Saturday, April 5, 2014

Conscience buying.

I talk a lot about my enthusiasm for reusing everyday items to keep things out of the landfills but, most importantly, it also helps keep my carbon-footprint conscience from eroding. These past few years I've concentrated on removing more items from our household to create a more harmonious livelihood for my family. It sounds so simple but it isn't always easy and I'm so envious of those folks who really put themselves to the test - like the little New York family in the documentary No Impact Man who lived off the grid for a year. This movie inspired me a few years ago because I don't have the balls to do it. Not even close. I daydream about it but don't think I could pull it off. I don't even drive an electric car - or even a Hybrid for that matter. In fact, I recently sold my 14-year-old Subaru Outback with 160,000+ miles for a friend's Jeep Cherokee because it only had 40,000 miles. I went from a 4-cylinder to a V-6 and, quite honestly, I'm ashamed by it. But I couldn't walk away from a car that wasn't dripping oil all over town and smoking after I went on long trips.

Conscience buying to eliminate waste is always in the back of my mind and while I'm not perfect, I'm working on it and with a family of four - that's all I can hope for.

I've put together a little list of my 'waste-not, want-not' accomplishments: 
(Don't roll your eyes, you knew this was coming.)

1.) ZIPLOC BAGGIES

First item to tackle was those really handy, easy-to-use plastic baggies we call Ziploc. They are great for marinating vegetables or meat, perfect for throwing a few snacks in for kids and great for packing up leftovers from dinner. Once I finally pulled my head out of the sand and realized what they were, and how many I was using, I was embarrassed - and appalled - and decided I would no longer be associated with them. After year two of the boycott, I've never looked back.

ALTERNATIVE TO THE PLASTIC BAGGIES: We reuse all our containers that sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt come in. We particularly love reusing glass containers and fill these up with snacks for the kids or leftovers. We don't buy any new Tupperware containers, just use what we already have. It's been an easy transition and very rewarding!

2.) PAPER TOWELS

They are just so damn handy. I love soaking up everything with these squares of paper. I mean, how do you soak up all the bacon grease without these little guys? (We eat BLT's regularly). Paper towels are a tug-of-war thing for my husband and I: He wants them. I don't.

When I finally eliminate them for months at a time, he talks me into buying them again for a month until I get the environmental guilt-ies and refuse to buy any. I hate paying for paper products you don't need (now toilet paper is not one of them) and paper towels are expensive!

ALTERNATIVE TO THE PAPER TOWEL:  We have a basket of old rags and towels we use for wiping up just about anything. We don't typically wash these right away unless they get down right dirty. I haven't figured out the soaking up of bacon grease yet so I just lay them out on a plate. I might start laying it on towels, but I haven't tried it yet.

3.) LIMIT (OR IF YOU'RE AWESOME ELIMINATE) RETAIL PURCHASES.

Second hand and consignment stores are my friends. Like, my really good friends. I've always had a knack for busting through a used store and coming out with some pretty solid shit. Macklemore has nothing on me - I'm the queen of the thrift stores.

ALTERNATIVE TO RETAIL: Check out thrift stores or children's consignment shops for all those little things kids need gear for: soccer shoes, shorts, shin guards, baseballs, basketballs and so much more.  There are also organized clothing swaps in various communities where folks take kids clothes and gear to swap for other things they need - all for free. Take advantage of not buying (new) retail!

4.) WORKPLACE SHAPE UP.

I don't know how a company in today's times can continue getting away with buying Dixie cups for available "pure" water and endless amounts of plastic utensils and paper plates - but many of them do. This is ridiculous to me and once I went back to work part-time for a large corporation last year - they had no idea what was coming. I couldn't believe the waste and almost immediately started spouting off my nonsense. Well - my rants worked because they no longer are stocking huge boxes of Dixie cups (which from a storage standpoint is also ridiculous) or boxes of plastic spoons, forks and knives. You're welcome environment.

NEXT UP ON MY ELIMINATION LIST:
  • Swiffer (thanks to my husband's sister laughing at me that I don't do paper towels but bust out a Swiffer.) Touche' my friend. (In all honesty, I can't stand those either.)
  • Sponges. My husband loves these and color coordinates one for dishes and one for counters. We did start buying recycled material sponges, but it still feels dirty.

Friday, January 24, 2014

My 'Cuppow' Runneth Over.

I stumbled upon the best purchase, thus far, of 2014 while visiting Roslyn, WA over the New Year holiday. I realize it's a little early in the year to start naming names, but in my eyes, I found a retail dream.

I got up early on New Years Day and talked my brother-in-law into grabbing the dogs and walking the few blocks to town to grab a cup of coffee. Typically not a lot opens early in this mountain town, but thankfully, a new natural foods store came in since my last visit and they were serving coffee. While we waited, we looked around the cute store located on Pennsylvania Avenue and that's when we noticed it: Cuppow Jar Drinking Lids - the best thing since sliced bread if you have a habit of drinking out of canning jars.

Lucky for us, there just happened to be a local there that day filling up his jar of coffee and when he spun that jar lid around, I knew I had to have one.

I. Fell. In. Love.

Now I do NOT leave home without my Cuppow lid and I bought my husband and brother-in-law one too. They are BPA free, made of food-grade recycled plastic and under ten bucks. You can get various colors and the different sizes include fitting both the wide mouth and regular mouth jars. When ordering direct from the company website you get FREE SHIPPING for all domestic orders and it's good ole USA made! The company is committed to reducing its environmental impact and it's always a good idea to do business with conscience folks.

In a city where coffee and recycling are king, these lids fulfill even the most conservative environmentalist.

Monday, January 20, 2014

My History of Baking.

First Birthday Cake!
I'm not a baker. I'm an avid cook and baking is done only twice a year in my household: December and January. These two months just happen to be my sons' birthdays. The problem with baking twice a year is I tend to get these wild and crazy visions about what I see in their celebration treats and this is where things get a little hairy.

When I do something, I DO something. I'm laid back 363 days a year - until that birthday celebration starts creeping up and then something incredible happens: I think I can bake. Not only bake, but come up with these grandiose ideas of triple layer, raspberry-infused ridiculousness. I just can't seem to help (or stop) myself.

This reminds me of a story when I first started dating my husband. He has no patience really and hates surprises, but I didn't know that at the time. It was Valentine's Day and I got this crazily dumb idea to bake him a "love" cake. I don't even know what that is and I'm embarrassed to say it now, but that's what I did. It was affectionately  called the Triple Chocolate Celebration Cake and required mousse, ganache, chocolate cake and fruit. Knowing what I know today, I would never have attempted this; it took days to make and when you're trying to surprise someone with this beautiful cake - it's no easy feat to hide mousse and a triple layered cake in the refrigerator. He was annoyed to say the least and by the time Valentine's Day came around, it was incredibly anti-climatic and I almost threw the whole cake in the garbage.
My go-to birthday cake recipe:
Deluxe Devil's Food Cake

We have both moved on from that Valentine's Day, but I'm not so sure I've really learned my lesson.

The cute reindeer cupcakes for my son's first birthday.
They did end up looking like a moose, droopy faces and all.
I especially love torturing my sister and getting her
on board with these birthday treats!
When December and January rolls around, I keep launching my crazy ideas because I become obsessed with my kids having homemade cakes and goodies. I'm not sure a 17-pound prime rib, a crock pot full of sautéed mushrooms and another vat of red-wine au jus (which happened last year) is really appropriate for a kid's first birthday party, but damn it, those reindeer cupcakes are!! 

Happily, I have my go-to 'birthday cake recipe' that I'm willing to share: Deluxe Devil's Food Cake on the Softasilk cake flour box. It's really delicious if I don't mind saying so and I accompany this cake with some fun "theme of the year" cupcakes like Spiderman or reindeer (or moose cupcakes when the marshmallow face starts melting and drooping, but hey, moose are cute, too!)

The start of something wonderful.

 
Thankfully for me and my baking hardships, we have the BEST Home Cake Decorating Supply store in the area. This is a wanna-be baker's DREAM and I love this crowded, cool store. It has everything you would want or didn't even know you wanted when it comes to baking and the owner gives out free tips, all you need to do is ask! (Who knew how hard red frosting was to NOT make pink when it came to my Spiderman cupcakes last year.) The trick: add your red food coloring to your buttercream frosting and stir, place in refrigerator for a day or two so it brightens up. People make the mistake of adding more and more food coloring to the point it starts tasting bitter. DON'T DO IT!

Whoa, look at me! I'm giving out baking tips now which goes to show all you need is a little creative spirit, patience and the right tools (or people to ask) and us 'non-bakers' will be on our way.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nailed It: homemade granola.

I love granola but avoided it for years because all the good ones were loaded with sugar. I'm a fan of granola with cold milk, add a few chewy raisins or cranberries and it's the perfect combo. But, granola is slightly bi-polar because it's good for you but has tons of sugar!

Well, I began to miss the damn stuff and my little boys did too so I decided to start messing around with making it myself. I wanted a new version of it but one that was still pleasing to the taste buds. I wanted some with less sugar while still maintaining the flavor. After a few tries, I'm pretty sure I nailed it - especially since the husband and kids keep asking me to make more. And the best thing about this bowl of goodness is when I have some in the morning, it is the most filling meal of the day. Start your day with this and you will be completely satisfied!

So......without further ado:

HOMEMADE GRANOLA:

1 Box Oats
2 cups Raw Sunflowers
2 cups chopped/slivered almonds
1-2 cups Raw Pumpkin Seeds
1/2 cup - 1 cup Chia Seeds (Flax seeds work great too.)
1/2 cup Honey
1/2 cup Organic Blue Agave
1 cup Canola Oil (I've used olive oil, too)
Lots of Cinnamon
1 Tbsp of Vanilla (or more to taste)
Cranberries or Raisins

Preheat oven at 350. Mix oats, seeds and nuts together in large bowl. Heat honey, agave and oil in sauce pan; heat through and sprinkle with cinnamon and stir in vanilla. Add in batches to oats and seeds and stir. Spread mixture on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. We like ours crunchy and on the darker side, but bake it to your own tastes!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Building a Food Community and Buying Direct!

With the recent salmonella scare within the western states last year and the chicken's bacteria getting hundreds of people sick, I'm reassured to keep forging ahead toward eliminating the grocery store and buying my food directly from the farm - when I can't grow it myself. It seems lately my network for local fare has expanded and I've made great connections with folks who supply customers with free-range, organic-fed chickens, whey fed pork and various apples, pears, cabbage and even olive oil! I love this little community we've fallen head over heals with. I don't care who you are, when you grow your own food or know exactly where your food is coming from, there's a certain gratification you get and - yes, maybe even a little pretention. But once the ball starts rolling, you can't help but roll with it.

That's why I started gardening. It all began when I planted that first seed and something so big and bountiful grew from that one little grain-of-salt size seed. Okay, maybe a pepper, but still - it was transforming. I realize now why my grandparents would get so dreamy when walking us kids through their garden explaining how big this was or that was: raspberries, rhubarb, hazelnuts and cucumbers. I thought it was so cool then, but didn't know how much until I planted my first seed.

It's no easy feat to plan a family's meal around sustainable, non-factory-made produce and meat. I always prided myself with making homemade meals and never from boxes. But life gets in the way sometimes and that box of macaroni and cheese or slip through a drive through happens and I didn't (don't) always have the skills to figure out an alternative regardless of my 'homemade meals' mentality. But it's what we work toward and we keep getting better each day.


My little food community has grown significantly these past few months. I host a Seattle drop off site of raw honey created a few neighborhoods away and I get satisfaction from allowing people to access this treat. Another neighbor hooked up with a farm for various apples, pears, cabbage, onions, potatoes and mid-to-late harvest olive oils in our state. Who knew! I have a farm less than two hours away who delivers organic, pasture grazed chickens to Seattle's Capitol Hill and a farm in Quilcene whose 16-year-old son raises register Angus grassfeed beef and sells at $5.00 per pound to support his future college education in cattle management - at WSU no less. We also have dairy delivered weekly from a farm started in the 1920s.

This is cool. Everything about it.
Do you know who your farmer is?

Getting started is tough. Talk to your farmers markets and get info on the farms and what types of services or CSA's they have available during the off season. I've got most of my connections through a local web group called Seattle Farm Co-op who offers members a 'Market Day' where farmers promote their goods and a warehouse where you can buy goods at a lower cost . Another cool sight is Farmstr which connects you with local farms in your area and lists what each farm has available!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Spinach: A Love Affair

What has become of me? I suddenly reach out for the largest bins of spinach I can find. I shovel it in in an array of recipes: Spinach Benedict,  smoothies, scrambles, stir fries, pizzas - you name it, I'm throwing spinach in it. It feels good to easily enjoy a vegetable that is incredibly good for you. I turned 40 last year and this impending milestone had me obsessively focused on my health and the types of food going into my body. I hope I'm not too late; I did spend the first half of my life rolling around in a few bad habits.

Let's break down the many health benefits of spinach to make myself feel better:
  • Lowers the risk of cancer and heart disease
  • Abundance of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, calcium, folic acid and iron
  • Great source of fiber
  • Promotes strong bones
  • Contributes to healthy vision and limits cataracts
This little list above means more to me now at 40 than it would've at 20. It has inspired me to continue my love affair and share a few favorites:

SPINACH-EGG BENEDICT:
I like to add a little fluff to my already Dyn-o-mite Eggs Benny. (Only on special occasions do I include the cholesterol and fat-filled hollandaise sauce that's oh-so extra delicious.) There's just something to be said when you cut your fork into a perfectly poached eggs with steamed spinach.

Serves one:
  • One English muffin split in half. (Forget those weird wheat variety - I go straight for the sourdough. I can't stand the extra-chewy texture of a multi-grain English muffin.)
  • Two farm-fresh eggs, poached-to-perfection
  • Two handfuls of spinach
  • Two slices Canadian bacon or ham (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
Add Canadian bacon (if using) and spinach to a pan and add salt and pepper. Cook until spinach wilts down and ham is golden on each side. In a small sauce pan begin bowling water and add a teaspoon or two of vinegar. (Helps keep eggs whites together.) Once water boils turn heat down and crack eggs into water; cook for around 3-4 minutes. In the meantime, lightly toast your English muffins until crisp but still soft and add ham, a pile of spinach and your perfectly poached egg.

SPINACH SMOOTHIE OR FOR JUICING
Smoothies seem to be all the rave lately. Sometimes it gets annoying listening to folks explaining what THEY put in THEIR smoothies, but hey, you can't deny it's a savvy way of getting a whole lot of nutrients into your body. So here's MY specialty smoothie:

Serves two adults, one preschooler and one toddler:
  • 2 cups coconut water
  • 1 banana
  • 1 freshly squeezed lemon
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh berry medley
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • 1 long squirt of flax seed oil
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots
  • Few springs of parsley, Thyme or other fresh herbs
  • Couple leaves of basil
  • An inch or two of ginger
Blend and serve!

SPINACH STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS:

Serves four:
  • 4 chicken breasts, skinless/boneless
  • Olive Oil
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • Goat cheese
  • White wine sauce
Beat the hay out of each chicken breast with a tenderizer. Salt and pepper each chicken breast and set aside. Toss spinach, mushrooms and onion in pan and sauté until soft. Take each chicken breast and spread spinach mixture on inside and sprinkle with goat cheese; roll up and secure with toothpicks or string and place in casserole dish. MAKE WHITE WINE SAUCE: Add cup of white wine, handful sliced mushrooms, cornstarch/water mix, S&P and any herbs you see fit and cook until mixture thickens. Pour wine sauce over chicken and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. DIVINE!!






Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Little Eco-camp That Could.

This past summer I had the cool opportunity to finally launch an Eco-camp I designed specifically for kids ages 3-6 years-old. This 'little camp that could' was warmly titled: Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-camp and was built around the idea that introducing kids early to some environmental basics gives them the tools to grow into Eco-minded adults who make a difference, hence our slogan, "Where kids become sustainable leaders!"

This idea started simply enough. My son is a die-hard environmentalist. He's constantly picking up random street trash with his delicate little hands and - although I appreciate his efforts - encourage him to wait until we have gloves because you never know what you'll find. I'm not gonna lie, he tells on people who litter. He doesn't like it and isn't afraid to say it. He also doesn't like any amount of water running that is not directly being used. I like his style. He gets it and he's only four. During an earlier trip to the Seattle Science Center this year, he was appalled to learn an exhibit made up of plastic bags, golf balls, electrical tape, Capri Sun juice boxes and rope were actually the contents of a whale's stomach beached earlier in West Seattle. He not only talked about that whale and the garbage in his stomach for days - he talked about it for months.

This got me thinking.

How can we encourage other kids his age to be aware of their environmental surroundings? How do we get them excited about picking up litter, using less water, understanding the impact recycling has on oceans and animal life? In essence, how do we help shape their lives where they grow and want to act on their commitment to the environment and become conscientious adults?

And this, my friends, is where Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-Camp grew from an idea into a day camp for kids which was first introduced at my son's Montessori preschool in Seattle.The agenda was simple enough: introduce things like recycling, composting, planting trees, playtime with worms and dirt, up-cycling items instead of throwing them away and using food as natural dyes.
Day 1 of this five-day camp started out with a fun display of a whale bath tub (for an infant) that I filled with - you guessed it - plastic bags, golf balls, electrical tape, Capri Sun juice boxes and rope to mimic the contents found in the real stomach of the whale beached in West Seattle. My family and I had just been at the beach along the Oregon Coast when we found tons of trash on our walks in the sand. It actually hit home more than ever how our garbage - and lots of it - is ending up in our oceans, lakes and rivers. We picked up some of this beach trash to bring with us to the Eco-camp and drive home why we should be picking up after ourselves. We followed this up with our crayon project and broke up a bag of old crayons to melt down into new ones. We removed the paper and broke them down into the color designs we liked and placed them in mini muffin tins. We placed in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 250 degrees. This created the most spectacular colors and we displayed them in a plastic berry container after filling it up with shredded recycled paper. We drew a personalized label out of a cereal boxes that said: "100% Recycled by...(insert name here)." It was cool and the kids were psyched about their new crayons.

Day 2 - This was our 'using natural dye' day and it required various foods to be either boiled down and the juices strained or using the natural juices of foods liked canned beets. We chose to boil down purple cabbage and onion skins and used both canned beet juice and grape juice to color our hard-boiled eggs. We added a tablespoon of vinegar to each dye and poured our dyes in various reusable containers like mayonnaise jars and cottage cheese containers. The best part about this project is the kids thought it was so cool to be able to drink their "dye" which you typically don't  encourage with your store-bought dyes. The kids loved seeing what colors their food dyes produced. (I'm always partial to the rusted orange the onion skins produce.)
Finished eggs and the variety of colors using food dyes.
Not afraid to drink the 'dye'.

Day 3 - This day was focused on composting and tree planting. I brought my composting bin filled with red wiggler worms for the kids to run their hands through. They loved finding and holding the thousands of worms inside the bin. It didn't matter they had to sort through food waste to get to them. Next, we took 'composted' dirt and planted Evergreen trees into various recycled containers. They each got to take a tree home and replant at their house! It was a fun day of getting our hands dirty and seeing how little worms can make rich dirt to plant trees with.

Day 4 - This was a review day of everything we learned during the week. We documented our Eco-week by cutting up paper bags and cereal boxes and binding them with old yarn to make a book titled, "Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-Camp 2012." Each page included a photo of them doing each project. The front of the book included the entire class. It was a nice keepsake to take home and show their family what they did during the week at camp.
Our 2012 Eco-camp participants with their new trees!