Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coming Soon

Hello all - If you're wondering where I've been...I'm working on a new project that I'm really excited about. I hope to unveil it at the beginning of 2010.

Stay tuned for further details!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Soup Recipe: Pinto Bean & Roasted Garlic - Bean Challenge

This weekend I made a soup recipe: Pinto Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup. I backed off from my Bean Challenge "beans as a main dish" declaration and decided to make a bean soup this week.  I thought this would be a good way to continue finding interesting ways to  incorporate beans into our family's diet. Thanks to What's Cooking for this delicious recipe!

This soup was absolutely divine.

Anything with roasted garlic gets a huge thumbs up from me.  For all you garlic fans out there, take a gander at the 2 garlic heads, pre-roasting phase. Yummm....

If you haven't tried roasting garlic, it's very easy.  Follow the Roasted Garlic Recipe from Simply Recipes.

Here's a photo of the final product.  My photo doesn't do it justice.  If you want to see a much prettier picture, go to What's Cooking.

A few modifications:  I didn't have onions or avocado due to a grocery order mishap (I ordered delivery for the wrong day!)  I topped my soup with some dried parsley (compliments of this past season's garden).  Lucky for me, I saved the broth from my latest bean batch (see my How to Cook Beans video).  This soup tasted great!

This bean soup was creamy, satisfying - sooo good.  How did the kids gauge it?

4 year old - "This is the best soup ever!" I'm guessing this bold declaration was because he helped me blend it. Then he mostly didn't eat it - lots of coaxing did the trick for more spoonfuls.

6 year old - "This tastes terrible!  Why did you have to make soup?" I told her she had to eat 6 spoonfuls.

Husband was at work, so he'll have left-overs.  We talked about the soup on the phone.  Someday they'll appreciate their mother's cooking, I said.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Have to Tell You About this Chocolate

Lucky me! I was the recent recipient of some unique and delicious hand-crafted chocolate, made by an award winning local Chocolatier B.T. McElrath.  The gift:  Salty Dog Chocolate bar (70% dark chocolate with sea salt and butter toffee) and B.T. Berry Poinsettias.

Let me read to you the back of the Salty Dog box:

You have a choice.  Eat our Salty Dog Bar salt-side up and you're invited into its rich, dark chocolate charms, only to discover the spiky crunch of toffee and sea salt.  Eat it salt-side down and feel how the sharp pop of salt ushers in the notes of chocolate and caramel.  So what's it gonna be:  mellow or bold?  Or both?

Who writes this stuff?  They need a raise.

And another "green bonus": packages produced from Sustainable Forestry Initiative materials, which is a certified chain of custody promoting sustainable forest management.

Quick - order it now from btmcelrath.com (click on products link, then click on the chocolate images).  Here's the Christmas shipping info:

Holiday Shipping
To receive chocolates by Christmas Eve Day, please order by noon CST Fri. Dec. 18 (regular shipping) or noon CST Tues. Dec. 22 (rush shipping)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bean Challenge (again) - 1 Dinner a Week

Our Bean Challenge has restarted!  Yet again, we are going to have one dinner a week that centers around beans.  I hope this post will help you learn how to cook black beans.

On Saturday we had Black Bean Sweet Potato Burritos, and WOW they were great.  Our youngest enjoyed it, our eldest said it was "OK". Many thanks to Sarah from At Sarah's Table for taking the time to send me the recipe for this and many other great bean-centric dinners.

So, true to my recent form, I created a video on How To Cook Beans - Quick Soak
Description: Learn to cook dried black beans with the quick soak method. No pressure cooker needed! Step-by-step. Be sure to rinse and sort through beans first (check for debris) before quick soak. 

Sound effects and everything folks!  Hope you enjoy.

Here is the recipe for Black Bean Sweet Potato Burritos from the cookbook Simply In Season:

2 cups/750ml sweet potatoes (peeled and diced)
1/2 onion (chopped)
2 cups/500ml cooked black beans
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add and cook until heated through.

8 flour tortillas
1 1/2  / 375ml cups cheddar cheese (shredded)

Divide bean mixture and cheese among the tortillas and roll up.  Place in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Lightly spray with olive oil if desired.  cover pan with foil and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.  Garnish with sour cream, salsa, and fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Green Black Friday (Without the Preachiness)

Since Black Friday is approaching, I've been kicking around a few suggestions about how to "green" Black Friday shopping without sounding preachy. Yes, many love to shop on Black Friday. I get it - I've done it too and got some great bargains. Here are some things to think about before you venture out:

  • Treat your home to Energy Star appliances
    If you can get them at a locally owned appliance store, that's even better.

  • Bring reusable bags
    Check out the huge and convenient IKEA shopping bags for 59 cents and use them during your shopping spree. I've got 3 of these and have used them over and over again.

  • Shop locally
    If you usually shop at big box stores, try at least one stop at a locally owned store. You will likely be amazed at the selection that you can't get in any big box location.

    Some of my Twin Cities local favorites are: Patina, Nokomis Shoes, Bibelot, Electric Fetus, Cooks of Crocus Hill and Creative Kids Stuff. Be sure to check their sites - some have online deals if you can't shop in person.

  • Look for local discounts
    Check out sprout.mn for Twin Cities local merchant & green money-saving deals before you head out.

  • Buy consignment & reused
    Turn Style and Half Price Books are great places to browse and pick up something for yourself too.

  • Skip the drive-through
    Eat at at a locally owned restaurant after you've shopped. Buy some gift certificates for your friends and family if you like the place.

  • Buy original art as gifts
    Artists will appreciate your business and you'll give something unique to the person who has everything.

  • Give the gift of a cultural experience
    A gift certificate to a world cuisine restaurant or tickets to a cultural event that heightens your interest. If you don't know where to start, check out event schedules from local colleges and universities.

  • Invest in rechargable batteries
    We haven't done this yet...it might be the right year!

  • Order online
    My favorite way to shop - saves gas and time. FedEx & UPS know the most fuel efficient routes - much better than we do.

  • Think about last year
    How did you handle Black Friday last year? Did you like your choices? Or did it make you want to cringe? Remember what you liked and didn't like and set some green improvement goals. Here are some thoughts from last year's shopping.
Last and most importantly - if you dare to go shopping this Friday:
  • Be kind to others
  • Be polite to the store staff, and
  • Give a smile to those around you.
All those sappy things. A little kindness goes a long way.

And hopefully that last bit of advice wasn't too preachy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Simple Foods

I got to try 2 simple foods I've never had before until this weekend:
  • Urban Eggs (straight from the hen - no middle man)
  • Juice with Pomegranate & Acai
Urban Eggs:
Now THIS is local food. My co-worker raises hens - in the city. Lucky for me and other fortunate office-mates , she brought some eggs from her backyard hens.

The eggs were delicious - bright orange yolks and very fresh. Plus - such pretty colors!

Interested in raising hens? There are lots of on-line resources for raising hens, and co-ops hold seminars to get more in-depth urban chicken information. Did you know? Martha Stewart has been raising hens for a long time!

Juice with Pomegranate & Acai
I've had pomegranate juice before, but never with the much touted acai berry. The Lakewood Pomegranate with Acai juice was an impulse buy from my local co-op. Positioned on the end cap, ripe for impulse buying. It's organic, lots of vitamin C, has anti-oxidants, and it's 100% juice. It even has Omega oils. That's a lot for one modest size bottle of juice. The taste is sweet and a little tart. The texture - full bodied and thick. A great impulse buy. Amazon sells a 6 pack case if you're really into it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Free Font: Ecofont

I love free fonts. Luckily, I recently ran across this free font called Ecofont. A Dutch design firm called SPRANQ designed it and claim it uses up to 20% less ink than typical fonts.

Per the example above, you can see the holes in a larger font. But when it's reduced, you can't see the holes. It has the same effect when you print. Most people print at a 9 or 10 point font; when you use Ecofont you won't notice a difference in legibility.

Some technical notes for those that are curious- the site says:
The Ecofont works best in OpenOffice, AppleWorks and MS Office 2007. Printing with a laser printer will give the best printing results.

And if you combine Ecofont with printing on both sides of the paper, woah! It's blowing my mind how you can make necessary printing more eco-friendly!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hair Donation Update

It's hair donation check in time! Yep - these kinds of self-portraits-in-the-bathroom-mirror are pretty ridiculous. I completely agree.

I'm still growing out my hair for donation (Pantene Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love) and recording the progress. But it seems like the growth has stalled - thus the dismayed look (hmm....)

It doesn't look much longer than this one in July 2009. But longer than this one in November 2008. So - almost 1 year. Not quite there.

Maybe the colder weather is causing the slow down? I'll keep going. It has to start growing again at some point!

I admire all of you that have attempted and succeeded in a hair donation!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Keep 'em Fresh

Don't you hate when you buy greens and they're slimy within a few days? Especially if you spend extra money on organic greens?

There's a way to keep those greens fresh!
I ran across a great tip from Alton Brown (food genius extraordinaire) that really works.

- Rinse your greens

- Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes:

- After soaking, drain in a colander

- After draining, spin greens in a salad spinner. If you don't have one (like me), you can lay out the greens on a clean towel, and dab dry with another clean towel.

- Roll up the greens in a long paper towel. This wicks away moisture but still keeps them slightly moist. I've also used a thin clean kitchen towel - it works just as well:

- Store in a Ziploc plastic bag. When you've almost entirely sealed the bag, insert a straw, suck in to remove the air, then seal completely. Yes - low-rent vacuum sealing your greens.

Now you have clean fresh greens handy for daily salads. Unroll the paper towel and take out the amount you need.

Alton Brown says the best greens to use are bulk mixed greens (the "serve yourself" kind you grab with tongs in grocery stores/co-ops). I've also found this method works with spinach & arugula. Yea!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day: Climate Change - 3 Simple Things

Happy Blog Action Day 2009! This year's theme is Climate Change.

Last year I wrote about 3 easy things one can do to help those in poverty. I'll stick with the same theme "3 Easy Ways". Ah...simplicity.

3 Easy Ways to Help Prevent Climate Change

Save Trees - Print on Both Sides of the Paper
Paper comes from ----> trees. Trees = good for climate.

If you need to print, give this paper saving trick a try:
  • Check if your printer has a setting to print on both sides. If so, use it.

  • Check if your printer can print 2 pages of your document on one side. If so, use it.

  • Now put it together and print your document. 4 pages of a document on one piece of paper.

  • Tell your collegues before the meeting to remember their reading glasses.
Thanks Peter at Project Oriel for teaching me this trick long ago!

Buy Used
These days you can find so many great used things - appliances, refurbished electronics, sports equipment, furnishings...it goes on. Keep reusable stuff out of landfills.

I'm especially a fan of buying used clothing & shoes - thrifting or consignment. Not that you have to buy all of your clothing used - sometimes you just have to have that newest/latest item (I understand these urges). Just start at the level you're comfortable with. Here are some sites I've discovered recently: check them before you go thrifting/consignment shopping to get some inspiration: Already Pretty and Fashion for Nerds. These girls got it goin' on!

Turn Off the Lights & Unplug
It's pretty simple -
  • If you're not in the room, turn off the light.

  • If you're not using it, turn it off.

  • If you're not charging it, unplug it.

Are you really paying attention to the TV when you're on the computer? Probably not. I'm guilty of this too. You and I - We can get better together.

That's it - 3 Easy Ways...how about you? Any other easy ideas out there?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Confession...and a few freezing tips

I have a confession to make: I let my garden go during the month of September.

Pretty much completely let it go...let it go to the weeds, left tomatoes unpicked. Shame shame shame. Why? Well I suppose I could rationalize. Here are my lame excuses:
  • September was a blur - our oldest started Kindergarten this year. I was very caught up in making sure she had a good start. Such a good mommy - doting on her daughter and ignoring the vegetables.

  • Scheduling changes this fall - It makes me want to spend my precious little free-time relaxing instead of pulling weeds. I suppose *some* people think pulling weeds is relaxing. I pity them (just kidding you two).

  • I spent some of my evenings doing short runs, slowwwwly building my stamina back from many years ago. I've got a ways to go on that front. Sorry - too tired to garden... I just ran 4 blocks.
Despite my neglect, we've had plenty of vegetables from the garden and our CSA. Ah, me. This was not a stellar gardening year - not even close. Just keepin' it real folks!

If you find that you have an over abundance of garden vegetables & fruit (or can't get through those berries from Costco), take a look at my Striving Green Delicious bookmarks under the "freezing" and "drying" tag (guess what I did this weekend?):

Garden - until next year: Try, try again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Choose To Reuse

It's soon to be October, so that means it's time for the Hennepin County, MN Choose to Reuse coupon book!

From the Choose To Reuse site:
"Hennepin County is once again providing free coupon books for special deals at local retailers in and around Hennepin County to promote reuse and easy reuse opportunities in 2009."

Loads of great coupons for consignment, thrift, music, reconditioned appliances, and more. Be sure to download the FREE Choose to Reuse coupon book.

And remember - Halloween is approaching. So get those costume ideas together and use some thrift or costume shop coupons in the booklet.

I went as Ugly Betty last year...no ideas yet for this year. Suggestions are welcomed!

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Want This!

Cork Flooring

We're slowwwwly redoing our kitchen. Little by little. Did I mention we're redoing our kitchen very slowly?

Cork flooring has been on my mind lately. Yes, I'm daydreaming about flooring. *Sigh*

I recently got a chance to see a model kitchen at our State Fair that had cork flooring installed. It was sooo wonderfully cushy. What great flooring to have in the kitchen since we spend so much time there. We have an eat-in kitchen. No dining room. LOTS of time spent there.

Cork flooring is environmentally friendly (cork is harvested from the outside of trees which continue to grow when harvested correctly). It's warm and sound deadening too. Our kitchen gets so cold in the dead of winter. I can't help but think this is a great alternative to my desire to have heated flooring.

See Natural Built Home and Duro Design. I'm sold.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Random Updates Ahead!

I need to catch up - random updates ahead! Here are some things I've been doing lately and what's caught my eye.

Consignment Deals
Here's the thing about consignment shopping - you can go in looking for one thing, and walk out with something completely different. One must keep an open mind! This weekend I was looking for shoes. I couldn't find a pair I liked but wound up with some great deals:
  • Esprit Fall jacket
  • Banana Republic pants - tags still on
  • Reebok hoodie
  • Old Navy corduroys
Total : $55 (I also had a 20% off coupon). The Banana Republic pants alone would have been $55 retail. Seriously ladies (and gents) - give consignment shopping a try. Especially when you aren't looking for something super specific, but need to satisfy that "I need something new in my wardrobe" urge!

Garden Updates
We've been harvesting cucumbers, green beans, and cherry tomatoes often. I also picked a sprig of rosemary. We don't have a lot of rosemary this year - but I cherish what I have because I have so little of it this year. Our first Roma tomato was ready today...sort of. A little green, but I was impatient since I knew we were going to have the following this evening:

Summer Linguini with Fresh Tomatoes and Herbs
  • Boil linguini in salted water - set aside

    In a saucepan:
  • Some butter AND good quality olive oil together - A GOOD amount of olive oil since this will be the pasta topping

    For infusing the butter/olive oil sauce:
  • Add a sprig of rosmary - no need to chop up, just cut into 2 or 3 pieces to spread it around in the sauce pan
  • Add 1 clove of garlic - sliced once down the middle
  • Add some fresh chopped parsley
  • Melt the butter/olive oil together with other ingredients on low heat very slowly - you don't want to burn it.
  • Add sliced tomatoes and warm these up for a while. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are warmed up and soften to your liking.

  • Top your pasta with the butter/olive oil sauce with tomatoes & parsley. Enjoy the garlic and rosemary on top of your pasta too if you wish.

  • This dish is easy to supplement - it's good with kidney beans, left over chicken, seafood, parmesan...etc. etc.
Time Magazine Article - Cheap Food
The subject of food is a very interesting one to me. Growing it, gathering it, production, cost, cooking, ingredients in processed foods, organics - it's endlessly fascinating to me. Yes - I am taking a moment to embrace this foodie-geeky side of me!

Here's an interesting recent article at Time.com: Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. It's a good introduction to how the cost of food for Americans is at a historic low, but the cost in other ways (to our health and our country's farmland) is high.

And if you enjoy food voyeurism like I do, you'll like this slide show also from Time.com: What the Word Eats.

Grocery bill in Germany: $500 a week a for a family of 4! And I've been concerned about our more than $700/month grocery bill.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Veggie Challenge Summer '09 - Weeks 5 & 6 & Grocery Budget

Here are the results from our veggie challenge these past few weeks:

Week 5: Yum

Week 6: Please...no more cucumbers! We are drowning in them due to growth spurt in garden!

Week 3 & 4's throw aways - I really cannot stand green beans when they have any hint of brown spots. Or kohlrabi with brown spots. I know...picky-picky.

Lesson learned - it just means I need to eat them sooner. Or freeze the green beans (I think you need to blanche them first? Share your tips!)

Seemingly non-salvageable greens...tsk tsk.

In July, our grocery spending was down from last month: $733.23. (Compared to June's we spent $774.22 on groceries.)

Here's how July 2009 it broke down:
  • 12 grocery transactions (1 more than the month before!)
  • $333.69 at Super Target (we live really close to one)
  • $0 at our Co-op (boo...shame on me)
  • $3.55 at a local grocery store
  • $42.72 for the organic vegetable CSA delivery
  • $83.25 at the fancy expensive grocery store (for son's birthday party food)
  • $118.84 at Trader Joe's
  • $151.18 at Whole Foods
Could it be that we spent less this month because we had no co-op transactions this month? Or we ate less? Or ate more of what we had in our pantry? Or perhaps our pantry was fully stocked in July? Or because we're eating out of our garden now?

Perhaps all of the above?

I'm not sure, but I'll continue to keep an eye on things and report the findings!

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Ode to Summer

An ode to summer within bullet point format. Summer is beautiful in many ways and I appreciate it so. A few reasons why:
  • Fresh vegetables & berries are plentiful. So far we've harvested several tomatoes and cucumbers plus raspberries.
  • We can play outside without being cold (at least on most days)
  • Summer is a time of reunions. The other day our family took a trip out of town to enjoy a Water Park. And what did we happen to see but an old friend that we haven't see for quite some time...running down a country road. We called later to find out that he was in town and stopped by for one of his famous cook-out feasts.
Here's to summer and running down country roads!

Sprout MN!

Have you checked out Sprout MN yet? Check out merchants, print coupons and find special promotions and do some social networking by writing reviews & posting your green ideas.

I'm interested in seeing how this new site grows!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wind Power...You Mean It Could Be Cheaper?

I just signed up for a program that will supply 500 kWh per month of wind power for our home. It feels GREAT to actually put my money where my mouth is when it comes to renewable energy!

I just discovered today (per a tip from a friend) that we're eligible to purchase the option of either 100% wind power, or purchase 100 kWh blocks of wind power per month. We used 1040 kWh in July 2009, thus we'll buy about 1/2 of that in wind power.

The catch - you have to stay with the program for at least a year. And it could cost a little more than what you are paying now (but not much). From our energy provider's site:

The cost of all the Windsource energy you purchase, whether you chose to purchase blocks or 100% Windsource, will be based on your actual metered electricity usage. For 2008, the average net Windsource charge was $0.70 per 100 kWh block. Based on this rate history, an average residential customer using 675 kWh per month and signing up for 100 percent Windsource should expect an average increase of less than $10 to their monthly bill.

Increase in my bill? Don't hang up yet! Here's an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune - Wind Power was CHEAPER in July of 2008. Headline: Xcel wind power proved to be a July bargain

Start up time is about 1 month. I'll report the results as they come in.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hair Donation Update

I'm still working on that hair donation from back in November 2008. When I went to get my ends trimmed the other day the stylist suggested I have about another 16 months to go. (Say WHAT?!)

I'm not so sure - I think it might be growing at a faster rate than her guestimate, but since I am so terrible at math and measurement, I'll just keep growing it and not bother doing the calculations. I'll cut it for donation when it's time.

Did you know that it takes 6 pony tail donations to make a wig? Here's a link to learn more about the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program if you're interested. And I'm not just talking to you ladies...guys - you can do it too!

It's kind of bizarre having hair this long. I'm pretty sure I haven't had hair this long since high school...ACK!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Veggie Challenge Summer '09: Weeks 3 & 4 & Grocery Budget

Here are the results from our veggie challenge these past two weeks:

I'm happy to report we have eaten almost all vegetables and not thrown anything away. That being said, I'd better check up on the kohlrabi, kale, and Swiss chard that are still in the fridge!

Week 3 included:

- Beets: actually, I had to throw this one away. I tried cooking in the microwave and burned it. My husband said several times that the kitchen smelled like a "smelly old sweat sock"....? I'm not sure who's sweat socks he's referring to. A beet farmer's, perhaps?

- Kohlrabi: Have you every had kohlrabi? I've seen it in the grocery store, but never bought it. I would liken it to spicy cabbage. I've been eating it raw, just chopping it up in a salad. That's why I like belonging to a CSA. I'm willing try practically any vegetable ESPECIALLY since I already paid for it.

- Sugar snap peas: kids liked them with coaxing

- Spring lettuces: So fresh & much better than store bought - I'm going to miss it when it's gone (*sniff*)

- Parsley and dill: I used some fresh, but it was wilting so I decided to dry the rest (hang upside down by a string until dry)

- Cucumbers, brocolli and strawberrries: everyone likes these

Week 4 included:

- Zucchini: sliced in a sandwich is good

- Potatoes: I don't normally like potatoes (wierd, I know) but farm fresh potatoes are so much better tasting.

- Cucumbers: A family favorite

- Swiss chard & kale: better hurry up and sautee

- Spring lettuce: *love*

- Basil: too much! I'll have to make pesto

- Brocolli: another family favorite

- Sugar snap peas: the kids were puzzled: "why are we having this AGAIN?"

Grocery budget update:

I originally thought we spend about $600/month on groceries for a family of 4. But in June, I discovered that we actually spent $774.22 on groceries alone.
Here's how June 2009 it broke down:
  • 11 grocery transactions (doesn't that sound like a lot? I was suprised.)
  • $315.68 at Super Target (we live really close to one)
  • $250.07 at our Co-op
  • $102.76 at a local grocery store
  • $42.72 for the organic vegetable CSA delivery
  • $36.78 at a bread outlet (I rediscovered these last month - I really need to start using my bread machine again)
  • $26.21 at the fancy expensive grocery store (I don't remember why we went there...)

How do I know all of this? We've been using mint.com to keep track of our electronic transactions. It's really helped us keep track of where the money's going.

Here's what I've learned so far:

  • We spend way more money on groceries than I thought
  • We run grocery errands more often than I thought
  • We spend more money on groceries at Super Target than I thought

It's good to have a baseline.

And the Winner Is...

...Khristin Sutton! Khristin, you've won the drawing for a pack of "Natural Value" Unbleached Natural Waxed Paper bags.

Khristin said:

The Sutton's decided earlier in the year to stop buying bottled water. We were up to two 24 packs everytime we went shopping. We bought ourselves several aluminum water bottles and try to use them whenever we can. We did have to buy bottled water for our big Fourth of July party (and a couple of times when we've been out unprepared) but we are doing what we can when we can.

Thanks everyone for commenting!

Monday, July 6, 2009

First Blogiversary! Let's Celebrate with a Prize Drawing!

It's Striving Green's first Blogiversary! I cannot believe I've actually stuck with something for 1 full year.

I started this blog waaayyy back on 07/03/08. Thanks so much for reading and going along for the ride! Here's a little recap of the blog's intent:

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...

Yes, we are definitely NOT perfect. Nobody knows that better than we do. But chronicling our mistakes as well as our successes hopefully keeps us honest and encourages us when we see how far we've come. Also, I love it when you leave comments letting us know how you do what you do. We always welcome much needed advice. So Thank You again!

Let's celebrate - how about a prize drawing to celebrate Striving Green's 1st Blogiversary? (And I'll celebrate the fact that I've followed through on something!)

If you win the prize drawing, I'll send you a pack of "Natural Value" Unbleached Natural Waxed Paper bags.
Just post a comment on this blog about 1 "green" goal you have for 2009 & tell us all how you're doing so far. Warts and all. It's OK. I understand.

I'll leave the drawing open through end of day Thursday 07/09/09. I'll use random.org to generate the number of the winner. I'll count the number of comments. If you're the 3rd commenter and the random.org number is 3, you win...I'm sure you get the idea! One entry per person (that sounds so official).

It's my first prize drawing. I'll try not to screw up.

Good Luck!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Garden updates

I've been very veggie-centric these past few posts. And today is no different -here's what's been happening in our garden lately.

I'll start with the good news:

- We had a nice raspberry harvest 2 days ago.
- We have little green tomatoes & the beginnings of cucumbers.
- The basil, parsley, & oregano are looking good.
- 3 out of 4 cauliflower look like they're doing well.

Here's the lesser good news:
- Sweet peas have been lost to weeds (my fault). Like I've said before, every year I learn something. I think I need to move them and buy a trellis instead of relying on the chain link fence.
- Bell peppers might be lost...they were from seedlings and didn't do so well.

I'll keep hoping & tending!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Composter Is Here! and other backyard updates

I ordered the Achla CMP-05 Spinning Horizontal Composter from Amazon. Free 2-day shipping with a 30-day Amazon Prime trial and about $50 cheaper than I've seen in gardening stores ($153.99 at Amazon). I've been saving up for this since last summer.

Hooray! No turning compost with a pitchfork!

I've already discovered that I need more brown material (in other words...stinky!)

In other back yard news, I recently realized we may have a mulberry tree...or something similar. We've lived here for 6 years and it's the first year I've seen fruit on it. Sue at EcoStrides has pointed me to some good resources to help me determine what kind of tree this really is. If you have any thoughts, let me know!

And more berry news...anybody know what these white spots on the raspberries are? Too much moisture? There are more of these spots this year than prior years.

Not appetizing.

Kid-Friendly (or Kid-Tolerated) Bean Challenge Dinners

I recently received a request to post the most well-received-to-tolerated-by-the-children bean challenge meals. Here we go (7 of them):

Pinto Bean Burgers

Black Bean Tofu (I’ll try it without savory baked tofu next time)

Black Bean, Corn, and Cheddar Fritter

Lentil Loaf

Fried Tofu Stir Fry

Black Bean Burgers


As I mentioned earlier, our bean challenge is on hiatus. Hmm…maybe I should bring it back…

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Veggie Challenge: Summer '09: Weeks 1 & 2 & Grocery Budget

Here are the first results for our new challenge Veggie Challenge: Summer '09. As promised, I photographed the waste. This is what we did not eat. Hand is to show scale:

I've also noticed my hands are looking older. Note to self: use sunscreen on hands.

To reiterate - the challenge is as follows:

  • To eat everything we receive from the CSA and let no produce rot in the crisper.

  • To eat everything from our garden.

  • And if we can't eat it, either freeze it or give it to a friend, neighbor, or co-worker.
I did not make good on that last bullet point. I'll keep trying!

Is it really a family challenge if your kids won't eat it? They simply won't eat lettuce. I could not get our daughter to try it. Our son bit on one part of a leaf...and...done. The farm fresh organic asparagus was not enjoyed by the little ones (are they crazy?)

Here was the next week's batch. This was easy to finish. We are splitting the small share, so it was no problem to devour in mere days. I was not expecting purple asparagus or super spicy radishes:

I'm also keeping track of what we spend on groceries (a recent mini-obsession of mine). We have a bi-weekly budget we *try* to stick to, but I haven't kept a close eye on what is being spent solely on food, until recently.

Basically, I want to see if belonging to a CSA, tending a garden, and having a co-op membership will make a difference in our grocery budget. I like to buy organic groceries (and we're definitely on a budget), so I'm guessing these things together will have a positive impact (stay tuned).

So far, we're on track for spending around $600 this month for a family of 4. It's not all organic, but that is my preference.

Just curious...anybody keep track of how much they spend a month on groceries? For how many people? I'm not sure if $600/month for 4 people is insanely expensive, average, or below average.

Let's compare...let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cosmetics Review: Alba Lip Gloss

As promised per my previous Twitter tweet: A cosmetics review (Guys, you can tune out now...)

Alba Coconut Cream Clear Lip Gloss: Recently I was looking for a lip gloss that was non-petroleum based. While grocery shopping at the Co-Op, I found myself wandering down the cosmetics aisle - a usual occurence.

I picked up a lipgloss that was close to $7.00. I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm thinking that is way too expensive. But a girl needs her lip gloss, so I tossed it in the cart. I continued to wander and I found it - next to the lesser expensive lip balms was Alba Coconut Cream Clear Lip Gloss.

I love coconut - check. It has no petroleum - check. 70% certified organic ingredients - check. $3.29 - done. In the cart it goes.

Of course I don't wait until I'm home to put it on - I apply my make-up in the parking lot. I tore off the minimal wrapping, turned the rear view mirror toward lips and on it went. Smooth, glossy, & tropical scented - a keeper.

It's not stinky like the Victoria's Secret lip gloss I once had. Long story short about the VS lipgloss: I put it on in the car and here's the conversation that occurred between me and my husband:

Me: (inaudibly putting on lip gloss)
Husband: What smells bad?
Me: I don't know dear, I don't smell anything.
Me: (1 hour later, again inaudibly putting on lip gloss)
Husband: Seriously, what is that stink?
Me: Um...it's my Victoria's Secret lip gloss that I'll never wear again.

As of now, no observations from husband about the scent of my Alba lip gloss. So far, so good.

If you're really into it, buy a 4 pack of Alba lip gloss from Amazon.com for $15.31 (that's $3.83 a tube). Let me know if you decide to give this product a try...I'd like to know what you think!

P.S. This is my own little independent review. I'm too small-time to get paid by anybody to review their products.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CSA Goods Arrive & a New Challenge

We got our first CSA delivery. We were told beforehand that it would be a light load. They were right, there's not much there (especially since we ordered a small box), but they started off right with some fine looking organic lettuces, spinach, asparagus, and green onions.

I'm proposing a new challenge to the family:
  • To eat everything we receive from the CSA and let no produce rot in the crisper.
  • To eat everything from our garden.
  • And if we can't eat it, either freeze it or give it to a friend, neighbor, or co-worker.

Let's call this Veggie Challenge: Summer '09.

I'll take a picture of everything that went into the garbage (or soon-to-order compost bin) so I can publicly embarrass myself. I've found that shame can be a great motivator.

An immediate challenge I see: it will be difficult to get the kids to eat lettuce.

In closing, I'd like to bid an fond adieu to our Weekly Bean Challenge. I'm sad to see it go, but I've lost steam in the bean department. Perhaps I'll pick it up
again with the same fervor I've had in the past.

So long bean challenge...I'll miss you. I can only speak for myself.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Clean House Love

I'm in decluttering mode tonight, prepping for a co-worker's garage sale that's coming up in 2 weeks. I cannot wait to get this stuff out of my house! And I'm looking forward to passing stuff along to somebody that actually wants it and can reuse it.

And I have to give a shout-out to Miss Niecy Nash and the Clean House crew. I don't watch a lot of TV, but this show...it is turning out to be one of my all-time favorites.

My only issue: Because it's on during the evening, it makes me rip the house apart and declutter right before bedtime.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Planted today!

It's not pretty...but it's ours. Today, the family planted:

  • 6 bush pickle (not likely I will pickle them, we like them raw)
  • 3 cucumber
  • 2 cherry tomato
  • 2 pear tomato
  • 2 heirloom tomato
  • 2 bell pepper
  • 4 purple cauliflower (my first time with cauliflower)
  • snap peas
  • green beans (took seeds from last year's pods - not sure about this...)
  • rosemary
  • parsley (organic seeds)
  • basil (organic seeds)
  • Raspberries are getting their blooms.

It might be too late for some of this stuff. Especially the snap peas & cauliflower. Fingers crossed! Let me know if you have any purple cauliflower tips - I could use them. I think they can get wormy? I have no idea.

I used lots of hay and mulch in the garden this year, hopefully it will help with our annual major weed issue.

I then promptly took Advil. It's my gardening secret - always strike preemptively.

Here's my pretending-to-be-a farmer-but-sooo-not self-portrait. My friend Kenny commented the image of me with a pitchfork would be an interesting one to ponder...so Kenny - this one's for you.
My Key West, FL straw hat has been repurposed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Here Weeds Are Again

Another year, another battle with the garden weeds. No planting yet. So far, I've had 4 serious session with a pitchfork, turning the soil and pulling the buggers out. I need to call in some serious machinery to finish the job.

Luckily for me, a co-worker is bringing hay tomorrow so I can cover up the offenders and hopefully suffocate them. My first year using hay - I'm hopeful.

I plant later than most. Not because I think it's wise - it's mostly because I am too lazy to get it all done in one shot.

The kids (3 & 5) are finally not shrieking at the site of worms. They both enjoy holding them in their hands. The kids get "chore points" if they help mommy pull weeds. Chore points equal money at the end of the week (Preschooler payday).

Our 5 year old helps pull weeds. Our 3 year old would rather hold worms.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kickin' It Old School: Organic Lemonade

OK, I’m not sure exactly how “old school” this lemonade method is, but when I made some this weekend, my mother told me “This is how I remember lemonade USED to taste!” REALLY good stuff.

I used organic lemon juice that I bought at Costco. It's a huge bottle, so what to do?

If you’d like to make old school lemonade by the glass, try this lemonade recipe.

If you’d like to make it by the pitcher, try this other lemonade recipe.

Want to use real lemons? One lemon equals 2-3 tbsp lemon juice. Use more for a cup of lemon juice. Something like that...

The simple sugar syrup is easy to make - just water and sugar on the stove (see the above recipes for tips). Here's a picture of it boiling. Stir constantly to make sure you don't burn it!

Keep the sugar syrup in the fridge until the next time you make a glass.

OK - tell me. Does lemonade go with brownies? I think it does. Some disagree. I'm *this close* to making an Alton Brown brownie recipe to go with this lemonade.

I just realized - the previous statement sounds like a threat.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Morning Bike Ride

Now that Spring is really here (not "spring a-la-winter"), I'm starting to incorporate a morning bike ride. I like the gym - we used to belong to one. But we've decided to spend our money on other priorities during the warmer months. Besides, I think the fresh air does me some good, especially when I'm indoors at my office job all day.

Office life during Spring & Summer: no bueno.

I got the bike last year via a barter and have been enjoying it ever since. Luckily, we live near a lake that I can zip around in about 20 - 30 minutes. Here are a few pictures from the other morning:

Here's another view:Lest you presume I live in a wooded wonderland, here's a reality check. The bridge I have to cross is jammed with traffic during rush hour:

Oh well. I cross it as fast as I can.

Want to learn more about making your exercise routine more green? Read more here and here.

I liked belonging to a gym - we'll join again someday. But for now I'll enjoy the fresh morning air while I can take advantage of these precious warm days!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Week 39 - Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

I'm picking up the bean challenge gauntlet again. I've recently missed several weeks of bean-centric dinners. Oddly enough, no complaints from the family about lack of beans.

You can make this dinner pretty fast: Black Bean & Corn Salad with Butternut Squash Ravioli.

First complaint was from daughter: "I don't like ravioli!"
Second complaint from son: "This ravioli is yucky!"
In the ravioli's defense, it was pretty good. I'm guessing they weren't into the nutmeg that was listed in the ingredients.

You can't please everybody.

Here's the Black Bean & Corn Salad recipe. I made a kid's version without red pepper & garlic & onions. That would have sent them over the edge.

Try it slightly chilled, with lettuce and topped with Avocado. Sorry, I don't measure, so my recipe is a bit vague.

Black Bean & Corn Salad
(Adult Version)

Thawed Frozen Corn
Black Beans (if canned, rinsed & drained)
Fresh Garlic to taste
Purple Onion, finely diced
Red Bell Pepper, chopped
Fresh cherry tomatoes
Red Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Fresh Parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste

My husband said to me, "I really admire you. You know the kids won't like it, but you keep trying anyhow."

I think he was trying to be nice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

April 22nd is Earth Day. Here are 3 simple ways to celebrate!

  • Turn off the lights during the day on April 22nd and rely on the sun for your light. Give the planet a rest. This tip compliments of my 5 year-old. (Did I mention I like her preschool?)

  • Eat vegetarian for a day. Vegetarian diets use fewer resources from the earth. Be adventurous! Try a vegetarian meal that you've never tried before.

  • Take a few minutes to find out where to recycle old batteries, instead of throwing them in the trash.

Any other ideas? How will you celebrate?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I must have seafood on the brain today. Last night, I watched Deadliest Catch for the first time ever. Fascinating – it’s easy to see why fishers have the number one deadliest job in America.

Which leads me to my next seafood point – usually I bring my lunch to work, but today I decided eat in the cafeteria. A rare treat - if you consider eating in your workplace cafeteria a “treat”. Pan-fried tilapia with wasabi sauce was on the menu.  I love fish.  I certainly don't eat enough of it these days.

Which leads me to my final seafood point: Do you know about seafoodwatch.org? You can download their 2009 pocket guide that can “help you choose ocean-friendly seafood wherever you live or travel”. Just print it (or access via mobile), put it in your wallet and refer to it the next time you are eating seafood. The guide classifies seafood as: Best Choices, Good Alternatives, & Avoid.

By the way, tilapia (farmed) is classified as a “Best Choice”. I didn’t know that before; it’s good information to have.  And if you're sushi inclined (I'm not...I wish I was cooler), enjoy the sushi guide.  Bon appetit! 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Motivation: Lacking, Gaining, Jury Still Out

Since our family is nearing a state of potential transition (husband's job search is picking up lately), change is in the air. I'm distracted - my motivation on different efforts is waxing and waning. Here are some things I've been thinking about lately.

Motivation: Subject 1 - "Lacking"

Bean Challenge Update: The most recent bean dinner was polenta and black bean patties. This was the general recipe:
1/2 tube of polenta
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 egg
bread crumbs
Diced red pepper, onions, sauteed
Salt & Pepper to taste
other seasonings, if you wish

Make patty shapes and pan fry.

Interesting flavor...but not quite a home run!

As you may know from a previous post, I'm not exactly keeping up with my weekly full-steam-ahead bean challenge approach. I still eat beans often - lately it's been opening a quality can filled with the organic variety, rinsing them off, and putting them in a salad for lunch. I love them, I really do. But the predictable objections from my daughter and the (hidden) disappointment from my husband that these bean dinners create is NOT motivating. So, dear family - a little more support please!

Motivation: Subject 2 - "Gaining"
We Joined a Co-op
We paid $75 recently a joined a co-op. The $75 makes us an owner/investor, so we get some benefits, such as:
  • a 10% discount once per quarter
  • a refund of profits based on our purchases for the year
  • a vote on co-op issues (not exactly sure what comes up - should be interesting)
Another one of our 2009 goals accomplished. The co-op is shiny, new, big, and not too far from my neighborhood. A nice surprise - my receipt states at the bottom the percentage of local goods that I purchased during that trip. My first trip - 27% was local. What a great motivator to increase the percentage. Truly - if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it!

Motivation: Subject 3 - "The Jury's Still Out"
Mapquest - How much will that trip cost me?
Have you see Mapquest's little button that allows you to calculate the cost of a trip, based on your specific car's MPG?

After getting driving directions, click the "fuel costs" button and it will let you calculate based on your best MPG guess.

Or get more specific when you create an AOL account (AOL...why? I don't know - they're snoopy). It will base the cost on the specific car info (year/make/model) you enter.

This could be a motivator if you're trying to save fuel AND money. I know I was recently horrified to learn the monthly gas cost of my husband's potentially long commute. I'm OK with being scared - I prefer to be fully informed.

How about you? Motivated or distracted?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cul-De-Sac Commune?

It was just a matter of time before I wrote about communes. Driving home today I heard this story on NPR: A Social Experiment: Communes in Cul-De-Sacs. The belief is living communally is an idea that is too good to waste. Commune is defined simply as 'a community where resources are shared'. Some of the main points of this story are:
  • You don't have to buy stuff in order to be "green" (a Prius or a flourescent lightbulb)
  • Stay at home and share - you don't have to leave your neighborhood to start a commune
  • Everyone can save time and resources by sharing with your friends and neighbors

Here's the organization Wanna Start a Commune? and their pamphlet on how to start one. I love looking at the plans of these 'culdesac commune' pilot projects in Los Angeles - especially the Salsa Dancing Lessons area (and don't forget Rodent Control).

In case you're wondering, you don't have to be a hippie to live in a commune (according to the FAQs)

I like it. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Garden Supply Wishes...and I Need Some Inspiration

Work and home have been so busy lately - I have a moment to catch my breath and mention a few random thoughts I've been kicking around in my head lately:

I'd like to get some of these grow tubs to grow lettuce and herbs in them this gardening season. I've planted lettuce in the ground which grew great, but the herbs...well, not so much. Last year the weeds took over to the point that I couldn't tell the difference between most of my herbs and the weeds. So I gave them up. I'm hoping tubs like these will help me cut down on my *duh* gardening factor.

This composter is one I'm interested in. I won't be making a pile and turning it with a pitchfork - I can easily see myself getting lazy about that. What do you think? I've heard I might need to get 2 if we really get into composting this year. We'll start with 1 and see how it goes.

And our bean challenge...I've fallen woefully behind. We have missed 3 weeks of bean dinners - our family's schedules have changed recently and my cooking habits have changed along with it. Or more accurately, I have not been cooking on a regular basis. What happened to my inspiration and motivation?

Any cooks out there who struggle with occasional boredom? How do you reinspire yourself?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Delicious.com & Twitter

Have you heard of delicious.com? It's a place to put your bookmarks on the web, as opposed to keeping them on your computer. I've put my bookmarks here. Check them out every so often - I'll keep adding.


And also I've been using Twitter more often. If you're Twitter inclined, you can check out my updates. Sometimes musings, sometimes links to things I find interesting.


Let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We've Joined a CSA

We've officially joined our first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Starting in May, we'll get 22 weeks of organic local fruits and vegetables, like these beauties:

This is the "Week 4" box. It includes: Strawberries, Peas, Red Romaine Lettuce, Salad Mix, Spinach, Zuccinni or Summer Squash, Kale or Chard, New Potatoes, Garlic Scapes, & Parsley.

I wasn't sure how many CSA vegetables we could eat per week, considering I'll also be planting my usual garden. So we decided to get a smaller box and split it. This is our maiden voyage - we'll learn more about how much fresh produce we can eat in a week. I'm guessing a lot. We go to the grocery store every few days to replenish our fruits and vegetables, so it will be nice to save ourselves a trip.

The cost for a smaller box size: $470 for 22 weeks. That's $21.36 per week for fresh, locally grown, organic vegetables (and some fruit). This is considerably less than what we typically spend per week on produce. And we'll be splitting our share in 1/2 so we'll be paying $10.68/week. We're lucky our kids eat lots of produce - but man, it gets expensive.

Typically, CSAs have a drop off site (a church parking lot, or even somebody's front porch) and you have to pick up your weekly delivery during a certain date and time. I lucked out my first year - the drop off site is at my employer because they're coordinating a CSA delivery this year.

I'm glad we've accomplished one of our 2009 goals!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reusing: Art Supplies

  • Today I took the kids to an art supply store that specializes in salvaging items that companies normally throw away. It's a "creative materials reuse store"! We spent $7.20 for the following:
  • Seedling Planter Kits - The pot is an reused utility meter cover - cool idea!
  • Beads (and bead containers)
  • Wax stickers (not sure if these will work!)
  • Confetti
  • Tennis Balls
  • Yarn
  • Cardstock
  • Glow in the dark stickers
I'm not much of an arts-n-crafter type, so I'll have to let the kids take the lead. I'll observe and act as an assitant. The one thing I did suggest we make a tennis ball puppet. We'll see what they come up with!
Epilogue: Here are our tennis ball puppets. Make a cut by the mouth, squeeze to make them "talk".