Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: A Bone to Pick

The more I read about food, the more I realize I don't know nearly enough about it.

Right now, this is more true than ever before. I find myself constantly curious about all things food. Where is it grown? What kinds of chemicals are used, and are those chemicals dangerous to me? How can I avoid them? What does organic actually mean in this day and age? What's the real deal with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Should I really be concerned about factory farming? What's worse, fat or sugar? Or gluten? Should I go paleo? Or maybe vegan?

There are no easy answers to those questions, and the more I read about them, the more confused I get. But still, I keep reading.

My interest in nutrition and the way food is produced in our country has led me to spend countless hours reading books about food. So many I could never possibly list them all. Eating in the Dark, VB6, The China Study, What the Fork Are You Eating?, Wheat Belly, Animal Factory...

And now, A Bone to Pick by Mark Bittman.

Mark Bittman is already well-known for his prolific food writing; he's written several books and years worth of columns for The New York Times. In fact, this book is a collection of some of Bittman's most informative and popular columns from the past several years.

It is a tribute to the sad state of the food industry in America that the information offered in these columns has not changed in the years since they were initially published. We still don't label GMOs; animals still live and die in horrific conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the country; dietary advice from "the experts" still changes from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, and different foods or nutrients go from good to bad to good again. We still have horrific outbreaks of food borne illnesses with alarming regularity. We still subsidize "bad" foods with taxpayer money.

Bittman offers his insight on these issues and more throughout the pages of A Bone to Pick. What's great about this book is that it provides information in small, digestible bites (if you'll forgive the pun). Certainly, many of the readers who will be drawn to this book will be self-described "foodies" (and he's got a column about that, too), but Bittman's straightforward writing style and the topics he covers will appeal to readers across the spectrum.

Don't pick up this book expecting to hear a long discussion on the virtues or organic farming or the reasons why most people would be better off if they ate less meat. Instead, Bittman will introduce you to some of the most important facts related to these and other topics that he feels are important. He talks about the importance of bettering conditions in all areas of food production; yes, better farm practices are important, but so is ending slavery in Florida tomato fields (and yes, that does still happen, even in our "enlightened" times), increasing pay for food workers, and doing something about all of that junk food advertised to young, vulnerable consumers. He does a little bit of digging into that flawed study that claimed that organic foods are no better than conventional foods. He even proposes some of his own ideas for better food labels.

A Bone to Pick is full of fascinating little discussions about everything food. This is a book that can be understood by anyone and should be read by everyone.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

8 Summer Picture Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.


It's officially summer, and what better way to celebrate than with a good book?
July is when the temperatures really start to heat up in Southern California, and on days when we don't have a car, going out to parks or the beach isn't really an option. So instead, we fall back upon our favorite pastime: reading.

With that thought, here is a (short) list of eight picture books that I feel really embody the feel of summer. If you're looking for something new to add to your bookshelves at home, or even just something to borrow from your local library, give one of these a try.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

A little girl goes blueberry picking with her mother, while a little bear goes blueberry eating with his mother. But little ones sometimes get tired of walking, and before they know it, the families have gotten separated and all mixed up! I loved this book when I was a child, so I made sure to find a copy after I had a child of my own. And, not surprisingly, my son loves this story! Blueberry season is in full swing around here, and he just loves curling up with a big bowl of blueberries and our battered well-loved copy of Blueberries for Sal. The story is sweet, and my three-year-old loves the pictures, despite the fact that they are black-and-white. This is a year-round favorite for us, but it just seems extra perfect during the warm months when blueberries are freshly available.

Poppy the Pirate Dog by Liz Kessler

When the Brown family goes on vacation to the seashore, they bring along their dalmatian dog, Poppy. And when Poppy finds a skull-and-crossbones scarf at a local store, it doesn't take long for the kids to dub her "Poppy the Pirate Dog." The family tries all kinds of boat trips that week, but none of them seem quite right to Poppy. Will she ever find her pirate ship? Aside from the fact that this story takes place during summer vacation, Poppy the Pirate Dog has a sense of adventure and playfulness that just embodies the summer season. This book consists of five short chapters, and this format combined with its simple vocabulary make it a great choice for early readers, although even non-readers will love the story and adorable pictures.

Let It Shine by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

If you're looking for a short, easy read, then Let It Shine has you covered. Except reading this book is, for us anyway, anything but short! Sure, there aren't a huge amount of words, but just exploring the gorgeous illustrations in this book will keep little ones busy for a good while. These pictures invite so many questions, both on the part of parents (as an educational thing) and on the part of curious youngsters. Some people think that this book (and the others in the seasonal series) are best suited for really young kids, but don't be surprised if your child continues to enjoy it through preschool and beyond.

Biscuit's First Beach Day by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

It's time for a beach adventure with Biscuit, everyone's favorite yellow puppy! (Well, perhaps not the favorite of everyone... I know a lot of parents who quickly get tired of the endless "Woof, woof!"s, but we continue to enjoy this series in our home.) Biscuit plays in the ocean, hunts for seashells, and has a picnic with his friend, Puddles, and the little girls who love them both. Biscuit's First Beach Day is great for younger readers, although most preschoolers will love it too, especially if they are a fan of other books featuring this undeniably adorable puppy.

Llama Llama Sand & Sun by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama is off to the beach with his mama! This cute, short (did I mention it's short!?) board book is full of touch-and-feel action. There isn't much of a story, per se, but there is plenty for little fingers to explore, and the simple rhyming words make it potentially a good teaching book for learning readers. This one probably won't hold the attention of little ones over the age of four or five, but for really, really little kids, especially kids who already love other books about Llama Llama, this one is pretty fun.

Baby Loves Summer! by Karen Katz

What kinds of fun summer things can baby discover in this lift-the-flap book? How about ice cream, an inner tube, and, of course, the sun! Here's another one that's great for young readers, but probably won't really be enjoyed too much by older preschoolers or kindergarteners. Karen Katz's bright illustrations and fun patterns are much loved by children (my three-year-old son still adores her books!), while the lift-the-flap format is great for babies and toddlers (so long as parents can accept the fact that the flaps will most likely be torn off at some point...). Personally, I am less fond of this book than some of the others by this author, but my son loves it all the same.

The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp by Stan & Jan Berenstain

A list of summer picture books wouldn't be complete without one celebrating the honorable tradition of summer camp, even if most preschoolers are still years away from the experience. When Brother Bear and Sister Bear agree to try out Grizzly Bob's Day Camp, they're not sure what it'll be like. But it only takes a few days before they discover just how much fun camp is, and soon they're playing games, making crafts, and developing new skills! Like all Berenstain Bears books, The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp is a big lengthy for a picture book, but my son, at least, loves it anyway. The book has a nice message and the usual cute illustrations, and it's in heavy rotation in our home.

The Sunchildren: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Ancient Amber

For families who are interested in celebrating the season in a nontraditional way, the books in "The Sunchildren" series have you covered. Celebrating the Summer Solstice is about just that: creative thanksgiving for the beginning of summer. The artwork is friendly and fun, and the clever story will appeal to all children, while parents will find themselves charmed by the idea, even if they themselves don't celebrate the solstice.


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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cherry Oat Muffins

What do you do when you want blueberry muffins for breakfast, but are (sadly) out of blueberries?

You substitute cherries, of course!

And then add in a banana. And some oats, for extra breakfast power. And some almond extract, because it complements the cherries so nicely. And change some other things up, just for the fun of it.

We baked up a batch of these for breakfast the other day. They're not super sweet (which is how I prefer my muffins) and they have delicious cherries, which is just perfect for this time of year. Give 'em a try and let me know how you like 'em!

Cherry Oat Muffins

1 c flour (I used a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose)
½ c rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ - 1 tsp cinnamon (I actually used Penzey's Apple Pie Spice, but whatever)
1 banana (very ripe)
¼ c nondairy milk
¼ c maple syrup (or agave or honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
1 tbsp applesauce
1 tbsp oil (I used coconut, but feel free to use whatever you like, or use more applesauce instead)
½ c cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon).

Use a blender or immersion blender to cream banana with nondairy milk, maple syrup, extracts, applesauce, and oil. Fold into dry ingredients along with chopped cherries; mix until just combined, and be careful not to overmix!

Divide between muffin cups. Bake 18-20 minutes, until cooked all the way through. Let cool a few minutes before eating.

Makes 12 muffins.


This post is shared at the Healthy, Happy, Green, & Natural Party Blog Hop on 7/5/2015.