Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy César Chávez Day

Denver recently unveiled a new statue in honor of César Chávez, just in time for César Chávez Day, which is officially celebrated here in Colorado on March 31.

Since César Chávez Day is not yet a nationally recognized holiday (I think it's only official in Colorado, Texas and California) I figured I might do a quick post about it for folks who might not know who he was.

César Chávez was an American farm worker, labor organizer and civil rights activist who championed the cause of the migrant farm workers. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the National Farm Workers Union. Even though the union has faltered in the years since his death in 1993 (and honestly, what unions haven't been struggling in today's political climate) Chávez is widely credited for bringing the plight of the farm workers into the public eye.

The plight, of course, continues. I recently saw an excellent documentary on Netflix called Food Chains which is an eye opening look at the exploitation and suffering that puts food on the tables of most Americans. Here's the trailer:

When I think of the many problems caused by big agriculture, my mind generally goes to environmental issues like pesticides, soil erosion, GMO crops, water usage issues and the like. It's easy to forget that the system also has a very real human cost as well.

I don't have all the answers here, and I'm not really sure what individuals can do to bring about the change that's needed, but I do think this is all another excellent reason to support local small scale food production where workers are treated fairly. And if nothing else, I think it's important to remember and recognize that all of the beautiful fresh produce that is so readily available in our grocery stores was brought to us by people whom society has largely forgotten.

Anyhow, here's a song by Tish Hinojosa, one of my very favorite artists, that takes a look at the issue from a more personal point of view.

So the next time you sit down to enjoy some fresh produce with your meal, take a small moment to give thanks to the people who made it possible for you, and if you'd like to sign a petition to make César Chávez Day a national holiday and help bring further attention to this issue, you can do so here.

Happy César Chávez Day, Y'all!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lighting a Candle for Earth Hour

Earth hour will begin in about 15 minutes here.

In case you're not familiar with the movement, it's basically a global warming, climate change, environmental awareness movement where people and municipalities agree to turn off or dim the lights from 8:30-9:30 local time.

It's not really to conserve electricity, since it doesn't really have that effect - it's more just an awareness thing.

I'm hoping I can avoid the um... mishaps I've had in previous years, like the time I walked straight into the open door of the dishwasher. Had a huge knot on my shin for months after that one - thanks a lot, earth!

Anyhow, my candle is lit (you'll note I did that BEFORE turning out the lights this year) and I'm preparing to turn off the computer & enjoy the darkness for an hour.

Happy Earth Hour, y'all!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A-Z Blogging for April

OK... so Lois over at The Eco-Grandma talked me into doing this crazy A-Z challenge thing.

The idea is that you post every day in April (except Sundays) and each day you do a post for a different letter of the alphabet. Some people are choosing a theme, but I think A-Z randomness is plenty of challenge for me!

Seriously... I sorta can't believe I'm doing this. I mean, this is me we're talking about here - the girl who hates rules and can't do anything... I mean ANYTHING with much consistency.

And I guess that's sorta the point. You're supposed to keep your posts short (and we all know that I suck at brevity too) so I'm hoping that I can use this as a way to get into the habit of posting more frequently, and perhaps making each post less of a big deal.

I do have to admit that the whole thing has this little ditty running through my brain ad nauseum. Apologies to anyone who wasn't raised on Sesame Street, or who doesn't have a weird thing for schmaltzy 1940's pop songs.

Anyhow, there's still time to sign up if anyone wants to join me for a venture into insanity.

C'mon! It'll be fun!!!!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Finally Warm!

I must say, the past month or so has been quite the spell of boomerang weather. A few weeks ago it was below zero, and today it's nearly 80 degrees!

CatMan and I went for a nice long bike ride yesterday, and I'm sitting here in shorts and a tank top reveling in having warm toes... FINALLY!

I don't know about you, but after a while, I find the cold to be exhausting... it's just sooo wonderful not to have to guard against it all the time - my body finally feels like it can relax!

So... this is a quickie post because I don't want to waste the weather! I'm sure it won't last so I'm gonna ride old Gerty over to the grocery store and pick up a few things...

...including some more food for my little squirrel friends. I know I'm a sucker, but I can't help it... they're just so darned cute!

So how about you? Has winter finally loosened its grip in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let There Be Light!!!

It finally happened, we're back to Daylight Saving Time!

There was great rejoicing!!

Logically, I realize that, especially for a person like myself, who isn't exactly ruled by the clock, it's sorta silly to get worked up over an artificial construct like this, but for some reason logic doesn't seem to figure into this equation for me. I mean, as CatMan points out, I could always just get up an hour earlier if I want to have more light, but somehow it's just not the same.

I just can't help myself... it doesn't matter what the weather does, or what the calendar says, or anything else. When Daylight Saving Time finally comes, I feel like the long dark winter is finally over, spring is here, and life can begin again!

I'm doin' my happy dance!

So what about you? Are you happy about the time change or is it all just silliness as far as you're concerned?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Money Can't Buy You Love - or a "Perfect" Popcorn Popper!

It's been one of THOSE days. You know the sort, don't you?

It actually began last week when CatMan and I had movie night and I noticed that the popcorn tasted a bit "off."

Upon closer inspection I figured out that my wonderful stove top popcorn popper had developed a decidedly rancid smell, and this was apparently being transferred to the popcorn. Lovely.

In theory, stove top poppers can just be washed in hot soapy water, but apparently this has not been enough to counteract the years of oily buildup that has well... built up! I have tried putting it in the dishwasher in the past, but the wooden handle cracked, and to make matters worse, the lid used to have a plastic window which broke eons ago, so I had cobbled together a patch, but it was flimsy and was also catching a lot of oil and debris.

To make a long story short, I spent an entire day scrubbing and trying to craft a better repair - during which time I tore several fingernails down to the quick and cut a huge gash in my finger. I finally got it back to acceptable status, but I was frustrated, I was in pain, I was angry, and I could see the entire scenario repeating itself in a few months when the rancid oil started to build up again.

At that point I did a bad thing. I went online and searched for "dishwasher safe stove top popcorn popper" and this appeared:

Stainless steel construction with a tempered glass lid, a silicone plug for dumping in the kernels, a "direct drive" paddle with no gears to break, and best of all... dishwasher safe! It was $89, but I figured it would be an "investment piece" because we do make 2-3 batches of popcorn a week. Plus... no aluminum, no plastic, no toxins... what could go wrong?

Soooo... in a moment of frustration induced weakness, I whipped out my credit card and yesterday it arrived on my doorstep.

I was so excited that I got it out, set it up and made a batch of popcorn to try it out. I took one bite and... OH NOOOO!!!! Chewy popcorn!

Now... I don't know if any of you are true popcorn connoisseurs, but in CatMan's world, chewy popcorn is a crime against humanity. It didn't take me long to figure out what the problem was... the lid seals pretty snugly against the edges and only had three tiny vent holes for the steam to escape. Inadequate ventilation will give you chewy popcorn every time.

But I spent hours reading the reviews, and not a single person mentioned this problem. How could this be? Did I really just drop $90 on something that isn't even gonna work?!?

Things sorta went downhill from there.

First of all, Princess seems to have gotten wise to my current fluid-giving arrangement, and has once again turned into "snarling beast" whenever I set her down in "the chair."

I love her to death, but I was getting pretty frazzled by her attempts to chew my fingers off, so I decided to take a break and go pick up my new eyeglasses. Yes, folks - presbyopia has struck and I finally gave in and ordered bifocals... but since I know a lot of people have trouble with them I also ordered separate reading and distance glasses too, you know, just to cover all of my bases. Again... what could go wrong?

Well... I pick the suckers up, put on the bifocals and can't see a thing. No surprise there, it will take time. But the reading glasses worked great, and when I put on the distance glasses I happily drive home reading every street sign clearly for the first time in years.

Of course when I got home I sat down at the computer and promptly discovered that I couldn't see a damn thing! I also looked closer at the bifocals and determined that part of the problem is that the line is a quarter inch higher on one lens than the other! No wonder I can't see.

I'm gonna have to take the bifocals back, but that won't solve the computer problem, so in another fit of pissed-off frustration I ended up ordering several more pairs - one specifically for computer distance and a pair of progressive bifocals to see if I can make those work any better - not holding my breath.

Good Lord! How many pairs of glasses is it gonna take to be able to see?

Of course the fun doesn't stop there. On the way home from the optical place I decided to stop at the thrift store to see if I could find something I could use as a portable stand for hanging Princess' fluids so I can easily change up the system when she gets wise to one spot or another.

So I stumbled around the store blindly (I was trying out the bifocals) and while I was there... I happened upon a brand spankin' new Whirley Pop popper!

It's aluminum with a wooden handle, so it still can't go in the dishwasher, but at least it should be a little easier to clean because it has a functional lid with no crazy repairs to deal with. That'll solve the problem, right?

Of course, there's no guarantee the Whirley Pop won't make chewy popcorn too. But you know what they say... in for a penny, in for a pound - or in this case $3.99. Good Gawd!

And to put the topper on my lousy day, as I was checking out at the thrift store, the fellow asked me if I wanted my "senior discount!" What?!? I mean, I do have a birthday coming up, but I've still got a few years to go before I hit 50. It must have been the damned bifocals.

Lordy! A room full of popcorn poppers and a grocery sack full of eyeglasses and I still haven't solved either problem yet!

So what's the point of this long whiny story other than to bitch about my bad day? I guess it just points out one of the cornerstone lies upon which our consumerist society is built. There is this myth out there (one that the giant marketing machine LOVES to promote) that says something like this: If you're just willing to "spend the money" all of your problems can be solved.

Feel Ugly? Buy some makeup!
Too Fat? Buy a gym membership!
Not Cool Enough? Buy a sportscar!
Feel Dorky? Buy Some New Clothes!
Stessed Out? Treat yourself to an expensive vacation!
You Bought Too Much Crap? Buy a Bigger House!
And on... and on... and on...

But here's the thing... it's all just a big fat LIE!

In fact, more often than not, the more money you spend, the more problems you end up with!

Like say... a house full of popcorn poppers and eyeglasses!

Seriously though... you really can't just expect to throw money at problems and make them go away - solving problems requires creative thinking and actual work. One would think that a person like myself would know this by now, but apparently some of us are just slow learners...

I'm still not sure how to resolve either situation - but I think a good start would be to step back, take a deep breath and stop throwing money at it. Life will go on, even without the "perfect" popcorn popper, and I'm certainly not the only person who's ever had to deal with aging eyesight.

It just all makes me so darned mad... why can't things just work the way they're "supposed to?" Guess I'm not the first person to ask that question either!

So tell me... how do you deal with things when you hit "frustration overload?" Do you ever fall victim to trying to buy your way out of it?

Monday, March 2, 2015

5 Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables

I have a reputation among my friends and family as being a bit of a veggie-fanatic.

Seriously, I really love the things, and there's a whole pile of research out there confirming their many healthy attributes.

Still, I know that many folks struggle to get themselves and their families to eat enough vegetables, so I figured I'd post some of my tried and true methods for upping your veggie intake.

1) Acquire More Veggies
OK... this first suggestion may be in the "Thank You Captain Obvious" category, but I really can't overstate its importance if you want to significantly up your veggie intake - if you don't have them around as a matter of course, you're never gonna end up eating more of them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of easy ways to get your hands on them without breaking the bank. The first and most obvious is to grow them yourself. Even if you don't have space for a large garden, you'd be amazed at the amount of food you can produce on a terrace or window sill.

If gardening isn't your thing, there are still plenty of good options. You can sign up as a member of a CSA farm, or box distribution which will send a plethora of fresh produce to your doorstep every week. Or check out the local farmer's markets or vegetable stands.

But even if you're stuck with traditional options like the grocery store - make the produce aisle your first stop and load up on whatever's on sale this week, building your meals around the veggies rather than vice versa.

And don't forget the frozen aisle. Frozen veggies are a nutritious and convenient option, and you can usually get them for under a dollar per pound if you go that route, and they're so easy to keep on hand that way.

2) Don't Relegate Veggies to Diet Food Status
This is one of my pet peeves where vegetables are concerned. For some reason veggies seem to have taken the brunt of the "fat is evil" argument, and an astonishing number of people persist in the belief that the only "proper" ways to eat them is raw or steamed. Bollocks, I say!!!

Here's the thing, while it is true that ounce per ounce veggies tend to have fewer calories than their counterparts in other food groups, their nutritional benefits extend WAY beyond their caloric content (or lack thereof.) Veggies are literally packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which make them a nutritional dream no matter how they are prepared.

So let yourself live a little and try roasting them, broiling them, baking them, sauteing them in olive oil or butter and even frying them on occasion! Add a few spices, or some cheese and experiment with different sauces. You'll be amazed by the difference in taste between savory veggies roasted in olive oil with garlic, rosemary & balsamic vs. the mushy old flavorless steamed variety!

3) Think Beyond Side Dishes
I'm sure this is different in different parts of the world, but in "American Cuisine" all too often we seem to be stuck in the rut of having meat or some alternative protein as a main course, with a side of something starchy and a side of vegetables. Now, there's nothing wrong with this approach now and then, but if you eat this way on a daily basis, you're really limiting yourself as far as vegetables are concerned.

In general, I try to look at vegetables as ingredients to be used as part of a larger dish. So many of my meals are casseroles, soups, or skillet dishes where vegetables figure prominently as part of the "main dish."

This approach also works well with sandwiches, wraps or pizza - all of which I pile high with bountiful slices of colorful veggies.

If a hefty dose of vegetables are included in the main portion of the meal, you'll end up eating a fair number of servings without even realizing it.

4) Veggies as Staples
This sort of goes along with the previous point, but I find that a really good way to up my veggie intake is to substitute vegetables for portions of the meal that are often taken up with more starchy foods like rice, potatoes or pasta.

Sauteed shredded cabbage or bean sprouts make an excellent replacement for rice in many Asian dishes. Steamed cauliflower or zucchini strips can substitute nicely for pasta - trust me, cauliflower Alfredo is to die for!

"Zoodles" in place of pasta
Squash can stand in for potatoes in many instances... try home fried zucchini, it's yummy!

And you don't have to go all out with these replacements - try just subbing out half of the starch for a veggie and see what you think.

5) Veggies at Every Meal
My final suggestion is to consider incorporating vegetables into every meal of the day rather than just leaving them as something to be eaten at dinner time.

While soup or salad is often considered traditional lunch fare, if you're brown bagging it and relying on "finger food" for your mid-day meal, it's all too easy to shortchange the veggies.

Here are a few of my tried and true techniques for avoiding that pitfall.

Lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, cucumber slices and sprouts all add wonderful crunch and flavor to sandwiches, but they can become soggy after sitting in a lunch bag for several hours. A simple way to combat this is to pack them separately and add them to your sandwich just before eating. And if dealing with a fork and salad is too much to handle, try packing some raw veggie strips with a little jar of your favorite dip.

And don't forget soup! If you've got access to a microwave for lunch, soup is a wonderful option that's an easy way to pack in the veggies, even if you have to resort to something canned. Back when I still had a "real job" I always kept an emergency stash of canned soup in my desk for those days when things were just too crazy to deal with making lunch.

But the meal we seem to have the most difficulty with in terms of veggies is breakfast. This is the meal when I'm most likely to skip the veggies. But, there are some techniques that work well even for breakfast.

If you like a savory breakfast with eggs, your options are practically limitless. Peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes go wonderfully in omelettes or scrambled eggs, and there's nothing better than eggs with cooked spinach & cream sauce!

But I also enjoy things like fried rice (made heavy on the veggies) or egg foo young  for breakfast. Literally, any sauteed vegetables with a few eggs on the side make a great breakfast!

And even if you prefer a sweet start to the morning, smoothies and juices are a great way to add some veggies to the mix. And sweet breads or muffins made with zucchini, pumpkin or carrots are a delicious alternative to pancakes or toast.

Just about the only breakfast food that's hard to "veggie up" is cereal. But in that case I generally opt for a nice dose of fruit as a substitute.

OK... there you have it. Those are my best strategies for getting more veggies into your diet.

So tell me, are you actively trying to eat more vegetables? I'd love to hear what has or hasn't worked for you!