Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
LEARN TO COOK
Since the day my husband and I were married nearly nine years ago, I have cooked probably 90% of our dinners. If you had asked me four years ago, if we ate healthy, I would have said yes. If you had asked me four years ago if I was a good cook, I would have replied, "Not too shabby." We never ate frozen dinners (except for pizza). I only gave my kids 100% juice. Junky snacks like fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups were reserved for special occasions...And yet, pretty much all of our food came from a box, a bag, or a can.
Three and a half years ago, I decided to join a CSA. The day I received my first bag of goodies, I stood in my kitchen surrounded by beautiful local/organic produce and thought to myself, "Now what?"
The only broccoli I had ever cooked came in a bag: I would dump them into a bowl, add a tablespoon of water and some salt, and nuke 'em until they were warm. Easy peasy.
Now here I was with a raw head of broccoli and no idea how to cook the thing. Boil it? Steam it? Fry it? Can we eat the stalk? The leaves?
Not to mention the bag of purslane I'd have to tackle later that week...
In the past three and a half years, I have learned to cook vegetables from Asparagus to Zucchini. Thanks to our CSAs, we have tried veggies I wouldn't in a million years have picked out myself...and discovered that we like them. We eat much healthier because most of our produce is fresh and in season, most of our food is free of preservatives and artificial flavors, and nothing that we eat is a weirdly neon orange color. And I have learned to cook well enough that I'm losing my appetite for eating out.
This month, I'm challenging you to Green Your Groceries, and learning to cook is an important part of that. When you know how to cook from scratch, you can buy basic ingredients like oats, beans, and rice from the bulk bins and cut back on your trash production; use fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, casting a vote for a reformed food system and keeping your family healthier; and save money, making it possible for you to afford those fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.
I've been sitting here trying to come up with my very best gems of advice to help you cook from scratch, but really the best thing I can say is Dive Right In! Some days will be a total failure in the kitchen, but as I tell my kids, you can't learn to do something unless you practice. But here are a couple other tips I've come up with:
- Learn to make a roux. A huge portion of recipes start with a roux, and once you can make your own, you'll be free from canned sauces and gravies.
- Make a list of your family's favorite meals and learn to make them from scratch.
- Or obtain a good basic cookbook and find some new favorites.
- Join a CSA. You'll be forced to learn how to cook or let your vegetables/money go to waste.
- Purchase a good knife and keep it sharp. You know those big wooden blocks that come with a dozen different types of knives? You probably have one sitting on your counter - I used to have one too. But here's the thing about cooking: you really only need one good knife - maybe two - as long as you keep them sharp. Sharpness is key; my knives are on the very blunt side right now, and it's really slowing down my cooking time.
- K.I.S.S Method for Saving Time in the Kitchen
- Save Time in the Kitchen by Meal Planning
- More Tips for Saving Time in the Kitchen
Do you cook from scratch? What tips do you have for beginners?
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Glancing around the crowded room, I realized I was surrounded.
Pirates over here. Princesses over there. Batman, Spiderman, Wolverine. Cinderella, Tinkerbell, and the Little Mermaid. Witches and wizards galore.
Yes, Halloween has arrived at my local Goodwill.
Is the holiday season really almost here? It seems like just yesterday I was penning a tribute to pumpkin season, but no. It was nearly a year ago, and pumpkins have once again started trickling into the stands at the farmers market.
The holidays can be one of the most hectic, wasteful, planet-destroying times of the year. Or with a little change of behavior and attitude, they can be a great time to show off your green side with thrift store decorations, re-purposed costumes, and handmade gifts.
Here at the Green Phone Booth, we want to help make your holidays more meaningful, so we're inviting all of you to participate in our Meaningful Memories challenge, starting now (in time for Halloween) and continuing through the end of the year.
Every Monday, we'll be blogging about ways to green up our holiday celebrations, but we know you greenies don't need to be shown how it's done...So we're inviting all of our lovely readers to share your inspiration with the rest of us by submitting a guest post to be published here at the Green Phone Booth.
Not sure what to write? Our fabulous Going Green Mama has brainstormed a list of possible topics to get all of our creative juices flowing:
- upcycled/recycled gift ideas
- gifts from the kitchen - the non-cookie kind. :-)
- choosing experiential gifts
- reducing the Christmas clutter (ie decorations)
- shopping for a cause (free trade, etc.)
- handmade gift ideas for the creatively challenged
- handmade gift ideas from your kids
- reduce the impact/stress of holiday travels/events
- stuffing your stockings (thinking of ways we can inject some fun without buying 100 trinkets)
If you'd like to write a guest post for the Green Phone Booth, email me at greenphonebooth [at] gmail [dot] com with your topic idea, and I'll put you on the calendar.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
No, it's not from the rows upon rows of giant-size bags of chocolates. Nor from the cheap costumes for sale, which I largely avoid.
No, it's from the little green-eyed monster, who is basking in the glow of consumerism. Just one trip to Target the other day proved it. En route to grabbing bread and a few items for dinner, I was barraged with requests for Halloween headbands and chocolate and costumes. Nevermind that I've found ones for both kids at the resale shop, apparently I now need one too.
Yes, the green-eyed monster is in full swing.
Sadly, I don't know how to upend the cultural crap that is Halloween. Granted, when I was a child, we tricked and treated our way around the block, lugging handmade sacks or pillowcases. Today, it's a serious industry. Hundred-dollar Disney dresses plus accessories. Plastic containers with every character known to man on them (which of course will be pase' next year.) And decorations gallore.
Still, there are things we can do to reduce the wastefulness of the season, while still letting your kids enjoy the festivities. Here's a few:
Hit the closets. Some of the most imaginative costumes come from, well, your imagination. My favorite was a few years back, when my first communion dress came to life as part of a Mary Poppins ensemble. My second? When I was seven months pregnant with my son, and I cut out a while "M" to put on my belly.
Find a swap. Check out the National Costume Swap Day Web site for an organized swap, and trade in your outgrown costumes for something new to you. Or check out a moms group, trading site or resale shop for other options.
Make your own treat bags. Each Halloween, my brother and I would break out the crayons and decorate a paper grocery bag for trick or treating. Last year, I started the same with my kids, opting instead to buy two orange paper gift bags from the craft store. They were just right for little hands, and didn't get weighed down too much. And they're waiting to be broken out in a few weeks.
Take the emphasis off of candy. Get those Happy Meal toys out. Seriously. Instead of loading kids up with more candy (have you not seen childhood obesity rates lately?), I've been silently corraling extra toys that somehow make it in my home after parties or excursions with the grandparents. While the kids are trick or treating, a bowl of new to them toys and trinkets will sit outside for our visitors we miss. Or, instead of toys, consider giving out gently used books. It's an interesting idea.
Help others in the process. Consider doing a trick or treat for UNICEF or other organizations helping others in need.
And after the event, reuse your stash by hanging on to those chocolates for holiday baking. If you can resist.
Any other great ideas for lessening the Halloween headache?
Friday, September 24, 2010
So today, I'll stay close to home. As in home decor, interior design, and how to combine all that with a desire to support companies who are not trashing our beautiful earth. This is how I shop for house stuff in general, and keep in mind that general = rarely. I go to a website or store and I find things that are visually appealing. Then I do the math and see if it's out of my price range (because I have already tried hard to be at a company that I'm willing to do business with which means not a big box, and/or shipped halfway across the world). Then I get creative and find a way to achieve a similar look at a lower cost/price (cost to the earth/price to my checking account).
I have not actually purchased a FLOR modular area rug *yet* but I've had my eye on them for years because their patterns are attractive and they are really trying to make a good product that is practical for busy, active families (with pets) and not at budget-breaking prices. Here are a few designs that caught my eye recently when a dear friend was rug shopping.
Here are a few links if you are intrigued:
FLOR Main Site:
FLOR Pre-Designed Section:
The FLOR design help section:
The FLOR Recycle Program:
FAQs about FLOR:
They seem simple to assemble with stick-together, non-toxic "dots."
Here are installation videos:
Here are Price Categories:
They range from $5 to $30+, most seem to be around $15. One of the cool things about FLOR is you could buy the tiles a few at a time as your budget allows and then assemble when you've got all the tiles.
Okay, that's my FLOR sales pitch. Now I'm wondering: have you used FLOR? Does it hold up to high-traffic areas (a weakness I've heard about)? I'm a bit obsessed with yellow& grey lately, thus the samples I chose to hightlight, however in my home, I'm all about my other favorite color combination which is red & turquoise mixed with white walls and various woods (floors and furniture). So if and when I get myself a pretty area rug, yellow & grey probably won't be it. :)
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I've been working for the past two years to shift my grocery spending from conventional products to organic and local products. I admit that shopping this way can be expensive, but I do my best to keep our grocery costs down. Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way:
- Keep a price book, a book where you record the lowest price that you can find a product in your area. Take your price book with you when you go shopping so you can tell whether or not a sale price is really a deal.
- Menu plan. Plan ahead so you're not throwing items into your shopping cart that you don't need and/or won't use.
- Make a list and stick to it.
- Stock up when items are on sale.
- Use coupons. I haven't had much success with using coupons on organic foods - the store brand is almost always cheaper, and it's harder to match coupons with sales since fewer items go on sale. I personally think this will change as organics get more popular, but in the meantime, you can use coupons on other things like cleaning supplies, personal care products, and even places outside the grocery store (like oil changes and restaurants) and shift your savings to your grocery budget.
- Buy store brands. They're cheaper, and they almost always taste just as good.
- Start with the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue according to the Environmental Working Group.
- Waste not, want not. Avoid letting food go to waste before you use it, and eat up leftovers.
- Find amazing deals with bulk bins, the bins of grains, nuts, and dried fruit at Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I wish I could buy everything from a bulk bin!
- Buy in bulk. If you can't find it in a bulk bin, buy the largest size you can find. But remember to keep your eye on the unit price! Sometimes, the bigger package has an inflated price.
- Choose less expensive fruits and vegetables. Around here, greens and sweet potatoes have the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
- Eat less meat (especially cow). A serving of organic beans from a can is about $0.30. An organic egg costs about a quarter. A serving of the cheapest organic ground beef I've seen is $0.75.
- Buy a share of a cow. If you're not keen on going completely vegetarian, you can save money on your meat products by buying a share of a cow directly from a farmer. Search for local farms at www.eatwild.com. I've also heard of cow-shares for dairy products.
- Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Pay a fee at the beginning of the year and get a share of the farm's produce. Some CSAs are very good bargains.
- Join a buying club, a group of people who place huge orders directly with food distributers, saving costs by buying in bulk and cutting out the middlemen. The biggest supplier of natural and organic foods to buying clubs is United National Foods. I don't have any experience with them, but I have successfully found some savings on organic grains and legumes through a buying club with members of my church. They order from Walton Feed.
- Pick your own fruits and vegetables. If you do the harvesting work yourself, you can typically save a lot of money. Find an organic pick-your-own-farm near you by visiting www.pickyourown.org.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Remember when Jess was cleaning house and wrote about "aspirational clutter?" Yeah, I have that problem. Especially when it comes to cooking. I'm always clipping recipes that make me drool onto the magazine's pages and stuffing them into an already bulging folder so that I end up with more recipes than I'll be able to make in the foreseeable future.
In the past few years, my aspirational cooking folder has shifted more and more into digital form as I've drooled over the amazing food porn of some of my favorite bloggers. My bookmarked list of recipes was starting to get out of control, and I might have declared a Great Digital Recipe Purge, except....My computer got a virus that locked up the whole thing, and in the recovery, I lost all of my bookmarks. :(
I'm sure my bookmarks will fill up quickly once again, but still, I thought I'd ask: What recipes are in your aspirational cooking folder? What recipes have you seen that you plan to make, but haven't gotten to yet?
Remember to keep it meatless, as this is Meatless Monday! And don't forget to link up your own recipes using Mr. Linky below.
(As a side note, this will be our last Meatless Monday post here at the Green Phone Booth - thanks to everyone that participated! Next week, we'll be debuting a new holiday-related challenge, so come back ready for some fun!)
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I am slow to get things done. One of the Baby Step challenges way back toward the beginning of the Conscious Shopper Challenge was to get a reusable air filter, and I totally meant to...but I am slow to get things done.
So two months after the challenge, I sent my husband out to get us a reusable air filter. For some reason, he went to Walmart (which was odd because we rarely ever go to Walmart), but the filter he brought home was the wrong size. Another month passed, and I found myself at Home Depot staring at air filters. They had one reusable style, also the wrong size.
Finally, last month, I started searching around online, and I found a company called Air Commander, Permanent Air Filters that was having a 50% off sale. Perfect!
(Incidentally, they are still having that sale. Maybe they are one of those companies that constantly has a sale going. Either way, you should definitely take advantage of it.)
We decided to go with their Gold Enforcer 94 with a gold anodized metal frame because it seemed to be their best filter and I figured if you're going to buy something that lasts a long time, you ought to buy the best.
We've been very happy with our purchase. The frame seems to be well constructed, and although I haven't cleaned it yet (we've only had it installed for a couple weeks), it doesn't seem too difficult to clean. We had a slight confusion about what size we needed to order which was totally my fault, but their customer service was excellent and cleared the problem right up.
So if any of you readers are also slow to get things done and still need to check off that Baby Step of the Conscious Shopper Challenge, check out Air Commander for reusable air filters.
Disclosure: I purchased this product with my own money and was not asked to write any sort of review at all, but I was pleased with their very helpful customer service, and one good turn deserves another.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I just returned from a conference for work. Every communication we got, we heard about how the conference is green this year.
The presentations were available for download before the conference - no paper copies were available.
The bags were grocery bags from organic materials instead of the usual totes.
There were no water bottles to be found. They touted getting a travel mug when you were arrived, but none were to be found.
The badge lanyards were made of reclaimed and recycled materials.
But I'm wondering, while it was a good start, it felt more like a cost-reduction effort than a strong step towards being green.
For you party planners out there, check out what others are doing:
The NYU Hospitality Industry's reception food at designated green stations is grown locally, on New York and New Jersey farms. And their conference program book and quick reference guide were printed with soy ink on 30% recycled paper.
The NMBMA is donating excess materials to worthy causes. They're eliminating floral centerpieces and decreasing the number of shuttle trips between conference venues, making sure all hotels are within walking distance.
The Utility Payment Conference is promoting using public transportation to get to its event and using online tools whenever possible.
The NMC is contributing a portion of the conference revenues to offset direct emissions resulting from the venue space, hotel, meals and the travel of NMC staff, the NMC Board of Directors, and all the major speakers.
What are your suggestions for making conferences or corporate travel greener?
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
OBSERVE AN ECO-SABBATH
The idea for the eco-sabbath comes from Colin Beavan of No Impact Man, who writes:
For one day or afternoon or even hour a week, don't buy anything, don't use any machines, don't switch on anything electric, don't cook, don't answer your phone, and, in general, don't use any resources. In other words, for this regular period, give yourself and the planet a break. Keep your regular eco-sabbath for a month. You'll find that the enforced downtime represents an improvement to your life.
You can apply this concept to your own life as simply or as complex as you like - the point is really to increase your mindfulness of your impact on the earth. Here are a few ways to get you started.
- Declare one day a week a No Buying Day. Make your own fun without spending any money.
- Declare one day a week a No Driving Day. Have fun at home, or walk or bike to your destination.
- Have an Eco-Sabbath At-Home Date Night. Have dinner by candlelight, enjoy conversation instead of television, and retire to bed early for some special fun with that special someone.
- Take it to the full extreme. For one whole day a week, "don't buy anything, don't use any machines, don't switch on anything electric, don't cook, don't answer your phone, and, in general, don't use any resources."
Although I think it's a cool idea, it's impractical for my family to have one whole day set aside as an Eco-Sabbath, so we modify the concept to fit our needs:
- Sunday is our No Buying Day.
- As a stay-at-home-mom, I could easily schedule our days so we're constantly on the go, but to save gas (and my sanity), I specifically set aside a few mornings a week where we don't go anywhere. This year, it's Mondays (my Big Jobs Day), Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
- Especially during the summer, I try to turn on the oven only once a week. I plan ahead so I can get all my baking done in one day, and I choose meals that don't require the oven.
I really like the idea of an Eco-Sabbath Date Night and might try talking my husband into trying that one.
Have you tried an eco-sabbath? How does it work for you?
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
- leftover ribbon
- 2 D-rings off an old belt
- 1 vintage belt buckle I picked up at a flea market
- 2 split-rings off old keychains
Monday, September 13, 2010
A few weeks ago, EnviRambo wrote that cooking from scratch is making her fat. I'm having a little bit of that problem myself, but I'm also having another problem: cooking from scratch is making me not like eating out. Let me clarify - cooking from scratch is making me only like eating out if we get to go to an expensive restaurant with a really good chef. After several years of cooking from scratch, I've gotten good enough at cooking that every time we go to a restaurant lately, I turn up my nose and declare, "I could have made this better at home."
Some foods, though, I'm still working on mastering. I still can't make french fries as good as those from a restaurant (probably because I'm working with real potatoes instead of whatever starchy potato-like substance they use at McDonalds). And until recently, I made pizza that was good enough, but not great.
I decided it was time to master pizza, so I turned to the woman who also showed me that I was making scrambled eggs completely wrong: Deb from the Smitten Kitchen. Here are her tips for pizza-making:
Pizza is perfect for Meatless Mondays because it allows for such diversity. You can use tomato sauce, cream sauce, herbal butter, or pesto. Any kind of cheese you've got hiding in your fridge - from the cheapest cheddar to the most gourmet gouda. Top it with some seasonal veggies, and you've got a perfect meatless dinner that even the kiddos will gobble down.
What do you like on your pizza?
Don't forget to share your Meatless Monday recipes with us using Mr. Linky below!
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Product Review: Motherlove Green Salve
It’s sort of weird; in day to day life, I know two kids is plenty, I have no desire to be pregnant again or have another baby. I really am quite over the whole swollen-ankles-and-heartburn-diapers-and-nursing thing. But then I will read about another nurse-in at a place where a breastfeeding mother was given a hard time, or hear about another study about the for-profit insanity of our current Caesarian rates, or discover a company that makes really lovely pregnancy-and-nursing products I didn’t know about when I could have actually used them…and I feel sort of wistful that I won’t be able to be part of things any more, not the way I was a few years ago.
During the summer, a representative from the Motherlove Herbal Company (I have to say, this is one of those sites that makes me want to have a baby or start nursing again just so I can use some of these products) invited the Booth to review their “Green Salve,” a simple salve for easing itches and burns and such. Most of their products are very mommy-and-baby-oriented, but this stuff is fairly all-purpose. As our resident Herb Nerd, I was sort of elected, and I’m really glad. They sent me a jar of it, at no cost, and asked me to review it. (That's the disclosure.)
Short version: Good stuff. I mean, it’s not a “magic bullet” when it comes to taking away every bit of itch or pain, but it certainly is soothing. We took it on vacation to
My kids liked it; whenever I used it, on a skeeter bite or tender shoulders, they did say it felt much better. More to the point (since they feel better when any form of goo is put on their ouchies--never dismiss the placebo effect!), when I used it on my own bites and burns, I did feel fairly immediate relief—not complete, and not permanent, but who expects that, really? It helped significantly. And when I accidentally bonked my hand against a hot oven rack, and smeared the salve on, the relief I felt was at least as notable and lasting as the aloe gel I normally use, and I think probably more. And I still carry it around in my purse, and seem to pull it out for something at least once every few days.
From an herbal perspective, all the company’s products are very impressive, as are their professional ethics—they seem to have just the right assortment of herbs infused in oil and thickened with organic beeswax. In this case, calendula, comfrey, plantain, and marshmallow root—very basic and simple herbs, but all very soothing and healing. There is very little odor in the salve—I personally, when I make salves, favor addition of some essential oils which also give fairly marked odor—just because I like it. But lots of people don't care for the scents. This salve and most of this company’s products are probably as “unprocessed” as one could possibly make. Which I also like a lot. Realistically, would I go out and buy another jar when this one runs out? Honestly…probably not. But I’m someone who has been making my own specialty salves for about 6 years—because I have a fairly good collection of essential oils and know which ones to add for which salves, what soothes, what kills germs, what kills fungus (tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract!), what heals hemorrhoids, and so forth. But if you’re not into that sort of thing, and you’re pregnant or a nursing mom, Motherlove has some really good stuff (including Rhoid Balm). And their prices are very comparable to what you'd get from many places for products that are this natural and labor-intensive to create. They have some nice gift packages too—good shower gifts! Highly recommended.
--Jenn the Greenmom