Mint – Easy To Grow, Easy To Use Up

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I planted two mint plants this year, despite warnings from friends as to how mint takes over the garden.  Considering all the weeds that seem to be usually taking over my garden, I thought a mint invasion sounded like a grand idea.  So far, it’s turned out to be just that – grand and delicious.

I planted a Moroccan Mint plant and a spearmint plant. Neither have taken over, both are beautiful and delicious as iced tea.  I’ve been brewing fresh mint tea every day or two and my whole family loves it. It’s so easy it hardly qualifies as a recipe, but here goes.

Minty Fresh Iced Tea

Clip a large bunch of fresh mint from the plant and rinse well.. I generally use 5-7 full branches. Place the branches (no need to remove leaves – use branches and all) in a large glass, heatproof container and pour boiling water over the top. Let steep for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how strong you want it. I sometimes let it steep all day. When ready to drink remove mint leaves and pour over ice.

To make something even prettier I throw in some slices of fresh fruit and/ or berries and feel like I’m drinking a summer cocktail!

Any other ideas of ways to use large quantities of mint? Even my tea-drinking habit isn’t keeping up with the plants so I could use more ideas!

Great News For Fair Trade

IMG_4997This recession has had me pretty bummed out, with the constant bombardment of doom and gloom. Want some good news?  Worldwide fair trade sales were up 22% in 2008!  This according to a recent announcement by the Fairtrade Foundation, an independent non-profit organization based in the UK that certifies fair trade products sold in Britian.  Their report looked at global growth of fair trade sales and found the majority of increase in sales was in fair trade tea (up 112%), fair trade coffee (up 14%) and fair trade bananas (up 28%).

A number of developed nations saw fair trade sales increase by more than 50%, including Canada where fair trade grew by 67%. The US saw slower growth of just 10% but in total sales we still remain one of the largest markets for fair trade products.

Here at Bambootique I’ve seen sales so far in 2009 increase 25% over 2008’s sales, a surprising figure given the focus on low-price during this economic crisis. In order to keep paying my artisans fair and living wages I haven’t slashed my prices, haven’t had big sales, and yet customers are still coming back. My experience at Bambootique reflects the encouraging worldwide trend towards greater consumer awareness and action even during difficult times.  Artisans and farmers in the developing world need fair trade more than ever. When we feel the pinch here, they feel an unbearable squeeze as whatever economic opportunities there were dry up completely.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to each of you who go out of your way to shop for fair trade products, whether from me or from elsewhere. It’s during these hard times that our true priorities and beliefs shine through. Thank you for believing that you can make a difference in the lives of others, even in the small choices you make every day.

Getting Your Garden’s Bounty To The Table

Preparing, planting, watering, and weeding my garden make up the bulk of the work involved in growing my family’s own food, but true panic sets in when I go out to harvest and think “Oh my gosh, what in the world am I going to do with 5 pounds of kale?”  This year I got smart – I’ve been reading recipes all summer in anticipation of the abundance of ripe goodness to come.  I’ve decided to share some of my favorite recipes periodically on this blog as we prepare and devour them, but only the good ones of course.

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Yesterday I harvested our first tomatillos in 105 degree heat (no wonder they were so plump and juicy!). Last year I had no clue what to do with that exotic vegetable but my friend Karen shared with me a recipe then that I have been waiting, no, salivating to recreate this summer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pork Chops with Fire-Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

For the meat:

  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick

For the sauce:

  • 8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 poblano chile (I used 2 jalapenos since that’s what we had in the garden)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • Olive oil for brushing pork chops

Brine the meat in a mixture of salt, cumin and cayenne with 2 cups water. Cover and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.

To make the sauce, grill the tomatillos directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered and soft, 6-8 minutes. Grill the chile directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered but still holding its shape, 6-8 minutes. When the chile is cool enough to handle remove and discard skin, stem and seeds. (Side note: I did all the roasting under the broiler on high rather than on the grill).

In a medium saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the garlic and onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from the heat.

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatillos and chile. Add bacon, garlic-onion mixture, cilantro, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Transfer to a medium saute pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. If the sauce seems too thick stir in 2-3 T water. Keep warm over low heat.

Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat with paper towel, and lightly brush both sides with olive oil. Grill the pork chops directly over medium heat, turning once, until barely pink in the center, 9-11 minutes total.

Serve the pork chops warm with the scrumptious tomatillo sauce!

How do you use up your tomatillos? I need more ideas as the bulk of the harvest is still to come!

Beat That Heat Right Back Where It Belongs

IMG_1411Portlanders looooove to whine about the heat. Boo hoo, it’s over 100 today. But really, who am I to judge? I’m sitting in my nicely air-conditioned 75 degree house with an icy cold glass of Hansen’s Root Beer. Yup, I confess I am using the A/C. Not exactly the “green” way to cool off, I know, but I do draw the line somewhere (generally when  my fellow Portlanders start to really complain, which is when the thermometer hits around, say, 81 degrees).

Actually though, the heat doesn’t bother me all that much. Really, I mean it. Yesterday I worked out in it, so there.  Our heat here is a dry heat so there’s not that horrible Midwest stickiness that means you can never cool off.  My husband and I justify our A/C because when Grace was a newborn her bedroom, which gets direct afternoon sun, would be at least 10 degrees hotter than whatever the outside temperature was (think 104 degree day, baby sleeping in 114 degree room – I kid you not).  So we got it installed and now are so grateful we did when the mercury climbs up and up and up in August.

I do what I can to help the A/C along – shutting all the blinds and windows in the house, keeping off lights and appliances – and we open our windows up at night to let the cooler night air in, although that’s not really going to happen this week with nighttime temperatures close to 80 degrees.

I’ve done my share of time without A/C though, including 2 1/2 years of high school in Australia where ceilings fans were the extent of cooling mechanisms at both home and school.  That polyester green school uniform did not help the temperature situation either.  So for anyone who’s still reading and not rolling their eyes at my use of A/C, here are my scorcher survival tips when you just can’t be someplace air-conditioned.

  • Keep an icy cold water bottle or other beverage always close at hand (Hansen’s diet root beer does the trick for me, as does Japanese mugi-cha).
  • Stay in the shade.
  • Shave your legs (I swear it makes you feel cooler).
  • Take a cold bath (great place to do the above).
  • Have a fan blowing directly on you.
  • Eat cold foods – salads, sushi, and of course ice cream. If you’re already sweaty, greasy food makes you just feel worse.
  • Run in the sprinkler or jump in a wading pool with your little ones.

My fellow Portland bloggers over at Enviromom and Urbanmamas have some other great tips to keep your cool when the temperatures are blazing. What are you doing to stay cool on this hottest week of summer?

Excuse me now, I’m off to actually go outside…to go to the ice cream shop.

$3/ Month? For Kids I Can Do That

The Oregon State legislature just passed a whole slew of new taxes to cover funding gaps across the state. One that caught my eye (or ear actually, since I was listening to NPR) is an approved new tax on health insurance premiums to provide healthcare for Oregon’s uninsured children.  According to the story, the average privately insured Oregonian (such as my family) will pay $3/ month on top of their healthcare premiums. As my friend Jordan pointed out, that’s one latte from Starbucks.  Ouch.

So far there is no organized oppostion to the tax, which amazes me in this tax-phobic state. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love higher taxes anymore than the next person. Whether or not this new tax lowers overall health costs, as proponents for it argue, we should provide healthcare for all children no matter what it costs us. A society that denies a basic human right such as healthcare for its most vulnerable citizens is truly heartless but sadly, that’s what we have become.  It gladdens my heart to see an idea put forward that will ensure all kids, not just certain kids,will be able to get their basic health needs met. I for one can go with one less latte each month.

A Plug For Sunday Parkways

My daughter Grace and I played hooky from church yesterday and joined thousands of other Portlanders for July’s Sunday Parkways event in NE Portland. What a blast!  We parked at Wilshire Park, I popped Grace in the bike trailer, and we took off on the 7-mile loop of residential streets closed to all car traffic for the day. There were plenty of people to make it fun and lively but it was spread out enough that there were few traffic jams and we kept a good pace most of the time.

The loop connected three beautiful parks – Wilshire, Fernhill and Alberta – and at each park there was food, live entertainment, playgrounds and info booths from various companies and organizations.  Of course we made a beeline for the food booths. Grace and I shared a plate of Nepali noodles (delish!) and a peanut butter cookie. I ate more of the former, she of the latter.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a warm summer morning and I’m so glad these events are once a month in the summer. The next one in Portland is August 16th and will be through my favorite part of the city, SE Portland.  You can join in the fun by bike, scooter, skateboard, unicycle or by foot, basically any mode of transportation except car.  It’s a great way to explore the city in a way we don’t normally get to and discover in a new way how diverse and lovely Portland really is.

Tasty Tidbits From My Suburban “Farm”

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Several of my readers (you know who you are!) have been asking for more pictures of the results of my reclaimed yard.  Last summer’s gruntwork to turn our soggy front grass into a productive perennial and vegetable garden has paid off, much to my husband’s and my delight.  Our yard is small, all the more reason to use less for grass and more for flowers and good things to eat, even in the ‘burbs where forgoing grass is akin to a mortal sin. Thankfully we live at the end of a quiet street and have very kind neighbors who, quite frankly, could care less what we do with our yard. That and we give them free lettuce.

Here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve garnered through this adventure:

  • “Landscaping” is a word to be shunned. It implies some kind of gardening perfection, ultimate control of nature.  I’d have to make gardenwork my full time gig to attain said perfection not to mention it feels so sterile.  I’m notIMG_1361 sure of a better alternative, perhaps “nature-scaping?”  We put the plants in, then we let nature run wild, weeds and all.
  • I garden the way I decorate inside my house. I’m not good at visualizing an end result so instead I try out an idea, then change it if I don’t like it. Nothing in the yard is permanent. As an example, I have four rose bushes I thought would make a lovely addition and instead look like neglected orphans. They’re free for the taking to a good home – any takers?
  • Lettuce starts should not all be planted at once. Not unless you are raising rabbits. We have a lettuce explosion in our yard, which we’re eating daily plus giving away as fast as we possibly can. I just can’t stomach salad for breakfast, healthy as it may be.
  • Seeds are not scary. I’ve  never had much luck planting starts indoors but the lettuce, peas and carrots I planted from seed straight into the ground are my most prolific, healthiest crops this year.
  • I’m in love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens (and I stole that line from the wonderfully messy gardening blog, Garden Rant).
  • I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but a major gardening breakthrough for me has been the freedom to mix edible plants with flowers.  There’s no written rule that vegetable gardens need to be separate from flower gardens – it’s just the way most people garden.  Since I’ve embraced the wild look anyway, the veggies and berries fit right in.

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Tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, lettuce and cucumber surrounded by perennials

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Do you have a beautifully wild garden at your house? Inspire me with a photo and I’ll share it on this blog!

Summer Happiness

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It makes me so happy to walk out front and pick a little posy like this. My goal for my garden has never been landscaping perfection. My hope for it, now realized this year, has been to have a garden full of cheerful blooms and lots of good things to eat. More pics of my tiny suburban “farm” next time…

Bambootique’s Retail Outlets Now Listed Online

full_circle_messgr_bg_grnI’ve just added a handy-dandy list of all stores carrying Bambootique’s fair trade products to my website..  You’ll find the complete list here. Check it out to see if a store near you carries Bambootique!

If you’re a store owner who’d like to carry Bambootique products in your shop, our wholesale program might be for you.

If you have a shop near you that you think should be carrying Bambootique, let me know. If the store you refer places a wholesale order YOU’LL get a $50 gift certificate to Bambootique.  Thanks for spreading the fair trade love!

What To Do About Honduras – Is it Injustice or Justice Served?

I’m conflicted about what to think about the recent ouster of Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya.  The military showed up on his door in the early morning hours last week and flew him out of the country while still wearing his PJs. The reason? He had been trying to hold a voter referendum to change the Honduran constitution so he could run for another term (the current constitution only allows for one term). Technically the referendum was illegal so many supporters of the ouster are claiming removing Zelaya was a legitimate military action to uphold the law. Others (including our media and most Western leaders) are calling it a coup.

In the opinion of one of my contacts in Honduras, from the non-profit ACTA de Honduras, the military’s actions were actually upholding the law (and upholding a ruling by the Supreme Court to have Zelaya arrested).  The pictures in our news media are of violent clashes between demonstrators and police, including a few days ago at the Tegucigalpa airport when Zelaya tried to land his plane but was kept out by military aircraft.

Alessandra has pointed out the thousands of Hondurans marching in peace marches across the country, which our media is not reporting.  Also that the military was just following the orders of the Honduran Supreme Court. So who gets to decide this one? The world political leaders or Hondurans? I’m still not sure what to think but I do think our media and our leaders need to pay closer attention to what the Honduran people want.

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