Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snakes, dogs & frogs

With all the computer problems we've had this year, I am just now getting around to posting these pictures from a family outing in March.  These shots have been sitting safely in my camera since then, which has been a more secure option that the computer, until recently.

Anyway, one very warm March day, the Bach family visited our newest Metro Park, Walnut Woods

When we visited, only a biking/walking trail had been completed.  I'm not sure what features the finished park will have......we'll just have to go explore it again to find out.  But the completed trail made for an enjoyable family walk, through rows of trees (the park ranger told us that the land used to be used for farming and lumber).

The most surprising thing about our walk was that the path led us around several vernal pools.  The frogs were so loud....loud enough to make us all cover our ears at one point during the walk.  Yet, we never saw any of the frogs.  So, instead of a frog shot, I bring you more trees:

We're always looking for fun walks that we can bring Ranger along with us, so we were happy to find out that dogs are allowed on the trail.  The walk really wore him out (as well as the meet & greets with other dogs on the trail that afternoon):

When we started out on our little hike, the park ranger mentioned to us that they've been seeing snakes on the trail, warming themselves in the late afternoon sun.  And sure enough, as we came to the last stretch of trail, we saw a little snake right in the middle of the road.   The funny thing is, as we all crouched down and looked at it, Ranger never did see it.....which is probably a good thing.  Exuberant puppies and snakes don't go well together.

Walnut Woods, we'll be back again soon!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Nook - The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, written by Michael Pollan:

As I was reading this book, I kept saying to myself four little words:

I had no idea!

I had no idea how pervasive corn (and corn by-products) are in our society.  I had no idea that Chicken McNuggets, or the box they are sold in, contain TBHQ (a form of butane....lighter fluid).  I had no idea if you rotate your cows to graze just the right amount of grass, and then let your chickens into the field a few days later to eat the fly larvae on the cow poo, you are creating a symbiotic relationship between cow, chicken and grass, one where all involved benefit.  I had no idea the actual cost to the environment if you buy organic asparagus grown in Argentina.  I had no idea that wild boars will adopt another sow's piglets if she's no longer around.  I had no idea that morel mushrooms grow in areas where there has recently been a forest fire.

The book is set up into four different meals: a meal the author and his family have at McDonald's (actually, in the car - "eating it at fifty-five miles per hour seemed like the thing to do"), a meal created by all organic items purchased at Whole Foods, a meal created from a local food chain, with chickens that Pollan helped slaughter on Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, and a meal that the author hunted and gathered in his home state of California: wild Sonoma County boar, morel mushrooms, bread made with gathered wild yeast and dessert made with Bing cherries from his sister-in-law's back yard.

And each meal actually caps off Pollan's adventures into exploring all components of that particular food chain that feeds us.  For example, on the McDonald's meal, Pollan visits George Naylor's Iowa farm and drives the 1975 tractor to help plant corn.  He purchases a steer for $598, and pays for "his room and board (and all the corn he could eat) and meds."  He visits his steer, Steer Number 534, in the Poky Feeders CAFO - Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  Here, the author is still following the corn trail, from being grown on Naylor's farm to becoming feed for a steer that is meant to eat grass, not corn.

Digging deeper into the McDonald's meal, the environmental problems with all this corn are an issue which Pollan discusses, starting with synthetic nitrogen. "When humankind acquired the power to fix nitrogen, the basis of soil fertility shifted from a total reliance on the energy of the sun to a new reliance on fossil fuel."  Synthetic nitrogen "evaporates into the air, where it acidifies the rain and contributes to global warming........some seeps down to the water table."  Here's another great quote: "So the plague of cheap corn goes on, impoverishing farmers (both here and in the countries to which we export it) degrading the land, polluting the water, and bleeding the federal treasury, which now spends up to $5 billion a year subsidizing cheap corn."  Maybe you read this and think you don't consume much corn, but in the one meal Pollan and his family ate (a family of 3) he figured they consumed 6 pounds of corn total (factoring in things like the High Fructose Corn Syrup in the soda, bun and ketchup, the corn that the was fed to the steer and chickens, the emulsifiers, corn sweeteners and corn starch in the meal).  "To grow and process this 4,510 food calories took at least ten times as many calories of fossil energy, the equivalent of 1.3 gallons of oil."

And this is what the book is really about - tracking each of these meals, these food chains, and investigating the real cost of the meal.  If Michael Pollan tackled food and how it affects our health in In Defense of Food, then The Omnivore's Dilemma  looks at food and how it affects our environment.  And the real cost of our food, which is not always reflected in the price tag.  Sometimes this real cost comes at the expense of the environment.  Sometimes the real cost is at our own emotional expense, or the expense of our own labor.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was that it not only provided the reader with a great amount of information, but the author also provided a lot of philosophy and insight.  I loved reading his thoughts on hunting and eating animals.  In every aspect of the book, Pollan writes from an insider's view, and is not afraid to share his own fears & trepidations.  I also love that he leaves his comfort zone for the sake of his research.  He learns to hunt.  He helps with slaughtering chickens on Polyface Farm.  "Gathering abalone was the most arduous foraging I did for my meal, and quite possibly the stupidest.  I learned later that most Californians are killed gathering abalone each year - by getting dashed on the rocks, attacked by sharks, or succumbing to hypothermia - than die in hunting accidents."  He's not only talking to farmers and trying to get a tour at Cargill - he's in the trenches, investigating, living - and eating - his way through these four food chains.  His personal experiences made this book much more relatable than one with only lots of facts and interviews.

The only thing I would have loved to see was a few pictures.  He mentions someone taking a picture of the trunk of the car he and his fellow morel-foragers filled.  There is also mention of some hunting pictures (although those might have been too gruesome).  I would love to see the faces of the people at Polyface Farm, or some of their contented cows.  Or the fields of corn in Iowa.  Pollan brings the book to a very personal level, and pictures would have enhanced that even more.

If you eat food, you must read this book!  You owe it to yourself - and the environment - to be an informed consumer.  In an article for the New York Times, Pollan said the industrial food chain "depends on our ignorance of how it works for its continued survival" (and the same idea is in The Omnivore's Dilemma, though I can't find the quote for the life of me).  (Here's the link to the New York Times article.) 

This book is a must-read in this age of supermarkets and fast food chains.  You are sure to come away from it with a better appreciation for local farmers and sustainable practices.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Worthington Farmers Market

Today, the Bachsters and I went to the Worthington Farmers Market & I wanted to share a few pics from our excursion.

This is a big farmers market, with 70+ vendors.  We saw plants for sale, veggies (the strawberries were all sold out by the time we got there), bakeries, meats such as grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, and some cute antiques.  The farmers market will be running through October - we'll definitely be coming back!

I wanted to buy some Ohio maple syrup.  We're all out of syrup, which is a tragedy in the Bach household!  I was so happy to find Pleiades Farm - we bought some grade B maple syrup, maple sugar candy and maple lollipops from them.  Yes, we love maple syrup!

Our 6-year-old smuggled in her own money, so when she saw a cute headband for sale, how could I say no?  It's made with a peacock feather and a blinged-out jewel:

We also bought pastured eggs (oh, I was so excited to find them!  I had a great conversation with the farmer about pastured eggs & about a book we've both read, which I can't wait to tell you all about in Book Nook).  We also purchased more of that delicious cheese from grass-fed cows - from the same vendor at the Clintonville Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago.  And radishes, which I plan to roast with some olive oil & coarse salt, just like we did with the Clintonville Farmers Market radishes.  If we are finding so much good stuff now, just imagine what the farmers markets will be like later in the summer!

Yes, we'll definitely be back!

I hope you are having a great Memorial Day weekend!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baby raccoons & peony blooms

There's a lot of flora & fauna activity going on in our neighborhood right now.  A few days ago, our next door neighbor came to our door and told us about the baby raccoons she had living in her backyard.  We all went over, and sure enough, there were 3 little chittering raccoons snoozing and wandering around her yard.  They were so cute, and not at all bothered by our presence.  The Bachsters wanted to take one home as a pet, but we thought better of it.

They were so fuzzy and small (just a little bigger than a kitten) and so noisy - they were chittering constantly.  Mama was probably taking a nap under our neighbor's deck, happy to get a little peace & quiet, I'm sure.

We've also had an explosion of peony blooms the last few days in the neighborhood.  Big, fat gorgeous, fragrant blooms in just about every yard.  I think peonies are probably my favorite garden flower of all - they are so sweet and old fashioned. 

What's happening in your neighborhood these days?


Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Nook - Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, written by William Davis, MD:

Mmmm, don't those bagels on the cover of Wheat Belly look good?  That's probably what attracted me to the book in the first place, when it first came out last summer!  Considering the book has been out for almost a year, and it's still high on Amazon's sales list (#18), it seems as if there are a lot of people out there wanting to get rid of their wheat bellies, caused by eating all those yummy bagels, and any food containing wheat (&/or white flour).

The book is divided into 3 sections: part 1 takes a look at modern wheat, and how science has modified it to serve the needs of the producers instead of the consumers.  It's a bit scary to think that no real research was done to see if these modifications would be detrimental to human health.  So, by eating wheat, you're basically a human experiment.  Part 2 of the book concerns all the bad things wheat does to our bodies: obesity, celiac disease, insulin resistance, disrupts pH & speeds the aging process, to name a few.  Part 3 provides ideas and recipes to help you give up wheat for good.

Throughout the book, the author provides lots of scientific research on the subject, and there are several pages of reference notes in the back.  But he also tries to make the reading light and humorous, which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't.  But it's always interesting reading, and there are many things about eating wheat that I was clueless about until reading this book.  I also really enjoyed all the patient anecdotes (most doctors prescribe medicine for ailments - Dr. Davis always prescribes going wheat-free).

When I started my first real job out of college, I remember chatting with one of my co-workers, and she mentioned that she can't eat bagels because they just make her gain weight.  I was in my early 20s at the time, and my daily breakfast during the workweek was a bagel, with cream cheese.  Monday through Friday.  I remember being surprised by her comment.  Weren't pasta and bread and bagels and cereal on the food pyramid, at the bottom even?  How could a person gain weight from bagels - wasn't that the doing of ice cream and butter? 

Thankfully, I've learned a lot about nutrition since then, and what seems like an innocent little treat (danish) or breakfast (bagel) or "healthy" option (whole wheat bread) are actually bad for you.  Thanks to Wheat Belly, I now know why.

After reading the book, I decided to do my own little experiment and give up wheat, and reduce the amount of wheat my family eats.  I thought it would be tough, but I've got to say, it's been a piece of cake (sorry for the bad pun).  I think what the author says about wheat being addicting is very true.  When you eat wheat, it's hard to stop at a reasonable amount, and a couple hours later, you want more.  When you give it up, it's easier to stay true to your appetite, and eat when you're hungry.  I haven't lost any weight in the couple of weeks that I've been off wheat, but the author makes a point to say that if you want to lose weight, your wheat-free diet should also incorporate lowering your carb intake, which I haven't done.

I've tried a few of the recipes in the book, and some of them are quite good.  I liked the wheat-free pizza (made with cauliflower) and really loved not having that comatose-post-pizza phase.  The three-cheese eggplant bake is really good.  I might try it again with zucchini next time.  I also love his idea of a little treat: a square of dark chocolate with some nut butter smeared on top.  Delicious!  There are more recipes in the book that I'd love to try, and I'm happy that the author is coming out with a Wheat Belly cookbook this Fall.  I'm definitely checking that out!

I have a funny story to share about the book.  Last summer, the Bachsters and I went to the pool for a couple of hours, and when we returned home, Ranger, our new little puppy, had found my Wheat Belly book and had torn it all up!  Since it was brand new book from the library, I had to pay them for it, and now I'm the proud owner of a shredded up copy of Wheat Belly.  Luckily, he only tore up the reference section and the cover (which is fine with me, I don't want those bagels tempting me anyway).  I joked with the Bachsters that Ranger had wheat belly......literally!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Strawberry picking 2012

Strawberry picking has become an annual tradition with the Bachsters and me.  Because of the warm Spring we've had, the strawberries are ready for picking now, a few weeks earlier than last year.  So this morning, the Bachsters, DH, Nana and myself all loaded up for a trip to the farm!

Here are a few pics from the excursion:

(Yes, I asked them to wear hats - it's hot & sunny in the strawberry patch!)

Of course, as tradition dictates, we always come home and make strawberry shortcake.  My favorite recipe is from Martha.  You basically make a sweet biscuit, let the strawberries macerate in sugar & lemon juice & then whip up some heavy cream (for this part, I just add a cup or so heavy cream to a chilled bowl, add about a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract & whip it with the mixer.  When it starts to thicken, I add some powdered sugar until it tastes perfectly sweet, then whip it until it looks like whipped cream.  It's so easy, you'll never want to buy whipped cream from a tub or squirt tube again).



We have so many strawberries this year, that I'm going to try to make strawberry jam.  And, I'm certain I'll get requests for more strawberry shortcake.  Who can resist it?


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Clintonville - Farmer's Market & Park of Roses

Last Saturday, the Bachsters and I went to the Clintonville Farmer's Market.  Clintonville is a really cute area of central Ohio, with lots of adorable houses and tree-lined streets.  I recently found out about their farmer's market & we just had to go!

We saw lots of green at the market - plants for sale & mixed lettuce for salads:

We ended up buying a Spring salad mix, as well as some radishes (which were quite good roasted in the oven with some olive oil and coarse salt).  And we bought the biggest tomato ever (greenhouse grown):

One of the reasons we wanted to visit the market was to buy some honey from our favorite local beekeeper, Conrad's Honey Farm.  The honey tastes so much better than what you can buy in the store, and since it is not pasteurized, it retains all its nutrients.  We also bought some floating candles, which the Bachsters couldn't resist trying out in the bathtub (not lit, of course!).

We also bought the most amazing grass-fed cheese - I kept referring to it as "salty cheese" because that's what it tasted like - similar to provolone.  I've been snacking on it all week!  There were a couple of bakeries at the market, and I couldn't say no when the Bachsters spotted whoopie pies.  So, we purchased 3 of them and headed down the street to the Park of Roses for a little whoopie pie picnic.

If you are in Central Ohio in early June, you must visit the Park of Roses.  Must.  It's one of our most gorgeous parks, and all the roses are blooming (mid-June, I believe, is the peak).  So we were a little early for the big-blooming, but there were still tons of beautiful roses and flowers to see and smell.

The farmer's market and Park of Roses were veritable treasure trove for the senses.  I can't wait to go back & do it all again!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spider heaven

The spiders were busy last night in Central Ohio, because this morning we woke up to spider webs all over our backyard.  This has only happened once before (here's the post), so I couldn't resist grabbing my camera & getting a few shots before they disappeared.  Spider webs dotted a half-dead tree in our backyard - I think they really like the twigs for their webs.  There were also webs in the grass, and one ambitious spider even made a "bridge" between one of our pine trees and a bush by our fence.  All of the webs were twinkly with early morning dew.

Our 6 year-old exclaimed "it's spider heaven out here."

Here's a shot I converted to B&W:

I wonder what the conditions are for big spider web activity (fog, a certain temperature, etc.)?  If you know, please let me know in the comments.  I'd love to be prepared for the next web-wonderland.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Nook - The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz:

I purchased this book at a library book sale when our oldest DD was just a toddler (she's now 8...I mean 8 and a half).  At the time, I figured there would be a day when she would enjoy all that this book has to offer.  That day has come!

The contents of this book are incredibly varied.  Examples are: rules of the game (basketball), rules of the game (netball), palm reading, the history of writing and writing in cursive italics, fourteen games of tag, Spanish terms of endearment, idioms & other items of note, daring Spanish girls, pressing flowers, four square, princesses today - and that's all up to page 20.  There are ideas, projects, tidbits of history and such to fill 279 pages.

DD loved the coolest paper airplane ever (pages 134-135).  There are instructions on how to make a traditional paper airplane, as well as scientific explanations why it flies.  There are also instructions on how to make a "round" paper airplane. 

DD also bookmarked every girl's toolbox (pages 70-72) with a Lego.  These pages instruct you on the tools you will need - real tools like safety glasses, claw hammer, nails, a screwdriver, etc. 

But I think she enjoyed the section on how to be a spy the most (pages 153-157).  She loved the secret codes, and had me do a bunch of them with her.  She marked these pages with a little smiley face.

There are a lot of illustrations throughout the book, and all of them are done with a slightly old fashioned appeal, making the book feel a bit vintage.  There are also some photographs that come in handy, like pictures of specific birds in the bird watching section.

I really love that this book doesn't resort to "girly" things, like how to do pedi's and mani's.  It's perfect for my tomboy, and there are actually a lot of projects in here that boys would like.  But even if your little girl is a "girly girl" there are sure to be things in here that she would enjoy, like how to make friendship bracelets & handclap games.  There is something in here for every girl.

DD said the book is "awesome" and that there are a lot more things in there that she wants to do.  And then, she whisked the book away and started reading, asking me questions about Cleopatra and talking about the pranks she hasn't had a chance to try yet, and said to herself as she read, "108" which happens to be the page about pirates.

Yes, we love this book.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.  
~Tenneva Jordan

I don't have any pie to offer you, but I do have a bouquet of flowers....Happy Mother's Day!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Nook - On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, written by Stephen King:

A few weeks ago I was at the sink, doing the dishes and a question popped into my head: does Stephen King have any siblings?  I have no idea where this thought came from: I hadn't read anything by King (unless you count Firestarter, when I was in high school), hadn't seen anything about him in the news.  Yet, there it was.  After a quick search on wikipedia, I learned a whole lot about Stephen King - yes, he has an older brother named David, and also he's written a book called On Writing.

After reading (and thoroughly enjoying) On Writing, I feel a little clunky writing about it.  I mean, here is a master storyteller, Stephen King - my fumbling attempt at writing about On Writing can't compare to his level of talent.  He had me choked up, reaching for the Kleenex, in not one, but two places in the book......and did I mention that it's a book about the craft of writing?  King really knows his stuff!

The book is separated into three sections.  The first is an autobiography of his early life.  It gives the reader a lot of insight into how a person could grow up to be a successful writer of the horror genre.  Once, a babysitter locked young Stevie in the closet because he kept throwing up all the eggs she cooked for him.  And one time, he had a very bad ear infection and had to endure a long needle that pierced his eardrum, while the doctor assured him it wouldn't hurt (actually, he had to have this done three times).  His earliest memory is of dropping a cinderblock on his toes, right after being stung by the wasp who resided in said cinderblock.

I should say the focus of the first section is the autobiography, but there are personal histories and revelations throughout the entire book.  The ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that showed his inspirations for his stories.  Like when he took a summer job as a janitor in his old high school and was cleaning out the girls bathroom.  This experience led him to create the opening chapter of his popular novel Carrie.  King is not one to sugar-coat any of his past experiences, however: he tells you exactly which body parts were inflicted with poison ivy when he ignorantly used the plant to wipe off after going poo in the woods.  Another example is when he admits that he has no recollection of writing Cujo, another popular novel, because he was wasted on drugs and alcohol during that part of his life.

And that's what I'm talking about: this guy can practically do this in his sleep (or in a drunken stupor)!

Part two of the book focuses on the nuts and bolts about writing: grammar, language, character, plot, etc.  He strongly recommends The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.  His argument that the writer and the reader are "engaged in an act of telepathy" is absolute genius.  I have never before thought of reading (or writing) that way, but it is so true.  Also in this section (called "toolbox") he talks about his hate of lazy adverbs and how you shouldn't tailor your words to please the ladies at the local church.  He talks about what makes good dialogue and how to try to put in enough detail in the setting without doing too much.  All the while, he gives examples of writing that is both good and bad (I love that he's not afraid to call out bad novels....sorry Bridges of Madison County).  But his argument is sound: read the good ones and the bad ones.  Chances are, you'll learn more from the bad ones, and what not to do.

The third section of the book returns to autobiographical territory, with King's near-fatal accident in 1999 (he got hit by a van while he was walking by the side of a road in Maine - the driver was busy trying to get his dog out of the backseat cooler, instead of driving).  King chronicles the accident and his slow recovery, both to health and to writing.  He finishes the book with a list of books that he recommends - I was happy to see that he and I share some favorites, like The Secret History and Harry Potter.  There are also a few on his list that have been in my reading queue, so I'll definitely make sure to check them out.  And there are a few that he liked that I just hated (no, I'm not going to name names, although King would probably urge me to do so).  I love that he ended his book about writing with a reading list - it drives home his point that to be a good writer, you must write - and read - all the time.

If you are interested in learning about the life of one of America's most popular writers, I'd urge you to read this book.  If you are interested in writing, it's a must.  If you're not a writer, this book would still be worthy of your time, because you will learn what to look for when you read (and you'll certainly spot lazy adverbs from now on).  Learn by example, and Stephen King's writing is a fine example, indeed. 


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Plan B (and C)

All week, I've been looking forward to going to a farmer's market in Columbus that I recently found out about.  I made sure to get up early this morning and get all my things gathered: re-usable bags; a fully charged camera; a cooler in the car for all those pastured eggs I planned to buy; 3 kids excited to buy honey from our new favorite honey farm.  We were all set.  And then we came across an unexpected road closed (actually, they closed a major interstate highway - I-71, for construction, as I later found out).  No problem, I told the Bachsters, we'll just head there through downtown Columbus.  But little did I know, there was a half-marathon in progress and practically all the downtown roads were closed.  We managed to get back on the highway, in the direction of home, but we were all feeling very defeated and disappointed.

On to Plan B!

After throwing out some suggestions, there were two that sounded good: go to our favorite garden center or head to the playground.  The Bachsters were divided, so I suggested a compromise.....we do both!

Each Bachster was allowed to choose one small flower or plant.  Right away, our oldest knew exactly what she wanted: a cactus.

Little Dude wanted a gerbera daisy, and the 6-year-old decided on a cactus (or maybe it's a succulent) too - which perplexed me - she's a flowery-girl for sure.  I wanted an herb, and chose a lovely sage plant.

(Little Dude has been making this silly sad face in pictures a lot.....I have no idea why!)

Next stop - the playground.  Last year, our city put in all new playground equipment and I've been promising the Bachsters forever that we'd go there.  Today seemed to be as good as any day, and we had the playground all to ourselves almost the whole time we were there, which gave my little ninjas lots of room to run around.

There is a little fudge shop just down the street from the playground, and we headed there after playing for a little treat.  But instead of delicious homemade fudge, we found a sign in the window that said they would be closed all weekend.

On to Plan C!

So, we got frosties and french fries instead.  I know, a world apart from the home grown fruit and veggies we set out to get this morning.  But after our oldest said, "Mommy, I love today" I realized that it didn't matter what the original plan was, as long as we were together, having fun.

I love today, too.


Thursday, May 3, 2012


Since we were having all kinds of computer trouble around Easter, I never had a chance to share some Easter pics.  Here are a few cute pics from the holiday - better late than never, right!?