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. 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" 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:

  • 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!)
  • 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.
  • Recruit your neighbors to get a "block" discount for recycling service. Maybe a new year's resolution for the block?
  • 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 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 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?