To Market, To Market

A few months ago my family moved a whole 30 miles south of where we had initially settled in New Jersey.  It’s closer to work for me, and close to office friends who also live in the area and have children of all ages.  Not only will this give my daughter some friends outside of daycare, but we also now have a regular babysitter in my boss’s daughter!

One day as I was exploring our new area I saw a sign on the side of the road: Farmers Market, Saturdays 9am-1pm.  Rejoice!  I love farmers markets, and came to love them more when may daughter started eating solid foods.  This happened right at the height of farmers market season so every couple of weeks I was at the local market, picking up fruits and veggies to take home, steam, puree and stick in the freezer.  It was great to introduce her to fantastic peaches, blueberries, squash and green beans that came straight from regional farms.

So this past weekend I checked out the market.  While it’s still early in the season I just wanted to get a “flavor” of what vendors were there and what the community was like.  We got there early enough to get a parking space but late enough that there was a good-sized crowd wandering around.  Not only did you have produce, but baked goods were sold in a couple of stalls, a crepe stand had the longest line, and a band was setting up. I walked past, and ended up stopping, at a barbeque sauce company owned by a brother and sister pair.  Always wanting support local business–and particularly Black-owned–I walked away with sauce and a dry rub, vowing to return for the honey mustard in the coming weeks.  Another vendor had asparagus, which I love roasted (check out Calandra’s post on oven-roasted asparagus) and I even picked up chicken sausage made with basil and sun-dried tomatoes.  The next day we had grilled chicken breasts made with the dry rub and basted with the barbeque sauce…and of course roasted asparagus!  Can’t wait for the peaches and blueberries to come in…cobbler, anyone?

Farmers markets are not only a great way to purchase fresh produce, they’re also a way to start to learn about your community, mingle with neighbors, and possibly even make new friends.  Check out the USDA directory for a market near you!


A Battle Over Breasts In Newark, NJ

This is a companion piece to Calandra’s post today on mortarnbrique.

Over the weekend I read an article on TimeHealthland that left me a little perturbed.  The article, titled Can a Formula Company Really Promote Breast-Feeding and Fight Child Obesity?, discussed the criticisms that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has recieved in his decision to accept funding from Nestle Corporation of his Let’s Move Newark! initiative.  Nestle provided a $100,000 grant to support the education of families on nutrition and physical activity.  The issue at hand is that breastfeeding advocates feel (a) it’s inapropriate for a childhood obesity prevention initiative to partner with a formula company and (b) Nestle has some hidden agenda to promote formula over breastfeeding when it’s a proven fact that breastfeeding reduces the risk for childhood obesity.  Mayor Booker responded through his regular radio program that there are no strings attached to this funding.

This could easily be compared to the skepticism that occurred when tobacco manufacturers started providing information through their websites (and lots of grant dollars) on smoking prevention.  Isn’t there a conflict of interest in both cases?

Personally, in this particular case, I don’t think so.  Smoking isn’t a necessity, but eating is.  In her post, Calandra describes her decision to formula-feed her children.  Well here’s mine: After the first 2 nights of trying with minimal success latching on (and incredibly painful boobs) I had to feed my baby something, and it was formula.  For the next 5 months it was the same–repeated attempts with maybe a third of them being successful and lots of supplemental formula feeding.  My child had to eat, so after my boobs gave up she became a formula baby.  I was frustrated and guilt-ridden but after much family support I moved forward.  If I’m blessed to have another child I’ll definitely try again but if again we’re unsuccessful then Similac it will be!

A couple of weeks ago I read a heartbreaking blog post about a woman who was very guilty about her inability to breastfeed after TWO breast infections.  Her health was being threatened yet lactation consultants were urging continued breastfeeding.  In the end she was frustrated that they didn’t even mention formula options and advise this as an alternative. 

Nestle knows that children have to eat, and through this grant they’re supporting the healthy eating option–breastfeeding.   Will Nestle hand out formula coupons with their breastfeeding information? Possibly.  But I wouldn’t go so far to say that they’re in conflict with advising breastfeeding.  They make so much money from the women who don’t choose to breastfeed that I don’t think promoting breastfeeding will cause a big dent in their revenue budget.

Tag…You’re It!

I remember when these “all about you” questionnaires would circulate via email.  My how times have changed…now they’re circulating through blogs!  Either way I love doing these things because they’re procrastination at it’s best.  Thanks to Calandra, my cousin & co-editor of this blog, for asking me to share 11 random things about me and answer 11 questions she has asked about me.  Even though we’re cousins I learned something new about her(and confirmed how similar we are–must be the genes!) so maybe she’ll learn some new things about me. 

11 Random Things About Jasmine…

  1. My husband and I met in college and dated for 10 years before we got married. By then it was just a formality…
  2. I used to write short stories in high school.  While in college I was offered a chance to publish but didn’t do it.
  3. I played the flute in elementary through high school.
  4. I’ve only seen two opera performances but loved them and want to see more.
  5. I know lines to the movie The Color Purple practically by heart.
  6. I walked a full marathon with Team in Training in 2003; took me 6 hours. 
  7. I met LL Cool J in 2002 and still carry around the picture I took with him.
  8. Four generations of my family lived Asheville, NC, which is why I find it funny that the small mountain city has become one of the hottest vacation spots over recent years.
  9. My dream kitchen would have two ovens and one of those water faucets right over the stove for filling large pots.  And Giada DeLaurentis on speed-dial!
  10. Though I wouldn’t dare do it now, when I was a kid I purposefully mismatched my clothes.
  11. I majored in Religious Studies in college but had no intention of going to seminary–I just thought to subject was interesting!

My Questions From Calandra…

  1. If you could magically give up any vice overnight, what would it be? Procrastination…hah!
  2. Which are more meaningful, hugs or kisses? Hugs
  3. Dog-lover or cat-lover? Cats–they’re so self-sufficient!
  4. What theme music plays in your head when you enter a room? Depends on my mood: Ludacris’ “Move B***h” or LMFAO “I’m Sexy & I Know It”
  5. Who would you most want to spend a day with (living or dead)? My mom
  6. Contemporary or classic music? Classic for sure!
  7. What book/song title best describes your life? Alicia Keys’ Superwoman
  8. What was your favorite subject in school? Health
  9. What helps you relax after a long day? Spending time with my family then a nice glass of red wine.
  10. If Oprah gave you half her money to do something good for someone else, how would you spend it? Go to microlending and donation sites like, and and fulfill every single request. Then start a foundation helping women & girls. 
  11. What is your best quality? I’m eerily calm under pressure, which I think scares people sometimes…

What the Crock??

For Christmas this year my husband gave me a Crock-Pot cookbook.  For some women any kind of cookbook as a gift from her husband would result in one of the following questions: “Wait, does this mean you don’t like my cooking?” “So what are you saying…I don’t cook often enough?” and so on.  But since I enjoy cooking and he knows I’m always trying to expand the mental meal database this is a great gift.  And he probabaly got tired of me saying “I need to find more things to do with this crock-pot!”

Last Christmas my aunt, upon my request, gave us a fancy crock-pot, with a timer and a temperature gauge for meats.  Definitely a step up from the older crock-pot that came with my husband when we were married and merged households.  All I used it for were stews/soups, the apple butter I made (and wrote about here) earlier this year, and one attempt at a whole chicken.  I know there are more ways to work with a crock-pot than stew thus my wonderful gift. 

As I flipped through the book I found you can make desserts, appetizers beyond cheese dip, ribs, cornish hens…so many possibilities. My slow cooking used to be a weekend-only thing, so I could be home when the 6-8 hours were complete. With this new cookbook I plan to take full advantage of my crock-pot’s timer and have a meal ready on a weeknight.  Since it’s only the 3 of us I also plan to make meals that can be creatively converted in their leftover form so we have something different from the original dish.  Like chicken on Sunday, fajitas on Tuesday and chicken salad on Friday or something to that effect. 

I completely skipped the stew section of the book though may go back to it in time.  Call it my “cooking resolution” but these next few months I’ll definitely broaden my crockery horizons and discover new ways to put an easy dinner on the table!

Thankful for Creative Cooking…at Christmas!

No, I’m not doing like the department stores and skipping Thanksgiving to go straight to Christmas.  But my original cooking plan was slightly thwarted, so the new dish will be attempted in December.  Yesterday I was talking to co-workers about the Thanksgiving meal and everyone around the table agreed that this is not the holiday to test new dishes.  Folks look forward to the tried and true, whatever those dinner traditions may be.  Inserting a new dish should be done lightly and after much practice so you don’t go down as the relative who served the awful Thanksgiving dish.  Plus, since my father-in-law is hosting by the time I’d talked to him he’d already planned the menu so I just volunteered to make one of the dishes.  And for added pressure we’re having guests; I wouldn’t want to subject them to a newly-tested, never-tasted dish.  I’ll save that for just family so if it’s bad I won’t be too embarrassed.  So this year it’s back to mashed sweet potatoes…

In the same vein as Calandra’s new post and the title of my series, I’m thankful for food and family.  Working in and learning about food access/nutrition I’m fully aware that many families don’t have the ability to eat a nutritious Thanksgiving meal, and many more won’t be eating a Thanksgiving meal at all.  If you can donate some canned/frozen goods or a whole turkey please do it so families across the nation can enjoy this traditional meal with their loved ones.

I’m also thankful for family, both near and far.  My daughter is blessed to have her great-grandmothers still around.  In fact as I type I’m listening to Beverly show my husband’s grandmother how to play a game on the iPod! I love that we’re able to share each holiday with either my family or my husband’s–whether in St. Louis, New York, New Jersey or Virginia.  And lastly, living closer to Calandra the past couple of years has allowed us to reconnect and have Beverly get to know her cousins!  Ain’t nothin like family y’all!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and happy eating!

The Beauty of a Mini-Makeup Party

Yesterday I attended my first makeup party, hosted by our very own Calandra Branch. About a dozen women gathered in a Brooklyn church to share our own makeup fears and frustrations and get tips on how to overcome them.

Calandra got things going by reaffirming what most of us believed but needed to hear every now and again: Black women are beautiful. No matter what shade, skin type or shape of eyes, we are gorgeous creatures who can wear pretty much any color of the makeup rainbow. Amid many ‘Amens’ and ‘uh-huhs’, Calandra gave a beauty mini-sermon (maybe it was the church setting) about loving yourself in and out of makeup. She concluded that if anyone in the room didn’t love herself, she needed to work on that first before working on what shades to mix on her face.

After the preachin’ ended the demonstration began. Calandra started with a quick primer about brushes then, with help from one of her good friends, showed a simple daytime eye look with neutrals and a pop of color–check the original full face video on her You Tube site. During the demonstration an insightful elder of the room stated “She was beautiful before the makeup”, causing a little pause in the room. She clarified that she didn’t mean it in a harsh way and that she doesn’t believe in makeup. However after Calandra was done even she was impressed at the “natural plus more” look.

Next up was yours truly as the model with a demo of the MAC Smoked Ruby eye with a black L’Oreal HIP base. My daily eye go-to is a neutral of peaches and browns so the smoked ruby was certainly a departure. Fairly dramatic and good for a night out…I’ll likely try that one one my own. A third demonstration was on a woman who expressed frustration of not knowing use eyeshadow on her hooded eyes. Calandra was the miracle-worker, showing her that a gold color on the base of her lids, plus some neutrals in the crease and above gave her just that pop she needed. The gold base made her eyes look bigger and definitely made the woman’s day.

The party ended with goodie bags for for a few lucky raffle winners that included brush sets and compact mirrors. All left with beauty kits with water (hydration), tea (relaxation), hand sanitizer (clean hands before you touch your face!), lotion and Hershey Kisses to leave with love. I think a good time was had by all and quite a few walked out with new techniques and fun shades to try. I left with some new ideas for my Avon 12-shade eye palette and the MAC Smoked Ruby on my ‘to-buy’ list…plus new-found admiration for my cousin’s love of sharing beauty with everyone.

Thankful for Creative Cooking

Every year for the past 6 years that we’ve been married my husband and I have alternated celebrating Thanksgiving with my family in Virginia or his in St. Louis.  And each year I have to figure what to make to add to the meal.  Not that folks require me to bring a dish, I just like contributing so the host has one less dish to think about.  Even when our daughter was only a month old I brought something for dinner, despite my parents saying “Don’t worry about it. Just get here and bring that baby!”  Though it was only cranberry relish (throw it in a blender with some citrus–done!) I was happy to bring something.

The first year I started cooking Thanksgiving dishes I worked on mimicking my grandfather’s sweet potatoes.  Always a favorite at the table, his sweet potatoes were baked in butter, lemons, white sugar AND brown sugar to a syrupy goodness that left you sopping your plate with a biscuit.  I always liked pairing it with ham…must have been the sweet-salty thing.  He died when I was in college so I had to call my dad to see if he could remember how it was made.  My dad’s recollection was something like “Cut up some potatoes, add the sugars, layer on the lemon slices and sit it on the stove until soft.” Okaaay.  But after switching to more healthful cooking I found a recipe for roasted smashed sweet potatoes and went with those for a few years.  Just as tasty but without all the butter and sugar. Yes, for some Thanksgiving is for gorging on all the things you’ve avoided all year but between the mac n’ cheese, sugar-crusted hams, pies and cakes I think it’s O.K. if one dish is on the lighter side.

So this year we’re in St. Louis and I’m ready to depart from the roasted sweet potatoes.  Luckily, recently a friend posted on her Facebook page the NY Times Well’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving: an ode to the feasts of Fall that don’t include poultry or pork.  Posted at the start of the month, new dishes have been added daily which of course makes selecting one dish that much more difficult.  From stuffing to deserts and snacks–it’s a cornucopia of tasty looking dishes that take advantage of in-season squashes and greens plus grains in ways I hadn’t thought of.  The Pureed Roasted Squash & Yams keep calling me but that’s too much like the norm so I may end up waiting until November 23rd then go rushing to the store with all the other last-minute folks.

Stay tuned…I’ll post a picture of the winning dish…