Archive for June, 2012

There’s a lot to learn in 4-H

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to interview one of the outstanding teen 4-H members in our community for the Argus as part of a series on agriculture. The article was also going to be part of the issue that highlighted the Sonoma-Marin Fair because for 4-H members, the fair is the culmination of the year’s projects; it’s a chance for them to put their hard work on display and be recognized.

I was looking forward to doing this assignment because my son, who’s now 23, had participated in a 4-H dog training project when he was about 10. Although his involvement only lasted a year – controlling our alpha German shepherd who weighed almost as much as he did required more authority on the other end of the lease than he was able to muster – I came away very impressed by the philosophy and structure of the 4-H program.

Jessie’s red Holstein at the Sonoma-Marin Fair

After chatting with 17 year-old Jessie Peterson of Liberty 4-H, my respect for what the 4-H kids do is even greater; I learned about aspects of the program that I hadn’t been exposed to in the short time we participated and was reminded of what I really liked about the program.

I realize that Jessie is an exceptional 4-Her and not all members take their projects to the level that she did with her Holstein cow. But the opportunity exists through the program for kids to learn really valuable, life-long skills through their participation. Skills such as leadership, communication, science, project planning, time management and even money management. How cool is it that she learned about creating a business plan and budget, taking a loan and then fulfilling the commitment to pay it back.

Another really good thing about 4-H, is that members choose a project (although they can do more than one project) that they focus on for the full year. This seems like a different approach than in Girls Scouts. When my daughters were Girl Scouts, we did a different type of activity every week with the idea that girls could “Try-It” (that’s the name of the badge) just to get a brief exposure to a career, hobby, or experience.

That always left me feeling like Girl Scouts had ADD; every week the moms would serve up a new activity but the time spent in each activity was so short that it didn’t seem that the girls could possibly know if they had any real interest in wildlife, nutrition, theater or any of the other dozens of options.

But each 4-H project has depth so the young person finishes the year knowing if their project is something that they would like to pursue further. It was obvious that my son didn’t have any affinity for dog training but at least he had worked at it long enough to know that wasn’t going to be his calling.

But back to Jessie, 4-H, and the fair…when I went on opening day, I headed straight to the dairy barn to find Jessie’s red Holstein cow. I was especially interested in seeing the cow because Jessie had told me about the genetic study she did on red Holsteins as part of her 4-H entry in the fair.

Because I had learned a little about the effort that went into caring, studying about and paying for that cow, I saw it in a whole new light. That is indeed, a beautiful cow.

Wanted: A different kind of Father’s Day card

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Last week, I stopped by Papyrus to pick out a Father’s Day card for Steve. Based on what I saw depicted in the cards, there are three things that dads are interested in: barbequing, beer, and golf.

That’s the best that the greeting card industry can do? Maybe it’s because I’m married to a man who is a wonderful dad but who has no interest in any of those subjects that I find it downright insulting. It’s like saying that the only things that women care about are shopping for shoes, making cupcakes and going out for cocktails with the girls.

Based on the cards I saw, men are the shallowest of creatures, barely evolved from Neanderthals. I saw cards that had pictures of cats expressing deeper thoughts than the sentiments on most Father’s Day cards. Apparently, if there is cold beer in the fridge, a piece of red meat on the grill, and sports on the TV, all of a man’s dreams have been fulfilled. Yep, laughing and scratching, that’s men for you.

It seems like the folks who are designing the cards are stuck in some image of fathers in the 1950s. I’m sure there are many more fathers these days who spend their free time learning about gadgets and technology rather than playing golf or fishing. Yet I didn’t see any cards that had jokes about techno-geek dads.

But far more important than stereotyping fathers based on their hobbies, is what is the message communicated in the cards. How about honoring dads for working hard every day to take care of their families? Or helping their children build character and integrity? Or modeling respect for women by the way the treat their wives?

It’s certainly fine to poke fun at dads – Steve will tell you how I get a delightedly evil gleam in my eye when I find a way to tease him. But please, let’s not make the “men are idiots and if it wasn’t for the level-headed, smart women around them they would probably be running with scissors” attitude that seems to be in every TV commercial the basis for what Father’s Day is all about.

Mother’s Day cards are full of the heartfelt sentiments about how mom taught the important lessons in life and sacrificed for the sake of the kids. I think dad would appreciate hearing that once a year too.

Footloose and fancy free

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

One week into summer vacation and tired of being at the mercy of her parent’s schedule to get her where she wants to go, Jennifer Lynn and her friends planned what Steve calls an “NVP” day. That stands for a day with “no visible parents” – where she and her 16 year-old friends can live a life like iCarly except without the laugh track.

So Jennifer Lynn and her two buddies cooked up taking Golden Gate Transit from Petaluma into San Francisco for the day. They didn’t have much of a plan on what they were going to do once they got there besides being cute girls on an adventure in the big city.

I was quite confident that they had worked out the bus schedule to get there without a problem. It was finding the bus for the return trip that concerned me.

Jennifer’s only experience with buses is getting on one in front of the school for a field trip. However, her friend traveled to China and back on her own last summer so I thought that figuring out the bus schedule in a country in which they were native speakers was well within the capabilities of three honor roll students.

I texted Jennifer Lynn about the time I knew she would be getting on the bus to ask her to check in with me just to let me know how the day was progressing. In keeping with the iCarly format, once she got on that bus, having a mom was only a theoretical exercise. I never heard from her until 4:30.

The bad news was that they bus they had planned to take back only went as far north as Novato so they would have to wait another hour for a bus that came to Petaluma. The good news was that neither Steve or another parent was going to have to drive to San Francisco to retrieve them.

Jennifer Lynn did make it home just fine and when we asked her to tell us how the day had gone, we could tell that she was imagining their outing as if they were starring in a Nickelodeon after-school special. Finding the correct bus back to Petaluma had involved asking several strangers for directions, figuring out the underground rail system, and then sprinting with skirts, shopping bags, and hair flying to hop on the bus just as it was about to leave.

They congratulated themselves the entire way home on how they had navigated the system and what a success the day was. When you’re almost 16 and the world is your oyster, it’s a great feeling. Hang onto it.

Making macarons

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

I’m sure you’ve noticed that certain foods that become trendy just like there are items of clothing that come in and out of style.

I’ve been surprised that cupcakes are still popular (thanks primarily to the Food Network), bacon seems to be showing up in everything these days including ice cream, and then of course, there’s quinoa which seems to have real staying power. Gluten-free, hard to pronounce name, and high protein. That’s like a trifecta of trendy food.

But recently, I’ve been seeing a food that I wasn’t familiar with start showing up in random places leading me to think it has hit the trendy list. Are macarons are the new cupcake?

These aren’t the American macaroons (spelled with two “o”s) that are a clump of shredded coconut held together with egg whites and sugar that when eaten, drop like a stone to the bottom of your stomach. These are a light, delicate, French sandwich cookie made from ground almonds, egg whites and sugar and filled with butter cream, ganache, or jam.


I first heard about macarons one night when we were flipping channels and stopped on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” show long enough to hear Wolfgang Puck describe how he had eaten one macaron from some famous bakery and then because they were so good, had eaten about 12 more of them. Really? Show some restraint, Wolfgang. That was until I tasted one and then I was in the same boat as Wolfie.

The next time I encountered macarons was on a goofy Food Network show that Jennifer and I are hooked on called “Sweet Genius.” It’s the pastry chef version of “Iron Chef” hosted by Ron Ben-Israel, the Food Network version of Dr. Evil. The contestants have to make a chocolate dessert, candy and cake using often bizarre mandatory ingredients such as aloe vera and black beans. Several contestants have made macarons to show their skill in the candy competition.

And then Jennifer Lynn told me that there were macarons at the prom which was held at the St. Francis in San Francisco. That clinched it; it won’t be long before what was once trendy hits the mass market and we’ll be able to buy a tub of macarons at Costco.

Inspired by all the macaron-ness going on around her, Jennifer decided to try making them and followed the 15 step recipe for traditional French macarons filled with buttercream.

Sure, they aren’t as spherical as the ones made by the professionals on “Sweet Genius” and next time she’s going to add some food coloring so they aren’t so pale, but they are one of the more delicious morsels that I have ever eaten. Crunchy on the outside, melt in your mouth and small enough that I don’t feel horribly guilty eating one, or two or six.

Yep, I think it won’t be long before we see “Macaron Wars” on the Food Network. Mango Coriander Macarons with Mascarpone Chutney Filling. It could happen.