Chopstick Therapy

Reusable chopsticks mingle in a common bowl of ramen

Reusable chopsticks mingle in a common bowl of ramen

I have a confession to make. I go to therapy. Every Tuesday like clockwork I go and I always feel so much better. My therapists are three former co-workers (plus two others have moved away). We’ve been meeting weekly for lunch for over 3 years now and we have nicknamed our gatherings “Therapy Lunch,” because the experience is so cathartic we can’t think of a better name for ourselves!

We’ve gone through a lot together – babies, marriages, job upheavals, financial burdens, illnesses, identity crises, you name it. I’ll bet we’ll be meeting for lunch when we’re old and gray and toothless. At least, I hope we still will be.

Our lunches tend to be at local sushi places since the food is quick (comes around on one of those conveyor belts), affordable, healthy and delicious. The purpose of this post is actually not to rave about my wonderful friends (I love you guys!) but to show you how we’ve decided to go green by BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) to therapy lunch.

According to Treehugger, 46 billion pairs of chopsticks are disposed of each year in China alone and another 30 billion are exported from China to other countries. I know my little sushi therapy group goes through at least 200 pairs per year (52 weeks x 4 people 1x/ week). CRIEnglish, a Chinese government English news website, states that a single twenty-year old tree makes just 4000 pairs of chopsticks.  Now that we’ve seen the light and gone green with our chopsticks, perhaps we’ll save a tree or two over the course of our therapy lunches?  Now that’s good therapy for the planet.

Tons Of Tomatoes? Try This.

IMG_1962Summer days are waning (sniff sniff). One of the wonderful things about the end of summer is our daily trip to the tomato plants. How big of a bowl do I need today, I wonder each time? Two days ago I bypassed a bowl altogether and just gathered the bounty by holding up the bottom of my long t-shirt, akin to a farmer’s wife using the bottom of her apron.

While I love picking each shiny red globe, I’m actually not a fan of raw tomatoes. Something about that mushy texture just gets me every time. So when tomatoes are entering my house by the dozen each and every day, I have to come up with creative ways to use them up so I can enjoy them just as much as my husband (lover of raw tomatoes) and daughter (follows in her mama’s footsteps when it comes to tomatoes).

I have three favorite preparations this summer I’ll share here, two today and the third (roasted salsa) in a few days.

#1 – Easy Tomato Sauce
You can make this recipe with any ratio of ingredients you like or have on hand. Everything here is approximate. You really can’t mess this up, unless you leave the tomatoes out all together. We have all these ingredients in our garden this year so it’s especially fun to make knowing we did it all ourselves!

2 pounds fresh roma or other tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I don’t bother deseeding or skinning)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced or crushed
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Big handful fresh basil, 12-16 large leaves, coarsely chopped
Small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (deseeded unless you like a lot of spice)
1-2 tsp. sugar
dash salt
olive oil

Saute the garlic and onion until soft in the olive oil. Add in the jalapeno (optional – leave it out if you don’t like spicy food). Add tomato chunks and let simmer on low for 15-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have melted into each other. Throw in the basil, sugar and salt. Serve over noodles, chicken, steak or as a delicious side dish. It’s thick, rich and delicious. I keep thinking I’ll make extra and freeze it but so far we just keep eating it all!

#2 Sauteed tomatoes and green beans
I make this when I can get a big enough handful of green beans from our two piddly bush bean plants.

Fresh green beans (1-2 dozen, or more if you have them)
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 pound cherry tomatoes or other fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Fresh herbs from your garden (I usually go for the tarragon)
Olive oil
Salt

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender. In the meantime heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add in the tomatoes and, like the sauce recipe above, let simmer until thickened and melty, about 15 minutes. Add the green beans for another 2-3 minutes of cooking time in the sauce, then stir in the herbs and salt at the very end. This makes a lovely side dish to grilled meat on a warm end-of-summer evening.

Enjoy, and please do share your ideas for cooking up all these beautiful tomatoes!

Empowering Women Is The Answer

IMG_5367One of the many seeds that grew into Bambootique was when I read in one of my MBA’s economic textbooks that, when women have work, they are far more likely than men to spend their income on improving their children’s future – food, education, healthcare, clothing, housing, etc.  That was a lightbulb moment for me, although it was several years later before that seed grew into an actual business.  Still it was my own moment of empowerment, when I knew that I could do something profound that could change the lives of women and, in turn, help those women offer their children a better, brighter future.

A few days ago the New York Times ran a beautiful and concrete article on the very topic of eliminating poverty in the developing world through women. The authors, a married couple who co-wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, talk about how when women have work they are less likely to be abused by their husbands because they are seen as valuable rather than as a burden. They provide employment for their poor neighbors.  They invest in their children’s educations. And as a result they boost their countries’ overall economies both now and, hopefully, in the future through their children.

The authors conclude that foreign aid as a blanket solution to poverty is inadequate. Shoving money at problems doesn’t necessarily get rid of them and, in many cases, makes problems worse.  However the authors point specifically to microfinance (giving small loans, mainly to women, to help them start or expand their own businesses) as one aspect of foreign aid that is most successful. Be sure to check out this well-written, well-researched article for more insights on the power of women to change their own lives.

95% of Bambootique’s artisans are women and many are micro-loan recipients through local lending programs. I don’t turn away men who make great products. But my vision is to empower women, knowing that men tend to have greater access to markets and other ways to earn an income than their female counterparts. I’m proud, in my own small way, to be part of such a movement. And I can’t wait to read Half the Sky, which I already have on hold at the library!

Healthcare Debate Unraveled. Thanks Jim Wallis.

I’m getting so tired of the misinformation, soundbytes, and extreme rhetoric of the current debate on reforming the US healthcare system. Rather than talk about the facts and what’s really being proposed, most of the discussion seems to revolve around crazy assertions (like killing senior citizens?) that are not based on any part of the actual bills. Our current system is unjust, giving top-of-the-line healthcare to those who can afford it and leaving almost 50 million others completely without care altogether.  We should be ashamed that we allow such conditions to exist in a Western nation such as ours. The debate should not be about whether or not we reform the system but how quickly we can do it, including a public option for those who the private system just will not support. Every other developed nation has done it. That in and of itself should tell us its a good idea.

Today Jim Wallis of Sojourners (and author of God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn’t Get It) sent an excellent letter to his supporters. He wrote:

As a nation, we are engaged in making decisions about our health care that will impact our families and communities for generations to come.

And I must personally share with you that I’ve had enough of the misinformation and, frankly, misleading statements coming from those who oppose the transformation of a health system that currently renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million people with no health-care coverage at all.

We don’t have to fall victim to the naysayers – those seeking to prop up the status quo and sustain the profits of the massive insurance corporations.

Business as usual is not what we’re about. It’s not what change is about. It’s certainly not what people of good will from all faiths, who embrace the Golden Rule and seek the common ground of justice and fairness, are about….

This must stop. We are the ones who can stop it. Together, speaking out, acting out, and joining as one on a mission, we can push back the clouds of misinformation and fear-mongering, and allow the light of truth shine through.

Today, right now, let’s join together making the health-care debate factual, worthy of our families and communities. Let’s put the special interests on notice that we want real health-care reform, not misinformation and fear-mongering.

On Wallis’ site he’s posted a fabulous, faith-based guide to the healthcare reform, talking about what’s really true (you’ll be able to keep your own doctor) and what’s not (senior citizens will not be exterminated), as well as the pros and cons of various aspects in the reform such as the public option being proposed. I praise Wallis and his team for speaking out on behalf of the Christian faith community in a reasonable, calm, fact-based way. Such influence is badly needed in the discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think.

It’s Zucchini Season. Don’t Make Eye-Contact With Your Neighbor.

I read that quip on a local lumberyard sign a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Zucchini season is a time when enthusiastic gardeners want to throw in the towel, er, zucchini they’re so overrun with those cute little green squashes.  Well relax one and all as I have found a delicious zucchini bread recipe that won’t make you groan and roll your eyes. It’s got chocolate in it, people. You can eat it for breakfast or dessert and still feel good about getting your vegetables.  The recipe uses a 1 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini (about one medium squash).  If you don’t want to bake 42 loaves to get through your harvest, run the lot through your food processors shredder, package in ziplocs in 1 1/2 cup portion, freeze and bake this puppy up all winter long.

The recipe is from one of my fave cooking magazines, Cooking Light. I’m publishing a link to Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread rather than the actual recipe as I’m not sure how the copyrights work with big magazines. I recommend baking a little less than the 60 minutes they suggest for a moist, slightly underdone texture (dry cakes and breads are a pet peeve).

Oh, and be sure to use fair trade cocoa (Dagoba, Equal Exchange) and chocolate chips like Rapunzel (available at Whole Foods and New Seasons).

Next up in my “Cooking Your Garden’s Harvest” series (like the name? I just made it up) is Garden Fresh Roasted Salsa.  Coming tomorrow or very, very soon.

Dill-icious Potato Salad

IMG_1629

OK, that title is so corny but I couldn’t resist.

Last weekend my husband made spicy dill pickles (yum!).  Due to a slight error I made in calculating how much dill we’d need, we ended up with five unused bunches of dill in the fridge even after making a dozen jars of pickles.  So even though I didn’t grow the dill myself, I thought I’d throw out the recipe for those of you who might be growing dill and/ or potatoes, peas, or any of the other ingredients in this cool, crisp salad.

From Recipes From A Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff

  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, steamed and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup cooked peas, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (I used cucumber instead)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 clove garlic, halved (I crushed mine)
  • 2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I used light)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 6 scallions, finely sliced
  • 6 T chopped fresh dill
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare peas, potatoes and celery/ cucumber and set aside. Mix together all dressing ingredients. Pour over peas and potatoes and mix gently together. Garnish with sprigs of dill.

I’ve still got 4 bunches of dill in the fridge. What should I do with those? One can only eat so much potato salad!