Buy Donuts: Kids Hate Flaxseed Muffins

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 8.00.16 PMAs it happens, I was too lazy to make flaxseed muffins.

Our advisory has breakfast on Fridays. We take turns bringing in “food,” a.k.a donuts. I make jokes that there’s no police academy nearby, eat healthy food. I promise vats of scotch-oats or flaxseed muffins when it’s my turn. But, as adults wearing many hats are wont to do, I got lazy. I sat on my organic food-loving behind. I didn’t make flaxseed muffins.

I decided I to give my customers what they want. Donuts.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 7.58.18 PM“A dozen donuts, please, and a large coffee.” Donut man disappeared to bake each of the 12 donuts I requested. Or perhaps he had to finish growing and grinding the wheat. The man behind me in line began to shift his weight and the woman behind him looked at her watch. Twice. Because the person behind the counter moves just a little bit faster when you look twice.

I felt bad. There are days I’m the one checking the watch twice and the person in front of me, who seems to have a simple order, is ordering 27 different things all specially crafted and custom grown.

I shouldn’t go out for coffee when I’m running late. It’s the universe telling me to be patient. Or drink less coffee. Or leave earlier. Or to stop being a jerk.

But I use it as exercise in meditation and peace. As Donut Man mixed the batter for my last donut, I began to feel guilty. Both about feeding my students crap, and for holding up the great American workforce.

“Sorry to be that idiot ordering eighty-five things when you’re running late for work.” The woman looked up. I explained. “I’m getting my class donuts. I wanted to bake them flaxseed muffins. Healthier.”

She smiled–said how good those muffins would’ve been and kids need more people who care. I didn’t think I cared very much, feeding them processed flour and sugar before six other people had to teach them. I thanked her anyway.

“I remember those years,” she told me. “My daughter’s a teacher now. I remember the only time we knew what was going on with each other was during family dinner. We stopped everything. No phones. We had dinner and asked how each other’s day was. Too many families have to rush, work, and kids pop things in microwave. That’s why they eat poorly.”

I was about to say that they eat poorly because they have teachers who feed them donuts, but now I’m feeling guiltier that I don’t have enough sit down family dinners than I am about the donuts. We used to sit down to dinner together, too, with no phones. Cell phones weren’t invented, and no friends would dare call during The Dinner Hour. But then high school came and everyone went their own way for activities.

By then, microwaves had been invented. And so we, too, popped something in. Had I known how cutting edge we were, both on the microwave front and in destroying the family dinner, I might’ve been proud. Instead, I turned out to be an adult who taught kids it was okay to have donuts for breakfast.

Instead of caving to the guilt, I finished my conversation, thanked Donut Guy for the donuts and coffee thoughtfully prepared, and wished watch lady a great Friday. I was glad for the pleasant conversation. I left with a smile, entered my car with a smile, and entered class–with a smile. And donuts. It was nice connecting in the middle of the pre-work rush.

Sometimes all we need is a connection. A smile that says, “I’m glad you’re here” instead of rushing around in life. It makes a difference. Connecting is the magic that holds the universe together. Sometimes I forget–whether it’s a family dinner, a group of kids grateful for someone who cared enough to pollute them with donuts, or a smile in the coffee line, but it’s the critical glue. Without glue, things fall apart.

[images: cakechooser.com and nurturing-nutrition.com]

Screw Ups Are OK: Translate It into French (or Lie Like a Politician)

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 7.02.50 AMI made Thanksgiving dinner. Some of it, anyway. My mom made the desserts, except for the awesome gluten-free cookies contributed by my cousin, who dies if she eats certain ingredients. We try not to kill people on Thanksgiving. Then they can’t overshop for Christmas and the economy will be ruined.

I was skeptical of the cookies, which had an unnatural roundness to them as if they were pulling toward the center avoiding gluten with every core of their being. They were amazing, though. I apologized and ate two. I’m getting the recipe.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 7.20.26 AMI was responsible for creating all the side dishes. Rusty cooked the turkey on the beloved Big Green Egg. I mocked it at first but fell in love in the end. Taking on turkey duty meant he had one big thing to do and I had about fifty thousand little ones. Turkey duty carries more weight than side dishes, because dead bird, not turnips, is always the central focus of Thanksgiving. That gives him more pressure, being the headline act and all. I was supporting actress, running around having restaurant flashbacks. I never cooked in a restaurant, just brought the plates to the right people and smiled. I watched a lot of cooking and learned. Close enough.

It’s always good to save the screwups for a big holiday meal. First I overcooked the yams. No problem. When I mess things up, I translate them into French and tell everyone I meant it. “Yams Trop Cuit.” (trop cuit: overcooked). Sounds pretty fancy to me. I’d have put toasted blanched almond crumbles on top to finish off the ruse, but my sister’s allergic to almonds. If my cousin gets to live till the end of the meal, my sister should too. It’s only fair.

Next, I neglected to put water in the green bean steamer while I was talking on the phone to my rabbit-serving brother. Since one of the main ingredients in steaming is, in fact, steam, which requires water, that’s an omission. I made a just-in-time save, as was happening in so many football games I wasn’t watching because I was in the kitchen. I decided to let the beans retain their natural state after picking out the few ones black ones from the bottom that sacrificed themselves so that others could live. Taking a left turn from the casserole route, I served “Smoked Green Beans.” Delicious.

I usually roast Brussels sprouts on my grandmother’s antique, perfectly-seasoned cast iron–the kind generations feud over in the South when the matriarch dies. I live in the North. When my grandmother passed, everyone thought they were junk. Not me. My cousin took them and shared. In return, I burned the Brussels sprouts, then finished them off by leaving them in an oven I forgot to turn down. Taste, great. Eyeball appeal, zero. We named them “Cajun Blackened Sprouts.”  I had three servings. Sounded like the makings of a $20/plate appetizer to me.

Screwups happen. They’re okay as long as I cover them up like a politician, bouncing back with confidence and feeling, indicting my diners as if it is they who don’t understand the true depths of my culinary genius. I practiced that stare studying staff in high-end establishments who give me The Look when I try to order vegetarian.

Confidence is the name of the game in the kitchen. And the more I think about it, not a bad strategy for life, either.

[images: Atomic Housewife and SarahSteenland.com. Sarah is a great friend and genius whose art always makes me laugh. Sometimes I have to be careful what I say around her because comics will appear in short order. I love that the best. Check out her blog here, and have her make something for you. She does that. Affordably, I might add.]

 

What Do Vegetarian (Freaks) Eat for Thanksgiving?

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.23.05 PMIt’s the number one question I get. Never mind that I never eat dead animals, but, “What do you eat for Thanksgiving?” Being a vegetarian that one day is nearly sacrilege. I’ll break it gently–I eat the same types of things that I eat every other day of the year.

“How do you not eat turkey?” 

Simple. The pilgrims didn’t center their meal around Butterball, either. Sure, they might have had wild turkey on the table–they were tough to catch and not yet genetically modified for tenderness and extra white meat–but they were more likely to have other fowl, such as duck, goose, and pheasant. They also had five deer. There was no pumpkin pie (sugar was for rich people and the Wampanoags failed to use their corn to produce corn syrup) so they subbed in an amazing prune tart with rosemary for dessert. Sounds like a paleo cookbook.

They ate shellfish, notably muscles and lobster. Lobster was considered poor man’s food, not something you’d get for someone you wanted to impress. I wouldn’t be impressed by lobster. Something about the poor creature staring at me before it died–even if I ate meat you wouldn’t get points with me for that. It’s my Dad’s doing. I was five. He got two lobsters. We played with them and raced them. I was very happy. I thought he got them for me as pets. And then…

Needless to say I never ate lobster again. So, if I were a Pilgrim, I wouldn’t have enjoyed lobster. Even if Squanto did the executions.

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.31.34 PMToday, Thanksgiving has plenty of options for vegetarians. We have a world of ingredients that don’t include dead things, and since I can cook a ton of stuff from scratch, the sky’s the limit. I was thinking of a curry, but that’s not allowed. Last year I was told, “You will not make whatever smells like that near my turkey again.” I thought it smelled awesome. I figured Ethiopian food might get the same reaction. So, this year, I’m going Dominican.

You might say, “But there’s no Spanish food that’s vegetarian!” You’d be right. One year, I had one single Dominican student (ever) who was a vegetarian, and he had a host of dishes that were recreated without dead things. Tasty. He taught me some. So, I’m making something I can’t really translate correctly that’s supposed to have pork in it. I substituted chick peas. Fair trade.

For dessert, I’m wondering if I can feign historical accuracy by bringing back the prune tart without anyone noticing. Not really sure…

In case you are wondering, I will eat on Thanksgiving. Probably better than people sucking down wings in front of a football game. If you want some vegetarian food, I can save you a sampler plate–some of which I even grew myself, and none of which was killed by me. That makes it a tasty, good karma Thanksgiving, where the turkeys who taunt me in my road get to live just a little bit longer, and I like my food just fine.

[image: vegsouce.com and The Happy Raw Kitchen

Never Waste Good Cheese on Children–Feed them Processed Food

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 5.48.14 AM“Mommy!” Declan stood in front of me with a Lindt truffle. “Please don’t put these in my lunchbox anymore. They’re yucky.”

I’ve been sick, and I haven’t been fun. I feel guilty. So, I put some extra treats in the lunchbox. The Halloween candy went missing, so I put a single milk chocolate truffle in his box. The kind that I save for adults and dignitaries. Sharing that’s a big deal. I was being extra nice…like when I give up my seat for an old person or lay out the best spread for company.

“They’re yucky. They’re caramel.”

“They’re not caramel, they’re truffles. Really good chocolate. They melt in your mouth and make you happy.”

“Well, I’m not happy. They’re yucky.” I remembered a lesson my brother taught me. You don’t waste good food on children. I went downstairs and found the bag of Halloween candy so I can chuck in a little Kit Kat tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 5.44.06 AM

Cato Corner Farm, where Elizabeth MacAlister and her son, Mark Gillman have been making some of the world’s best cheese since 1997.

Kids don’t appreciate good food, so they haven’t earned the right to get any. Nothing that costs over three dollars a pound should be given to kids in the single digits. Cheese comes to mind. My brother,  has worked with some pretty impressive foods and chefs. One day he taught me this lesson I hold dear to this day, “Never waste good cheese on children.” I buy Declan cheap American cheese. In this way, I am able to afford the best cheeses for myself, and not feel like I am breaking the bank. I can get the best chèvre, Manchego, brie, Stilton, camembert, Roquefort, and even try something new whenever I want. I love cheese, but it’s not cheap. Turns out, one of the nation’s renown cheesemaking operations has popped up in my hometown of Colchester, Connecticut, in a little farm called Cato Corner Farm. I’m proud to have some awesome cheese near where I grew up, but when it’s $10-$30 a pound, nothing would strike terror in my heart more than, “Mommy, can I have another hunk of that Drunken Hooligan?” It’s an amazing cheese even at $30/pound. I’m surely not going to waste so much as a sniff on Declan. He can sniff the cows while I sample the cheeses.

Declan hates the cheese aisle, too. He tries to escape by saying, “Uncle Dan said you should never waste good cheese on children. Get away from here!” It’s amazing that the boy can overhear a conversation three rooms away but can’t follow a simple direction when I’m staring right in his face.

Along these lines, I’ve started keeping a few inferior ingredients in the house. The emergency box of mac and cheese for lowbrow kid company, and a couple burgers in the freezer. I hate that Thomas Jefferson’s beloved mac and cheese has been bastardized and put in a yellow and blue boxes. I make it from scratch every time.

The last straw was brownie mix. Declan had his first boxed brownie at an event.

“Mommy, can you get boxed brownies?” My heart died a little bit. I make brownies from the highest quality fair-trade cocoa or melted chocolate with farm-fresh eggs from down the street and local butter. Mea culpa. It’s time to stop wasting good ingredients on children. He’s in school now, he sees the tasty processed food everyone eats. He feels left out. He needs to feel like an all-American boy. So, instead of making cheese pizza by hand with homemade dough, sauce and home-grown basil, he can have school lunch cheese pizza today. He’ll be happy as a clam, and I’ll save money for things that really matter–getting good food for the adults around here who appreciate it.

Maybe, just maybe, he can taste my brownies and the Drunken Hooligan in a decade or two. For now, I’ll keep my grocery bill down.

 

[images: catocornerfarm.com and rainbow.reisan.tumblr.com]

 

Frugal Is a Lie

Yes, it is an awful lot of work to can tomatoes.

Yes, it is an awful lot of work to can tomatoes.

I’m canning. Canning everything in sight, actually. Somehow, in the process of doing all this work, I live under the illusion that I’m saving money. It’s a lie.

It’s a lie I refuse to confront as I swim up to my chin in tomatoes, wash, and get ready to switch modes to apples. Somehow, returning to the arts of my grandparents seems the right thing to do–modern-day victory gardens, quasi-homesteading, shopping at the farm, foraging, DIY sewing projects, making cheese from scratch…living a simpler life.

But is it cheaper? Am I really the baroness of frugal that I pretend to be?

“Did you ever calculate how much you got from your garden and how much it cost?” asked my husband earlier in the season.

“No,” I said. I left it at that. The real answer is “No, because I’d have to confront the truth, which is ridiculously stupid.” I read “The $64 Tomato” just like every other wanna be urban homesteader. Then, I was ready to move to the country.

Frugal was easier in some respects when we lived in the city. There were coupons. The stores were four feet away in any direction. I got a ton of stuff free–I don’t think I paid for toothpaste for four years, and I just used the last bar of soap from my double-coupon-match-the-sales-free-soap-victory-extravaganza a very long time ago.

What? You want me to calculate the value of my time and add it into the equation, then tell you how much I saved?

Back then, it wasn’t much, because it was the height of the Recession. The world was crashing. I had time, but cash was at a premium. Matching the coupons, running around to the sales, keeping track of all the cluttery nonsense… it was effort, but it paid off in the end. It was a part-time job, to be sure. I got paid in free toothpaste and ten-cent shampoo. Money would’ve been more convenient.

I ended up with bags of free stuff. I brought the extras to the shelters. I enjoyed getting resources where they need to be. But I’m done with that clutter. Living out in the sticks, I’m not near a bunch of drug stores that let me run around matching sales. Cows don’t take coupons. I do it differently now. Use less, waste less, get better stuff.

My coupon life has come to an end. I think I’m I still frugal. I’ve worn that like a badge of honor. I hope I don’t have to give it up…to admit I’m more bohemian boutiquey than frugal after all. Maybe even a frugal poser. This is getting worse by the minute.

Let’s think. First, I buy the mason jars. I give stuff away. Then, I buy more jars. To make my jams and apple butter this year, I used fair-trade organic vegan sugar, local B-Grade maple, and local honey. Not frugal. The opposite of frugal. What I lack in frugal, I make up for in taste, I rationalize. But can I still qualify for frugal status? It means a lot to me. I’ll run the math.

Today, I’m canning tomatoes. I got 60 pounds for $25. If I pay myself $10/hour for this arduous kitchen task, that’s $80–a pittance for someone of my talent. I could be making at least $12.50 at the fast-food joint in town, and I wouldn’t even have to can the tomatoes–I’d just open last year’s vaccuum-sealed packs.

Back to the math. Running the stove for about 4 hours–a pound of propane is a bit over $6. That’s $24. The mason jars are around $7/case. The total cost of today’s project–approximately eight hours of my life (small pots mean two batches)–for a grand total of $136. I made 12 pints of sauce. That’s roughly $11.33/pint if I don’t factor in the actual cost of my time or the opportunity cost of my having done something else.

Frugal is not frugal. It’s a lie. But it is quirky, and I’m a pretty darned good cook. I’ll cut costs somewhere else.

Please return my mason jars.

On to the apples…

apples

Have the Frankenapple if You Must

B Grade Produce--looks good, doesn't it?

B Grade Produce–looks good, doesn’t it?

Yesterday we went to the farm and got B Grade produce. B Grade produce is the best kept secret on the planet. Some, like peaches and tomatoes, are overripe, needing to be eaten or canned immediately. Others, like eggplants and apples just don’t look good on supermarket shelves.  They have blemishes, marks, the occasional bruise or two–they have fallen, been knocked around, and once in a while have a bit of a hole in one side. They’re not perfect. Sort of like me. I have an affinity for them. My frugal side loves them, too, because they’re nearly free pound for pound.

Is there anything wrong with this? I think not.

Is there anything wrong with this? I think not.

The problem is this–we’ve been trained to look for uniform apples on supermarket shelves for so long that we pass by the things in nature that are slightly off or unique. Wabi-sabi. Apples must be perfectly sized and colored, stacked in rows higher than the average shopper so we’ll buy them. The fact that they lost half of their taste on the way across the globe and the other half of was bred out of them is inconsequential.

Unless you are six.

“Mom! I don’t WANT the apple with the mark on it!” He picked one with a slight bruise. I switched it for one that was huge, but slightly misshapen. “That one’s not round.” 

“Apples aren’t round in nature. Only in science fiction and supermarkets. Let’s go look at our apple tree.” Our apples aren’t early season, so we can’t quite eat them. They’re growing nicely, but they won’t be perfectly round. One or two have a bite out of them from our friendly neighborhood chipmunk who will have a bite out of him from our friendly neighborhood dog when he finally gets caught.

If I were this giant apple, I'd retaliate. I'd applesauce this kid. Squash.

If I were this giant apple, I’d retaliate. I’d applesauce this kid. Squash.

“I don’t want to look at apples,” he said. “I want the round one.” Luckily, I still had a few that had traveled halfway around the globe, leaving their taste behind.

“Okay, have the Frankenapple.” He took it. He gave me his lopsided apple, happy as a clam.

“Frankenstein?” he said, “It’s almost Halloween.” Halloween is his favorite holiday. Except for Christmas, thank you consumerism. It’s not almost Halloween, even if the stuff is out in the store so we can buy more, sooner, and out of season–no different than buying traveling apples, I guess.

“Halloween was built around harvest, too.” I think. Just like this tasty, imperfect-looking apple I scored in the trade.

Blueberries and Pickles–No, I’m Not Pregnant

Rocky Point Blueberry Farm, Warwick, RI

Rocky Point Blueberry Farm, Warwick, RI

Last week, I picked blueberries in the rain. It wasn’t that pleasant. I was cold. When I reached into the bush, water shook from the leaves, soaking me to the bone. I got colder and wetter. I started to frown. There was one drop of rain on my glasses I couldn’t get off. When I wiped it on my wet shirt, I smeared both lenses until I couldn’t see the blueberries. And I had a migraine. Annoying.

I thought about homesteading. How I planted my garden, how my husband chopped the wood, how we try to get off the grid. How the stuff we can’t do–produce eggs or meat–we get from the farm around the corner. About how close I am to getting rid of boxes, store jars, and tin cans. As I sat in the middle of rainy blueberries wishing the weather would clear, I thought, “A couple hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have had a choice to make homesteading my…(dare I say)…hobby.”
Not picking very fast. Pioneers didn't check email while farmingI never thought of homesteading as a hobby. It’s a good activity–I started out intending to save money, produce better quality food, and maybe stop global warming, prevent a few small nations from blowing each other up, or attain enlightenment. It doesn’t save money. Farming is expensive and I give stuff away.  Friends visit and remind me they like my peach salsa.
“Homesteading” is cool, though. What people once mocked me for, comparing me to their grandmother, is now chic, hip, and in. I’ve never been any of those things–I’m enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame.
But whining about wet blueberries–weak. I could never be a real homesteader on the prairie…I felt somewhat disingenuous. The pioneers didn’t have an option. They would’ve picked blueberries in the rain. And been grateful. The work would’ve been there every day. No one’s great-grandmother in Oklahoma would have skipped a day because of a weather, a lunch date, or a migraine.
Because if they did, they would have died. I watch homesteading shows on the Discovery Channel. The Alaska ones are cool–no one comes to their rescue. “Excuse me Stop & Shop Peapod…can you deliver?” I think not. Conversely, I watched a few shows where modern families pretended they were pioneers–shows where people dress up and cry after the first few days. The Alaska people never cry. I have to toughen up and be more like them. Today, In the true spirit of Alaska, I’m weeding my garden and making pickles again because I killed my last crock of kosher dills.
“HOW did you ruin pickles??” asked my friend of Russian Jewish descent. No Russian ever ruins food–that might be the last vegetable you’d see until the reincarnation of Lenin. And a Jew ruining a Kosher Dill? Heresy. Doesn’t happen.
“I didn’t weight them down. The top ones molded.” I asked around, “Can I eat them anyway?” I was so looking forward to them–I’d just eat one off the bottom. My husband said no, it’d kill me. I rationalized that cheese is mold, and the life insurance is paid up…would the pioneers scrape off the mold? They wouldn’t have had mold to begin with. Because if they did, they’d have starved.
Prairie women. My heroes.

Prairie women. My heroes.

I googled in case everyone was wrong. Google said, “Don’t eat it, moron, you’ll die.” Not trusting Google is sort of like not trusting Jesus or the threat stated in a chain letter. I tossed the pickles.

I’d be a crappy homesteader. I didn’t pick enough blueberries–too busy finishing off a text conversation and dictating ideas into Siri. Pioneers wouldn’t have stood for such behavior. And I killed the pickles. I’d have eaten them anyway because Google wouldn’t have been there to save me. I must drink some imported french-roast coffee and contemplate ways to improve.
The weather cleared midway through picking.  I remembered why I love it. I go deep into the middle of the bush, where lazy people don’t pick. Then, I crawl under the bushes, where no one goes, either, except the grandmothers who are serious about their homesteading, and little, tiny kids.
When I’m  looking under the bushes, I see an entirely different view. Seeing the berries under the leaves where no one goes reminds me of teaching. The berries at the top shine for the world. They hog all the sunshine, tasting nice and sweet. But when you climb in and under the bush, you see the berries the world forgot. They’re there, clumped together waiting for someone to pick them. I like those best–they’re bigger and sweeter because they were left alone to grow at their own pace. They leap into the bucket with excitement ready to become part of something great. This reminds me of my students, the ones who get left behind by traditional academics and need someone to peel back the branches and leaves to let them see the sunlight, too. But when they do, it is always magic.
Maybe I’m a bad pioneer and homesteader, but thinking about the blueberries this way, I decide I’m a pretty good teacher.
I smile. And I pick one more bucket before it’s time to go home.
[image 3: candgnews.com]