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the organic dilemma

Probably like many of you, I shop according to sales. Buy one get one free? Sign me up. Grapes for $0.99/lb? Heck yes. 10 for $10? I just peed myself a little bit.

But that being said, I won’t buy just anything. I stay mostly away from pre-packaged stuff, unless it’s healthy-ish snacks for the kids to stash in my purse on the go. There are items where I go full-hippie: cage-free, hormone-free eggs, humanely-raised, organic meat and poultry, wild-caught seafood, milk, etc. There are foods where I’m willing to compromise and go non-organic when the price is right (strawberries, grapes, certain new-crop apples, and some other fruits and veggies, but not all).

At certain points in my life when I’ve insisted on walking to the grocery store and wearing crystal deodorant (which does in no way, shape or form deodorize anything, in case you were wondering. I’m sorry if you were in my company during that phase.), I’ve splurged and gone full organic on everything. And what I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s not always worth it. I don’t know the science behind organic farming, but I’m fairly sure that the chemicals that could scare a Deadhead away from a reunion show are there partially for pest control and partially to preserve produce from farm to table. I can count on five hands the number of times I’ve spent double digits on organic fruits and vegetables only to find them spoiled the very next day in my crisper.

This blog post began seeding in my brain when I was out in the garden planting grape starts. Once I had them in the ground, surrounded by organic compost and ready to grow away on their hand built trellis, I needed a way to feed them. The only thing I had in the garage was scary-looking Miracle Grow crystalized all-purpose plant food, which is dyed a shocking electric blue. I use it to feed my potted flowers. Although the package insisted it could be used for fruits and vegetables, there was no way I was going to put that stuff on grapes I was eventually going to eat.

But the very same day I went to the market and purchased a package of non-organic strawberries (on a great sale), which had probably been fed with something akin to the electric-blue Miracle Grow.

Why am I a hypocrite?

It’s partially the distance; I don’t see the pesticides on the strawberry farm. I just know that the berries are sweet and pretty and two pounds for $5.99. Moreover, they won’t go bad in two days, giving my family more time to eat them. The organic ones are not as pretty and maybe as sweet, but twice (or three times) the price, and will go bad if I don’t use them in a very short window, wasting their expensive juiciness.

I suppose we all have choices to make when it comes to quality and budget. Sometimes our values of one override the other, and sometimes the two intermingle, as in my case. In an ideal word I’d shop for everything at the farmer’s market and not have to think twice about paying $15 for apples. But the reality is that our family goes through an enormous amount of food and we’re enormously busy. I make the best choices I can and try to keep the credit card in check.

Tell me in the comments: What do you absolutely buy organic? What do you compromise on?

welcome to the new look!

It was high time for a makeover, and I’m pleased to be writing my first post from my freshly-redesigned blog! I’m working through a few bugs to get everything running ship-shape; please let me know if you run across anything that isn’t working properly.

After exploring lots of expensive options (hiring a web designer), and lots of cheap options (doing it myself, with the help of my code-savvy husband), I settled on the extremely affordable option of a pre-made theme from Designer Blogs. The ladies over there are super nice and lovely to work with. I can’t recommend them enough.

On monday I have a special cookbook giveaway headed your way, along with a recipe. (Hint: it involves cookie dough. Lots and lots of cookie dough.) Stay tuned!

cinco de leche {tres leches cake}

One of the reasons I seem to have fallen off the face of the food blogging planet is that I used to have a tiny assistant in the kitchen. Lucy would “help” me with everything from stirring flour and salt to icing cakes to tasting sauces. When her younger sister Charlie was tiny we still went on our merry way in the kitchen, Charlie napping in her swing or basking on a stack of blankets on the dining room floor. But now that my baby is not quite a baby anymore and demands my attention at all times (that fun but taxing “up!” “down!” “water!” “grapes!” “I crapped my pants!” “The car seat? What are you, insane?!” stage), my time in the kitchen (with or without Lucy) has grown slim.

But when some dear friends asked us over for fish tacos and margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, I knew we had to bring tres leches cake. I fall back to Pioneer Woman’s recipe for this one, because it’s easy and delicious and I knew that Lucy and I would have a blast making it together.

{Lucy grew tired of poking the cake with a fork and decided a chopstick would be more efficient.}

We carved out some time to bake, just the two of us. I hadn’t gotten down and dirty in the kitchen (read: flour flying into the corners of the ceiling, egg whites dripping down the countertops) with her for a long while, and as we went through the steps of making the cake I came to realize that my oldest baby was no longer a baby anymore, either. Instead of wanting to simply make messes for messes sake, she began asking questions about the process.

“What is that [baking powder] for, Mom?”

“Why do you spray that [cooking spray] into there [a 9x13 pan]?”

“What’s going to happen when we mix them together?”

“Why does it go in the oven?”

A few of her questions were the simple “3 year old why’s” but many were so pointed that I began explaining what each ingredient was for, why we used it, and how it would make the cake taste. She was fascinated. I’d like to think that she’s so interested because I’ve been letting her cook with me since she could hold a spoon, but more than likely it’s simply because she’s a curious girl. Whatever the reason, I was in delighted awe as we mixed, poured and spread.

We baked the cake in the evening, and I told her that the next morning her job would be to pour the milk mixture over the top, help me whip the cream, stem the strawberries (for topping), and frost the cake. As I was putting her to bed she said, “Mom, I can’t wait for my special cake job tomorrow!” And then I melted into a puddle of tears onto the floor and cried because my baby girl is certainly not a baby, at all. When the old granny in the grocery store quips “they just grow up so fast!” she doesn’t say that their first word will be dada and seemingly the next will be “why do the egg whites get all puffy when you turn the mixer on really fast?”

{Pink on pink on pink. A mind and style of her own.}

But back to the cake. If you’ve never tried tres leches, come on over to the dark side. Essentially you bake a very dry, airy cake and soak it with a mixture of sweet milks. Each slice oozes with caramel-flavored cream. I make this several times a year for different occasions and everyone seems to think that it’s sent from a magical dessert deity. I’ve tried different versions, but I think Ree’s is the best. Plus, if you make it with your kids you will create 1) a giant, fun, magical mess, 2) a giant, fun, magical cake, and 3) memories in the kitchen with your wee ones. Just don’t collapse into the closet into a pile of tears like I did when you realize they’re old enough to crack an egg by themselves.

You can find my step-by-step instructions in an older post on tres leches here, or Ree’s prettier photos and recipe here.