Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garlic Harvest

About a week and a half ago, we harvested our first ever crop of garlic. We had harvested garlic scapes about a month before that, but now we can enjoy some plump, juicy garlic cloves. (And I really do mean juicy- the garlic you buy in the store is nothing like this!)

I'm not sure why my family has never planted garlic before, but if you haven't tried it you should give it a whirl- it's easy. If you want to grow garlic, think about it soon, because garlic is planted in the fall before the ground freezes. Plan to mail order garlic now or buy some at your local garden center in September.

To prepare for fall planting, work some fallen leaves into the soil now, if you have some, or as soon as they fall from the trees this autumn. Trees pull different minerals and nutrients from the deep soil, so working them into your garden adds them to your topsoil. You don't need to have an open space now. Last year, we prepared a space for our garlic once the cabbages planted in that space were harvested. We covered the area with roughly an inch or two of leaves then pitchforked them into the soil.
How to plant garlic:
  1. Plan to plant a month or two before the ground freezes.
  2. Gently separate individual cloves from the head. Do not remove the papery outside as you would when cooking.
  3. Poke individual cloves into worked soil about 5-6 inches apart, 2 inches deep. The pointed end should be up.
  4. Mulch with a thick layer of leaves or straw. Water well and leave until next spring.
  5. Be creative with your planting location. You don't need a vegetable garden. Garlic doesn't need much space, so a small, sunny corner of a flower garden will even work. Our flower gardens have a variety of herbs, including thyme, sage, and oregano, mixed in with the flowers.
Planting garlic is the perfect job for little hands. You can line the garlic up on top of the soil and have your children poke them into the ground. They can also help mulch the area once the garlic is planted. Seeing the garlic sprouts next spring, before anything else is planted, will seem like magic.

Have you grown garlic? Do you have any tips to share?

Related Posts
Garlic Scapes
Three (or Four) Season Harvest

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dear Sixteen Year-Old Me

My last post focused on sun safety. In case you need more encouragement to choose and use a good sunscreen, please watch this video. It's only 5 minutes long but it's such an important message.

Please share it.

Related posts:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sun Safety

My last post was about insect safety. Today I'll share information about sun safety.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not a medical person. Consult your doctor for specific advice. My knowledge comes from my experiences and research plus conversations with my child's pediatrician.

Experts recommend a good sunscreen when out in the sun. The problem is, not all sunscreens (also called sunblock) are the same. Some don't offer the protection their labels say they do while others are actually unsafe. To learn more, listen to this recent podcast "Sunscreen Takes Some Heat" from On Point with Tom Ashbrook. (It's about 45 minutes long, so you may want to download the podcast and listen in your car). Among other things, it describes the changes coming in sunscreen labeling. But that won't happen until next summer.

I also recommend using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) "Skin Deep Cosmetics Database" to learn more about what goes into our cosmetics and which health and beauty items are safe. Just because a product says "All Natural" or "Organic" doesn't mean it's good. Sometimes one particular product in an entire line is recommended by EWG while other products by the same company are listed as not safe or ineffective. And fancy name brands don't guarantee safety or effectiveness, either.  One of this year's top sunscreen picks is a Walgreens' brand sunblock.

 A warning: You can drive yourself crazy checking all of the products you currently use and get overwhelmed by information.

Here's my advice: Start by searching the list of recommended sunscreens. Your skin is your largest organ and you cover it with sunscreen all summer long. Choose a sunscreen that is safe and effective for you and your children. Then, at some future point, maybe you'll research safer shampoo or facial cleanser or eyeshadow. Choose one new item at a time. That's what I did.

When I first visited the Skin Deep website about 5 years ago, I was overwhelmed. I thought I needed to change all of my products right away. I was practically paralyzed by the information until I just started with one item- sunscreen. I figured it was the product we used in volume so I might was well start there. Maybe six months later, I chose a safer shampoo for myself, then a while later a new product for my kids, and so on. Gradually, I replaced any unsafe products as I learned more. I'm still learning.

In fact, listening to the On Point podcast alerted me to another sunscreen database at Good Guide. I took a quick look at it but had to stop because I was feeling overwhelmed. So, for now, I'm sticking with the sunscreens I chose based on Skin Deep. When I have time, I'll take a closer look at the Good Guide.  (One interesting point, for those who are interested- the Good Guide rates products three ways- for health, environment, and society).

So take baby steps. Learn what you have time to learn and make more informed decisions about the products you use. Even one change, like sunscreen, can make a big difference.

Two final points:
  1. It's better NOT to choose a sunscreen/insect repellent combination. Why? because you generally do not reapply insect repellent whereas you need to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, regardless of sweating or swimming.
  2. To properly cover an adult body (in a bathing suit) with sunscreen you need to use one ounce of sunscreen. That's about the size of a golf ball or shot glass.  Experts say most people don't use enough.

Have you used the EWG database? Good Guide? Which do you prefer? Do you know of other resources that might be useful to Polliwog readers?

Related posts:

Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)
Insect Safety

Friday, July 15, 2011

Insect Safety

As someone who promotes lots of time outside in nature, I feel I also need to share suggestions about sun and insect safety. Today I'll focus on insects. My next post will be about sun safety.

I am not a medical person, so you should consult your doctor for specific advice. My knowledge comes from my experiences and research plus conversations with my child's pediatrician.

In our part of the world, there has been a recent increase in the mosquito-borne disease called Eastern Equine Encephalitis. While it is a rare disease, it can be deadly. Those who do survive can be completely debilitated or have a long road to recovery. A friend who was diagnosed last August is still in rehab battling back from the disease.

Lyme disease-spread by deer ticks- is also in our area. It has been identified in 49 states but is most common in the Northeast and Midwest. You do not have to be in the deep woods or a rural area to be bitten by a tick carrying Lyme Disease. Deer ticks can be in your lawn or local park.

A few facts:
  1. Being bitten by a deer tick does not mean you will get Lyme disease.
  2. You can only get Lyme Disease from a tick that carries Lyme Disease.
  3. Even if a Tick with Lyme bites you, you still may not catch Lyme disease. The tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours for you to get it.
  4. Deer ticks can be TINY. As small as a poppy seed or the period at the end of this sentence.

  1. Be safe and use insect repellent, even when the sun is shining (ticks don't care if it's sunny).*
  2. Avoid being outside at peak mosquito times- dawn and dusk.
  3. Wear light colored socks when hiking, etc. They make spotting ticks easier.
  4. Check your kids and yourself for ticks every day after being outside. Don't forget behind the ears, under the arms, and in the groin area. (Sweeping across the skin, 'CSI style,' with a flashlight helps). We try to make this part of our nightly routine, though admittedly we sometimes forget.

*My kids' pediatrician advises we use products with 10 percent DEET. If you are uncomfortable using DEET, there are all natural products available that offer reasonable protection. Be aware that most natural repellents must be reapplied after about 2 hours while DEET usually does not. Check the labels for recommendations regarding reapplication.

Misinformation abounds on these diseases. I encourage you to learn more by visiting reliable websites such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or Web MD to read about Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Lyme Disease. You can also read how to "avoid summer health woes."
These are some particular risks in my part of the world, but insect-borne diseases are certainly not limited to here. Please take precautions based upon your part of the world. These risks don't mean you need to avoid being outside. Just take the necessary precautions and head outside for some fun.

How do you stay safe outside? Do have any relevant experiences to share?

Related post:
Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Water Fun

Are your kids complaining, "I'm bored!" Not sure what to do with them? If you have even the smallest of yards, try this:

Get some random water blasters, plastic cups, water pistols, hoses, buckets, kiddie pools, etc. and set them loose. (Water balloons are not a good idea- the bits of latex left behind are bad for animals).

You may even be able to get away with this in a city park but may have to bring your own buckets of water if there isn't a water fountain. Just be aware of local rules. I know it would be fine in the park near where my sister lived in Cambridge, MA or in the park near my other sister in San Francisco. Other parks may be more restrictive.

These photos were taken on a rainy 65 degree day a couple of weeks ago. They don't care if it's cold!

 And here's 4th of July at my parents' house. Yup. That's my dad right in the mix with his patriotic shirt soaking wet.

As long as everyone agrees that getting wet is the point of this game, it's fun for everyone. When my kids get "bored" or start to get cranky, changing the scenery or plans usually helps. Water play is almost always a winner for us. I've even managed to spend a little time writing or reading a book while my kids have a crazy water fight nearby.

Have you had a water fight lately? Give it a try and let us know how it goes! Particularly on a hot day, everybody wins.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Saag Paneer (Cheese in Spinach Sauce)

When we took our family to India for a wedding in 2008, many people asked me, "What did your kids eat?" My response was always, "The food."

The follow-up was often similar- something like, "My kids would never eat the food." Or, "It's too spicy for my kids."

But, consider this...children raised in India have no problem eating "Indian food." To them it's just "food." It's really all about exposure. You eat what you are used to.

While I always intended to feed my children a wide variety of foods, my son ,"D," taught me that I could do it much earlier than I had thought. When D was about 16 months old, my husband and I took him to an Indian restaurant. We were still bringing food for him at this point, so we fed him first and then ate when our food arrived. We had taught D a few signs to make communication easier. He kept pointing to his dad's plate and making the sign for "eat." We were hesitant to give him any because it was pretty spicy. We finally gave in and dipped  a piece of nan (bread) into the sauce for him to taste. His eyes opened wide and a smile spread across his face. Then he began to forcefully sign the word "more." He was hooked!

Why were we bringing food for our toddler to a restaurant?  From then on, we ordered off the menu, most of the time sharing whatever we ordered with D.  (A note I can't go without saying...Why are children's menus so terrible? Chicken fingers and french fries are not healthy foods for children. We almost always order adult meals and share them).

I know there are children who have particular dietary needs, allergies,  or food aversions related to special needs. I know how hard it is to work within those needs and restrictions. I feel for you. I feel fortunate that our children do not have any dietary restrictions. Obviously, I'm not talking about children with special dietary needs in this post.

Consider for a moment, though... could your child(ren) stand to branch out? Could you?

If you're feeling brave, try this recipe from The Essential Asian Cookbook. Now is the perfect time because spinach and garlic are in season. Make it an event by involving your children in the cooking.

(Lentil) Dhal on left. Saag Paneer on right
Saag Paneer (Panir)
Prep time: 20 min (plus 3 hours standing if you make the cheese)
Total cooking time: 30 minutes

Note: This recipe calls for making cheese. It's actually quite simple, but you could choose to skip the cheese. You could saute some boneless chicken breast pieces and add them to the sauce instead of the cheese. That's how I started because I was a bit afraid of making cheese. Now I don't know what I was worried about!

For the cheese:
2 quarts (1/2 gallon) of milk. (NOT Ultra High Temperature Pasteurized. Many organic milks are UHT, so check the label. It won't work if UHT)
Juice of 1 lemon (4 Tablespoons juice)
2 Tablespoons yogurt
cheesecloth (Find it in the grocery store near utensils/gadgets)

For the Saag (sauce):
1 lb spinach, washed and tough stems removed.
2 cloves garlic
3/4 inch fresh ginger, grated
2 green chillies, chopped (Wear gloves. If you don't like spicy food, try one chili)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons ghee or oil (ghee is clarified butter- found in international food aisle of most groceries)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 Tablespoons yogurt
1/2 to 1 cup water (use as much as needed to get the right thickness of sauce for your liking)
1/2 cup cream (I cut this to 1/4)

To make the cheese:
  1. Heat the milk in a large pan until just boiling. Reduce heat, add lemon juice and yogurt, and stir until it starts to curdle. This usually happens almost immediately.
  2. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Line a colander with cheesecloth. Pour curd mixture into the colander and allow to sit until most of the liquid has drained.
  4. Gather the corners of the cheese cloth and squeeze as much moisture as possible from the curd. Return it to the colander. Rest the colander on a pan or bowl to catch moisture and let it sit in a cool place (a cool basement or fridge if it's very warm) for 3 hours.
  5. Cut  the cheese into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes.
To make the Saag (sauce):

  1. Steam the spinach over simmering water until tender. (This takes just a few minutes.  The spinach should still be bright green but tender).
  2. Squeeze out excess moisture and chop coarsely.
  3. Place the garlic, ginger, chili and onion in a food processor and process to make a paste.
  4. Heat ghee or oil in a wok (or large saute pan). Add the paste and cook about 5 minutes. Add salt, cumin, nutmeg, and water. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the spinach and process until smooth.
  6. Return it to the wok, add the chopped cheese and cream, and simmer about 10 minutes until heated through.
  7. Serve with rice.
As the adult in your home, what foods do you expose your children to? Are you intimidated by food from other cultures? Could you start to branch out and try some new things? If you don't like to cook, are there any interesting restaurants nearby you that you could try? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Related posts:
Cora Cooks Pancit
A Passion for Pesto
Shurit Ads (Egyptian Lentil Soup)