to read it in full (it’s long and has many, many tables and appendixes, but it’s very clearly laid out and not too governmenty) click here.

For the rest of us normal people, here’s the shortened version of the guidelines:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How I Grew the Biggest Lemons in Pennsylvania!

About seven years ago, I ordered a lemon tree through the mail. 

At the time, I was seriously over the edge in terms of doing EVERYTHING organic and decided that growing my own organic lemons was a good idea.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I live in Pennsylvania. Not Florida.

But the optimistic website assured me that I could grow lemons ANYWHERE. So, I said, “Awesome! Send me a tree!” (I’m sure that’s technically historical fiction, as the facts are fuzzy these many years later.)

The tree arrived and I carefully followed the directions and planted it in a humongous pot filled with wood chips mixed with soil (per the instructions that came with my tiny little tree).

For seven long years, I tended my plant. It grew and grew, eventually sprouting long sharp spikes that poked us when we passed too closely. One year, my angry husband cut all the spikes off the tree, but even that didn’t deter it. It just grew new spikes.

We moved it inside each winter where it proceeded to be forgotten for weeks at a time, only to be rescued from death by heavy watering, removal of all its dead leaves, and being doused with a seaweed fertilizer concoction.

Anyway – all that is to say – it’s not been an easy life for our little lemon tree. And for six long years it produced not one lemon.

But this year everything changed. This year we grew lemons! Really, really, really BIG lemons. Grapefruit sized lemons!

Early in the summer they were tiny little green balls, more like limes.

Somewhere about August they began to swell to epic proportions. So much so, that I took to Facebook to see if anyone knew what I was growing.

After much serious and some not-at-all-serious-but-very-entertaining discussion/speculation, it was decided that what I was growing were indeed lemons, but they wouldn’t be fully ripened until Thanksgiving, maybe even Christmas.

And what do you know? This is the lemon I picked from my tree last night.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cara's Famous Fabulous Clean-Out-the-Fridge Dip

Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it, perhaps a few house guests? A few gatherings? That’s the drill at my house. Lots of extra people, lots of extra food, lots of wine, lots of cooking, and hopefully, lots of other people in the kitchen besides me to load the dishwasher!

My family has a tradition of everyone helping with the big meal. This means that cousins and friends will arrive with bags and coolers of food. Space in the fridge will be at a premium. 

So, this week one of our most important tasks will be freeing up some room in the fridge. Here’s one of my favorite solutions (beyond just several nights of everybody-eat-anything-you-want-in-the-fridge) - The Clean Out the Fridge Dip and/or Cheese Spread.

Let me explain.