Archive for June, 2008

It’s all coming together and it tastes good too!

The term “synergy” is often overused, most often in the corporate world, where discussion of synergy can mean “we’re getting our act together”, or “no more turf battles” or even “you’re about to be fired”. What synergy really refers to is the phenomenon in which two or more discrete influences or agents acting together create an effect greater than that predicted by knowing only the separate effects of the individual agents (wikipedia). Still, a little too sterile of a definition, for us DINKS.

We prefer to apply synergy in a much more personal way, in all aspects of our local, healthy lives. Here’s a quick example of how separate efforts in our daily life came together in a uniquely tasty manner.

This week’s trip through the Boulder Farmers’ Market started with a pint of strawberries. These tender strawberries don’t last long, either at the Market, or in the fridge. As we have learned the hard way, these berries are best consumed within a day or two of purchase. And at $6 a pop, you don’t hide these in a daiquiri…

Last week, we combined our strawberry find, our weekly raw milk purchase, and freshly ground whole wheat(SYNERGY!!), to make this delectable, fresh strawberry shortcake:

  • Cut the stems from the strawberries and add a scant tablespoon of raw sugar. Let those sit while you make the biscuits.
  • Whip up one batch of Whole Wheat Biscuits (cut ’em large)
  • While the biscuits are baking, skim off 1/2 cup of so cream from the top of your raw milk jar, and whip in the Kitchen Aid with another scant tablespoon of sugar.
  • Try not to eat all of the berries and cream before the biscuits are done. If you are successful…

Split the biscuits in half, scoop on some berries and cream, find a willing neighbor to share them with and ENJOY.

Wholesome. Fresh. Organic. Minimally processed. And very tasty. That’s the kind of synergy we strive for in our lives.

Photo courtesy of freefoto.com

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When reason, logic, scientific methods and acute sweetness fail, it’s time to bring out the big guns. Bribery. And not the vulgar cash-based variety, that only works on your garden variety oil-rich despot. This is bribery of the highest order:

homemade-chocolate-based-goodies bribery.

While your mind might be racing ahead to guess what sort of tantrum from a four-year we are trying to buy our way out of, we’re talking about a group much more stubborn and irrational. Engineers.

MaryBeth volunteered to be her company’s coordinator for Colorado’s Bike to Work Day this year. Of the 60 employees, she was able to convince a mere 15 to find alternative transportation to work this week. Best guess is that about 20% of folks who did sign up probably would have driven a car if they weren’t presented with the opportunity and temptation of a tasty whole-grain chocolate treat. So much for the benefits of exercise.

While you would have thought that getting a bit of exercise one day out of the 200+ per year that they come to work while simultaneously saving a bit of their pricey $4+ per gallon gas would have had them signing up in droves, it took chocolate to get them to do it. Who knows how many would have signed up for a donut…

So next time you need a bit of grease to get the wheels of progress moving again, try a bit of bribery! It works every time as long as you use the right currency.

Here’s what got things moving for MaryBeth’s company, from Oprah Magazine (March 2008):

Chocolate “Rocks”

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 3/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375°. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in brown sugar. Stir in apple butter, eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips, walnuts and raisins. Return dough to bowl, cover and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes to an hour. (Note: I left it a full 24 hours)

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop dough by rounded soup-spoonfuls about 1 inch apart. Bake 13–15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking, until bottoms of cookies are golden brown. Immediately transfer cookies to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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Every household needs someone who is mildly obsessive/compulsive. With two Type-A personalities in the house we are more than covered. Our saving grace is that the OCD hat gets passed back and forth between us depending upon the topic, saving us from having one or more of us constantly in full-on freak mode.

You’ve read already about some of our obsessions: raw milk, grass-fed beef and local produce so you’ve gotten the sense that we’re not social odd balls doing the Howard Hughes continual hand washing thing. Our obsessions have a more practical bent to them.

With gas at $4 bucks a gallon, the newest is commuting by bike…

With each new obsession, the practical hurdles erected up by one of us are torn down by the research done by the other. As with every relationship, one of us is the primary barrier builder and the other is the primary researcher and champion of progress.

Bike commuting presents a series of obstacles to be overcome, not the least of which is that the return trip home is uphill. And there is the small matter of getting Junior (who is not known as “slim” on the playground) home…on a bike…up a hill. Oh yeah, also plan to pick up a few groceries on the way home every once in a while.

Clearly just jumping on the bike and riding to work won’t work. Time for an infusion of technology.

If mere bicycles are the plow-horse-heading-for-the-glue-factory of serious bike commuting,
the SUB (Sport Utility Bicycle) from Xtracycle is the muscle-bound workhorse of the breed.

Never heard of Xtracycle? They make this really cool conversion kit for your bike that adds 15 inches in the back to give you room for passengers, cargo bins, and a whole lot of style! Who knew you could make a stretch Limo out of a bike?

Truth be told it ends up being more like the the mini-van of bikes but who wants another mini-van in their life? “Stretch Limo” sounds way more cool. And in certain circles, it could help you pick up chicks (literally).

We are in the process of converting two bikes to Xtracycle SUBs. We expect to get some of the optional accessories including the one that allows you to carry wide loads (think “the cooler” to and from the Farmer’s Market) and the one that is a bike rack. Odd indeed, but this will allow us to add Junior as a passenger and his bike as cargo if either distance or temperament do not look favorable for four-year old to bike commute.

Based on our calculations, the two SUBs should pay for themselves by the end of summer. Not a bad investment and one that pays a dividend in better health via more exercise.

There’s a better than average chance that the Type-A/OCD genes will fire up and a household competition will commence to see who can haul the oddest or heaviest or largest or ?? thing on their SUB.

It’s good to be a bit odd. Time to go wash our hands!

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Trading Kids

It’s said that if you love something let it go…blah blah blah, you know the rest. What we’ve not heard is the corollary regarding “trading” things you love. Not bartering mind you, because in this instance you aren’t swapping your junk for someone else’s junk. We’re talking about straight up trading…your kid.

Before somebody sends Child Services to our door we should explain that he comes back. Eventually. Though not always too willingly…

Junior has been having overnight sleepovers since he was 18 months old. He goes to his friends’ house one night or more a month and on another night (or the next night) they all come here. There’s one of him and three of them so we sometimes get a doubleheader and he’s gone for two nights.

What has been surprising is the number of benefits, both expected and unexpected, that have resulted from this arrangement. Clearly we expected him to develop stronger relationships with his friends. We didn’t expect that they would act more like siblings than just friends. Importantly, Junior gets to experience what life is like in a big family (“Guess what? It’s NOT all about me….”).

We also didn’t expect that this would give him the degree of self confidence that it has to spend the night at any other friend’s house when invited. When we ask, the host parents always say that he didn’t cry for or even ask about us. Parental obsolescence at age four?

Junior, and his friends, have also learned that while some rules are different between houses, the vast majority of the rules (and virtually all of the important ones) are identical at both houses. They are all learning that what is asked of them at home (both homes actually) is/will be asked of them elsewhere. Two data points make a line – we’ll keep telling them that they also mark a trend. We’re years away from them understanding advanced mathematical concepts so they can’t call us on this one just yet.

The biggest surprise of all, however, has been how much WE enjoy it and not just the part when Junior is away, or how much we enjoy him coming home, but also the part when his friends are here.

OK, so maybe the away part we like a bit more. It is blissful to a) go out, b) stay up late, c) sleep in, d) go for a run/walk/hike, or e) all or none of the above without, Junior. In short, we get visitation rights (or is it more like work-release?) to our past, our carefree unscheduled lives as DINKS.

We have our friend Cheryl to thank for this marital/parental aid. She persisted in getting us to hand over Junior to the care of her and her family all the while telling us we would really come to appreciate the break. With three kids of her own and a well established trading program with another set of friends she had insight and wisdom we lacked.

We’ve never looked back. We’ve even added other friends into the program from time to time because once you’ve got four kids in the house one or two more really isn’t going to make that much difference in either decibels or destructive capacity. We also learned that from Cheryl.

Remember, if you want to try this with your own kids, it’s helpful if all of the participating parents have compatible parenting styles. Junior doesn’t come back to us having had a 24 or 48 hour exposure to an entirely different take on life that would then require the equivalent of a toddler 12-step program in order to reset his expectations. This is probably one of the secrets to the success of the program.

So, if you love your kids then let them go (actually, send them away) and when they come back to you your love for them, and your spouse, will be just a bit stronger.

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In a conversation with a friend the other day, we were discussing some of the ways in which our parents would tell us “no”. Sometimes they were mercifully direct and other times they were frustratingly opaque. They would give you an answer but you still had no idea where you stood. Until you learned to decipher their code. From then on you knew what chance you had of getting a yes.

Some of our favorites:
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What Parents Said What Parents Meant
NO “No” (no real mystery here)
Maybe “No”
We’ll See “I’ll say ‘yes’ when monkeys fly out of your butt”
Ask your Mother “I’d let you, but Mom might kill me”
Ask your Father “He’ll say “no” if he ever wants sex again.”
I’ll think about it “No. Unless I want to do/eat/see it, too”)
Not now. “Let me have a drink first.”
Sure, go ahead. “We’ve already had that drink.”
Maybe Later “You’re two, you won’t remember.”
Just this once. “I’ll hang it over your head for years.”

We had fun reminiscing about our childhood. And how we have/will use these same tactics on our own children. They’re too young to read blogs so we’re not giving away any parenting secrets to them.

If you have others ways of saying no, let us know.


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Biking is easy!

Once upon a time, when were were proper DINKS, we bought a house outside of town. It was great: lots of land; great views; tons of privacy. It was quite perfect…in the pre-kid world. That was then. This is now…

While the old neighborhood had many positive attributes, you couldn’t exactly call the area kid-friendly: no parks, no sidewalks, no shade, and a 4-lane road as the first barrier to getting anywhere by bike.

We moved back into town last fall, and re-discovered the simple pleasures of town living: neighbor kids who live next door; the kid living 5 houses away is not a quarter mile away; the ability to walk to both caffeine stations and restaurants for all times of day and all occasions; and the Bike Paths!

Those bike paths have really sucked us in. MaryBeth has become a strident (self-righteous?) bike commuter. Junior rides either his pedal-less Strider bike or the Trail-a-Bike to or from school most days. When Mark starts riding his bike to work, Junior will then only commute by bike. At four bucks a gallon for gas, that day should come soon.

Meanwhile MaryBeth gambled with fate and rolled snake-eyes. Fate knows a boast when it hears one and unleashes the karmic forces to restore balance and humility onto the world. What was her egregious affront? She had taken to stating the following:

“It takes me less time to ride my bike to work than to drive the car.”

Seasoned bike commuters may snicker with a knowing glee at this point.

While technically it is faster to ride than drive on any given day. It never is on the day you need it to be.

Take Wednesday, for instance. At 6:15, having not been wrenched from a peaceful sleep at 5 am by our neurotic lab she got a start on her day determined to get to the office early. After a nice snuggle with Junior, a shower, cooking breakfast, packing the panniers, watering the garden, mediating a minor sunscreen dispute between Dad and child, hooking up the trail-a-bike for day care evening pick-up duty, she headed out the door by 7:15 with an ETA at the office of 7:25. It was a post-card not-a-cloud-in-the-sky perfect Boulder day, and she was really looking forward to a cool creek-side ride to work.

And then fate unleashed its fury: The tire was flat.

Determined to put SLIME to the test, the next 15 minutes were spent searching for some type of thorn or glass in the tire, and trying to get the tube to self-seal. No such luck. Time: 7:30. Instead of being at the office, she was at the end of the driveway.

The next 10 minutes evaporated while guessing where the cleaning fairies had hidden the spare tube and tire irons, followed by another 2 minutes changing the flat (She’s fast…having changed a LOT of flats in her day.) Time: about 7:45. She should be having coffee at the office by now.

While the bike was now ready to go, her hands were not. As a chemist she is not sure how you design a bike tire that could get hands as thoroughly black as they turned that morning. Add 10 more minutes for hand scrubbing, 5 for petting the dogs and deep, calming, breathing exercises, and 10 more for the ride to work. Arrival Time: 8:15.

Arrival time if she had put the bike away and jumped in the car: 7:30.

Certainly bike commuting, especially with children, can be an exercise in organization, not to mention patience, but the effort is worth the rewards: fewer trips to the gas pump to feed the fuel sucking mini-van, more exercise and a cleansing start to the day, to name a few. Bike commuting for her has been part part pure joy and part stubbornness. Now it’s “new and improved” with a dash of humility.

But really, most days it does take her less time to ride to work than to drive….just don’t say that too loud.


A few more of our favorite things:

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To the casual observer of this blog we might come across as obsessed about food. Well, if the shoe fits…dance the night away.

There’s a reason most of America waddles…we eat too many foods grown/raised not as nature intended and too many foods of convenience made with ingredients that sound like the top ten reasons to call out the HazMat team. Seriously now, if it has four or more syllables and you can’t pronounce it on the first try do you really want to put it in your mouth?

Our family is trying to turn back the clock a bit and simplify the ingredient list of what we eat (you did notice that our Margarita recipe only had four ingredients didn’t you?) under the theory that all those preservatives are preserving everything but our health.

We are lucky to live where we do. Every year there is a great Farmer’s Market that runs two days a week and is stocked full of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, natural meats and even flowers that are grown/raised regionally. That makes it easier for us to source great tasting, mostly organic, foods. What we can’t find at the Farmer’s Market is usually available at one of the local fruit stands or directly from the producer.

We’ve upped the ante this year and have quite literally put our money where our mouths are. We are part of two CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) co-ops – one for fruits and vegetables and one for raw milk and cheese. That means we paid some money up front for a share of the production and a share of the risk. If it’s a good crop, we get a good supply of food. If the weather wipes out the harvest we get our share of nothing. In an odd way it’s like an old fashioned barn-raising where neighbors help each other to thrive. Small local farmers can’t always take on the challenges of growing natural/organic foods without sharing some of the risk.

In our area we chose to go with Abbondanza Organic Seeds & Produce for our fruits and veggies (we actually sucked it up and made a multi-year commitment to them) and the Windsor Dairy for the milk & cheese. We have been customers of both and were comfortable with their quality and consistency and in the case of the raw milk, their commitment to safety.

Two other vendors we like are Wisdom Poultry and Rockin J Cattle. We don’t have a CSA relationship with them but we like their products. We are especially enamored with Rockin J’s 100% grass-fed beef. We’ve never had better tasting beef! Turns out that not all grass-fed cows are created equal. Some cows, like Rockin J’s, only eat grass (thus 100% grass-fed and finished) and others are grass-fed and then grain-finished to plump them up. None of the four stomachs God gave cows was designed to digest grain so, when they eat bucket upon bucket of corn, it does odd things to them. Forn one, the natural fat found in 100% grass-fed beef morphs from Omega-3 (what you find in fish) to Omega-6 (what you find in your arteries). We think grain-finishing changes the taste of the beef as well, and not in a good way. You’ve got to try beef as it should taste sometime. Heck, if you know us, stop over for dinner some night….we usually eat Rockin’ J beef at least 4 nights a week!

So, how do you get your hands on this really good beef? Since you can’t generally buy 100% grass-fed beef at the grocery store we are rounding up our friends and buying a cow. Fortunately we’ll get it in vacuum packed parcels rather than on the hoof – cleaning up after the dogs is bad enough. We are now eating our way through the current contents of our freezer to make room for our share of Bessie. Buying a whole lot of cow at once makes it rather economical for naturally raised beef – about $4/pound averaged over all the cuts.

So off we go to market to market…just not the one with the fluorescent lights and wobbly-wheeled carts. Not often anyway.

Mark and MaryBeth

PS. If you are interested in learning more about the way our food supply was meant to be, here’s some recommended reading. They will change the fundamental way you think about your relationship with your food!

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