Saturday, January 29, 2011

{We interrupt this blog}

After more than 2 1/2 years of prayer and worry, my husband got a full-time job offer yesterday morning!!

Gardening plans?

I admit that after more than two weeks of acute bronchitis and a sinus infection (just diagnosed), I don't have a lot of brain cells left. So today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm leaving the talk to you. We're discussing garden plans, and whether you're branching out beyond your usual suspects this summer. Join the discussion.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ready for spring

You know it's bad when the kids start asking when it's going to be spring...

I'm ready. I don't care if we're just teased with a few days of 40-degree temps.

Bring on spring!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I survived the eat from the pantry challenge

Making a meal from your reserves. It's not as difficult as you'd think.

Despite snowstorms, work, fussy children and going on two weeks of being sick, our family lived through our eating from the pantry (and freezer) challenge and lived to tell about it.

Even better, we added a few dishes to our repertoire.

We cracked open a breadmaking book, borrowed a month ago from a friend, and let the aroma of freshly baked bread fill our home. Our kids asked for it to snack on at breakfast, between meals, even after dinner.

We cleaned out the random items in our freezer, those half-used bags of beans, the boneless chicken breasts overzealously bought on sale.

I dusted off old cookbooks and cooking magazines, bookmarking ideas for winter soups and fruity desserts. We're even having corn on the cob this week, harvested at the peak of Indiana summers.

Too many winters have been spent saving the previous summer's harvest for a special dish, only to hurridly clean out frozen, frost-covered produce the following June. So this was a nice reprise.

And the fact we hardly touched a grocery store for a month didn't hurt either.

How did you do? Did you finish your month's pantry challenge? Did you find new dishes to enjoy? Have a cooking disaster to share? Would you do it again?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Regulating GE crops: Have your say

Genetically engineered crops I admit make me uneasy at best. As we don't fully know the health and environmental implications of genetically engineered food, the idea of it more fully integrating our marketplaces gives me pause.

Why does it matter now? Because the USDA is considering deregulating the use of GE alfalfa, the fourth-largest crop in the country. They are taking comments through tomorrow.

Conventional alfalfa (alfalfa that is not a GE variety and is not grown
using organic practices) has been used by farmers as livestock feed for decades
because of its high protein and low fiber content. Alfalfa ranks fourth on
the list of most widely grown crops by acreage, behind corn, soybeans, and
wheat, and is ranked third among agricultural crops in terms of value.
Because it is widespread and is typically grown as a perennial crop, alfalfa also providesimportant habitat for wildlife (Hubbard 2008). ...

Alfalfa is predominantly cross-pollinated and the flowers depend entirely on bees for cross-pollination. (USDA Environmental Impact Statement, Dec. 2010)

So what does that mean for you?
Our non-GE and organic farmers continue to be concerned with crop contamination
and market rejection. Independent studies in the U.S. and in other countries on
GE crops have documented a long list of reasons for concern, including evidence
that these crops lead to herbicide-resistant super-weeds and require the use of
more toxic herbicides. As mentioned above, organic alfalfa is used as feed by
most organic and non-GE dairies. Also, the policy set for GE alfalfa will most
likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. (Whole
Foods Blog
, Jan. 20)
On top of the cross-contamination issue, the USDA concedes that the deregulation, or increased use, would likely increase the use of herbicides such as glyphosates, but whether the use of other herbicides would increase or decrease is unknown. (USDA Environmental Impact Statemnet, Dec. 2010)

The USDA is taking comments through Monday on whether to deregulate GE alfalfa which would allow it to be planted anywhere. Alfalfa is often used as feed for dairy cows and beef cattle, and cross-contamination with GE alfalfa would have an impact on these designations.

I agre that our farmers have a right to grow foods without fear of contamination from others’ GE crops—and that consumers have a right to make the choice to buy non-GE products.
You can learn more about the alfalfa issue here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Got gas?

Today's discussion at the Green Phone Booth is whether yo-yo'ing gas prices have impacted your family's habits. Join the discussion.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Conversations over a catalog

Seed catalogs are my children's answer to the bulky Christmas catalogs of my youth. You remember the 400-page tomes that would come in the mail, only to be fought over, scurried away, bookmarked and circled and flagged and abused, until Dec. 25 where they would be forgotten in the darkness of the closet.

For my kids, the seed catalogs represent beauty. And hope. And excitement. And dirt. And colors. And mud. And doing something tangible with their own two hands and a water hose.

And if you find just the right catalog, the one with bold colors and brighter promise, you unlock something within my children.

The good seed catalogs get whisked away to an armchair, where the kindergartener thumbs page after page, her little legs barely sticking out from underneath.

The really good catalogs get my preschooler's attention too, and risk breaking out a fight over the books.

But it wouldn't be a good catalog without a good wish list. And they've got theirs.

My 3 year old wants to plant chicken nuggets. But he'll settle also for okra, which he discovered and we ate for about three weeks' straight last summer.

My 5 year old goes for creative color, opting for the purple carrots, the red Asian beans, a rainbow of flowers.

My husband salivates over pages of heirloom tomatoes, which he'll want to try all of but will settle for a few good black krims.

But what's most fun about seed shopping is the conversations we have. We talk about growing, and cooking and colors. We talk about silly things. And it's fodder for many a mealtime conversation this summer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clean out the cupboards: The sick day edition

You can start the week with great intentions. And then life will throw you a loop.

This week our family's cupboard challenge was completely derailed by a little thing called Mom Being Sick.

With Mom Being Sick, you don't have the energy for tiffs over toys, let alone expending the energy for a home-cooked meal. With Mom Being Sick, it's hard to keep your head up, let alone safely balance a knife on the cutting board. With Mom Being Sick, about the only thing that's boiling is a temper at times. All of this has, in retrospect, led me to two conclusions.

1) Menu planning might just mean making a freezer meal or two to keep in the rotation.

2) Sometime's it's OK to just open the blue box of mac and cheese.

It doesn't mean we didn't have our successes. My dear husband made homemade marinara sauce for the very first time - without a recipe - and nailed it. (Why he didn't just take some of the sauce in the freezer, I don't know.) We made stirfries and a favorite chicken dish we hadn't made for months. And I can't argue with grilled steak cooked outside on a cold January day (yes my husband has issues).

Sometimes, with Mom Being Sick, you just go with the flow. And that's OK with me.

How are you sticking (or not sticking) to your pantry challenge? Are you making progress? Trying new recipes? Frustrated with your efforts?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


As her mother has been doped up on Robittisum and DayQuill the last few days, the Green-Eyed Monster offers up a post...

I like to play in the snow. Then we go inside after we play in the snow to have hot chocolate. We drink the hot chocolate then we eat the marshmallows in the hot chocolate.

We feed birds with pine cones. We put peanut butter on the pine cones for the birds and we decorated the pine cones with food: raisins and seeds and nuts. Birds like raisins a lot. And then me and mommy hung up the pine cones. And then one bird ate all the food off one pine cone. Maybe that bird was hungry.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Clean out the cupboards: Finding success in planning ahead

Cleaning out the cupboards. Wow, I should have done this a year ago!

Week 1 flew by, the kids ate with little complaint, but I had a few struggles.

1. Planning a menu.
2. Planning my plan B.

I started this week with great intentions. I got my new laptop out, settled in with some cookbooks and started planning out recipes to try when certain key items went on sale. What I should have done is plan out more than a day or two in advance what we were actually going to eat, because we weren't planning on hitting the stores.

It is one thing to plan a menu. It is one thing to roll the dice and hope your food defrosts in time.

More than a few times, we had to scrap our meal plans because the sauce or meat from my freezer was still a frozen hunk in our fridge. And, with little in the way of produce in our fridge (our winter market had been closed for the holidays), it presented a larger challenge to make a well-rounded meal.

But we survived. Frankly we ate quite well, all things considered:

  • Peanut butter oatmeal and blueberry baked french toast for breakfast (both easy fixes that were fast to reheat on school mornings)
  • My mother-in-law's chicken wings for New Year's Day
  • Pitas stuffed with a fabulous makeshift mixture of ground beef, spices and tomato pesto (will post recipe later)
  • Grilled chicken
  • and more.
I have to admit, you can probably do anything for a week, and we've been fortunate that we were able to make it through with very little in terms of purchases. We even cleared out a few condiments along the way. Sure, I haven't touched much in the way of vegetables, and we've had to make some creative substitutions, like maple syrup for honey in oatmeal bars or black beans instead of red in chili. But we managed to get away in week 1 with only purchasing milk, honey (which I thought I needed for a later recipe), two cans of tomato sauce and (blush) Diet Coke. Not bad for a family of four, who just found out their budget's being ursurped by not only tuition textbooks and home association fees, but also the replacement of a toilet, not a small expense.

Staying away from the store will be difficult at best. It's hard to break the routine of just picking up something on the way home from work, or to start the routine of thinking ahead for an entire week. But by forcing ourselves to think ahead, I think we'll be far better for it, and wiser in what we do spend later.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clearing clutter consciously

Instead of cleaning house today, I posted at the Green Phone Booth about how you can clear your clutter and make a difference for more than one family. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can't we garden yet?

"Can we garden today?" my 5 year old asked New Year's Eve.

Doesn't she realize it's December? That she lives in Indiana? That she just wrapped up weeks of snow and we'll likely get weeks more before it's all over?

Yet, New Year's Eve was the rare exception, and a blast of warm air brought in 61-degree temps. And my daughter wanted to spend it gardening.

Who am I to argue, really?

Maybe I was feeling a little too overconfident after reading my copy of Four-Season Harvest that my husband got me for Christmas. Maybe I was tired of last season's seeds staring at me in the garage. Maybe I just wanted the kids to make a mess outside for once after the previous two weeks. So we went outside. To garden. On Dec. 31. In the Midwest.

We scattered some leftover carrot seeds on the ground, just to see what might happen once the temperatures really warm. We planted a few small onions from the summer's garden, as they had happened to sprout little green shoots. I cleaned up a few weeds. They played with bubbles.

Later, we potted an amaryllis we'd gotten for Christmas and decided to do a "gardening experiment" by planting a few seeds in a pot in a garage.

It's a small comparison to the real thing. I'm starting to get seed catalogs in the mail, and I'm sorely tempted to try new things this summer. Like okra, which my kids discovered last year and love. Or ground cherries. Or maybe, this year, I'll have real luck with my tomatoes, which failed at seed-starting, froze after my early-spring over-enthusiasm, and later failed to produce like those lucky vendors at our farmers markets. Can't we just garden yet?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clean Out the Cupboards, Week 1

I hate canned food.

There. I said it.

As I've stared at my pantry for the 10th time this weekend, I realized that I really don't like canned food. Not canned tuna. Not canned veggies (though mushrooms and anything for Chinese is ok.). Not canned anything.

I should have realized this months ago. Thanksgiving day, I tossed out can after can - filling a garbage can - with canned items I'd bought at a good price and promptly ignored. Not because I can afford to waste money on our cramped budget. But because I just don't like to use canned goods.

If I think about how I cook, it's rare that I grab anything that's canned out of the pantry. Soup, beans and mushrooms seem to be the exception to the rule. We rarely buy spaghetti sauce anymore since I started buying tomatoes for massive sauce-making and freezing in August.

If I really look at my pantry's contents they can be summed up as:

  • Breakfast stuff

  • School lunch stuff

  • Pastas

  • Leftover junk food and Christmas treats my husband bought

  • Abandoned canned goods

  • Stuff to make other stuff

It's the last two items I'll be worried about most during this pantry challenge. Figure out how to use, actually use, those canned goods in a meal, instead of bypassing them to grab last summer's veggies from the freezer. I'll figure out how to use the obscure condiments (coconut milk, anyone?) and other cooking items we've grabbed because we might use it in a recipe someday.

If I was just eating cooked, canned green beans it would be easy. But making the most of my pantry, rather than just letting things go waste, is a bigger challenge for our plates. It's time to dust off those cookbooks and get tasting!

What are your goals for the challenge? Is it simply cleaning house? Cutting back on your food budget? Shaking up your meal plan?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Merle's chicken wings

My mother-in-law makes these every new year's day. On our ninth anniversary of moving away, I finally broke down and got the recipe. It's wonderful but not for the faint of heart.

Merle's chicken wings
3 lbs. chicken wings
1 c. soy sauce
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 c. water

Combine all but wings in a saucepan. Pour over wings in 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 45 min. to one hour. Fabulous over rice!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Clean Out The Cupboards Challenge

For all of my scratch cooking, frozen produce from last summer and other efforts, I have to admit. My pantry is a mess. Stocked with teas, cocoas and things I am not really sure why we bought them in the first place.
Admit it. Your pantry is no better. It's time to do something about it.

Welcome to the Clean Out the Cupboards Challenge, co-hosted by Laura at Frugal Follies, Denise at Shopper Strategy, Crystal at Mrs. Happy Homemaker, Rebecca Jean at Midnight Maniac and me.

This month, the five of us plan to challenge ourselves to eat from our pantries – to use up all that excess food sitting in the backs of the cupboards, the refrigerator door and the freezer – and limit our shopping to as little as possible.
And we want you to join us, too!

The rules are simple: Make up your own rules, based on what’s best for your family. But a few basic principles:

Eat! This is not a diet or eat as little as possible challenge. Prepare healthy foods for your family, even if it means doing more shopping than you expected.

Don’t load up this weekend with a month’s worth of groceries. Go ahead and do your regular shopping.

Don’t not buy groceries, but then eat at restaurants all month long. Of course, feel free to eat at restaurants if you normally do.

If you need to stop the challenge mid-month based on the needs of your family, do so.

As for the details of the challenge, it’s up to you!

  • You might want to purchase dairy and produce throughout the month; others might try to stretch what they already have.
  • You might want to limit your challenge to food items, or extend it to personal care items, paper goods and cleaning supplies.
  • You might want to allow yourself to purchase great deals; others won’t.

On Monday, we’ll kick off the challenge by posting our goals. So figure out what your goals are – is it to save money? to have more room in your pantry? to stop wasting food and thus help the environment? Figure out why you want to participate in the challenge – I look forward to hearing what your goals are!

(Bloggers: if you wish to join us, we’ll have a linky each week where you can link to your challenge posts. The linky will appear at the blogs of all five co-hosts.)

Are you in?

To every time there is a season

New year's resolutions have always seemed an exercise in futility for me. After all, I've lost and regained the same 10 pounds for a decade.

But this year, I'm forseeing a bit more chaos in our lives, mostly driven by work, my husband being in school and the joys and challenges of parenting. So with that, I'm forcing myself to simplify on my own terms.

That means recognizing that there are seasons in life to make changes, and there are seasons for status quo. Much like the advice not to make major changes after a stressful event, I'm planning ahead.

For now, my focus is on decluttering my home, spending time with my family and ensuring there are systems for tracking our expenses on our dwindling funds as we wait (hopefully) for financial aid for spring or our tax refund, both badly needed to see us through the end of 2011.

Later this winter, I'm anticipating a good month focused - and I mean 70-hours a week focused - on work. I hope that whatever systems we come up with will suffice.

When that passes, I'll be back to working on myself and my family. That means eating healthier. Exercising more. Growing our own produce (I'm encouraged by the Four Season Harvest that my husband bought me for Christmas). And being smarter, overall, at the resources, time included, spent in our lives.

What about you? What are your goals for the coming year?

Wishing you a peaceful and happy new year,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama