Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Trip to Californ-I-A

Last weekend my family caravanned south to our former hometown in California, which brought up the whole tangled issue of ecological travel. Isn’t that an oxymoron? It’s a definite sore spot with me that our highest profile “ecologists” spend so much time on private planes, which despite their small numbers produce more pollution than all of the private vehicles in America combined. I guess Al Gore would have a hard time selling books from his 20,000 square foot mansion, but the waste seems so hypocritical that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Now I’m feeling his pain; it’s hard to maintain the 100-mile diet when we’re a thousand miles away, but sometimes life beckons. I want to see the world without destroying it, so here was my plan for a green getaway:

Conserve Fuel: This was probably the biggest consideration for my super-sized family. We all know to take the smallest vehicle, but what exactly is a reasonable size for seven people? You can’t assume the compact car wins, especially when carting large groups. In our case, the two most efficient cars available get 18 mpg and the trusty minivan gets 28, so the larger vehicle is the most ecological choice (18x2=36 and 36>28). We are one of the few families that could justify driving one of those giganto SUV’s, but I think being a little squished is worth preserving the polar ice caps and infinitely more comfortable than breathing smog. Americans opt for comfort over fuel efficiency, but do we really need room for a quick game of arena football in the back seat? We have been known to rent a more fuel efficient vehicle; depending on how far we are traveling, this sometimes saves money as well as emissions.

Eat Normal Food: Another discovery: it’s hard to eat local when I don’t have cooking facilities or any idea what is local and where to purchase it. My remaining choices were: A. bring as much as possible from home and try to favor smaller establishments over corporate fast food, or B. give up and spend several days feeling my butt spread as I sit in the drove-through line. Option A is obviously more environmentally sound, not to mention cheaper and healthier. However, in the interest of family peace I aimed for one meal out per day, with the rest improvised. My kids got their Happy Meal fix and I (almost) kept my waistline.

Treat Hotels like a Home Away from Home--Literally: It seems logical until you put my otherwise sensible family in the alien surroundings of a hotel room and watch them go crazy. Air conditioners (or heaters, depending on the season) running 24/7, lights left on, showers that drain the hotel’s million-gallon tank. We’re paying for it, so why not enjoy it, right? But I don’t leave the earth behind when I leave my home—not this decade at least—so I have started pretending that I’ll be the one paying the electric bill and jacking that thermostat up to 80 where it belongs. I really wish we could have pitched a tent and avoided the temptation altogether, but we needed a roof, a shower, and preferably breakfast. Here are a few lists of green hotels to check out before you make reservations:


Entertainment/Souvenirs/Miscellaneous: Obviously the funeral and all of the related festivities were enough to occupy us, but if I had a spare moment I would have checked out local National Parks. I could also have searched my destination’s local newspaper for upcoming concerts and entertainment. Even the smallest community rarely sees a summer weekend with nothing to do. As for souvenirs, better than freecycling is not buying crap I don’t need in the first place. A picture makes a better memory and won’t end up languishing on the shelf at Goodwill. If we had absoposilutely required a tangible item, I would have gone for something edible. By the grace of God we managed to escape with only a few Happy Meal toys.

The best choice, had this been a pleasure-only trip, would have been to stay closer to home. Not only would we have saved gas, but we would have seen more of our new home state. But sometimes you want to, or have to, venture beyond your own backyard. The good news is that environmentally-conscious traveling is usually budget-conscious as well, which will leave you funds for buying my book when and if I manage to get it published.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Recipe: Caprese Sandwiches

I'm going to start posting recipes separately so they are easier find in the index.

The question of the week is: what on earth are we going to do with all of these tomatoes? If you are anything like me, all you see is tomatoes: in the garden, the grocery store, the farmer's market. They're full of whatever chemicals are reported to fight cancer this week and low calorie, but how many can you throw on a salad before it becomes a tomato-y mess? And the harvest is only in its earliest stages.

If you've had Caprese Salad, you know one way to eat up those 'maters. Just layer them all pretty on a platter with some basil and mozzarella, sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Very easy, and very trendy in a continental euro-snob way. But it isn't enough for a meal unless you have a house of light eaters, and I don't. I do, however, have a house of sandwich lovers, sooo...

Caprese Sandwiches

Ciabatta bread
Olive oil (try some flavored oil--I especially love this with a touch of garlic)
Sliced tomato
Fresh basil
Mozzarella (preferably fresh but the rubber kind works too)

Split the ciabatta bread lengthwise, like you are making a sandwich (go figure). brush inside and out lightly with oil. on the bottom piece, layer tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Make it as big as you want, but remember that you need to fit your mouth around the thing. Now grill it! There are no set amounts, no real instructions, because it is really that simple

When you're tired of sandwiches (won't happen here), you can scroll down this blog and find recipes for gazpacho and pasta all'amatriciana, which are also tomato-ful and blessedly oven-free.

More local entertainment, plus a plea for beer

Maybe it’s the warm weather and long days, maybe the suburban homes teeming with unoccupied schoolchildren and desperate housewives. Whatever the cause, summer can be an endless expanse of boredom or an opportunity to spend some quality family time sharing whatever entertainment your area has to offer. Unless your last name is Trump, this entertainment needs to be convenient and nearly free. I’m not married to a tycoon, so my three youngest children and I spent last Saturday wandering about Yakima’s Folk Life Festival. There was no main attraction, but plenty of stuff to look at: medieval fighting, face painting, an out-of-order kiddie train, and a village-y area with booth after rickety booth of hippie treasures for sale. Oh, and music of course, ranging from the good to the, uh, interesting. A little of everything, except alcohol.

No alcohol? What’s the big deal? Well, it isn’t a huge deal (as in, no one died) but…

Alcohol=more money for whatever charity this is benefiting (this WAS a fundraiser, right?)
Alcohol=generally more fun and festivity, and therefore
Alcohol=more attendees

(Many people don’t know that Sage Mommy worked in her past (pre-marriage) life in the development department of a nonprofit social service agency. I was basically an in-house copy writer and graphic artist, but I was regularly drafted for service on the battlefield known as EVENTS. When I started having babies, I reduced both paid and volunteer efforts to a part-time, contract status, which unfortunately came to a halt when I moved last summer. Point? I know how to run these things. Alcohol is essential. And fun. I loved dressing up for our invitation-only, black tie balls, but my favorite moments of this job were spent in medieval garb behind the counter of a Renaissance Faire beer booth.)

I know (from painful experience) that dealing with general public is always a pain in the ass, and (from downright traumatic experience) that dealing with a less-than-sober general public is even more so. I know that many charities and businesses don’t want to risk appearing to condone excessive drinking. However, moderate consumption of alcohol is part of a healthy lifestyle, and if you are against drinking on principle you should consider relocating away from the beer and wine capital of the Pacific Northwest. The risks can be mitigated, and the financial gain more than offsets the obvious logistic issues.

Most important, I was really craving a beer and there were none in sight. I would have paid five times the going price for a plastic cup of the nastiest beer, more if it were something new and interesting from a local microbrewery. Because

Afternoon in sun with three small children + an unending lineup of amateur folk singers + no mood-altering refreshment = one sad mommy

So whoever runs this thing, call me. We’ll talk. I’ll help if necessary, just to make sure that no other housewife has to suffer as I did.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bacon + Pasta = Yummy

There is apparently a farmer’s market “type”, because I seem to see everyone I know at ours. This Sunday, it was two families from my homeschool co-op, my husband’s coworker, even my doctor. We clearly weren’t there for the entertainment, a faded Elvis impersonator with several more decades under his sequined belt than the original could have hoped to reach. A poorly managed sound system entirely eliminated any background music and left faux Elvis sounding more like an impersonation of an impersonator. Still, fun in a kitschy, kindergarten-recital kind of way.

Farmer’s markets have moved from dirt roads to downtowns and became social events in the process, complete with the finest local entertainment your area has to offer. In Yakima’s case, this can make for an interesting morning, but the apricots and sweet, mild onions were worth it. With the bags of veggies we bought and the first tomatoes from my garden, I was able to make a modified, Central Washington version of the Italian classic, Pasta All’Amatriciana. It is basically bacon pasta... Elvis would have been proud.


8 oz bacon
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
5 large tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and chopped
¼ cup dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan, asiago, or romano cheese as desired
1 lb. pasta—a chunky shapes works best

1. Boil pasta until al dente, drain and set aside.
2. Cut bacon into small-ish pieces and fry until crisp. Set aside.
3. Saute the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium heat until garlic is just turning golden.
4. Add bacon, tomatoes, and red wine, and cook until starting to thicken, about 10 minutes.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Taste before adding, because bacon is salty.
6. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with cheese.

This is cheap, easy, and good, but because no one has heard of it, there is a definite foodie-snob appeal. If someone asks where you found the recipe, tell them Rome.