My Husband May Be Turning Into a Vegan Activist

Well, *there’s* a sentence I never thought I’d write…

So, technically my husband is not actually a vegan (he has yet to give up butter or the occasional pizza), and perhaps activist is a bit hyperbolic (although his co-workers might disagree) …

But before I explain what’s happened with my husband, I think a little background is in order:

Our 19 year-old daughter has been a vegetarian — off and on — for about eight years now. She declared her vegetarianism — without preamble, without any hint of a warning — just before her twelfth birthday. We were camping and my husband had just set a barbecued pork chop onto her plate when she suddenly pushed the plate away and said, “I don’t want to eat this; I want to be a vegetarian.”

So, of course — as any parents would do — my husband and I questioned her on it. Isn’t this rather out of the blue? we asked.

But no, apparently not. Apparently, it was something she had been thinking of for quite some time*, and because of that it didn’t even occur to us that it was something we could, or should, be talking her out of.

(I do confess that when, a few short months later, our daughter’s politically- and socially-active social studies teacher showed her class the documentary Food, Inc (much to the chagrin of many parents) and one of her best friends went home and told her parents that she too wanted to become a vegetarian, and her parents simply said, Oh no, you’re NOT! … I felt slightly duped. Did YOU know, I asked my husband, that we could simply have said “No”?!?!)

Has this last paragraph left you with the impression that I was less-than-happy with her supposedly well-thought-out stance?

Yes, I admit to a fair amount of grumbling:

What’s she going to eat when we have chicken?! What about the pasta sauce?! And why am I the one now stuck cooking (cough*heating*cough) TWO meals?!

But, ah … the beauty that occasionally comes with hindsight … ! Looking back on it now, I’m extraordinarily glad that we didn’t talk her out of it, because although our daughter’s position was tempered by a short period during which she acquiesced slightly and ate organic, free-range meat and chicken, her vegetarianism has meant several things to our family:

  • It forced me to become a better cook (although I confess to a fair amount of *heating* until the year I gave up processed food):http://greengreyandgezellig.com/?p=483
  • Her stance influenced her younger brother, who also turned vegetarian for a time, and who, to this day, remains very thoughtful about the food he eats.
  • Our youngest son has — from a very young age — been exposed to (and eats!) a wide variety of foods which he claims his friends’ parents would never dream of setting on the table**.
  • It further heightened my already-strong interest in reading about nutrition and health, which has resulted in a healthier and more varied diet than we would have had otherwise, and we have all slowly moved along with her to what has become, in the last couple of years, a nearly-completely vegetarian diet.
  • It has likely halted what we’ve always imagined to be my husband’s genetic “fate”: a predisposition that would lead inexorably towards weight gain and chronic disease.

And this is where we return to my husband and the whole vegan-esque activist thing …

My husband has recently done two things (and by that, I mean he has done them independently; he has not just watched me do them and then listened to my take on things):

  1. He’s read How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Dr. Michael Greger, the medical doctor who runs the website nutritionfacts.org. This is a two-part book which deals with both the scientific evidence which lies behind the top fifteen causes of death in the U.S., as well as the foods*** which have been shown to prevent these diseases. It’s well-written and very accessible; my husband, who has a strong technical background, but is completely unversed in biological matters, has found it to be a fascinating read.
  2. He’s watched the documentary Cowspiracy. This is an eye-opening movie which does two things: firstly, it illustrates the enormous and wide-ranging effects animal agriculture has on the Earth, from deforestation to toxic run-off to dead zones in oceans to methane production to the mis-use of antibiotics to climate change; and secondly, it highlights the failure of environmental organizations to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is agribusiness.

Now, although my husband has compelling personal reasons to be galvanized by what he’s read and watched, it’s struck me that this book and this film provide a powerful wake-up call even to those without those compelling personal reasons; that if ever there were reasons to experiment with Meatless Mondays, to become a weekday vegetarian, or to *gasp* go whole hog (pun intended) and do one’s darnedest to become a vegan, well, these two things in concert would be IT, because the evidence is powerful: what’s good for our health is also good for the planet’s health.


*“…quite some time…” Ha! Our daughter recently confessed that it actually wasn’t something she had thought about prior to that fateful supper; she just figured we would be less likely to talk her out of it if we felt it was a decision she had conscientiously arrived at. What a stinker….

**Does it sound like our ten year-old son is ecstatic about this arrangement? He’s not. If he had his way I would be serving Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese) every. single. meal. But hey, we’re not zealots! He had a hot dog just last week when we went to a hockey game.

***Greger’s book promotes a whole food plant-based diet: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds, with little to no ultra-processed foods.

Soul-Sustaining Scenery Versus the Treadmill

 

These are scenes from yesterday morning’s walk. A fresh snowfall, crisp air, and heavy boots to work up a sweat … what a lovely way to start the day 🙂 .

I’ve never been much of an “exerciser”. My pre-children attempts at exercise were sporadic, at best, and my post-children years have been even more dismal. I’ve watched as others (my husband and my sister-in-law, for example) have consistently managed to find the time for regular exercise, but I’ve always put other obligations (children and home) first, completely discounting and disregarding — disdaining even! — the whole don-your-own-oxygen-mask-first-before-attempting-to-help-others approach to self-care and health.

So after a lifetime of neglect, it shouldn’t really have come as any surprise when, about three years ago, I began feeling distinctly creaky in the hip area.

Slightly panicked and knowing I had to finally do something, but reluctant to be spending an hour in the basement on the treadmill, I decided to try going for a long walk after dropping our youngest off at school in the morning. But while I managed some mornings, it was still sporadic; I was letting the day and its obligations dictate the exercise, rather than scheduling the day around the walking. I was still letting myself be somewhat of a martyr to my family and my home. I was still putting my physical and mental health in the backseat, and it wasn’t until Deborah advised that I should view my walking as a prescription for health that I managed to completely turn my way-of-thinking around.

Our daughter sent us this very funny (and OH, SO TRUE!) video a few days ago, which completely fits with the theme of this post. If you haven’t already seen it, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did (but FYI, there is one partially beeped out f-word):

 

Kingston and Kondo and Seeing Stuff

There once was a woman who thought about stuff

A constant refrain which made her life tough

The treasures, the dross

To keep or to toss

Indecisive and waffling, enough was enough!

So … hmmm …

I’m fairly certain that limericks are pretty much inexcusable. All I can say is that this is what happens when someone (Sarah 🙂 ) points out that I started the year with a haiku and followed with a pun … does that sound like a dare to anyone else?

Moving right along —

I’m at least six months — perhaps even a year — late to this party …

Nevertheless …

After being on the library’s waiting list since July, I *finally* — in November —read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

Although I am decidedly not a fan of self-help books, I do have a bit of a weakness for books that discuss “stuff”, a fascination which began many years ago, when I happened upon Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui.

Originally published in Great Britain in 1998; this is a copy of the first U.S. edition published in 1999.

When I first read this book I was a mother to two very young children. I was struggling just a bit with day-to-day life, and Kingston’s claim that clutter could cause a person to feel anxious came as an Aha! lightbulb-revelation. Now, Kingston’s writings aren’t perfect — her tone is a bit self-congratulatory, there’s a fair amount of woo to get past, and there’s a chapter on colon cleansing (yes, you read that right!) which likely makes some people squeamish — but it is a book that has, for me, stood the test of time. Some of Kingston’s words — these, for example:

You are connected to everything you own by fine strands of energy

— resonate just as strongly with me today as they did when I first read the book, even if I do have to take what she means literally in a strictly figurative sense.

So when the buzz began about Marie Kondo’s tidying book, I was fairly anxious to read it.

(But clearly not *so* anxious that I was willing to spend $15 in order to buy it!)

To begin with, I have to say I feel a fair measure of pity for Ms. Kondo. She clearly had childhood issues, which I, unfortunately, can relate to. As a child, I too, felt the comfort that could come from setting physical objects to rights, and would often come home from school and embark on tasks such as the completely voluntary — unasked-for, even — spring cleaning of my mother’s spice cupboard. I would at this point say, Pot? Meet Kettle… but the young Ms. Kondo was WAY more obsessed about it than I ever was. (So … hmmm … Spoon? Meet Kettle … ?)

Empathy aside, this book has left me feeling very conflicted, and as much as I don’t want to say it —

(if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all...)

— I had a really hard time liking this woman. I know it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge that her cautionary tales — getting rid of other people’s stuff, and guilting siblings into taking her cast-off belongings — were part of her early practices, and that in telling us about them she is merely painting a picture of what not to do, that she doesn’t do them now. But still… Even when she was an adult, and already working in a professional capacity, her judgement seemed a bit off: telling a client she could tidy up by offloading stuff to her mother’s house for indefinite storage? Quite honestly, the word spoiled comes to mind, a descriptor that struck me as befitting both her and her clients.

I also got bogged down in semantics: the use of the term “garbage” when referring to the stuff that she’s encouraging people to get rid of. Are her clients actually throwing everything that doesn’t spark joy into the dump? Are there no charity or thrift stores in Japan?

On the flip side, her advice to use the boxes and bins one already has kicking around the house was a breath of fresh air, and her folding methods are probably bang-on: my ten year-old son’s drawer is still neat and tidy, months after I re-organized it and file-folded his t-shirts. And, her assessment of professional organizers as hoarders? Yes, thank-you, Ms. Kondo: there’s a bit of truth you don’t often hear.

Kondo’s claim-to-fame is, of course, the whole sparking joy thing … and to that I say, okay, sure, yes, in an ideal world, we would and should all live surrounded by only those things that we love, by only those things that spark joy. But … I can’t help feeling this is such a privileged, upper-middle class, first-world, consumeristic metre-stick by which to measure our belongings.

In the first place, it’s a method that really only works for those people who have both the time and the money to assess and possibly replace each and every object which doesn’t make the cut.

And in the second place, while I can see how joy could be a very useful determiner for clothing, say, or for books, or items of decor, isn’t joy rather a silly way to assess* a garlic press or a spatula or a wrench? Surely, in and amongst our belongings there’s room for pure function? Whatever happened to utility and making-do and deciding to live with good-enough? I would argue there’s a certain beauty to be found in all that, as well as in the ability (or determination) to say, Yeah, it doesn’t spark joy, but who the hell cares? I’ll seek my joy elsewhere, thank you very much.

(Are you thinking, methinks the lady doth protest too much about this whole joy-sparking thing? If so, you’d be right. The fact is, I want a nice home just as much as the next person, and I actually have a very finely-tuned aesthetic sense: I can immediately see what I love, what I don’t, what “goes” with what, and how things could be improved … in other words, I see all the stuff; I care about all the stuff … but the thing is, I don’t want to!).

Sigh.

Lastly, there’s the part of the book where (according to Goodreads reviews) she seems to lose a lot of people: her propensity to anthropomorphize objects, and to attach feelings to stuff. She even goes so far as to thank things for their service!

Oh. My. Gosh.

That’s just crazytalk!

I mean …

Um …

Gulp … yes, well …

As completely whackadoodle as it sounds, I have to confess this is a concept I *totally* get.

Because — as a person who sees all the stuff — I have, on numerous occasions, thanked inanimate objects for their service.

There was a stove, for example. A pair of sandals. A blanket.

And then there was a bowl, the smallest of a set of three I purchased just before my husband and I got married 25 years ago:

And then there were two …

These bowls were the first “household” item I bought, and if ever a set of mixing bowls could spark joy, then my goodness, it was these. Made in Portugal, purchased at a delightful little kitchen shop, the perfect sizes for all my needs … So when the smallest one broke a dozen-or-so years ago, I nearly cried. And I distinctly remember, as I placed the pieces in the garbage, saying the words out loud: Thank you, Small Blue Bowl; you were a good bowl, and I’m really going to miss you.

Ridiculous?

Perhaps.

But I wonder if, in our consumeristic and disposable — and warming — world, this is actually part of the solution.

Maybe we should all be thanking our stuff for the service it provides. Not because, as Ms. Kondo suggests, our stuff is capable of emotion and will have hurt feelings if we don’t acknowledge its hard work, but rather because perhaps, by taking that small action, we would all start to really and truly see the objects in our lives. And perhaps, if we all actually saw the objects in our lives, we’d also be forced to acknowledge the fact that stuff isn’t made from thin air, and that it doesn’t just miraculously appear on store shelves for us to buy buy buy without thought.

Like these Christmas crackers, making a curtain call from my last post:

Hey, did I already mention that these Christmas crackers travelled 14,000 freaking km (9000 miles) to get to Ontario?!

I wonder … were any of the people who purchased — or merely had the pleasure of pulling apart — these Christmas crackers *actually* thankful for their hat, their joke, and their unique gift (and their 30-odd seconds of fun)?

Maybe Marie Kondo is onto something with her thanking shtick.


*Apparently, Kondo’s second book (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up) addresses the inherent problem that comes when using joy as a determiner to assess things that are utilitarian in nature. Sarah, who has read the new book, points out that “… Kondo acknowledges her ridiculousness. It’s a big part of her insight about finding joy in what’s useful (a really important principle, but one that I think could be more explicitly stated in the book)”. I wonder whether those fans who have followed her methods to a T will now be royally ticked off as they re-purchase tools they’ve summarily tossed. I will have to wait approximately six months to read this for myself; I’m number 11 on the library’s waiting list.

What if The Grinch Was Actually the Hero of the Story?

So some of you might have noticed things were pretty quiet around here this fall. I wrote my over-analytical knitting post in November, and then silence reigned until New Year’s Day, when, inspired by the beauty of a long-awaited snowfall, I gathered some profound feelings of relief —

(Yay, there’s finally snow! And, yay, 2015 is over!)

— and with some fervent hopes for the new year, I broke my silence with a (probably trite) haiku.

November and December tend to be difficult months for me at the best of times. Even though we’ve always kept Christmases fairly minimalistic, I still find the month(s) leading up to the buying holiday season really difficult. It’s a season of pressure, after all; a season where even if you decide to keep things small and reasonable, to not buy all the crap, to not succumb to the you-must-have-it-all consumeristic mentality, you still have to work really hard to ignore it all.

Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff. There was a heavy dose of way-too-much-to-worry-about with regards to loved-ones close to home, and there were also weighty matters farther afield, most notably in Paris: the terrorist attacks, as well as the climate change talks which took place there a few weeks after.

And when all of it was put together? Quite frankly, I was a bear this fall; a sad-sack; a grinch.

I’ve been tossing the word grinch around a lot these days. I mostly do it in a berating fashion, a mental pummelling of “Why are you such a grinch?” that comes quickly on the heels of the immediate knee-jerk irritation I feel when I see overblown consumerism or store-shelves filled with complete and utter crap.

(Oh, this is going to be a fun post; I wouldn’t blame anyone if they clicked away.)

So … grinch, yes … if you’re still with me, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the nasty character in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! … and I’m also going to assume we have the same narrative in our heads: the Grinch is a mean-spirited fellow who tries to ruin Christmas for the loveable Whos.

Since Seuss wrote the book in 1957, the term grinch has garnered a widespread, general meaning. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines grinch as:

an unpleasant person who spoils other people’s fun or enjoyment

But it seems to me that the term is tossed around much more loosely than that. I often feel that ANY non-compliance or non-participation in things which the majority of people determine to be fun or festive can result in being termed a grinch, if not in actual fact (aloud, and to your face), then — maybe more importantly and insidiously — by you, yourself, in your own head.

So, for example, if you are the lone abstainer in the outdoor-holiday-decorating olympics in the cul-de-sac, you run the (very small) risk that your neighbours will verbally call you out as a grinch (or merely whisper it to each other). The greater risk though, is that you yourself will label yourself as a grinch, and that your mind will then — perforce — either be filled with feelings of guilt, or feelings of defensiveness. In other words, a litany of justifications as to why you’re not *actually* a grinch.

/ Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /

So … anyhoo* … an epiphany hit me the other day:

What if the Grinch was actually the hero of Dr. Seuss’ story?

It’s occurred to me that we only see things from the Grinch’s perspective. When he steals the Whos’ trimmings and trappings and hauls it all up the side of Mount Crumpit, we aren’t shown the Whos’ initial reaction, are we?

No. We have a small protestation by Cindy-Lou Who, and that’s it. After the deed is done, we see the Grinch waiting, perched with his stolen goods on the side of the mountain, and then we see the end result, the Whos gathering outside, hand-in-hand, to sing.

But what I’d like to know is, what just happened inside their homes?

When the Whos wake and clamber out of bed and find all their stuff gone, do they not even blink an eye?

Are they not even a little bit upset that all the stuff they’ve made/bought/wrapped/baked/cooked/decorated is GONE?

Are they not even a little bit disappointed that all the time they spent making/buying/wrapping/baking/cooking/decorating was completely WASTED?

Are they really just all, Oh well! … ?

Or … are they gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, vowing revenge … until, perhaps, one Very Wise Who steps in and says, Hey! Wait a minute! It’s only stuff we’re crying about! What is Christmas actually all about, anyway? How about we all quit our whining, and get out there and sing?!

So … if the Whos have suddenly realized that Christmas will come even without all the trimmings and trappings, then WHATEVER motivation lay behind the Grinch’s actions — whether he’s simply a petty asshole with a heart that’s two sizes too small; or whether he’s acting out because he’s lonely and feels left out; or whether he’s stolen the stuff because this is his misguided-activist-way to protest child labour or mercury-laced strip-mining techniques or inhumane animal husbandry — whom do the Whos have to thank for this very valuable epiphany? Why, the Grinch of course!

This then leads to a further question: if the Whos can manage to celebrate Christmas just fine, thankyouverymuch, without all the trimmings and trappings, then what purpose do all the trimmings and trappings serve?

And the answer to that is, Duh, Marian … the trimmings and trappings make things fun and festive!

But for me, this then begs the grinchy question: at what cost does that fun and festivity come?

Perhaps, in the Whos’ world, their trimmings and trappings are wholly and completely sustainable. Maybe there’s a local Whoville toymaker who makes frambamafoozlers from sustainably-harvested wood. Maybe their wrappings are reusable bits of cloth made from un-dyed, fair-trade truffula tufts. Perhaps their roast beast is wild-caught and humanely butchered. Maybe, for the Whos, there’s absolutely no harm in any** of it.

But that’s not the world we live in, is it?

We live in a warming world.

According to the vast majority of scientists, we have to keep this warming to a minimum in order to avoid catastrophic effects. Our very survival is hanging in the balance, and what do we do?

We ship fun and festive stuff, such as these Christmas crackers, halfway around the world.

Christmas crackers: each one comes with a hat, a joke, and a unique gift!

These particular Christmas crackers were made in Indonesia. They travelled over 14,000 km (nearly 9000 miles), over two-thirds of that distance on a container ship, just so Ontarians could have 30 seconds of fun and festivity at Christmastime.

And here’s the thing: did you know — because I sure as heck didn’t! — that international shipping — the way we get so many of our goods — wasn’t in the climate change talks? Emissions from container ships aren’t ascribed to any one country, so no country is responsible for doing anything to address the considerable carbon footprint due to shipping.

I wonder — maybe it would be a good thing if we all started to be just a bit more grinchy when it comes to choosing our fun and festive things.

But then again, maybe grinchy is the wrong word altogether. After all, the Grinch’s success — if indeed my thought exercise managed to convince anyone — hinges on the simple fact that he (perhaps) caused the Whos to see things differently. In the end, it has nothing to do with spoiling fun; rather, it’s about seeing things in a different light.

More on that coming up next …


*I once said, Never again! to the use of the word anyhoo. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.

**This mostly-vegetarian simply cannot stop herself from pointing out that there is indeed harm done to the beast who is roasted.

Sock-cess!

Ta-da!

Two finished pairs of put-on-able socks!

So I have to share this with all of you, because it just makes me so freaking happy 🙂 .

(And yes, I know … they’re *just* socks … but I have a small, simple life; therefore, small, simple things have the power to make me inordinately happy).

I had finished knitting my pair (the ones on the right) in early December, and managed to get the first of my daughter’s all the way to the toe stage. For the non-knitters out there, these socks are a cuff-down construction, so I was just about an inch and a half away from completion, when my daughter came home from university for a long weekend break in the middle of exams.

She was barely in the house when I nonchalantly tossed her my pair and quipped Hey, look what I just finished!

Sure enough — without my asking — she immediately tried them on while I stood by and rubbed my hands together and cackled gleefully Oho! my plan is coming together! .

I even managed a stealthily-arranged and nearly-blasé foot comparison, sans measuring tape, of course, because that would have immediately aroused her suspicions.

As soon as she went back to school to finish her last exams, I once again whipped out the knitting. I finished the first sock, but between baking and agonizing over presents shopping and way too much hockey (oh why is there so much hockey?!), I didn’t manage to finish the second one before she came home for the holidays. Not wanting to ruin the surprise, I hid the knitting once again, spent the next two days shaking from knitting-withdrawal, and on the night of the 24th tucked one lone sock into my daughter’s Christmas stocking, along with a promise that the second would be done in time for her to take the PAIR back to school with her on January 3rd.

And yes, as you can see by the photo, I managed! And she LOVES them. Sock-cess!

So for the knitters out there who might be curious as to why my earlier attempts at sock-knitting had resulted in un-put-on-able socks:

  1. I had used too small a needle, resulting in too many stitches per inch, resulting in too stiff a fabric with too little stretch. Apparently I am a very tight knitter. (*WHAT* a surprise 😉 ).
  2. Although I had used a good sock pattern, following it to a T and adjusting properly for calf length and length of foot, the heel flap had followed a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t provide a very good fit for those of us with high in-steps. I have since learned that measuring from the floor to the ankle bone is the way to determine whether or not you can stick to a standard heel flap, or whether you should make yours longer.

What’s next on my needles?

Well, more socks of course! 🙂

 

Are any of you making anything these days? I’d love to hear about it 🙂 .

Knitting Over-analyzed

I feel like I have just a bit more to say on food waste, but my mind has been off on other things lately, so it may be a while until that post comes together.

In the meantime…

I was sitting in the Honda garage last Monday morning, waiting on an oil change and a tire swap, and I was busily knitting away, pondering the weightiness of life and death as I thought about my father-in-law who was, at that very moment, on an operating table undergoing coronary bypass surgery —

(I was also, to be honest, thinking hard about whether or not sway bars were a real thing, and if so, if a weak sway bar link — which a repairman had just told me our vehicle had — was something warranting a $250 repair. I’m rather ashamed to admit I’m the stereotypical female who might one day be persuaded that the car needs a new mezmerglobber*… )

— when a female employee walking through the waiting room stopped, and said, “Oh! What are you knitting?”

“Socks,” I replied, although my mind automatically pedantically corrected, Sock, actually…

“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Do people still do that?”

“Yup!” I said, immediately thinking of the Yarn Harlot, and the mother-daughter team at my local yarn store, and Kate, and Glenna, and my favourite aunt, all of whom still determinedly do that. I kept my response to that one chipper word, though; I didn’t confess that I was a bit of a pretender, that I had last attempted to knit socks over a decade ago. I certainly didn’t tell her that the pairs I had knit for my older two kids when they were about 5 and 7 years old, while technically perfectly constructed, had been nearly un-put-on-able, a rather unfortunate quality for a pair of socks to possess.

My kids picked out the yarn and they thought it was pretty neat that their mother was knitting them socks. If only they could have gotten them on their feet without a struggle …

“Wow,” she said. “That must take a lot of time. You must love it though, to spend that much time making something you can just buy. I take my hat off to you!”

So I admit I sat there for a few moments after she left the waiting room, my hands still, pondering. Why indeed, I asked myself (not for the first time) would anyone spend loads of time making something, oftentimes at greater expense, when they could simply walk into a store and buy an equivalent pre-made thing?

Because I can?

Because it makes me happy to make things?

Because of what knitting represents to me?

I’ve been knitting, fairly steadily, ever since my first pregnancy, about 20 years ago. Although I had been taught to knit at a young age, stitchery was my *thing* and the Knitter wasn’t born until I learned I was bearing life, which I’m fairly certain isn’t a coincidence. But while I suspect knitting is, for me, mostly about an innate and instinctual desire to slather my kids in sweaters and mittens and hats in order to keep them cozy and warm and protected, I don’t think that’s the whole story. Why IS knitting so appealing to me?

On a purely philosophical level —

(I do believe I warned you, right in the title, about the over-analyzing part 😉 )

— it’s worth noting that knitting is a very positive endeavour. Unless you’ve had a gauge accident and things go horribly awry, there’s not a single destructive act in the process of knitting, except for the snip at the very end. There’s no leap-of-faith cutting-out at the beginning (as with sewing), and there’s also no noisy machine to sit in front of; knitting is all building, all quiet creating.

There’s also something staunchly basic and unapologetically practical about knitting which sits well with my minimalistic and down-to-earth soul. Not only does knitting create warm and useful things, but any beauty that may arise out of knitting feels incidental; it’s part-and-parcel to its creation, rather than being an added-on after-effect. A stitch is a stitch after all, and while cables or lace may take a bit more time, their beauty is integral to the item’s form and function.

Knitting has also always been held in my mind in a lofty, aspirational, one-day-I’ll-be-a-knitter kind of way. And that — the feeling that knitting is a worthy thing-to-do — is entirely due to this woman, sitting next to me: my favourite aunt.

I don’t know what it says about me, the fact that keeping this picture here and pressing publish is so nail-bitingly hard.

I won’t bore you with all the details as to why this woman is my favourite aunt. Suffice to say it involves books, and conversation, and a spirited adventurousness, and a gezellig home, all of which I’ve always aspired to, ever since I was a small child. My aunt has been knitting almost all her life, and her flying fingers, her constant knitting-whenever-sitting, have always fascinated me. She was likely taught to knit when she was four or five, because that’s how things were done back then. There were no made-in-China socks when she and my mother and their three siblings were growing up in The Netherlands, and because she was such a beautiful (and speedy) knitter, the job of producing the family’s knitwear (socks, sweaters, mittens, and hats) fell to her. (My mother, whose knitting was deemed uneven, was the seamstress in the family, and was called upon to do the family’s sewing).

I sometimes wonder: what was that like? Did the pressure-filled fact that people were counting on your creativity turn that creativity into drudgery? Was it even viewed as creativity, or was it simply work-that-needed-doing? And extending forward to today, does the fact that one can now buy ready-made sweaters mittens hats socks turn the individual making of sweaters mittens hats socks into something that isn’t work? Is knitting now a luxury? Or worse: is it a frivolous occupation?

I don’t have the answer to any of these philosophical questions, but I do know this: my aunt is still knitting, even now, when she doesn’t have to. And the fact is, part of the reason I love to knit is because this woman I love loves to knit, and whenever I knit, she drifts into my thoughts.

I thought of her when I bought yarn to knit that first sweater for our first unborn baby. I thought about her as I knit each subsequent sweater, sometimes using yarn she helped my mother select.

I thought about her when knitting mittens for my kids’ growing hands — the small hands that once so trustingly held onto mine — pair after pair after pair, year after year after year.

Pattern from “Projects for Community Knitting”, Cottage Creations, Carol A. Anderson

I thought of my aunt when knitting hats for my daughter, and when I made this one for myself.

Pattern: Greystone by Melissa Thomson

And now, finally mittened and hatted out —

(well, not really, but I can’t seem to convince my boys that I can produce a manly enough hat for them, and they’re both now waaaay too cool for hand-knit mittens)

— and needing to keep my hands occupied, I’m turning once again to socks. I suspect that for some knitters, sweaters are the holy grail of knitting. For me however, it’s socks. Socks (put-on-able ones, that is) are the thing I will one day achieve, and I know that this is entirely due to the fact that it was nearly always socks I saw on my aunt’s needles.

And somehow, now seems fitting. The last few months have been rather full of weighty issues, and I’ve been a bit of a sappy and sobby existentialistic mess. Who knows … perhaps knitting socks — that most basic of items — will help. And perhaps a good dose of thinking-of-my-aunt — and her emulatable life — will quiet some of those what-is-life-and-how-best-to-live-it questions I’m struggling with right now. Of course, the fact that my aunt was about to turn 85 when I last saw her, two years ago, is unfortunately another rather weighty thought to have to ponder.

Progress on the first sock. Before beginning, I asked the mother-daughter team at my local yarn shop for advice, because it hasn’t escaped my notice that, a decade ago, I somehow knit not just ONE un-put-on-able sock, not just a PAIR of un-put-on-able socks, but TWO pairs of un-put-on-able socks. That’s FOUR un-put-on-able socks. Doh!

 


 

*A mezmerglobber is an engine part on the Magic School Bus, which is the best children’s book series/TV series EVER. (IMHO). Ms. Frizzle (another (albeit fictional) emulatable woman) knows all about bus repairs and would never be at the mercy of a repairman.

Using the Freezer to Minimize Food Waste

I’ve never been much of a daytime television watcher —

(yes, this is a rather odd sentence to use to begin a discussion about food waste!)

— but this post is taking me down memory lane, making me recall some of my earliest parenting days and what was, in all likelihood, a rather obscure cooking show on CBC television.

We had moved provinces with our 8 day-old daughter in the fall of 1996. Nearly 800 km (around 500 miles) from friends and family, and with only one vehicle which my husband took to work most days, there were times when it seemed as though the walls were going to close in around me. And on some of those long afternoons, desperately needing to see and hear another adult, I would end up flicking on the television. I wasn’t much of a cook back then, but one of my favourite shows was the now-defunct The Urban Peasant. Its host, James Barber, is not only responsible for the salmon recipe that became — and remains to this day — our Christmas Eve tradition:

… but I also have him to thank for this very sage advice about parsley:

Wash it and chop it and freeze it, he said, and then you’ll always have a supply of fresh parsley on hand.

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To my I-barely-know-my-way-around-a-kitchen mind, that was a bit of culinary brilliance. It’s also a fantastic way to reduce food waste, because it seems to me that unless you’re using parsley every. single. day, there’s little chance of getting through a bunch before it turns to slime in your fridge.

Freezing that first batch of parsley all those years ago opened up a world of possibilities: what else could I freeze? I wondered, my pre-internet mind churning. Here’s what I came up with:

In addition to parsley, I also freeze that other item that frequently goes to waste: green onions. I wash them and chop them and then toss them into a plastic container, stirring them to ensure a good distribution of whites and greens, and then simply chop out a frozen section with a fork or a knife.

These ARE looking a bit frosty, but they’re still fine!

Also in my freezer? Jalapeño peppers. A while ago my grocery store decided they were no longer going to sell jalapeño peppers singly, but were going to make their customers buy five or six at a time, packaged on a foam tray and wrapped in plastic:

I complained to the produce manager, who sympathised, but said he didn’t make the decisions, and if I felt that strongly about it I should write a letter. Hmph! For a while, I refused to buy them, and made a second stop at another grocery store in order to purchase my single jalapeño, but then, one day, pressed for time, I succumbed and bought the damn package. Not wanting to waste the remaining five, and knowing that sweet peppers can simply be chopped and frozen, I figured there’d be no reason freezing wouldn’t work with jalapeños as well.

I de-seeded and minced them, and wanting to freeze them in one pepper-worth quantities, decided to use the silicone baking cups I use for making butter tarts at Christmastime. I squished the bits together, hoping it would freeze solid in a unit, and … it worked! Once they were frozen solid, I popped them out and transferred them to a plastic container.

My only concern is that now the baking cups seem to smell like jalapeño; I hope our butter tarts don’t take on a peppery flavour this Christmas! (There will be hell to pay if I wreck the butter tarts! 😉 ).

An ice cube tray might have worked just as well with the jalapeños. It’s my go-to tool for freezing tablespoon quantities of tomato paste:

So many recipes call for only one or two tablespoons of tomato paste. Why waste a nearly-full can?

I’ve also used the ice cube tray to freeze tablespoon amounts of the avocado-cilantro cream sauce from the Oh She Glows enchilada recipe. The sauce recipe makes far too much for one meal (IMO), and although we would occasionally use the leftovers to round out a snack of chips and salsa, more often than not a fair amount would still get tossed. Because this was really bothering me (avocados = California + drought = don’t waste them, Marian!) I figured freezing was worth a try. It worked like a charm and one tablespoonful was the perfect amount for one enchilada. Not only did this stretch one avocado to 15 enchiladas (three meals), it also made the two subsequent enchilada-cooking-sessions much less time-consuming.

One can also forgo the ice cube tray and simply drop tablespoon or teaspoon amounts directly onto a cookie sheet, and freeze things that way. This was what I did when I made this vegetable broth concentrate*:

Tomatoes are another great item to keep in the freezer, either fresh from the garden (washed and cored, but left whole, or diced to save time while cooking), or the leftovers from a can of whole or crushed tomatoes when you’ve only used a part can in a recipe. Also from the garden: kale, which I wrote about here.

Because we’re mostly-vegetarian, we eat a lot of legumes, and although I do use some canned legumes, I also like to cook my own from dried. Whenever I do this, I make a big batch and ladle them into lidded glass bowls and then store them in the freezer.

Another group of items I store in our freezer is grains, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains go rancid much more quickly than their processed counterparts because they contain the oily germ layer. Although not everything in the following list actually has a germ layer, I tend to follow the very unscientific, When in doubt, might as well stick it in the freezer! So in my freezer, you’ll find: brown rice, whole wheat flour, quinoa, oat bran, wheat germ, flax seed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and almonds. I also keep dried blueberries and both dried and fresh cranberries in the freezer.

And last, but not least, I keep almost all of our baked goods in the freezer. The sandwich bread I buy at the grocery store gets stored in the freezer and taken out slice by slice. I also freeze nearly all of my baking; the muffins and cookies I bake for the kids to take to school go directly into the freezer as soon as they’re cooled. This means I never have to figure out what to do with stale bread, and we never have to regretfully toss days-old baking.

How about you? What do you store in your freezer?


*There are many broth concentrate recipes online, and although I did use the recipe I linked to, I omitted the salt. The salt would have made the frozen concentrate “scoop-able” (because: science 😉 ) but because I like to have control of the salt in my cooking I needed to freeze it in quantifiable units.

If Meal-Planning Were a Subject, I Would Get a D-Minus

So …

On an internet which is positively overrun with advice on meal-planning, in which meal-planning is held up as one of the best ways to reduce food waste, this post feels somewhat confessional, almost as though I should be whispering the words.

Of course, since I can’t figure out how to change the font size on WordPress, my “regular voice” will have to do.

Here goes: I suck at meal-planning.

I wish this was an over-statement, but I’m afraid it’s not.

Now, my suckiness at this endeavour is not for lack of trying. There’ve been numerous occasions on which I’ve hauled out the cookbooks, searched for the tried-and-true as well as the new, slotted meals (or leftovers) in for every day of the week, shopped for the whole kit and caboodle, and enthusiastically hauled it all home. I even — completely uncharacteristically — bought into the thinking that a catchy magnetized notepad could somehow magically turn me from a non-list-making-planner into a list-making-planner:

Hmm…look at all those BLANK spaces where planned suppers are supposed to go. If I had bothered to write in the date, you’d be able to see that I wrote this in August. And why do I continue to fool myself into thinking stars and capital letters will propel me into doing things in a timely fashion? I managed to make the broth — about two weeks after jotting it down — but I still haven’t cooked the chick peas or the navy beans, or found the time to bake bread. And while I DID make muffins and cookies, I ALWAYS manage to make those, even without a list to remind me.

Despite the fact that I love the theory behind meal-planning — the über-organization which ensures you’ll never again aimlessly wander the aisles at the supermarket, the promise that you’ll never again look at the clock and see the hour hand creeping up to 5 and think Oh crap, what the hell am I cooking for supper? — the actual execution of the plan seems to be where I falter.

Now, perhaps this is a problem unique to me; perhaps I’m just one of those rare people who, upon seeing a list, feels not calm and organized, but rather, pressured. And perhaps this is also just me, but it seems that whenever I have managed to plan an entire week’s worth of meals the propensity was to bite off more than I could chew, to get carried away by enthusiasm and completely over-estimate how willing/able my future self was going to be to be cooking that specific meal four or five days hence. The end result in my kitchen? More food waste than ever before.

But …

Does my failure in the meal-planning department mean I’m floundering every night at 5 o’clock, dashing to the corner store, and then throwing hot pockets into the microwave? No, not at all. Ever since our year without processed food, I’ve been cooking — from scratch — nearly every supper my family consumes.

What seems to work best for me is to do my weekly-ish grocery shopping with one or two suppers in mind at the most. Then, the rest of the grocery shopping is for staples. Rather than having a firm plan set in place, in which I feel I have to cook a certain meal, I prefer instead to take a considered approach: what could I cook tonight?

Practically, this means knowing that I have the ingredients on hand for any of a number of different recipes, and ensuring my pantry, fridge, and freezer are stocked with things I know we use regularly, items such as lentils, beans, pasta, rice, and quinoa, and that I have all the basic vegetables available, such as onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, tomatoes, and spinach, as well as all the basic spices.

In order to make this work, I tend to take a minimalistic KISS (keep it simple stupid) approach. I have about two dozen recipes that I regularly rotate through, and while they’re not the bland meat-and-potatoes I grew up with, they’re also not supremely exotic concoctions with rare spices or sauces I will buy once and never use again. More importantly, they’re also not recipes which call for ingredients which are only good for that specific recipe.

This gives me a lot of flexibility: it means that if I’m not using the cauliflower to make Indian Lentil Cauliflower Soup from the Oh She Glows cookbook, I can use it to make Winter Vegetable Soup with Butternut Squash and Cauliflower or creamy cauliflower sauce to serve with pasta, or I can simply cook it (steamed or microwaved) and it’s a nutritious, if plain-jane, vegetable. Similarly, if I’m not using the butternut squash in the aforementioned soup recipe, I can use it to make Vegetarian Stew with Quinoa, Butternut Squash and Coconut Milk. If the broccoli isn’t used in a stir-fry, I’ll simply steam it and serve it as our veggie. Potatoes can either be used to make Kale, Potato and Cannellini Bean Soup or Lentil Soup with Coriander and Cumin, or they can be cooked and mashed as the topping for a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, or cut up and roasted as home-made fries.

I think one of the most important keys in reducing food waste is to be realistic. If you’re a meal-planner extraordinaire and are successfully making use of all the food you’re buying at the grocery store, then that’s great! I take my hat off to you, and truthfully, I wish I could be more like you! (Because who doesn’t want to be both an organized person and a great cook?). But if you’re meal-planning and are struggling each and every time to execute the planned meals before the food goes bad, perhaps you too would benefit from taking a step back and trying a more minimalistic KISS approach to meals. While I have no doubt that formal meal-planning works wonders for many people, it does seem to me that it is a bit of a “one-size fits all” approach which may in fact be causing more stress and more food waste in those of us who keep trying — and despite our best intentions — keep failing.

(Of course, I do have to acknowledge the possibility that I may be entirely alone in this! Am I?)


Next up: how I use the freezer (sorry, Rita 😦 ) to reduce food waste and to keep staples on hand.

Growing All The Kale

So I know I said my next post would focus on ways I try to minimize food waste, but unfortunately, that topic is still percolating. I’ve been spending a lot of hours at the school library, covering for my fellow parent volunteer who went on holiday, plus, as per the title of this post, I’ve got a whole lotta black dino kale to blame.

I’m shamelessly borrowing a phrase from Sarah, who quipped this spring that she was going to grow all the tomatoes.

My immediate reaction upon reading her words?

YES! Me too! Let’s grow ALL the tomatoes!

While I did find out later that Sarah had thrown the words out there in a bit of a joking manner, I was still *totally* on board with the goal. Three years ago, despite being a newbie gardener, I very nearly did manage to grow all the tomatoes; I had enough, frozen in the freezer, to keep us flush with “cooking” tomatoes from the fall through to the following May. But although I’ve not yet been able to repeat that tomato success (and this year is turning out to be another tomatoey disappointment) the kale is another story.

I like using kale in soups, stir-fries, and lasagnas, and it’s a nice alternative to spinach. Although I can buy kale year-round at the grocery store it’s only the curly type which is available, not the milder black dino (lacinato) variety we prefer. It’s also, no doubt, shipped all the way from California, and well, we’re not anywhere near California. So last year I decided to try growing it myself. I somehow managed a bumper crop and ended up freezing 17 batches, which got us through the winter. It was really nice to be able to simply walk downstairs to the freezer and grab a batch of the most local kale ever. So, wanting a repeat of last year’s success, I put eight plants in the ground this spring, the same number I planted last year.

Although I’m convinced black dino kale is one of the easier leafy greens to grow, I did worry, early on this summer, that — due to my own neglect — we wouldn’t be getting any at all this year.

I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, and I have to admit that immediately after planting the garden this spring, I pretty much forgot all about it.

Watering? Nah, I’m sure it’ll rain soon.

Weeding? Um, no thanks … it’s too hot out there; later maybe …

Thinning the seedlings? Yeah, things have been over-crowded before, and it’s been fine; besides, don’t we want a bajillion cucumbers?

And then came the day I finally did go out there, and what did I see? Tiny green caterpillars making lacework out of the kale leaves.

Kale seems to be one resilient plant though, because after steeling myself (yes, I’m also not a particularly brave gardener) and shooing those wee beasties off with a popsicle stick, the plants recovered nicely.

So most mornings over the past couple of weeks I’ve been out in the garden, picking a bouquet of kale from each of the eight plants while leaving the bulk of the plant to continue growing. I (hopefully) shake off all the spiders (see paragraph above, with regards to bravery), and then I bring them in to process them.

I start by washing the leaves:

Then I remove the thick stems and chop the leaves:

The chopped leaves are put into a large pot outfitted with a steamer basket:

After three minutes of steaming, the kale looks like this:

It then gets plunged into cold water and spun dry:

And finally, the kale gets packed into lidded glass bowls or mason jars, and stored in the freezer:

So far I have 18 batches, which should take us through the winter, but there’s still quite a bit left in the garden to process:

Does anyone else have a garden that looks like ours?

(Is it wrong for me to be wishing for an early and heavy snowfall so I don’t have to deal with this overgrown mess? Or at the very least, a good hard frost so all the insects can just go away, please? Yesterday I went out to the garden to gather a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a wasp came into the house with me. I managed to get it out using the container and cardboard trick, but half an hour later, I was STILL shaking*).


* I’m such a wimp 😦 .