going green & clean

  Have you ever taken a moment to look at your own life from the outside in?  Have you ever had a day when, as you sit on the end of the rope, looking back on the beginning, you realize that you haven’t had a single drop of water — or perhaps even just anything noncaffeinated?  Or perhaps you ate every single meal from a drive-thru window or delivered to you by a person wearing a nametag?

When my nephew was little, like most little people, his idea of fine cuisine came in a bag that looked like the funny pages.  Dinners out with him included the standard moan and whine as we pulled up to a restaurant.  “I wanted FAST food, not SLOW food,” he’d protest.  We’d all chuckle at his literal thinking and chalk another saying up to the character of a child with Asperger’s, as this was long before the Slow Food movement had reached our corner of world.

Over the past months, I’ve decided to take a stroll down the Slow Food lane, pushing my babies — and pulling my husband — along with me.  It has not been an overnight transition, especially since I wouldn’t consider us “there yet”, but we’re making headway.

Surely, if it were only me, this would be a far smoother road to travel.  But with school-aged children and a husband who eats 80% of his meals away from the home, it’s taking some strategery.  (Because I can never resist that old joke.)  

I started with baby steps, like trading my girls’ morning Pop-Tarts for whole wheat waffles or homemade breakfast smoothies or banana bread.  That was fairly easy, once past the initial whining from Baby Girl.

Cooking dinner nightly isn’t so bad, but takes some careful planning when you work full time and have a family schedule where the routine is the absence of routine.  This called for a new personal ritual:  the weekend planning session.

Each weekend, I spend an hour or so creating my weekly plan.  I start with FireDaddy’s schedule, then the girls’ schedules and my own – Monday through Sunday.  Then, I call in the cookbooks.  Culinarily-speaking, I bore easily, so this part takes the most time.  On average, each week consists of one or two brand new recipes, with at least one night of a family favorite (comfort food) for my girls, and one “fix it yourself” (a.k.a. leftovers) night for the inevitable slack attack.  Next up is the grocery list.  I tweaked a Microsoft template I found online to reflect what I’m planning for and buying, as well as a place for my weekly menus.  After this is prepared and checked, it’s off to the stores, usually with two little ladies in tow.  Finally, upon returning home, I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen cleaning and preparing produce to be stored and served easily throughout the week.

It was somewhere within this leg of our journey that I realized how much money I was spending on produce, and what a burden these big grocery trips were to my weekends.  That’s when I discovered Palmetto Organics.   After working with them to create a delivery option that best suited my family’s needs, we’ve added Tuesday produce delivery into our regimen — and have loved every minute of it!  Quite frankly, I still buy some produce on my weekend grocery trips, but the primary focus of my shopping is dairy, meat, breads, etc.  An unexpected perk to choosing produce delivery is the excitement that accompanies each Tuesday!  I am still surprised at how the whole family is oohing and aahing over the week’s goodies as I haul in the cooler from the front porch.

That said, with relinquishing the duty of primary produce purchaser, I also acquired the job of primary produce researcher.  As our diets have truly moved to the “plant-based” category now, and are far more diverse than I could achieve at the local grocer, I’ve had to learn a lot.  As I lift the lid of the cooler and reveal these new dietary treasures, my next thought is, “What am I going to do with this?”  Thank goodness for the internet.  I Google that produce to pieces.  Searches begin with “flavor of ___” and “how to clean ___”, then move towards “____ recipes”.  I click and read and click and read, until I find “the one”.  I also consult my hero, Alice Waters, at least on a weekly basis.  Her book The Art of Simple Food is elegant, resourceful, and a valuable asset to any cook.

The next phase of my personal Slow Food journey addressed the sweet teeth in my household.  Oh my…..can you say HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP?  Baby step #1:  Stop buying Oreos.  Instead, I bake a batch of something homemade on the weekend — brownies, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, etc.  This batch has to last the week (moderation), and replaces any desserts packed in lunches or after dinner.  My theory is — if I made it, I know what’s in it.  I know I made those cookies with whole wheat flour and real butter.  I know that’s real cane sugar, not HFCS.  I know there aren’t any stabilizers or preservatives added to achieve the maximum shelf life known to mankind.

This weekend, we broke ground on the biggest undertaking on our family journey as we constructed the frame and prepped the site for our raised bed vegetable garden.  We practiced restraint as we decided to start with only one raised bed versus the two we’d planned, considering the cost of the dirt and manure alone we will need.  My porch is populated by my own little potted herb garden, something I’ve wanted for a long, long time.  And, we spied our very first baby tomato on our patio tomato plant.  This, to my children and husband, is finally the fun part.  We share visions of bountiful crops sprouting in our own backyard and sound like kids in a candy store when we daydream together, listing all our own favorites, one by one.

So, where do we go from here?  There is so much yet to do.  My mind is filled with plans for alternative natural sweeteners, warm dreams of baking bread, visions of environmentally responsible lunchboxes (my #1 goal for next year — banish the plastic bag), and thoughts of turning compost piles out back.  To some, these might sound like burdens and punishments.  I can honestly say, however, it has been more fun than I ever thought possible.  And as I listen to medical tales from friends and family, experience changes in my own body, and watch my daughters grow each day — I am reassured that this is more than just a fun project.  This is imperative for the health and well-being of my husband, my daughters, and myself.

Baby steps.  Start with baby steps.

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