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.

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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.


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Only One Blue Cheese? Struggles in a Small Town

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 7.53.25 AMI went to the local store for buns and blue cheese.

There was only one kind of blue cheese. My heart stopped just a little bit. I panicked and shuffled the cheeses around a bit. No Stilton, no Roquefort, no Maytag? No local vs. French dilemma? Just two choices: that industrial blue cheese in over-salted wedges wrapped in three layers of cellophane, versus the uneven crumbles in the huge oversized plastic box we Americans use to make us think we’re getting more product…drying out as I watch. They didn’t even use cheese paper.  I picture the one short use the blue cheese box will get before it starts it’s life as litter. I pick up the box and turn it over. Overpriced, as well. I’ll pay that price for a nice Stilton…but for an oversized box of drying blue cheese crumbles…Inconceivable!

I’m shopping at the local store, getting acquainted with the people in my new town. Nodding near the produce, listening to the girl at the checkout line ask every customer about Their Thing. She even recognizes me just a little bit.

“Where’s your boy?” She knows my boy turns into a dinosaur.

“I ditched him so I could get some peace.” I say.

I like the peaceful life.

I like that I don’t have a plane flying a hundred feet over my head every minute or government agencies telling me they refuse to admit to what the airport will do with the land they commandeer. And no, I can’t organize a park or community garden. It’ll just stay empty and deserted, looking like a desolate wasteland behind my house.

I like that the local school has so much involvement and so many things for my little dinosaur to join when I sort them all out, and that I’m not arguing with the school system over their regulations about what they permit parents to allow their students to eat–it’s not like I packed him bar nuts and a beer. Juice and a cookie we baked together. Lighten up. I love New School.

I like that the only time I see a police officer in the neighborhood is when I wave to the troopers at the bottom of the hill, because that’s the home of the barracks. Getting out of the city back to my husband’s hometown was nice.

I look at the blue cheese choices again. Air-dried crumbles in oversized wasteful box or over-salted inferior wedge. I pick the air-dried crumbles. I tuck aside my inner food snob for just a minute. I tell myself I’ll go into the Big City and make the cheese run sometime soon. Today, I simply need to put blue cheese on portabellas for a family picnic. Even in the country music-classic rock town, vegetarians gotta eat.

Having only one blue cheese is the price you pay for peace, tranquility, and sanity.

I guess it’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make.

The Horrors of the American Grocery Cart: Really Dumb Things You, Too, Can Buy

I was doing the grocery shopping–because that’s what good moms do, and I took time out of my life to really pay attention to people’s carts.  I’ll admit it…I’m frugal. I might even do a mini-series on frugal, because it’s a lifestyle few understand and many mock. “You bake your own bread?” they’ll say incredulously. “You make cheese?” Yes to both. And about the follow-up comment, “If I had YOUR time!?”

This always sounds more like an indictment than an exclamation. I don’t have a lot of time. Being frugal is easy. It’s discipline. It saves money. And my food tastes better than packaged food–because bread isn’t designed to have chemicals in it. And it doesn’t grow in an aisle at the store.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, and deserves more time in print. For me, what started with “green,” progressed to “decluttering,” which has a natural evolution to “holy crap the economy stinks,” to “conserve,” to “frugal” to “obsessively frugal.”  There have been some speed bumps along the way–I’ll write about those another day.

Simplifying and learning “frugal” has been a catharsis. I’ll commit to breaking down my journey towards simplicity into a few posts, with one or two even having a touch of depth and serious reflection. The entire nation has suffered over the past half-dozen years. For many of us, it wasn’t anything we did directly–the housing market collapse, jobs and industries moving overseas, industries relating to those industries being impacted and fear that it could happen to any one of us.  It’s been a game of dominoes America never wants to play again, with deep psychological effects.

But for me, though challenging, it had an amazing outcome–simplicity.  The fear of losing my house and business was sobering.  I’ve lived in “situations without money,” before. I don’t like to say “poor,” because I feel that’s more of a mindset. But for anyone who has experienced the loss of a job, business, financial insecurity–it changes you permanently in ways unseen to the eye. For me, it took my interest in sustainability, cooking, green, self-sufficiency, food sourcing, and recycling, and elevated them to an obsession.

I’ll admit it–such high levels of social awareness sparked by fear often become blanketed with a touch of judgementalism. I don’t shop at the regular grocery store often–I am usually at small bodegas where I’m buying ingredients in foreign languages.  It’s like a culinary trip around the world for the amazingly cheap–I can go to Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Mexico, Korea, Japan, on a quarter tank of gas–how awesome for global warming! Somewhere, I know there is a polar bear who thanks me.

But part of being so left-wing on this issue is that when I do go to the store, I notice the really dumb things they stock.  Yesterday, I took a walk around and photographed just a few items. I am amazed they even exist, let alone rest in people’s carts. I’m stuck half-way between being ashamed at humanity for permitting these things and the desire to high-five every entrepreneur who convinced people to buy them. I might be a little jealous of their success.

LunchablesLunchables.  You’re telling me people are really too lazy to cut three slices of pepperoni and put them in reusable Tupperware next to a slice of cheese and two Ritz crackers?  That they have to waste the packaging for a “lunch” that normally costs $3 and wouldn’t fill a toddler?  If you pack this every day for work or school, that would be $60/month for lunch. This is the epitome of shameful. Declan asked me for one, once and I told him it was the Devil’s pepperoni.

Pre-sliced things.  Oh, they are everywhere. There was a whole aisle of them in Whole sliced applesFoods, even, which makes me sad, because in all other respects people who shop there are generally socially conscious–seeing people with crocs loading bulk food into satchels they sewed themselves is the norm at Whole Foods, and makes me smile. Seeing people look both ways for the enviro-police before snatching pre-sliced packaged apples makes me wish for a loud alarm.  “You there. With the Grateful Dead T-shirt. Put DOWN those pre-sliced apples!”

For three dollars you can have someone pre-slice your fruit, and wrap it in two layers of packaging with a hefty dose of sulfur dioxide as a preservative. For $2.99, they will pre-slice four beets and place a smiley cartoon on top.  Because seeing a smiley face always makes me want to pack beets. And the cost of six carrot sticks with a smidgen of dip–$2.50.  I can buy the same carrot for a penny or two and chop it myself. Heck, I’ll do it for you for a buck.

Someone even created a small plastic square holding the seeds of a pomegranate, because nature’s packaging was just not sufficient. I wonder whose job it was to take the seeds out and package them?

Baby brie.  For a substantial added expense, you can have mini-cheese rounds so small a mouse would call them leftovers, wrapped in a hefty dose of wax which defeats the purpose of eating them at all. Is it a candle? Is it cheese? Who knows. Best to just save the seven bucks and skip lunch.

Cubed cheese.  Oh, the horrors of cubed cheese and cheese sticks!  Again, this goes into the “buy a big block of cheese and use the French knife God gave you” category. But for people who haven’t developed their knife skills, they can make sure to waste rolls of plastic wrapping sticks of cheese that will only piss them off later, because no one can open those things, and they are way too salty anyway.

“100 Calorie” snacks. If you’re that worried about 100 calories 1. Don’t have a snack, or 2. Count the number of crackers yourself. Do you really need one of the Kiebler elves to do your first-grade math and put it in eighty layers of plastic?

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 5.53.06 AMDiet water. This is something I found on Facebook.  You read that correctly. Diet water. This is genius. This marketing team deserves a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Someone made people buy that “diet water.”  They sold ice to an Eskimo.  I want to be that person one day.  That person who sells you cut up pieces of cheese for fifty bucks, a pre-sliced apple with plastic and chemicals, or a plastic tray with three pieces of pepperoni and two Ritz crackers have nothing on Diet Water Guy.

I’m not trying to go all Greenpeace and PETA on you.  I’m just wondering about the state of affairs in the United States where we have become so disconnected from the foods that we eat to be convinced that these things are okay.  It’s affecting our health, our finances, and our national psyche.

I’ve been working toward getting rid of jars and packages for a few years now. I’ve reconnected myself with lost skills–canning, freezing, drying, production gardening–I felt pretty good about learning these things. However, these were basic survival skills for our grandparents and their parents, not artisan crafts and hobbies. That all changed over the last generation or two–Generation TV Dinner. I don’t deserve a medal. I’m just getting back to doing right by my produce and grains.

You know who also doesn’t deserve a medal? The dude eating pre-sliced apples.