A typical Saturday

I live in a bubble. I freely admit it. I listen to NPR for my daily dose of news, eat goat cheese on purpose, and drive a Japanese car (a twelve year old, beat up, rusty Japanese car, but who’s splitting hairs?).  I’ve talked before about the choices we’ve made for our family in where and how we live, but they don’t seem strange to me. I know lots of other people who do the same things, similar things, even more extreme versions of things that my family does. I know other people don’t do those things, and that’s their choice. More power to them.

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Nick at Tazza even makes my chais to go beautiful. 

So I was quite surprised one day recently, when Heather, my favorite olive oil purveyor (who is also the only official olive oil purveyor I know, but again, who’s splitting hairs?) mentioned that I was one of her best customers. I haven’t bought that much oil and vinegar from her, so I kinda suspected that meant that her business was really slow that week. However, she clarified that while other people have bought more stuff from her than I have, I talk her up. A lot. Which, sure, I do. But I like food. A lot. And her stuff is good. I’ve never tasted olive oil that made me want to eat olives before (I don’t actually like olives). My kids drizzle it on everything. It’s fruity and delicious and that’s even before you get to the flavored oils. Why wouldn’t I talk about it? A silly question to me, but I guess that people don’t talk about their favorite shops or purchases or olive oils to their friends much.

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That bread cart in the window holds all sorts of goodies on Saturdays.

It made me wonder how many people know the people who sell them their food anymore. Just for fun, I actually paid attention to my Saturday food shopping errands last month (minus the grocery store for staples, everyone knows what they look like. Besides, that parking lot needs no more cars). And lookie here, I started at a locally owned coffee shop,  I bought locally bottled olive oil and locally made pains au chocolat from Olive & Marlowe (selling La Gourmandine products on Saturdays), stopped at DJ’s, the local butcher selling local meat cut to order in front of your very eyes, and  headed to a locally owned restaurant to eat lunch that’s sourced as locally as possible. How many people in my city do this? How many people even know that they can? We’re lucky to live near business districts that actually support small businesses.

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You get a show at DJ’s along with great local meats. My kids are fascinated by the giant butcher block. 

And frankly, that’s the way it should be. Maybe it’s quaint and dated, but a corporation doesn’t really need my cash. I’d rather see my money spent somewhere that the quality is good or better than what I can get in a big box store, that sends a little girl to dance classes, that helps people follow their dreams. And I have more fun shopping and enjoying my community in the process. If that’s the bubble I live in, I’m not popping it.

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That’s a delicious bubble, right there. 

summer school

I’ve officially decided that 2013 is a rebuilding year for my garden. Which is a nice way of saying there’s no way I could keep up with it with a new baby, two other kids at home, and a husband cramming his head full of math to prep for an economics PhD. But never fear! Some gardening did occur – enough to make me feel I wasn’t completely useless. It was at my kids’ school garden.

There are many school gardens popping up all over town – Grow Pittsburgh manages six in the city, while others are independently managed. Integral to the process is maintaining the space while students are out for the summer (the best growing season, of course), so families adopt the garden for a week at a time. Our week was in mid-July and was prime zucchini season (when is it not?). The kids loved horsing around at the playground, watering with the really cool extendable hose, and only being temporarily responsible for making sure things didn’t die.

20130723_133528The main reason I’m a slacker this year.

20130723_134922First, we weed…

20130723_135224…then we draw.

20130723_134012Zucchini plant. Large fifth grader provided for scale.

20130726_173742Watering is hard work.

20130723_140710Our first day’s haul – lots of trimmed-back herbs for drying, and the universal summer plant, zucchini.

20130728_183206In our house, we love my grandma’s zucchini cake.

20130728_185743What do you mean there’s no Nutella in the recipe?

20130803_161625Finished product – everything’s better with sprinkles. We loved tending the garden this summer!

coming up for air

Between the new baby, going back to work, attempting to manage the out-of-control yard, and all the other random things that life puts in the way, I’ve been silent for a while. Not because I don’t want to be here, trust me. I have about half a dozen things bouncing around in my head that need to get written down… eventually. Isn’t that always the way?

But I could use some feedback on my newest food-based project, the dreaded meal plan. With my husband going back to school (again) this fall, making me the primary household manager, I need structure to make it work and minimize the food complaints. So I struck out yesterday to try to make one that works for our family. And it looks like we eat junk and carb-load a lot more than we actually do. At least, more than I hope we actually do.

I’d appreciate some feedback – what looks wonky, what makes you wonder why my family eats that, whatever. Green bubbles are what’s going on any given evening, orange bubbles are suggested meals (based on who will be in the house that night and what they’ll actually eat). This is the main course chart, I’m also planning on having a list of sides that need to be chosen from on a rotating basis. Then it’s onto packed lunches and breakfast options once the dinner menu is sorted…. I think my head may explode.

I’d also love suggestions for fast weeknight meals that are also healthy, I think we’re in a rut.

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school lunches and gubmint cheeze

I don’t know about where you live, but in Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania in general), the school districts and the local governments are completely separate animals. Which, when you think about it, sometimes makes sense, and sometimes doesn’t. Since I’ve been working in and around government for over a decade, this is second nature to me, but I recently had a convo with my friend Leah about local governments vs. school districts and realized that’s not always the case.

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In that instance, we were debating the sway that the city’s next mayor could have over school lunches. Leah’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (scroll to the bottom, she’s there, I swear!) last week called for the new mayor to advocate for better school food in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS). She’d initially called for the new mayor to change the school food system, until I reminded her that the city and the school district are two entirely different entities.

Thankfully, Tuesday’s mayoral primary makes it pretty darn clear that Bill Peduto will be the city’s next mayor (don’t get me started on the current one). Peduto’s been running for mayor since 2005, and has a huge, well-thought-out list of 100 different things he’ll work on once he’s mayor. Two of his points directly impact the schools/school lunch conversation: #36, Working Together to Improve Public Education, and #26, Get Fresh Pittsburgh: Providing Neighborhood Access to Fresh, Healthy Food. Peduto specifically advocates starting #26 in our schools.

While separate entities, the district needs to recognize the value in working with the city on improving the schools, both overall and with respect to the food in the schools.

Technically, the mayor has no sway. But he can certainly advocate for change because the district’s decisions impact the economic development opportunities for the city as a whole. Imagine if the city could tout truly healthy school lunches as part of a broader healthy child curriculum and an economic development opportunity. Wouldn’t that position Pittsburgh as a more well-rounded green, sustainable, healthy place to attract new investment and jobs? It seems that it would position the city to be even more attractive to workers with families. And don’t forget workforce training – it’s well-documented that the quality of food directly impacts the ability of children to learn. If we’re going to have a good future workforce, we need to raise them well. Crap food makes unhealthy kids.

So congratulations to Peduto – and help him make these two, and all 100 bullet points, happen for the city. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Not quite as bad as I thought

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My fourth grader had a field trip yesterday, and snagged a packed school lunch to bring home and show me (not sure how he did it, but I’m not asking too many questions). While we won’t stop packing lunch anytime soon, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of crap. Yes, the sandwich looks kind of nasty, but water, carrots, celery, and applesauce?  You can tell they’re trying.