Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hybrid Heartache

In which Green Bean gives the minivan the boot.

I've been in love with hybrids since they hit the market back in the late 1990's.  Too expensive, I decided in 1998.  And I already owned a car.  But wow! Look at that gas mileage.

In 2000, I thought about it again but who was I fooling!  I was having a kid.

In 2004, I lamented the lack of larger, family friendly fuel efficient vehicles and bought a minivan instead.

Seven years later, after over a decade of longing, I thought again about kicking my gas-guzzler to the curb.  I found myself doing a lot of driving for personal reasons.  My carpool had shrunk as a result and, on most days, I only had a total for 4 kids - including one teen who could sit in a front seat.  

We took the plunge and traded our minivan in for a hybrid.  Not a fancy new plug-in.  Not the all electric Leaf.  Just a run of the mill, used Prius.

I felt good.  Virtuous, even.  No wasted resources as I toddled around town on errands or schlepped the kids to lessons and tutors.  My gas tank stayed full.  I figured out how to run on electric mode as much as possible.  We took a road trip to a national park and felt proud - though cramped.

So much so that I begged my husband to unwind the transaction.  Carpool was tight making boosters a "luxury" which my kids (technically over the legal booster limit) suddenly "didn't need".  Everything is louder and less comfortable when the kids are RIGHT behind you, instead of lounging in the third seat.  Garage sales and antique hauls were going to be impossible.  Visits from my family or if both kids have a play date will necessitate trips with multiple vehicles.  And gone were the days when I'd offer to pick up extra kids when I drove the carpool home from school.

But, do I miss my minivan?  Not so much.  Good riddance to the cavernous feeling, the giant bus-like turns, and accidentally bumping into things with that tail end all the time.  Oops!  I can fit into snug spaces, parallel park anywhere and never feel like I am "too much."  And then there's that gas mileage thing.  51 miles per gallon ain't too shabby!

Going from minivan to mini is an adjustment but I don't think I'd ever go back.  Turns out most of the inconveniences to owning a small car don't come up that often.  Certainly not enough to justify the carbon footprint and fuel in-economy of a minivan or SUV.

So much for heartache.  

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: The Rhythm of Family by Amanda Blake Soule

Eco-novice reviews Soule Mama’s latest book.

One more book you may want to add to your fall reading list: The Rhythm of Family by Amanda Blake Soule. 

The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder throughthe Seasons is a book of essays, photographs, crafts and activities inspired by the seasons, full of insights into how to help the entire family discover and connect with the natural world.  Fans of Soule’s blog SouleMama will undoubtedly enjoy the book as it draws upon the same elements as her blog:  logs of daily activities and reflections by both Soule and her husband, beautiful photographs, as well as crafts and tutorials.  The chapters are titled after and based upon the months of the year, beginning with January. I think it would be fun to read a chapter each month (beginning with whatever your current month is at the moment), especially if you live in the northeast United States or other area whose seasons mirrors those of Soule’s home in coastal Maine.

My favorite parts of the book are the Make & Do sections, although there are wonderful ideas for exploration and discovery embedded in the essays as well.  I love Soule’s philosophy that “there is always a way for everyone to be included,” from the youngest to the oldest in your family.  The Make & Do sections include a wonderful variety of activities: recipes for bread, soup, lotion, and bug spray; sewing projects; crafts involving stamps, dyes, homemade paper and notebooks; ideas for bringing the natural world into your home; instructions for growing herbs and plants; as well as ideas for outings and adventures in nature.  As a product of suburbia (largely ignorant about the natural world) who is not particularly crafty (can't knit, barely sew), I think I can imagine myself attempting to do half to two-thirds of the crafts and activities described in the book.

Another favorite element of the book is Soule’s lists of books on birds, tracking, cooking and more interspersed throughout the book.  I am a sucker for a good book list.

I have read all three of Soule’s books, and I think The Creative Family is still my favorite.  As I read The Creative Family I took pages of notes on activities and routines I would love to incorporate into our own family life.  But The Rhythm of Family has probably most motivated me to find additional ways to connect my kids with nature.   Much like Soule’s blog, this book makes me envious of how much less disconnected Soule’s family is from the natural world than the average urban or suburban family.  I think that her children are truly lucky to be growing up with these experiences and wish that same kind of connectedness with the natural world to whatever degree possible for my own children.  So while the book is full of wonderful ideas, it is also simply a source of inspiration.  

Soon after I started reading The Rhythm of Family, I decided to use a gift card on books about the local nature of my area and guides to identifying trees and birds for children, and I started talking to my kids on our walks about the parts of the tree and the shapes of the leaves.  While we have always stopped to look at bees and flowers, I find myself wanting to take this discovery and learning a step further, and am trying to be a little less grossed out by my kids’ fascination with snails, dead insects, and rotten fruit fallen from trees.  I find myself planning to go on a nature treasure hunt every month or season, perhaps creating a collage of our discoveries.  Reading the book has helped me remember to slow down, look around, learn the names of birds and wildflowers, resist the busyness of our daily lives. 

I may eventually pass along my own copy (once I’ve jotted down a few notes), but for now I’m still enjoying leafing through the pages, dreaming of ways to explore the seasons with my own children.  Pick up a copy at your local library or bookstore – I think you’ll enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What’s for Dinner? (Looking for advice on really seriously short-cutty meal planning)

a suburban greenmom needs no-brainer dinner ideas…

I’ve been moaning and complaining a lot lately about my new schedule—the one where the whole family now leaves the house at 6:30-7:00 and returns at 5:45 or so, five days a week. Now that the reality is setting in, I’m finding that on-the-fly dinner preparations just aren’t going to cut it this fall. (Or winter. Or spring.) (Don't believe the complaints, I'm actually crazy-happy. Just exhausted and not quite acclimated yet.)

So I’m returning to what I was trying to do last year when my schedule was much less hectic—only more and better. I need meal plans.

And advice.

First of all, I know myself well enough to know that the kind of plan that will work best for us will not be one where I figure out entrĂ©e and sides for the next five days, make out a shopping list, and go buy that stuff. That’s an awesome approach, but it just won’t work for our family, too many weird little side unexpected things come in and one day what’s supposed to happen doesn’t, and then I have these ingredients left that I don’t know what to do with and the rhythm is thrown off. (To be clear: I genuinely believe the above is probably the best way to pull this off, I just know myself well enough that it wouldn’t happen. So check out This Week for Dinner's blog for some great tips in that vein…and I know there are at least two more blogs I follow who also do this, but I can't remember who you are, so if you're a reader of this blog who blogs about meal planning, shout out in the comments!)

Another added variable I’d like to throw in, if I can make it work, is to cook things for dinner with high odds of being things I and hubby can bring for lunches during the next few days. And more than a single one-week schedule, since last year the 7 day rotation got really boring after a while (though it was nice to know on certain days of the week that no one would complain about what we were eating at least, because they knew the pattern).

So here’s what I’m working with so far:

Week One

  • Sunday (time to cook): Big Pot Of Something (soup or stew, to send for lunches and/or freeze) in slow cooker; bread
  • Monday (mom doesn’t come home; Dad cooks): chicken tenders, carrot sticks, and bread; parents probably fend for selves later
  • Tuesday: rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods (sale day)
  • Wednesday (dad leaves early for choir practice) pizzas on naan bread or pita
  • Thursday: Chicken Tacos (leftover chicken)
  • Friday: something leftover from freezer, thawed and heated in slow cooker all day, or pasta if I forget (foccacia if time)
  • Saturday: Something Planned Ahead And Nice, since mom has time to cook

Week Two

  • Sunday (time to cook): Big Pot Of Something (soup or stew, to send for lunches and/or freeze) in slow cooker; bread
  • Monday (mom doesn’t come home; Dad cooks): chicken tenders, carrot sticks, and bread; parents probably fend for selves later
  • Tuesday: Pasta (with real homemade sauce if I’m conscious; jarred if not)
  • Wednesday (dad leaves early for choir practice) pizzas on naan bread or pita
  • Thursday: something leftover from freezer, thawed and heated in slow cooker all day (foccacia if time)
  • Friday: Throwaway day; most likely to order pizza or make hot dogs or whatever. (They like that sometimes, and it’s easy.)
  • Saturday: Something Planned Ahead And Nice, since mom has time to cook

Seems like this might be a workable rotation for us. What the magazines and helpful hints everywhere don’t tell you is that while even though you may have a gajillion recipes whereby you can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, or 30, what they don’t factor in is the incredible brain fryage many of us experience once we finally make it home. That sense of “oh my god I just can’t vibrate those couple of remaining functioning brain cells into life to process anything mentally at all.” So what I need—especially for early in the week when my schedule is most rough—is something I can make that requires not only very little time but very little thought.

I know this is a topic that comes up fairly regularly, but I don’t think that’s a problem—we’re all learning as we go, and new folks might have new ideas we haven’t heard yet. So…any ardent (or not so ardent) meal planners out there? Anyone have any thoughts to share? How do you make it work?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Moment of Remembrance for Wangari Maathai

The environmental movement is mourning the loss of Wangari Maathai today. She has passed away from ovarian cancer. She leaves behind an amazing legacy. The Green Belt Movement she helped found has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees. Her knowledge, love and courage will be missed by all that knew her and all that know of her. Please take a moment today to learn about the work of Maathai and if you are able consider making a donation to the Green Belt Movement in her honor.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Photo courtesy of Booth regular, Jess Nichols of Sweet Eventide.

Last Year:

FLOR Modular Carpet Tiles: Jess from Sweet Eventide shares information about an eco-friendly company with an attractive product.

Avoiding the Halloween Headache of Consumerism: Going Green Mama has tips for an eco-friendly day o'Trick-or-Treating!

Not Just Green: In accepting a One Lovely Blog Award, Green Bean links to some of the Boothers' favorite green blogs.

Meaningful Memories Mondays: The Conscious Shopper invites guest bloggers to share ideas for making the holidays less hectic and more, well, meaningful. Check out all the Meaningful Memory posts!

5-Minute Fix: DIY Salad Spinner: Envirambo shares a nifty, frugal kitchen tip (and a fun animated picture!).

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Learn to Cook: Erin challenges you to dive right in when you get in the kitchen. Learning to cook is one big step to greening your groceries.

Foodies of the Future: Green Bean is teaching a kids' cooking class!

Two Years Ago:

Recycled Sweaters: Wool Felt Projects: Jenn the Green Mom joins the Booth with instructions on felting old sweaters and remaking them into quilts, mittens, hats and Christmas stockings.

Raising Chickens in the Suburbs: JAM shares tips with Green Bean, who is getting chickens — and they share the advice with the rest of us!

A Day on the Farm: Greenhabilitator muses about the change in perspective, when gardening and sewing become a lifestyle we choose rather than chores we dread.

Handmade for the Holidays: The Conscious Shopper shares links for handmade gift patterns, with an eye on the calendar creeping toward December 25th.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Michael Pollan: EnviRambo shares some thoughts after hearing Michael Pollan speak.

Arugula for One, Arugula for All: Green Bean embraces the Real Food Movement (and she has some great ideas on doing it rather inexpensively!)

Green Collar Economy: The Conscious Shopper reviews Green Collar Economy. "Hands down, this was my favorite non-fiction book of all the books I've read in the past year (and I read a lot)," she says.

I've created a monster

Going Green Mama appreciates her mother's attempts at greenness.

With kids, you expect them to see an idea and twist them into their own interpretation. With parents sometimes, I'm finding, you should expect the same.

A few years back, I mentioned on my blog the idea of saving Happy Meal and other toys for trick-or-treat swag. As my daughter grew and we were invited to more events, I found myself stuck with random "toys" that were cluttering up my house. One by one, over the next year, I snuck them away for a Halloween stash. It was an absolute hit - particularly with the teens in our neighborhood, who I suspect cleaned us out.

My mother got wind of this idea, and thought it was great. She had realized that the child-size meals at fast food restaraunts were ideal for portion control and better on her budget when eating out with her friends, so she began stockpiling the toys. The next trip north, she presented me with the Happy Meal toys. I allowed my kids to play with one, and spirited the rest away.

And then another friend heard the news. Not being blessed with children, she opted too to share her lunchtime "treats" with us. Now, each month, I'm struggling with the influx of plastic bags crammed with movie-themed toys that my kids are dying to get into. (Nevermind that I do suspect that there are children in her neighborhood, too.)

Long story short, I now have not one but two cardboard boxes in my garage crammed with Halloween toys. The good news? I won't feel guilty about giving kids candy this season. But I think, in the course of eschewing clutter, I have created a monster or two.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gardening: When Commonsense Fails

SustainaMom looks back at three years of gardening, and sighs as she realizes the first year was her best...

Two years ago, I wrote "Lessons from My First Garden" as a guest poster here. That "garden" (really just tomatoes, herbs, beans and carrots) was a lot of fun, and it led to a wonderful second garden in 2010. Last year, I tilled up a 12-foot-squarish section of yard for some squash and melons and put together a true square foot garden to experiment with a raised bed.

This was my 4 x 4-foot raised garden last year:

The corn was a bust, but I only planted it because SustainaKid was desperate to try it. But between this garden and the larger garden just to the left of this, I enjoyed many squash, crowder peas, and quite a few sweet potatoes. It was wonderful to run out to the garden for veggies to go with dinner. And everything tasted soooo good!

The square-foot garden was a little expensive to get started, but it was so easy to keep. There were no weeds, it retained water well, and the squash here produced more than the squash planted in the ground three feet to the left.

So this year, I set up three more raised beds. I stuck some seeds in the beds, and I had beautiful squash plants, a lovely watermelon plant that sprawled everywhere because I never got around to setting up the trellis. And I promptly got busy with work and family situations. (This was the unending summer of family situations. I never even got around to planting the sweet potatoes I sprouted in my kitchen. Yes, I had vines all over the counter for two months before I realized it was too late to plant them.)

All summer, I thought it would rain soon. I put off watering until tomorrow. Again and again.

This summer, I enjoyed exactly two handfuls of grape tomatoes, one large fried green tomato, two zucchini, one yellow squash, one helping of crowder peas, enough purple potatoes for one pot roast meal for the family, and a handful of green beans. (Something kept eating my beans.) I harvested enough lima beans to plant a few seeds next year, but never got enough at one time to eat any.

In short, I am really disappointed. Mostly in myself. Because the square-foot garden was so easy last year, I really took it for granted this year and did not make watering a priority.

But, you know what? The hard part was setting up the raised beds. (And that wasn't really hard once I freed up an afternoon to do it.) Now that the beds are there, they don't require much time or effort when it comes to replanting.

I have proof. Let me show you what I accomplished in less than 2 hours yesterday evening.

Exhibit A: I started pulling up the melon vines just before I thought to take a picture, but this is what one raised bed looked like after being left unattended most of the summer:

Exhibit B: Less than an hour later, I had pulled up all the old plants, and planted crowder peas, sugar snap peas, carrots and lettuce in the three beds added earlier this year:

There were very few weeds in these beds and I literally haven't pulled a single weed all summer.

Exhibit C: However, remember I said I never got around to planting the sweet potatoes this summer? This is what a square foot garden looks like when it is neglected for a full year:

Exhibit D: Less than an hour later, and it is home to 144 dwarf sugar snap pea seeds (which SustainaKid loves — thanks to all of you who suggested I give them to him!):

I could not believe how easily I was able to pull up all that grass.

Last year I needed a tiller to plant my garden. This year? This is all I needed:

So, what did I learn this third year of gardening?
  • Water, water, water, water.
  • Purple potatoes are ready to eat when the above-ground plant starts dying off. (Last year, I learned that sweet potatoes will start to push up on the dirt when they are ready.)
  • Write planting dates on the calendar at the beginning of the year. It sneaks up on you and when you plant late, the larvae that eat green beans sprouts are hungry just as your beans are coming up. And goodness gracious, I totally missed the cool weather for spring peas and carrots!
  • Think more about the foods I really want before I start planting. Watermelon is a waste of space in my garden. In 2 years, I haven't gotten a single edible watermelon. I'd rather buy watermelon and save the space in my garden for the prolific squash and the squash varieties that I can't find at the store.
  • Water some more!

What do I still need to learn?
  • How to build a trellis for the vines
  • How to hand-pollinate squash
  • How to set up a drip irrigation system!
  • How to make row covers to protect my plants from frost. I realized after I planted yesterday that I am a couple of weeks late. Of course :) I'm going to work on my 2012 planting calendar right away!
  • I also need to learn the identity of this:

I was surprised to find it when I started pulling up vines! I left it planted to see if it grows any larger. Any guesses? I think it might be my Amish melon.

What have you learned from your garden this year?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whole Grains in a Hurry

Eco-novice shares fast and healthy dinner options.

I try to serve my family mostly whole grains, but the fact is that they usually take longer to prepare than their refined cousins.  Brown rice, for example.  I really like brown rice, but it can take nearly an hour to prepare, and sometimes I just don't have that kind of forward-thinking plan-ahead mentality about dinner.  Just preparing a main dish requires most of my available brain power, and any side dishes are usually an afterthought. So here are some of our favorite kid-friendly whole grains that can be prepared in less than 20 minutes!

Whole wheat couscous
Boil water, add couscous, take off heat and let cook with the lid on 5 minutes.  Now you just have to wait for it to cool!  Available at Trader Joe's and other stores. Warning: messy to clean up if your 2-year-old tosses her bowl.  Delicious with sweet and savory dishes.

Technically, not even a grain, and loaded with protein and other good things.  Until a few years ago, no one (except my father-in-law who grew up in Ecuador) even knew what quinoa was.  I first tried it after seeing it at Trader Joe's, but now usually buy it from the bulk section at Whole Foods or in 10 pound bags at Costco. Boil water with quinoa, then simmer for 10-15 minutes.  The red variety has a stronger, nuttier taste. Delicious with sweet and savory dishes, with a satisfying slightly nutty chew to it.  I love it in stews too.

Whole wheat pasta
The cooking time here varies, but almost any type will be ready in less than 15 minutes of cooking time.  For absolute speed, you cannot beat Whole Food's organic whole wheat elbows.  They take just 5 minutes to cook -- perfect for ravenous children at lunch time.  You can also find brown rice pasta -- a nice whole grain gluten-free option (I think Trader Joe's has the cheapest prices for this).

What is your favorite whole grain to serve for dinner?

Photo credit: jules:stonesoup

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall Reading List

With the weather getting cooler it's a great time to make a cup of hot tea or coffee and curl up with a book. Here are some suggestions for great green books to read this fall.

"Slow Death By Rubber Duck" by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

"Healthy Child Healthy World" By Christopher Gavigan

"Practically Green" by Micaela Preston

"The Story of Stuff" By Annie Leonard

A book I can't wait to read is "The Non-Toxic Avenger: One woman's mission to reduce her toxic body burden." by Deanna Duke. It's by the one and only Crunchy Chicken. So be on the look out for that book.

What green books are on your reading list for this fall?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rethinking Shades of Green (embracing public transit)

A suburban greenmom takes the train

Over on my own blog I've been talking a good bit about my new adventures in public transit.

I've been a suburbanite pretty much all my life. With the exception of four years in college in Washington, D.C., and two more in grad school in Small Town Indiana, I've spent my entire life basically living in areas with too many roads and too little public transit opportunity. Almost everything is by car; it takes a huge commitment to reduce driving at all in this environment, and one feels proud for just biking to the farmstand and riding home with a couple of canteloupes and some green peppers in one's backpack.

But last week I started my new adventure, a 35-mile-each-way commute to my new school, where I will be a full time graduate student for the next two years. And I am taking the train.

It requires two different trains: my husband drops me off at the local station on his way to work, and it takes me into downtown Chicago. I get off that train and hoof it up one set of tracks, down another, up the stairs, and across the street to the other train station, where I get onto another train that takes me within half a mile of my school. It's actually turning out to be surprisingly easy, and I'm really enjoying it.

But on Friday it struck me, as I was making my way along a long train platform with screeching brakes on one side of me and the smell of burning oil on the other, why I have for so long resisted acknowledging public transit as a "green" option.

It's because there's nothing "green" about it. In a literal sense. It's grey and brown, it's noisy and full of awful industrial smells. Up at the street level, it's all about glass and stone and concrete and construction, completely devoid of anything plant-like for blocks; it's rough and inelegant and

Last April I did a post about the whole question of "do cities rule and suburbs drool?"--one of the many ideas for greener living floating around the blogosphere. It generated a lot of comments on both sides of the issue. And I still, as I did then, don't think I would ever be happy living in a place where I don't have plenty of green space for a little gardening and play, a little space to breathe. But, that said...

After just under a week doing the public transit thing, on came the weekend. And suddenly I was driving again. Freaking everywhere. Made me nuts. Made me hate the car. Made me want to curse at all the other drivers. Made me long--yes, it's true, long--for Monday morning when I can hop back on the train and go where I need to go in peace and calm. I'll still need to plug my ears as I walk along the platform and hold my breath when the particular UP-N train with clearly nonexistent brake pads cruises up to the platform, but I want it anyway.

Green. I've always thought of it as a color, and I had always considered environmental awareness as something that would bring about more of it, or on some level figured that if anything was truly good for the earth it would have some sense of looking or It somehow never occurred to me that the good choice for the earth would smell like train exhaust or look like a neatly tiled and sterile train station with no place to sit, or a dank and noisy platform.

So...I'm not sure what my point is here. Just sort of musing. I wish there were a way (and from what I hear, in some cities there is) to have the energy efficiency without the ugly. Because it's definitely efficient. And I'm glad to be able to do it, to get my car off the road and not buy that much gas.

It's a learning experience for me. Showing me a whole different side of "green" I'd never seen before. It's not always sweet and verdant, it's a little gritty and grungy, but--it's the best we can do sometimes.
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Killer cantelope and arsenic in apple juice: What's a mom to do?

Going Green Mama ponders the price we're paying for conveniences...

Yesterday morning I turned on the news for the first time in a week. Two of the top stories? "Killer cantelope" (the anchor's words, not mine) and a study about arsenic in apple juice. And that's after reading about a ground turkey recall just days before.

I worry enough about the food I feed my kids. Is my prep time and budget giving them enough produce? Are they eating a healthy array of foods? And yet, now if I buy store-bought foods, once again I'm reminded that I need to rethink about food safety.

The reality is, there's much we can do to prevent food-borne illnesses at our home, such as properly washing your food, cooking utensils and supplies, and your hands; and separating raw produce and meat.

British Columbia Healthlink also offers these tips:

  • Before eating fresh fruits and vegetables, always wash them in a dilute dish soap solution and then rinse in clean running water. Washing helps remove germs, as well as traces of certain pesticides on the surface. The most important steps in minimizing the risk of contaminants are proper washing, good agitation and a thorough rinse.

  • To be safer, you can rinse produce with a sanitizer after washing and rinsing with water. You can use a commercially prepared vegetable/fruit sanitizer or a dilute bleach solution. The solution can be made by adding one teaspoon (5 ml) of household bleach to one quart (1 litre) of water.

  • When washing fruits and vegetables, cut away any damaged or bruised areas since harmful germs can grow there. Throw away any rotten fruits and vegetables.

  • Always wash fruits and vegetables that have a rind before peeling or preparing them, such as pineapples, cantaloupe, oranges, melons and squash. Although the skin and outer surfaces protect them, germs can grow if the surface gets broken, pierced or cut, especially in melons and tomatoes.

  • Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables that have firm, rough surfaces such as potatoes, using a clean scrub brush for produce.

  • Always discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables grown in or near the ground, such as lettuce and cabbage. The outer leaves are more likely to be contaminated with germs.
But the reality is, there are some things we just can't do. Like, many times, do the "sight test" and tell whether there's deadly bacteria. Or check a label or make purchases simply based on past results. As the FDA said, "Testing a small number of samples of different brands of juice only provides a snapshot in time of how much arsenic was in a particular lot of juice. "

This is one of those situations where, when you can, it's best to get to know your growers. I'm starting to believe more and more that the somewhat higher price you might pay when supporting your local farmers on meat or milk may be worth the price of keeping your loved ones safe from the foods that are supposed to keep you healthy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Playing Politics with Our Children

A call to action from the Moms Clean Air Force

Imagine this scene: Some maniacs have tied your children to a train track--then hopped on the train, released the brakes, and sent a mighty engine roaring down the track. Right for your children.

That’s what’s going on in Washington DC right now.

The train is, literally, the TRAIN Act of 2011, and next week, the House will vote on a bill (HR 1705) that was designed to cripple Clean Air Act regulations and intimidate the Environmental Protection Agency. The TRAIN Act requires a committee of cabinet secretaries to re-analyze the costs of public health protections. That’s right: RE-analyze. For a third time. Because when a bill is introduced, its costs are analyzed during the comment period, and again by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The TRAIN Act is a delaying tactic created to protect polluters’ right to pollute.

It is busy work for politicians whose stated goal is to block any and all environmental protections--no matter what the cost to our children’s health. Mercury, lead, arsenic, acid gases--these are the poisons spewing from coal plants that EPA, in any administration, is required by law, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate. These are regulations that save hundreds of thousands of lives, and cut health care costs by trillions of dollars.

On top of it all, polluters and politicians want you to believe that regulations kill jobs and cripple the economy. This is absolutely untrue--and many years of a vibrant economy with hundreds of thousands of new jobs in new technologies are proof that we can have clean air, and a healthy economy.

We do not have to choose between jobs and clean air. We can have both.

Tell your representatives to do their jobs. Not create busy work--and blow smoke. Their job is to protect people.

Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It is poisonous. As a mom, I’m furious--and you should be too. Politicians can play politics with each other all they want. But they cannot play politics with my children.

Parents have a chance to make a difference, this week and next. Mothers’ voices will make a difference. Let Washington know that you are paying attention. Let Washington know that you want pollution to be controlled. Let Washington know that clean air saves lives.

Write to your representatives and let them know that they must stop that TRAIN speeding towards our children. Tell them to stop playing politics with our children.

Please join Moms Clean Air Force and tell your local representative to vote NO against the TRAIN Act.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pin Up Girl

From the bean of Green Bean.

A couple months ago, I discovered Pinterest, a site that allows you to maintain digital bulletin boards of ideas you've come across on the Internet.  The site has a social media aspect in that others can follow your boards and you can follow other user's boards - making sharing of great ideas that much easier.

What does Pinterest have to do with a green blog?  Sure, there seem to be a huge number of folks using it to plan weddings and remodel their homes but there are also oodles and smoodles of money saving, environmentally happy ideas.

For instance, did you know that if you rub a walnut on a scratched or worn area of wood floor or wood furniture, it instantly looks good as new?  Picked that idea up from Pinterest this morning and it totally works!

Looking to organize or swap green cleaning recipes, this is the place.

Have you ever seen a floor tiled with pennies?  Scrabble tiles?  Wine barrel slats or wine crates?  A backplash made of bottle caps?

If you've ever been interested in repurposing or upcycling, you'll love this magical place where everything old is something else new.

Old skateboards are shelves and swings.

Broken chairs hold bath towels and a doll house becomes a shelf in a laundry room.

Bottles are not recycled but reused to hold bracelets, edge a garden, a chicken waterer, or light the night.

And mason jars are EVERYTHING!

If you have not checked out Pinterest, toodle on over.   Here's a link to my Upcycled, Repurposed, and Reused board.  You do need an invitation to join so ask a friend or leave your email address here and I'll send you one.

Become a pin up girl, do it yourself and never ever throw anything away again!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lessons Learned by a First-time Canner

Eco-novice gives canning a try.

A few weeks ago, I picked up 20 pounds of organic tomatoes from the farmer's market and headed over to my friend's house for my premiere foray into the world of canning.  (Note: I did make freezer jam earlier this year for the first time, but that was so much less intimidating that I'm putting it in a different category.)

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Can with a friend who knows how to can. This is the most important one. Canning is best learned hands-on.  It is not rocket science, but for me it was definitely a rather foreign experience. Though you can probably learn to can from a book if you are a determined/ confident type, I never would have had the guts to go through with it on my own.  Plus, an experienced canner probably already has all the requisite equipment, and you'll just need to show up with the food and some jars.  Prepping the food and waiting for the food to process is also way more fun with a friend.
  • Plan ahead.  While my friend is an experienced canner, she had never actually canned just tomatoes before.  So we found ourselves looking through her books and online once we were ready to can.  And that was when we discovered that we needed lemon juice.  Now we possibly could have worked around this, but, being a newbie, I was a little too anxious to do anything other than err on the side of caution. So I had to run to the store for the lemon juice.  The whole experience would have been smoother and quicker with a little planning and research ahead of time.
  • Canning is part art, part science.  I thought there would be more consensus on how to can things.  There seems to be a lot of disagreement regarding tomatoes in particular, since they are right on the border of acidic/ not acidic enough.  But actually it makes sense that you can find a fair amount of variation in canning advice. Canning is a traditional practice that was handed down from generation to generation long before books about canning were published. Plenty of folks are willing to disregard the mainstream advice if it's the way they've always done it and they've never had a problem.
  • It will take longer than you think.  Especially if it's your first time canning tomatoes.
  • Do not can with small children around.  My friend and I were fortunate to be able to can without our kids around. And I'm really glad about that.  Especially since we used the pressure canner.

Since tomatoes are still in season for a few more months around here, I won't be trying my canned tomatoes anytime soon.  So the jury is still out on my first canning experiment. After we've made it through all the jars without incident, perhaps I'll feel a bit more confident about canning.  For now, I'm just proud of myself for trying something new, and moving just a little step farther away from the supermarket.

If you are a canner, how did you learn to can?  What was your first canning experience like?

Photo credit:  benketaro

Monday, September 12, 2011

Zucchini Bread Recipe

A suburban greenmom tames the giant mutant zuke...

Okay, it's an insane day/week...I start school tomorrow, including my first-ever crazy-long public transit commute, and I have a book manuscript due this afternoon, and my house is a shambles...

So I'm afraid once again I'm copping out a bit and repurposing an old post. But I feel okay about it, because it's one I'd sort of forgotten about. And then for our neighborhood block party I suddenly realized I could make a big zucchini spice bundt cake and get one of those giant overgrown bludgers off my counter.

This is the recipe I developed a couple of years ago the last time my zuke patch exploded, and I love it because it uses up 4 whole cups of grated zucchini. And if you use the sort of big tough ones, you don't have to go through any draining and blanching and salting process, it's perfect as it is, uses very little oil, and can take mostly whole wheat flour.

I felt a little sheepish when I brought it over and set it down on the table amidst all the cupcakes and neon-colored cookies, figuring I'd be taking half of it home, but by the end of the day it was completely eaten up, and garnered great praise.



  • 2 cups sugar (I used light brown, but white would work)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil, or 1/2 cup applesauce or pumpkin puree and 1/4 cup oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 cups shredded zucchini (yes, that’s 4 cups!)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice (I’m sure substitutions would work here)
  • 3 cups flour (I used 2 of whole wheat, 1 of white; your choice)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (could reduce if desired)
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins or nuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350*.

In large bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

Beat until well blended.

Add zucchini and orange juice; stir well.

Combine flour with next 5 ingredients; Add to zucchini mixture; stir well. (Do not overmix)

Add nuts; stir gently to combine.

Pour into pans. You have options here:

  • 2 greased and floured 9in loaf pans, or
  • one loaf pan and one 9×9 baking pan; these were of course a bit thinner, and they baked a bit faster, or
  • 1 bundt pan, or
  • 24-ish muffins worth of muffin tins

Bake for about 60 minutes; till it springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean. (The bundt took 65; the muffins 35. Keep an eye on it.)

Let cool in pans 10-20 minutes.

Remove from pans and let cool completely.


Best of all, my kids know it's zucchini bread/cake/muffins, and they love it anyway. Seriously, I'm very proud of this one--I've made two batches in the last 3 days, and they're getting munched up like there's no tomorrow. Fortunately, since there is a tomorrow, I have another gallon bag of grated zucchini in the fridge...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A time of need

Going Green Mama reflects on history this week.

All week, I have struggled with what to write on this blog. Somehow, in the shadow of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, green issues or the small details of my life simply pale in comparison.

The reality is our lives irreveribly changed a decade ago. Some were personally touched by tragedy. Others felt the impact of lost jobs or conveniences. And all of us have realized a change in our society, the reality of multiple wars, heightened security and underlying worry of varying degrees.

But there is something that also changed with 9/11. I was struck by one story I read that showed how Americans banded together in the time of need - and never before had charitable giving been that momentous. We showed it time and again with Katrina, with the tsunami, with Joplin, Mo.

At the heart of our people is spirit of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and pulling together to solve a problem.. And I believe, as tough as it is when we are suffering as individuals with job losses or other crisises, that we still have that spirit deep within.

I've heard others talk of turning 9/11 into a day of volunteerism, a day of prayer, a day of forgiveness. All are beautiful ideas. What better way to remember the sactifices of those who were lost with small sacrifices of our own.

Wishing you peace,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama

Friday, September 9, 2011

In which Truffula goes about her errands...

Over the Labor Day weekend, I realized that my Saturday was uncharacteristically free.  Whee!  A blank calendar square! My elation lasted for about 5.7 seconds... and then I promptly filled the square with two perfectly normal, suburban commitments: I shuttled myself off to pickup... bales of straw and aged manure.

I'm continuing to put the pieces into place for my Great Adventure into Permaculture.  It's actually becoming a great adventure in community-building as well.

Perhaps ironically, my quest for straw to use as an ingredient in building up our soil quality led me to the very farm that's fighting for the continued use of the soil it's been tending for 30 years.  I had a lovely visit with the farmer, who even helped me load up.  Driving there, and then back home with my fully-laden car, felt like a bit of a pilgrimmage.  I took my precious bales home, enjoyed a spot of lunch while Mr. Truffula helpfully unloaded, and then headed off to my next destination.

The easier approach for my compost procurement would have been to call up a local retailer, and to arrange for a truck to deliver several cubic yards.  But, we have a farm animal rescue not too far away, and the hoofed residents generate large quantities of, em, compost ingredients.  The need for manure takers is great, and conveniently, I have a great need for manure.  Yes, I could have ordered up that truck, but then I wouldn't have had the opportunity to introduce my neighbors and a friend to the rescue farm.  And, the four of us, plus the elder TruffulaBoy, wouldn't have met up at the farm to wield shovels for each other.  The TruffulaBoy wouldn't have visited with his favorite goat.  And, I wouldn't have gone over to the neighbors' property to see what nice projects and plants are shaping up in their yard.  Mr. Truffula, who kindly helped me shuttle (heavy!) buckets of compost from the neighbors' vehicle to our yard, wouldn't have had the chance to chat with said neighbors.

Forget about how many grocery sacks you can squeeze into a Honda Fit; the important fact to note is that you can get exactly five 42-inch bales of straw in there.  Other useful facts to tuck away in case they come in handy are that while you could double-stack containers of compost, resist temptation -- you'll hit your loading weight limit long before you run out of room.  Finally, when your neighbor offers you fresh figs, accept -- they're a treat for the tongue.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Down the Feingold Hole

I'm chasing a white rabbit researching foods in the hopes it solves my son's behavior issues.

It isn't anything major. He just seems destined for an ADHD diagnosis but something about that seems a little off. I've wondered if he's on the autism spectrum despite the fact that his pediatrician assures me he's too verbal and affectionate for me to be looking for an autism diagnosis. When it is just me and the kiddo, everything seems normal — because he is my normal, even when he's repeating the same phrase over and over or I'm once again looking up the signs of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. When I see him around his K-4 peers, I realize it just seems harder for him to do what is expected of him. On some days. Other days, he's status quo. He's bright. It is just the concentration and ability to cooperate are missing sometimes. We were considering testing for who knows what, but I decided to look a little more closely at the Feingold diet before we go down that road.

I looked into the diet a little in January when Jenn the Greenmom wrote "Food to Dye For." At the time, I dismissed the idea. We buy mostly organic and I've been aware of behavior problems caused by food dyes for some time, so we eliminated them long ago. I couldn't conceive of eliminating salicylates when the child loves apples and he's so picky that I can't get him to eat many fruits and vegetables.

But when the kid had a meltdown the second day of preschool — and coincidentally the day after we ate a restaurant with seemingly healthy choices — I had to consider the diet. (If this is the ticket to my son's issues, I'll be forever grateful to Jenn for the post and Marcia's note about the Feingold Association in the comments.)

In the meantime, I'm fascinated by the examples of children helped by the diet in the packet I received in the mail and in the book Why Can't My Child Behave? And there are examples of artwork or handwriting by children on and off the diet. There are days by just-turned-5-years-old son colors beautifully in the lines and other days where he scribbles madly. Could it really be that preservatives or apple juice addle his brain?

His behavior is dramatically affected by red dye. He definitely can't have have candies, tattoos, anything with red dye. But apples and grapes? This is really tough for me to swallow. And a six-week elimination diet to see if it makes a difference seems daunting.

Have any of you tried the Feingold program? What was your experience?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to cross-referencing my grocery list...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Little Etsy Love

Eco-novice shares some Etsy favorites.

This post was partly inspired by Greenmom's Everything I Need To Know I Learned from Laura Ingalls.  

I love Etsy.  Probably a little too much.  I probably spend too much time and too much money there.  Maybe I buy some things I don't completely need, and that's not exactly green.  But, in general, I am very thankful to Etsy for making possible many of my green changes.  Here are a few stores I've purchased from recently.

Celeste Blake Designs
I first reviewed her products as part of an Etsy reusable bag round-up and review.  I recently purchased more bags from this shop in the gallon-size (see photo above).  I am so grateful to have an awesome replacement for gallon-size disposable ziploc bags. I love the snack and sandwich sizes too. Since I'm a very beginning sewer, I could not make these bags (cotton exterior with nylon interior, zipper closure and all hidden seams) if I wanted to.  My mom, who can sew, was happy to shell out the money to buy a few of these bags. I will say this about Etsy: lusting over so many of the products for sale there is partly what inspired me to learn to sew (with two small children and very slow progress).  Maybe in 20 years I'll be able to DIY some of the stuff I find there.

When my first child started solids, I searched in vain for a non-infant bib made of all-natural materials.  When my second child became the messiest eater ever, and regularly tore off her Velcro-closure bib before staining her shirt, it finally dawned on me to consult Etsy.  I found this store which makes 100% cotton bibs with long sleeves, pocket to catch crumbs, cotton terry behind the bodice for extra absorbency, and an adjustable tie closure.  Just the genius kind of bib I might have designed myself.  I reviewed the long-sleeve bib in June and have since special ordered a short-sleeve bib and several sleeveless bibs.  I love putting these plastic-free bibs on my kiddos.

The Mulled Mind
Now here is a product I will never  have the equipment or skill to make on my own: stainless steel straws.  You can find mass-produced stainless steel straws, but you can't find them in an assortment of lengths and diameters.  Like so many Etsy shops, The Mulled Mind offers multiple options and takes custom orders.  I first reviewed her products a few months ago and recently bought a few more in the regular and fatter smoothie diameter.  No more plastic straws at my house!

Dress Green
So I know some of you are years into the no 'poo business.  I am moving in that direction in baby steps.  After examining my plastic consumption several months ago, I decided I wanted to switch from liquid shampoo bottled in plastic to shampoo bars.  I chose to purchase from Dress Green because I liked the simple ingredients used and the store had lots and lots of positive reviews.  Now, over a month later, my husband and I are both very happy with our sweet orange shampoo bar.  I honestly thought the transition would be a bit bumpier.  I've noticed minimal differences between using my Avalon Organics bottled shampoo and this shampoo bar.  I have noticed that I can wash my hair a bit less often (every 1.5 to 2 weeks instead of once a week).  Currently I'm experimenting with no conditioner, but I may also look into purchasing some type of conditioner bar from an Etsy store or other small business.

Do you use Etsy?  Has it facilitated any green changes for you?

Disclosure: I run an ad for Celeste Blake Designs on my blog Eco-novice in exchange for store credit. I don't receive any cut of sales.  I have no affiliation with any of the other Etsy stores mentioned in this post.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Urgent Needs in Texas

For those that don't know, I live in Oklahoma. Currently Oklahoma and Texas are in an extreme drought and have been for around a year now. The drought has brought on wildfires that have claimed lives, homes, and thousands upon thousands of acres.

Fire in Allen, Oklahoma
Photo Property of Pontotoc County Emergency Management

While Oklahoma does still have fires burning, including a large one that has burned more than 30,000 acres in the Wichita Mountains, the fires here are thankfully in not largely populated areas and most are contained. Texas on the other hand is in desperate need of help. There is a massive fire that is estimated to have taken around 1,000 homes already. It's in Bastrop County, which is south east of Austin.

As of less than an hour ago, Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management (BCOEM) reported that 0% of the fire is contained. They have closed school in the area for the rest of the week and much of the area is being evacuated. A call has been put out for volunteer firefighters that can and are willing to go help. And they are also in need of help getting animals evacuated. We found during the Oklahoma fires many people didn't have time or a good way to get their animals out. Often firefighters are forced to just cut fences and let animals loose so they can get to safety.

This fire is a reminder of what our changing climate can do. With increased droughts will come an increase of fires like these. There is no end in site for the Oklahoma and Texas drought and sadly this is not likely the last major wildfire the two states will face.

Video of the Bastrop County Fire.

If you would like to donate to help the people in Bastrop County here are some ways you can do so.
You can send checks or money orders to
Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance
PO Box 856
Bastrop, TX 78602

For more information you can reach them at 512-332-8661

You can also donate to the American Red Cross of Central Texas. They are providing shelter, food and other services.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Suddenly Faced with Toxic Waste

A suburban greenmom comes face to face with nasty toxic chemicals

I don't use scary chemical cleaners. They just aren't in my house. There's no bottle of Clorox under the sink, no ammonia, no pesticides or commercial drain cleaners.

It wasn't until yesterday that it occurred to me it might be a good idea, however, to know what those chemicals are, what they can do, how to safely dispose of them, and what might happen if one doesn't do it safely. Because they might not be in my home, but that doesn't mean I can necessarily avoid them forever.

My husband's parents passed away last year within about six months of each other, both in the latter part of their eighties. They had this big old two-flat house in the city, which is now ours to clear out and prepare for a hopefully quick sale. (They have neighbors who have been interested in it for years, so I am hoping that part might go smoothly.) The problem is that they were depression-era packrats who never threw anything away. Ever. If there was any faint possibility that it might someday be useful, they kept it. Did you ever wonder who actually ate the dozens of packets of saltine crackers in the basket at the restaurant? My mother-in-law brought them home. Those charities who send you, unrequested, piles of "free" greeting cards in the hope that it will guilt you into donating money to them? We could have opened a card shop with all the cards we found. The house was packed, full basement to full attic, with stuff that we are trying to clear out. A painful amount of garbage is bagged and taken out to the alley every single time we go there to work (and this weekend we are there every day, happy Labor Day, sigh), and I'm waiting for the day when the Goodwill Donation Center will see us coming, lock the doors, shut off the lights, and pretend they aren't home because they are so sick of us.

So yesterday I'm busy cleaning and packing away the crystal in boxes, going back and forth between the kitchen and dining room. My husband finds a half-empty bottle of liquid ammonia and decides to dump it down the sink before throwing the bottle away, so he turns on the water, dumps the toxic stuff down the sink, and leaves the room. I walked into the kitchen about two seconds later, went straight to the sink, and did that thing I do so often: I inhaled.

Inhaling concentrated ammonia fumes feels like something very sci-fi robo-evil. Even I, a woman who lives for metaphor, have absolutely nothing to offer as to what it feels like. Just...avoid doing it. Bad. Very very very very bad. (My husband and I finally started speaking again about midnight last night.)

But the whole thing got me to thinking...I don't use the stuff, and as a result I really don't know what to do with it, how to dispose of it, or what to do from a first aid standpoint if I do come into contact with it. Smartphones are a good thing, of course, and that's where I looked stuff up, but if my initial instinct to go outdoors for fresh air hadn't been the right one, I wouldn't have known. (Ammonia, as it turns out, is one of those things that doesn't accumulate in the system; go out and breathe new good stuff in and you'll probably be okay. Asthmatics need to watch out a little more, and ammonia mixed with bleach is another story all together and is really bad, but I am fine.)

So I did some reading, and some finding of websites, and (of course) there's a lot out there, some of which will be very helpful to us once we get to the under-sink area of the kitchen with tons more toxic waste.

(The first, of course, it to read the damn bottle to see if it has any suggestions for safe disposal. Are you reading this, honey?)

Planet Green is probably the best place to start--they have tons of good links. That's where I found out about, which enables one to find a local hazmat disposal place to take the icky stuff. That's how I found the Chicago area location and guidelines. There's a pretty good list put out by New Mexico State U with specific guidelines for different Toxic Nasty Ickies. And of course the EPA has a fairly straightforward site I've bookmarked for future use, or at least until Michele Bachman is elected President and makes it go away permanently. If that happens, we'll have plenty more to worry about beyond what to do with the solvents under the sink.

Knowing off the top of one's head that Poison Control is 1-800-222-1222 is also not a bad idea. They seem to be staffed by some fairly intelligent individuals. I've had reason to call them a significant number of times since the first time I caught my now-first-grader biting the top off a glass nail polish bottle and sitting there with glittery lacquer all over her lips. (God, just typing that makes my blood run cold again. Still have no idea how she got to it in the 30 seconds my eyes were off her.)

So now we're heading back out for the day. Another few hours stirring up 30 years of dust and generating garbage, breathing the heaviness of air that hasn't been free to circulate with the outdoors in about that same amount of time, pulling aside vinyl curtains to let some actual sunlight in...because one way or the other, it has to get done.

And tonight, back home, where the tub is cleaned with baking soda and castile soap and the counters with lemon-infused vinegar, we have grass-fed beef hot dogs and free range chicken in the fridge, home grown tomatoes on the counter, local corn and watermelon, and organic whole wheat buns waiting to be dressed with the relish I canned and some lettuce picked from my late-harvest garden. We'll eat, we'll breathe, we'll cleanse. We'll enjoy the holiday and one another's company, assuming my husband and I are speaking at the end of the day this time.

I'll be looking forward to it.

Happy Labor Day, all!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Putting my son out of work

Going Green Mama mulls her son's employment future on this Labor Day weekend.

My 3 year old's dream? It used to be being a bus driver. This week, it's to be a trash man.

But what if we could cut his career prospects? Economy aside, what if each of us was just a bit smarter with what we did?

What if we didn't buy so much? That we planned before we spent? That we bought what we needed?

What if we opted to compost our food waste, our coffee grounds, our leaves instead of bagging and trashing them?

What if we opted to buy higher quality for long lasting things than something just because it's cheap?

What if we didn't buy something just because it's the latest and greatest, only to find it upgraded three months later?

What if we recycled what we could, got used instead of new and took the steps to find the things that weren't quite ready to be recycled had an appropriate home for the future?

What if instead of shipping plastic-wrapped food across the seas that we bought from our local farmer?

I think we could cut my son's career prospects quite a bit.

Or maybe he'd find the recycling guy was a much cooler career. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Busy Week with Hurricane Irene

From Emerald Apron's Disaster Area

We got hit by Hurricane Irene on Sunday, which was very destructive to our area. We were fortunate at our house to never lose power, so we became the soup kitchen and shower area for our friends and family. My in-laws and my husband's business still don't have power back on as I'm writing this... Plus I started school this week in the craziness, but they decided the roads weren't safe for buses (they're not!) and some schools don't have power, to students won't start until after Labor Day, at least!

My family's farm was featured in a news story about crop damage. You can go here to watch it! My uncle, cousin and grandma did a great job!

Sorry I don't have a longer post today, it's been a busy week! Were you hit by Irene? How did you fare?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taming is Shrewd

From the fully processed bean of Green Bean.

All spring and summer, I've been a growing fool.  Growing peas and tomatoes, crookneck squash and sunflowers.  Caring for my fruit trees - apple, Asian pear, plum and fig.  And now, all of my work has come to fruition - literally.

I fill gallon-sized buckets of tomatoes several times a week.  I paid the kids to pick the apples and nearly went bankrupt.  And the crookneck squash have continued their summer onslaught.

But I grew all this stuff for a reason.  And I'll be darned if I'm going to let it go to waste.  Any recipe that looks like it could contain the abundance of my garden is fair game.  Here are my favorite ways to tame my harvest:


My family gobbles up these easy and delicious Apple Bars

An experiment with the slow cooker turned out well when we made this simple, apple-consuming Slow Cooker Apple Cobbler.

Apple Rings dehydrated while covered with cinnamon-sugar are great for snacking and lunchboxes.  A not-too-sweet treat.

Apple Sauce and apple sauce turned into Apple Fruit Leather (in the dehydrator) are stand-bys.  I don't make a lot of these because my family isn't big on the apple sauce thing but it does make a nice dent in the apple bushel.

All Day Apple Butter never fails, cans well and is usually my go to end-of-the-season, stop the apple show recipe.  Besides, these make wonderful holiday gifts come December.


We've all heard the jokes.  Monstrous zucchini left on neighbor's porches.  Locked doors to prevent bags of friend's squash being stuff inside.  But keeping up with the abundance of summer squash is serious and tasty business.  

Summer squash finds its way into every Pasta Dish we make in the summer.  Thickly chopped and sauteed with fresh tomatoes and basil, shredded and mixed with sauce in lasagna, and pulverized in the canned tomato sauce so that kids won't realize it is squash in January.

I mix shredded squash in with vegetarian taco meat on Taco Night and with beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic and oregano for Quesadillas.  Here was the inspiration for the latter.  Squash is just as easily added to Indian Curry recipes as well (see below).

Dehydrating squash slices is a great way to preserve them for soups and stews later - or have your kids eat them out of the jar.

Of course, Zucchini Bread and Zucchini Spice Cake are stand-bys but the waist line can only take so much.

I keep meaning to try Zucchini Fritters or Zucchini Noodles and then there are the wonderful lists of 101 Ways to Use Up Your Zucchini circulating around the Internet.  I swear I'll work my way through all of them sooner or later - if my harvest luck holds.


Salsa is what fresh tomatoes were made for!  I don't have a recipe - just toss some cilantro, peppers, sugar, vinegar, and pepper - oh, and tomatoes in a food processor and give it a whirl.  Adjust to taste.

Pasta Sauce is a dead giveaway.  I like tossing whole cherry tomatoes in with some peppers, garlic and, you guessed it, squash.  Put some basil in at the end.  Alternatively, I cook down 20 lbs of tomatoes, 4 carrots, 2 onions, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 3 teaspoons salt for an hour and then puree and freeze.  And yes, I can hide squash in that recipe as well!

Indian Curry is awesome because it can soak up tomatoes (they say three, I say ten!) and you can sneak in at least a cup or two of shredded summer squash.  I toss the latter in with the tomatoes.

Boother Green Mom in the Burbs swears by roasting them and Boother Going Green Mama shared an awesome fresh tomato soup recipe.

Tomatoes can also be canned, frozen in half on a cookie sheet (apparently skins come right off after you thaw), dehydrated and sun-dried.  Thanks to those of you who shared your ideas for preserving tomatoes on the Green Phone Booth Facebook page!  There is nothing, and I do mean nothing better than enjoying tomatoes on a cold February day.

That is how I've been spending my August and, if luck holds, my September.  How have you tamed your harvest?


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