Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's for Dinner

We are going through some major adjustments in this little green house that, for once, have nothing to do with Autism. Last winter I read two books that had a pretty big impact on me. Michael Pollen wrote both the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food and I read them each in just about one sitting. You might say I devoured them. Then I made Nik read them. It was hard to look at the way we eat in quite the same way afterward. (I won't go into any detail about the books. They were on the bestsellers list forever so you can just google if you want more info.) And so, we set about to make some changes. We challenged ourselves to see if we could feed our family in a more sustainable way.

A long time ago, -- ok, yeah, so there is an autism connection here but it's a small one -- we followed the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, so I already knew how hard it was to find real food in the grocery store. Everything is a product. Even items that you wouldn't think twice about throwing in your cart like chicken and cucumbers aren't just chicken and cucumbers. That experience was responsible for some already significant changes to our diet. I make our own bread from whole grains. I make our yogurt. We buy our meat from a nearby farm (coincidentally you will have read about this farm if you've read the Omnivore's Dilemma). We get our our milk and butter, raw, from another farmer. Our eggs come from a neighbor. All in all, we eat pretty well, I suppose.

The one key ingredient missing from our local diet was the vegetable. And I'll be honest: I don't know a whole lot about vegetables. I mean, we eat them, of course. I even like them quite a lot. But eating locally and well meant that I would have to do something about getting smart about veggies. You see, I knew that if I was going to do this then I would have to feed my family on whatever was abundant that week. Yet, I had no idea what grew when. Because any day of any week you can just go to the store and get whatever is in season anywhere in the world. And that is part of the problem. Because even if you are buying tomatoes in august in virginia, there is a good chance that they were shipped to you from somewhere else in the world. Eating like that just isn't sustainable.

Anyway, all this is to say that we (I) have been really occupied this past year with thinking about food. We put in our first garden, an endeavor in itself. We're shopping at the farmer's market. We're stopping at roadside stands and, in some cases, going right to the farm. My strategy has been to buy whatever is in season, at the height of the season, and preserve it for the winter.

So far it hasn't been too bad. I would even go so far as to say that it has been enjoyable. Fun, even. But I'm just weird that way.

And the best part? I've managed -- and needed -- to involve my kids every step of the way. RDI, homeschooling, survival. ... whatever you want to call it, we're working together and learning together and that makes the experiment an unequaled success in my opinion. That, and the fact that none of us has lost weight. Darn it.

Besides the garden that has kept us in herbs, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, leeks and squash, we've picked cherries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches. We've hauled boxes and boxes of corn, more cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and every kind of squash. We've made jams and jellies, pesto, pickles, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, salsa, salsa verde, and had lots of fresh berry ice cream as a reward! I'm not fooling myself that our growing stash of canned and frozen food will keep us through the winter, but I'm delighted to be unchained from the grocery store for as long as we are able.

I wish I had thought to take more pictures along the way, but here are a few from the last couple of weeks.


  1. Anonymous8:25 AM

    I think I'm gonna have to bump these books up to the top of my reading list. We're most likely about to go gluten-free and so naturally we're going to have to change the way we eat. And we already have plans to join a CSA for next year, but there is much to learn.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Christine, I don't think I can completely convey how impressed I am by all of this. This all makes so much sense- better for the environment, better for our bodies, and teaching opportunities for our kids. You are an inspiration- maybe I will attempt to follow in baby steps, far behind.

    I'd like to know more about the breadmaking. That's something I've been thinking about lately. Do you use a breadmaker?

    This year we have one cherry tomato plant. Next year I hope to do a little bit more...

  3. Anonymous12:15 PM


    You and your family are inspiring. I love the looks of pride on the kiddos faces.

  4. Hey Gretchen! I've never used a machine, but I DO use a Kitchen Aid mixer and a timer. I have one really easy recipe that I use for our everyday loaf and just vary the kind and amount of flours that I use each time for a little variety. But I have some good books with loads of recipes that I experiment with every now and again. Right now I'm trying to do a good sourdough.

    If you want I can e-mail you my recipe for the everyday loaf. ...

  5. Yes! Please e-mail me the recipe. I was hoping you'd say I didn't need to get a new appliance...

  6. Wow, I'm going to have to check out those books, too! I'm impressed and inspired. Your sons look so proud of themselves, too!

  7. Will you e-mail me your everyday bread recipe as well? I'm tired of bugging Chris to bring home bread and I can't eat store bought. Since I finally got a KA mixer I might as well use it!

    (Also? I am insanely jealous of your garden and canning skills. I can't wait to have land of my own again!)

  8. That's amazing! I am so impressed at your dedication and wish that I had any sort of green thumb. We try to shop when we can at farmer's markets! Your boys are so cute in the pictures.

  9. Anonymous7:47 PM

    Hi Christine,
    I would also recommend Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle." My book group read it last summer and it was also inspiring (and came with recipes, too). This summer, we've got a great farmers' market a few blocks away from us and we go every Saturday morning -- it's fantastic! The challenge will come in the winter. You look very successful so far! Your DC/State Dept friend

  10. I am thoroughly impressed for so many reasons. Has Oliver always been a "good eater?" Wyatt has never met a veggie that he likes, unless it is on a pizza:P

  11. I have got to get my hands on those books! Your children are gorgeous, what beautiful smiles!