Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yes, I'm Stepping On My Soapbox

Those of you who know me personally are probably surprised that I've waited this long to do a post from high upon my soapbox. Every now and then a topic ruffles my feathers so much that I step up and make my announcement for all to hear. Today the topic is local. The topic is taxes.

I've never been one to complain about paying taxes and I'm not particularly politically active although I've done my fair share of voting (and not always for the right person in hindsight). I recognize that there are inefficiencies in the system, but overall am thankful that they generally provide for the needs of my family and the greater good of my community.

HOWEVER, when I learned that state funding has been cut so severely that my local library, which is my family's single greatest source of information and entertainment, will no longer be able to offer interlibrary loans, I was dumbfounded. We don't watch a ton of t.v., so for us, this was the equivalent of taking satellite service away from the average American family. We just went from 400 stations to just NBC, ABC, and CBS.

The next area of tax funding cuts which is getting my goat is the public school system. Particularly, the increase in public school class size due to staff cuts. While this doesn't effect my family personally, as we were concerned about a class size of 30 back when my kids entered school enough to shell out entirely too much money for a private school education, it does effect my community. 40 kids to an elementary classroom is a puzzle to me. How exactly does a class that size function? How can one teacher properly educate that many children during the most formative years of their education? And then we are all supposed to be shocked and appalled when those teachers aren't in complete support of having their wages frozen or accepting less benefits. I'm exhausted just thinking about what those teachers face in one day.

Overall, what concerns me about these two areas of funding cuts is that they so blatantly reveal what little value our government/community places on education. Truthfully, I'd rather pay more taxes now than face a generation with less education than the last.

I think it's time for me to step off my soapbox and visit my local politicians...

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Not Easy Bein' Green

This weekend, I went a little greener...but not entirely by choice.

We own one vehicle, which is rarely inconvenient given that I rely so much on the Metra to get me to and from work during the week. However, this weekend my husband drove the kids to their grandparents' house in Pittsburgh where they will stay while we celebrate our 10-year anniversary in Italy (talk about wonderful local eating!). I stayed back to avoid missing any additional time from work.

Despite the on and off rain, I managed to run all of my errands on foot or bike. One more reason to love living in downtown Crystal Lake: everything you need is within a few miles of home.

In only 48 hours, I experienced my share of travel adventures. At one point I was riding my bike to church while toting a homemade cake in the rain. It was a much more pleasant experience than it sounds. On another bike errand, a white-tailed deer jumped out in front of me. It was a much more unpleasant experience than it sounds. It's scary enough to have a deer jump in front of your car, but in front of your bike is a different experience entirely.

The whole weekend I had to consider shopping at the closest market (which luckily for me was the farmer's market), combining errands for efficiency (like returning library books while dropping off mail), and adjusting my travel time to include my slower transportation.

I challenge you to park the car for a weekend and see how rewarding slowing down and reducing your carbon footprint can be.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bee Vomit

Its golden undulations bring sweetness to my morning yogurt. I don't care if kids around the world taunt it as "bee vomit". It's local, it's natural and I have an unquenchable sweet tooth. I love honey!

Apparently I'm not the only one. A family in Richmond, IL has designed their retirement around the stuff and their charming shop "My Honey" reeks of their heart's desire. Isn't there something so refreshing when you encounter people who are living their life in a way that is true to the essence of who they are? They make no apologies for their idosyncracies (and we all have them) and in turn you feel 100% comfortable in their presence. Like many local, family businesses, the shop is a hodgepodge of everything they love.

Take a field trip to Richmond (which is right on the way from Crystal Lake to Lake Geneva) and buy yourself a few honey sticks or some beeswax candles....or a vat of honey. You may even learn something about how honey is made as you view the hive that is exposed behind plexiglass. Ask the owner to play the harmonica for you. Enjoy yourself!

And if you can't make it to the shop, this small local establishment distributes their honey to all of these stores.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Berry Tart Cake

It's June already?! The first sign of summer arrived at the Woodstock Farmer's Market this weekend: strawberries.

My garden yielded its first lone strawberry last week, but one of the many slugs taking over my garden beat me to it (more about my slug solution in a future post).

The variety of fruit naturally grown in Northern Illinois is relatively limited, so when any fruit is in season I gorge myself on it in the hopes of not wanting to touch it again until the following year. Strawberries always seem to be the exception. I could happily eat them every day at every meal for the rest of my life.

One of my favorite strawberry recipes requires a few non-local ingredients. But I make the splurge for patriotic holidays because the red, blue and white in this cake make such a beautiful presentation. Don't you agree?

Double Berry Lemon Cake
(adapted from Cooking Light's Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake)

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) container reduced-fat sour cream
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh strawberries

1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Coat a Bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.
  3. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  4. In a separate large bowl cream 1 3/4 cups sugar, butter, and lemon rind with a mixer for about 2 minutes at medium speed.
  5. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Beat in vanilla and sour cream.
  7. Add flour mixture; beat at medium speed just until combined.
  8. Gently fold in blueberries and strawberries.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  10. Bake at 350° for 1 hour - 1 hour 20 minutes or until a clean knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The baking time seems to vary dramatically based on your type of Bundt pan. Mine is a silicon one that always seems to take the full 1 hour 20 minutes.
  11. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack.
  12. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.
  13. To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar and lemon juice, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over cooled cake.

If you would prefer a less tart cake, omit the glaze and just dust with powdered sugar.