Monday, April 30, 2012

Modifying recipes for health and handiness

Do we all know how to lighten-and-healthen a recipe, or adapt it to the ingredients we have on hand?
Yes, I know “healthen” isn’t a word. You knew what I meant, right?
I was looking for something to do with a brown banana, a bunch of slightly stale but otherwise fine granola, and various other miscellaneous Things In My Pantry. So I got on the internet and did a search for “banana granola bread.” Lots of potential recipes came up—including this lovely one from the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.
Now, I love Ina Garten. She’s a little lower key than Paula Deen, whom I find exhausting, and she just seems lovely and classy. But her recipes! I see the quantities of butter and sugar in things like this simple muffin recipe and I just go, “Nope. Not a chance. We’re not eating that.” These, to me, are rare special occasion treats, not things I’d happily plop into a lunch bag for my kids several days running.
But. I made this recipe anyway—or something very like it—with a lot more good stuff and a lot less of the problem ingredients. And it was really yummy. Which made me wonder: Does everyone know the tricks for taking a fat-and-sugarful recipe and rendering it something a little more everyday good-for-you, if not as eye-rollingly decadent? So I figured, why not, let’s do a post on it! (And y’all can share your tricks in the comments too…I’m always looking for new ones.)
So, here’s her ingredient list:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
  • 1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
  • 1 cup small-diced walnuts
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

That’s two sticks of butter. And two cups of sugar. Right there is where my problems kick in. I also can’t sell my kids on walnuts, but that’s not a health issue—they are actually very good for you. But…I don’t want them here.
So: first step is that I only have one banana. Which means I have two choices: I can halve the recipe, or I can use applesauce in place of one of the mashed bananas. (Trick one. Pureed or mashed fruits are pretty interchangeable in recipes like this.) Since I’ve never made this before, and since it’s muffins instead of the cake or loaf I prefer, I’m going to halve it.
·         3 cups all purpose flour
This becomes 1 ½, of course, since I’m cutting the recipe, and instead of all-purpose flour I can either substitute up to half of it with whole wheat or substitute 2/3 or even all of it with white whole wheat flour. (Trick two. Never use white flour when it’s possible to substitute wheat; white whole wheat is a great product, a particular kind of wheat that’s paler and lighter while still retaining the whole grain-ness we want.)
·         2 cups sugar
Did you know that you can just omit up to half the sugar in a recipe if you choose? (Trick three.) You can also substitute honey or maple syrup for some or all of it, except that you have to be careful of  few things: first, it’s ¾ cup honey to 1 cup sugar. (Trick four.) Second, for every cup of honey you put in, you need to reduce other moist ingredients by ¼ cup. In this case, had I tried it, the math would have been overwhelming and I would have probably fudged it: ¾ cup or so honey for my half recipe, and a little less milk added to the batter. Or more likely I would have just gone with half a cup of honey, because I didn’t need that much sweetness with the natural sugars of the very ripe banana.  You also need to reduce the oven temp by 10-20 degrees because honey browns quicker than sugar. All that was more work than I needed to do, and I wanted to know how this recipe would taste without quite so many variables, so I just halved the sugar—1/2 cup. (If I’d had some brown sugar, I might have used that instead…)
·         ½ lb butter
Yeah, here we totally draw the line. Half a pound of butter is two sticks, and even for those of us who Do Not Fear The Fat it’s just a lot, you know? Even the divided version would involve a whole stick of butter…so the choices here: I can use neutral oil instead of butter, or I can substitute for some of the fat with either applesauce, mashed banana, or Greek yogurt. (Trick five. Since I already have the banana and also had a little yogurt left, I used a quarter cup of butter—half a stick—and a quarter cup yogurt.)
·         1 cup mashed banana (2 bananas) (halved, this is one banana) (you probably could have figured it out.)
·         1 cup medium dice banana (1 banana)
·         1 cup granola
·         1 cup walnuts
·         1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Here’s where the fudging happened some more: I only had the one banana, so I couldn’t do the medium dice thing. I think this is where the cake’s moistness lost some of its punch, or maybe it was using yogurt instead of fruit. This, or a chopped up apple or something, would have been good to include.
I mentioned there is no walnut love in my house, so I just doubled the amount of granola. Most of the time, when added chunky ingredients go into a recipe, you can just do one-for-one substitution, although you need to be a little careful of moisture content. (Trick five.) And why would I add sweetened shredded coconut when I have perfectly good unsweetened? In it went.
I don’t have the patience to make muffins, so I put this into my handy dandy 9x9 square baking pan, lightly greased, and baked it at 350 as the recipe said. No reason to feel bound by pan size or type, as long as you’re careful—muffins can be cake can be loaf can be bundt whatever. (Trick six.) Vaguely in general, the conversion below mostly works:
1 bundt cake @60 minutes
=2 square 9x9 pans @35-40 minutes
=18-24 muffins depending on size @30-40 minutes also depending on size.

So here also I needed to watch carefully; the muffin recipe says 30-35 minutes, so I started checking this one at about 25 minutes.  It took 35. I didn’t do any sprinkling of stuff on the top, though in hindsight that would have been a nice touch.
It’s a really nice little cake/bread/whateverthingy. Plenty sweet enough, though not decadent; the butter I did use helped give it a nice little crunch to the outside and it has a nice simple flavor with the granola, banana, and coconut all working together but nothing overwhelming everything else. It would have been helped along by keeping a few elements I needlessly dropped: the moisture of the added diced banana and the moisture of the sweetened coconut (the unsweetened is very dry) would have made a pretty big difference, I suspect, so attentiveness to that aspect of the substitution would have been a good thing. Ina would probably shake her head and gently but emphatically stamp her bare foot upon the recipe (if not the cake itself), and just to be clear, hers is probably way more amazing—butter has a way of doing that in a recipe, as do some of the other little touches—but this gets the job done and I feel comfortable passing it out for breakfast or lunch.
Anyone have any other recipe-modification tricks you like to use?
Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Homemade Snacks: Peanut Butter Popcorn

My cousin's son is a teenager, but he still remembers the day he was 3, visiting our house, when we made peanut-butter popcorn. He stood on his tippy-toes to help me turn the popcorn popper, and watched as I melted the peanut butter for the topping. After all these years, he still vividly remembers that cool Kansas afternoon.

For our last Homemade Snacks installment, I'm sharing the simplest of recipes for one of the most desired treats by my children: Peanut Butter Popcorn. My mother used to make this as a treat for us as kids, and the peanut buttery, almost caramely, coating was to die for.

There are no measurements to this recipe; just eyeball it and enjoy!

Pop one batch popcorn.

Melt in microwave (30 seconds to one minute) peanut butter. (You can also mix in some butter, which will make the end product more caramel-like.)

Add in brown sugar to desired sweetness.

Pour over popcorn.

Keep napkins handy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Eco Soap Carrier

EcoYogini finally figures out how to travel sans body wash...

Unfortunately (for my carbon footprint) I need to travel a lot for my job. Thankfully I have an extremely fuel efficient car and no children (yet!). 
(the view from the last hotel I stayed at in Clare- you can see the low tide. At high tide the water completely covers the shore)

Although staying in hotels can be fun, I've realized over the past two years that being a Greenie means my eco-stuff can get bulky. Klean Kanteen coffee mug, loose tea and travel tea mug, all my glass containers for my honey face wash, lavender oatmeal face scrub and cocoa butter lotion. For a while I was even bringing my shampoo in small glass "cheese" jars... until one broke :S

One travel necessity that I hadn't worked out until this most recent trip: my soap bar. A few years ago my husband and I made the switch to only using bar soap, which resulted in kicking my body wash addiction.  We found a fabulous solution to make our soap bars last an extremely long time in the shower (mason jars and rocks!) but I still hadn't figured out a good way to transport my soap when I travel. I don't want to buy a plastic carrier (ugh more plastic, and buying something just for travelling seems wasteful).

Hotels create a truly phenomenal amount of waste. Just those bars of soap you open up to wash your hands have to be thrown out between guests (according to Grist more than 2.5 million bars of soap a day get thrown out in the USA- although that post is also cool as Hilton is recycling their soap!). 

If I decide not to use their body wash packaged in plastic, it will reduce the amount that needs to be thrown out. (Honestly, who uses hotel stuff anymore? They should keep it at the front desk so if people need it they can ask...).

For my soap I've tried the following ridiculous travel measures:
  • A weird candy tin that my friend had gifted me. It was the perfect soap size, except washing out that cheap metal tin afterwards was awkward (and it has never recovered). 
  • An old Lush soap bag. Although it worked very well for about one night, the paper started to shred before I even got it home. 
  • Paper Towel (we got from my parents cottage as we don't have any in our house) or toilet paper. This was a sad moment in my soap carrying- why did I even think it could work? The paper stuck to the soap for days.

The Solution: A Cloth Bag:
This week I tried a cloth bag. I had to stay at two different hotels this week (and my parents house) so it was really put to the test. I was gifted some soap nuts (that I've never used) and they came in this pretty cloth bag that is the perfect size. Surprisingly, although the cloth gets a little damp, it dries out wonderfully in my suitcase and the soap easily comes out for the next use! It isn't bulky, doesn't weigh a lot and will be extremely easy to wash. 

One less excuse to use body wash wrapped in plastic :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homemade Snacks: Flashback and Linky

We hope you have been enjoying the posts about homemade snacks this month. Here are some posts about snacks and snacking from the archives of the Green Phone Booth.

Many Hands Make Light Work
I was super inspired by Green Bean's post about a homemade snack swap. Don't miss Green Bean's recipes for fish crackers and bagels too.

Pretzels and Bagels and Breadsticks Oh My!
During a month without processed foods, the Conscious Shopper uses her bread recipe to make pretzals, English muffins, bagels, and cinnamon twists.

Safe Snacks for Kids
Kelly Green Giant lists some of her simple ideas for dairy-free snacks for kids (example: strawberry and blueberry shish-kabobs on toothpicks)

Snacking in the Garden
SustainaMom wants to keep it super simple by growing snacks that can be eaten straight out of the garden.

Waste-Free Snacking
EnviRambo shares her recipe for rosemary garlic crackers.

October Unprocessed Update
Emerald Apron lists her easy, unprocessed homemade snacks and asks for additional ideas from readers.

Snackers for Slackers
Green Bean discusses trying to keep up with the snacking needs of growing children. Check the comments for easy ideas from our readers.

Now it's your turn! Please add your favorite ideas and recipes for homemade snacks. Link up your post below or leave a comment.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My dehydrator dreams

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama
For my husband's birthday this year, I bought him a dehydrator and a set of beef jerky spices.  The set even came with a tool, not unlike a caulk gun, to make the beef jerky into strips or tubes.  My husband was way more excited over this gift than I had anticipated.  To be honest, I thought that he would open it, try it once or twice and then forget about it.  So when I ordered our his dehydrator, I also purchased the fruit roll up trays... it's true.  I bought him a gift and have every single intention of using it myself.
Holy packaging, Batman!  

I'm not one for having a bunch of specialized kitchen appliances.  Just because I have the storage does mean I want it packed to the gills.  BUT, I also don't want my oven running all night so someone can make beef jerky or dry cranberries.  (By the way, drying cranberries in the oven was an awful mess.  I had them in there for 27 hours and they never actually dried.  I ate them anyway.  I felt guilty for wasting all that electricity.)

I have plans for that dehydrator, once my husband stops making jerky every weekend.  I had not realized the full impact of his enthusiasm and the power that dried meat has over men.  I also had not ever actually tasted beef jerky.  Or turkey jerky.  Or deer jerky.  Don't tell anyone, but the last batch of jerky he made dwindled quicker than he thought it would largely due to me sneaking pieces to snack on with apples and cheese in the afternoon.  Shhhh!  But without further ado, here are my top 5 plans for dehydrated snacks!

  • Right now, in my fridge sits a quart of strawberries waiting to make these.  I'm very excited.   Who doesn't love fruit roll-ups?!
  • Who needs to pay 6 dollars a pound for banana chips?  I can't wait to do pears and apples too.
  • Kale Chips.  I love kale in a salad, but am terrified to try making chips in the oven.  
  • I need to do some actual hunting for tips on this, but I think I'd like to try drying my own herbs this year in the dehydrator.  Specifically chives and parsley.
  • Dog Treats!!!  They are our best friends, right?   
Do you have a dehydrator?  What do you use it for?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reducing Junk Mail

I was having a conversation with a friend on Facebook about junk mail and she didn't know there were websites to help you reduce how much you get. I have gotten ours down to almost nothing so I thought I would share some of the sites I have used.

Catalog Choice- This site is the one I use the most. You can enter any of the catalogs you get and they help you remove yourself from the mailing list.

DMAchoice- This is another site that helps you get off of mailing lists.

PaperKarma- And of course there is an app for that. I haven't tried this one yet but it says it helps you get rid of your junk mail and all you have to do is take a picture of it.

You can also reduce your mail by asking businesses if they have paperless options. Many banks, utilities, health insurance, etc... have moved to paperless. This helps not only reduce the amount of paper you have to recycle but also prevents lost bills!

So what steps have you taken to reducing the amount of junk (and other) mail you receive? I would love more ideas because you can never have two little junk mail!

Photo credits:  Charles Williams

Monday, April 23, 2012

My health insurance provider gives me a lesson on lead in cosmetics

A suburban greenmom is soooo relieved to hear from her health insurance provider that the presence of lead in cosmetics is nothing to worry about, and how silly all the fuss is…
photo from The Daily Green
Having really resonated with Emerald Apron's post about lead in lipstick, my attention was immediately caught when I got a link to this article from Humana, my current health insurance provider.

Have a seat, clear a spot on your desk on which to bang your head about a dozen times (you can even pad the spot with a pillow or something if that’s how you roll), and click over there. Then come back. Okay, did you read it? Bang your head a few times?

(Sarcastic rant begins here.)

I for one was very relieved to learn the truth about lead: “In small amounts, lead is a fairly low threat. It's a naturally occurring heavy metal that's mined from the earth…” Naturally occurring. Check. Because we all know that we have nothing to fear from “natural” stuff. And it’s a really good thing that “because lead is found in so many things, it can build up in our bodies. It's most dangerous when it's eaten or inhaled in dust form…” This relieved me immensely—because no way anything like lipstick would ever be ingested. Right? Oh, wait…

The logic of lead in lipstick is also quite a relief to discover, because I’m clearly not smart enough to have thought of this myself: “Makeup is, basically, paint for the face.” Ooohhhhh! Now I get it! “And as many of us know, lead was used in paint until very recently. In fact, it's only been since 1978 that we've been able to enjoy lead-free paints and other products. That's when the FDA made lead in paint illegal.” So, it’s a good thing lead in paint is illegal, although it’s really not important that we get it out of the products that actually adhere to our skin, newly applied daily. Wait. Hang on. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure this out, because that just doesn’t make sense to me…

(Also glad they thought to tell me that “Lead was also in ‘regular’ gasoline. That's why the gas we buy today is called ‘unleaded.’” ‘Cuz I never would have figured that out either, and calling it to my attention makes all the difference in the world.)

Fortunately, the article tells us, “So while there are very small amounts of lead in the dyes that are used to color lipstick, the amounts are within the limits allowed by the FDA.” Which is great, because the FDA is so conservative in making sure nothing’s approved unless there’s pretty good evidence it really is safe. Like BPA. And GMO’s. And rbGH. So I’m sure that previous bit about lead building up in the body over time has been taken into account when considering how much lead a person might ingest in, say 20 years of putting on lipstick every day…added to other sources of lead and/or other heavy metals that build up in the body…and other sources of contamination in our environment and food pretty much all the time. It’s surely safe, right? The FDA says so. So, to sum up: my health insurance company has just sent me a note to reassure me that even though yes lead is poisonous, the fact that it’s in my cosmetics (or would be, if I used them) isn’t something I have any reason to worry about, because it's a very small and safe amount of the poison.

*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

--Jenn the Greenmom with a headache

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Million Tiny Things: Review

The children are watching. And they take notice.

At the end of the day, it's not whether you're writing letters to congressmen that your sons and daughters see; it's the small steps you take in life that they resound to.

Maybe it's the cry over polar ice caps or global warming spurred on by your one-time use of hairspray. Or worrying about how best to preserve (and oddly, reuse) your dying horse. The kids have taken on your values. And that might be your greatest legacy of all.

Kenna Lee's enjoyable  new book, A Million Tiny Thins: One mother's desperate search for hope in a changing climate, she balances her dream of creating a better world for the next generation and fears of what her children might inherit with the realities of juggling career, relationships, parenting, time and money. It's a delicate balance, one that may tip to one side or another at times, but truly a juggling act.

Her story resonates clear with many parents trying to do the "right thing," but I'll admit by mid-book, I was hoping she'd have that aha moment, that moment of clarity where it all comes clear. But the reality is, while you can create your own sense of what works, circumstances in our lives - those we can control and those we can't - continue to evolve.

What Lee ultimately realizes is that you don't have to create a great movement to make change; in fact it's the million tiny things we do in our life that truly tell the story of who you are and what you stand for.

Kenna's book comes out for Mother's Day, but I'm giving away my copy of the book to a GPB reader to enjoy! To enter, leave your favorite "little" tip for being green. I'll announce a winner next Saturday.

- Robbie at Going Green Mama

Friday, April 20, 2012

Our family is about to grow... by 10,000 members

In which Truffula and her family prepare to welcome 10,000 new family members...

My mother called in the morning.  She said she'd just talked to my brother; she'd needed a kind ear to bend on a situation that was bugging her.  Maybe she needed to unpack the problem further with me?  Or, maybe she wanted to commiserate about the bad congestion I heard in her voice?

"No, I'm calling for another reason...  How are the bees?"

The bees!  Yes, they have been consuming nearly all of my attention this month.  No joke: I think about them as I am falling asleep at night, and they are the first thing on my mind when I wake back up in the morning.

TruffulaBoy #1 and I took our local beekeepers' association short course this winter.  For six weeks, we learned about the finer points of bee anatomy, setting up a hive, bee illnesses, bee-friendly plants, honey harvesting, and more.  We listened with rapt attention, took notes for our friends who missed sessions, and yes, luxuriated in the honey samples which were passed around.

The next thing was to determine whether we'd try our hand at keeping our own bees.  I was so overwhelmed by the amount of information to process that I was unable to make any decisions.   This was not good, as the clock was ticking, and I was already behind.  Way behind.   The deadline for ordering bees approached rapidly, and then... passed.  The time pressure only froze my brain further.  

And, that's where this project took on a fascinating twist: a community of support emerged.  A work colleague offered to help me build a hive.  A fellow morning bus passenger also volunteered himself for carpentry support.  A bee club member, and fellow homeschooling mama, gave me tips for sewing bee veils.  A food club friend and bee classmate opted against bees for this year, but pledged to help us in anyway she could.  In addition, the ladies in my work group inquire daily about progress, as does my commuting buddy.  My parents are fascinated by the coming of our new family members.

Sanding a follower
On the shoulders of these people and their enthusiasm, I placed a bee order. Our deck, and then our living room was transformed into a woodworking shop as  we raced to finish a hive in time for the estimated bee delivery date.
Measuring plexiglass for the observation windows
A snag emerged when the delivery date came and went without that magic phone call to please come immediately for pickup.  Somehow, my order was overlooked.  I could hardly quell my frustration.   This week has been a good exercise in patience, and in the faith that a good solution will emerge.  That support community is rallying around us.

Squeezing out reluctant glue to adhere observation window panels
In the meanwhile, I'm continuing to read and learn at a furious pace.   The pained decision process over, I'm peaceful about having made my go/no-go choice in favor of the bees.  Already, the anticipation of their coming has blessed us with the kindness of our family, friends, and complete strangers.  I look forward to discovering what other secrets these special creatures will unfold for us, in addition to sharing in the gifts of their honey and wax.

Hotel Melissa is ready for its residents

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Foraging for Homemade Snacks: Eating Dandelions

The Climate Crusader forages for snacks this week.

It's dandelion season where I live. Almost everywhere you look, the golden yellow flowers are showing their smiling faces. While I've spent my fair share of time battling these weeds in my garden, I can't help but enjoy the sight of them. They make me think of spring and sunshine and new growth.

While dandelions have an unfortunate habit of taking root where they're least wanted, they actually have a lot going for them. They're resilient plants, remaining green long after their less-hardy cousins have wilted. Plus, they're edible, and highly nutritious. They're even reported to have medicinal properties. Dandelions reportedly treat conditions including anemia, kidney disease, jaundice, arthritis and respiratory infections, and studies have shown they can reduce obesity. Apparently the milky white juices can even repel mosquitos.


Dandelion greens - on their own or in a salad - are a great way to use a plant that you can easily find in abundance most anywhere you look. Why not just accept them and make them part of your diet? While I see the wisdom in that, when it comes to eating dandelions I prefer the blossoms. But first, I cover them in dough and fry them into dandelion blossom fritters. Then I drizzle them with maple syrup and eat them like they're candy.

(Really, what food isn't improved by battering it, frying it, and adding sweet syrup?)

Dandelion blossom fritters are really easy to make. Start by picking a few dozen dandelion blossoms. You may want to choose flowers that grew in an area where there are fewer dogs, just to err on the side of caution. Wash and dry them - I use my salad spinner for this - and pick off the tiny little leaves at the base of the flower, and any remnants of stem. Then batter them, fry them for a few minutes until they're golden brown, and cover them in icing sugar, honey or maple syrup. Eat them while they're still warm. If you're feeling generous, share them with your children.

Dandelion blossom fritters

If you're into local eating, you really can't do any better than foraging for food that grows wild in your own back yard. The fact that this afternoon snack tastes something like doughnuts is really just a bonus.

Have you ever eaten dandelions? Or do you forage for other food? I'd love to hear all about it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


From Emerald Apron's Kitchen

Frozen grapes are one of my favorite snacks on hot summer days, and it has felt like summer this week here in Connecticut! After spending time at the beach, it was great to come home and snack on these icy treats. All you need are a bunch of grapes and some wooden skewers, carefully place the grapes onto the skewers and pop them in the freezer for a few hours. Enjoy them like popsicles, and store any leftovers in an airtight container or freezer bag in the freezer.

If you want to take the lazy route, and I often do, you can put a whole bunch of grapes directly into the freezer, too! It's a great way to store grapes if you buy a lot of them when they go on sale, so stock up. I personally like green frozen grapes, and seedless ones work best. What's your favorite easy snack when the temps are high?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Egg-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

It's starting to get warm around here which means it's a good time for a cold treat. A favorite around here is frozen cookie dough and the recipe I use is egg-free so no safety issues. It's also great for putting in some homemade vanilla ice cream!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon water
Chocolate chips (to taste)

Cream butter and sugar.
Add other ingredients and mix well.

Roll in balls (small balls if using for ice cream) and flash freeze* until firm, about 20 minutes.

*To flash freeze cover a cookie sheet with natural wax paper and make sure none of the items touch.

Don't forget to check back often for more snack recipes all month long!

Monday, April 16, 2012

My new favorite Chocolate Covered Katie!

A suburban greenmom has no time to blog…
So today, I’ll follow our monthly “healthy snacks” theme by sending you over to my new favorite blog, Chocolate Covered Katie. I discovered her when I was looking for new oatmeal recipes, and she’s got a whole bunch of them. And then I kept looking… and looking…and looking.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an assortment of amazingly decadent-looking and sounding recipes made with mostly natural whole foods and the kind of calories that are full of good stuff. I mean, just look at this list!
So my apologies…but I’m just going to send you over there today! Enjoy!
Jenn the Greenmom

Friday, April 13, 2012

What My Food ISN'T Worth: Supporting Local Lobster Fisher-People

(EcoYogini shares a little bit of her hometown lobster love, previously loved post from November 2011 and her favourite lobster chowder recipe!)

This isn't a blog post about veganism or vegetarianism, but about what my food ISN'T worth.

My food has never been worth slave labour. Often products such as coffee, sugar and chocolate are named when discussing human right violations, terrible working conditions, slave and child labour and polluting cultivation practices. Similar discussions surround farming, with purchasing directly from your farmer assuring that your food has been purchased for a fair price.

This isn't news to most here in Nova Scotia. Despite this province's tendency towards traditionalism and conservative views, the slow food and local movement is making some pretty significant headway. The farmer's markets are booming and 'Buy Local' movements are getting a lot of press, it's great.

(This video is of a local fisherman making the best of a rough situation- hilarious to watch, especially as I've always heard of the crazy things they did while out on the ocean. As you can see, if the rope from the traps pulled him over he's not wearing his floatersuit... most don't. I'm also fairly certain this wouldn't be considered a "rough" day on the water. Also, he's married to a girl I went to highschool with!)

(My brother on top of my dad's boat loading up the pots on "Dumping Day" 2010)

Interestingly enough, with the start of District 34's lobstering season (end of November to end of May), which provides 60% of the global lobster industry, the 'fair price' logic hasn't connected. As a fisherman's daughter, I grew up eating lobster. Yes, I know I was lucky, but let me tell you, we were never rich. There is this strange misconception in the Atlantic provinces that lobster fishermen from District 34 are well-off. Perhaps there are a few, but they are far between and definitely not the norm.

(Boats at my dad's warf- all owned by my childhood village neighbours. You can see the size difference between my dad's boat and these. My dad fishes inshore, from 3am-5pm. The larger boats steam offshore and will stay there for several days)

Due to the proliferation of lobsters in this area of ocean, it is not easy nor cheap to become a fisherman. Firstly, there's purchasing a boat. Ranging anywhere from 200-500,000$ depending on where you'd like to fish (inside or steaming far outside). Then there's the license, which also costs another couple hundred thousand. You need to hire at least one other person (if not more) to help, minimum 100$ a day. Fuel costs a fortune and don't forget the traps (or 'pots' as their called home). Over 100$ each, with about 400 per boat, often they need replacing during the year.

Beyond this, these fisher-people fish during the harshest season of the year- winter. With winds, snow and sleet, leaving the warf at 3 or 4am to work all day and return after supper, (or stay out for days at a time), it isn't an easy life. Too many have lost their lives in that ocean, with riptides and currents assuring that bodies are never found. Unlike other districts, winter waters mean hypothermia in minutes followed by death. Families and communities never forget this risk.
(A local boat, the Hunter Madison, sinking earlier this week. Thankfully all crewmen were safely rescued. Even though it was a very calm morning, the boat didn't take long to sink....)

This year the season started with a price of 3$ or less a pound. In District 34, most fishermen belong to a co-op at their warf to whom they sell their lobsters. The co-op then sells to buyers, who sell to businesses and ship around the world (including the States, a few years back there was some tension from Maine buyers purchasing Nova Scotia lobsters and labelling them "Maine lobsters").

For most fishermen, there aren't enough lobsters to justify a price of 3$/lb; it costs more to catch the lobsters than they're worth. Unfortunately, most fishermen are too indebted to change careers. With a boat, license, mortgage and house loans their only option is to keep fishing.

I don't know about you, but any lobster I eat, special occasion or no, restaurant or no, will never be worth unfair wages paid to fishermen who risk their lives every day to provide us with a delicious delicacy.

Instead of blindly purchasing your lobster this year, here are a few tips that you can do to help support the fishermen of District 34 (and around the world):

  • Whenever possible, buy directly from the fisherman and pay a decent price (at least 5$ if not more).
  • If that's not an option, but you live in Halifax, Pete's Frootique purchases their lobsters for a fair price directly from a fishermen in Cape Sable Island. 
  • Not in Halifax? Before purchasing ask where the lobsters come from. Voice your concern with regards to the pricing and purchasing practices of buyers. Ask to know what price the original buyer (not the grocery store) paid the fishermen for the lobsters. 
  • Group together with friends who also want lobsters and contact fishermen or co-ops in Nova Scotia to see whether a larger order could justify a trip to the city. People often know people coming up to the city this time of year. 
  • If you can afford it, be willing to pay a bit more for fairly priced lobsters. They're a luxury item and as a result worth a few extra dollars to assure you're not contributing to the destruction of an entire community of fishermen and their families.
If you are eating lobster- check out some tips on shelling and cooking with my favourite lobster chowder recipe!

Living mindfully is so much more than just the obvious. This year my lobster will be fairly priced and worth every penny.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homemade Chewy (Not Crumbly) Granola Bars

Eco-novice achieves sweet success

At last, I have found a granola bar recipe that my kids love. Good enough that they don't ask me to buy the Trader Joe's granola bars anymore. Good enough that my husband has stopped putting granola bars on the grocery list. I alternate making granola bars with my whole-grain "cookies," so that I always have a delicious kid-friendly snack that's easy to take and eat on-the-go.

I've been looking for the perfect granola bar recipe for a while. Over a period of many months (years?), I've googled, perused, and bookmarked a gazillion recipes. Then I tried the most promising ones. Some recipe authors admitted that their granola bars were crumbly. I did not want crumbly. After making a few duds, I decided to try Bittman's granola bar recipe (the peanut butter variation) which uses granola, oil, honey, and peanut butter.

For the "3 cups not-too-sweet granola" I used my usual granola recipe. The bars were chewy (yes!) but also way too sweet. I tried using significantly less honey, but that made them crumbly. In any granola bar recipe, the sweetener is the glue or binder that holds the granola together. So I made a modified version of my granola recipe with no sweetener, and then used that not-at-all sweet granola to make the granola bars.  I also used a little less peanut butter and honey than the original recipe called for and they are still wonderfully chewy. I've made these with almond butter as well. Note that the recipe below is double the size of the Bittman recipe.

Eco-novices Chewy (Not Crumbly) Granola Bars
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1/3 cup sunflower/ sesame seeds
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup oil
Bake 20-25 minutes at 325 on half-sheet pan, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Let cool and then put into a large mixing bowl. This gives you 6 cups not-sweet granola.
Combine in a sauce pan and heat until boiling on the stove (don't let it burn!)
1/2 cup oil
1 cup honey
2/3 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter, such as almond)
Pour boiling mixture into bowl of 6 cups granola (entire recipe above). Mix well. Push into greased 9x13 pan (I use butter to grease). Use a spatula to press down and spread evenly. Cool in refrigerator. After a few hours and once completely cooled, take out of fridge and let them warm up a bit so you can easily slice with a knife or bench scraper into bars. Store in air-tight container.
I store mine in Pyrex in the fridge with wax paper between the layers (see photo above). I also always keep 3 or 4 in a small reusable container in the fridge, so that I have something I can quickly grab and take with me to the park or other outing. In my experience, they keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.

As you might imagine, they are also just delicious with chocolate chips thrown in (while hot, if you want melted chocolate mixed throughout or once cooled a bit you can put chips on top). I consider the chocolate version to be a sort of homemade candy bar. Dried fruit could easily be added in as well (stir into granola mix before adding hot liquid mixture).

Do you make granola bars? What is your favorite recipe?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


From the laundry basket of The Homegrown Mama

My baby girl turns 1 on Sunday.  I take the first birthday cake very seriously.  I've tested several recipes and settled on a Green tea cupcake with cream cheese icing.  I want yellow icing, but I don't yellow #5.  I also didn't want to pay 34 dollars for a teeny little bottle of organic, all natural food coloring.  I'm here to tell you that in case you didn't already know, turmeric is an excellent food colorant.  In the test batch of icing, I used a lot of the spice and couldn't taste it at all... and I knew it was there.  I lined up 3 families to test the cupcakes and again, no comments on taste alterations.

And there you have it.  No chemicals, no cheap, synthetic colors, no hyperactivity.  Turmeric.  It's not just for pickles and curry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Recycling While Away From Home

Summer vacation time is fast approaching and you are likely planning what your vacation will be. There is one part of planning you may not have thought about and that is recycling. You likely have a recycling system at home but what do you do when you are away from home?

There are a few different options.
  • Take the recycling back home with you. This option can be hard if you have very much and near impossible if you are flying but if it's a short car trip it may be doable. 
  • Ask the hotel if they offer recycling. Many hotels now recycle and either have bins in the room or if you call down they can tell you where a bin is. Some also will tell you just to leave it on the counter with a note for housekeeping and they will take care of you.
  • You can find a local drop-off. Many cities have drop-offs for recycling. You can find out where one is with You can use the website or their app iRecycle to find where you can recycle items.
  • Recycle at Target. Target now offers some recycling so that can be an option while you are away. They offer recycling for cans, glass plastic bottles, plastic bags, MP3 players, ink cartridges and cell phones.
  • Recycle #5 plastic at Whole Foods. Whole Foods has recycling for #5 plastic if you end up with any on your trip or have some at home to bring with you. 
Between all of these options you can likely recycle at least some of your waste while you are away from home. And don't forget to bring reusable water bottles and bags so you have less to recycle in the first place.

Do you recycle when on vacation? If so what have you found to be the easiest way to do so?

Photo credit: UofSLibrary

Monday, April 9, 2012

Healthy Snack Cake recipes

A suburban greenmom realizes she has way more cake recipes than she had any idea...
I am a big fan of the snack cake. So as long as we're talking healthy snacks...
These are the cakes I can make out of whatever fruits, flours, and/or sweeteners I have in the house at any given moment. I make these once every week or two, and it’s easy enough to vary the contents that I can keep doing it without making anyone bored.  These are the cakes I cut into squares and send to school for my kids’ lunches, the ones I take in to school on days I want to ingratiate myself with the prof and my fellow students, the ones I take to the nice neighbor who watched my kids for a couple of hours. I’ve been known to eat a few pieces myself, too.
I was just discovering what a ridiculous number of these recipes I have over on my blog, and I’m sure I won’t even cover them all here, but I’d like to just toss out an assortment, and you can click over to whatever might sound interesting.  My hope here is not so much that you will use the specific recipes (although, feel free, of course!) but that you might see how they are really all variations on each other, and how easy it is to perform that little alchemy that turns a bunch of random stuff into a really yummy cake. 
Most of these are adaptations of someone else’s recipes, often involving a reduction in the amount of sugar from the original and the substitution of some fruit puree or yogurt or something in place of some of the oil or butter. But best of all, they are quick and easy, tend to keep well, and are unbelievably ripe for substitution and variation just based on what you have. I am incredibly lazy with recipes; it has been a huge revelation to discover that a little futzing most of the time, as long as you don't go too far, will often not screw up your final product very much. so futz away. (A note: anything listed as being for a bundt cake can be halved and baked in an 8x8 pan; similarly, double any 8x8 recipe and you can make a bundt. The bundts also seem to transfer well to two loaf pans, but I don't do that as often...)
These come in a few main categories:
Random Fruity Cakes, based on my standby favorite “bundt cake of endless autumnal substitution”. These work with applesauce or apple butter, bananas, and/or pureed pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Or some mixture of the above. Or maybe some other stuff would work too.  This is my go-to recipe pretty much whenever I want to make one of these cakes. Honey Apple Butter cake and Pumpkin Butter with Zucchini cake are in here too. Other fruity cakes includes my use-up-lots-of-the-green-bludgers Zucchini Bread recipe. And the Applesauce Cake I made to give our neighbors a little thank you for letting us forage on their very plentiful apple tree to make a few quarts of sauce. Banana Orange snack cake is another I made a long time ago and really need to revisit…these, obviously, are my major go-to recipes.
Cakes based on homemade pancake mix, that are based on, well, my homemade pancake mix. I think once I didn’t have enough baking powder for something but had some baking mix, so I worked something out that way. Quite honestly, I don’t think these are as good as the first category cakes, but they are still pretty yummy. I have a simple berry muffin recipe here and a really delicious variation that’s a Honey Berry snack cake—one of those happy experiments gone right. And Blackberry tea cake, another really nice and flexible recipe using frozen berries.
Cakes involving chocolate. Not much else needs be said, right? Crockpot chocolate banana pudding isn’t exactly a cake, but it acts a lot like one. And 5 minute microwave chocolate cake in a mug isn’t the kind of snack we’re really talking about, either. On the slightly less decadent front is chocolate banana cake, which is also based a lot on the “endless substitution” model but subs in some cocoa powder for the flour. And throws in some chocolate chips. I’m no saint.
Cakes using honey instead of sugar. Some of these are in the first category too, but I’m including them here because more than once I have indeed discovered that I did not have any sugar in the house but wanted to make something anyway. The Honey Berry snack cake above is one of these. So is Honey Apple butter cake. I need to develop a few more of these…
Gingerbreads. These include a Pumpkin Gingerbread recipe, and another for “White Gingerbread”—a New England dessert that pretty much lacks ginger at all. Nutmeg is used instead. It’s actually really delicious, but has a lot of sugar in it.
--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Phone Booth Flashback: Spring Cleaning Edition

In honor of March's Spring Cleaning theme, here are some blasts from the past about cleaning.

Getting Rid of Stuff
Organizing Myself (and not in that gauche community organizer way) and Lightening My Load (Freecycle Rampage) by JessTrev (2008)
Free yourself! by EnviRambo (2009)
Fighting Clutter by JessTrev (2009)
The Great Purge of 2010 by Going Green Mama (2010)
Cleaning out for a cause: It's a shoe-in by Going Green Mama (2010)
Clutter: The cost of conservation? by Going Green Mama (2010)
School Clutter by guest poster Jess of Sweet Eventide (2010)
Clearing Clutter Consciously by Going Green Mama (2011)

Green Cleaning Supplies
Wave Goodbye to Dishwasher Detergent. by EnviRambo (2008)
Hot Steamy Love,  by EnviRambo (2009)
Throwing in the towel. by EnviRambo (2009)
Will spring cleaning make spring finally arrive? Greenhabilitator (2010)
Down the drain by EnviRambo (2010)
Green Spring Cleaning Tools by Retro Housewife (2011)
Life After Phosphates by the Conscious Shopper (2011)
Spring, Yay! Spring cleaning...not so much. by Jenn the Greenmom (2011)
Cheap and Easy Household Tips by Retro Housewife (2011)

Cleaning the Air
National Healthy Schools Day, a guest post by Janelle Sorensen of Healthy Child, Healthy World (2009)
5 cheap steps to cleaner air in our homes by Going Green Mama (2010)

Line Drying
Hung Out to Dry by Green Bean (2009)
Line Drying for Dummies by EcoWonder (2009)

What cleaning topics would you like to see discussed on Green Phone Booth?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Simplifying our Easter celebrations

Going Green Mama wishes you a Happy Easter!

The countdown until Easter has been daily noted by my first-grader. Talks of the reality of the Easter Bunny have been rampant. (I suspect this is her testing me to see if I believe it's "real.") And the excitement of egg hunts at day care have carried the kids through the week.

But at home, we've really worked to simplify our Easter celebration. It's not a condemnation of the secularization of the holiday or of the bright pink Peeps, as much as we're keeping our celebrations scaled to size.

Novel idea, I know. But rather than torture ourselves with bags of chocolates that will only result with tummy troubles and overly hyper children, we've downsized our Easter giving in recent years.

Yes, we do plastic eggs, but they were mostly bought second-hand, and they are stored year to year. I balance that with the fact we don't dye hard-boiled eggs that no one will eat. Rather than scores of candy, we slip inside Annie's bunny-shaped crackers and jelly beans.

We've eschewed stuffed bunnies and chicks that would otherwise be ignored, instead finding fun, niche items that they might enjoy. Last year's baskets have become our "harvest baskets" for the garden; this year the Easter Bunny is bringing watering cans packed with a flower ring (for my daughter) and a gardening tool set (for my son.)

Sure, we still enjoy treats. They'll get a scaled-down chocolate bunny (they do sell those!), jelly beans and a few small chocolates. And it will be packaged with "character" toothpaste - for them, a treat.

At the end of the day, the kids won't remember how much candy or treats they did or didn't get; they'll just remember their excitement of Easter morning and a day with mom and dad.

How do you mark your Easter celebrations? Have you simplified them in recent years?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gluten-Free Homemade Snacks

The Climate Crusader shares her gluten-free snacking tips in her inaugural post.

A little over six months ago my husband and I went gluten-free. He did it because he's always struggled with digestive issues, and giving up wheat, barley and spelt helped. At first I did it in solidarity with him, but I continued when I discovered that I feel much better when I don't eat gluten.

One of the first dilemmas that I encountered as a newly gluten-free person was snacking. Sometimes you want to plan an elaborate meal with freshly-picked local organic greens, and sometimes you just want something quick to see you through the mid-afternoon hangries. When I changed my eating habits, it was suddenly that much harder to grab something quick. Luckily, though, after half a year without wheat I've come up with a number of easy, healthy, homemade snack options. The best part is that these are yummy for everyone, no matter what you eat.

homemade granola gluten-free snacks climate crusader
Climate Crusader's Gluten-Free Snacks
  • Granola -Homemade granola is actually quite easy to make, and it packs a lot of punch. Use gluten-free rolled oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, and then eat it by the handful or sprinkled on yogurt for a quick pick-me-up.
  • Rice cakes and peanut butter - I think that rice cakes get a bad rap. I actually really enjoy them ... once they're slathered with fat. I like mine with butter and peanut butter. Quick, easy, gluten-free, and surprisingly tasty.
  • Hummus - Homemade hummus is gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Plus, it's delicious and versatile. I eat mine with tortilla chips or rice crackers, or use it as a dip with fresh, raw veggies.
  • Chocolate coconut snack balls - I based my snack ball recipe on Power Bites, which I got from Micaela Preston's book Practically Green. Once again they're gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan, and totally yummy. My kids can't get enough of these.
  • Fruit and veggies - Sometimes it's best to just go back to basics. We could all use more fruit and vegetables in our diet. They're good for us, they're packed full of vitamins, and they're delicious. They're also some of the easiest foods to source locally. I freeze organic local blueberries in the summer and snack on them all year round - so good!

Are you - or is someone in your family - gluten-free? What are your favourite wheat-free homemade snacks? I'd love to hear your tips!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Homemade Snacks - Wordless Wednesday with Linky!

Our Monthly Wordless Wednesday from Emerald Apron

Our theme here at the Green Phone Booth for the month of April is Homemade Snacks. These are some of our superheroes' favorites!

Please link up your Wordless Wednesday post with the Linky, and share your favorite homemade snack in the comments!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easy Homemade Popcorn

A lot of people seem to think making popcorn on the stove is hard. I have noticed a lot of pins on Pinterest for how to make homemade microwavable popcorn in a paper bag. However, it's just as easy to make it on the stove and there is less waste, and IMO it's better. This is one of the more simple snacks you can make for your families! And with doing it on the stove it's healthier and you can control how much salt and butter  you use. It's also cheap, even the organic popcorn.

All you need is some popcorn (organic is best), oil, salt and a heavy pan (no teflon pan!). Simply put 3 tablespoons of oil in the pan on medium high heat. I recommend organic coconut oil for the oil, I have also used leftover bacon fat which is pretty darn good.

To know when the oil is ready put three popcorn kernels in the pan (with the lid on!), when all three have popped the oil is ready. Add 1/3 cup of kernels to the pan, cover and gently shake the pan very often. Also crack the lid open a bit every once in awhile to let the steam get out of the pan.

Once the kernels stop popping remove the pan from the heat. Put the popcorn in a bowl and use the same pan to melt some butter, do this to taste. Then simply salt the popcorn to taste and pour the butter over and mix it.

It's fun to try different seasonings on the popcorn, I like a little garlic on mine sometimes. A little sugar sprinkled on top is fun sometimes as well.

Have a homemade snack you want to share? At the end of the month we will have a linky you can use to share your own post so get it ready.

Photo credits: veggiefrog

Monday, April 2, 2012

Baked Oatmeal Squares

Wait, did someone say homemade snacks?
Cool! I too am a snacker; in fact, these days I rarely have time to eat meals, so I find myself doing that uncivilized thing of eating while I walk. I have a few go to recipes for those moments, and one of my favorites is baked oatmeal
I’m not sure really what to call it–it’s not a quick bread, it’s not a cookie, it’s not a muffin–there’s no flour, so its consistency is really just that of, well, oatmeal.  Except cool and in bar or muffin form.
The basic original recipe I put up on my own blog a while ago; later I varied it a bit to see if it would work. It did. So:
Baked Oatmeal Recipe, Banana Variation

mix together:

·             1.5 cups rolled oats (not the "instant" stuff)
·             1/8 cup oat bran (optional)
·             1 tbs. brown sugar
·             1 mashed banana
·             1 egg
·             3/4 cup milk
·             1 teaspoon baking powder
·             pinch salt
·             Few shakes cinnamon, ginger, and/or nutmeg
·             1/2 tsp vanilla extract (opt)
·             1/2 cup (or more!) dried fruit, like cranberries, currants, raisins, blueberries, whatever (add last)
Spread in 8×8 greased baking dish. (or 9×9, because that’s what I have, it’s just a little thinner) or divide into 12 portions in a muffin tin. (They will be only about an inch thick.)
Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes in a baking pan or 20 minutes in muffin tins.  Let cool. Cut into squares, or remove from muffin tins. Store in fridge if it’s not going to be gone within a day or two.
VERDICT: Delicious.  Honestly, even too sweet with the little bit of brown sugar added, because of the banana; next time I’d just leave it out.  I wonder what this would be like with a little peanut butter…or with 1/2 cup pumpkin puree in place of the banana, and maybe a little orange juice in place of some of the milk…seriously, any of the funky variations to which we treat oatmeal could be applied here as well…


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