Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seasons Greetings

The Green Phone Booth is celebrating the 12 days of Christmas! We will resume posting in January.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The bloggers at the Green Phone Booth

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 Green Resolutions for 2012

The Kelly Green Giant looks for greener pastures...

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

DIY Green Wrapping

We are dealing with a virus around here so thought I would share some quick tips today. This video has great green wrapping ideas for all those gifts you still are waiting to wrap.


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

But...I love my silicone bakeware!

...a suburban greenmom realizes it's evening and she forgot to post...

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

Read up! Gift ideas for the locavore or gardener

Going Green Mama shares her favorite books she's acquired in the last year or so:

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

Handmade in a Hurry

From the seasonally harassed bean of Green Bean.

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.

SECOND HANDS

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.


PREFERRED CONSUMPTION

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?!

SUSTAINABLE STOCKINGS

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

Real World Consequences

As I have talked about before, I live in a small rural town in Oklahoma. Being a small rural town we sometimes get stuck in our ways and don't keep up with the rest of the country, and our trash service is one of those things. We still had twice a week trash pick-up and you could use any trash can or just put your bags on the curb, anything and everything would get picked up for just $17.90 a month.

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!


Photo credits: D'Arcy Norman

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back from the Mouse House (Walt Disney World review from a Greenmom)

A suburban greenmom gets back from Disney World...

Wow.

Four full days at Orlando theme parks. Exhausted. Nuts. Nonstop sensory bombardment. Lots of theme park food served in lots of disposable containers. And of course lots of rides you can't get out of without walking through a gift shop on the other end.

Now, anyone who knows me, or the Booth, should know that I'm anything but Disney's typical guest--I'm on the hippie fringe of life in general, so if you wandered here from elsewhere looking for a disney review, just be aware of the source. So:

First of all, I have to say, despite the slight chip I have about anything as super-perky as Disney, I had a fabulous time. No one does wish-fulfillment, childhood fantasy made good, and general production values like Disney World. Except possibly for Universal Studios across town; close call there, because they are very different. Really amazing places. The energy consumption of both is unreal from a green perspective, but the flip side is that the technology is just unbelievable, what they are able to do with all that energy...

That said...we were able to make some adjustments to the "ordinary" expected way of doing things that reduced the whole carbon imprint thing maybe a tiny bit.

For each day in the park we planned to purchase maybe one snack and one meal there. We were able to get to the local grocery store for bread and milk and bananas, we'd brought a box of cereal, fruit, a jar of nut butter and one more of apple butter, and tea bags from home (figuring the fairly small amount of Stuff we would buy to schlep home could then go into the space vacated by the food), and lots of granola-ish bars. We had breakfast in the room each day, took sandwiches and bars to the park with us (you're allowed to do that at Disney, which is nice), and then ate one actual meal in the park. Some of those meals were better than others. We should have also brought a few mugs, bowls, and silverware of our own for the room, not realizing that all the tableware in the food court would be disposable. That part bugged me a lot. (If Panera can do silverware and plates, why can't Disney?)

For those staying at the Value Resorts--just be warned, the food court food there is slightly more dreadful/processy than you'd hope it might be. And just as expensive. Bypass it if you can. The good news is that you can buy bagels, bread slices, milk, juice, and such there too--much cheaper, much better on all fronts. And you have access to toasters and hot water and basic condiments--in individual little packets, of course, but what can you do?--in the food court, and I noticed no Toaster Police making sure the only stuff you put into it had been purchased there, so our bagels and bread got heated up there a lot.

Downtown Disney has some fairly decent restaurants where you can be a little more flexible. And the parks have some decent variety, and each one has at least one fresh fruit stand--expensive compared to grocery store, and not organic, but in a pinch it'll work. There are lots of water fountains. We used Disney's transit system to get around (except for our day at Universal), so at least our footprint that way wasn't so bad.

(Speaking of Universal...Harry Potter World at Universal was amazing, and the park as a whole was superb. Truly incredible. Probably my favorite day of the trip. I don't know anything about their eco-practices beyond what I've found here and here, but their production values were every bit as good as Disney's, and in some ways they were better.)

The one big thing that happened that upset me is something I am contacting Disney about; I will report back on any results I get from the company here. On our second day, I passed around the bagel sandwiches, unwrapped them from the napkins I'd wrapped them in, and paused while everyone else dug in. My husband and son pretty much munched through them in about 7 seconds flat, and my daughter had a few bites and then started whining about how it tasted funny...when I took a bite of mine, I realized they tasted sort of icky, like soap or detergent or something. I smelled the inside of the bag we brought them in (the plastic bag we'd bought the bread in), and it smelled like soap and the fakey-perfumy stuff that's in antibacterial soaps and stuff. I thought my husband had used the bag to transport a bar of soap or bottle of lotion or something, but he insisted he hadn't. It was two days later before I realized that the napkins I'd wrapped the sandwiches in were treated or scented with something. I have no idea why or what that's about, and I've written to the company about it, because that's just wrong--treating paper intended for use with food with antibacterial stuff? Nuts. (Although it also occurs to me that it's possible that we got something from a carton of napkins that maybe was sitting next to a spilled vat of soap or something, it soaked in and then dried, and no one knew about it? Could that be what happened?) So we shall see about that.

All in all: I feel like I'm sort of betraying my Green Self saying this, and I know many folks have told me about some questionable Disney employee practices and social/political attitudes (and I want to research Epcot's claims for amazing sustainable agriculture, which sounded a little greenwashy to me--lots of talk about "developing" plants with specific characteristics but never actually saying "genetic modification," stuff like that), but I loved the trip, I really did. I would even...go again. There, I said it. :-)

And when I think about it, crazy-expensive and resource-heavy as it all was, if these 5 days began to teach my children that the truly valuable things in their lives will be their memories and experiences, the time spent doing once-in-a-lifetime things with the people they love, andnot about Buying Stuff and Having Stuff, then this week was worth it.
--Jenn the Greenmom
(p.s. I take the review a little further on my own blog, if anyone's interested...)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Enough

In which Going Green Mama raises the white flag...

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

St. Nick's Dilemma

In which Truffula writes these words to you by the light of her new LED Geobulb...

St. Nikolaus found his way to our home again on December 6.  The children in our church congregation were so well-behaved in the past year that he stopped by there, too.

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

Vegetarian Holiday Recipes

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

Pie Crust:
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

Filling:
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

Topping:
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.
5. Spread dijon mustard over base of pie crust with a spatula. Spoon mushroom filling in and level it out.
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.

Casserole:
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

Topping:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
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

The Tale of the Magic Trash Cans

These Magic Trash Cans live all over the world but rarely are reported as using their powers outside of Oklahoma and parts of the surrounding states. They are pretty common creatures but it's hard to find one using it's powers because they are a very secretive species. 

Some people have learned of the Magic Trash Cans' powers and enjoy the benefits they give to them. They are able to put their trash in these Magic Trash Cans and with very little effort on their part the trash will soon disappear. Or that's what some people believe. 

Are these Magic Trash Cans real? If so, how do they work? Well they are very much real and are found all over, you have seen many in your life time but you likely know them as pick-up trucks. It is also true that if you put your trash in the back of a pick-up truck and drive down the highway your trash will likely disappear but it's not magic or even really gone. It's wind and the trash is now all over the highway and sides of the roads. So now that the truth is out there we must spread this message and put a stop to this harmful practice.

And yes people really do this around here. No I don't believe they really think the trash is disappearing, they just don't care where it is going as long as it's gone.

Photo credits: fryske

Monday, December 5, 2011

Off to Mouseland

A suburban greenmom packs the luggage for the Ultimate Cliche Family Trip...

This is going to be an interesting week. Hopefully also amazingly fun.

We are going to Disney. Our first time as a family, and very possibly our only time--even going at a less expensive time of the year, using frequent flier miles, and being as frugal as possible, this isn't something we will ever be able to afford on a regular basis. And honestly, I'm not sure we really should, even if we could.

I have mixed feelings, to tell the truth--on the one hand, my kids are 6 and 9 and the place is the epitome of magic and fantasy and childish excessive wish-fulfillment. I remember going when I was a kid, and even though the Disney World of 35 years ago wasn't a tenth of what it is today, I still remember it as this amazing fantastic experience. They will never forget it.

On the other hand--conspicuous consumption always sort of ticks me off. All those lights. All that buying. All that garbage generated, no matter how well and thoroughly it is cleaned up. (And this website doesn't exactly make me go "Woohoo! Disney ROCKS the green!) All those fireworks. Every. Damn. Day. (And don't even get me started on the sanitized It's A Small World view of the rest of the world Epcot presents in its different countries pavilions...) And the sensory overload that is All Things Disney--I start to max out after a while.

But...we're going. And while there, I'm going to try to be a kid again, enjoy it, sink into the magic with my kids. And also, hopefully, eat real food, not generate much garbage, and not spend like crazy on meals.

The biggest part of our strategy is around food, and the basics are as follows: We have stocked up on healthy snack-y and breakfast kinds of things to take with us, figuring we'll go with food packages and come home with that much space in our luggage to bring back other stuff. This is the only time I will stoop to instant oatmeal, since that can be made with hot water from a hotel coffeepot. We'll bring some organic fruit as well, apples and oranges, that are portable and easy to eat, and a jar each of almond butter and apple butter. A box of cereal. Dried fruit. Emergen-C packets. Once there, we have a friend who can shuttle us over to the grocery store for stuff like bread and milk, so we can have some basic provisions for the fridge in our hotel room. (If one has a rental car, this is easier, but we're staying on Disney property.) Our plan is to do breakfast in the room, probably take snack food and lunches with us to the parks (which Disney allows, something I heartily applaud), and purchase one "real" meal per day. Not only will this save us a boatload of cash, but our digestive systems would scream at the shock of eating nothing but fast or restaurant food for most of a week; I wonder how many people who get totally wiped out and exhausted from a few days at places like this consider that some of that exhaustion might be around eating the wrong foods as much as the overstimulation?

We'll bring our own water bottles, and use them for most of our beverages throughout the day. I hate giving my kids soda to drink--crazy-expensive artificially flavored carbonated HFCS water, who needs it? We cave every so often, but--consider that for a family of four, buying sodas with a meal ups the bill by $8 or more. No way.

That's about all I can think of to do to try to normalize things for us a bit while still taking advantage of this very cool and rare opportunity for our family...anyone else been on a trip of this kind who has any other ideas?

(And please...don't jab and turn the knife in the comments by saying things to the effect of "I wouldn't ever pay money to support this company because of _____ and just wouldn't go"--my soul is twisted enough on this as it is, and the tickets are all paid for, so please don't make me feel worse...)
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reflecting on the month of "NO"vember

Today the Booth welcomes guest poster Kenna Lee, who reflects on a month of just saying "NO."

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

Wintergreen Icing

From Emerald Apron's Kitchen




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!








Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Homesteading Just a Hobby?

From the home-preserved bean of Green Bean.

It has been a busy fall.  A race against winter to get the garlic in, lay down the sheet mulch and plant the last of the cover crop.

Not everyone I know, though, feels so under-the-gun these last few months.  You mean you can host a play date?  You went to a yoga class or to work while the kids were are school?  You didn't need to run home to paint the chicken coop roof before the rain came?

Those of us who homestead - a sizable step beyond gardening to growing food, keeping some livestock and/or preserving the harvest for the winter - take our tasks quite seriously.  All spring, summer and autumn long, I keep a list on the desk and tic off the jobs as I go.  Put Coddling Moth Worm Traps on Apple Trees Before Bud Break.  Check.  Plant Pollinator Garden by March 15.  Check, check, check.  All the way to Process Green Tomatoes.  Check.  And figure out if it is too late to put in the potatoes.  Check.  

For nine months of the year, I'm trying to out-strip mother nature's clock.  As much as I enjoy doing all of this, I am motivated by something more than simple joy.  Planting, harvesting, and processing is an effort to feed my family food fit, well, for my family.  Food that is locally grown without a significant carbon foot print.  Food free from chemicals, preservatives and stuff that I can neither pronounce nor spell.  Inexpensive organic food.  Of course, the truth is, I could manage most of those things without homesteading.

Certainly, some people homestead because they have to financially. My family is lucky enough to be able to afford to buy food and to have access to a year round farmers market.  Sure, that would still leave the processing but last year, my CSA offered preserves from a local company as well as pastured eggs.  I could do that again and go on a walk with a friend instead of clean out the chicken coop.  

Perhaps, then, homesteading is just a hobby.  Many folks I know consider what I do as a hobby.  It is lumped in with scrapbooking, marathons and knitting.  Oh, wait!  The last is also a homesteader's skill.

But you get my drift.

Of course the doomer in me - yes, she does exist - thinks it wouldn't be a bad thing to know how to produce my own food if and when harder times come.  In the face of economic collapse or as the climate changes.  As food prices climb ever higher and as food becomes less and less food.

Maybe homesteading is not just a hobby after all.  Honestly, I don't know.  I only know that I can't stop doing it.

** I'm linking to the Homestead Barn Hop for this post.

** Please join our Facebook page to stay in the loop around the clock. 

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin