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!