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Never forget your reusable shopping bags again – How to.

Beach art made of plastic debris (Bonaire, 2013)

I am, and many of my friends are, thinking about plastic pollution and the cost to the environment of one-time-use plastic shopping bags and what we can do to reduce their use. So we have reusable bags, and we keep them in the car… but when we go to the store we forget to take them with us… Many times I walked back to the car to fetch the bags I forgot… And I know I am not alone. In a recent survey about plastic use in my town (East Brunswick NJ) 85% of those who are concerned about plastic pollution use disposable plastic bags because they forget to take the reusable bags with them to the store.

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My solution – reminders on the phone. Reminders to remember the bags, reminders that go off at a location such as the supermarket’s parking lot.

Here is how: Set up a reminder on your phone ‘DON’T FORGET SHOPPING BAGS’ and chose the option ‘remind me at a location‘. Chose your favorite food store as the first location. Duplicate this reminder for other stores – Target, Walmart, Costco, etc. – you shop at. Voila! your phone will alert you when you approach the store and remind you to take shopping bags with you.

Let me know in a comment if this works for you!

Lots of seeds crackers

Dry ingredients:

3/4 cup + 1tbs (120gr) sunflower seeds
3/4 cup (120gr) flax seeds
1/3 cup (60gr) chia seeds
1/3 cup (55gr) pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup (55gr) sesame seeds

1 cup + 1tbs (70gr) cornflour OR tapioca OR 6tbs (90gr) chickpea flour or a combination of any of these flours
2tsp sugar OR brown sugar
1.5tsp salt
3/4tsp black pepper

Wet ingredients:
1.5 cups (375ml) boiling water
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
2tbs tahini (=sesame paste)

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.
Mix all wet ingredients in a bowl.
Add wet mix to dry mix. Mix well. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
Spread half of the mix in a 9×13 cookie sheet, or all of it on a large cookie sheet.
Bake 40-45 minutes at 350F.
Cool. Break to crackers size pieces.  (bake the other half if using a small cookie sheet)

Enjoy!

Notes: Easy to make. Can make half the recipe.

Kelly’s Power Bars (aka Granola Bars)

In a food processor combine and mix:

0.5 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

0.75 cup butter or margarine

add:

1 egg

0.25 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Blend well.

In a bowl mix:

pinch salt

3 cups oats

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking soda

Blend dry ingredients with the wet mix.  Add half a bag of chocolate chips. Stir together.

Spread into a 9×13″ oiled pan. Bake 20-25 minute at 350F.

Notes – I only use a total of 1 cup of sugar and whole wheat flour. I blend the wet ingredients in the food processor and add the dry ingredients directly into the food processor to mix together. I add nuts (pecans are really good) and seeds.

 

 

 

 

Red Lentil Soup

Red Lentil Soup

How to make RLS:

red lentils

Red lentils in a bag

Dice a medium onion and saute (in a large pot) in vegetable oil.

Add 1-2 cups red lentils. (Wash the lentils several times in water before adding to the soup)

Add water and broth (I use home made vegetable broth, but any clear broth is good).  How much liquid?  enough to cover the lentil plus 1.5 cups.  (Add as much broth as you have and than add the water).

Add spices: Salt, Pepper, Cumin, Paprika (I use both sweet and hot), Turmeric (just a pinch).

Simmer on medium heat 30-40 minutes. Whisk for 30-60 second to mash the lentils.

While the soup is cooking – chop 1-2 carrots and 1-2 celery stalks in a food processor.  Be careful not to process the veggies too much – you want them smaller than peas but larger than corn meal.

When the soup is done (the lentils are are soft) – add the processed veggies and turn off the heat.

Serve the soup topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and squeezed fresh lime juice.

 

 

How, and why, we make candles

One winter day, when S.K.Y (not her real initials) was in third grade she told me that “during science today the teacher read us a really really interesting story about a girl who made candles”. The science part of the story was how candles are made. “So did you make candles after reading the story?” I asked. No, they did not have enough time, or supplies. Challenge alert!  We had to try it at home!  S.K.Y repeated the story with as many details as she could remember and we re-created it in the kitchen. We started with melting candles and using the melted wax to make new candles. It was fun but did not make much sense.  It was time to experiment. We read about making candles. We tried different materials we had at home. , We went to the craft store to buy supplies.  It took some time but finally we perfected candle making in a home kitchen!

It’s been a few years now and every December we get out grandma’s old electric pan and the box of supplies and we make Hanukah candles. We got so good at it, we make enough to last us for the eight days of Hanukah (call it a miracle!), and we give some as gifts.

So here is how we make candles:

To keep the wax warm use an electric pan (we use grandma’s old one, as mentioned above) filled with water, kept at 200F. Inside the pan are containers with different color wax. The hot water keeps the wax melted. The best size containers for the wax are tomato paste cans (I made a lot of spaghetti sauce once I found those work best!).

The wax I use is from a big slab of white paraffin wax from the local craft store. The wax is cut to small pieces that fit inside the can. To add color to the wax we use crayons.  Every family with kids has a box of crayons in the house, right?  Finally there is something to do with all the small pieces and broken ones! We always keep a few basic color going – red, yellow, blue, green and white. If we have room and extra cans we use other colors and mix different colors together. Wicks are available at any craft store, but I like to use what I already have at home so I use thick cotton yarn (bought many years ago for a weaving project that never happened, but that’s a story for another time).  A piece of the yarn is dipped in the wax repeatedly until the candle is formed.  This is the tricky part – do it too fast and no wax sticks to the wick, too slow and the candle melts back into the can.  It is also important to give the wax time to harden. After a few dips, I hang the candle to rest and cool for a few minutes. For this reason I have a few candles going at the same time, when one is cooling I work on another.  You can use one piece of yarn for two candles, one on each end.  This makes it easier to hang them to cool.  To cool the candles I hang them on a drying rack made of a cardboard box and yarn (see pictures).

Kids usually have no patience to work slowly or wait, so for them we add another step – between dipping in the wax, I have them immerse the candle in ice water for a second or two, so they never have to wait, the candled dipping alternates between wax and ice water.

Candles can be made with one color, or layers of different colors.  It’s really cool to see the different color appear when the candles are burnt.

Please look at the photos, each one is worth a thousand words.  I hope you will try making candles, and if you do, please tell about it in a comment and post pictures of your creations.

Happy solstice and mid-winter light festivals to all.

Should school start time be changed?

A few weeks ago I learned that around the country and here in East Brunswick parents are asking for a change in school start time.  The request is to delay start time for middle and high schools.
I started thinking about school start time when my kids were in elementary school. My thoughts were these – the younger kids wake up early, school starts late, at 9:10, so families with two working parents have to pay for both before and after school programs. Teenagers wake up later and they can stay home alone after parents leave for work and until the bus comes. Wouldn’t it make sense to switch school start time between the elementary and middle and high school? As my kids got older they stopped waking up early with no alarm clock, but now had to force themselves to get up on time for for an earlier start time. It may be that they are not ‘morning people’ just like me, and they just have to live with it.  Or do they?

When I heard that  a group of parents is looking at delaying start time for the high school It made sense to me, but I wanted to learn more before deciding if this is justified.

I listened to and spoke with other parents about this – I spoke with the parents who want to see a change and spoke with others who think changing school start time is not justified. I also looked up information based on facts – scientific and medical studies that I read before deciding that I agree that school start time should be changed.

Let me start with sharing with you what I learned is the problem – a recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that between 60 to 90% of middle and high school students are not getting the recommended number of hours of sleep on school nights. As a result, students are at risk. The risk include impairments in mood, attention, memory, behavior control, and academic performance. Chronic sleep deprivation also increases the risk of both cardiovascular disease and metabolic dysfunction, such as type 2 diabetes as well as obesity.

In the adolescent population sleep loss has increasingly become the norm. The reasons behind the current epidemic of insufficient sleep are complex and include social, environmental and biological factors. We all know what some of them are – use of electronic media, homework and after school activities. Something I didn’t know was the biological perspective: At about the time puberty starts, most adolescents begin to experience a sleep–wake “phase delay” manifested as a shift of up to 2 hours relative to sleep–wake cycles in middle childhood. Two principal biological changes in sleep regulation are thought to be responsible for this: One factor is delayed timing of nocturnal melatonin secretion, which results in difficulty falling asleep at an earlier bedtime. The second biological factor is an altered “sleep drive”, in which the pressure to fall asleep accumulates more slowly. In other words – getting more sleep is not as easy as simply going to bed earlier, as some people suggested.

In response to the epidemic of sleep deprivation the American Academy of Pediatrics published a few studies and reviews about the subject. On august 25 2014 a new policy statement was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics published.
It reads:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”
The new policy is based not only on the studies that describe the problem, but also on data collected after change has been implemented. Over the last 15 years a small but growing number of school districts have responded to the problem of insufficient sleep among middle and high school students with delaying school start times. This allows researchers to study what happens when school starts time changes. Published data show that delaying school start time does make a difference. Here are a few  examples:

First let’s look at the question: “Does delaying start time result in students getting more sleep, or do students just stay up later?” One study assessed more than 18 000 high school students in Minneapolis before and after the district’s school start time changed from 7:15 AM to 8:40 AM in 1997. Bedtimes after the change were similar to those of students in schools that did not change start times, and, as a result, students obtained nearly 1 additional hour of sleep on school nights. Other studies also show no delay in bedtime in response to delayed start times.
Moreover, additional studies have now clearly demonstrated that delaying school start times not only results in an increase in average sleep duration but also has a significant positive effect on a variety of outcomes; from decreased levels of self-reported sleepiness and fatigue to improvements in academic performance.

Another study showed that 1-hour later shift in school start times was associated with an increase in reading and math test scores.

In another study there were significantly fewer students self-reporting symptoms of depressed mood as well as improved motivation after the start time delay

Crash test data for two neighboring cities in Virginia, VB (earlier start times by 75-80 minutes) and Chesapeake. Adolescent Crash Rates and School Start Times in Two Central Virginia Counties, 2009-2011: A Follow-up Study to a Southeastern Virginia Study, 2007-2008, JCSM

Outside school, the relationship between automobile crash records for students 17 to 18 years of age and high school start times was examined. Car crash rates for the county that delayed school start times decreased by 16.5% over the 2 years before and after the school start change, whereas those for the state as a whole increased across the same time period. Similar results were shown in at least one other study where in adjacent, demographically similar cities, there were significantly increased teen crash rates in the city with earlier high school start times. In another study comparing 4 schools, the high school with the latest start time had the largest decline in car crashes.

One last thing – Economists have suggested that delaying school start times would have a substantial benefit-to-cost ratio. This finding is based on a conservative estimate of both costs per student and the increase in projected future earnings per student in present value because of test score gains related to moving start times 1 hour later.

The policy statement concludes:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as a public health issue, endorses the scientific rationale for later school start times, and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics lends its strong support to school districts contemplating delaying school start times as a means of optimizing sleep and alertness in the learning environment and encourages all school administrators and other stakeholders in communities around the country to review the scientific evidence regarding school start times, to initiate discussions on this issue, and to systematically evaluate the community-wide impact of these changes”

Raising my children I always relied on advice and guidelines from our wonderful pediatrician, and on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I am sure many of you did the same. I believe that the new policy will drive a change in school start time around the nation, and in the future a later start time will be the norm. I hope that East Brunswick will be a leader in this as it has been on other issues in the past.

Resources:

POLICY STATEMENT, AAP – School Start Times for Adolescents 

Research Report and Resource Guide, National Sleep Foundation – ADOLESCENT SLEEP NEEDS AND PATTERNS

Healthy School Start Time website

United we eat

Like every foodie who grew up in the middle east – l love tahini.  It has one ingredient – sesame. Ground to a paste it is used for making a dip called Tahini, it is added to hummus for a distinguish flavor and it can be used for cold dressings, hot sauces and mixed with honey or sugar – dessert. It is also considered healthy because of the high content of calcium and iron.

My favorite brand is Al Arz, made in Nazareth, by a small family owned compnay.  It’s not easy to find Al Arz tahini in North America and I often buy other brands.  Recently I purchased a jar of sesame paste off the Kosher shelf in the local supermarket. I also got a jar at Phoenician, a middle eastern grocery store knows as ‘The Lebanese’.

Here are the two jars:

tahini1Although they contain different amount the containers are identical except for the color of the lid and the label.

And here is the back side of both jars:

tahini

It may be hard to see the labels, so let me help you – one says ‘Product of Canada’ the other ‘Produced in Canada’.  I couldn’t find much information about the Canadian source of sesame products, but I don’t think there are very many sesame paste manufactures in Canada. Is it possible that the Tahini with Arabic name, marketed to the American Arab population and the Kosher Tahini marketed to the Jewish population are one and the same?   Politics may separate these two people, but united we eat.  Sharing meals may lead to world peace. Amen.