Friday, September 30, 2011

7 hr pork shoulder, super salsa, minimal waste, and a (homemade) video

 How to host a party with minimal waste?

#1 - Start by inviting several of your dearest friends and family. ✓
# 2- If planning a BIG event, have your guests bring their own reusable dinnerware and cups.  ✓
#2 - Plan your menu around the goal. You want a menu that will be delicious and one where you can source your ingredients locally. ✓
#3 - Set out shopping. Head to the local farmers market. Bring your own bags to minimize waste in the end. Look at 'food miles'. See how far something had to travel to make it to your table? Can you purchase from the farmer who is 5 miles from town? ✓
#4 - Cook a damn good meal. ✓
#5 - Compost everything that you possible can. Encourage your friends and family to compost. Have them observe you in your element!  ✓
#6 - Recycle everything else! ✓
#7 - Smile pretty... you just had a party with minimal waste, you produced a minimal amount of waste, less than a bag... produced more compost than actual garbage! ✓

This post will wrap up my four post series for Glad and Tastemakers from Foodbuzz. I have had fun encouraging others to try to "think outside the can". Repeat, garbage cans aren't going anywhere, it is what you put in them that counts. Throughout the past month I have had the chance to reflect on my families garbage "output". We still produce too much garbage. I have had twinges of guilt rise up when I have been at stores this month and I do not have my canvas bags with me. I don't want to just be complacent with the paper bag attitude. As a culture, we are so far removed from the reality of where things come from and where they end up. Hence my push this month on composting. It means a lot to me to see my produce waste move just 50 feet to our back yard compost pile and I watch it turn into finished compost. It feels good to recycle my containers, glass and paper. I want to know that somehow in this crazy world of ours, my impact is minimal.

I hosted a "party" at my house with close friends and family. We enjoyed a delicious meal together, ate a TON of food and I was left with practically any waste at all. We had a plastic bag for the meat, a can from the olives, and the wine bottles of course, some pork fat that we couldn't compost and a bit of other miscellaneous waste. I have hosted parties where my garbage can is overflowing. Take the time to bring and use reusable plates and real silverware.  It makes a difference. Take the time to purchase locally. You will buy fresh, you can use your own bags and miss out on all the garbage bag waste.

Super Salsa - shop local - now is the time to take advantage of the tomato harvests!

5 large delicious tomatoes - heirloom and ripe if you can
1/2 clove garlic crushed
1/2 of a medium onion - chopped small and rinsed in cold water
2 cubanella peppers - chopped very fine - 
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 ripe red jalapeño - you want it wrinkly and crinkly on the outside.
juice of 1 small lime

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy on your fresh pork tacos. Taste along the way and adjust ingredients, such and the salt, pepper and lime.

7 Hour Pork Shoulder- for pork tacos

4 lb pork shoulder, locally and sustainably raised
4 Italian Fryer peppers, cubanellas or other sweeter pepper chopped roughly
4 heirloom tomatoes chopped roughly
1 medium onion chopped roughly
1 Jar of Frontera Grill Salsa - your choice, I used roasted tomato and garlic
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
for some kick - throw in 1/2 a habanero

Oven to 300F. Cut off excess fat off the pork shoulder and brown nicely in a deep ditch oven. Brown on all sides. Add salsa, add all the tomatoes and peppers and garlic. Let start to simmer, cover and place in the oven. Check every two hours, stir juices and flip meat over half way through. Cook for seven hours for delicious, tender, flavorful meat.

Guests enjoying the good food......especially the kids.

A truly homemade video on composting. Disclaimer: My sweet daughter was working the camera. My head is missing from 1/4 of the video, however for her impromptu role as camera woman, she did great! This is laughable... my whole family begged me not to post. HA!  Please don't grade me on this video... I promise to do better next time. Pinky swear!

loads of foodie love and kisses - megan

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Caramel Apple Shortbread Bars - Dear Carolyn

Oh Carolyn.... my dear. What have you done? 

Dear Carolyn, for over a year now, we have followed eachother, blog to blog, championing eachothers successes and drooling over each others baked goods. For some reason you and I seem to always fall back to the sweet side of life. I don't mind a bit, beacause I enjoy the part of my day where I eat one of my chocolate caramels, or sink my teeth into one of your delicious recipes.

I have gone batty, wonky....mad for your caramelita bars. I keep trying to photograph them but they are always gone before I have the chance. I stay up late, past my bed time waiting to pull them out of the oven and cut them into squares. I have made new friends at work because of these bars and am able bribe my husband and children with these treats for  house cleaning favors.

Caroyln.... you have converted me over to these delicious bars! baking... there are hits... and misses. These bars are nothing short of a hit. For those of you who want something so good you will eat at least a row yourself... read on. Turn back now if you have no will power. 

Carolyn.... your original recipe with chocolate and pecans is exquisite. I tweaked it a bit the first time by making it gluten-free. The second time around my son asked for the same recipe yet with apples. I caved and last night, I quickly adapted the recipe once again to make these caramel apple bars.

Carolyn....dreaming about food again? I am! 

Tonight as half the pan of these delicious caramel apple bars is already missing.... I thank you for your constant inspiration and dreamy delicious baked goods! You are an incredible baker and blogger!

Caramel Apple Bars - Gluten Free - (fat and flavorfull) - inspired by Carolyn's Carmelitas!

1.5 cups gluten-free flour mix
1 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
11 TBS butter, chilled - cut into tablespoon size pieces

Oven to 350F. In your food processor fitted with the blade attachment place all the ingredients for the crust. Turn on until you have a nice meal. This will take a little while for all the ingredients to combine and produce something that looks almost like a pie dough. It will be crumbly but not dry. In a 9"x9" well greased pan....pat 3/4 of your crust into the bottom. Pat evenly. Place in over for 13 minutes. Take out and let cool 10 minutes.

Quarter 4 small apples or 2 large apples and slice them into thin segments. Lay the segments in four rows on top of the crust. It should look something like this.   -------->

Caramel Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heave cream (organic)
1 TBS butter (unsalted)
1 tsp quality vanilla extract

In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan, add the sugar and water. Turn heat on med-low. Let mixture come to a boil and let the sugars caramelize. You will want your sugars to start to turn a nice golden amber. You will begin to smell the sugars caramelizing. Pour in your heavy cream and butter. Turn the heat to low and stir until the mixture combines well and is syrupy. Add the vanilla, stir. Turn off heat and let cool one minute. Pour mixture SLOWLY over the apples. Caramel will be really hot. No burns needed, so take it easy. You want to keep your caramel within the parameters of the crust. Carefully crumble the leftover crust/stopping. Pop back into the oven for about 20 minutes, no more. Let cool completely before you attempt cutting. Cut along apple rows into four rows. Then into four again. Eat and prepare to make another pan tomorrow.

 Apple Caramel Kisses - xoxoxoxo megs

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chocolate Cornflake Clusters

This is a rip-off of one of Jacques Torres' recipes. Love that man... He is an amazing chocolatier who has done wonders for the chocolate industry. Besides being a fantastic chocolatier, his 'how to' videos are fantastic and always informative. I have learned a lot about him and from him via my chocolatier classes. When I get to New York for a visit.... his shop is the first place I will go.

I picked up about 25 Food and Wine magazines this summer from a garage sale and had a blast cutting out delicious recipes. However...  my eyes popped out when I saw this great little interview with Jacques Torres and this sweet recipe that followed it. Chocolate Cornflake Crunchies. I have made this with cornflakes, puffed rice and favorite, golden grahams and marshmallows. They are all equally delicious. Perfect for parties.

Chocolate Cornflake Clusters

1 lb. of good tempered dark chocolate chopped small- 60% percent up to 70% cocoa content
1/4 pound chocolate in large chunk form - do not chop
5 cups cornflakes - organic preferred - or other cereal of your choice


1) In large stainless bowl, measure your cornflakes/cereal and pour into bowl. Prepare 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2) Take your 1 lb. of chopped chocolate and place in your bain marie or double boiler. Take care not to have any water touch the chocolate or it will seize. Turn on your burner, low heat, and let the water melt the chocolate in your pan. Stir constantly as it is important to mix the cocoa butter into the cocoa solids. You want a nice digital thermometer to measure your chocolate temperature as you do not want your chocolate to burn. If using a nice, darker, semi-sweet chocolate, heat the chocolate to around 115-119 degrees, no higher. Take melted chocolate off the burner and add the large, quarter pound chunk of chocolate to the melted chocolate. Stir constantly, the large chunk will help cool down the chocolate and start adding in more crystals which will jumpstart the crystalization process. Keep stirring and taking temps on the chocolate. Let it cool down to about 84 degrees. Place pan back on your double boiler for about 10 seconds at a time.You want your chocolate to heat up to about 89.6 degrees (my favorite working temp). If you only put the pan on the warm double boiler for 10 seconds at a time and then stir, you will be guaranteed to not over heat the chocolate past 91 degrees. Important to keep chocolate moving and always check your temp. 

3)When you have a nice pot of tempered chocolate at 89.6 degrees...or so, take out the piece of unmelted chocolate and set aside on parchment paper. Pour your tempered chocolate over the cereal and stir well. Take out tablespoonfuls of the chocolate mixture and place on parchment paper to set up. Store in air tight container. They won't last long!

chocolate kisses - xoxo megan

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

getting trashy ....

I know... not what you expected. You probably thought I would be pictured in this post sloshing it up with the neighbors with some delightful cocktail in my hand. Not so my friend, I'm talking trash here. But for those of you who were looking for Miss Megan getting trashy...I will give you this....

yes.. that is me with pomegranates for breasts...
Now back to the topic at hand... Trash! Above, you see my old garbage can on the left and my new one on the right. Old trash can currently has garbage can envy while it stands next to the new and shiny garbage/recycle can with an automatic sensor to boot. Poor plastic can....crying out from inside his trashdom.

We were all quite surprised when UPS showed up with a huge box with my name on it. My husband thought I took the credit card and charged a new kitchen trash can to it. (first shoes... now trash cans...) Not so. I blame it all on you!  I have been participating in a Foodbuzz, Tastemakers program focusing on Glad products and ideas. I  know, you think Glad... produce more trash so they can sell more bags. Not so my friends. Glad is working on being the creators of bags made with less plastic while at the same time educating their average consumer about trash, recycling and compost. It was Glad who sent me the new can with the recycle compartment. I love it... my kids love it, plus I have been able to try out some of their new products such as compostable compost bags and trash bags that contain 40% less plastic than their regular bags. I must admit I love not having to waltz across my kitchen to the recycle bin as the new can has dual compartments, one for trash and one for recycled goods. It is handy, easy to clean and sleek. Glad is working with regular people like me and looking for ways in which we can change our trashy habits.

We all create trash, but it is what we put into our trash that is important. This is just a small preachy post encouraging you to start thinking about what you put into your trash can. When you think about this....

L.A. River.... clean up after storm

or this.....
Plastics at the mouth of Mt. Everest

it makes you think twice about throwing everything away! Plastic this, and plastic that. Bags, juice boxes, yogurt containers, water bottles, soda bottles,  you name it, plastic garbage is everywhere. It is one of the culprits that has littered our landscape and is here to stay. Plastic just doesn't decompose like organic products do, plastic thrown into the trash will end up in our landfills, or floating in the oceans.

How about this fact:

Plastic bags? The stuff from grocery stores? Yep. Each year, the world produces 60 billion tons of plastic, including nearly 5,000,000,000,000 (trillion) plastic bags. In the US, 100 billion are thrown away; only 0.6% are recycled. - from

Take 4 minutes and watch this fantastic and funny video which demonstrates the life of a plastic bag:

Yikes... unless you are creative and able to make art out of used plastics..... you should be concerned about what you throw into your garbage can. I consider myself lucky as I live in Madison where we are able to recycle so much of our garbage. We usually produce 1.5 bags of trash per week for a 4 person household. Our recycling container holds the most "trash" and it is filled almost every week. I know not everybody can recycle due to the limitations imposed by their community waste collection program, however,  we can all avoid using plastic bags.

Use a canvas bag when shopping:

Recycle your paper, plastics, aluminum foil, and mail whenever possible. Bring your own bags, buy locally, and spread the word to your friends and neighbors. We are given the opportunity to live on this beautiful earth, the least we can do is take care of it.

Trashy love from the heartland.... xoxo megan

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Big Sop Cornbread - Rustic and Easy -

sop it up cornbread
Cornbread is always a delicious accompaniment to any meal. Sop up your soups, stews or black beans with this. It is always bright and cheery, ready to be smothered in butter and honey.. and if you are my kids, it is always eaten in it's entirety. This is the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I usually make another recipe but the night I made this I was out of a few ingredients. So....I improvised. With no hot cast iron pan in the oven, I threw in one of my cookie sheets and let it heat up a good ten minutes. I just threw the whole batter onto the pan and I came out with what you see above. A great rustic cornbread with a wonderful golden brown crust. This is a drier cornbread, and not very sweet but ready to start sopping!

big sop cornbread
Big Sop Cornbread

Oven to 425 degrees. Place stainless baking pan/cookie sheet into the oven while preparing ingredients.

Dry Ingredients
1 and 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal, stone ground. We love Bob's Red Mill
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-4 TBS sugar (I used 2)
3/4 teaspoon salt

Add the following to the dry ingredients:
2 large eggs beaten
3 TBS melted butter or bacon drippings
1 cup milk

Stir ingredients and quickly combine. Take hot pan out of oven, Quickly grease with a TBS of sunflower oil or butter. Pour batter directly onto hot pan. Place in oven and cook about 15-18 minutes or until the edges are nice and brown on the cornbread. Take long knife or metal spatula and scrape under cornbread and transfer to a cutting board or other serving plate. Serve with butter and honey.

And now for the FAVOR! I recently submitted my recipe - My Three Chile Chocolate Cake with Habanero Caramel to the Marx Foods Chile Recipe Contest.... now my recipe is in the running to win!!! Send me some love and vote for my cake! Click the chile below!

xoxoxo foodie love and cornbread kisses - megan

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Composting Virgins - Click here for help!

getting dirty in our compost
I have heard through the grape vine that there are plenty of you out there. Demure, apron wearing, spatula wielding foodies who love to cook in their kitchen yet do not compost! Composting virgins!?! What... your kitchen scraps end up in the garbage can! The secret is out, you can hide no longer. Composting is not hard, in fact it is EASY. So let loose, and join the revolution of millions of people across the world who recycle their food scraps and turn them into delicious compost. We are turning your food waste back into dirt, one rotten apple at a time. I am here to peer pressure you into doing something good for you and good for the earth.

Composting Virgin Secrets

1) Purchase yourself some type of composting bucket that you can put next to your sink. You can just use a simple tupperware or plastic tub, you really don't have to purchase anything. Just make sure your little bucket of choice has a lid (to keep out fruit flies and keep any odors in). Glad sells these little compostable liners for your kitchen compost bin. They are great because they will breakdown quite easily but are so difficult to open...I would much rather just rinse out my bin every day after emptying it.

cute little composting bucket that Glad sent me - to go with our green house of course
2) If you don't want to be running back and forth to your outdoor larger composting bin, use a 5 gallon bucket and set it at your back door. Empty your kitchen scraps into the large bucket once a day. Keep a lid on to ward off racoons or other little hungry creatures. What can I compost you ask? You can take any of your fruit and vegetable scraps, peelings, coffee grinds, tea bags, egg shells and any left over food that is NOT meat or covered in fats. You will not want to throw out bones, cake, pasta, your steak you did not finish last night, or the chicken carcass from the soup you just made. Keep it simple, if it grows up from the ground, you can compost it.

5 gallon bucket outside back door
the scraps that are waiting to be composted
3) Take out your larger bucket to the large composting bin which should be sitting in some corner of your yard. Empty the juicy scraps into the larger bin and cover with some brown matter such as dried leaves, grass clippings or a bit of hay if you have it around. Put the top on your large bin and walk away. How easy is that? Who knew your first time could be so carefree and effortless?

Backyard composting station. Where the dirty work really happens!
4) Once a week visit your backyard composting station. Give your compost a stir with a big stick. Just poke around in the compost and aerate as best as you can. The bugs and bacteria are really doing all the work for you, we just need to sitr things up a bit. If it is very dry, water it! I know it sounds odd, but in order for nature to do it's thing, water helps things quite a bit. Keep the layering cycle going. Kitchen scraps layered with dry leaves or a thin layer of grass clippings. By the end of summer, you will have nice, rich compost....or what most of us refer to as dirt.

5) Now that you have this rich, dark delicious finished compost.... what are you going to do with it? If you have some type of vegetable garden, or even a flower garden, topdress your plants with a 3-4 inch layer of the finished compost. Your plants will be happy and will love you back by producing healthy, vibrant fruits and flowers. You will also see a lot less garbage being tossed out on garbage day too. Lighten the load on mother earth, get composting!

happy garden plants loving you back with bright blooms....
Thanks again to Glad and Tastemakers for the opportunity to share this good info with my readers~! Now get out there and make some compost!
composting kisses! xoxo megan

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tres Chiles Chocolate Cake with Hibiscus Habanero Caramel

The good folks at Marx Foods recently sent my some dried chilies. In exchange for the chiles, I was invited to come up with some sort of recipe, post it, and then my entry would be entered into their Chile Contest. Keeping my fingers crossed as the prizes offered are delicious! -eye on the prize-   

The polls are open! How abouts a vote for Foodalution! Click the Contest Link Below!

I was dreaming for several weeks about my anticipated chile recipe. Of course, being a chocolatier, I went straight to chocolate. I ended up making a cake that honors the Americas. I included not only chiles, but chocolate, coffee, vanilla and finally hibiscus... of all things. I kept thinking of the equator, warm sultry days, volcanic soil, and the bright color of chiles, dotting the landscape.  I labored away on Labor Day, making this over the top cake. I ignored my sweet husband for 8 hours and worked like a mad woman to get this cake to work. I unfortunatley lost my photos of the first half of the cake creation. I lost about 400 when uploading yesterday (my friends wedding included). Bummer... I know. But I did manage to salvage some great shots of the cake after I treated my husband to the first piece. (In honor of his ultimate test in patience of course)

If you haven't been over to Marx Foods, take a stop by. If you think you have seen the cat's meow of gourmet shops then you obviously haven't stopped there. Amazing selection of delicious treats. Drool worthy indeed. 

Chiles and Chocolate... I do love that mix... but my mind kept creating yummy thoughts of ooey gooey hibiscus habanero caramel. All I could think about was that ruby color, swirling on my stovetop... steaming away until finally a thick and gorgeous pink hibiscus habanero caramel was born. And born it was. At a perfect 243 degrees, I took the hot caramel off the stove and let this glorious stained glass mixture come to testing temperature. We tasted and tested, and even though spicy with the heat of the habanero, my kids and I kept dipping our spoons into the mix. (for sure these will be a chocolate flavor for me this fall).

Three Chile Chocolate Cake with Hibiscus Habanero Caramel - some advice...create an entire 24 hour holiday for yourself to make this cake - see notes at bottom for possible alterations to recipe.

Hibiscus Caramel  - with habanero

1 and 1/2 cups dried organic hibiscus flowers
2 cups sugar
4 water
1/2 of a dried habanero chile- deseeded

In a nice large pot, put the water and hibiscus flowers and habanero to boil for 15 minutes. Take off heat and pour liquid through a colander or fine sieve. Put liquid back on stove and add sugar. Boil liquid until the liquid comes to about 243 degrees. Take off stove and let cool completely. Liquid will become much more caramel like. When working with it later on in the recipe, warm over a pan of hot water. (double boiler or bain marie) Can be left at room temperature, just cover.

Three Chile Chocolate Cake with Mulato Chilies

2 dried Mulato Chilies 
water for soaking chilies 
8 oz unsalted organic butter
1 & 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
2 tsp. of Megdalia D.Oro Instant Espresso to 1 cup hot water
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Making the Cake
1) Soak the dried chilies in boiling water, about 1 and 1/2 cups worth of water for ten minutes. De-stem and toss chilies and about 1/2  cup of the soaking water into your blender. Blend until pureed. Strain. Take liquid and pour into measuring cup. Add enough bot water to make 1 cup of puree and liquid. Stir in 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder. Let the slurry sit. Stir with small whisk to make sure the powder is mixed well. Set aside.
2) Oven to 325. Butter and flour two 9" cake pans. Place parchment over the buttered surface. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
3) Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Take off the heat, whisk in the chile coffee mixture, buttermilk and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in eggs and vanilla and slowly add flour mixture.
4) Divide batter equally between pans and cook until a toothpick comes out clean. About 30-35 minutes. Cool cakes for 15 minutes in pan, slide knife around the edge and then flip onto the cooking racks and let cool for at least 1 hour. Slice both cakes in half and set aside for putting together the cake.
5) The texture of this cake is very moist and dense, almost like banana bread, so don't be surprised if it seems dense and heavy... it still will taste good. 

Hibiscus Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick organic butter softened
2, 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar -sifted
3/4 cup hibiscus caramel - at least

Cream butter and cream cheese until nice and fluffy... no lumps! Add in sugar and beat until creamy again. Add in the hibiscus caramel. It is a little difficult to work with at this stage, but don't be afraid. Just grab it up with a large spoon and take your finger to scrape it off. Do not warm it at this time otherwise you will sully the frosting. You don't want to do this... the butter will melt and then all will be a loss. Mix the hibiscus habanero caramel  until your completely blended into your frosting and you have a lovely shade of light mauve frosting. Taste. Add more sugar or more caramel to your desire.

Chocolate Aji Ganache- enough to frost outside of cake

2 cups organic heavy whipping cream
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate. (around 65% cocoa content) - chopped into small pieces
2 TBS organic unsalted butter
1 aji chile de-seeded

Have chopped chocolate waiting in a stainless steel bowl. In a small sauce pan, melt butter slowly with the chile. Let the chile simmer in the butter for a while. Give the pepper a chance to release it's oils into the butter. Take care not to let the butter burn. Remove chile, add the cream and let come to a boil. Take off heat and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes.  Then begin to whisk the chocolate cream mixture until ganache forms. Put into the freezer for 5 minutes. Every 5 minutes, take ganache out and whisk until it has formed the correct consistency for spreading on your cake.

Putting it all together.... Now the fun starts!

Take first layer of cake and drizzle warmed hibiscus caramel over the cake layer. Top with the butter cream cheese frosting. Repeat until you reach the top layer. Place in refrigerator for 20 minutes to stabilize the cake. Take out and apply crumb coat of ganache to cake. Let chill for 15 minutes and then apply final coat of ganache. Voila... now you can decorate. If I lived in a climate that would produce hibiscus flowers out in my back garden... I would have happily deorated my cake with fresh flowers. I only had begonias.. which were lovely in their own way.

I had a ton of fun putting together this recipe. It was great to be focused around an ingredient I may not use normally in my baking. My husband adored the cake and said that he felt like driving the Indy 500 after just one piece. The coffee, chocolate, chile combo is quite stimulating. The cake itself had a wonderful earthy flavor, it really changed my basic cake recipe and turned it into something much more exotic. ***If the fruity flavor is too much, (which some of my tasters did say) set the hibiscus butter cream cheese aside and just drizzle each layer with hibiscus caramel and then layer up with ganache or even better, cappuccino ganache. Here is a link to make enough cappuccino ganache for your entire cake.This cake is powerhouse of flavors that needs to be tamed with small portion sizes and probably best not to be served to small children close to their bedtime.

Chocolate Chili Kisses and Hot Hibiscus Hugs! ~ Megan

Friday, September 2, 2011

♥ Coconut Cream Pie...♥ Consumerism Fever

The stress of the new school year can come on as excitement for some, anxiety for others and just plain chaos for even more of us. The new school year starts with new boxes of crayons, rulers, freshly polished floors and of course... pencils. A long time ago, school supply lists were quite short. Now, with even more school budget cuts imposed upon public schools every year combined with our voracious need to consume "new" things....the lists have grown longer and longer and the financial burden put on families during the school year has become great. I almost fell over when I saw the gargantuan list of supplies that I would need to be purchasing for my kids!  10 notebooks and 72 pencils..... you've got to be kidding me! For many of us, myself included... I tend to step back and shy away from the "back to school" shopping craziness that seems to pop up in every store. Here a sale, there a sale, spend money here, spend money there. There is just not the $$$ in the bank. And let's be honest, do kids really need new clothes to start the year? I may purchase underwear and socks... but my kids get new clothes when they need them... not when they want them. If money grew on trees, sure there would be extra for this or that, yet that is a dream only few are acquainted with. 

These are tough times for many families. I work in a school that has tremendous needs. When we offer free school supplies to families, they are usually gone within 20 minutes and there is a line stretching out the door. People work hard and often have little extra to spend on school supplies or new clothes. Food seems to be the most important thing to put on the table. Who needs those new jeans and cool folders when there is no milk or cereal for the morning breakfast? Within the pressures of our "new everything" reality, that in order to be part of this reality, one must purchase "new" things. This of course is fueled by our 24/7 media stream;  buy this, buy that, cool new this and cool new that. Everybody wants to fit in, right? As they saying goes... you only have one chance to make a good first impression. In this culture dominated by visual distractions, I can see why some place such importance on the outward appearances. I know I love a new pair of boots or great fitting pair of jeans. Remember junior high and all you wanted was the new cool asymmetrical hair cut just so you could fit in? It's not bad to want new things, it can just become wasteful when items that we have purchased never end up being used, hang in a closet or sit on the shelf. How can we reduce our waste and still achieve our goals?

This post is #1 in a series of four. As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I was contacted by Glad, the plastic bag company to look at how we create waste and how we can possibly modify our decisions to create less waste. (Remember Tom Bosley's commercials?) The purpose of the these posts is to spend some time and take a look around us at the waste we make, whether it is in the classroom or kitchen. The focus is reduce, reuse and recycle. Garbage bags aren't going anywhere any too soon, it's what we fill them with that we need to consider.  Our choice and the challenge? ~ let's be proactive about what we use, how we use it and how we can re-use it. How can we make changes in our lives that lessen our impact on mother earth?  Can we compost more of our kitchen scraps? Can we choose to use compostable bags? Can we recycle all of our paper? Can we tame the consumerism fever? Important questions that don't require maximum brain power,  just the ability to make some different choices.

How does this apply to school supplies you ask? As I see ream after ream of paper being printed and photocopied upon, only to be tossed out into the recycle bins, I cringe.  The paper waste is HUGE within public schools. At the midway point in the year, it is safe to say that schools have printed at least 50,000 sheets of paper. And this is not even including the 8 notebooks the teachers ask for, or the reams of loose leaf paper and 10 pocket folders that families are now required to bring in. Students and families are asked to purchase heaps of supplies. If only schools and families could be more proactive in their re-using of school supplies. I have seen perfectly good notebooks and folders tossed and crayons thrown away because they weren't new.  Glue sticks have been tossed into the trash because they have dried out before the end of the school year and they are brand new! I have also seen pencils thrown away just because the lead was broken! What ever happened to sharpening? How frustrating... my grandfather would be rolling over in his grave if he saw something like that. The age old adage.... money does not grow on trees is so true, and neither do pencils, or glue sticks.... or paper.

I encourage you to do two things:

1) Speak with your child's school and talk about reusing materials. Encourage the school  and your child's teacher to take a hard look at what they really need as far as supplies. Help them take an inventory of what school supplies are asked for at the beginning of the year, which ones are wasted throughout the year, and what teachers always have leftover at the end of the school year. Can any of it be reused? Get creative!
2) If you can afford it, do it. Make donations to your school. I know this seems backwards as I am talking about reusing materials, instead of always going the way of new. However poverty is real, families do need help and supplies, even one bag full, could amount to more than a single trip to the grocery store. Teachers budgets are cut each year so there is some truth to the ever increasing supply list. Backpacks are always in high demand, winter coats, gloves, mittens and scarves are important too. Sponsor a coat drive of gently used coats for families who don't have the resources to purchase a new one. Consider giving a cash donation to your school. Donate your time. Donate snacks. Give what you can give.

Schools are communities. Communities are living, ever-changing organisms. We are all in this together, we just need to find a spot to do our share.

 Coconut Cream Pie - my back to school treat for my kiddos -

Shortbread Crust

1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted cold butter, cut into 8 pieces - organic preferred
1 large egg yolk
(1 ts. grated lemon zest) - optional

Oven to 400 degrees. Butter your pie plate thoroughly. Pulse all ingredients, minus the egg yolk, in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture forms moist crumbs. Add egg yolk, pulse until it just comes together. Pat crust down into pan and up sides. Prick all over the bottom and up on the sides with a fork. Put into the refrigerator for thirty minutes. Take out and place into oven until the crust is a nice golden brown.  This takes about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Organic Coconut Cream Filling Recipe:

3/4 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups organic half and half
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 TBS unsalted butter, organic and cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla
1 pint organic heavy cream
Extra coconut for toasting

Add sugar, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks, coconut and organic half and half in pan. Stir constantly until mixture just comes to a boil. Turn off heat, add in the butter pieces and vanilla, stir until melted and mixed and pour into crust. Let cool overnight for best flavor. Top pie with whipped cream, 1 pint sweetened with a bit of sugar to your liking and toasted coconut. To toast coconut, place 1/2 cup sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for around 7 minutes. Careful as it burns easily.

xoxoxo.... love by the truckload.....megan