Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Recipe: Razz and Soda
I thought the theme of this summer's cocktails would be mango. Oh, sure, I've been eating plenty of mangoes, especially in salads, but I've yet to work mango juice into anything remotely alcoholic. Mainly because we've been drinking other things, like wine, beer and this raspberry rum concoction, first introduced to me last year by a friend when we went to their house for dinner one hot, muggy, late summer night.

This drink is fruity, but not overly sweet and really refreshing when it's hot outside. They go down easy and are so simple to make. You'll love it.

Raspberry Rum (Bacardi Razz)
Lemon-lime soda
Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Lime wedges

Pour over lots of ice: 1 oz raspberry rum and 4 ounces lemon-lime soda. Squeeze lime in; add a handful of raspberries. Stir. Serve.

Monday, July 27, 2009
And Lo, It Was Monday. And I Was OK With That
I feel like a broken record. Monday posts usually start with "Oy, we're tired because we had So. Much. Fun."

This Monday is no different. We are recovering from fun. And you know what? Good! We are having a hell of a summer. And I hope you are, too.

Sophie recently joined the swim team and so we watched her swim in her first meet. She swam two races on Saturday morning, one 25 meter freestyle and one 75m freestyle relay. I didn't know how early you have to rise for these swim meets. It's pretty darn early and there are NO poolside coffee urns! And no one warns you about this when you sign up. It's all "Sign up! Yay! You're one the team! P.S. See you at 6:45 am on Saturday!"And that's why I met up with Sophie and John at a more reasonable post-coffee hour. (I won't be so lucky this coming Saturday; it's a home meet.)

We spent some time frolicking in the pool with the kids on Saturday afternoon. I was swimming over to Harry and said "Come here, my baby." And then he told me the awful news: "I'm NOT a baby anymore! I'm a MAN!" When I asked how he knew he was already a man he said "I shave now. When you made me get this haircut, they shaved my hair off! See?" he said, pointing to his head. "Man!"

The rest of the weekend was a blur of time spent with family, sipping cocktails, and seeing friends we haven't seen in ages. Also, I nibbled baby toes. We attended a christening party for one Very Adorable Baby and when no one was looking I took his socks off and kissed his tiny feet. When you are in the company of friends who've known you your whole life you can do this without shame. You can tell them about the toes on your own kids, and how baby toes are just irresistible and they don't judge you.

At least I hope they don't.

There was also gardening. This is my free perennial garden. With the exception of two plants, I transplanted every single plant from my garden in Brooklyn or carried it out of the garden of our friends that moved across the country.
There are two sedums, himalayan border jewel, one hosta, a small gathering of lily of the valley, black eyed susans, astilbe, liriope, candy tuft, mint, chives, bugle weed, hens-and-chicks and purple cone flowers. So far, everything's been ignored by the deer but now I have another problem: slugs. They're eating my cone flowers. This weekend I will be crushing egg shells and putting out beer to try to deter them.

Gardening is supposed to be relaxing, which is funny because you are constantly fighting one battle or another!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Random.org chose winner #9 in the ecostore USA giveaway.

Congrats, Kaz! Check yer email and enjoy greenin' the cleaning!

In other news, I thought you'd like to know that I'm slowly killing myself.

I'm positively addicted to banana chips. I buy them in the bulk bin in the supermarket, and certain lovely relatives have been known to give me tubs of them because they love me and know I like them. (Hi Laurie!)

While I was noshing on them at work, I wondered if them were truly healthy and it turns out that while they are low in sodium and free of cholesterol, they are high in saturated fat and sugar. Because when they say banana chips, they mean chips like potato chips. As in fried.

Oh, banana chips how I love thee. Oy. My poor arteries.

Is red wine the antidote to ingestion of massive amounts of saturated fat? Anyone???

Thursday, July 16, 2009
ecostore USA - Review and Giveaway

A few weeks ago ecostore USA approached me and asked me to do a product review. Me. The woman with an small arsenal of cleaning products under her kitchen sink that emit enough fumes to let the entire neighborhood when she's finally gotten around to cleaning the bathroom. In my defense, I prefer vacuuming but whatevs. They want me to clean? I'll clean.

(Dear Dyson: send me a vacuum and I will totally review it for you! Just ask!)

ecostore USA is an extension of New Zealand’s ecostore, makers of biodegradable plant and mineral based cleaning products. They asked me to choose two products from their line up. I chose the Baby Body Wash and the Cream Cleanser because I thought cleaning two kids and one kitchen would be enough to give me something to work with when writing the review.
While waiting for the package to arrive, I poked around on their website and was surprised to see what ecostore DOES NOT use in their products: no phosphates, no parabens, no synthetic enzymes, no synthetic perfumes or dyes, no toxic petrochemicals, no SLS. I knew a little bit about phosphates and how some companies are removing them from products like detergent but some of the other stuff? I had no idea they should be avoided. Like parabens? They're in nearly EVERYTHING (well, nearly everything I own) and studies suggest they may play a role in cancer. ecostore also explains why they don't use these ingredients. You can read the whole list here. Also available on their site is an ingredient list for every product sold so you know exactly what you're buying.

The company is not new. It was formed over 15 years ago when the founders--The Rands--were living in a communal eco village where each member was responsible for their own waste water. The Rands quickly learned that a better alternative to the available cleaning products was needed if they wanted to keep their waterways clean. Necessity meet invention.

When the package arrived I found the bottles were packed in peanuts. Ack! Didn't using packing peanuts offset any eco-friendliness of the products? But inside the box, nestled among the two bottles was a letter that said "All packaging products used for this shipment are environmentally friendly, the packing peanuts are made out of soy, the news print, packing tap and even the boxes are all made out of recyclabe paper, as well as the paper this note is printed on."

Once I had negotiated with the kids whether they opt for a shower or a bath, tossed a coin to see who would go first (and dispensed with any of that "But I went first last night!" business), doled out the ice cream I'd forgotten I promised and got them to clean up their toys, it was finally time to wash them up. Sophie was ambivalent. She didn't care what she used as long as she could wash up and get back to reading American Girl books.

When it was Harry's turn, he didn’t care either but I thought it was a good product. It cleaned a day's worth of grime off him, smelled good and rinsed cleanly. It's mild, and their skin doesn't seem as dry as it sometimes does.

The Cream Cleanser got a workout cleaning our kitchen sink, which is host to Domestic Olympic Events like dish soaking, chicken rinsing, hamster cage cleaning and water fountain for one very naughty cat. So our kitchen sink gets cleaned. A lot.
It cleaned the sink well. A little cleanser on a soft sponge with some water got rid of all the gunk. It was shiny, the way I like it, and there were no fumes or any grit left behind. It also worked great on the cook top and the counters.

ecostore USA is sponsoring a give away for This Charming Life readers. The winner will choose any two products from their site.
Entry: leave a comment on this post so that I can use the Random Number Generator to select a winner and sign up for the ecostore USA newsletter. You can sign up here or here on Facebook.
Details: Giveaway ends Monday, July 20th at 10pm (EST). One entry per person. Continental US residents only.
Good luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Farm Touring
I mentioned in my last post that we'd recently been farm touring.

Over the 4th of July holiday we took the kids to visit Bobolink Dairy in New Jersey. I stumbled upon their website when I was searching for u-pick berry farms close to where we spend weekends. I revisited their site several times to read more about their operation. I had no idea they sold their cheeses and breads at the farmer's markets here in New York City and I had no idea they'd been written up in the New York Times several times. I liked what I read and was intrigued at the thought of taking their cheese and breadmaking workshop there. Mainly to improve my breadmaking skills and learning about cheese is a bonus, since I don't think I'll make my own but perhaps understanding how it is made will make me appreciate it more. Or at least I can contemplate it while I enjoy it with a nice glass of wine.

The workshops offered in the immediate future aren't convenient but a tour of the farm was. I thought it would be a nice way to acquaint myself with the place and the folks running it. I thought it would be nice for the kids to see a working farm and see that milk doesn't come from a plastic jug that is bought in the grocery store. I thought it would be a nice way to spend a morning.

We started out talking with a bread baker. This is Emily. She was in charge of baking the bread that day. The oven is heated by a wood fire, which is started the night before. At 10am, the temperature was down to 772 degrees. Emily told us about the breads they bake, where they get their flour, the difference between wheat and whole wheat and explained the structure of wheat and now this Brooklyn-born lady knows what chaff is. In the picture below Emily is putting ciabatta in the oven.
Then it was time to meet the cows. This is the milking room and when the cows are milked it is one of the few times they are indoors. Mainly they roam around outside, eating grass, getting frisky with one another and basically living the life mother nature intended. As for the getting frisky part, just that morning the farm welcomed a new calf to their herd.
So they milk the cows and all the milk goes here, and then it is made into cheese. That day. No waiting around. No putting it in the fridge for tomorrow. That day. Because it tastes better, they said. At one point we saw Jonathan (farmer, husband of Nina and chief cheesemaker) skimming the cream off some of the milk. "That will become a cream sauce, probably for dinner," said Nina. And it took every ounce of energy not to fall to my knees and beg to be invited to supper that night.
The whey, left over from the cheesemaking, feeds the pigs they have in a pasture, along with kitchen scraps and fattens the hogs. I kinda snickered to myself when another guy touring with us said "so then what do you do with them once they're fattened?" And Nina said "We harvest them." And then he said "But what do you do with them?" And then someone handed him a copy of Charlotte's Web and said "read this, but pretend Wilbur doesn't meet the spider."

Actually, that didn't happen. Instead, Nina said, matter of factly "We eat them." And I didn't cringe. I thought I would. But I didn't because so far, this way of living, with the grass-fed cows and the artisinal cheese and the pigs that eat what would ordinarily go to waste, it makes sense. Oh, and those roosters you see in the picture above? They have a job on the farm, too. They eat the flies which would normally be present because of all the, you know, poop. And I can tell you there was nary a fly.

The other thing pigs like to eat? Day old bread. Below is a picture of Harry carrying an unsold loaf to the pasture. I like to think he is saying "Long live sustainable farming!" But he's not and right after I took this he started using the bread as a light saber.

This little piggy had day old bread......

Then we were put to work. This is a small pen of ducks (Peking, I believe but don't quote me), which the farm adopted because another farm/family had changed their mind about the flock. They, too, earn their keep by eating bugs and grass. We moved their pen because they'd exhausted what was available to eat in that area. We all grabbed and edge and moved it over a bit. All the city people did their jobs well. No ducks escaped in the moving of this pen.

Back to cows....even their hides are treated naturally. Here, Nina shows a calfskin to us. The hide is preserved using vinegar (as opposed to formaldehyde). She made me smell it. I thought it would reek of....I don't know, something. But it smelled like nothing. Maybe a faint hint of leather?

Our tour concluded with a small discussion in farmyard. We talked about the farm, and how everyone and everything has a job to do. It perpetuates because they all rely on one another. I mentioned to Nina that I was glad I'd come to the farm, because I've had discussions with the kids about what we eat and it's important to see where it comes from, to have a relationship with your food. It was important for them to see this.

Then we talked about "stuff." Everyone likes stuff but we really don't need that much of it. The gospel preached that day was 'smaller quantity, higher quality.' It was all I could do to not high five her and yell "Amen, sister!"

Then Harry ran off to visit with the cats at the farmhouse.
I ended up in the farmstore where I bought two loaves of bread, a half pound of their cave aged cheddar and 10 eggs. Seems like an odd number but 10 was all they'd found that day and we gladly scooped them up. They were delicious.

Monday, July 13, 2009
What We've Been Up To
Bike riding.

(This sorry patch of dirt became my perennial garden
but I forgot to take an "after" picture. Duh.)
Watching the brothers pitch a tent.
It must be nice to have a back youngenough to sleep on the ground.
Thinking about Thanksgiving.....

Farm touring...

Celebrating Indpendence.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Family Scout Night
We recently attended Family Scout Night/American Girl Night/Facebook(?!) Night at a Brooklyn Cyclones game. This was the first baseball game the kids have ever been to.

First there was patch distribution.

Then my kids complained about dying of hunger. But by then it was time to take the field and march in the scout parade.
Then it was time to schmooze with the players and take photos.

Next, the players signed balls. Harry waited patiently and wasn't quite sure why they were signing his brand new baseball when he could be doing better things with it. Like throwing it down the stadium steps.

As soon as Harry got his ball back he wanted a hot dog.

But it was time to have someone throw the first pitch and sing the national anthem on the field with the players, which is so annoying when you are four.

More complaints about hunger and imminent death due to said hunger.
Then crying. Then Tom Hanks came out and said
"There's no crying in baseball!"
Not really.

Finally we got something to eat. We chose popcorn, most of which ended up on the floor when Harry kicked over the box while he was throwing his ball down the steps.

The kids got a little freaked out when a foul ball flew past and one hit a woman in the chest and she needed medical attention. But then they pretty much ignored the game until the 7th Inning stretch. They couldn't understand why we broke out into song in the middle of the game.

In the end, The Cyclones beat the Hudson Valley Renegades 13-3 (and swept them in a three game series).

The fun continued after the game with the kids running the bases.After that we sat on blankets in the outfield to watch an American Girl movie.
This was the last time Harry sat down that night.
He continued to run around the field, then he lost his shoes.

Monday, July 6, 2009
Officially Unpacked
We're back from the Killer Fun Weekend and a week spent camping. Now that the photos have been downloaded from the camera I can consider myself officially unpacked.

Before I show you what we've been up to lately I want to say I stand corrected on a few facts listed in
a post I did a few weeks ago. The Achilles Track Club is not solely for wounded soldiers. They are a non-profit organization that encourages disabled runners to participate in long-distance running events with the general public. Some of the wounded soldiers that competed last Sunday were from Walter Reed Army Medical Center are are called the Achilles FREEDOM TEAM of Wounded Veterans. From the site: The Achilles FREEDOM TEAM of Wounded Veterans introduces recently wounded soldiers from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to running......the program provides motivation, training, and the opportunity to rebuild strength and endurance while healing through distance running events.

Now that's cleared up, many thanks to those who donated.
(Donations can still be made
We left the house at 6:30am so we could set up the team area. And by set up, I mean we found a place to stand so the rest of the team could meet up with us. This is what the morning looked like in Central Park:

Then the team leader, my husband, collected the team sign from one of the volunteers. Then he very officially stood with the sign so the team could find us.

Next, he left with the team to do the running stuff while I took the kids and went with my friend Liz to stand by the finish line to cheer the runners on. That's where I spotted Mr. Met and Mr. G, our local weatherman. He doesn't normally make that face when he's doing the weather forecast.

The first participants to cross the finish line were those with hand-crank bikes.

I love this photo. The look on her face says it all.

Then the abled runners started crossing the finish line.

And here's Martin. He is John's friend and Liz's husband. He's German and our kids say his name with a German accent for some reason.
Look! It's John! And Tom! Go boys! Run!(Edited to add that in the photo above, Lorea,
another TD Foundation team runner
is about to cross the finish line with Tom and John.)

Five miles, people. Five. Miles.

And here is Trisha Meili, The Central Park Jogger, cheering on one of the participants as they crossed the finish line.
It was an inspiring morning.

More photos of The Fun tomorrow!