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?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Plastic Bag Challenge: update

We're up to 16 tick marks on the Old Navy plastic bag.  It's still strong!

Now That's What I Call Reusing!

My mother is a phenomenal  "reuser".  One of my funniest childhood memories of her creative reuses:  Cutting off the waist bands of my brothers' old tighty-whities and reusing them as rubber bands to keep the lids on board games.

Now that's what I call reusing!

Reusing Instruments

Our nephew's birthday is coming up.  The other day he told me about a gift he was saving up for.  A green bass guitar that he found at Music Go Round, a store that specializes in used musical equipment.

I think it's awesome that he's getting into music.  I know my brother, a musician himself, is totally psyched about this! (I hear he can't wait to join his 10 year old son's band.)  And I think it's fantastic that his parents have introduced him to the concept of reuse.  

There are many instruments out there just waiting to be loved and reused. Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys! Purchasing  a reused instrument is cheaper, and buying used isn't so painful if it doesn't catch on.  Many of us have learned (or attempted to learn) an instrument, only to leave it in the dust after a while.  I know I have (the flute - 5th to 9th grade).

I'm happy to promote the love of music and reuse.  Dear Nephew: the check's in the mail!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

$250 Room Decoration Challenge

I like a good challenge, so I'm creating another one for myself. I want to redecorate a room in our house by using *mostly* re-used items.

It's a finished bedroom in our basement that we'd like to turn into an office. Right now it's a bright "boy blue". It has been blue ever since we moved here (about 6 years ago) and we've never gotten around to repainting it (don't want to rush things, you know...). At least we took off the wallpaper border, which was a football scenario from the previous owner. It's a great room, we just haven't used it to its full potential.

Here's how I'd like to redecorate, and my order of preference:
  • Repurpose / reuse what we already own
  • Purchase reused items (thrift, consignment)
  • Purchase new, but try to be eco-conscious with these purchases
The budget I've given myself is a $250. I won't count the paint we bought recently. I came across this figure after browsing in a book store and ran across a book called the $500 Room Makeover, and figured "why not try for 1/2 that amount"?

I'm not so sure that our office will look as fabulous as those pictured in the book, given our halved budget and my lack of interior design instinct. But I like to be creative, so I'm willing to give it a shot. If you have any suggestions as we roll along, please feel free to shout them out!

Yeesh...needs major help.

Another use for parsley

Parsley-Garlic Mayonnaise

Spice up a sandwich with this easy recipe!
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley (stems removed and chopped)
  • A little fresh garlic (minced)
  • A little fresh lemon juice
  • A little paprika
By the way, I love the Pampered Chef glass prep bowls. I've gotten tons of use out of them (freezer and microwave safe). And I love that they are glass, as opposed to made entirely of plastic. If anyone needs the name of a good Pampered Chef consultant, let me know and I'll pass her name along!

Week 9 Bean Challenge: 1 dinner a week

This week's bean challenge dinner wasn't 100% composed of beans. We still had garbanzo beans for dinner, but it was accompanied by a little salmon. When I announced to our kids that we were going to have hummus & crackers for dinner, our daughter requested tuna on crackers too. I'm glad she likes tuna fish, and I'm glad she's grown to include it in her repertoire of foods she enjoys, so I didn't say no.

Turns out we didn't have tuna fish, but had packaged salmon (Alaska Wild Caught - better for the kids). So our daughter agreed this was acceptable (it's "pink" - a major selling point), our son goes along with practically anything, and dinner was served.
  • Homemade Hummus
  • Crackers
  • Garden Tomatoes
  • Garden Cucumbers
  • Salmon
Not 100% perfect, but we're trying!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Week 8 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

A few days ago I expand the definition of our bean challenge to include tofu. Since tofu is made essentially of soy beans, I decided it qualifies. If I can sound inappropriately lofty for moment, the addition of tofu will further expand our "bean dinner horizons".

I followed the tofu recipe and preparation tips here. I also heeded the article's advice: buy organic tofu (non-organic is treated heavily with pesticides), use "extra-firm" tofu when frying/stir-frying, and be sure to drain it first (takes about 15 minutes to do that properly.)

Our family is not used to tofu. That's not to say I haven't tried serving it (personally, I love it). But the times I have tried, it's been met with heavy sighs. Not this time - slow and steady wins the race.

Tofu Stir-Fry

First I rounded up vegetables from the fridge, then chopped them finely.

Next I cubed the tofu, and coated it with flour, cornstarch, sesame seeds, and salt.

Time to deep fry the tofu. I've never deep fried anything before. It looks like a good way to get a bad burn. But I was willing to try, 'cause the recipe told me to.

Stir fry the vegetables in this order, longer cooking time first, shortest last:
  • Carrots
  • Green Onions
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms
I stir-fried them with a store-bought garlic hoisin sauce.

And viola - tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce and rice.

True story: when I told my husband I was making tofu for dinner, he asked if I could warm him up some leftover pizza (sigh). He was willing to try it first (MUST set good example for children.) By the time he was done "trying" it, he ate an entire tofu dinner and declined the pizza. And the kids liked it too. 3 tofu converts!

If I'm describing the weather in terms of dinners, I'd say "Meat Loaf" weather is upon us (the actual loaf, not the '70s singing sensation). I'm thinking a lentil loaf may be in order next week.

Anyone have a favorite tofu recipe? I'd love to expand my repertoire.

Thrift Store Score 2

While between errands, I made a quick stop at a nearby Thrift Store. This is what we got for $20:

  • A Ralph Lauren jean jacket (for me). The best score of the trip.
  • A girl's Hanna Andersson shirt for next fall
  • A girl's Children's Place shirt for next fall
  • A pair of crop pants for next summer (for me)
  • A plaid flannel dress for our daughter - the beginnings of this Halloween's "Pippi Longstocking" costume
I've read the book "America's Cheapest Family" and picked up many great money saving tips. By far, my favorite tip is to buy clothing in sizes/seasons ahead, that are either at the thrift store or on sale at a retail store, then inventory in a notebook what you have. That way, you won't overbuy, and you'll be ready for the next season. Just get the clothes out of the attic.

Amazing - being thrifty and "green" often overlap!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Decluttering & the Weather

The change of the seasons has spurred some decluttering activity from me.  I don't know what it is about the change in weather that makes me want to review our possessions, but when the mood strikes me, I seize it.

This past week I've been putting clothing and children's books in boxes to sell and to give away.  Tonight I went to a local children's re-used clothing store and sold what I could.  I walked away with a $33 dollar check, a pair of gently used shoes ($2.50) for our son's preschool locker, and a brand-new looking long sleeve shirt for our son ($3.50).  

I also walked away with a box of clothing that they wouldn't buy.  "Overstocked" on winter coats, the clerk said.  And some clothes were deemed "too worn".  I looked the items over before I left, curious to see what they considered worn out.  None of the items were out-of-style (many were from last season), and some were hand-me-downs never worn by our kids. No stains, no missing buttons, hems in tact, etc.  Their definition of "too worn" is a bit mysterious to me.  They were definitely donation worthy.

Luckily, the charity donation truck is stopping by our house tomorrow.  Out with the old, and in with the reused.  If I didn't have to sleep, I would head up to the attic tonight to see what else I could declutter & donate!

Anyone else in a decluttering mood?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Consignment Shopping for Winter Wardrobe

I've gone through many clothing sizes in the past 5 years, due to having 2 children in fairly rapid succession.  My size has gone from many years of being at a stable weight, to maternity, to decrease, to maternity again (larger this time), to decrease, and still working on it...

My "many sizes" have created havoc in my wardrobe.  Throw in the changing seasons (per the previous post), and I find myself with nothing to wear.  So today I started my journey for buying reused winter clothing for myself.  I can't stand the thought of my daughter being too cold and not having seasonally appropriate clothing, but I can stand a few chills myself.  So my incremental build begins.

I'm still looking for winter shoes in consignment and thrift stores.  My tip for buying reused shoes is to buy ones that look as new as possible. Otherwise they've probably molded to somebody else's foot shape. Not comfy.

Has anyone else had size "issues" with their wardrobes?  Or other wardrobe issues? How do you handle it?

Changing Seasons / Changing Wardrobe

The seasons are changing quickly in our part of the country.  About 2 weeks ago we had hot and humid weather and this week it has been mild and cooler.  Fall is in the air.  Time to change out the wardrobes.

Because of the cooler weather, I decided to take a trip up to the attic to see what was there for the kids, in terms of winter clothing.  Our son is pretty much set due to a large amount of hand-me-downs, with the exception of winter gear and a few long sleeve shirts.  Our daughter, on the other hand, had very little in terms of warm clothing.  I wanted very much to buy her reused and consignment clothing, but knew that would take time, some driving around, and an incremental wardrobe build that I didn't feel like we had time for, per the latest forecast.

I wound up going to a department store and bought her a mess of brand new clothing.  I spent more money than I wanted to. Of course, she loves her new wardrobe, so that made me happy. And she sure looks cute in her brand new duds.

But I couldn't help but feel some pangs of regret.  "Why didn't I plan ahead better? Winter comes every year!" If I had planned better, I could have spent less money AND bought mostly reused clothing.  Also, planning ahead allows you the time to be choosy about the reused items you buy.

I'm not into beating myself up over little things, so I'll let go of this one.  But I learned a lesson.  Be like the ant in the old Aesop's fable:  Plan ahead for winter or pay the price!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Week 7 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

I was really excited to give the "Lentil Walnut" burgers a try from the Moosewood Cookbook. They were time consuming to make, but worth the wait.

Week 7 Bean Challenge was definitely NOT popular with the kids. I don't get it! I thought they were delicious. Here's a slice of our dinner conversation:

Child 1: "I don't like these!"
Child 2: "These taste icky!"
Husband: "How do you think this dinner is going over, on a scale from 1 to 10"
Me: "Negative 3"
Husband: "That good, huh?"

There must be something wrong with the children's taste buds!

Thrift Store Score

The other day while running errands, we happened upon a thrift store. This thrift store is in an affluent suburb, so we figured we would find some gently used stuff. Here are the used goods we got for $15:
  • 3 Movies: Grease, Peter Pan, Strange Brew (VCR version)
  • 2 books: An Arthur book and Peter Pan book
  • A girl's hoodie, which looked brand new
  • 2 pairs of kids brand new slippers (looked like a Target overstock)
If you still have a VCR like we do, a whole world of thrift store entertainment opens up! We've watched 2 out of 3, and the movies still work.

Also going along with our effort to simplify and declutter, I got rid of some other items in our house since we brought in some new items. Mainly clothing and books the children no longer read.

Does anybody like thrift stores as much as I do? What do you like to buy?

Zero VOC Paint

We recently bought some zero-VOC paint from Home Depot called Freshaire. I want to paint the downstairs bedroom and thought we'd give this paint a try.

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. It appears as though there is all kinds of toxic stuff in regular paint - bad for your health and bad for the environment.

The smell of fresh paint bothers me so much that I have to keep far away from it. It gives me headaches, like many other strong chemical smells, perfume included. I'm looking forward to putting the $36/gallon price tag (ouch!) to the test. Other gallons of paint were $20 less. If it doesn't give me a headache, I'll never go back to cheap paint.

Week 6 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

Yesterday for our bean challenge we had what I decided to call "Mexican Pasta". Basically, it's corn, black beans, tomatoes with a pasta of your choice. So the corn, beans, and tomatoes are the "Mexican" part, and the pasta is the pasta part. Hmm...makes sense!

Looking for some inspiration, I opened the fridge and found some left over corn from the other night. Since it's summer, we always have garden tomatoes on hand. I sauteed the tomatoes with some garlic and olive oil while boiling the pasta. I added the beans and corn in the skillet at the end.

We also had some pine nuts in the fridge left over from our pesto meal, so I threw that on top as well. It sounds like a strange combination, but I liked the texture of the pine nuts on top of the softer foods.

I didn't have anything planned before I made this. You never know what you may come up with when cooking with left-overs!