Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cabinets - Tackeled

This weekend I cleaned the cabinets. I didn't use a chemical based cleaner, like Fantastic, mainly because chemical cleaners give me terrific headaches.

I wanted to whip through the cleaning session as soon as possible, so after I gathered the necessary materials I set the timer for 30 minutes.

Here was the arsenal:
  • A bucket
  • A texturized microfiber towel (green towel)
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (for the tough spots)
  • Warm water (lots - didn't measure)
  • Vinegar (1 cup)
  • Dr. Bronner's liquid hemp soap (1/8 cup)
  • 2 -3 drops of Wyndmere lemon-grass essential oil, for the scent. You don't need many drops, just a few.
The Dr. Bronner's soap curdled when I added it to the vinegar - weird. Not sure what that's about!

Cleaning took 32 minutes. I hope I never let our cabinets get that out of control again. I'm not proud...I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Hope you are having a happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weeks 21 and 22 Bean Challenge: 1 dinner a week

Have two weeks really gone by since I last logged my bean challenge updates? Time to get on the stick.

Week 21 was a white bean soup. Honestly...it was awful. I've had white bean soup before and liked it. Something was off with this one. I'm blaming it on inferior canned beans. Several variations of "icky" and "yuck" came from the children during this one. I threw it away. Time to search for a better white bean soup recipe, or better white beans, or both.

Week 22 was fried tofu again. It was essentially the same meal as last time we had fried tofu. (or "tofood" as our kids call it). We all like this one, so we'll keep it in the repertoire. I stir fried the vegetables in a garlic hoisin sauce called "Soy Vay". This is one of my favorite pre-made hoisin sauces out there. And any sauce that bills itself as the following is going to be worth a try:

"Chinese girl meets Jewish boy...and Soy Vay! All natural kosher sauces, marinades, and dressings since 1982."

Another item on the bean front is a new book my family bought me for my recent birthday: Heirloom Beans, by Rancho Gordo. Yes, my family knows I'm into it. I'm looking forward to whipping up a few of these recipes!








Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Cookies - Broken Yet Delicious

We're being snowed in, here in the upper Midwest, so today we made Christmas cookies. I found a recipe for Hazelnut Butter Cookies and also made frosting from scratch with this Paula Deen recipe.

This has become my "frosting of choice". Not only is it super fast to make, but it tastes better & fresher than store bought. The last time I made it I used organic cream cheese. This time I used conventional cream cheese. I've discovered organic cream cheese makes my
"worth it" list when buying organic. It simply tastes better to me.

If you want to give these recipes a try, make sure you have lots of butter on hand! And follow directions carefully because these cookies crumble like crazy. We topped ours with a confusing color scheme for extra beauty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Thriftmas!


We don't have a lot of Christmas decorations, so a few weeks ago I decided to expand our collection. Mind you, I'm not one for knick-knacks, chotchkies, or "dust collectors" (as I call them), but I thought it would be OK if we had a few more holiday decorations.

One of my favorite thrift stores had an event called "Merry Thriftmas" soon after Thanksgiving. The selection was tremendous. I was in awe of all the holiday decorations that people donated. You could get anything you wanted: Christmas stockings, ornaments, wreathes, trees, wall hangings, a huge selection of Santa hats, you name it.

The items we purchased:
  • Sesame Street "make your own ornament kit" - they had a box of about 20 unopened kits
  • Glamorous (?) purple/sparkly tree ornament that doubles as a small gift box. I knew our daughter would love this one. Anything purple + sparkles = impressive to her.
  • A slate wall hanging. I like slate. Don't know why.
  • Raggedy Andy tree ornament (a personal childhood favorite)
  • Hand painted snowman on a slate (again with the slate)
  • Thanksgiving potholder. We have nothing Thanksgiving-related in the household. This is it for now.
Christmas burn-out may soon be approaching, so try the thrift store next year. But if you're still into it, you may run into some good deals.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tackling the Cabinets


I've taken a lot of pictures in my kitchen for this blog, which has reminded me of how out-dated our kitchen "decor" is.  The first thing I said when we bought our house is, "We'll have to update the kitchen."  Six years and 2 children later, the kitchen still looks the same.  Maybe it's just me, but I'm not a fan of dusty-rose 80's Southwest theme wallpaper.

My husband and I were discussing the kitchen and I reminded him of how outdated it looks.  He seems to think the worst thing about our kitchen is the cabinets. He told me he doesn't like the cabinets because they are so grimy.  Wha?  I know we're not handy folk, but certainly we can clean.

I looked up some sources about how to clean kitchen cabinets in a chemical-free, natural way. Vinegar is the #1 suggestion.  The smell of most cleaners sends me for a loop and always ends in a headache, so I'm sure we'll go the vinegar route.  The side effect is the kitchen may smell like salad dressing for a while.

Now I have a task ahead of me for the week:  clean the kitchen cabinets.  It may take 2 rounds - it's been a while.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Finally Got It

I finally got it.  The book I've waited for during these past
 5 months is finally here.  

I put myself on the library waiting list for David Sedaris' "When You Are Engulfed in Flames", was #217 on the waiting list, and it is finally in my hands.  Patience and forgetting I had this book on my reserve list has paid off.

Other library treasures currently in the house are:
  • Muppet Christmas Carol video (starring "the legendary" Michael Caine)
  • Thomas the Tank Engine video
  • Charlotte's Web book
  • The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (audio & book)
  • Thomas the Tank Engine (audio & book)
Those audio & book stories are terrific for keeping the little ones occupied when you have to get something done around the house. 

We (heart) the library.  Especially in the winter when it's cold outside and warm on the couch. Anybody else with some library love to share?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Waste...not

"Waste not, want not." Like many wise old sayings, it may be true but it's often easier said than done. Especially during the holiday season.

It seems like waste during the holidays is everywhere: Wasted gifts that nobody wants, plastic toys that break easily, wasted paper, wasted packaging, wasted food, wasted time trying to find that "perfect" gift...it seems to go on and on.

An old friend recently asked me if I had any suggestions on how to go about cutting down the waste that is created during the holidays. Here are some ideas:

Reducing:
  • Present gifts in useful things instead of wrapping, like a mug to contain a gift.

  • Give handmade gifts. Baking stuff, funky crafty stuff, use your imagination!

  • Give the kids a gift to a performance at a local Children's Theater, or something similar for them to look forward to.

  • Take your spouse to an event he/she may want to attend. If you hate baseball, take him to a game and promise not to complain or roll your eyes for a whole evening (you know you can do it!)
Reusing:
  • Dare to "re-gift": Raid your old record collection to give *primo* selections to friends. The best re-gifts are ones given with thought put into it, as opposed to junk you don't want anymore!

    Making somebody laugh with the goofy stuff you come up with is always fun! Trust me, everybody last year loved their 45s. I hope. If not, don't mention it. The co-worker who fought with her mom as a teenager about George Michael's "I Want your Sex" finally got her copy of the vinyl single from me. Thankfully, I have 2 copies.


  • Buy new and used books and movies. Try Ebay or a local used book store.
  • Wrap your gifts in the funny papers.
Recycling:
  • Recruit your neighbors to get a "block" discount for recycling service. Maybe a new year's resolution for the block?
Rethinking:
  • If you're really into it, rent the documentary "What Would Jesus Buy" to help redirect one's holiday spirit! The Rev. Billy is also at revbilly.com. It's earnest comedy & theater with a message.

  • If you're the type who needs to be "scared straight", rent "Maxed Out". You'll probably want to pay cash & subsequently reduce your gift giving.
What ideas do you have for reducing holiday waste?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Weeks 19 and 20 Bean Challenge: 1 dinner a week

It's a "bean challenge" digest this week - consolidating 2 bean challenge updates in one post. I'll bet you never thought you would be so lucky to happen upon this! Week 19 was home-made refried beans and today (Week 20) was tofu with fermented black beans. What's that you say? You've never cooked with fermented black beans? Well, neither had I!

Week 20: Black Bean Tofu

I had to prep for this recipe by shopping at an Asian grocery store. My brain almost melted when I stepped in the door. Fantastic! It's a HUGE Asian grocery store with amazing variety. I couldn't understand many of the labels, but no matter.

I was looking for "fermented" black beans, and didn't want to substitute black bean sauce. You could substitute, but I wanted to give the real deal a try. You can only get fermented black beans at an Asian grocery story.

Here's an 8 oz. bag of fermented black beans. There is no way our family can get through this, so the first 3 co-workers that email me tomorrow, requesting a sample, will get one. I've got it all packed up in a wax paper bag for you!





I also bought a bag of "Savory Baked Tofu" from the tofu section. Yes - they have an entire tofu section.

A little too savory for my taste. This baked tofu looks like hamburger buns.




Brown basmati rice in the vegetable steamer.











My new toy: Bamboo tongs from Pampered Chef. I love these. So much better than my old plastic tongs that broke about 3 months ago. I've been tongless since then.






It's a busy night when I don't change out of my work clothes and start cooking as soon as I walk in the door...







Here's the kid's version (raw carrots vs. cooked and tofu and rice on the side). And I made some homemade kids' chopsticks. Our 5-year-old was totally into it and kept asking me questions about kids in Japan and China. I wish I new more about Asian culture to keep up with her relentless questioning!







And the real deal! Our son hated it, our daughter thought it was OK. I liked it and would make it again, without the savory baked variety of tofu.

So if you have some suggestions for baked tofu, I'm all ears. I've got 2 blocks left.






Week 19 was homemade vegetarian refried beans. They tasted terrible! Taco Bell beans taste better than this. I'm afraid the secret to really good home made refried beans is lard and chorizo. I'm not going there.

Does anybody have a recipe for excellent vegetarian refried beans? And how do you keep them from looking gray instead of brown?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Organic on a Budget

My old friend Martha from Elizabeth Hill Cottage recently posed a question to me: How can you afford to buy organic with the way food prices are today?

The truth is, we don't buy all organic all of the time. I wish we could. We are a 1 income family, 2 kids, and have a mortgage! You are right Martha: buying organic can cost more than conventionally grown food, especially in the Midwest where most all of our produce is trucked in from warmer climates during the long winter.

I did some research, hoping to find tips to increase our family's intake of organic food vs. conventional. I found some great info at bankrate.com. Their article "17 tips for buying organic on the cheap" has several ideas to make organic food more affordable.

Some tips our family is already using are:
  • Shop at Farmers' Markets (But not in December. Again, Midwest.)
  • In the off-season, buy organic preserved foods
  • Shop sales and house brands
  • Clip coupons
  • Grow your own
  • Rethink your food budget
One of my biggest "Doh!" moments was the article's opening:
"Step one is giving up your dependence on conventional supermarkets. Limiting yourself to the organic section or natural foods section of your local grocer is a great way to pay too much for your more wholesome food selections."

Well, hello! Of course conventional supermarkets are going to charge more. Organic food isn't their specialty, so they're going to charge a premium. And they have a few aisles (or a small section) to emphasize the "premium" aspect. This is something I never thought of before.

Get more bang for your buck by choosing organic foods are "worth it" to you. For example, here's a chart that shows which foods have fewer pesticides. An additional approach is to buy an organic product where you can really taste the difference between its conventional counter part.

Our "worth it" approach is:
  • Milk - always Organic (the extra hormones in conventional milk freaks me out)
  • Ground Beef - always organic
  • Other meat - (almost) always organic
  • As many fruits/veg we can afford (especially better tasting carrots) - organic
  • Processed foods (like crackers/treats) - rarely organic, but will buy when we can afford
Now that I'm all worked up about this subject, I decided to start one of my "famous" (well, famous in our household) envelopes, saving up for a membership to a local co-op. And I hope to buy into an organic CSA next Spring so we can buy local too.

Do you think organic is worth it? What's your approach to your organic food budget?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Shopping: What to Do?

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and were able to spend time in the way you love best! We had a relaxing and fun holiday. But also I've been thinking a lot about the subject of stuff and shopping.  

I've been conflicted about shopping these past few days, and nervous.  Yes, on Wednesday, I actually felt nervous about shopping, as ridiculous as that sounds. What should I do?
  • Should I buy nothing on Black Friday, like Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping recommend? (Great anti-consumerism movement, but probably not.)  
  • Should I brave the crowds at the big-box stores like I did in 2007 at 4:00 a.m? (Nope.)
  • Should I shop locally? (Yes, but am I going to pay more if I do this?)
Incidentally, last year was my first Black Friday shopping  experience.  When I asked a clerk where the carts were, he looked at me like I was nuts.  They were all taken, of course, within the first 3 minutes of the store opening.  I think my jaw may have dropped.  

My goals for holiday shopping this year were 3-fold:
  • We have enough stuff we don't use. Don't buy more.  
  • Don't be a Scrooge.  Gifts are nice.  Give thoughtful ones.
  • Don't go into credit card debt.  Stick to a limited budget ($300).  This amount is for 10 people, including all gifts for our 2 kids. I'm not sure how $300 for 10 people sounds to you. Some may think it is a huge amount, others about right, and some a pittance. 
Our holiday shopping is done. So, how did we do?  Here are the results:
  • I shopped at Target on the Monday before Black Friday and bought 3 board games. 2 for the kids, and 1 for an Adopt-a-Family donation at work. (So, it's really 11 people we bought for).  I thought games would be a good toy to encourage family together-time. 
  • Wednesday night (before T-day), I spent the evening internet shopping at kidsurplus.com. They had some great wooden toys, games, creative toys, and science-experiment type toys. The bulk of our kids (and "cousins") toys were bought from here.  Free shipping and $10 off.  
Another good part?  I could see the total and match it up with my budget while in my jammies. Also, I once heard that companies like UPS/FedEx are much more astute in saving fuel when delivering, as opposed to your average shopper driving. So, perhaps less fuel will be use this way?
  •  Black Friday: My mother-in-law went to Walgreen's to pick up a Hannah Montana guitar on sale for our daughter.  Our little girl loves Disney Princesses, Barbie, and Hannah.  What's a Striving Green family to do? Moderation: She'll get 2 of these types of toys. She already got a lot of these kinds of toys for her birthday a month ago.
  • I woke up early to go to Half-Price Books 20%-off Early Bird sale and bought some quality new children's books (discounted) and some used items for my husband. I'm not telling what, in case he is peeking!  
  • Last, I went to a locally owned gift shop to get the final presents.  I had a great coupon from my Blue Sky Guide, which is like a Happenings book for organic & green products, as well as local merchants.  I also picked up some micro-fiber towels for myself.  I'd like to break my paper-towel habit.
Total: $317.  A little over budget.  But not enough to make my head swim. Reducing our shopping and consumption: We're trying.  

How about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on your approach to holiday shopping.  Are you trying to reduce your consumerism?  If so, how?  Feel free to share you successes and pitfalls.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Packing a Lunch is Good for the Environment

"Green" your lunch by packing it and bringing it to work. You'll save on containers and save money too. A few tips:

  • Use reusable containers in your lunch, not disposable.

  • If you don't have reusable containers on hand, try wax paper bags instead of plastic.

  • Or, wash your plastic bags and reuse them with Bag-e-Wash.

  • Keep some dishes and silverware at your desk. Wash them at work, or bring the dirty ones home. Just remember to bring clean dishes back the next day.

Need a creative lunch to get you motivated? I love this tip on how to pack your own Bento Box at lunchinabox.net

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bad Hair Days Ahead...

...but for a reason. About 2 months ago I decided to grow out my hair for donation to a worthy charity. Either to Pantene Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love.

I'm not sure how long it will take. I've been blessed that nobody in my family has had to deal with hair loss due to illness or a health condition. I don't know what motivated me to take on this long-term endeavor. But I have healthy hair that grows fast, not dyed, not *many* gray hairs, and some patience to boot (some who know me well may dispute that last claim). So why not? I think I can do this.

Has anyone else considered a donation like this? Have you gone through with it? What was your experience like? I may need some moral support. My hair is bugging me already.

Week 18 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

Tonight's bean challenge dinner was all about me. I decided to break one of my rules: our children must enjoy the bean dinner too. Well, forget that, I decided. I'm making Moros y Cristianos.

Literal translation: Moors and Christians. A traditional Cuban dish. From about.com: It is presumed the dish gets its name from the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians.

This was by far the BEST bean dish I have made in these 18 weeks. I cannot believe a recipe as simple as this tasted so good. I varied this recipe the following ways:
  • I used brown Basmati rice. If you haven't tried basmati rice, you may never go back to Minute Rice or Uncle Ben's. The fragrance and taste of Basmati is far beyond that of the usual fare.
  • I did not cook the rice in chicken stock, just water with a little sea salt.
  • I didn't cook the rice and beans together, but separately. I wanted to give the kids plain rice and beans because I knew full well they would NOT eat this seasoned garlicky dish.
  • I topped with sliced avocado.
Served with corn tortillas recently bought from a Mexican grocery store. The only ingredients are corn, water, and lime. They are fantastic!

Sorry hon, the kitchen will smell of garlic when you get home tonight. Trust me, it was worth it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's in the Bag

I just learned of a plastic bag reduce-reuse-recycle program called "It's In The Bag" from a friend at Ecostrides.com.  

Interesting program.  From their site:  Consumers drop of unwanted bags at collection sites.  It's in the Bag collects plastic bags, then works with people from a local non-profit with disabilities to collect and transport material to a processing facility, where it eventually is recycled into composite lumber used in the construction of decks and railing.

On related note note: The other day I was at the grocery store and heard a man say, "No thanks, I brought my own bag".   I think that's the first time I overheard someone say that, other than at a co-op.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Impulse Buy: Dagoba Organic Chocolate

I was at the grocery store today and indulged in a delicious milk chocolate bar: Dagoba Chai Organic Chocolate. From their site:

The original “Chai Chocolate” bar on the market and a unique experience. Milk chocolate infused with a secret blend of chai spices and bits of crystallized ginger.

I'm trying to make my treats "worth it", meaning quality over quantity. I'm hoping this approach will help cut down on my treat consumption. No guarantees, of course!

Dagoba : Delicious and organic, but...I didn’t see a fair trade seal on this chocolate bar. So Dagoba, if you are listening, please consider fair trade for all of your chocolate products. I'll remain a fan if you do.

**************
Epilogue : Apparently, Hershey's bought Dagoba around 2005. See here for comments railing against Hershey's and Dagoba's previous owner weighing in. Like I said...we're learning!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Week 17 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

This week's bean challenge dinner was a Black Bean, Corn and Cheddar Fritter. Ours did not include cheddar, only because I forgot to add it while I was cooking (oops). You can find the recipe at Recipezaar. It tasted great and I didn't miss the cheese. Corn and beans always go good together, so I was sure I'd like this dinner.

We seem to have decent luck with the kids liking our bean dinner when it looks like a "burger", or if it's pan fried. That's why I continue to try this format. Our son ate it up, our daughter needed coaxing. The first bite is always the most difficult.

I cooked the black beans the night before and put the rest in the freezer this evening. I feel like I finally got the hang of cooking dried black beans. Practice makes perfect: For the first time, I did not overcook them. Cue the trumpets!

By the way, last week (16) was hummus...again. I always like hummus, but it seems to taste better in the summer. Bean "comfort" food is more appealing during these cold days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hold the Bottled Water

I was chatting with a colleague today about how both of our families have moved away from bottled water.  This summer I was turned off from bottled water because of the BPA scare, so our family invested in some Sigg bottles.  Now that I know how easy it is to avoid bottled water and the plastic that goes along with it, I don't have much reason to go back to the habit of buying bottled water.

Our method for avoiding bottle water is:
  • Invest in some good Sigg bottles.  There is no aftertaste with these lined aluminum bottles.  I bought a few stainless steel bottles, which have an aftertaste.  I hardly ever use those.  My experience:  Sigg brand is worth the extra few bucks.
  • If you have small children, buy some kid size bottles.  They appreciate the smaller size and holding the bottles is easier with these handles.  Heck, you might like the smaller bottles too!
  • Before you shop for your bottles online, visit retailmenot.com for coupon codes.  It's a good idea to check out that site before you shop anywhere online.  Gotta save money where you can.
  • After you wash out your reusable bottles, fill them up with water right away and put them in the fridge.   You'll always have fresh cold water to grab before you leave the house.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cake Wreck

My daughter's 5th birthday inspired me to make my first "cut-out" cake. It was supposed to be a pony. I'm not sure how I made it this long before I attempted one of these cakes, but let me assure you: It's not as easy as it looks.

Here is a summary of the comments I received:


  • "That's not a pony."
  • "That's not purple." (True...It looked more gray in person)
  • "It's a turkey" (2 votes)
  • "It's a pigeon" (1 vote)
  • "It's a pig" (2 votes)
  • "It's a wolf" (2 votes)
  • "What angle are you supposed to look at it from?"
I may submit it to Cakewrecks.

Paperless lists

One of my favorite free web applications is
Ta-da lists, a simple way to create paperless to-do lists online.

I've been using it for over a year now. Before I discovered Ta-da lists, I carried paper lists around in my purse, and wound up rewriting them when they became torn from traveling in my purse.


Here are some Ta-da lists features I have grown to love:
  • Check off "done" items
  • Email to-do lists to yourself, or share with others
  • Make any kind of to-do lists you want.
Some of my Ta-da lists include
  • Children's parties preparation list
  • Gift ideas
  • Packing list
  • Blog ideas
  • 2008 Goals (I haven't checked off many of these yet!)
These are editable lists. For example, when I don't hit all of my 2008 Goals, I can just change it to 2009!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Old Navy Switches to Reusable Bags

I got a coupon in the mail yesterday announcing that Old Navy has switched to free reusable bags for their Stuff and Save promotion, November  14 - 26 (coupon required, while supplies last).  Previously, they mailed plastic bags to customers.  Reusable totes are a fantastic idea - fewer plastic bags in landfills, less petroleum use, and a way to encourage people to reuse.  

I conducted a plastic bag reuse experiment with one of Old Navy's previous Stuff and Save plastic bags.  I reused it 20 times before the handle ripped.  I'm sure we'll get a lot more use out of the free reusable one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

If you run out of coffee filters...

...make coffee the old fashioned way! We ran out of filters last weekend. Instead of going coffee-less on a Saturday morning, try this. It does not look appetizing at first, but it worked! I'm guessing you could make it over a campfire this way too (?)

- Put 2 Tbsp of ground coffee into 8 oz of fresh cold water in a small saucepan
- Bring to a boil then take it off the heat
- Cover and let sit for 5 minutes
- Strain with a fine mesh colander into a cup

You can try straining twice if that seems better. Any extra grains settled to the bottom of the cup.


It tasted just as good as coffee-maker coffee.

By the way, my new favorite coffee is Vietnamese coffee. I had some at the local coffee house the other day for the first time and now I'm hooked.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting!

I've been looking forward to this Election Day for a long time! I went to my polling place, which is a 1 block walk from my house. I waited in line for an hour and when I walked out the line was much shorter.

Be sure to vote today. If you are not sure where to go, or what to bring, check out the League of Women Voters web site. They are an excellent source of voter information!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Week 15 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

We made falafel this week for our bean challenge. Falafel is a mixture of ground chickpeas, spices, and garlic. You don't have to cook the chickpeas beforehand, but you do need to soak them overnight.

I was surprised by how easy it is to make falafel. Normally, I would make it from a box mixture, but I thought I would give this recipe a try. I didn't have the fresh cilantro it called for, but it was still good nonetheless.

Mix the chickpeas in the blender with the other ingredients.








Form it into balls the size of walnuts.








Fry it up! No, the kids did not like it. But I did!


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Wrap Up 2008

We had a great Halloween 2008.  Here's the wrap up:

- The pumpkin seeds turned out well.  They taste great alone or sprinkled on a salad.
- Our costumes were fun, inexpensive, and low time-commitment.  Thanks Savers!
- We gave our extra candy away to a free store for the poor.  I'm sure it will be enjoyed.

P.S.  I am supposed to be "Ugly Betty".  1 person recognized me.  

Hope your Halloween was fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Waste Not: Pumpkin Carving & Pumpkin Seeds

Tonight we carved our pumpkins that we recently bought from the local pumpkin patch. Our son wanted a smiley face and our daughter wanted a scary face. "It's Halloween, so it HAS to be scary!", she insisted. Our son dropped his pumpkin on the kitchen floor (on R.), which created a crack, so we decided his had a "mustache".


Waste not! We removed the seeds for roasting. Here are a few pumpkin seed preparation tips. It's worth the wait:

- Put the seeds in a colander, and rinse well. Squeeze the pulp in your hands to loosen the seeds.








- Put the seeds on a baking sheet to try overnight. 24 hours of drying time is best. Remove the remaining pulp the next day, when dry.






- Preheat oven 250 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil.
- Coat your dried seeds with melted butter or olive oil. Or maybe a little of *both*.
- Sprinkle with salt. Toss every 15- 20 minutes. Bake for 1 hour until golden brown.

Does anybody have any good uses for the pumpkin pulp? I threw it away, but couldn't help but wonder what else it could be used for. Perhaps "waste not" opportunity was missed...Has anybody tried making a pie or bread with fresh pumpkin?

We are really getting into the Halloween spirit this year!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fair Trade Month: October 2008

Every weeknight after dinner, I try to think of a "fun" thing to do with the kids.  It's my way of connecting with them in the evening after being at work all day.  Sometimes we play a board game or watch a video together (especially if I need to space out for a while), and tonight we baked cookies.  

Baking with a 3 and almost 5 year old is a little chaotic and messy, but fun.  And usually something gets eaten off of the floor.  

Lately we've been using "fair trade" sugar.  Fair trade means farmers receive a fair price for their harvest.  You can read more about fair trade at transfairusa.org.  

Coincidentally, October 2008 is "Fair Trade Month". Look for products with the fair trade logo.   

The easiest fair trade products to find in typical grocery stores are coffee, sugar, and chocolate. If fair trade products aren't mixed in with other products on the shelves, pay the natural foods aisle a visit. For fair trade fruit, give your local co-op or a Whole Foods grocery store a try.  Feel good about eating that banana!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Week 14 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

I am alone in my love for split pea soup.

The first time I ever made split pea soup for my husband, I discovered he didn't like split pea soup. I wound up eating the whole double batch myself. For days.

Tonight's bean challenge lived up to its name: challenge. Vegetarian split pea soup & quesadillas. Since split peas are a legume, I decided it qualifies for the bean challenge.



I promise you, it was delicious. The kids thought otherwise. "What is this slimy green stuff?" "Yucky!", and on and on...



By the way, the quesadillas were a hit.

Am I alone in my love for split pea soup?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thrift Store Score 3

I recently went to one of my favorite thrift stores and wish I brought a camera. A white stretch limo was waiting outside. The driver was waiting behind the wheel. Are the rich now shopping at Savers?

The past 2 times I've been to a thrift store, it has been packed to very busy. I recently heard a story on the radio about how more people turning to thrift stores due to economic hardship. It's unfortunate that so many are feeling the pinch. Fortunately, when you walk into a thrift store you can see there is plenty to go around.

Here's what I got for $33

$15: A pair of new looking black shoes for me (the most expensive item)
$3: A pair of Pippi shoes for our daughter's Halloween costume
$5: Girls High School Musical pjs (almost like new)
$2: Girls fall weather nightgown
$3 Girls "Limited Too" summer shirt for next year (per America's Cheapest Family advice)
$3 Girls matching summer skirt
$2 Girls extra winter hat (kids always lose these)
$2 A "Pisa" plate to decorate my "office" ($248 left in that budget)

And since we brought stuff into the house, stuff must go out. 3 paper grocery bags of too-small PJs and children's books wait to be donated.

This out-with-the-old, in-with-the new method is getting easier with practice. I hope we can keep it up.
Link

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Striving Green on Twitter

I'm giving Twitter a try.  You can follow my updates at:


If I don't find much use for it (or am wasting too much time), I'll be the first to admit it and drop it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Local Pumpkin Patch

This weekend we went to a local apple farm that grows pumpkins. We had a great time getting outdoors and close to the dirt! This time of the year is very precious, as we are preparing ourselves for the usual long cold winter ahead.

We paid our admission and took a tractor ride to the field, picked out 3 pumpkins, visited the petting zoo, climbed a haystack, and played at the playground. We picked up some local apple cider too.

Large chain groceries stores nearby have pumpkins for $3.99, which is a great deal compared to the $7.20 pumpkin we bought. But we feel good about supporting a local business, and we had a great time. It was well worth it.

Anybody else picking local pumpkins or produce this fall?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Week 13 Bean Challenge: One Dinner a Week

We hit upon lucky "13" for our 13th week bean challenge dinner. Both of the kids ate it, and our youngest went as far as to declare, "I like it!"

The pinto bean burger recipe is from justbeanrecipes.com and uses a minimal amount of ingredients. It's fairly fast to prepare. My daughter helped me prepare it tonight, that could be why I got more "buy in" from her during dinner time.

I prepared the pinto beans 2 nights ago. One night for soaking, the next night for cooking them. Then the 3rd night I made the pinto bean burgers. The remaining beans went to the freezer. I just need to do a little planning ahead, which has become easier with practice.

I cut the tortillas with a pumpkin shape cookie cutter and fried them in a little corn oil. The kids ate them right up and didn't miss the "chips" they had asked for earlier.



Also, I followed my usual routine of skipping the "unsavory" ingredients in the kid's version. But I did sneak a *tiny* bit of fresh garlic and chili powder in theirs. I'm trying to build up their "spice-tolerance".

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

I'm participating in Blog Action Day for 10/15/08.
Here are 3 easy things one can do to help those in poverty. And they're all free (costs you nothing) & green (reduce/reuse/recycle). And you'll feel good about helping out those in need.
  • Make a "donation box"
    Keep a box in your basement, closet (where ever is out of the way) and put items in it that you no longer use. You don't have to fill it up right away, unless you want to. Just put items in it that you would give to a friend (not worn out or unusable, and be sure it's seasonal). Then donate it to a free store for the poor, like Joseph's Coat. Often times, people who visit these stores are the working poor who have very little money to spare for essentials.

  • Clean out your pantry
    Check your pantry to see if there are items that you no longer want or need. Of course, make sure it is not open, nor past its expiration date. Many of us have bought 2 of something, only to discover we don't like it (my recent case: pre-seasoned canned tomatoes). Bring your donation to a food shelf collection site.

  • Donate your old prescription glasses
    Pearl Vision has a drop-off bucket where you can walk in and donate a pair of unwanted prescription glasses. If you wear glasses, you probably have at least one pair you no longer want.
That's it. 3 easy ways to help others. Does anybody have other ideas for free ways to help those in poverty?

Pinto Bean Recipe Research

I'm doing some preliminary pinto bean recipe research, and ran across this recipe on justbeanrecipes.com. Great resource, I'll be checking it every so often.

I didn't know what "cracker meal" in this recipe was...is it some kind of a special flour you have to buy? Yes, apparently you can buy it in a box, or you can crush up saltine crackers. Or use breadcrumbs. Substitutes listed here.

I've got everything but green onions. That's ok, the kids wouldn't eat those anyway.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Note to Self...

...do not buy Thai and Bangladeshi shrimp. It often comes from factories that abuse workers per a CNN report posted in April 2008. I missed this article earlier this year, but found it via the site Co-op America's responsibleshopper.com. Read the article or watch the video.

Story highlights:
  • U.S. retailers received shrimp produced in sweatshop conditions, report finds
  • Workers in Bangladesh and Thailand in slave-like conditions, U.S. official says
  • Wal-Mart, Costco and Trader Joe's among chains that received shrimp
  • Wal-Mart says it is unaware of problems but will investigate, company tells CNN
Stores that are selling shrimp from substandard Thai plants are:

Costco
Cub Foods
Giant
Giant Eagle
Harris Teeter
IGA
Tops Markets
Trader Joe's
Wal-Mart

Why are our country's corporations so set on destroying other peoples lives overseas, just so that we can have cheap food here? I don't understand this immoral money-making mentality, it boggles my mind. Thanks for the info, responsibleshopper.com.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Week 12 Bean Challenge: One Dinner a Week

I haven't made chili since last winter, so I thought it was about time. Tonight's bean challenge dinner received an "it's kind of ok" rating from the kids, despite their preliminary utter refusal to eat it.

I like spicy and garlic laden chili. I could not make it that way if there was to be any hope of them touching it. So, here it is:


EXTREMEly Mild Chili
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp finely minced onion
  • 1 & 1/2 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 morning star farm veggie-sausage patties, (if frozen, warm in microwave first, then and crumble)
  • 1/3 cup extra firm tofu, diced (optional). Be sure to drain it.
  • 2 cups Vegetable stock (I like Emeril's Organic Vegetable Stock)
  • 1 cup (or so) frozen garden cherry tomatoes (you can also use 1 - 16 oz. can of tomatoes)
  • 1 1/2 cup of red kidney beans (from bulk), or you can also use 1 - 16 oz. can of kidney beans
  • sea salt, to taste

- Saute onion, garlic, and chili powder in the olive oil about 5 minutes.
- Sautee the veggie sausage patty crumbles a few minutes
- Add tofu, vegetable stock and tomatoes. Simmer about 20 minutes.
- Add beans. Simmer 10 more minutes.
- Add sea salt to taste as it simmers. You can add more vegetable stock if it dries up too much.

This tasted more like a soup than chili. It's not spicy at all. Add some crushed red pepper or some pepper sauce in your bowl if you need yours spicy. Or you can simmer two batches at once, just add the spices to the other pot as you cook.

Serve with:
- Homemade cornbread (we used Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal)

- Cooked organic carrots: A fast way to cook them is in a microwave safe bowl, with a lid on it (to keep in moisture).
  • Cut up carrots
  • Pour on vegetable stock, about 1 inch
  • Dot a tiny bit of butter on the carrots.
  • Microwave about 10 minutes or less - check tenderness occasionally.
Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cookin' it Old School

Cookin' it Old School. Literally. I love old cookbooks that have kitsch value. Here's a cookbook from my childhood. My former elementary school asked the parents to contribute recipes for a fundraiser cookbook. Here are the results.

Great cover: "Kissin' wears out...Cookin don't!" ("Cookin" didn't get the little apostrophe at the end, for some reason.) It looks like people have always been droppin' g's.


If you're looking for a recipe for "Spud Nut Donuts", wait no more! The "nut" must be from nutmeg? Don't forget to fry in deep fat.

One Less Plastic Bag

I used these bags for packing the kids' lunches today.

"Natural Value" brand
- Unbleached Natural Waxed Paper
- Non-Toxic when incinerated
- Landfill safe
- Will not contaminate ground water.

Just use a piece of masking tape to seal it.


Works great! Another way to cut down on plastic bag usage.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Homemade Halloween Costumes

Halloween is approaching and this is my first attempt to make home-made costumes from thrift store items. I would describe myself as "craft-challenged", meaning I cannot sew, glue, bead, or cut fabric to save my life. Artsy, yes. Crafty, no. So, I look for guidance. My web site reference of choice is "Coolest Homemade Costumes". And any suggestions you have are needed and wanted!

Our daughter wants to go as Pippi Longstocking this year (with a subtle suggestion from her mother) and we're glad about that. Pippi is the "strongest girl in the word", after all! Our daughter went as Ariel the Mermaid last year, and I wanted her to try something non-Disney this year. (My conflicted feelings for Disney are for a later post.)

So far, we have for Pippi:
  • a blue plaid dress (thrift store)
  • a yellow t-shirt that I cut into an "apron" and tie in the back (thrift store)
  • Some red pipe-cleaners for pigtails that stick up (Target)...we can use them for crafts at a later time.
  • 2 pairs of long socks for "mismatching"...and she can wear them post-Halloween (Target)
Need for Pippi:
  • A pair of "clomper-stomper" black shoes...if I can't find at a thrift store, she'll just wear a pair of her own shoes.
  • Makeup for freckles (I'll use some eyeliner).
  • Some felt squares to sew on the "apron" as pockets
Our 3-year-old son wants to go as a ghost. So far, I bought a sheet from a thrift store and am looking to eHow for guidance. I'm still not sure how to make it...and I want to make sure it's easy for trick or treating. You would think cutting a white sheet would be easy, but yet again...artsy - not crafty.

Anybody else working on home-made costumes this year?

Week 11 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

To borrow the words of Joe Biden, last week's bean dinner was an "abject failure".

I did a repeat of the pesto pasta dinner with garbanzo beans, homemade bread crumbs, and homemade garlic bread. The kids complained the entire time. I'm not sure what the main issue was...maybe too much garlic in the pesto? I'll cut back on that...if I ever make it again!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baobob: Fruit of the Future?

I ran across an article in Reuters today about a fruit from Africa called "baobob". Acording to the article, it has the "potential to plug millions of poor African bush dwellers into a lucrative, sustainable market".

"DAKAR (Reuters) - Its fruit has a tart, zesty taste -- some say like sherbet. It's highly nutritious, and might be imbued with the souls of dead chieftains. If you live in Europe, it could be headed to a smoothie near you."

I'd like to give it a try some day. We'll see how long it takes for it to make it over to America. The "souls of the dead" part isn't so appetizing, but the sherbet part sounds good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Week 10 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

This week's bean challenge dinner was a Lentil Loaf, based on this recipe that we've made before. A few modifications:

  • I upped the eggs to 3, based on a "too dry" comment.
  • I mixed in some parmesan cheese and melted meunster cheese on top for the last 10 minutes (I guess we like cheese around here)
  • I cooked the lentils in Emeril's Organic Vegetable Stock instead of water or salted water. It gives the lentils a lot more flavor.
  • I left out the dried soup mix.
  • I substituted ketchup instead of tomato paste (no tomato paste on hand! Use what you have...)
I would have added more spices or fresh garlic if I thought our kids would go for that sort of thing. Most of the time they do not, so I have to take it slow. Our son ate most of it, and our daughter needed some coaxing. A mild success.

By the way, you can make this ahead of time. I prepared it last night and cooked it this evening.

Final dish: served with cooked organic carrots and organic potatoes. A hearty fall dinner...it's lentil loaf season!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

$700 Billion & Fried Green Tomatoes

These are nerve-wracking financial times.  A $700 billion proposed bail-out for Wall Street, 401ks and other personal investments in trouble, gas - expensive, groceries - expensive, continuing lay-offs, people losing their houses. When I think about it, it makes me want to bury my head in the sand.

What does our country's financial mess have to do with fried green tomatoes?  On a personal level, it's about conserving.  Conserving our money and using what we have.  Growing a garden and eating from it. Groceries cost more these days - the fridge grows emptier as we wait for the next payday, so it's time to get creative.

Thus, fried green tomatoes are on the menu.  We have several tomatoes sitting on the vine for about 2 weeks, but not ripening.  Why, I don't know (if you have any theories, I welcome them!).  But I got tired of seeing them becoming weather damaged as I waited for them to grow red.  

I looked up a recipe here and we had fried green tomatoes for the first time ever.  They were excellent.  The kids didn't eat them, but maybe they'll grow to like them.  

Don't get me wrong, we're not starving, but I feel like I'm in "watching pennies" mode. These odd financial times are creating a synergism of being "green" and budget conscious in our household. Do you feel the same way?