Thursday, August 27, 2009

For our farmers market friend

You know your child loves going to the farmers market when:
  1. You take a visit there - and the vendors are asking where your kid is.
  2. She starts making pictures for the vendors! Above is a chili pepper for "the pepper guy."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are you keeping up with the Joneses?

It used to be about who had the biggest and newest car. Or the best vacation plans. Now, it's about who's being greener or more frugal in their choices.

Rachel at Small Notebook recently discussed the frustrations of keeping up with the Joneses. Not gardening yet? Not cooking from scratch? Heaven forbid, do you eat each night from takeout containers? Really, it's OK. For many of us, the path to simpler living is just a gradual process.

Rachel writes:
There have been times when I’ve been concerned that mentioning something might
not be good for my image. You know, my desire to look healthy, conscientious,
resourceful, and like I cook all my food from scratch. Oh forgive me for wanting
to have an image! That should be the first thing that anyone de-clutters. Life
is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about how you look to
When I’m talking to someone else, I would much rather admit that my
spaghetti sauce comes from a jar at the store than pretend I’m a fabulous chef.
Authenticity is living simply.

And "simple" is a matter of perspective. You can spend simply, and reap great rewards if you have a talent for cooking, sewing or other crafts. You can entertain simply and just hang out with a few great friends and good beers in your backyard. You can clean simply and join the baking soda and vinegar crowd, instead of staring at the dozen cleaning products in your cabinet. You can raise your children simply, and not buy toys upon end and overschedule them.

But when living "simple," "green," or "frugal" comes to the point that your choices are stressing you out, aren't you missing the point? Because at the end of the day, it's you (and your family) you have to live with.

Easy tropical granola

Granola and yogurt is a big request in my house, but at five bucks or more a package, it can quickly add up.

This weekend, we made our own for the first time, and it was surprisingly easy. Here's our adapted recipe for Easy Tropical Granola.

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup dried papaya*
1/2 cup dried pineapple

Heat the oven to 300. Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, cobine honey, brown sugar, butter and salt. Add oats, and stir until blended.

Spread granola on foil and bake f0r 20 minutes, stirring once halfway. Remove pans from oven and stir granola again. Bake 10 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn. Remove and stir again. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

When the granola is cool, add the dried fruit. Store in an airtight container for up to four weeks.

* Dried papaya is available at Fresh Market, if you're unable to find it at the local store.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Veggie grilling

Might as well make the most of your farmers markets while the summer is hot. In just a month or two, the growing season - at least in Indiana - will be winding down.

While I admit to stocking up my freezer this time of year, we also love to add our veggies to the grill when my husband cooks out. If you're a little shy about this, relax. It doesn't take very long, and it's one less set of pots to clean!

Here are some vegetable side dishes to make use of the rest of your burner:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bargain hunting at the farmers market

Last night, I did the unthinkable. I didn't race right home to feed hungry kids.

Instead, we stopped by the Wednesday evening Greenwood Farmers Market to see what's available during the week. I was surprised to see the large number of vendors who've succeeded in doing what's eluded me in the last week or so: growing tomatoes, zucchini and other vegetables. (We're currently in a dying slump in our little garden.)

At quarter to 6, I realized something: Just as I'm ready to go home at the end of the day, so are the vendors. And the last thing they want to do is slug more things home than they have to.

The first booth I stopped at, the woman practically loaded my bag with the corn. "I usually sell them half-dozen for $2, but I just don't want to mess with it. You can have it for a buck," she said.

At the next, the genteleman wordlessly upped my container of cucumbers.

At a third, the woman threw in a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, which my son was lusting after (until of course, he tasted it, and realized it was a tomato).

And at the tomato stand, I just said to give me a dollar's worth of "ugly" tomatoes (which, for the unitiated, means they're not 100 percent perfect but perfectly usable). He loaded me up with eight. They pushed the rest of their cukes at me, saying to just give them a quarter.

So for my $9.25, here's what I got:
  • 8 cucumbers
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 6 ears of corn
  • 4 lbs. green beans
  • a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes

I dare you to beat that at the grocery store!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mom, Will This Chicken Give Me Man Boobs?: A review

Sometimes, a book on the library shelf just screams to be picked up.

This time, it was a subtle pink one that just wanted to be green. And the title was too good not to read: Mom, Will This Chicken Give Me Man Boobs?: My Confused, Guilt-Ridden and Stressful Struggle to Raise a Green Family? by Robyn Harding.
Have mommy guilt? Have green guilt? Harding makes you feel better about your life. She chronciles suburban mommy life in ultra-green Vancouver, where parents are out to save their children and the trees simultaneously, trying to out-sustain each other in the process. I couldn't stop laughing through the book -- and my husband kept fighting me to read the copy.

Maybe Harding's book just hit a little too close to home. Do you buy local or organic or simply the best price? Drink from milk organic, conventional or cooped-up cows? Send out a stack of Christmas cards to long-lost relatives? Buy birthday presents for every kid in the class or go "low-impact?" Avoid that glass of wine after a stressful day just because it's "Buy-nothing day?" Or just say forget it, and enjoy that steak for once, because if we eat the cow, it can't fart methane gas anymore? When one news article seems to contradict the next, where does it all end?

Harding tries to strike that balance between education and just being smart, something that's tough to do and even tougher to impart on the next generation. Her children stress about polar bears and pesticides, sweat the small stuff and realize that not-organic food may actually be OK sometimes - especially when it comes in the form of cake.
We have a lot to stress about in this world, and weighing the environmental impact of every single choice we make can be painful. Harding reminds us that we don't have to worry each moment of the day and that sometimes, it's OK to breathe and live - and laugh - a little.

Green on the Cheap: APLS Carnival Round-up

Welcome to the revived APLS Carnival! This month's theme was "green on the cheap" - in other words, balancing sustainability with smaller pocketbooks. If the recession's got you down, no worries! We've got some great ideas to get you motivated again.

Speaking from experience.
Several APLS'ers shared openly how their family overcame or averted a financial crisis by simply living more frugally.

Abbie at Farmers Daughter shares her evolution in going greener and living more frugally, giving three easy ways to pare back expenses and live more sustainably. Read her post to see how she saved $7,000 last year alone! Impressive!

Heather at Simple-Green-Frugal shares her life of voluntary simplicity and how she got there. "I believe it is in times of crisis that we discover what we're truly made of," she writes. Read on to her comments - she's so simplified her life that she could make a move with only her compact car - taking one trip! I'd love to hear more about how she was able to pare down - our family has a long way to go!

Another Heather, at Heather's Homemaking, offers simple ways her family was able to live more frugally so she could stay at home with her children. I think I'm going to have to figure out how to make the cloth napkins - what a great idea!

Steph at Greening Families shares how her family overcame debt by following the three R's. "Anything that broke or wore out was examined for possible other uses and most of the time there were multiple possibilities," she writes. As an example, she shares ways to get new life out of old pants.

I come clean on how my family's financial crisis has impacted our lifestyle choices and admit to wondering whether I'm being good somedays simply because I must. "Like a dieter who’s craving chocolate, I think about the things I want to buy but are simply out of reach at this time."

Spending smart.
Perhaps any future problems will be averted just by watching how we use the resources we have.

At the Green Adventures of a Big City Girl, Heather cost-comparisons shopping while cutting coupons with buying locally from CSAs and other local vendors. "I was a big coupon clipper. I mean BIG. Like I had a big binder filled with baseball card sleeves of thoroughly organized coupons," she writes. "I had no idea I could do this and actually NOT spend more money than I used to on groceries. Cheap, unhealthy, processed, full-of-pesticide-and-fake-ingredients groceries. And I'm really enjoying the process of learning about new vegetables and introducing them to my family. Dinner is an adventure every night and so much fun to be trying new things."

Kellie at Greenhab shares the challenges of greener birthday party planning when the guest of honor thrives on Chuck-E-Cheese. "I decided to stop hanging my head in shame when my son's birthday came up, and to put my money where my mouth was. Or...put my money back in my wallet and put my conscience where my mouth was. Something like that," she writes.

The Conscious Shopper at the Green Phone Booth admits to her green envy but realizes that prevention can be the best policy when it comes to waste. "Going green can be expensive - at least in some ways - but sometimes the greenest path is also the cheapest," she writes. "And once I realized that, my green envy subsided, and I was able to get creative with what I have."

Lisa at Retro Housewife Goes Green talks about the toughest lesson of learning to be more sustainable: That buying less truly is more. "Green has become so mainstream everywhere you look is some new product telling you how it will help you be more green when most of the time we don't need it," she writes.

Beany at the Middle Way, who admits to "being a tightwad when it was uncool," waxes on how we've put our money where our mouth was and what morals our economy has supported. "I think a strong evaluation of the new American values is long over due. I think people do need to think long and hard at what it means ...when one can zip 100 miles to a job with no consideration of that mode of transit is doing to the environment that surrounds us. Who benefits when one can buy apples for $0.10/lb from Guatamela. Why does one have to maintain vigilant eye on what product is currently the subject of a salmonella outbreak?"

CRSTN85 writes about how you can help the economy and the environment at the same time. "It should be second nature to check in with neighbors to see if they could use something you're getting rid of, and if not, it should be donated rather than left by the curb where hopefully someone will take it before the trash pick up date," she writes.

Thanks to those of you who participated in this month's carnival! Look for September details to be posted shortly on the APLS blog.

8-20: My apologies to Jenni at Web of Life! I'd forgotten to include her in the initial post. Check out her tips on being green while saving green, from thrift-store shopping to investing in microfiber cloths. "Basically, I spend next to nothing to keep my house clean. Now if only I could get somebody to clean it…" she writes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Easy applesauce ice

Applesauce - you can't hardly raise a kid without it. But frankly, as a parent, I'm bored with it.

And then I got inspired.

The other day, my oh-so-tired daughter wanted to watch a cooking show, and on it the woman was discussing easy dinners. The dessert, only a few minutes to make, she said. Right. And healthy too? Dream on.

Call it a fancy name like "applesauce granita" if you wish, or you can call it like my daughter does: "applesauce ice cream." I won't argue with her insistence that there's no cream in the ice.

Here's the recipe. Ready? Take around 2 cups of applesauce (roughly a jar). Stir in a squirt or two of lemon juice. And freeze for at least an hour.

If you're feeling high-class, you can shave the ice into a nice serving bowl, serve with a sprig of mint, whatever.

If you're a harried mom of two, scoop it up like ice cream and watch the brain freeze happen!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Confessions of a light green, going-for-broke mom

There’s guilt about being caught. And there’s true remorse and changing ways.

I think the same can be said about frugality and being green. You can do it because of circumstances beyond your control, or you can do it because it matters. Right now, I’m trying to see where I fit.

I’ll be honest in that this recession hit our family hard. My husband’s industry was one of the first to be hit, and we’ve lost roughly $50,000 in income over the last 14 months. 50 grand can do a lot of things, and losing it hurts. I won't even go into how bad. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make the most of a seemingly bad situation.

Going to a one-income family has taught us a lot of lessons. You might see green, but we’re being radically frugal in our lifestyle. Gone are the daily cups of soda from Speedway. Gone are meals and movies out, replaced from cooking at home, often from scratch – and the kind of scratch that doesn’t come in a box. We fill out our children’s ever-outgrowing wardrobe with hand-me-downs and resale shop finds. And I’m trying to hold off as long as we can to buy anything.

The funny thing is, we've learned to live in such a way that I'm surprised we "needed" all of that income in the first place. I'm sure there was a lot that was quite simply wasted. It kind of makes you wonder where our priorities were.

That’s not to say this green thing is a sham. I’d wanted to reduce the chemicals in my home, and we were weeding the vast number of cleaners out of our home already, replacing it whenever we could with a general cleaner, or even better, vinegar or baking soda when needed. (It’s amazing how easily that works.) I love fresh produce, so we hit the farmers market hard, and this season, started our own gardens, to moderate success. We worried about chemicals, so we now grow them naturally, for better or worse. I felt guilty about those plastic poopy diapers sitting in landfills for eternity, and we’ve settled into a pattern of cloth at home, disposal at day care. I scour the organics section of the grocery to find steals, and I’m thrilled when I do.

Have I truly changed? I don’t know. Like a dieter who’s craving chocolate, I think about the things I want to buy but are simply out of reach at this time. I’d love to replace a lot of things in our home that are outdated and just worn out. I’d love to update my wardrobe. I’d love to relax with a brand-new book with that newly printed smell. I live vicariously through the people I know who travel, eagerly listening for a crumb of their adventures, of which I’m not able to partake for the very long future.

The thing is, I think I’m not alone. Our country went into a no-buying panic mode for six months or so, and finally has given up and gone back to consumerism. If this Cash for Clunkers program is any consideration, I think as a country we’re itching to buy something, we just don’t have the resources.

I’m curious to see how I’ll turn out. For my family, we plan to hang tight, dig out of our financial crisis, then reassess where things are before we make major - or even a lot of minor - decisions. But I’m guessing the lessons we’ve learned during this journey will stay with us for some time.

What about you? Has the recession impacted how you do or don’t live green? Leave your comment below or join us for the APLS blog carnival. Submit your post to goinggreenmama at gmail by Aug. 15. And watch for a wrapup of the discussion here on Aug. 19.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mildew the Clean-Up Fairy

I love Mildew.

It’s not what you think.

The last few weeks, my kids have taken trashing the house to a new level. Being home five days a week, they tend to scatter toys, laundry, recycling, whatever they can get their hands on all over the house. It’s a parent’s nightmare trying to keep the house cleaned up.

Enter Mildew.

Mildew became my new friend Tuesday night, after 20 frustrating minutes of trying to get my kids to help pick up anything. I finally sighed and looked up at my husband. “I think we’re just going to have to call the Clean-Up Fairy,” I said.

My daughter’s ears perked up. “A fairy?”

“Oh yes, the Clean-Up Fairy comes to kids’ houses when they don’t pick up their toys,” I rambled. “She gives the toys to kids who don’t have any.”

She was intrigued. “What’s her name?”

Name? “Um, Mildew,” I said.

“What does she drive?”

“She doesn’t drive, she flies.”

“Can I see her?”

“Oh no, she comes when we’re asleep, kind of like Santa.”

She thought for a minute, and then agreed to help pick up her toys. It was a relatively smooth process; even her 19-month-old brother toddled around, picking up his Legos and proudly dropping them in a box.

That night, Mildew did stop by and left her a postcard, thanking them for the great work they did cleaning up the toy room.

I figured Mildew would become my little trick to pull out occasionally. Little did I know that her reputation would spread.

Last night, we stopped by a neighbor’s house. My daughter’s friend was in trouble for not picking up toys and not listening - typical 4-year-old stuff. My daughter, of course, wanted to play. I rolled the dice and offered a compromise.

“Tell K. about the Clean-Up Fairy!”

She proudly did. My neighbor was excited. I asked if she wanted to stay and help her friend clean her room (which as we all know, involves a certain amount of play).

Twenty minutes later, when I came to get her for dinner, the room was clean.

Mildew is here to stay!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wine and pizza, why not?

Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery, just outside of Kansas City, Kan., is one of my favorite haunts when I go back home. I've visited it for more than a dozen years, first writing about it as a reporter covering their wine picking days.

My in-laws well know a visit east isn't allowed without a bottle or two of Tailgate Red, which I love for sangrias. A visit or two back my mother-in-law also packed a bottle of the blackberry wine, which was surprisingly good.

So imagine my surprise when the little Leavenworth County winery was featured on the New York Times food blog this week - and with a pizza recipe, no less! The writer came up with an interesting blackberry pizza, which she claims would go great with the Seyval.

Worth a try?

The End of Cooking

My husband grumbles as he paces through the pantry. "There's nothing in this house to eat," he complains.

It's about a weekly occurance. Nevermind that the fridge has leftovers inside, our tomatoes, onions and beans are fruitful, our freezer has chicken and other things inside and our pantry has staples.

It's not a question of nothing to eat. It's a question of simplicity. My guy, who most days loves to cook, just wants the five-minute fix.

While his lament is something I'm quite used to, I never though about it in terms of the bigger picture. And then I read Michael Pollan's recent article from the New York Times: "Out of the Kitchen, On to the Couch." In it, he discusses our cultural shift in the last 50 years from a nation of home cooks to one fascinated in watching and buying food, but uninterested in actually producing a true home-cooked meal.

He writes "today, 80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing."

Where are these costs going? Packaging and fillers. Just turn to the label of any processed food or mix, and you'll be amazed by the amount of fat, salt and/or sugar on the label.

Pollan notes that the speed of premade meals and helpers have made a difference to our waistline, if not just for the calorie count but because the "wait" factor is missing.
Cutler and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake. Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. ...

The time and work involved in cooking, as well as the delay in gratification built into the process, served as an important check on our appetite. Now that check is gone, and we’re struggling to deal with the consequences.
Weight worries aside, Pollan notes that a certain part of our culture is eroding as well, quoting writers dating from the 1700s who say that the celebration of food - from the preparation through sharing - is what separates us from other animals. He writes, "it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time would have a profound effect on modern life."
What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Farm recipes from my grandmother

This week, I received a gift I never thought I'd see: My grandmother's cookbook.

Five Christmases ago, I came up with the idea of combining our grandma's recipes, which were stockpiled among various relatives, into a cookbook. Little did I know. The seemingly small project became a 150-page tome -- and I was still informed there were recipes missing!

While I had an electronic version - I never did make a copy for myself - I've really enjoyed flipping through the cookbook I made for Grandma, which she took upon herself to embellish with family photos and pictures from her garden. It's a real treat.

I thought I'd share a few recipes from the book. While I haven't had an opportunity to try them all, they've graced her dinner table many times. I will note that these aren't 100 percent healthy, but at least lard wasn't an ingredient for these! Got to love Depression-era cooking...

3 large or 6 small fully ripe tomatoes
1 green pepper
1 small onion
1/2 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup water

Blend all together in blender. Chill. Serve with side dishes of chopped cucumbers, green onions, green peppers and ripe tomatoes. Garnish with sliced cucumbers. (Good in hot weather.)

Grandma Stasek’s Garlic Dill Pickles
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 quarts water
1 quart vinegar
1 cup pickling salt
1 piece of garlic and some dill for each jar
Bring to a boil. Pour hot over cucumbers and seal.

Butternut Squash Delight
3 pounds butternut squash
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Dash of pepper
4 or 5 medium sized Jonathan apples (unpeeled)
1 1/2 tablespoon shortening or margarine
A little sugar

Nutty Topping:
1 1/2 cups crushed cornflakes or
other cereal (slightly crushed)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons melted butter or
1/4 cup brown sugar

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Cook until tender. Cool. Scrape out pulp and mash. Add 1/4 cup margarine, salt, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and pepper. Set aside.

Core and slice unpeeled apples about 1/2-inch thick. You may use any variety of apples that holds its shape when cooked. Sprinkle each slice with a little sugar. Saute apple rings in hot shortening in a skillet. Turn slices once until apple is barely tender. Arrange slice in bottom of greased 8 or 9-inch baking dish. Spread mashed squash over apples.

Combine ingredients for topping in a bowl. Blend in butter and sugar. Sprinkle over squash. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until squash is completely heated through and topping is lightly browned.

Dutch Apple Pie (because you have to have dessert!)
1 quart peeled and sliced apples
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoon flour
Sprinkle of cinnamon
1 cup sour cream

Mix and pour over apples that have been put into unbaked crust. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes – reduce heat to 350 and bake 30 to 40 minutes more.

Apple Kuchen
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups sugar (divided)
3/4 cup margarine
1 quart cut up apples
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sour cream or buttermilk
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, oatmeal & 3/4 cup sugar. Cut in margarine and mix until crumbly. Press into ungreased 9 x 13 pan. Build up edges quite high (it shrinks). Bake 10 min. Add apples on warm crust. Mix cinnamon, nutmeg, 3/4 cup sugar, sour cream or buttermilk and eggs. Spread over apples. Bake 30 to 40 min.

Serve warm or cold with ice cream. Even good with milk poured over the top.