Archive for the ‘green living’ Category

M is for Magic

Do you believe in magic? Do you encourage your kids to?

I do, though maybe you and I mean different things by it. I don’t mean anything like miracles, or some interference from a superior intelligence . I don’t mean wishful thinking, that the world is other than it is, that if you wish hard enough you won’t get in trouble for not doing your homework.

I mean wonder. I mean the ability to enjoy and appreciate the world without always being able to explain it.

I mean the magic of seeds germinating and buds opening and wild creatures and breathtaking landscapes.

And the magic of a smile and generosity and music.

The magic of the wind roaring through the forest behind our house right before a thunderstorm.

The magic of a rainbow and the first snowfall.

The magic of the moon and stars.

The magic of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

The magic of books and learning.

The magic of building forts in the woods and hikes and spotting deer.

Life is magical and living it with an appreciation for the magic all around us makes us happier and the world better. I hope that my children will want to preserve all those magical things in the world so they can share them with their children. I think fostering an appreciation the magic of the world in a child is the key to an environmentally and socially responsible adult.

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I’ve written about Kompot before – it’s a local CSA I belong to. If you’re looking for a CSA in Prague, definitely check them out.

One day when I was over at the Kompot garden, I met a young woman who is doing her master’s thesis on CSAs using Kompot as a case study. As part of her research she did a survey and follow-up interviews with some respondents. My interview was last week, and it was really interesting. We talked about food and why it is important to me to be in a CSA. At the end of the interview she asked, “Are you a food activist?”

“Yes,” I answered without hesitation. Not that I ever thought of calling myself that before, but something inside of me said, “Yes! That is what I am.” So, what does it mean?!

I guess at a basic level it means trying to do something to make the food and food systems better. And in my own small way, I think I do that. I try to use my consumer powers for good, buying local seasonal food as much as possible, joining a CSA. I grow some of my own food. I forage some of my own food. I teach my kids and students about food issues. This blog is also part of it, I guess, bringing the joys of all this food awareness to at least a few others!


As yummy as it is funny-looking!

As yummy as it is funny-looking!

Just a memory really…When I was growing up we had a babysitter who lived with her family a couple of doors down from us. And they grew kohlrabis. No one else we knew ever even heard of them, but this family did and grew lots of them.

And now I live in kohlrabi country and realize that family must have been Slavic.

What, you don’t know what a kohlrabi is? Never tasted one? They are yummy and easy to grow. I highly recommend them, if you can find them! They still seem somewhat unknown where I come from.


Today is Easter Monday and the girls have just come back from (kind of) traditional Czech koledovani. I say “kind of” because traditionally only boys did it, but now girls do it, too. And while I am mostly in favor of folk traditions as way to preserve the wisdom of our elders, this one sort of befuddles me.

You see, the tradition is that young men weave a “pomlazka,” basically a whip, from young willow branches. They then go about the village and hit (yes, hit) women with it while singing a little rhyme. The women then give them eggs, treats and shots of homemade plum brandy. It’s supposed to make the women more fertile, but I must confess seems pretty barbaric to me.

My girls don’t actually whip anyone when they do it, but they go door to door and sing the little rhyme and get candy and eggs. Hordes of children all over the village do the same. It’s like Halloween without the costumes, but with actual horrific violence. Ok, they don’t actually beat people up, but I tell you that little willow whip stings! You can read more about Czech Easter traditions here.


Happy Easter!

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Cotton jersey, like the stuff they use for T-shirts. We’ve been working on a project with old cut up Tshirts, and it’s pretty nifty.

I found a website that shows you how to make yarn from T-shirts. Fun, right?


And I’ve always wanted to make a braided run. So, take two kids on vacation and stuck in the house on a bad weather day, old T-shirts and a sharp pair of scissors and voila! A fun day of cutting and braiding.



Stay tuned for the finished product (R is for Rug?)


PS. Not sure why or how, but internet is faster today – I could actually upload photos! Do you think it read my post yesterday and decided to get its act together?!


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F is for Foraging

Foraging has become one of my favorite activities. There is something very exciting about gathering wild foods to eat. I’ve read accounts of first-time hunters in which the authors relate a sort of instinctive and primal thrill in hunting and killing that they did not anticipate. Since I don’t eat meat and have no particular desire to kill an animal, I’m not likely to try it, but foraging takes its place quite nicely. You still have to track down your intended food, be in the right place at the right time and face the danger of perhaps gathering the wrong (maybe poisonous?!) foods – don’t underestimate the primal thrill of remaining alive after eating your first wild food! Ok, perhaps not as dramatic as facing down a wild boar, but more than enough thrills for me!

Our foraged foods include:

  • dandelion leaves
  • dandelion flowers
  • elder flowers
  • elder berries
  • wild raspberries & blackberries
  • nettles
  • wild garlic
  • wild plums
  • wild blueberries when we are in the mountains
  • mushrooms
  • goosefoot leaves (Chenopodium genus)
  • rose hips
  • wild strawberries

Recently gathered lots of wild garlic – it’s time and looking forward to elder flower season and fresh nettles coming soon!


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Making tortillas

We made tortillas to use in our quesadillas the other night. Once again, it’s something that is remarkably easy to make at home and is cheaper and tastier when you do. Of course it  takes a bit more time and planning than opening a package, but it’s more fun, too.


One of my helpers rolling out tortillas. Good help makes it much quicker!


They’re almost round!


The recipe is really quite simple:

Flour Tortillas

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon garlic or onion salt. Then add 2/3 cup water and knead until smooth. Make 12 small balls and roll flat. Cook over medium high heat. 


But why do it? I mean, quesadillas are supposed to be my easy go-to fast meal when everyone is tired and hungry. Is it really just about feeding the independent, stubborn streak in me that just likes being able to do it myself? Am I just making life difficult for myself for no good reason? No and no. The tortillas we find in the store here are all imported from the USA. That’s a whole lot of food miles. And they are name brands, big corporate brands, and our corporate system is my least favorite investment! Those are the real motivating reasons.

Slowly, I am trying to wean us off of corporate and imported food. There’s the garden, of course, and locally grown fruits and veggies, but I’m talking about the dry goods and stuff we can’t grow ourselves. I find it much harder to convince my family to embrace alternatives to the pasta, tortillas, rice, etc. that we use pretty often. As expats, it can be easy to want and buy familiar American brands of food, much of which you can get here if you are willing to pay the price. I’d rather not and the food miles really put me off.

Here’s a list of some of the things we like and some alternatives we’ve either switched to or I am in the process of slowly, unnoticeably converting to (don’t tell the girls!).

  • Tea – We mostly use teas that we gather or grow, like sage, lemon balm, and mint. I am trying to add more herbs for teas, and buy fair trade tea if we want some black or green tea.
  • Maple syrup – This was hard to give up! But the cost here is crazy and it comes from so far away. So, we use homemade jam instead. Two years ago we started making jam from wild plums and I think the girls actually prefer it now. The other substitute is dandelion honey, from foraged dandelions, of course!
  • Dairy products like milk, butter, eggs, cheese  – You can buy local dairy products easily, even in the big chain stores. But we get almost all of our dairy products from a local organic dairy called Biovavrinec. I started buying at the Farmer’s Market, but this dairy also has an e-shop. Several folks from my work joined together to place an order every week to save on delivery charges and now we can get these products all winter, too.
  • Pickles – We’re not huge pickle eaters, but we (my mother-in-law, actually) canned 11 quarts last year from our own cucumbers!
  • Tortillas – we’ll make them most of the time now. It’s really quite quick.
  • Pasta – I suppose I could make this, too, but there is a vendor at the farmer’s market that makes wonderful fresh pasta. My favorites are the whole wheat tagliatelle and the spaghetti.
  • Rice – This doesn’t actually grow here, so getting local rice is not an option. And we love risotto and sushi and stir fries, so what to do? One strategy is to use other grains. With our stir fires, we often have millet, bulgur or buckwheat. We like quinoa, but that comes from even farther away. For risotto, I’ve started using barley.

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What an exciting day at our local CSA, Kompot. I wrote about them before and am very excited by how successful this first year is. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to get my money’s worth from joining. They had no track record and the land had not been farmed in this way before. But look what we got today:


And potatoes, carrots, summer savory, garlic, onions and (thankfully!) the last of the savoy cabbage.

But even if we weren’t getting so much veg, they are doing great work, building community, preserving the rural landscape and character of our villages and so much more.  Check out their website. Better yet, if you are local, sign up for the veggie box, visit the garden and come on out and join in the fun! This Saturday is a work party and I am sure you will meet interesting people and have some great food.

Tonight’s menu from the box

carrot soup

salad with kohlrabi, cucumber and lettuce

swiss chard sautéed with garlic and then mixed with ricotta cheese

beans and savory

gooseberry coffee cake (our gooseberries!)



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Because I have a bin of worms in the entry hall and we ate nettles for dinner.

Also, we started seeds in toilet paper tubes. And my mother-in-law brought over the dandelion “honey” she made from the flowers the girls picked yesterday. And instead of maple syrup on our pancakes this morning we had rhubarb sauce from the rhubarb I picked yesterday, or  wild plum jam from the plums we foraged last fall.

And it’s only the first day of her visit…

She didn’t actually say she thought I was weird, but she does keep saying, “Wait until I tell your sister about this!”

In fact, my mother is responsible for most of this weird behavior, having taking us dandelion picking when we were young, cooking from scratch, and being into environmental issues as long as I can remember. I came by all this pretty honestly.

Okay, maybe it is bit out of the ordinary, but really, I kind of think it’s weird not to be doing this stuff…

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