Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Let's Have Transparency in Baby Product Labeling

This post by Jess Trev is in response to a comment on yesterday's post about potential carcinogens in bubble bath.

I do not have a degree in chemisty. You know what? Neither do many other parents. That is why it is *so annoying* that you need to have one to determine whether or not children's personal care products are hazardous. I'd like to know just by looking at the label that my kids are safe.

I think this very issue underscores the need for the Kid Safe Chemicals Act. Is the formaldehyde in J&J products a health issue? Possibly. Is 1,4 dioxane a known carcinogen? Yes. It may be present in small amounts and we may be talking about cumulative exposure. But do we really need these ingredients -- or phthalates -- in baby bath? The problem for me, in fact, is that none of these possible safety concerns show up on the product label.

I mean, seriously. The issue is whether there are trace amounts of known carcinogens in baby bath. And whether or not J&J and other companies even let us consumers/parents know if it's in there!

Babies are smaller, at a critical stage in their development. I read the counter arguments to challenging the use of formaldehyde in personal care products (preservatives are necessary, and contamination may cause blinding). Really? There is no way to produce baby bubble bath without using known carcinogens as preservatives? Or is it that it saves the company money to use known carcinogens rather than having a shorter product shelf life?

When my first baby was born, I didn't use soap or any products at all on her for maybe six months. My pediatrician (a homeopathy-leaning wonderful woman) laughed hard, and said, "hey, maybe you can use it once a week?!" so I definitely come from the "less is more" perspective.

I guess I would give the companies more wiggle room if it were, I don't know, hair mousse that adults use. You could choose not to use it, you could choose a different brand, you could decide having great hair days was worth the risk. Bubble bath for kids? Seems like it can be a simple recipe. And it seems like the choices ought to be clear for parents. I personally want any risky ingredients out of my baby's bathtub. Other parents might have a different risk tolerance. Why not tell parents what choices they are making? Put the ingredients and any potential carcinogens created as by-products of the manufacturing process right there on the label where mom and dad can see them. I'd like to eyeball those choices up front before I slap my money down.

Monday, March 30, 2009

One month of Meatless Meals

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Four weeks in to giving up meat for Lent and we are faring surprisingly well. The one I thought would have the most trouble with this challenge oddly enough has been the most chaste. Hubby has only eaten meat out twice in the past month, which under our original guidelines is totally acceptable. We are allowed to eat meat while out and use what we already had on hand at home, but no new meat was to be brought into the house. Miss M. has had meat with school lunches and while at her mother's house and I have indulged sparingly during business meetings. The two of us together experienced total meat overload during a menu tasting for an upcoming event I am planning. Although she was honestly more interested in the dessert course than any meat that passed her way. We brought home several selections of chocolate decadent cake, chocolate ribbon cheesecake, and sinful seven chocolate torte, but the meat stayed on the table. And so, we have stayed true to our goal. No new meat has entered our home or stomaches while within it.

I would like to say that this void in the grocery list has saved us money, but instead of cutting one ingredient I have replaced it with no less than three. Our weekly grocery bills seemed to jump from $80.00 per week to $120.00! Huh? We have replaced the meat in our meals with vegetable protein strips, along with bulking up on vegetables. Prior meals consisted of one meat, vegetable and a starch. Now we are eating 3 to 5 vegetables per meal, plus a salad. A lot more of it being fresh than frozen. During the summer months when we could eat out of our own garden this would not be an issue. I can see many economic benefits as well as environmental relief to this lifestyle.

The most noticeable change, other than the lack of meat, has been the explosion of color on our plates. The vivid variety of vegetables sure makes cooking a treat for the eyes! I have enjoyed this most of our meatless meals. It has allowed me step beyond our usual menu and experience cuisine outside our comfort zone. Happily most expansions have been successful and will be welcome back after Lent. We have been going through carrots like crazy, peppers have popped up a few times, and teriyaki made its first appearance to be followed by several more. I have even made use of the wok that has been haunting the back of our cupboard since getting married three years ago!

The "chicken" smart strips have been by far our favorite and are most likely here to stay. The veggie "meatballs" were okay, but disintegrated in the sauce. Textured vegetable protein "meat crumbles" fooled even our pickiest eater under the guise of tater tot casserole. So far, Tofurky is the only thing that has not fared well. With the surge of warm weather two weeks ago the smell of charcoal, lighter fluid, and flame broiled burgers lured us into breaking out the grill. Brats and hot dogs, er, Tofurky beer brats and Tofu pups - not quite the same thing. Admittedly, we did not read the directions before throwing them on the flame, but they were dry and a texture I cannot explain. I missed the "snap" that can only come from meat encased in animal intestine. Gross, but oh so good. We summed that with the addition of sauce, perhaps they would be better. Not so. Tried italian "sausage" Tofurky in sauce with penne last night and it was just as dry. The tofu pups were better, but had an overly smoky flavor about them. I do not think either one will make its way into my shopping cart again.

Rather than leave you with a bad taste in my mouth, I must say that overall March's meatless meals have been a success and generally tasty. Giving up meat for Lent has been a gateway to culinary curiosity. The family seems more willing to try new things, whatever the outcome may be. The next few weeks will bring forth sprouts, veggie burgers, and some odd looking vegetables I have been eyeing in the ethnic produce, but have no idea what to do with!

Bubble Baths We Can Feel Good About

JessTrev rants about chemicals in personal care products and finds, to her delight, that parents around the country are mobilizing around this very issue. This is a submission for the Green Moms Carnival.

I'm a busy parent. So is every other mom and dad I know. That's why it's frustrating to me that, when I am ripping through the aisles trying to check domestic needs off the list, I have to whip out my appendix of problem ingredients from the Green Beauty Guide to figure out if my kids' bubble bath is going to give them cancer down the road. Or disrupt their hormones, give them early puberty or man-boobs.

I've said it before, I just want my life to be simpler and easier. The details of that simple living are up to me, right? I might want to make my own fizzy bath hearts. I might want to buy a product that scores low on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database from a local health food store, and by spending a little bit more, support a company that is providing products not only safer for my kids but for wildlife and the environment, to boot.

Either way, though, that sounds a bit high maintenance. Which may just be my thing. Sometimes I do want to make whole grain bread from scratch with yeast I've captured out of the thin air. Sometimes, though, I just want the products widely available in our stores to have a modicum of safety. I don't think it should have to be a choice between making your own, paying through the nose, or taking your children's health into your hands to get a bargain.

That's why I'm so thrilled to hear of numerous different efforts afoot to make our personal care products safer. Check these out!

The Kid Safe Chemicals Act is gaining traction (support it now!) in Congress to ensure that all chemicals in kids products need to be proven safe before they're used (sadly, not the case today).

On April 18, the Girlcott will take place in San Francisco...
“Boycotts mean saying no. Girlcotts mean saying yes.

Women are the main purchasers of products and take responsibility for what goes into the home.

We can organize to change market forces by saying we don't want cancer-causing products and we do want safer products.

When enough women get together, we can make things happen."

Dr. Devra Davis as reported by Stacy Malkan,
author of Not Just a Pretty Face

Getting chills yet? I am! This rocks.

On the other end of the spectrum, the more-business-as-usual end of things, Johnson and Johnson's got a huge youtube contest up right now (Big Bubblin Stars) -- mommy bloggers are queuing up with videos of their babies in J&J bubble bath to get a shot at a $10K prize. The issue? J&J products were recently cited in a safety report (No More Toxic Tub, released by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics) as having formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane. Why there's formaldehyde in kids' products, I surely do not know. Embalm some other (preferably dead) human, please. The 1,4 dioxane's there as a result of the ethyoxylation process, which makes the baby bath less harsh (hmm -- harsh or deadly? haaaarsh? or deadly?) While the levels may have been low, apparently there's an easy process the company can take called "vacuum stripping" to make sure there's no 1,4 dioxane at all. Sign my bubbles up for stripping! Cause I'd rather my kids skipped that particular froth.

Which is my exact point. Johnson and Johnson, if you are listening? I'd love it if you would remove known carcinogens from my baby's bath products. While you're at it, could you streamline the packaging and use recycled content? Get rid of the fragrances and phthalates, and you'll have cornered my personal market. I don't need to spend six times as much on every product. It's not some twisted masochism that thinks I get a badge of honor for having expensive products. (Believe you me, I've been washing my own hair in baking soda and vinegar. But the vinegar stings my eyes! I can't dump it on my kid's head.)

I'd love it if every time I got my Sunday circular, there were coupons I could actually use. I am sick of walking into a mainstream grocery store and seeing waves of artificial products -- strange ingredients posing as food, and potential carcinogens trying to muscle their way into my medicine cabinet.

I think the Kid Safe Chemical Act is a great governmental step. But I think companies -- like they did with BPA in response to consumer concern -- can lead the way. You want me to part with my hard earned dollars instead of just washing my face with honey? Give me products that are safe and show some concern for human and environmental health. That's an economy I want to help build.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

blinding me with science

Purloined writes:

This week I've been obsessed with science.

Why? I'm an environmentalist who wants to understand some of those scientific articles that stretch my education to its maximum. On top of that, I am a homeschooling mom of a kid who asks all kinds of questions I cannot answer. And yes--I'll admit it proudly: I am a total nerd.

So here are my favorite finds this week:

I've been completely drawn in by Natalie Angier's fabulous book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. It is funny, clever, thoughtful, and easy for a history major with absolutely no college science to understand. Angier discusses the scientific method, statistics and probability, physics, chemistry, molecular and evolutionary biology, geology, and astronomy. I highly recommend it. If you know as little as I do, you'll have many hours ahead of you where you simultaneously laugh out loud and feel your brain growing.

Ready for something lighter but with almost as much cleverness? Check out Rough Science, currently available for streaming on Netflix. In this reality show, a group of scientists--including a pair of physicists, a chemist, a botanist and a biologist, and later a geologist--gather together. Stripped of their scientific gadgets and high-tech tools, they navigate challenges thrown their way using only their knowledge and ingenuity--and a trunk of "bits and bobs" (such as a sheep's fleece or a 5-pound bag of sugar). I love watching these clever folks figure out how to use their skills in a simple world without all the bells and whistles of contemporary science. Although some of their activities aren't always environmentally friendly, others explore issues of special interest to environmentalist (such as an episode on a retreating glacier).

Finally, if you still are hungry for more science, check out these two lighthearted podcasts that nevertheless do some intellectual heavy-lifting: the Naked Scientists and the This Week in Science: the Kickass Science Podcast.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fill in the Blank

Purloined writes:

Thank you all for participating last month in the discussion about what to call the current environmental situation. Is it Global Warming? Climate Change? Or is it Climate Chaos, a phrase which seems to be more common in Britain and Canada than it is in the US?

Several of you suggested that "Climate Change" is more accurate--since some areas may actually get colder even as the earth warms over all, and because there are some theories that global warming could trigger an ice age by disrupting the Gulf Stream or by some other process. This labeling also means people are less likely to get stuck by the daily or seasonal weather conditions (ie, a very cold day or even a cold winter) Instead it might encourage them to think about climate in a larger way.

People tend to disagree a bit when they puzzle out which term sounds more serious. Some people feel that when people hear "climate change," it doesn't sound threatening at all and certainly not anthropogenic. If we don't see this as a problem, and we don't think we can have any affect, will we take the issue seriously? Others feel that "global warming" might sound too pleasant--especially on those days we're freezing our buns off.

Almost universally, people said in the comments to the original post that "climate chaos" was confrontational and alarmist. While some thought the term was literally wrong, even those who thought we might be facing chaos believed that too many people would take that kind of labeling as a "sky is falling" craziness and ignore the problem.

I love Heather's suggestion to call it MEWEKUOIWDGOOBADSAI: "Mother-Earth-will-eventually-kill-us-off-if-we-don't-get-off-our-butts-and-do something-about-it," but I'm not sure it will catch on with the mainstream crowd...

Amber calls attention to a post which proposes the term climaticide. Johnny Rook suggests the term because:

1) It accurately describes what we humans are doing to our current climate, which is, quite simply, killing it. 2) It’s a catchy, easy to remember term (IMHO) 3) It avoids the ambiguity of other expressions such as global warming, which many people find confusing ("It’s not getting warmer where I live. Hell, we got a lot of snow here in the Pacific Northwest this winter. It’s June now and it’s still cold") and climate change, which doesn’t sound sufficiently scary or urgent (”Not all change is bad, you know? "Maybe they’ll be able to grow watermelons in Helsinki…") expressing instead a plainly obvious evil. (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the suffix -cide “as denoting an act of killing”) and 4) It’s a perfectly apt descriptor not only of the process but also of the perpetrators: we are the climaticides, the killers of our climate. (Second COED definition of -cide: "denoting a person or substance that kills").

He acknowledges that we're not killing the actual climate--just the climate to which we and many other species have evolved to inhabit.

Crunchy Chicken suggested in a post on her blog that we face an "environmental apocalypse," citing this terrifying article to back up the claim.

Belinda, who has a great post about this issue on her own blog, suggests that "climate crisis" might be a good choice. As she wrote in the comments last month, this phrase "is still reasonably uncompromising about the severity of the problem but seems to trigger a more able to/must fix reaction."

I personally agree with Belinda and have used the terms "climate crisis" and "environmental crisis" as my standard over the last couple of years.

Two comments to my original post made me think in a new direction.

Carmen points out that we sometimes get so hung up on how (or even if) the climate is changing that we sometimes forget to mention all the other environmental components as we face an increasingly toxic world. Perhaps using terms like "environmental degradation" or "environmental crisis" can get to this issue.

Jenni suggested that we might need to be talking about "energy security" rather than climate issues. Although she did not elaborate, I think their are several reasons why this might be exactly the right move, at least sometimes. Many Americans are primed to hear this message. It gets past the political divide that separates the environmentalists and the deniers. It in fact gets us to change our lives in ways that have both immediate consequences as well as longer-range environmental ramifications. In addition, Peak Energy may hit us hard and fast. Are you reading, Jenni? I'd love to hear more about your family's thoughts about this issue in the comments.

What do you think? Has anyone persuaded you one way or another? Is your thinking changing over time as more information about the environment and about climate issues comes out?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steaming Clean

JessTrev serendipitously stumbles on the answer to clean, paint-ready walls: plenty of hot (steamy) air.

One of my favorite things about my kids is that they remind me that usually the most fun way to play with something has nothing to do with its intended use. Giant refrigerator box? Pretend schoolbus. Stick on the ground in the woods? Sword to impale your brother.

While I was pondering how to clean my walls (think sticky jam fingers and eggshell whites), I considered a whole host of options, like tsp or trisodium phosphate -- which seemed like overkill for my dinged-up but wallpaper-paste-free walls and aren't I avoiding phosphates for a reason?? -- before lighting on a perfect solution: the dusty, neglected clothing steamer in my upstairs closet. Donning a pair of heavy rubber gloves and long sleeves, I watched in amazement as the pile of filthy rags in my laundry tub piled high. Wow. Water and a little elbow grease can work wonders, with the help of a little (wind-powered) electricity.

My walls (and cabinets and tile floors and kitchen appliances) are clean as a whistle, with no harsh chemicals (and no toothpicks, but I may be heading in that direction!). My kinda painting prep. Now, I may not whip it out all the time (not that I don't stay up nights worrying about how clean my toilets are...ok, I've never done that) because it is an electric device and I'm not trying to up my power usage. But since it keeps me from breaking out scary household chemicals, I'm a fan and I will for sure be revisiting the steamer.

Score! I am so excited I pulled it out (don't ask; I'm not, er, fond of ironing, and, well, let's just say that the steamer may not have been the magic bullet I was looking for. I'll be the wrinkly one at the party). Sometimes it just takes looking at what you already have in a different light to figure out the simplest path.

P.S. Since I am supposed to be painting this week, naturally I've found the time to do tax prep and steam clean the inside of my spice cabinet. Sigh. Anyways, after tackling the morass of molasses in that crazy lazy susan? This looks like a great idea.

Yellow Split Peas for All Ages

Jess Trev shares a recipe that was tasty for adults and small ones alike.

I had some yellow split peas left over (about 1 1/2 cups, I'd guess) from the other night, since I miscalculated and cooked them in broth way too late for whatever else we were eating (these Jamaican veggie patties, methinks -- and yes, they were delish!). Anyhoo, I wanted to gobble them up, since they were gently simmered in vegetable broth I'd made from odds and ends in my freezer. And, you know, in the spirit of not wasting good food.

So I turned to Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook, a go-to standby favorite. She didn't disappoint (anyone). I was too lazy to make the bread (another day) but did whip up the Trinidadian split pea mixture from her roti recipe. Since my almost six year-old scarfed em down, I thought I'd share (this is an adaptation for small people so all hot spices present in the original have been edited out of said recipe):

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, small dice
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.5 cups yellow split peas (cooked)
sploosh of water (1/4 cup?)

Heat up your oil in a small soup pan. Saute the onion., spices, salt and pepper for about five minutes on medium-high heat. Until glistening and wilty but not over-browned. Add your yellow split peas (if they are NOT cooked, you could just add the appropriate amount of water at this juncture and COOK them with the onions and spices, I'd warrant) and enough water to make yourself happy. Then warm them thoroughly. Serve with flat, round bread of some kind (we had whole wheat pita on hand). Do not tell small person that (gasp) onions and pepper are in this dish. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Line Drying for Dummies

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
By dummy, I don't mean you. I mean me. Last year I started rack drying about half of my laundry. That's a lot when you're talking about clothing, bedding and miscellaneous coats and such for six people. We rack dry because we have been having a little struggle with HOAs and township code issues, so permanent fixtures are out. The rack method works well, but when we get backed up on laundry, our high efficiency machines take over.

This spring I have been trying to go from racking drying one-half of my laundry to three-quarters of the clothes and bedding. That said, here comes the dummy part.

Rule #1 - Remember you are outdoors, because that serene quiet Green Bean likened to yoga in her post yesterday? Sometimes you get a little too comfortable quietly shaking and hanging clothing and when a neighbor unexpectedly shouts "Helloooo neighbor, haven't seen you outside in awhile", you might screech like a school girl and jump a little. Or a lot.

Rule #2 - Dogs have NO idea you are drying clothing outside. Really, they have no idea that since the weather is nice, you might just have a rack of damp clothing sitting on the walkway. When you open the side door and a dalmatian bolts past your legs, careens out the door, down the steps and shuttles through the rack dragging your favorite pajama pants down the hill? You can't be mad at him, it's not his fault. He's just happy its warm outside too.

Rule #3 - Pretty undies are much prettier when dried indoors hanging over bathroom hooks. Pretty undies are pretty embarrassing when your neighbor retrieves them from behind his parked car.

Rule #4 - Crunchy towels + sunburn = OUCH.

Rule #5 - Bring your laundry in well before dark. Beautiful butterflies that think it's safe to take a snooze inside your teenage son's favorite t-shirt can make him screech like a school girl too. Actually, it's sort of funny, but not great for the butterflies, so trust me on this one.

Rule #6 - Another reason to bring your laundry in before dark. Darkness + concrete steps + laundry basket = bandaids.

Rule #7 - It's not admitting defeat when you decide to throw slightly damp clothing into the dryer for 15 minutes to finish them up. Just think of the 45 minutes of dryer time you DIDN'T need to use.

Rule #8 - When you live on a lake and you decide that your patio umbrellas make a great place to hang clothing from hangers to dry, remember boaters might find it funny to cruise by and hoot and holler at your bras and pantyhose. Consider saving that space for t-shirts and bathing suits, it's less embarrassing.

Rule #9 - Folded up drying racks sitting by the side door also make great train tracks / race tracks/ bus roads, so remove said vehicles at your own risk. The wrath of a 4-year old that was planning "Ah WACE, Momma, I was havin' Ah WACE!" (read: a race) can be pretty intense. It might even make you consider buying a second rack so the race can go on.

Rule #10 - For some reason drying clothing outdoors does not eliminate "the missing sock syndrome". Now, instead of being certain the dryer ate the sock, we are certain the wind blew it away.

Line / rack dry at your own risk people, it's a jungle out there!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hung Out to Dry

From the bean of Green Bean.

I would love to post, today, about how I ditched my sponge for a cleaner, more plastic free home or wax eloquent in response to the new APLS Carnival topic (it's a hard one!) or even detail how I baked my way through a bumper crop of backyard lemons this past week. Alas, I'm knee deep (quite literally) in a rummage sale to raise desperately needed funds for my son's school. So, today, instead, I'll repeat what I wrote, over at my defunct personal blog, Green Bean Dreams, about finding beauty in simpler things. Please grab a clothespin and join me.

Despite last night's rain, the sun is out and streaming across the sky. Thick white clouds - the kind that remind kids of cotton candy - crowd out the blue in patches. The breeze is up - prime clothes drying weather.

Three years ago, when we replaced the tumble down fence separating our yard from our neighbors, we extended the fence to hide their garbage cans and to give us a long, narrow enclosed side yard. We subsequently tore out the overgrown ornamental bushes and put down flagstone and drought tolerant ground cover. Morning glories now climb the fence and peek over its latticed top. Against the fence, tucked in between stones, raspberry bushes leaf out. On one side of the walk is a high gate to the front yard. On the other side lies my backyard garden. A butterfly bushes stretches from it's winter sleep and a penstemon cradles the bird bath. A large windmill stands at attention, ready to welcome crawling runner beans and lemon cucumbers. Spring's early white butterflies tilt and dance among the blueberry bushes. This is where we strung up my clothesline.

Beyond the garden, two bird feeders sway with repeat visitors. Last week, the eggplant colored berries on the trees shading the lawn's remnants had apparently ripened. Aside from the usual orioles and sparrows, the trees rocked and waved with robins, jays and chickadees gorging on spring. The berries are now but a memory - devoured in just two days.

Inside, once the washer quiets itself, it is drying time. Now that the rains are, for the most part, gone, laundry heads out to the clothesline to dry. This morning, I carry my brimming wicker basket, startling a couple of phoebes pecking around for some bug or other. A squirrel freezes on the fence then leaps to a nearby tree. I set my basket on the flagstone and methodically bend down to retrieve a shirt, a pair of pants, a wash cloth and pin them to the clothesline. The birds decide that I am no threat and return to their tasks. Finches warble to each other over the thistle seed. A jay scolds a squirrel that has come to close. Robins swoop down to search for worms. I can even hear the buzz of bees investigating the strawberry flowers and flowering maple on the garden's edge. The breeze frolics with the clothes, shaking out wrinkles, sending a drying breath against the damp fabric.

My youngest pads around the corner in stockinged feet. I am found. I will also assume that the screen door is wide open - ushering every fly in the county in to sample our farmers' market strawberries. I hand the little guy a dish towel and a clothespin, showing him how to hang the towel over the line and clip it in place. He succeeds and smiles up at me, asking for another. We proceed, working quietly, until the clothesline is full and sags beneath its weight. Each of us take one of the basket's handles and walk back to the house - this time closing the screen door behind us.

Some people may find this method of drying clothes strange, outdated or a waste of time. To me, it is my meditation, my yoga, my 15 minutes a day when nothing but birds and butterflies clamber for attention and only wet towels beckon to be hung out to dry.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Waste-Free Snacking

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

My family husband is a junk food junkie.  Our grocery list routinely states "Candy for Randy".  It is like a staple at the top of the list: Milk, eggs, butter, candy.  I always feel a little odd when the cashier unearths these items.  Hidden under a mass of nutrition from the other end of the spectrum:  Organic, organic, milk, milk, milk, organic, produce, produce, orange slices, sour cherry balls, anise dolls, organic, organic, produce...  I try to avoid eye contact.

Then there is the immediate foraging for snacks upon entering the door after a long days work.  After a quick greeting it is straight for the chips!  He will easily consume an entire bag in one sitting, before dinner.  We, he, was going through three or four bags of potato chips a week.  Concerned this may not be the ideal choice, I switched his snacking from conventional greasy potato chips to organic tortilla chips.  Still not exactly healthy, but better I thought.  This was the routine for several months.

Now I have reached the point where I am tired of spending the nearly $3.00 per bag and sick of throwing all those bags away.  Think of all the money and waste we would save by making our own snacks!

Rosemary Garlic Crackers


1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. granulated garlic
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  In a bowl, mix together the flours, yeast flakes, baking powder, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add the water and oil, stirring until dough comes together.  If dough is too dry to mix add another tablespoon of water.  Divide in half.

3.  Roll the dough out very thin.  If you have a small rolling pin, roll the dough out in your pan.  Transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Score the dough into squares so that it's cut, but not separated into pieces.  If desired, sprinkle a little coarse salt over the tops of the crackers and lightly press into dough with the rolling pin.  Repeat with second dough.

4.  Bake crackers in preheated oven for 15 minutes,or until golden brown and crackers look crisp.  

5.  Let crackers cool in pan before removing.  They will crisp as they cool.  If crackers are still a little soft, place back in oven and bake for another five minutes or so until crisp.

6.  Store in an airtight container and keep as far away from you as possible!  You are likely to eat the whole can.  Not that I would know anything about that.  Crumbs?  What crumbs?

These are super easy to make and highly adaptable.  Use what ever flour you want, change the seasonings, roll them thick or thin, add seeds, cut out fun shapes, whatever.  They are cheap, easy, and waste-free.  Snack on!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Green Superhero's Secrets

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
Behind every good green superhero is their lair of secrets, their digital fortress of eco-friendly tips or their bracelet with the special supergirl powers. Mostly, these secrets are our favorite blogs, websites, inspiration, recipes and fellow caped crusaders. Each week (or at least every once in awhile, even superheroes have to drive to soccer practice and dance lessons!) one of the caped wonders here in the Green Phone Both will share a sneak peek into her digital green lair.

I'm kicking it off today with a collection of superhero secrets I love this week:
My kids love pita bread, there's something about a sandwich in a pocket that doesn't get all weird and mushy in a cooler waiting for baseball practice to end. This recipe, from the delicious blog Coconut and Lime, is easy and my littlest guy loved watching the bread circles puff on our pizza stone in the oven. I also want to try her recipe for chipolte hummus, but haven't had a chance yet. If anyone does, let me know how spicy it turns out, OK? I'm thinking I might have to cut back the amount of chiles in adobo...

One of the things on my To-Do list (Remember? I promised I was getting back to basics!) was to green my doggies. I love them, they are absolutely considered family members and we are always looking for greener ways to feed them, care for them or keep them clean. Even if you don't need to buy anything, you can't help but just browsing Annie's Sweatshop - she has the cutest wiener dogs ever, and the pet products are all handmade, sustainable and low impact.

I loved this post on Recession Gardening over at IndieFixx. My schedule has been so hectic, I sort of swore off planting anything this year that would need major tending. Then I saw these cute seedlings and the list of yummy veggies and it looks so simple and nice that I am starting to rethink my decision... Am I biting off more than I can chew?
If you haven't read the book Big Box Swindle, then read Grean Bean's review. It hooked me in and I checked the book out from the library before my last business trip. I am pretty sure the guy in seat 34B on the plane thought I was nuts. I kept shaking my head, nodding and was looking pretty exasperated and maybe a touch angry. Which is always a sure sign of a great book! Check our her review and then run, don't walk to your nearest library to borrow a copy. You'll never look at the big discount chains in the same way again. Promise.
And last, but certainly not least! Shoes! OK, so just flip flops... But, we had two days here in chilly Michigan this week that were almost 70 degrees. Granted, this morning it's in the 30s, but I am still swearing off socks. This first day of spring was yesterday people, it's here! Mostly, I don't wear flip flops, they're not really acceptable work attire, but for heading down to the lake or relaxing outside, they're perfect. Check these out over at Miss Malaprop - "Feelgoodz are an eco-friendly, fair-trade flip-flop — they’re the only company in the U.S. currently offering up 100% natural rubber flip-flops, which are 100% biodegradable and recyclable." My flops from last year are pretty well destroyed, and rather than buying a cheap-o pair from Target, do you think I should consider these?
Let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Many Hands Make Light Work

From the bean of Green Bean.

Last month, a fellow Booth-mate left a comment on one of my posts that saved me a lot of time, some real money, gave me time with friends, and packed lunches for me. She wished to "find other families who eat the same way [she does] and create a supper club (4 families cooking bigger portions so we can share the work and cook less)."

JessTrev was on to something. With all this talk about the Depression, it makes sense to look back at how our grandparents and great grandparents survived and even thrived in hard times. I recently skimmed through Little Heathens, a Depression-era memoir, and one of the things that stood out was that, while there was a lot of work to be done, the burden was usually shared making the task much more pleasurable.

Sometimes, that meant that people got together and built a house, planted a garden or made jam together. Having done the latter with my green moms group, I can attest that it is a lot more fun than jamming on your own.

Other times, that meant trading items. Swapping biscuits for jam, eggs for milk, radish seeds for seed potatoes.

I decided to take JessTrev's supper club idea and turn it into reality. Eighteen months ago, I started a book club focused on green books by sending out a few emails on the mothers' club board. Over the months, we've morphed into a general green moms group. We still read plenty. But we also watch eco-movies, go on retreats to organic wineries, pick berries, plan gardens and, now, after a couple emails on the topic, do swap snacks.

Last weekend, we exchanged what one friend would later call "$1000 dollars worth of baked goods" considering the time that went into them and what some of the bakers are paid for their day jobs. There were soft pretzels, saltines, graham crackers, oatmeal raisin cookies, carrots mini muffins, raisin bran muffins, shredded carrots packaged in saved salsa containers, and dried fruit.

By trading snacks with our friends, we each walked away with a month's worth of healthy, homemade food, made by people we know and trust without preservatives or other scary ingredients. The swap also forced many of us to expand not just our baking repertoire but our eating one as well. We saved money with all those "made from scratch" goods and, because we packaged everything in our own reusable containers, we skipped the plastic and packaging that comes with buying ready made snacks. There was even a little social time involved in the drop off and pick up -a glass of wine traded, school fundraising ideas or gardening plans exchanged and borrowed items returned.

The following night, I slapped together three lunches in under three minutes. A piece of fruit, some made from scratch goodie or two in each box, a cup of shredded carrots, a Kleen Kanteen full of filtered water, and they were good to go.

Our snack swap - which we will continue each month - proves true another one of those Depression-era adages. Many hands do make light work . . . or at least an easily packed, waste-free lunch.

*Thanks to snack swapping sistah, Elaine, for the top photo.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Go, Michelle!

Even when she's putting in an organic garden, she dresses better than I do on my best days:

The Latest Dirt!

Michelle Obama Will Plant a Garden On The White House Lawn

The Eat The View campaign can claim success!

click the picture to enlarge it

From the New York Times:

On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at time when obesity has become a national concern.

In an interview in her office, Mrs. Obama said, “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street. (It’s just below the Obama girls’ swing set.) Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs.

Almost the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing. “Now Grandma, my mom, I don’t know.” Her mother, she said, would probably sit back and say: “Isn’t that lovely. You missed a spot.”

Whether there would be a White House garden has been more than a matter of landscaping. It’s taken on political and environmental symbolism as the Obamas have been lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally could lead to healthier eating and lessen reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.

In the meantime, promoting healthful eating has become an important part of Mrs. Obama’s agenda.

“The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food,” said Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., an organic restaurant that grows many of its own ingredients. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”

The Clintons grew some vegetables in pots on the roof of the White House. But the Obamas’ garden will have 55 varieties of vegetables — from a wish list of the kitchen staff — grown from organic seedlings started at the executive mansion’s greenhouses.

The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatilloes and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter who is a beekeeper will tend two hives for honey.

Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.

The plots will be in raised beds fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.

Cristeta Comerford, the White House’s executive chef, is eager to plan menus around the garden, and Bill Yosses, the pastry chef, is looking forward to berry season.

Sam Kass, an assistant White House chef who prepared healthful meals for the Obama family in Chicago and is an advocate of local food, will oversee the garden. The White House grounds crew and kitchen staff will do most of the work, but other White House staff members have volunteered.

“First of all,” Mrs. Obama said, “there’s nothing really cooler than coming to the White House and harvesting some of the vegetables and being in the kitchen with Cris and Sam and Bill, and cutting and cooking and actually experiencing the joys of your work.”

Mrs. Obama, who said that she never had a vegetable garden before, said the idea for it came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters, Malia and Sasha, a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner took it’s toll. The children’s pediatrician told her she needed to be thinking about nutrition.

“He raised a flag for us,” she said, and within months the children lost weight.

For children, she said, food is all about taste, and fresh and local taste better.

“A real delicious heirloom tomato is one of the sweetest things that you’ll ever eat,” she said. “And my children know the difference, and that’s how I’ve been able to get them to try different things.

“I wanted to be able to bring what I learned to a broader base of people. And what better way to do it than to plant a vegetable garden in the South Lawn of the White House.”

The country’s one million community gardens, she said, can also play an important role for urban dwellers who have no backyards.

But, sitting in her office in the East Wing, Mrs. Obama stressed that she doesn’t want people to feel guilty if they don’t have the time to have a garden: there are still many small changes they can make.

“You can begin in your own cupboard by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Advice on No-VOC Paints?

JessTrev prepares to paint...

So, my version of spring cleaning is yet another freecycling rampage plus a newbie: our first new coat of paint in, ah, nine years. It's (cough) a little bit overdue, and I can't wait to fling my windows wide and start scraping! I've already asked a couple green friends and the ladies at the Green Moms Carnival for their advice and they've weighed in with a bunch of choices for paints without nasty VOCs:

Dear friends who are tackling the first LEED renovation in Atlanta say their contractor recommends AFM Safecoat. He says the company is green as well as the product, and that it's good paint. (Also? They just got geothermal installed! Woo hoo!)

Katy Farber of Non-Toxic Kids loves Mythic Paints.

Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse says: "I painted my entire interior, one room after another, with Pure Performance from Pittsburgh Paints. LOTS of colors, no VOC, though I think it may have a couple of ingredients that something like AFM or Anna Sova (milk-based) don't. The paint has held up for several years. I never got a headache for the couple of weeks it was being applied. It cost me about $600 more to paint my whole house (8 rooms, plus two bathrooms) with Pure Performance. All the painters had "painter's cough," so I was glad to give them a break from the stuff they usually use." I love Diane! She even gave me specific hardware store recs. And I SO don't want my kids to end up "painter's cough!"

Tiffany from Nature Moms Blog loves Lovo Paint: "Very high quality paint and zero smell."

Anna from GreenTalk had buckets of advice: "We actually used Benjamin Moore's EcoSpec when we painted 4 years ago as well as AFM's primer. AFM Safecoat is made for people with chemical sensitivities. (They have paints as well.) It is amazing primer. When you put it on it is like covering your walls with white paint. You can only get it at certain green building places or online. We were told that it would lock in the chemicals from the drywall and spackle. The one we used was only for new drywall. They may have one for covering up dark colors as well.

EcoSpec is readily available, decent price point, and the color is what it is. If I need a gallon, I don't have to order it on the web or run an 45 minutes away to the nearest green store. Since then BM has come out with Aura in all colors and Nativa is coming out this Spring which is supposed to be a no VOC paint. Aura is expensive but supposed to be a one coat paint. Most painters I talk to still use 2 coats with this paint. However, with dark colors you may need 3.

Since then, I have tried Home Depot's Freshaire, which is not bad but is limited in colors. No VOC.

Also, tried Ivy Coatings, a no VOC paint. Liked it as well.

Sherwin Williams has a lot of great paints too. They say their paint is scrubbable which may not be a bad idea for you with little kids. Harmony, I think it is called.

Never used the milk paints or Yolo. Like I said before, I like convenience so I go towards being able to run over and pick it up. Plus, I like consistency. I want to know that the color that I have is the color that I will get.

If you order too much, make sure you take it out of the cans, and put it air tight containers which you fill to the top. (As little air as possible left so it does not go bad.)

I also tried to get little bottles to try the color on my wall or on a white poster board before I purchased the color. Color looks really different during the day and night. Each house is different too. I could love a color and try it. Then realized it was awful in my house. I also like going with a paint company that has lots of color choices.

I think Yolo actually send you the big swatches. Check."

Could these women be any more generous with their time and expertise? Sheesh! I am so appreciative. My kids can run to the playground while I paint but we're not moving out, so I want to do all I can to make sure the paint fumes are as safe as I can make them.

Dude! So many choices and I haven't even started to think about colors! Weigh in if you've got a low-VOC paint you love (or hate). Or even if you have any painterly tips for this rusty ol' brush. Wish me luck on the spackling!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Adjusting my Green GPS

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
Baseball season has started, so have my recycling program volunteer duties. Track season has started, so have my carpool obligations. Tonight we have kindergarten round-up for a very excited 4-year old. We also have countless meetings, a doctor appointment, two orthodontist appointments and a home repair issue that needs to be addressed this week. My life doesn't feel very light.

One of the boy's bikes has a flat tire, the screen for the kitchen window has gone missing and one of the dogs is sick. Bills and mail pile high in the office because instead of sorting through the mess, I've been helping with Algebra homework, finding green shirts for St. Patty's day, digging out last year's baseball pants for practice and making posters for T-ball meet & greet day. Chances are I will buy a new screen, continue to ignore the bills and be tempted to buy new stuff to make the poster rather than dig through my craft scrap bin. My life doesn't feel very green.

When I first started to blog - I had a To-Do List. There were things I wanted to accomplish, I wasn't thinking too big, just simple things. Paper towels, thrift store shopping and driving less. After I hit a couple of those goals, I started to get distracted by gorgeous front yard gardens, awesome all-local meals, riots for austerity and so on. And then I started kicking myself for being unable to do many of those things.

For those of you who are just beginning on your green journey, or for those like me, readjusting your green GPS unit to reflect your busy family life or a tighter budget due to the economy, join me. I'm going back to the green basics.

I'm reminding myself not to take more than one paper towel in the public restroom. I'm remembering to bring my book or my bike to the boy's baseball practice to keep myself busy so I'm not driving all the way back home only to drive right back two hours later. I'm making an effort to do the little things that can make a big difference.

My refreshed and renewed To-Do list goes a little something like this:

Drive less, walk more - Maybe this is a direct result of the weather finally warming here in Michigan, but walking to the corner store, to the park, with the dog or just quietly by myself has been a treat lately. Making sure to drive the boys to baseball practice - and stay there myself - means thinking in advance to bring the book / dog / bike that I wanted to use during that two hours.

Less Target, more thrift store - Last year I did a great job getting to the thrift shop, which happened to be close to a local Farmer's Market in my town every Wednesday. Then, I went back to work and was unable to get to the Wednesday market, so in turn, I missed my weekly trip to the thrift store. My boys are in need of t-shirts, shorts and much more, so this weekend I plan to take a couple of hours to visit a couple of thrift stores to see if I can fill the gaps in their closets. I might even return those PJs I bought at Target, if I can find a replacement pair!

Less yard waste, more compost - Hiding out in my basement I have a rather large, unused wire dog crate. It's my goal to retro-fit the hinged door, add a handle for easy rolling and haul it out doors. It can easily be filled with yard waste, grass clippings, potato peels and such that will make great compost and it won't cost me anything but time.

Less energy, more savings - This summer I want to focus on better ways to cool my home without the air conditioning. Strategically placed fans, opening and closing windows at the right time and closing the blinds. The same goes for water. Using dehumidifier grey water for flower pots, collecting rain run off for the landscaping and making sure the cool showers on hot, sticky days don't last too long.

More free fun - We have memberships to the Zoo and a couple of museums. We also have two parks, a library and an entire rails to trails bike path system within a few minutes of my house. Using these fun resources more often, even if it means buying breakfast for the family at the end of the trail or treating the kids to ice cream at the museum, means more time spent together as a family instead of sitting silent right next to each other at the movie theater. And, they just might learn something, you never know!

Less stress, more fun - No more freaking out about too many peaches to can or freeze, the extras will make lovely gifts to the neighbors. No more obsessing about where every single ingredient came from in each meal or weather or not I should have grown it myself in my landscaping bed. Most of all, I plan to cut back on the "Mom's busy, OK?!?" and turn off the computer and get outdoors. Shoot some hoops with the boys, take a dip in the lake, play fetch with the dog, or just sit quietly and enjoy the sunshine.

I am hoping as I write this, by leaving my To-Do list here, for everyone to see, I will stick to it, keep on course and follow where my green GPS leads me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The First Pea

From the bean of Green Bean.

Stretching up to my chin, the trim green leaves blotted out the dirt, the borage that really did reseed itself, the dormant foxglove and even the wide stepping stones we put in last fall. A plump green pea pod stood in contrast against the grey March sky. I reached over and gently tugged it from the vine. White flowers, I noted. Shelling pea. The purple flowers were for snap peas and I let the kids get those. But no one was touching my shelling peas.

Sitting on the porch steps, I pried open the pod. Seven tiny peas lined up like clothes in a tween's closet. Popping them in my mouth, one by one, I realized that I should have waited until the pod was a bit fuller. I also realized that I had a lot of work to do.

It is March and the garden waits for no one. Not even a mom consumed with school volunteer programs and parcel tax campaigns. I shuffled through the envelopes I'd set out on the bench earlier. Pretty packages of pink and green spilled out. Zinnias. Ice box watermelon. Amish pie pumpkin. Potato runner beans. My hopes and dreams for the summer. My homemade meals for the winter.

In years past, spring marched through the garden with neither pomp nor circumstance. The green lawn stretched out sleepily as in winter or summer. The daisies perhaps a bit perkier. The dearth of bees and sparrows rarely varied with the months. The gardeners came through with a bit more regularity perhaps. March never triggered a flurry of activity before. The urgent need to tie back the passion fruit vine, the "o" of surprise when a toad or ladybugs overwintered in the cover crop, the pink blueberry buds peeking out from autumn's leaves that, neglected, decomposed in the planting beds.

As I sat on my front steps, surrounded by seed packets and dreams, I realize that living this way is a lot more work. I cannot rely on a gardener to mow and blow through my yard once a week. In fact, that gardener and, with him an $80 monthly expense, is long gone. No one will cut down the cover crop and drag it to the compost bin but me. I'm the only one who will take the time - while the kids are in gymnastics class - to sketch out the yard, the open planting spaces, consult Carrots Love Tomatoes, and figure out just where to put the carrots and the tomatoes, the peppers and the potatoes too. When seeds need to be planted or weeds retrieved, it will be my hands that become dirty and chapped. When the grape vine needs to be trained over the trellis or the pomegranate tree transplanted, the responsibility will fall on me. But I'll also get the first picked pea of the season.

It is a lot more work than a lawn and some benign daisies. Easing that last little pea out of the pod and into my mouth, I look out at next summer's garden. It's more work but worth every bite.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Following My Heart

From the bean of Green Bean.

The month's APLS Carnival topic made me realize something: I've changed. A lot. And it is nowhere more obvious than in my blogging life.

Once upon a time, I wrote only about greening my lifestyle, reaching across the globe to others in need, and embracing American affluence as a means to make the world a better place.

Then something happened.

My son went to kindergarten.

And I became more mom than policy maven. More woman than warrior. My posts shifted away from the global to the local - the intensely local. I'm sure I have lost readers along the way; people who were more interested in changing the world than my child's school. I cannot say I blame them. Indeed, this month's topic made me wonder if my fellow eco-heroes might soon oust me from The Green Phone Booth for not focusing enough on "green" and for worrying more about phone banks than phone booths.

You see, March's Carnival topic involves the participants' favorite charities. Six months ago, I would have lauded Heifer International, Central Asia Institute, or the now defunct Goods 4 Girls. I would have looked at global reach and sought to inspire others, even my children, to stretch as far.

But one day, the stock market crashed. My son's public school lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state slashed school budgets even further. I no longer thought about Pennies for Peace but about how all those pennies might save the school librarian.

My favorite charity is not some worthy organization battling climate change or working in the wilds of Afghanistan to heft schools from mountains. It is my son's school. And my devotion to it is a purely selfish.

Without a doubt, the dollars my family has poured into the school's shrinking coffers would have gone further outfitting African girls with reusable menstrual pads or keeping wolves on the Endangered Species list. Surely, the tens of hours I dedicate weekly would have more impact had they been devoted to a buy local campaign for my city or a wetlands restoration project.

The irony, though, is that, in my son's school, I've found the one thing I touted in my greener days. The one thing I sought when working for green task forces and donating to relief agencies. And the only thing that I think will help us adapt to a changed planet. A community.

One that has pulled together to keep our school afloat in rough economic seas. One that struggles to go green without any green - holding rummage sales, hosting bottle and can drives, soliciting carpools, and piecing together a set of utensils so that we can forgo the plastic cutlery at school events. One that shares the burden of the community - swapping clothes for growing girls, sharing snow gear, teaching art and music when the money has run out, donating recycled paper towels and green cleaning supplies, gathering canned goods for local food pantries, composting lunches and gardens, and passing rummage sale leftovers to battered women's shelters and inmates exiting the prison system.

As our climate shifts, water runs dry, food prices escalate, and funds for renewables become a pipe dream, community is the fail safe. The parachute. The landing place. But you have to build it. It doesn't come ready made or with simple instructions and it is not easy. You get out what you put in.

But even if I can just justify my son's school as a "green charity", is it right that we, the global rich, spend our resources on ourselves? That I focus not on the girls learning in the wilds of Africa but on the children in my own community, on my own son?

I cannot say that it is.

But I will say this. The mark of a worthwhile charity is one that opens hearts as well as wallets. One that makes us leap out of our desk chairs and into the storm. One that grabs us by the chest and demands action. One that spurs sacrifice, drives us when we think we are too tired, out of ideas, or out of money. It is true that some of those charities will pull people across the globe, yank them down from a mountain and transform a nurse into a school teacher. Some though will merely entice folks across town - to the plot that becomes a community garden, to the warehouse that becomes a soup kitchen, or to the school that continues to educate.

And that is worthy too.

This is the The Green Phone Booth's submission for the APLS Carnival which will appear at Green Resolutions on March 20. To participate, email your submission to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by Tuesday, March 17.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crock Pot Pumpkin Mac N Cheese

JessTrev with a recipe for comfort food.

The following is a melding of a Paula Deen Creamy Mac N Cheese recipe (courtesy of DC Urban Moms), Mighty Appetite's Hold-the-Velveeta-Queso Recipe, and GreenBean's suggestion to add pureed pumpkin to my kids' m + c.

Cheezy Sauce Ingredients

1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt to taste


In a medium saucepan, add butter and allow to melt over low heat. Add flour and stir until it is well integrated with butter and mixture is free of lumps. Color will be golden after 1 minute or so. Add cream and stir to combine, allowing to heat up until thickened, about five minutes. Stir frequently with spoon and do not allow cream to boil. Add cheese, and whisk vigorously until completely integrated and fluid. Taste for salt and add accordingly.

Crock Pot Pumpkin Mac Ingredients

4 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (a 16-ounce box is pretty close)
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
2-3 cups pureed pumpkin
Cheezy sauce recipe from above
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Boil the macaroni in a 2 quart saucepan in plenty of water until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain. Make queso. Stir in sour cream, salt, mustard, and pumpkin. In a slow cooker, combine drained macaroni and queso and stir. Add eggs and milk and stir again. Set the slow cooker on low setting and cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

24 servings

  • Puree the pumpkin ahead of time.
  • Use whole wheat macaroni elbows (Safeway and Bionaturae make them).
  • Makes a ton (note the # servings).
  • Sort of pumpkin soufflĂ©-y. What I am really trying to recreate is Amy's frozen mac n cheese which has a really velvety sauce. I may skip the crock pot step and the eggs and see if I can approximate that addictive mouthfeel for the younguns.
  • Would not cook for longer than 3 hours if going crockpot route (maybe a bit less? Try 2 hrs next time.)
  • Freezes decently.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

A wondering from EcoWonder...
By the time you read this I will be seriously jet-lagged, bedraggled and working in Frankfurt, Germany. I will have taken the overnight flight, crunched myself into a little ball in my coach seat, swallowed two Benadryl with the hopes of catching some shut-eye before I landed, brushed my teeth in the airport restroom and headed off to work. Not very glamorous. Ahh, the life of a working mom.

And therein lies my challenge. How to be green when you're across the pond and you've left 4 children, 1 husband and 2 dogs to fend for themselves? Don't even add to that the guilt, sadness and worry a mom feels about flying overseas... But that's for a different kind of blog, so I will leave that subject alone before it brings me to tears. Snif.
Being a green working mom takes some planning. Lots of planning, list making and more planning. Here are my tips for green moms leaving on that jet plane:

1. Lists, lists, lists... My husband is actually really, really good about taking care of all those kiddies while I am gone. But, honestly he has no idea what is in our freezer. None whatsoever. That said, I have no idea what is in our garage, none whatsoever, so I think it's fair.

I make a list, by meal category, of what is available to make, heat or defrost. I learned the hard way, NOT to TELL him what he has to make, but just simply list out what is available for meals and snacks. This really cuts down on the last minute meal stress and keeps the kids full, happy and healthy. Without the trips to Mickey-D's.

2. Convenience... I make an extra effort to look for simple items that will help make everything run smoother. Bananas, apples and oranges are easy to pack in lunches - no slicing or dicing needed. String cheese and granola bars are at the ready. I defrost blueberry muffins and place them in the cookie jar where they will be eaten quickly. And so on... Make it easy and they might eat healthy. Leave them to wonder what's in the pantry and they will search for junk food! Or walk to the corner store to buy some...

3. The airport blues... I get stuck in airports fairly often, so it can be hard to resist the junk food, magazines and such. Rather than buy junk or end up with magazines I only read two articles in, I treat myself and stock my iPod or computer with lots of TV shows and / or movies I wouldn't have the time to watch at home. It's a treat for me and it keeps my mind off flying and buying!

4. Laundry woes... I remind my husband that the boys know their jeans don't need to be washed after being worn for an hour (it's easier to throw them on the floor and call them "dirty" rather than put them back in a drawer) and that everyone has a brand new, clean towel that won't need to be washed until I return - as long as it makes it back onto it's towel hook above the heater vent to dry before it's next use. Basically, patrol the floors once a day looking for wayward junk. This helps to cut down how much laundry either he needs to do while I am gone or I need to do when I get back. And, for those of you out there who say my boys need to do the family laundry themselves? I will show you my brand new organic denim jeans that are now 2 inches too short. Flood pants courtesy of a 13 year old in a hurry. No thanks. They have other chores that don't involve my clothing, so we're sticking with those until the shock of seeing my shortie jeans wears off.

And, for myself? I save all of the plastic bags from the drycleaner (sorry, no green cleaners in my neck of the woods!) and use them to separate my clean clothes from the dirty and to help keep clothing wrinkle free, so it can be worn again before another cleaning or washing.

5. Guilt gifts... Whaddya gonna bring me momma? My 4-year old loves little trinkets from the road, my older boys secretly love them too. Rather than bring home useless junk, I collect French or German magazines and newspapers from the hotel or the airplane, which my older boys have learned bring them nice extra credit from their foreign language teachers. After that, I hit a local grocery store while I am in town. My boys have sampled different foods and snacks from countless countries and they think it's great adventure. And, for the 4-year old? A trinket (free!) from the tradeshow I attended (flashlight, bouncy ball, keychain...) usually does the trick.

If I happen to be traveling stateside? I usually stock up on lightweight and small craft items, stickers, coloring activities etc. and stash them in my suitcase once every few months. I don't always have time to even think about what I am bringing home while I am on the road, so to keep me from buying airport junk, I just rely on my stash hidden in my suitcase and - TaDa! Look what I brought you! And yes, I know I don't HAVE to bring them anything. But, really, I am guilty enough already and if the fun and excitement of some trinkets makes it easier for them (and me!) 'nuf said. I'm doing it.

And, I'm off... I'll be back in a few days armed with newspapers, a bag of German candy and a whole lotta jet lag! But, I'll be glad to be home, even if I have to do the laundry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Habits Die Hard

From the bean of Green Bean.

The small ping tugged me out of my thoughts. Mail. I moved over to check it, clicked, scrolled and clicked again.


Not bad. Not bad at all for a month's worth of water in thirsty California. I won't pat myself on the back too hard as it is mid-winter and all. But still . . .

I decided to check this year's stats against last year's. Hmmm. Let's see. Down 700 hundred gallons from last February and clocking in at a very slim 6% of the average American's usage per Riot 4 Austerity's calculator! Suck on that, drought!

All of my utility bills tell a similar story. Down a bit from last year, more than half from two years ago. The difference, though, is that last year - my first full year of really really trying to live green - I suffered. I cringed at the short showers. I froze my buns off. I winced at the flies in the compost heap. Ate by candlelight. Sloshed grey water en route to the butterfly bush. Scoured cookbooks for "seasonal" recipes. And swallowed more guilt than mozzarella at the local pizza joint.

Still, I hesitate to open each new bill that arrives, afraid that my usage will have soared in the preceding month. You see, my focus has changed since last year. Lately, I've paid far more attention to the fiscal viability of my child's school and far less to lightening my planetary load. Instead of fretting over LEDs or the temperature of our hot water heater, I'm organizing a rummage sale, working on a political campaign, manning two constantly shifting carpools, teaching a dozen kindergartners to walk like a bear, and packing three lunches a day.

Thinking solely about green living has fallen off my radar screen. The beauty, though, is that I thought about it enough last year. In that year of grey water and compost heaps, I am embraced a new normal. I found and loved certain seasonal recipes and learned how to pack a lunch without a stitch of trash. I came to terms with shorter showers - which really meant taking them every other day but for a bit longer. My body acclimated to seasonal temperatures and we invested in an electric blanket. I ripped out a bunch of grass and went native. And I fell in love with power strips and a clothes line.

I developed new habits and I hope they die hard.


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