Saturday, December 24, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
As the year draws to a close, I am thinking about the ways my family could possibly grow even greener in the year to come. We are pondering a few big changes to make, such as going to a cash-only budget and making a year-long pact to not purchase anything new (except food, medicine, and toiletries).
If you are feeling adventurous, for 2012, consider making 12 eco-resolutions. Each month, try on a different way of lowering your environmental impact. If it works, great! Keep it up and make it part of your family’s daily life beyond that month. If that particular resolution is a flop, never fear. There is always a new resolution to try on next month!
Here are a few eco-resolutions for your consideration. Some have already been a part of my family’s habits for years. Others we would like to try out this year.
1. Buy only used
My husband and I are thinking about making a pact to only buy used this year. We will make exceptions for food, medicine, and toiletries (and possibly for an occasional textbook that I can’t find used). But if we need clothing, household items, toys, and the like, we will look for them at yard sales, thrift stores, and consignment sales, or we will make do, or we will do without.
2. Plan a weekly menu around farmer’s market finds
Instead of thinking about looking for food at the farmer’s market that fits your menu plan, consider going to the farmer’s market, stocking up on local, seasonal produce, and then making a menu plan for the week to put that produce to its best use.
3. Stick to a strict cash budget
Spending less money is often better for the environment, since it means you are spending less money on things you don’t need. It is much easier to overspend on unnecessary purchases while using credit cards. We’re thinking of finally taking the plunge into a cash-only budget this year, after making excuses for a long time. Along the same vein, we are also considering implementing a day or two as spend-nothing or drive-nowhere days (unless, of course, there is an emergency need to do so).
4. Barter more
Instead of spending your hard-earned cash for things like yardwork or home repairs or house cleaning, if you have any marketable skills yourself, consider a trade. You fix your neighbor’s computer, and they install new weather stripping around your front door! I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment, and I don’t know my neighbors all that well, but I would love to make this happen more someday!
What are your eco-resolutions for the coming year?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I also share some ideas on my personal blog, Greener Holiday Gift Wrapping. Hope everyone is staying well and have a very happy holiday season!
Monday, December 19, 2011
Just this evening I came across this on Grist: (thanks to Crunchy Chicken for posting it!)
Ask Umbra: Is Silicone Bakeware Safe?
Check it out, of course, but the bottom line is, "well, maybe not so much."
This breaks my heart, although it's one of those questions I have carefully ignored in my own baking life. Because until I got my silicone bakeware, I never once successfully got a bundt out of its pan, I had split muffins all the time, and my birthday cakes were exercises in reconstruction. I didn't want to know.
But now I do...
Honestly, I will probably continue to use them. Much of the concern around this bakeware seems to revolve around high heat and/or high fat baking, and generally I'm just kind of cooking muffins at 350. So it's not a big whoop. And I have them--they are mine, I get that carbon footprint stuff whether I use them or not, so it's not like replacing them will negate that from my slate.
Anyone else use silicone? What do you think of it?
And anyone have any wisdom to offer about how to get bundt cakes out of the pan without leaving half of the thing in there, for when I do try using other pans?
--Jenn the Greenmom
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Looking for a gift for your local food lover or gardener? Look no further than your bookstore. There are several great ideas for your friends and family who love to enjoy homegrown or home-cooked local foods.
Cookbooks I'd recommend are Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork and Daniel Orr's FARMFood. Both put a priority on locally grown produce, evident in the variety of ingredients used. These aren't your boring iceberg and romaine lettuce salads here - think watermelon, feta and arugula, or a corn, tomato and lobster combination.
Gardeners will drool over the new book, Heirloom Life Gardener, by Baker's Creek's owners, Jere and Emile Garrett. You know them by the tome they produce each winter, filled with oversized photos with a rainbow of produce. My bright husband pre-ordered this gift, so it arrived just days before my birthday. He's definitely on my nice list. This doesn't disappoint.
A bit more academic in tone but great reads, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman are great ways for gardeners who want to complete the cycle of life to better use their gardens throughout the year and save seeds from year to year.
Happy reading!Wishing you a Merry Christmas season,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama
Thursday, December 15, 2011
There are only 10 more days until Christmas. My wallet is hurting. My bank account feeling faint. And my green conscience? Not so great after all the Legos we've purchased. I've still got stockings to fill, a White Elephant to outfit, teachers and babysitters and Toys for Tots and so on and so forth. I resolve, however, to finish my Christmas gifts in accordance with my beliefs - and my bank balance.
As a young adult, I shuddered at the idea of re-gifting. But economic and ecological times have changed. In fact, this tongue-in-cheek infographic indicates that carbon footprint of gifts far outweighs those of wrapping paper, travel, food combined. So how to regift without being tacky?
The adults in my family do a White Elephant exchange in lieu of gifts for everyone or even picking names. Acceptable gifts must either be something you already own or costing under $15. We usually get a good laugh and all end up fighting over the six pack of beer while ducking the dreaded "gold cat" - which makes the rounds year after year.
Giving my kids closets and cubbies the once over often yields toys ready to re-gift. This year, I uncovered a brand new board game, still in the original shrink wrap, that we'll donate to Toys for Tots. My sister is giving my son a gift that would have cost $200 new but, as it has been used and outgrown by her kids, it will cost her nothing and make my son quite happy.
And I never, of course, overlook thrift stores. Ours always has a plethora of great books, games, toys, and decorative items. Often, new or nearly new items can be found there for a song.
HANDMADE IN A HURRY
Every crafty one of us has half-finished projects lurking around our house. The half knitted poncho. The almost complete rag rug. The partially sewn blanket. After wading through my projects this year, I discovered a nearly done knitted owl. As luck would have it, my niece is very into owls this year. A few stitches, a little stuffing and some safety eyes and she's getting handmade for the holidays!
My knitting is moving along quite nicely this year which means I might even end up with a few spare evenings for knitting. I'd love to give handmade to everyone in my family but I don't have the time for a full-blown plush owl for everyone. I could, however, whip together a few small creations. Last year, I knit an acorn keychain up for my mom in an afternoon. The year prior, I churned out baby-knit trees in an hour or two. There are dozens of ideas for quick projects out there for every crafter.
The holidays are a time of over-indulgence. But the type of consumption I'm promoting doesn't fill a shopping cart at WalMart - though it will fill your belly! I've got a few "handmade" tricks in my kitchen this late in the game. A jar of homemade jam or granola, home canned tomatoes or dried persimmons will not impact my wallet or my carbon footprint. And yes, I could also whip up some hot cocoa mix, cookies or peppermint bark - most from the contents of my over-stuffed pantry. Have you got some home-brew? Homemade beef jerky? Canned peppers? Or homemade cookies? These items low impact in one way but high impact in another. Seriously, who but someone you really like would get a jar of the canned tomatoes that you slaved over all September long?!
I did say that I still needed to stuff stockings, didn't I? In addition to including the obligatory orange (which my kids always faux grimace over) and a handful of fair trade candy, I'm also stuffing the stockings with necessities: a fun toothbrush (a break from our usual Preserve), some character bandaids (which will inevitably be needed in a house full of boys), and a flash light.
How do you stick close to your values and your money this late in the season?
** This is a Meaningful Memories Post. If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us atgreenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
This laissez-faire attitude has consequences and we are now feeling them. Our landfill is almost full, how many years are left depends on who you ask, I've heard anywhere from 5-12 years. Building a new landfill isn't easy. There is a lot of cost involved and finding somewhere that you can build it is difficult.
The city has known for a long time that this was an issue. A few years ago the city said that we would be switching to a poly cart system and once a week pick up. People weren't happy about this change and due to several kind of bazaar things it never happened. One source told me that the reason some wanted this change to happen was to slowly ease the citizens into what was an inevitable change that would have to happen due to the landfill issues.
After a fair amount of time past I found out at a recycling coalition meeting that the city was once again seeking bids to use a private trash company to prevent us needing to buy a new landfill or find another landfill we could use. The recycling coalition decided this was the perfect time to talk to the city about curbside recycling. Surely the consequences of our vast amounts of waste were very clear right now and real solutions were needed.
Coalition members talked with city council members and asked to at least get curbside recycling included in the bids. I would say we were hopeful but not terribly optimistic. We had been shot down in the past when we brought up curbside recycling and were unsure of how much support we had.
We learned shortly before a city council meeting in August that the new trash service was on the agenda and the council was set to approve a bid. Several recycling members went to the meeting to speak to the importance of increased recycling, which can be achieved through curbside recycling. We gave stats and personal stories and then held our breath as they voted, and cheered the moment it passed with not a single council member voting no. It was a wonderful moment, our hard work was paying off. However, this victory didn't come without problems.
The new service started December 1st with little warning. I received a text one day in November with a friend saying they received a poly cart and recycling bin. This was a surprise because the day before this I was a recycling meeting with the mayor and no one knew when the trash service would be starting. Also nothing had been in the newspaper or on the city website telling people the trash was changing. Only the people that had heard through word-of-mouth, Facebook, my site Green Oklahoma or had been at the council meeting knew about it.
This confused people, a lot. Inside the bins there were instructions and it told everyone what day of the week their trash would be picked up but it didn't have a date so people assumed it started right away. This caused a lot of people to not get their trash picked up and a lot of recycling went in the trash since curbside recycling hadn't started either.
Now people are complaining about anything and everything with the new trash service. The poly carts are 95 gallon but people are still saying they are to small and I have seen trash sitting on top of the poly carts and next to them. Many people don't want to have to pay for a second poly cart for their extra waste. Two citizens even went as far as to get put on the city agenda to speak about how mad they are with the changes. And some people are getting very rude and hateful with city workers.
While there are a lot of bugs that need worked out and the city and the trash company did a poor job informing people of the change, this is the consequence of our wasteful attitudes. The city was left with few choices when it learned that the landfill was getting full. We could have, and still can, extended the life by increasing recycling rates and encouraging people to waste less. This is a real life lesson that when you throw something away, it's not really going away and it will catchup to us.
I'm currently working on gathering information about trash services to compare them. If you have time please fill out this short survey to help me get the information I'm seeking. Thanks!
Monday, December 12, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
We are approaching the hallowed week of "birthday Christmas" in our house, that magical seven days where we celebrate the birthdays of my son and Christ. For a soon-to-be four year old, it's a blissful time, a sleepless time, a can't-hardly-stand-to-wait time.
But for parents, who are suddenly shopping for the two biggest days of the year for a child, it's a challenge. Instead of spacing out gifts that account for growing bodies and evolving tastes, I'm challenged to find things that might hold his attention for 360 more days.
It's helped that early on I established the "three gifts rule" - three gifts from the parents for birthdays and Christmas, and that I often include clothes or books in the mix. But then there's Santa. And sibling presents. And brainstorming ideas for the family who seem him only once or twice a year.
Because my little guy's birthday comes at Christmastime, I worry at times that he'll feel shorted - that somehow his day was lost in the shuffle of the season. So we stretch his birthday as much as we can, celebrating with treats at daycare and a special dinner (read: hot dogs) on his big day, and doing a family or friends celebration in January.
But, despite our planning, early shopping and limits on purchases, still the small mommy voice inside questions question whether I did enough. Will he care that mom and dad got him a lot of clothes since he just shot up a size overnight? That he's not getting many toys this year? That his "big boy" booster seat and Cars2 movie that he was getting for his birthday was pulled out during a stomach bug? That Santa's stash for him and his sister differ in the stocking? Do I add a toy? Repackage something that was for Christmas for his birthday instead? Let it be? Have I become one of those parents who worries about making sure we have equality in gift-giving, even though I know in my heart that my children are unique?
The truth is, I doubt I will hear many "no fair's" come Christmas day, or his birthday for that matter. My little guy is thrilled to open something, to enjoy his red velvet cupcakes (I've trained him well) and enjoy the magic of the moment with the people who love him most.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Our family visit was easy: our tradition is that we put out empty plates before we go to bed. Overnight, St. Nikolaus leaves his usual, delicious, they-will-never-be-quite-the-same (because he, ahem, doesn't use a formal recipe for this) bread men. He was thoughtful to bring a grain-free equivalent for our younger TruffulaBoy.
In our congregation, the conventions are little different: in addition to getting a bread man (Weckmann) after Mass, each child also gets a red apple from St. Nikolaus. And, that is where the dilemma began...
I had volunteered to help St. Nikolaus with his apple procurement. In the past, I'd bought apples from a farm down the road from us. This time, I had the opportunity to do one better, to get apples which were local AND organic. I typically buy second quality apples for my own family, but splurged on firsts for this purpose. The price was comparable to the sale price of grocery store varieties. The bags arrived, and I put them into the garage for safe-keeping until they were needed. The garage filled with apple aroma, and I inhaled happily whenever I went out there. Until...
Two days before the Big Event, I retrieved the apples and prepared to count out the number St. Nicholas had specified. Now, it was the kitchen which smelled fantastic as I worked. For quality control :-), I indulged in a sample... Mmm... Their taste and texture matched their wonderful smell.
Less wonderful was the apples' appearance. Each one's peel was speckled with varying amounts of black spots. I wiped the apples carefully to remove as much schmutz as I could. My heart sank further with each apple because most of the spots would not budge. They were on the peel's surface, and could easily be excised with some judicious knife work The fact remained: these were not the cover girls of the apple world.
Ay! What to do?! Should I race out to the grocery store to buy more attractive replacements? Should I make an announcement to the congregation to explain that dear St. Nikolaus was bringing ugly apples with him but to please overlook this shortcoming because they were local and organic? That would possibly ruin the magic of the visit.... Would an announcement be a teachable moment in which I could also mention that apples were at the top of the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables, and that the EWG recommendation was to always go organic on those? But, would anyone really give two hoots about that? Or, was more less, and should I say nothing and keep the apples I'd already gotten?
In the end, I stuck with the organic option. The apples weren't high-gloss, uniform Red Delicious, but were cleaned up, scrumptious Fujis. I skipped making an announcement, and presented the apples as attractively as possible, layered carefully in wicker baskets.
Did anyone turn up their nose at St. Nikolaus' gifts? In the wake of my anxiety over the apples, I am left to wonder that myself. After the Mass and visit, I immediately went into a rehearsal for the Christmas play. By the time that was done, the church was cleared out. I collected the empty baskets, hoped for the best, and headed out into the day.
And that's the news from Truffula-land, where the slice-of-life is not always clear-cut, goin' green invokes ticklish decisions, and the apples are pretty darned delicious.
|Apples awaiting distribution by St. Nikolaus|
Thursday, December 8, 2011
It is much easier on the planet to eat lower on the food chain by eating less meat. Large animals such as cows and pigs actually contribute to global warming through both carbon dioxide and methane emissions. If you want a more environmentally conscious holiday, you may wish to create your celebratory meals with less meat. Here are a few of my favorite holiday recipes to get you started.
Cream of Pumpkin Curry Soup
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1 teaspoon curry powder
3 cups water
3 vegetarian bouillon cubes
2 15-ounce cans pumpkin
1 cup half and half
Melt butter over medium heat and add onion and garlic in soup pot. Cook 3-5 minutes or until tender. Stir in spices. Cook for 1 minute. Add water and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat, cook for 15-20 minutes. Add pumpkin and half and half. Cook 5 minutes. Serve as is for chunky soup or blend in food processor/blender for smooth soup.
Vegetarian Christmas Pie
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup white flour
3/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons paprika
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter
1 finely chopped onion
1-2 crushed garlic cloves
5 cups chopped mushrooms
2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs (I use mix of Italian seasonings)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cub fresh white bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons wheat flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 ounce grated parmesan cheese
3 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1 egg, separated
1. For the crust, knead crust ingredients together until it makes a soft dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.
2. For the filling, melt butter in pot. Cook onions until tender. Add mushrooms and garlic, cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Pour off liquid. Stir in herbs, parsley, bread crumbs, and seasoning. Let cool.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a baking sheet in the oven. Press pie crust into 9-inch pie pan, making a narrow rim around top edge. Chill 20 minutes.
4. For topping, melt butter in a pan. Stir in flour. Cook 2 minutes. Add milk. Bring to a boil, then simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, mustard powder, and egg yolk. Beat until smooth. Whisk egg white until it holds soft peaks. Then fold egg white into topping.
6. Pour topping over filling. Bake 35-45 minutes in the oven on top of the preheated baking sheet. Pie is ready when top is golden.
(Modified from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking)
Orange Vegetable Casserole
This is supposed to be made entirely with sweet potatoes. But I was cleaning out the refrigerator. So I used a combination of sweet potato, butternut squash, and carrot, and it was AWESOME. Sadly, we're trying to track down a possible dairy allergy this year, so there will be no cheese involved in my holiday meal.
4 jumbo sweet potatoes, peeled, chunked, and boiled
(or substitute in other orange veggies)
1 large egg
3 cups grated cheddar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
tiny pinch ground cloves
2/3 cup melted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
Mix casserole ingredients together, put in a casserole dish. Mix the topping ingredients together and spread evenly over the casserole. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
(Modified from The Grit Cookbook)
What are your favorite meat-free holiday dishes?
For more green holiday ideas, visit the Kelly Green Giant's Green Holidays Guide.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Don’t ask me how I was so lucky as to be the one to receive this divine revelation, but there I was, racing down the road of my overly-scheduled, hectic life, when I suddenly saw this mental billboard: November starts with N.O.
Like most great discoveries (electricity comes to mind), it’s been there all along. No. Nooooo-vember. A whole month of “no,” just waiting for someone to come along and grab it. And guess what? That same month comes around every year. Just when you need it most.
This year we needed it more than ever, as this is the year that I finally embraced my inner environmental activist and started running around getting arrested at the White House and hanging up big signs at community events, doing teach-ins, and generally spending too much time posting updates on the Keystone XL pipeline for all my Facebook friends. Not to mention my usual school garden volunteering, which included the rash promise to post recipes every week on a school garden blog. Oh, and also not to mention my full-time job as a night nurse. And did I say I’m a single mom?
Each week this fall, I would lie down on my chiropractor’s table, finally exhale, and say the same thing: “I never stop.”
So in late October, I declared that November would be a whole month of N.O. Long exhale. A whole month of freedom. No activist events, no craft fairs, no social events that we don’t all absolutely positively want to go to. No going to the farmer’s market where I always spend too much money, no going out to eat. No throwing parties. No calling the White House or my senator, no keeping petitions to sign in my inbox, no responding in any way to mass emails. And no guilt.
I’ve been busy, and I’m taking a month off, and all these no’s mean I have some big yeses for my kids. Not very visible ones, but we all feel them: yes, I can help you with those moccasins you started back in August, yes, we can make chow-chow and can it, yes, we can sit on the couch and read, yes, we can build a door for the hole you cut in the wall. Yes, we can stay in our pajamas all day. No looking through catalogs for good deals or gift ideas—straight to recycling, along with every single one of the direct-mail pleas for end-of-year donations. I usually keep those, stack and sort them according to priority, and try to send what money I can. But if I think about it, I know which charities I want to donate to, and I know how to donate online, and I don’t need the clutter or the attendant guilt that I haven’t sent the donation in yet.
The most radical “no” has been this: no grocery shopping. This was not part of my original plan, but honestly, all the running around in the past few months had my bank account in scary territory.
How to recover in time to buy an organic turkey for the holidays: stop shopping! We get a veggie box from our CSA farm each week, and honestly, often I end up letting a few items get old and rot. The CSA box comes with milk, half & half, and butter, and I can pick up a loaf of bread at the farm when I pick up my box. Funny thing I noticed: when I’m not supplementing with other groceries, nothing gets old and rots. Hmmmm. During all the other months, when any given foodstuff runs out, I replace it. This means that behind the front layer of dry and canned goods in my pantry there is a collection of dusty, seldom-seen items. These got taken out and dusted off right after Halloween this year, thanks to a food drive at the kids’ school. Unnoticed by me, most of our canned goods had collected small rust spots, past-due expiration dates, or some sticky coating resulting from a leaking, improperly preserved jar of marinated figs. Which obviously rendered them unfit for donation to the food drive. And once I’d noticed, I couldn’t really put them back into the pantry. Stacking a bunch of aging cans of kidney beans, hearts of palm, and coconut milk on my counter turned out to be a powerful motivator to get out of my cooking rut, get creative, and get rid of the cans. So for a month, we have survived on fresh vegetables and random canned food. Surprisingly, the kids have enjoyed the more creative meals, even if there have been occasional complaints about the dearth of quesadilla ingredients in the fridge. Plus, as a total surprising bonus, none of us got botulism (whew!).
As for the “no activities,” it’s not that we didn’t do anything all month, it’s just that any offers that came along had to be compelling enough to override the automatic “no.” So, although we skipped many, many cool and interesting local events this month, I did go to see my friend’s lamps at a pre-holiday craft fair, and even bought one. But I didn’t have to go. The lamp is funky and captivating, hanging in a previously too-dark corner of my living room, its light shining out through multiple layered images of an apple with one bite taken out of it. For the artist, the apples refer to our local apple producers and the “eat local” imperative (which is also emblazoned across the lamp), but to me, it’s more a symbol of how often we succumb to the temptation to take one more, and one more, and one more bite, until we have more than we can chew. Furthermore, the lamp has a switch, as a reminder that anytime I want, I can turn it all off.
Now that NO-vember is almost over, I am looking forward to adopting the same practice every year. Without any further effort than the implementation of “no,” we are all rested, our house has less dust bunnies than it has since my youngest was born, we have multiple craft projects racing toward completion, my pantry is clean and spare in readiness for the holidays.
And to me, the space created by saying “no” echos with a resounding “yes.” Yes to NO-vember. Now that seems like a tradition worth keeping.
Friday, December 2, 2011
I have fond memories of wintergreen iced cupcakes in my great-grandmother's kitchen. They were very pale pink, since wintergreen berries are pink, and had the perfect hint of wintergreen flavor. It's a recipe that she didn't leave behind in her volumes of hand-written journals, and so over the years I have tried to duplicate it. I think about my great-grandmother, and other loved ones who I have lost, around the holidays. I always miss them, but I reminisce the most this time of year. Isn't it wonderful that a flavor or a scent can be so strongly tied to a memory?
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3-6 Tbsp milk (this will depend on humidity... so start with 3 and work your way up!)
1 tsp wintergreen extract
1 drop red food coloring
Stir all the ingredients together and use the icing to top your favorite white cupcakes (from a box or from scratch). This is also a tasty way to top gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, a gingerbread house... or on anything else you want to ice. Including your fingertip!