Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tricks and treats

Alternatives to candy giveaways for Halloween seem far and few between. For weeks, we've been teased by rows of tiny candys, wrapped individually, then secured in a big plastic bag. And, tomorrow, families around the country will divvy up these treats by the gallon to children and teenagers who just don't need it, between their dental health and the growing obesity rate among kids.

Most stories I've seen on non-candy Halloween treats focus on buying little trinkets. You know, the junky plastic items that get ground into your carpet, ripped to shreds, imbedded in your car seats and sofa cushions, or, worse, eaten.

Of course, the fast-food industry is quick to jump in with gift certificates you can buy. Just what we need, another trip to McDonald's.

For years, I've been the odd woman out in the neighborhood. I've bought microwave popcorn and Play-dough. Not entirely better, but at least it's not chocolate-covered.

So are there more green options out there? Yes.
  • Scavenge all the toys from fast food kids meals that are still in package and pass them out to trick-or-treaters.
  • Give cash. OK, if you have a large neighborhood like mine, change. You could even toss in random foreign coins you'd somehow acquired.
  • Pencils, pens or crayons. Pick up fun varieties in the clearance from the back-to-school sales.
  • Boxes of dried fruit or raisins.
  • Packets of hot chocolate.
  • Leftover favors from past birthday parties.
  • Stuffed animals. One writer shared how her family shared stuffed animals one Halloween.
  • If you're going for individually wrapped items, consider fruit bars, pretzels or crackers.

Or, if you're like me, you can simply remove the temptation for the whole family. I plan to "recycle" my child's bounty and pass it out to others in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Making choices in a tough economy

This week we learned that our unemployment is being cut off. My husband was able to find a very part-time (1-2 days a week), temporary job. But it caused a flag, and it cut off his unemployment. It's doubtful we'll get any more benefits at this point.

This is a scary time for us, and for many of us around the country. Our lives are being shaken to the core. Jobs are lost by the thousands. Homes are abandoned. And our children are watching. I only hope mine are too little to recognize the difference, but they know Mommy and Daddy are different.

So, it's little wonder that some of us bloggers are quieter these days. Maybe there's fewer hours in the day. Maybe there's less enthusiasm to make a world a better place. Maybe we're all about getting by.

I've noticed that I've made changes too, slipping into habits that I'd thought I'd quit. My Diet Coke intake is back up - though not quite the way it used to be - because I don't sleep at night. I don't buy green cleaning products if I can replace them with non-green ones on sale (though I still use my stockpile of baking soda when I can). I've held off on any planting of trees, bushes, or even garlic, because I don't know whether we'll be able to hang on to our home to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Organic food, what little I bought, has gone by the wayside. And I'm making the most of my strange brew that's in my CSA share, which will end in a few weeks.

I have no idea what the future holds for us, for this country. But I have to believe that as a society we have two options: We can panic, and hole up in our houses, waiting for armaggedon. Or we can reach out to our neighors, create a community, and try to weather this crisis.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Homemade Holidays: Put a lid on it

Gifts in a jars are sometimes seen as a folksy gift but are fairly practical, especially in tough financial times. If you are naturally a canner, you may already have the start of food gifts stacked in your pantry. If you're not, no problem.

You could spent $10, $12 or more on a "cookies in a jar" kit, or you could make your own, as I did on one particularly lean year after I was married. There are a number of sites featuring cookies in a jar recipes, or you could simply layer dry ingredients from any cookie recipe. Salsas, pestos and dried soup mixes are other easy options. One caveat - If you're interested in jarred food gifts, be sure to clean and sterilize them.

These recipes are from Irena Chalmers' An Edible Christmas. While I haven't tried them personally, they do seem interesting.

Rosemary Lime Vinegar
4 cups white wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic
6 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lime, thinly sliced

Use stainless steel saucepan when heating vinegar to avoid producing a metallic taste. Bring vinegar slowly to a boil over moderate heat. Peel garlic cloves but do not cut them. Place clove in each of two one-pint hot, sterilized bottles. Carefully strain hot vinegar into bottles and add three sprigs rosemary to each. Divide lime slices between bottles. Seal each bottle with its cork or cap. Heat more vinegar and add to bottle if needed to fill completely. Store in cool, dry place for at least two weeks before using. For best results use within six months.

Five-Alarm Salsa
Makes 2 pints
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes in tomato puree, undrained
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons lime juice

In medium saucepan, bring all ingredients to simmer over medium-low heat, then cook for five minutes. Spoon salsa into hot, sterilized jars and attach lids. Process jars in a boiling water bath for five minutes. Remove from water and cool at room temperature.

Coriander and Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Use up those pumpkin seeds!
Makes 1 1/2 cups

4 cups loosely packed fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, rinsed and dried
2/3 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
1 fresh hot chili pepper, seeded
zest of one lime
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients in blender to form thick paste. Transfer to hot, sterilized jars. Label "Keep frozen" and make a "Use By" date of six months after pesto was made. Cover tightly, cool to room temperature and freeze.

Read other Homemade Holidays ideas.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Falling into line with the CSA

My weekly CSA share is in full fall force. Sweet potatoes, turnips, bok choy and fall lettuces stuffed my container this week.

I've admittedly become paranoid about bok choy after it's gone wilty a few times. But I found this tip from Ken Horn's Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood:

Store bok choy wrapped tightly in paper towels in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator and it will keep for up to one week. The best way to rinse bok choy is to cut it according to the recipe, then rinse in at least two or three changes of cold water. Drain thoroughly before cooking.

Feeling somewhat better about this week's share, I've been on the lookout for new recipes. Here are two I've already tried this weekend. I'm still on the hunt for a decent turnip recipe.

Chinese Chicken Soup
Loosely adapted from the Subgum Chicken Soup recipe in Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood. In other words, I didn't have all the ingredients it called for!

3/4 lb. bok choy
1 can water chestnuts
2 cans mushrooms
4 cups chicken bother
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 cup cooked chicken, diced
3 green onions, diced
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Put chicken stock in a pot and bring to simmer.

Prepare the bok choy: Separate the leaves and stalks, and cut leaves into 2-inch pieces. Peel the stems, cut into slices and wash well.

Sprinkle sugar, salt, pepper and soy sauce into stock. Toss in bok choy and vegetables. Cook 5 minutes.

Remove soup from the heat and toss in cooked chicken and green onions. Drizzle sesame oil and serve at once.

Sweet Potato Pecan Bread
from Traders Point Creamery's newsletter this week. I used skim milk instead of whole and had good results.

1 1/2 cup organic white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 stick butter, chopped
2 tablespoons Traders Point Creamery whole milk
1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato
1 cup toasted pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour loaf pan.

Peel and dice a medium sweet potato. Boil until very soft, drain, mash. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk. Remove from heat, add butter. Set aside to cool.

Combine flour, baking powder, sea salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar. Whisk egg into milk mixture and fold into dry mixture. Add sweet potatoes and pecans.

Fill prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into middle of loaf comes out clean. Bake one hour. Cover with foil if loaf needs more time. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heating up your home but not your bills

Whether home heating bills or energy conservation are your motivation, there are easy, inexpensive ways to watch your gas and electric usage this winter.

High-ticket items such as adding additional insulation, an energy-efficient furnance or new ductwork may not be in your budget this season, however, here are 10 simple ways you can reduce your energy output, curbing your heating costs.

  1. Clean or change furnace filters once a month or as needed. Invest in a permanent filter, which also reduces waste.
  2. Place a rolled bath towel or custom-made "snake" across the bottom of leaky doors and windows. You can use leftover fabric, old clothing, etc., and stuff.
  3. Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators routinely and make sure they are not blocked by furniture.
  4. Remember that heat rises. Make your ceiling fans work for you. Most have a switch to reverse the blades' direction, which can pull that warmer air back into your living space.
  5. Install a programmable thermostat, which can help you save an estimated $180 every year in energy costs, according to
  6. Caulk windows and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors, ceilings and soffits over cabinets.
  7. During the winter, keep the blinds on south-facing windows open during the day to allow sunlight to enter your home. Close them at night to reduce the chill. (And keep your windows clean to maximize the light and heat.)
  8. Turn down your thermostat as low as comfortable. It's thought that for every degree you turn down the thermostat in the winter, you’ll save as much as 5 percent on your heating costs.
  9. Seal and insulate heating and cooling ducts in your attic, basement or crawl space. You could improve your heating system's efficiency by as much as 20 percent, according to
  10. Get your heating system inspected by a professional contractor before the winter, when demand increases. Maintaining your system will keep it operating efficiently and hold your costs down.

Sources for more information:

Find more green tips at Thrifty Green Thursdays.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Waiting for winter farmers markets

This weekend is the last for many local farmers markets, though for many it’s a quiet farewell. Despite the unseasonably warm weather of recent weeks, the farmers markets have been diminishing for some time. It’s just the reality of October.

October marks the stretch of watching and waiting. Watching the produce looking more and more wilted and unappetizing. Waiting for the farmers markets to open.

The good news is I’m not completely out of options. Winter markets are starting to open in the Indianapolis area and beyond.

The Traders Point Winter Market opens next weekend in northwest Indianapolis, near Zionsville. Bundle up to attend the indoor market, housed in a barn, which is open on Saturday mornings from November through April. As with its summer market, the local vendors sell certified organic products, including winter-grown produce, mushrooms, baked goods, eggs, meats and dairy products. I've found you need to attend early, as fresh products are in demand year-round.

New this year is the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market, which will open Nov. 15. It will be located at 2442 N. Central Ave. and open on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Indy Winter Market promises to deliver vegetables, fruit, meat, baked goods, herbs, natural cleaning products and other locally produced food & household products straight from regional farmers.

Further south, the Bloomington Winter Market is open January through March in the gymnasium of Harmony School. Past options have included fresh greens, apples, honey, winter squash, sweet potatoes, eggs, goat cheese, mushrooms, fresh and dried herbs, chicken, beef, pork, herb vinegars, mead, baked goods, locally roasted coffee and a variety of prepared foods and wine from up to 25 local winter market vendors for 10 weeks.

Other options for Indiana produce in the winter include:

American Countryside Farmers Market in Elkhart, a year-round facility within a 150-mile radius of Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit. Since the facility opened in May, 2007, consumers have been able to buy locally grown produce, fresh meat, baked goods, spices, flowers and cheeses; Amish-style prepared foods; and crafts, furniture and home decorating items on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Yeager Farms offers a prepaid winter produce program. For a minimum prepay purchase of $25, you can select from a variety of winter produce, including lettuces, greens, Asian greens, root crops and some herbs. Drop-offs can be coordinated in downtown Indianapolis on a daily basis or outside of downtown by appointment.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Homemade Holidays: Snowman kits

Tucked up in our closet, waiting for winter, is a snowman kit we received a Christmas or two back. Now that my oldest is old enough to enjoy the snowman-building process, the box will likely be dusted off this winter and come out to play.

You can buy "snowman kits" from many, many sources online, but it's nearly as simple to make your own, taking advantage of some of the things you may already have on hand:
  • A baby formula scoop, cleaned and painted, for a pipe
  • Rocks or old circular play pieces (random, homeless poker chips?), painted, for eyes
  • Old hat or scarf (which you could easily find in good shape at Goodwill or another resale shop)
  • Lids from soda bottles (again, painted) for buttons
  • Plastic or wooden carrot for nose

Package in a box or tote labeled "Snowman kit."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Disney leading ladies and the Halloween Grinch

Frugality and the holidays aren't a natural pairing. Christmas shopping, of course, is what you hear about, but Halloween is a close second. The rows of wrapped-up treats that threaten to rot your teeth, the overpriced, under-quality costumes that will last one hour of your child's life, the aftermath at home and the temptations in the office.

Sometimes, I truly feel like the Grinch that stole Halloween. For starters, I refuse to buy candy for trick-or-treaters (I get popcorn or play-dough instead. Two reasons: The incidence of childhood obesity and my personal fondness for chocolately goodness). And I admit to having major issues with the give-me attitude that heats up among the neighborhood children, who practically climbed all over my swollen, pregnant belly to grab things out of the treat bowl last year.

But now that my oldest is 3, we're tackling a new issue: What to wear. 2008 is different. It truly is a year of decisions.

So far this month, I've heard random comments about being Alvin and the Chipmunks (not sure if she means all three), a frog, a cheerleader a turtle, Cinderella (with "yellow hair" -- and she means it), and a few others that I've managed to purge from my brain. Of course, none of these options are particularly simple or cheap. And all require a shopping trip, something I cringe about these days.

It could be worse. My daughter's friend wants to be a pink Power Ranger, which comes in at a costly $46 for a costume, her mom reports.

Coming from a family that made their costumes (I was raised in the era of those horrible too-tight plastic masks and wrap-around sheaths for costumes), I struggle with the idea of buying cheaply made, un-reusable costumes to dress up my children in for Halloween, especially at such a young age.

The first year, my oldest wore a hand-me-down costume for exactly five minutes, long enough to take a photo. The next, she toddled around in comfortable black sweats, dog ears and a tail. The third year, a Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader dress, found on eBay, which fit her until literally last week.

I tried to convince my daughter that she could wear a pink princess dress (fashioned out of last year's bridesmaid dress). No dice. I told her that the fairy godmothers changed Cinderella's dress pink and green. She got hung up on the green. Nevermind I've got the wrong Disney story -- it was Sleeping Beauty, not Cinderella.

But last night, a burst of inspiration hit. There's one Disney leading lady that my princess can pull off.

You see, tucked away in a box that I found recently was my first communion dress, circa 1983. And you know, it doesn't look that far off from the cover of Mary Poppins. I brought up the idea. Her face lit up. She was sold.

Yes, she'll be drowning in that decades-old dress, but only for that hour. But I can guarantee in the sea of princesses, she'll be the only Disney leading lady on the block who'll be prepared for rain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

APLS: Education and inspiration

This month's APLS topic is on how we learn about and stay inspired about being environmentally friendly. Thanks to Abbie at Farmer's Daugther for hosting!

As it's a busy month in the office, I am liberally lifting Abbie's post introducing our bloggers' topics. If I wait to share these posts and my opinions until I get to read all of these, the month may be over!

Daphne, who blogs at Daphne’s Dandelions, takes a break from her usual topic of
gardening to post about how she educates herself on sustainability in unexpected places, like Science Fiction conventions. At home, she plays the role of the
“Green Nag” in her family in order to make sure things are done as
sustainably as possible. She’ll also educate strangers, but only when

Katie from A Green Fire writes about how she first learned about sustainable, frugal, green living from her family, and then as an adult out of the necessity to be
frugal. She also talks about how much she learns doing research to
write her blog posts, and shares it with her family and readers

Green Bean writes about educating others through her Victory Garden. As she says, “Grab a shovel and start spreading the word!”

Laura, the Fearless Chef describes the importance of food in living the sustainable lifestyle: “The simplest, most effective way to teach people about sustainable food sources is to feed them.

As Beth at Fake Plastic Fish writes, “Sitting hour upon hour in front of the computer, I crave the ‘classroom’ of the natural world. What are some ways to learn about what’s ‘real’?” Read her post and see what she comes up with.

Robbie at Going Green Mama writes about life lessons she’s learned in the process of going green. My favorite is “Grandma’s ways sometimes worked.”

Tina at crstn85 writes about her “education overload” and how she loves to share her environmental enthusiasm with others.

Healther at Simple-Green-Frugal describes her education as read, read, read, be fearless, and live the life. Sharing her jams and inspiring others to get out and walk are a few examples of how Heather spreads the sustainable message.

Ruchi at Arduous Blog writes about her experiences continuing her education in London, and how she appreciates learning so much more now that she’s grown

Bobbi at To Live Local describes how she puts her love of words into actions, both in her community and in her own family.

Ruth, who blogs at Musings of an Everyday Woman and also happens to be my mom, writes about how our visit to the Island School changed her views on sustainability,
and how she’s made changes since returning home

Stephanie at Sunbeam Soapbox writes about the huge amount of information available and how we all need to work together to learn it, because it may just be too much for one person to do it all.

Joyce at Tall Grass Worship gives credit to all the green bloggers out there spreading the sustainability message, even though she may not agree with most of their political views. She also acts as a sustainable role model.

Finally, if you want an Environmental Science teacher’s take on her own education in sustainable living and how she passes it on to her students and others, you can read my (Abbie's) post here at Farmer’s Daughter.

My CSA experience: Turned off by turnips

As we reach fall, the weekly CSA bounty from our organic CSA has turned from herbs and lettuces and toward more root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips.

I had admittedly never tried turnips before, so I had no idea where to start. I flipped through my cookbooks, including one on vegetarian grilling. Nothing. Finally, I turned to a 1950s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from my mother-in-law. Buried in tiny type was "Boil" for x minutes. Hardly appetizing.

I looked online and found a recipe for roasted garlic, turnips and shallots. I love shallots and can't get enough of garlic. I figured it was a safe bet. Except I still can't get past the bitter taste of turnips.

My friend Kari, my resident expert foodie, wrote to me and said:

You don’t like turnips because the recipe you tried is for the diehard Southern
purist. You must mix turnips with something sweet to balance their bitter
acidity. Garlic and shallots are not sweet!

Peel, cube and roast your turnips with carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips(optional) on a cookie sheet. Then mash them all together with butter, pepper and just a touch of maple syrup or a sprinkle of brown sugar. It is called Root Mash, and it came out of a Southern Living magazine a long, long time ago.

Alternately, shredded turnip and apple “pancakes” mixed with sage, mace, thyme
and an egg and skillet fried to a crisp in butter or oil make a nice side dish
for bratwurst sausages.

It's worth a shot. I still have four more turnips staring me in the face that I feel guilty about letting go to waste. Cherry tomatoes and peppers never looked so good....

The name of this CSA, based outside of Indianapolis, was deleted from this post on January 28, 2009. I have been falsely accused of libel by this CSA and will no longer promote them by using the name of the organization. Please do all you can to preserve the freedoms promised to us by our Forefathers!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homemade Holidays: Nostalgia baskets

"I know this year is going to be much more about needs than wants," my sister e-mailed me the other day.

I'm sure our family is far from alone. Each day brings more news of financial crisises on a worldwide scale and how retailers are bracing for a tighter-than-usual Christmas shopping season.

Still, I know gift-giving won't go away as part of holiday traditions. Sure, this year, our gift-giving will be severely amputated. In fact, I think what we do give will be more about what's heart-felt than a treat.

This week starts my "Homemade Holidays" series. Each Monday, I'll feature different ideas for greener gift-giving on a budget. If you have other ideas, please post them as well!

A little nostalgia
Remember those fabulous treats Grandma used to make? Create a gift basket of homemade goodies for your loved ones, packaged with cards featuring the treasured recipes. If you're feeling very creative, hunt down photos of the grandkids in the kitchen or the family around the holiday table to include in it.

A few years back we compiled my Grandmother's recipes, which had found homes at random relatives' houses. After a few weeks of effort and some time with the word processor, we created a 100+ page cookbook. We printed a copy, which included family photos, for her, and e-mailed a PDF to the family, so they all had copies on hand for the future.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chicken for one

Making the most out of a main dish may be easy for those of us with larger families, but when you're the head of household (and the only head), cooking conservatively gets a little more challenging.

It's all too tempting to just eat out or rely on frozen or pre-prepared meals, which are costly and generate a lot of waste. Even if you have great intentions, when you're cooking for one, it's challenging to use up everything you've purchased for the week.

This morning, my brother, a computer programmer who's never before worried about his wallet, confessed to me that he's stumped about how we can cut back on his eating expenses. He's given up routine meals out but isn't sure how to make cooking dinner efficient for a person whose definition of cooking is "putting dead meat in a pan." And, he said, it's challenging to finish up what he purchases before it goes bad.

We had a short talk about what he likes, doesn't like and is scared to cook. In the end, we decided he wouldn't be too chicken to cook with chicken.

His meal base? A rotisserie chicken from the grocery. Nothing fancy, and it conserves the heat that would go to roasting a chicken on his own. As we're able to stretch a rotiserrie chicken to three or four meals, I figure he could be set for a week.

Meal 1: Enjoy hot rotisserie chicken with sides of his choice.

Fast meals with leftover chicken can include:
  • Chicken fried rice. (Stir-fry with cooked rice, a bit of peanut oil, soy sauce and desired veggies. We use green onions liberally.)
  • Chicken tacos or quesadillas. (If you buy the flour tortillas, you get soft tacos and quesadillas out of your effort.)
  • Sandwiches - hot or cold. Fix how you like.
  • Hot chicken sandwiches. My mother used to rely on leftovers with a can of cream of mushroom soup with leftover chicken, pork or steak, served over bread. Not fancy, but it was always cleaned up.
  • A casserole or simple rice or pasta dish with leftover chicken tossed in. (Not comfortable with cooking? Simply stretch out one of those boxed rice side dishes with meat or veggies.)
  • Chicken Caesar salad (or other salad of your choice.)

Getting tired of poultry? Is it approaching day four in the fridge? Just shred the leftovers and toss it into the freezer for future use on a lazy day.

Yes, they're not fancy meals, and probably something you've already considered. But keep in mind that at 7 at night, fast makes sense.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Life lessons on going green

Lately the lesson I've tried to impart on my oldest is that the world is not black and white.

And neither is learning to live green.

Learning to live green, for me, has come from unexpected sources. It's not just from picking up the latest book at the library or from reading from a list of blogs and Web sites. Instead, I've culled inspirations from random articles, experiences and people I've come across in person and online.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned on the path to being greener.

Green can be cheap, but cheap isn't always green. You can take your dollar and buy some inexpensive off-brand window cleaner, or you can use vinegar. You can buy shower cleaner or baking soda. Either one works but they vary on their environmental impact.

Likewise, think about how you eat. Fast food may be cheap – you can probably feed yourself from a dollar menu – but you have a much higher environmental (and bodily) impact than if you chose fresh fruits or vegetables or packed a sandwich instead.

Grandma's ways sometimes worked. Home cooking, home-grown vegetables, layering when it was cold, making use of hand-me-downs, using leftovers for casseroles – all of these things helped our grandparents’ generation reduce their living expenses (important during tough financial times) and also reduced the impact on the environment.

Vote early and often. Vote with your dollars, vote with your e-mails to your congressmen or a business. Make your voice heard. What you say and where you spend makes a difference.

Regardless of what you earn, regardless of this economy, you can make your life a little bit greener. So you can’t buy solar panels? So what? There are still small steps you can take. Turn off your water or lights. Buy green products when it fits within your budget. Turn off your car and go inside a building instead of idling in a drive-through lane. Don’t print off things unless you have to, and when you do, print on both sides of the paper. Little steps count.

Watch your budget. Don’t buy what you can’t afford. It helps your wallet, your clutter and your waste.

Convenience counts. Yes, convenience products, foods and services may shave your time, but they also have hidden (or not so hidden) costs. Consider: At the store last night, I could buy a pound of wheat pasta and toss with a splash of olive oil and a clove of chopped garlic. Or I could buy a package of side-dish pasta that makes about 1 ½ cups of garlic and olive oil flavored pasta for roughly the same price. The difference in time? A few minutes extra to boil water. Mincing a clove of garlic can be done while the water boils. The difference in quantity and quality? Considerable.

So here I am in my journey. I've learned a little and accomplished a few small things. Have I gotten very far on the way to a greener lifestyle? My desk at work suggests no. But have I made a small difference and helped impact my family's thinking? I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three reasons to smile

Some days, it's difficult to smile. Turning on the news lately is enough to turn off anyone's day. And, as we look forward to the start of month 6 of joblessness, some mornings are more challenging than others.

But on this grey, bleary day, I have three reasons to smile. A friend of mine will be the new mom of not one, not two, but three little ones this afternoon after an incredible 36 weeks of waiting. Congratulations, Christy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Easy applesauce

My babysitter presented us with a bag filled with apples the other day, picked fresh from her father's neighbor's orchard. Sure they weren't pretty, but does that matter?

A dozen or so apples is a lot to manage in our household. Raw apples don't go quickly if the 3 year old isn't currently obsessed with eating them, and I'll be the first to admit I tend to forget the fruit that's sitting on the counter.

As we're still working through some homemade apple cobbler made the other night, I searched for an applesauce recipe. I cobbled the following from several recipes I found online. Sure, you could make it on the stove, but there's something remarkably stress-free about tossing ingredients into a Crock-Pot and letting it go all day while you go about your business.

Slow-cooker Applesauce
10-12 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine apples and lemon juice in your Crock-Pot. Mix in brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Add water. Cook on high for four hours or until chunks are soft. Mash with potato masher or blender until desired consistency. Serve warm or cold. Makes about 8-10 cups.

I am proud to say that despite recent issues with eating, both kids can't get enough of this!

Looking for other ideas for your apples? Visit Eco'Burban's blog for other tips.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The markets are down

The markets are down, and it's just something I'm going to have to live with.

As it's October, I should consider myself fortunate that the basil, oregano and rosemary haven't died and we're still picking strawberries. But somehow, I'm just not ready to accept the full weight of what fall means.

It means very soon, the last of the farmers markets and farm stands will close. Already the options are very slim: the tomatoes that just won't quit, a few straggling ears of corn, several types of squash and pumpkins.

The CSA shares are evolving, too. Turnips and strange greens accompany the cherry tomatoes that haven't given up. I'm still not sure how our 25-week program through our organic CSA will string us along with root vegetables until Thanksgiving. We'll see.

This is what I hate about fall. You're facing six months of sad produce in the stores and wondering what, if anything, looks appetizing enough to make for dinner. It's little wonder so many of us turn to comfort food in the winter: wilted vegetables or a steaming bowl of chili?

The name of this CSA, one of the oldest in Indianapolis, was deleted from this post on January 28, 2009. I have been falsely accused of libel by this CSA and will no longer promote them by using the name of the organization. Please do all you can to preserve the blessings of this country, including the First Amendment!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pillowcase projects

Photo from Family Fun magazineAs a person with absolutely no sewing ability, I'm impressed with people who can create with fabric and thread.

Here are a few fast projects giving new life to old bedding as new items for kids.

Diaper bag
As my daughter approached the end of being the single child in our lives, we thought about how we could best mark this milestone.

We opted for a "Big Sister Party" the day we returned from the hospital. It was a smashing success: family members, pizza, cookies...what more could a 2 year old want?

Sure, gifts were included. Her own baby stroller (she'd been playing with friends' ones for months) and her own "diaper bag" of her very own.

This pink flannel diaper bag has since joined us to the store, to church, to anywhere that might require a sippy cup, a stuffed friend, crayons or whatever struck her fancy. But it's truly a one-of-a-kind gift. And did I mention it's green - and took no talent to create?

To make the diaper bag, I refashioned the bag that packaged the bedding-in-a-bag we'd purchased a few months earlier for my daughter's room. I took the bag, cut off the drawstring top and removed the string. That became the handles.

The diaper bag itself is the remainder of the bag fabric, shortened for size and cut to allow for a flap to cover the top of the "diaper bag." (This way, three of the sides were already sewn together.) The sides were puckered in with a few stitches to allow it to lie flat. That's it. Thirty minutes of hand stitching, and we had a bag that's been carried around the city.

Pillowcase projects
If you're looking for something to do with an old pillowcase, this month's issue of Family Fun magazine had a quick project for an art smock fashioned out of an old pillowcase and brads. There's also listed another project on the Family Fun Web site for transforming pillowcases into bright skirts for your little ones.

Want more green tips? Visit this week's Thrifty Green Thursday for links for information on baby shower decorations, saving money while going organic, sealing air ducts and more.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

From rainbow diet to rarely adventurous

I always considered myself lucky. My toddler (now preschooler) was a good eater. Before a year old, she was happily chomping on asparagus and asiago. The more flavor, the better. I was truly convinced it was a matter of good parenting and exposing her to flavors early in life.

And then one day, it all changed. My little chef was demanding haute cuisine featuring "milky cereal" (three or four requests a day), Goldfish crackers and anything carb-loaded.

So I figured I'd try one last attempt to break her out of her rut. We'd gotten some samples of a healthy kid food line and decided to try it. I broke out a box of the fish bites and green dip. She thinks it's chicken nuggets and green ketchup? Great. She dipped it, lightly pressed it against her lips and paused. Then dropped it and frantically wiped the "green ketchup" off on her plate.

She opted to eat three tiny bites of the green ketchup (which had a faint green bean or broccoli taste to it) and half of her "chicken nugget," before protesting she didn't like spices. (This is the girl who knows basil, oregano and rosemary by sight on her plants or on any cooking show.)

Sigh. I'm not sure what the issue is, nor how to stop this trainwreck. I realize declaring culinary independence is a stop on the road to adulthood, but somehow, I'm just tired of the battle already.

But at least baby brother will eat the "ketchup" - and all of it, happily.

Home Grown Indiana: A review

Indiana means corn, and lots of it. But locally produced foods are more more varied. It's just that the state hasn't done a great sales job of it.

Sure there's Purdue's listing of area farmers markets and farm stands, as well as directories (somewhat updated) on But easily locating producers who are still active has been a challenge.

That's what intrigued me about Home Grown Indiana. Written by Christine Barbour and Scott Hutcheson, the guidebooks keys into more than 400 local producers across the Hoosier state. As a person who's interested in sustainable living and supporting our local economy as much as possibly, the book's concept appealed to me: a geographic guide to local producers, including produce, meats, beer and wine, restaraunts and more. I learned Indiana is home to many food products that might surprise you: caviar, bison and elk, for example.

Home Grown Indiana offers an eclectic mix of listings, local eating tips and recipes. Interesteing stories and anecdotes help you learn the story behind what you're eating. One of the great advantages of locally produced goods is that you can get to know the producer, and this is just one step into the experience.

Vendors are listed by seven geographic regions that are an early attempt to organze but are not always the most intuitive. (For example, Bloomington and Columbus are left out of the "Central" region, which is instead limited to the eight-county Indianapolis metropolitan area.) Four or five regions might have made more sense.

Each chapter includes market and local producers, lists of restaraunts featuring local food, farmers market lists, wineries, breweries and food festivals. However, these topics aren't clearly marked; in some instances, CSAs and some markets are mixed among the producers, for example.

Suggestions for future editions would be to consolidate or make clearer the geographic boundaries, such as "Chicagoland" or "Evansville area." In addition, each chapter could be somewhat better organized.

Despite these small limitations, Home Grown Indiana is a fabulous first attempt at quantifying the bounty that's available within Indiana's borders.