Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home Ec Circa 2012

Home Ec has changed since I was a kid toiling away in the Kumquat Kitchen (they really called it that in honor of the color of the counter tops!). These days it’s called “Family and Consumer Science”, but the kids call it “sewing” or “cooking”. Each of these units last 8 weeks, but are required classes for the two years of middle school here in south central PA.  

When my first child traveled through the curricula of cooking, I was flabbergasted to listen as he regaled what he learned to cook! Smoothies! (is this actually cooking? Isn’t it just “chop, drop, and press the button”?) Coffee drinks! Cake Pops! Cookies! Pancakes! Brownies! It seemed as though if it contained sugar, it was on the menu. By the end of the semester I felt confident that my son could hold his own behind the counter at Starbucks. 

Now as my daughter works her way through the same classes, she corrects me as to the proper names of the cooking instruments. “It’s not a spatula, it’s a turner, mom.” As if I am too ignorant to be trusted with lifting the cookies off the sheet if I don’t even know the proper name for the flipper I’m using! I informed her that the rubber spatula was actually called a “child cheater” and she rolled her eyes and gave up. When I lamented that she wasn’t learning to cook any real food, she protested, “But tomorrow we’re making Cherry Crisp!” Ten to one the cherries come out of a can, loaded with sugar and food dye, and there are no cherry pitters involved in this lesson. 

I appreciate the districts efforts, truly I do, but as I said before, Home Ec has changed. You can’t teach a child to cook in 8 weeks when there are 30 or more kids in the class and you have no budget for fresh ingredients.  

Talk to a young adult these days and quiz them on their cooking abilities. 9 out of 10 will tell you frankly, they don’t cook. And really, they don’t. They reheat, they unwrap, they order out, they “chop, drop, & press the button”, and many of them do not know much about cooking beyond boiling a pot of pasta, and that’s being generous. 

A wonderful young adult from my community has house sat for us on several occasions. This is a former honor roll student, very bright and articulate. When we arrived home from our last trip, she had forgotten to remove her groceries from the week she spent at our house. No problem, I gathered them all up for her. I have a large, well-equipped kitchen, yet every single item required no more than a microwave to prepare. I don’t think she’s outside the norm.

Much attention is focused on the children in this time of the “obesity epidemic” in the US, but take a look around and you’ll see those same children growing in to adults who do not know how to eat healthy. The schools are certainly not teaching them. Nutrition rears its important head during health class and occasionally science, but I would wager to bet it’s not a vital cog in the home economics curriculum where they make such great use of a blender. 

If we want to stem the tide on this epidemic, we must equip our children not only with the knowledge of what foods they should eat to be healthy, but how to cook those foods. What I wouldn’t give for my daughter to come home and announce, “We learned how to cook broccoli today without letting it get mushy!” Sadly, I’m guessing those words will never pass her lips. 

To that end, I instituted a new policy in my house for my two Home Ec grads. One night a week they each are responsible for planning and preparing dinner. My only guidelines were – it needs to be balanced and it needs to include at least two vegetables or fruits. My son took the news of our new policy in stride planning a steady menu revolving around hamburgers. My daughter sighed and slumped and warned that I had to eat what she cooked. Touché!  

My husband assists my son on his night. Being boys, several of the meals have involved the grill. I assist my daughter and she has produced three delicious meals so far that included her major food group - pasta. The first was fettuccini alfredo and baked chicken fingers. I watched from the breakfast bar as she dipped and breaded the chicken, wiping her hands after each piece. I said nothing. They were delicious. Last week she made homemade pesto with the basil from our yard. It was magnificent. The boys opted for plain noodles, but she was triumphant. 

Cooking has a way of transforming my kids. It gives them confidence and skills so that when the time comes they will be able to cook a real meal for themselves and not subsist on frozen dinners. My husband calls my daughter the “apathetic chef” doing a funny imitation of her attitude each week when we inform her it’s her turn. “Whatever,” she says and pretends she doesn’t care. When we ask what she would like to cook she again replies, “Whatever.” But then once she gets started, her interest is peaked and she creates delicious meals. I doubt she would ever volunteer to cook a meal before this trial began, but now I’m certain that she will be cooking circles around me in no time. 

My 10-year-old asked me last night if he could cook dinner. I said, sure, and his eyes lit up. Whatever his older siblings do, he wants to do, but more than that, he hears us having fun together in the kitchen and he wants in on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Save Money and Get a Clean House: Become a Hermit!

Our road is closed for construction. We have effectively lived at the tail of a long dead end street for the past month. At first we lamented the extra four miles it would take to get anywhere. The kids chaffed at the idea that their new bus stop was a ½ mile walk away. But as we near the completion of the project, I have mixed feelings. 

I’ve grown accustomed to the quiet. I like the absence of traffic. I’ve enjoyed running in the early mornings, knowing the only cars I will encounter are my neighbors who drive slowly past, waving to me and my dog. I savor the silence in the mornings as I hang out the laundry and the peaceful evenings on the screened in porch.

 The detour has changed my life in other ways. I know longer “run to the store real quick” for anything. I save up my errands and don’t go “over the hill” (as my husband calls it) until I have to. It’s saved gas, but more than that, it’s saved time. I had no idea how much time I’d been squandering. Staying home more has led to a semi-clean house, a semi-weeded garden, and even to semi-exercised horses! 

I wonder if when the road is open again I will go back to my frequent wanderings. I am grateful for the inconvenience of the state’s odd choice of construction projects (they are replacing a grate that ferries a teeny, tiny run-off stream under the road to join Deer Creek to the tune of $900,000. The new grate could accommodate a small river.). I’m hopeful that my hermit habit will stick. I like being home more and I’ve saved money, not just on gas. When my oldest was stumped for what to cook on his night, he opted for hot dogs. Having promised to provide him with all the ingredients he needed for his culinary endeavor, I was obligated to go over the hill for the rolls. But as I headed for the car, I thought, “Can I make hot dog rolls?” Yes! I can! Similar scenarios played out again and again, as I made due or got creative with menus and school projects. 

Can you find the adorable dog watching?
We are all driving too much, wasting gas and precious time. Perhaps a state enforced confinement isn’t the motivator you need to evaluate how many times you run to Walmart. What if you couldn’t go out? Could you work with what you have? Our road will open back up soon, but I’m going to try to retain the new habits the detour has given me. I like the hermit life.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Me Thinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much

All week I keep running in to the recent study being widely heralded across our nation declaring that organic fruit, vegetables, and meat are no more nutritious than conventional fruit, vegetables, and meat. So? I think the study completely misses the point on organics. I don’t eat organic because I think the food is better for me nutritionally, I eat it because it doesn’t have pesticides, GMO engineering, artificial additives, preservatives, and God knows what else in it.  

As a parent of a child with an incurable auto immune disorder which has an environmental trigger that has yet to be identified, I’m all about avoiding unnecessary chemicals. My leanings aside, there have been MANY studies indicating the potential danger of pesticides, artificial food dyes, and GMO engineered foods. Beyond that, no person with a fully functioning brain needs a study to tell them that chemicals meant to kill insects are not something they want to be ingesting. 

Beyond the nutrition and the chemicals avoided, I eat organic fruits, vegetables, and meat because they taste better. I’ve done my own studies, and the four other participants in my extremely local study agree with me. Organic food tastes exceedingly better and we don’t need a multi-million dollar study to tell us that. 

Now, if you want to compare the nutritional value of locally grown fruits and veggies with conventionally grown veggies shipped to me from across the country, I would hypothesize that the local stuff is more nutritious simply because it’s fresh. It hasn’t lost valuable nutrients in the process of being stored and shipped.

I’ve come across this Stanford study in basically every newspaper, periodical, and news web page I’ve opened this week. Which begs the question, who’s paying for all this publicity? (And who funded the study to begin with?) Could it be that conventional farming lobbyiests and food industry advocates are desperate to turn the tide of public opinion? At my house, the party that protests the loudest is typically the guilty party. Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Natural Carpet Cleaning (or The Cat's New Digs)

We have a new barn cat. Well, actually we have a new barn cat that used to be our house cat before he took to using my daughter’s room as a litter box. Eww. I won’t embarrass her by saying publicly there’s a reason he chose that particular room. I’ll just say that she’s the creative type. They always say that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind. Well, she’s VERY creative.  

Anyway, the cat is adapting to the barn now that his food has moved up there, and he’s discovered that there is plenty of supplemental food available with just the slightest effort. The mice that were living large on the spilled chicken feed and barrels of horse feed are feeling a bit under siege. 

Back to the smelly room. Although we cleaned up each accident as soon as it was spotted (so to speak), the smell became unbearable. So this past weekend we borrowed a carpet cleaning machine from a friend (thanks Allison!). After two solid days of unearthing, uh, I mean cleaning, the room, we discovered the carpet and along with that plenty of places where the cat left its mark. 

Not wanting to use the expensive, industrial carpet cleaning solutions I found at the store, and having failed to eliminate the stink with my favorite go-to cleaner vinegar, I sought out a natural carpet cleaner. After spending way too much time reading organic cleaning blogs (who knew there were so many!), I found a recipe that seemed to have the most reliable results. While I’d like to give credit where credit is due, this recipe was on several sites and I couldn’t really determine where it originated. 

It worked like a charm and left the room smelling of lavender. Of course, this morning when I was moving furniture back in to the room, the other cat followed me in and curled up on the freshly laundered carpet. I suppose it remains to be seen (and smelled) if we banished the right kitty!

All-Natural Carpet Cleaner (for machines)

 6 cups hot, hot water (but not boiling)

¼ cup 3% hydrogen peroxide (the kind in the brown bottle – also excellent for cleaning bathrooms)

1 ½ Tablespoon white vinegar

1 ½ Tablespoons dish detergent

½ teaspoon essential oil (we used lavender and tea tree oil)