Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cooking up some New Year's resolutions

The Greenhabilitator gets cooking...

There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won't, and that's a wife who can't cook and will. ~Robert Frost

I've always been the wife who can't cook, and didn't bother. When we got married, Mr. Greenhab and I made this deal: he cooks, I do laundry. (Mostly because I burned all the food I touched and he turned every white towel we owned pink.) It worked well for many years but, over the past year or so, our jobs, hours, and roles in the family have change dramatically. As a result, I've had to buck up and start doing almost all the cooking.

Much like Jenn said yesterday, I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions either. We try to continuously assess our lives and make changes and improvements as necessary. We've worked on greening many different areas over the past few years, but we've always fallen short when it comes to food.

I've always justified passing over the food aspect of living sustainably because we were always working on something else. Sure I've learned to preserve food and bake muffins from scratch, but we are so far from green in this area that I feel almost like it's a dirty little secret I keep under my hat. I mean, how many other so-called "green moms" stock Ramen Noodles in their pantry?

Besides being concerned with what's in some of the food we eat, I'm troubled by the packaging as well (mostly plastic), how far away it's produced and how it's produced. Mr. Greenhab (aka Cheapest Man on the Planet) is not one to throw down for $5 a gallon organic milk, but there are definitely some other things I can do to avoid plastic containers, BPA-lined cans, and foods that are over-processed and full of preservatives.

Here are some of my goals:

Make it Myself

I was floored by EnviRambo's post the other day about making your own brown sugar. I had no idea how easy it was. I will never buy brown sugar in a plastic bag (or otherwise) again!

There was also a recent article at iVillage: 6 Foods You Didn't Know You Could Make From Scratch that I also bookmarked for future reference. It included easy recipes for foods we use regularly like ricotta cheese, yogurt and vanilla extract. I've read some pretty detailed instructions on how to make yogurt before, but they all made it sound like rocket science. This one was much less daunting.

I've added and deleted Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day from my wishlist so many times now that I'm afraid they're going to start giving me a "Would you please make up your mind???" pop-up. We love bread in our house, so this would be a good way to save some money and some plastic bread bags, but I'm not really a baker and I'm afraid I'm going to hate the commitment. Any thoughts you'd like to share on it? Will someone who doesn't particularly enjoy cooking be able to muddle through it?

I'd also like to get away from having a lot of boxed food in my pantry. Sure it takes longer to make real mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese than it does to open a box. With a little pre-planning and organization though, I think I can eliminate a lot of convenience food and make my own.

Cut Back on Meat

I've tried to do this on the sly by fixing meatless dishes several nights per week and instituting an official "Meatless Monday" in our house. (Speaking of which... Our very own EnviRambo has a Meatless Monday Flickr group.) We eat eggs sometimes at breakfast, but rarely have real meat in the morning. I pack meatless lunches for the kids and myself. I also try to make meat an ingredient in our meal, rather than the focus of the meal.

This year I plan to look into sources for locally raised meat. Mr. Greenhab's biggest concern there is the price. We've watched the documentaries out there about how cows are raised and meat produced and every time he says "We've got to stop eating beef." But it tends to be more of a philosophical statement than one he would really follow through on. The man likes his meat.


Last year I canned jam, jelly, applesauce, peaches and a few other things. I did it in small batches because I was just learning. I was afraid it wouldn't work and I'd open cans of rotting applesauce only to have to toss it all out.

Now that I've tried - and succeeded! - I want to learn more and preserve much more food this summer and fall. I have the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving on my wishlist and have been picking up jars when I see them on sale or at a thrift shop.

As easy as it is to pop open a store-bought can of Green Giant green beans to go with dinner, I can't help but wonder how far away they were grown, with what pesticides, what additives and preservatives were used when they were canned, the impact of the manufacture of the cans, the shipping and of course there's the can lining which contains BPA. That all seems so heavy when I could just spend a few hours preserving some locally grown beans to enjoy all year long.

Grow It

We also have some lofty gardening goals, but always seem to fail in this area. Last summer Mr. Greenhab and Super Uncle built a rocking green house. Unfortunately the ventilation was inadequate and nothing could live because it was getting too hot. We replanted, outside the greenhouse, but everything was eaten by the bear, deer, elk, rabbits, squirrels, and various other animals.

This year we'll try again and see what happens. In case of another failure, I've mapped out several farmer's markets. The one in our town is small and, surprisingly, doesn't have much actual produce. After dreaming last winter about how I'd shop the farmer's market all summer long, meeting my local growers and making friend all around town, I was sorely disappointed.

The next best market is down the mountain, about 20 miles away. It doesn't seem like a very "green" thing to do, driving 40 miles round trip to a farmer's market, but I think we can pair it with our monthly trip to Costco and add in a stop at the grocery store that sells a few items in bulk. Speaking of bulk...

Bulk Up

Our local grocer sells a few things in bulk - nuts, granola, trail mix - but not the things that I'd really like to get like flour, sugar, and beans. We do have a Vitamin Cottage store which sells "bulk" foods...only they're already plastic. Don't ask me, I'm not sure how that qualifies as bulk.

I've tried to move as much as possible from items that are packaged in plastic to the alternatives that come in glass or paper, but some things just don't. When I hit the lotto I'm opening Bulk Foods that's row after row of bulk bins. You'll even be able to buy shampoo from a big ol' vat.

I feel like I'm so behind the curve on this whole food thing. I mean, Green Bean's whole yard is edible and I can't tell even tell sage from basil, or know what to put either of them in. I haven't even read Omnivore's Dilemma for goodness sake! This year should be quite interesting for us to say the least.


Anonymous said...

Good article.i hope you will achieve your aim this year. my new year resolution is to teach 10 million car owners on how to use these 25 strategies to get cheapest car insurance rates. These strategies have help many people but i
want to expand it. Read it up here at

belinda said...

I am a cook and a baker so adding bread to my routine wasn't really too much of a stretch.

Maybe giving the whole bread thing a try before actually committing to the book is the best way to go. Here are a couple of the books sample recipes I found online.

Kind Regards

Robbie said...

Kellie, I can tell you the whole gardening thing does get easier. You learn a lot over time. Also, if you stagger the plantings (I realize it's more weekends' worth of work) you are more likely to have success. Honestly, last year it took a couple of plantings to really get growing.

Happy new year! Glad to join the group!

Burbanmom said...

Great post. I actually enjoy cooking (when the kids aren't fighting and the dog isn't tripping me up) so this was one of the areas I really went wild with when it came to greening my life.

One tip for making homemade mac & cheese, lasagna or any other dish that feels like it takes too much time: It's just as easy to make two dishes as it is to make one. So as long as you're putting in the effort - make one to cook and one to freeze. Then you'll have your own scrumptious "frozen dinner" for later in the month. Just be sure to thaw it out for two days in the fridge before you cook it.

Sourcing out local food can be a lot of fun!!! Don't forget your friendly resources at Good luck with your resolutions!

- Burbanmom

angela jiniel said...

Bread is really easy to do! You can make up a bunch of loaves one day and then stick them in the freezer. Or, you can make up the though and have one of the rises in the fridge over night. It's not as hard as many people think :) I have a no-fail bread recipe at my blog. The key for a nice fluffy loaf is active yeast and bread flour. I've tried the "no-knead" bread from the artisan cookbook, but I prefer my recipe. Kneading a therapeutic for me I think! Good luck!

Kathie said...

What awesome goals! I do think bread and gardening and canning for that matter get easier with time and patience. I think its important to take all three slowly lest you get overwhelmed.

That Ball book is the best, by the way. I teach canning classes & while I don't technically have a text book, I tell the students that the Ball Complete book would be the text if I had one...

Karen Moser-Booth said...

I find homemade bread easy, particularly because you have a large number of breaks. I don't like being in the kitchen all the time (def. not the cook in this household). With bread, you work on it for 10 minutes, leave it for an hour or two, work on it for 10 minutes again, etc. And kneading isn't nearly as hard as people make it out to be--it takes maybe 15 minutes and it truly is therapy.

Elizabeth B said...

What a great post. Who hasn't been there? All of the Green Phone Book's readers probably have our moments (and days and months...), weaknesses, and blind spots. But guilt is so corrosive, I hope you'll be able to be kind to yourself when you fall down on being green, because it happens to us all.

Happy new year, and best of luck with your continued efforts. :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Greening your grocery bill without going broke is a subject I can talk for days about. I have a few posts over at the Conscious Shopper that you might find useful - I think their tagged as "groceries". Here are a few suggestions for now:

Bulk bins save so much money, but if your area doesn't have a good bulk section, you could try to find a buying club. My church does one through Walton Feed, and I can get organic wheat and beans through them for cheaper than Whole Foods bulk section.

Vegetarian cooking is a fraction of the cost of meat, so the more meatless meals you make, the more you save. Then you can use the money you saved to buy quality pasture raised meat. A great way to save on meat is to buy a share of a cow and freeze it. A CSA might also be a good option for you since you don't have a great farmers market.

Don't get hung up on the "organic" label. Many farmers use sustainable techniques but aren't certified, and if you feel like you can trust them, their goods are often cheaper.

When we greened our grocery bill, it went up about $150 to $200, but we had already saved so much from improving our energy efficiency and driving less that it ended up not affecting our overall total budget much. So look for other ways to save money and shift your savings to your grocery bill. Eating healthy is so important, I think.

Good luck! I'm excited to hear updates as you do this!

concretenprimroses said...

thank you for the wonderful link of the six foods!
I love yougurt, but never liked my yogurt maker results much (um from 25 yr ago). I'll try again with these simple instructions. I'm so tired of having so many yogurt container which our town doesn't accept for recycling.
And my russian grandma used to make a cheese similar to the ricotta. I can't wait to try both of these recipes.
More homegrown veggies next year is a good resolution for me as well.

Donna said...

I have the 5-minutes bread making book and I enjoyed reading it, but honestly I usually just resort to using my bread machine. If you really don't enjoy mixing and kneading, you should consider getting a machine. My original machine was $195, but when it died I found a duplicate replacement on ebay for $10.

Good luck with your journey!

MomP said...

How about restaurant/bakery suppliers for "bulk" lots of staples such as flour and sugar? If you can convince them it will become the green "in thing" for a multitude of your followers, maybe a smaller distributor would think $$PROFITS$$ and go for the idea. Since businesses are going belly-up by the hundreds, warehouses are stocked with stuff they can't sell. Many right here in Denver. Thirty years ago, during a major recession, I started my business, and talked several "wholesale only" distributors to work with me in small quantities. You can do it!! :)

Rachael said...

I enjoyed this a lot. We're working on a few of things as well. One thing I've found while searching for bulk is that most grocers get really excited to do bulk orders for you and typically give you a 10% discount if you get a case or a large bulk bag of something (like a 25 lb. bag of grain or beans). If you keep it up, they might start stocking the things they keep getting requests for.

As for bread, I really like the Bread Alone cookbook by Daniel Leader. The levain/starter breads are my favorite. There's a bit of a learning curve, but once you've got it, you can get really great bread. Plus the slight sourdoughiness apparently helps keep it fresher longer.

Illysa said...

I make all of the bread we eat, but I use a bread machine because arthritis makes kneading impossible for me. I tried that bread in 5-minutes book but I don't really like sourdough and it seemed like most of the recipes went in that direction. Plus we like variety and we eat only about a loaf a week, so having 5 loaves available of one kind of bread wasn't great. I vote for the machine --even though it uses electricity -- for anyone who wants homemade bread but can't knead.

I like your idea for bulk shampoo, etc., though. I wonder if there's a way to make this into a business. I mean, really, I would actually bring my containers to the store and fill them if I could. It's something to think about for some enterprising person. . .

Please keep us informed about how the veggies are doing in the garage -- I'm interested in the outcome as I haven't had luck with winter growing yet. Got lots of buggies!


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