Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thinning Carrots

I was thinning carrots in our garden the other day. I've yet to have good luck growing carrots. We'll see what we get later in the season!

Thinned carrot.

Posed with quarter to show scale.

Please share: What's your experience with growing carrots? Advice is wanted and needed!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Week 2 Bean Challenge: One Dinner a Week

Another bean challenge dinner fulfilled! I wanted to be a little more creative tonight, but time did not permit. This dinner took about 30 minutes to prepare: Tostadas.

Although I love tortillas (I ate a lot of them growing up), sometimes I get a little tired of eating them out of the fridge. So I thought I would pan fry them. I also thought the kids would like a little variety with their tortillas (yes, they are eating a lot of them too, as they grow up!)

First I cut the tortillas in smaller circles (for little hands) by tracing with a knife around a glass. I was able to get 3 tortillas out of one this way.

Next, I browned them in a pan with a little canola oil (corn oil would be tasty too).

I cut up the remaining tortilla "scraps" and browned them in the pan with a little paprika and sea salt, to make "chips". By the way, you could bake all of this in the oven with little or no oil, but it was too hot to turn on the oven today.

See picture on the right to check out the amount that came from just 3 small "fajita" style tortillas!

Next is corn on the cob. You can cook it fast by wrapping it in plastic wrap and cook in the microwave for several minutes, depending on the amount you cook at one time (2 whole ears take about 9 minutes in our microwave).

I warmed up some left over red pepper and fresh green onion (this is for the "adult" tostada toppings).

Then I warmed up a can of vegetarian refried beans. I used the same skillet for all, since I'm not a fan of cleaning pots and pans. Plus, it conserves water.

Here it is served.

I added fresh organic tomatoes from our garden (yellow pear and cherry) on the side, topped the kids version with cheese and the adult's version with sauteed vegetables.

Best of all...the kids ate it!

I'm still on the lookout for bean dinner recipes. If you run across some tasty ones, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I (heart) the Library

I am making a public proclamation regarding my deep love for the library. One of the environmentally conscientious things about the library:

You borrow, then return.

No extra book production (read: paper) necessary. That goes for music CDs and videos too (plastic and more plastic)

Here are some of the library items we have in our house currently:
  • Arnie the Doughnut (a tape story narrated by the actor Michael McKean)
  • A children's numbers / counting book
  • A Berenstain Bears children's video
  • A Maurice Sendak Little Bear children's video
Some recent returns were:
  • A Replacements CD to round off the collection as well as a Bob Dylan CD.
  • Several Vegetarian Times magazine back-issues
And how great is this? We can reserve books, CDs, and videos on line. Here are some items that I am awaiting:
  • What to Eat: Marion Nestle
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Barbara Kingsolver (I've been reading a lot about food lately!)
  • When you are Engulfed in Flames: David Sedaris
Regarding the David Sedaris book: I am #217 of 220 holds. There's nothing wrong with a little delayed gratification! I'm sure I'll appreciate it more this way.

The next time you get the urge to buy brand new books, give this a try: Go to the book store armed with a pen and piece of paper, browse the books, and write down all of the ones you will reserve from the library!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Week 1: Bean Challenge - One Dinner a Week

Tonight we completed our first "bean challenge" dinner: Pasta with Cooked Tomatoes & Beans. It was a success in the sense that it was tasty and nutritious. It was not a success in the popular-with-the-kids department!

A lesson was reinforced tonight: our children simply do not like cooked tomatoes. They enjoy raw tomatoes. I remember disliking most forms of tomatoes growing up, so I can give them a break with this issue.

So here's the recipe if you want to try it at home. At least I liked it!

Pasta with cooked tomatoes and beans (as always, adjust to your own tastes)
  • 1/4 cup olive
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1/2 shallot finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley (stems removed)
  • 1 green onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 large can tomatoes (you can choose to drain or not)
    • We buy "Muir Glen Whole Organic" canned tomatoes. This brand is the best tasting, and the "whole" tomato has more flavor than the diced
    • We used the "Fire Roasted" variety, so it gave the tomatoes a nice smoky flavor
  • 1 can northern beans, rinsed and drained
    • We used Westbrae Naturals brand - the best tasting canned bean in my opinion - usually in the natural foods aisle
  • Pasta of you choice (we used spaghetti) cooked in salted water
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to top it off
  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet
  2. Add garlic, shallot, parsley, and green onion (optional)
  3. Cook until garlic is translucent
  4. Add 1 can whole tomatoes - cook 8 - 10 minutes and chop them up in the skillet with your spoon
  5. Add the beans last - don't stir a lot, they'll get mushy. Just let them heat up a bit with the other flavors
  6. Spoon on top of pasta, or...mix the pasta in the pan with the tomato and bean mixture for a few minutes to heat up the pasta and coat it. I like this technique.
  7. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  8. Serve with a side of steamed vegetables (broccoli, in our case)
Dinner is served!

I once heard that photographing food is one of the most difficult things to photograph, in order to make it look appetizing. So if this isn't looking to good to you, rest assured: It tasted great!

By the way, here is a technique I use when cooking for our children. The kids don't like flecks of green in their food (in this case parsley and green onion), so I make one small batch without green flecks (on left) and green flecks on the right. It's not hard to have 2 batches going at the same time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First Tomatoes of the Season

Our first ripe tomatoes arrived yesterday (July 22). We are growing yellow pear tomatoes (my favorite), cherry tomatoes, and Big Boys this year. We continue to harvest cucumbers every day. Pictured are "bush pickles". These are delicious smaller cucumbers. They're doing better this year than our other cucumbers.

Try a simple salad with chopped garden cucumbers and sliced tomatoes, along with the salad dressing recipe below!

Salad Dressing Recipe

As an accompaniment to the previous post about parsley, here is a salad dressing recipe I often make. Salad dressing is super easy to make at home, tastes better than store bought, and saves on plastic and glass bottles (I've never found a good reuse for those bottles).

I don't typically measure when I cook, I mostly make it up as I go along and taste. These measurements are very approximate. So if this doesn't look right to you, be sure to adjust it for your tastes! Please bear with my ingredients commentary:
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (rice vinegar has a mild and delicate flavor)
    • (or try real apple cider vinegar, like Bragg. It's an acquired taste, so you may want to go easy with this. Please don't buy the Heinz apple cider vinegar in a jug - it doesn't taste as good)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 clove finely minced garlic
  • 2 tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbs finely chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup tamari sauce (like soy sauce, but tastes better)
  • a few squirts of lemon juice (fresh lemon tastes better, if you have it handy)
  • 6 tablespoons of tahini (sesame paste, found near the peanut butter or in the natural foods aisle)
  • a few pinches of sugar (don't use too much - it's just to enhance and balance the flavors)
Mix the rice vinegar (pictured is apple cider vinegar) and olive oil first, add the tamari sauce and tahini. Add a *tiny* bit of water if it is too pasty. Mix in the lemon juice. Add the garlic, parsley, and onion.

Then add a pinch of sugar and mix. If you add more sugar, taste after each pinch to make sure it isn't too sweet.

Since this is "real" salad dressing, the oil will separate. So leave it out on the counter to warm up and mix before you serve (or if you are in a real hurry, warm up in the microwave for a few seconds before mixing).

Another parsley note: Be sure to remove the stems and chop the parsley. See photos:

Removing the stems with handy kitchen shears

Chopping parsley with handy kitchen shears

Parlsey - Way Underrated

We are growing parsley this year, like every other year we've had our garden. I find parsley to be way underrated. Fresh garden parsley has a subtle spiciness that you don't get from the sad little parsley sprig you find on your plate at a restaurant.

We grow parsley in an old wooden tub in the corner of our garden. And you hardly need to do anything to it to get it to grow - just put it in some good black dirt, use your usual manure / compost, sprinkle the parsley seeds, and voila - it grows like a weed.

Some of my favorite uses for parsley are:

  • Make homemade salad dressings, with a tablespoon or two with finely chopped parsley
  • Mix it into a corn and black bean salad with olive oil, sea salt, red onion, and garlic
  • For the meat lover in you: Rub a whole chicken with olive oil, sea salt, minced fresh garlic, a dash of crushed red pepper, then stuff lemon slices and fresh parsley under the skin before roasting
  • When you've go too much parsley, pick it, let it dry for several days (try hanging it upside-down with string to save counter space), remove stems, then crush it and save it for use during those long winter months (great for seasoning red sauces)

And here are a few of my favorite anecdotes about parsley:
  • A Lebanese man who frequently ate garlic told me: eat a few sprigs of parsley after a meal made with garlic. Your garlic breath will go away!
  • An aerobics instructor told me: she takes parsley pills every day and her foot odor went away, plus her sweat didn't smell so much any more!
Wow...great to cook with, AND a natural deodorizer. Enjoy!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Clothing: reducing / reusing / recycling

I ran across this blog a while ago called Little Brown Dress. The idea behind it really captivated me. Here's the short description:

"365 days. one brown dress. a one-woman show against fashion."

Alex Martin (Little Brown Dress woman) goes on to explain her project:

"In this performance, I challenged myself to reject the economic system that pushes over-consumption, and the bill of goods that has been sold, especially to women, about what makes a person good, attractive and interesting. Clothes are a big part of this image, and the expectation in time, effort, and financial investment is immense."

Well said. I don't disagree.

I am truly in awe as I walk through a shopping mall and see the amount of clothing for sale. Do we really need all of this new clothing? What's wrong with the stuff we have on? Who is buying all of this? And what are we doing with it once we are done? Here are a few statistics I found:
  • 85% of the clothing sold in the United States ends up in landfills
  • You throw away 67.9 pounds of used clothing and rags each year, if you're like the typical American. Collectively, Americans discard two quadrillion pounds (that's a two with fifteen zeroes) of used clothing and textiles into the landfills each year.

Here is how we approach the issue of clothing-waste in our family:
  • Our kids often wear hand-me-downs from relatives and friends (they're young now, so this is easy)
  • I shop at consignment or thrift stores. This includes shoes, belts, and purses.
    • I wear used clothing, but not exclusively. Some day I'll inventory my wardrobe and post the results - to see if I really walk the walk!
  • We sell clothing at garage sales and sell them at children's used clothing stores
  • We give children's clothes to friends, or give them to charity
  • We cut up the more absorbent clothing and use it them for rags
  • Only the stained / non-absorbent clothing winds up in the trash.

Do you have any ideas on the subject of clothing in our country? How do you reuse / reduce / and recycle your clothing?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Awash in Stuff

I've thought for several years now that we have too much "stuff". Since my husband and I switched gears to a one-income family, we've drastically reduced any traces of recreational shopping we may have been accustom to in our earlier years as a couple.

After a few years of gradually cutting back on shopping, I still feel overwhelmed at times by the amount of "stuff" we have in our house. Example: a friend recently had a garage sale. I brought 4 carloads of "stuff" over to her house to sell. And I mean CARLOADS. Front, back, and trunk were packed with wares that we no longer use. And I felt like I didn't scratch the surface of "stuff" we don't use.

How can it be that our family has so many possessions, yet use so few of them on a regular basis? How could we have accumulated so many items that we truly don't value, yet they remain in our house?

While I'm not proposing we live like monks, I believe we (meaning my family, and our American society) should aim to live with items that we:
  • need (a real need! not perceived)
  • serve a purpose (see parentheses above)
  • truly value
I enjoy reading about techniques used to address these points. I'll post links that I run across. For example, the 30 day list is one technique I use on a regular basis.

Don't get me wrong. I like buying things - but not nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reduction in purchases is because of our one-income. But the other part is coming to a realization that I don't need all this "stuff".

The subject of "stuff" is one I am very interested in. I'll post about my efforts to enjoy and use the things I have, make smart purchases, and to thwart consumerism. I'm also interested on any thoughts you have on the subject as well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bean Challenge: One Dinner a Week

One of challenges I'm undertaking on behalf of our family is to have one meal a week that centers around beans. Beans are delicious, versatile, and our whole family likes them. And,
there is much to be said for a vegetarian diet vs. a meat based diet and their respective impacts on the environment.

Beans are most frequently used at our house as a side-dish, but not the focus of the meal. We haven't to this point made a conscious effort to have one bean-centric dinner a week. Right now, it just happens if it happens.

So now is the time - one bean dinner a week. The secondary goal is to have our children eat it...AND enjoy it!

Fortunately, I like to cook, so this should be a fun challenge. As an added bonus, I prefer to cook without meat. Raw meat is not my favorite ingredient to handle/slice, etc. (ick) Typically, when my husband and I cook with meat, we usually give the warning to each other: "Watch out! There's raw meat juice in the sink!" It will be nice to not have to proceed with caution when approaching the kitchen faucet.

I've flirted with vegetarianism in the past, but I feel a little rusty in the bean-recipe department. I welcome any of your favorite bean recipes! I'll keep you updated on our progress.

By the way, my favorite bean is: garbanzos (pictured above).

Monday, July 14, 2008

This cell phone won't die. So I hang on to it.

I have a cell phone that is about 6 years old. It has a crack in the plastic over the screen. I have dropped it countless times on sidewalks and ceramic floors, given it to small children to play with, yet it won't die.

At first I wanted it to die. I wanted it to die because I fantasized some day I would get a sleek, glossy, fully loaded iPhone. Never mind that we can't justify the $70 monthly bill for cell phone service. And never mind that I really don't need all of the functionality that it offers. But they sure are nice. Yes, I am human after all.

Now I'm looking at this old phone of mine in a different light. It's become a symbol to me. My own little way of rejecting consumerism. "Forget you, fancy-pants phones! I've got old reliable that works just fine!" The reception is good and I've never had to replace the battery. It has text messaging for that extremely rare occasion when I use it. Work doesn't require a cell phone. And I occasionally question whether or not I need a cell phone at all.

I'm thoroughly convinced cell phone companies are in the business of making us feel like we need their latest and greatest models they are constantly pushing. The cell phone industry reminds me of women's fashion - they change it up once a quarter (er, I mean season) so we can feel like we are seriously lacking if we don't have what Joanie Jones has.

I'm not impervious to the desire to buy new things. And I'm not condoning hanging on to (hoarding?) dilapidated items. But I am making a conscientious effort to make my stuff last, and buying used or refurbished, when it makes sense. Less waste, fewer electronics-generated toxins released into the environment, and good feelings all around.

Does anyone have thoughts on buying used/refurbished electronics? I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories (good, bad, or otherwise!)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Posing with Organic Green Beans

We had our first organic green bean harvest today! Here we are, posing with the green beans.

A serious green bean pose.

A less serious green bean pose, yet a tad more blurry.

We are also enjoying the organic raspberries and cucumbers daily. Tomatoes should be next!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Kids Soap - make your own

There is a certain kind of kids soap we used to buy: Kandoo. We liked it because it created an enormous amount of suds, which at least gave us the perception the kids are getting their hands clean. Plus, our daughter likes the purple plastic bottle.

And I like the bottle too. My reason is not the color, but the shape of the bottle. It's got a flat chunky bottom, which balances on the sink better than any other refillable bottle we've ever used.

The major turn off is they didn't sell refills. So, every time we ran out, we had to buy an entirely new bottle. Tremendous waste! Recently, Kandoo started selling refills. Really small refill bottles. Ugh...more plastic in the landfills.

So, we decided to make our own refill soap. And it works great!

Kids soap recipe:

- Fill the kid's soap bottle with water (leave room at the top)
- Add a few squirts of Dr. Bronner's soap (we bought the Hemp Fair Trade variety)
- Shake it up! May need to shake occasionally to get the bubbles going again.

If you don't have Dr. Bronner's on hand, you can try this recipe:

Kids soap recipe II:
- Fill the kid's soap bottle with water (leave room at the top)
- Add a few squirts of any liquid soap
- Add a few drops of oil - not too much (we used sweet almond oil, but I think olive oil might work too)
- yes...Shake it up!

Once and a while, the pump breaks down and we have to buy a new one (2 - 3 times a year). That's definitely fewer bottles than we were buying before!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Composting: and my weak excuses for not doing it

I don't compost.

I know that's not a cool thing to admit when you're trying to be environmentally conscientious. I want to change...really, I do. I have many weak excuses for not doing it. Lots. Here is a sample of the internal dialogue I've been having lately about my inability to get with the composting program:

I don't know how to compost.
Umm...have you ever heard of the Internet? You can research it. How about checking out this site? It's not that hard. You can figure it out.

My college roommate used to compost. It made our kitchen totally reek.
Yeah, your college roommate didn't know what she was doing. That old ice cream bucket with the word "Compost" written on it in black magic marker was a poor excuse for a compost pail. You can get a real compost pail, like this one.

I know your college roommate had good intentions.

I can't stand the thought of trying to build a compost bin with chicken wire, and then pitch-forking it all day long. The thought makes my back ache.
That's kind of lazy. But if you really aren't up to the task, you could buy one of these cool Compost Digesters. It's from the same company (Gardens Alive) that you bought your mole repellent from. Remember how the little buggers left your lawn within a matter of days? I'll bet this Compost Digester is real quality.

That's great - all those things you want to buy. But I really can't afford it right now.
All right, you got're not made of money. But you could save $5 a week for this stuff, couldn't you? Then you can have everything you need for composting next year.

I guess so. Here's my start:

...I'd love to hear your composting stories. I need the encouragement!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Plastic bag challenge: How many times can I reuse this?

Back in April 2008, a clothing store sent me one of their sale promotions.  A plastic bag you can stuff with clothes and get a discount.  

I didn't go to the sale, but I kept the bag.  A good sturdy bag.  One that can stand a little stuffing and stretching. 

We use this plastic bag for our mail recycling.  I open the mail, put what I don't need into the bag, then empty the contents into a paper bag in the basement for recycling later.  

Here is the challenge I pose to myself:  How many times can I reuse this humble plastic bag before it heads off to the landfill?   

I used to put plastic bags, along with mail, into the recycling.  I then realized...I should reuse this!  It's not dirty, it has no holes.  Besides, I don't think the city appreciates plastic bags along with the recyclable paper.

I've reused this bag 4 times now (note the tick marks in the photo).  I'll update the blog with results of my plastic bag challenge.   Want to join me in this challenge?  Feel free to send your comments on your progress.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

1st cucumber of the season

Corny, I know...but this is how I felt when I picked it!

Barter for a bike

Webster defines bartering as follows: "to trade by exchanging one commodity for another". This summer, I bartered for an item I have been enjoying all spring and summer: a bike.

There are lots of great things about this exchange:
  • I removed an item I from my house that I no longer need (a baby more babies for us!) It makes me happy when I can simplify our possessions.
  • My friend and I potentially kept the bike and play-yard out of a landfill.
  • Each one of us needed the item that we inherited. So, the items are much appreciated and used!
The reason this barter happened was because I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to buy a bike. She told me she had one she no longer used. I then thought, "What do I have, that she might want?" Thus this excellent exchange!

This barter got me thinking...what else could I barter? What possessions do I have, that I no longer want or use? And what items do I need?

I'm going to start a list of items that I own but no longer need. I can't help but think it's eventually going to be huge. I'll post the list as it grows.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A timely July topic: the garden & weeds

Since it is the beginning of July, I thought I would write about a timely topic: Our vegetable garden. We've had a vegetable garden for the past 4 years now, and each year I learn a little more. I would never describe myself as having a green thumb; half of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing - I just keep digging. Thankfully, the internet and my other biggest source of gardening information (thanks mom!) have helped me to increase yearly my harvest of fresh and organic vegetables.

My thoughts on having a vegetable garden: I love the idea of being able to grow our own food. Self-sustainability is very satisfying. I would recommend to anyone who has the space and the gumption to give a pesticide/herbicide-free vegetable garden a try. It saves resources in many ways: saving fuel driving to the market, avoiding hazardous chemicals, not to mention saving yourself money.

The following are growing in the garden, along with their current status:
  • Raspberry bushes (2 small harvests)
  • Yellow Pear Tomatoes (3 plants - some green tomatoes)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (1 plant - flowering)
  • Bush Pickles (too many plants to count - flowering)
  • Cucumbers (1 plant - flowering)
  • Pumpkins grown from seeds (pumpkin vines, no flowers)
  • Green Onions grown from seeds (I gave up on these - the weeds overtook them)
  • Carrots grown from seeds (I'm predicting a very small harvest - maybe 5 carrots if we're lucky!)
  • Green beans (climbing up the fence)
  • Red Bell Peppers (2 little green ones)
  • Parsley (it's growing)
The current issue I am having with the garden is that it is overrun with weeds.

I don't have the time or ambition to get out to the garden ever day to weed it - that task doesn't make it into the daily roster of household priorities. So what's a semi-gardener, who doesn't want to use chemicals, to do? I've since learned something to try is laying newspaper on the dirt, wet it every day to suffocate the weeds, then pitchfork it into the dirt as it decomposes. But the question in my mind: Does anybody else think newspaper in the soil sounds unhealthy? What is newspaper ink made of anyway? Will the chemicals from the ink leach into the soil? And if they do, will it do us any harm?

I'll continue to search for alternatives. Extra points for solutions that are inexpensive and low on effort.

About this blog

Welcome to "Striving Green", the blog that focuses on one family's attempt to become more environmentally friendly by the standbys - eating organically, keeping it local, reusing, reducing, and recycling. I call this blog "Striving Green", with an emphasis on the "striving". We're not perfect; we're learning as we go along.

I'll tell about the "green" successes and challenges we have with day-to-day issues as well as new discoveries I stumble upon. I'll pose questions to readers, looking for your thoughts and suggestions on how to improve upon reducing our consumption of resources. Sharing information and "making ripples" is something I enjoy. I hope you enjoy reading and become inspired to "strive green" too.