Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Oatmeal-Honey Mask--my new favorite indulgence

My skin has been dry and flaky from the cold winter weather. I visited an Origins store this weekend hoping to find a solution, but their face cream burned a little and the ginger fragrance they are putting in everything right now makes me want to puke. Apparently I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

I took a small handful of Bob's Red Mill oatmeal and added enough organic honey to make a paste. Then, I added an egg white. I smoothed it on my face and left it for ten minutes. When I washed it off, my skin was smooth and pretty, and I used probably half the moisturizer I've needed since it started snowing a few weeks ago.

If I added flour and baking powder, this facial mask could probably make some super yummy cookies, too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sharing the Harvest

Enough about Christmas. Consider the following:

"...most of the fruit that makes it into our grocery stores is transported great distances (1,000+ miles on average). All this energy, while a large percentage of fruit in people’s backyard simply goes to waste because most homeowners lack the time and interest to properly share or store this food."

I read this at a website dedicated to promoting urban harvesting at .

In my own backyard, about a hundred apples of the almost extinct Winesap variety perished in an early freeze. I picked them as we used them, but I wasn't fast enough. One morning I woke up and the frost was half an inch thick on my porch, the tree full of brown and mushy apples. I'm not the only perpetrator; fruit trees are ubiquitous in my area, and yards full of rotten, fallen fruit just as common.

I don't buy fruit that is grown outside of a 50- mile radius. There's no need to. This severely limits our citrus intake, but we can gorge on plums, pears, and apples without leaving my yard. The wasted apples are not contributing to emissions, but I know someone out there would have been happy to pick some free fruit.

Here is my idea to remedy this: I want to form a "fruit ring" among friends in my area. As fruits ripen, we can have "picking parties", allowing families to socialize and take home a crate of free, organic fruit. Because various species and types of fruit trees ripen at different times, this could lead to a summer of free fruit while eliminating waste. Harvests were traditionally a social occasion, so this would preserve a dying aspect of our agrarian past.

If you don't feel like making harvest into a summer-long party, you can always offer the fruit on freecycle. I saw many offers for "you pick it" fruit, and there was always such a long list of willing takers that I didn't get any.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hamming It Up!

What's the perfect gift for a pork-hating family member and his Jewish wife? A ham!

Following this logic, a family member who hopefully does not read this blog bought my family a ham for Christmas. And it's HUGE. It's all natural/no preservative/etc so we'll be eating it anyway. Here are my plans for gnawing our way through the monster.

Sunday: Homemade pizza, salad
Monday: Baked ham, mashed potatoes, peas (organic frozen peas at Costco are $1 a pound!)
Tuesday: Macaroni and cheese with-you guessed it-ham, salad
Wednesday: Omelets with-yup-ham, cut up fruit and yogurt
Thursday: Hot ham (of course) and cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks
Friday: Split pea soup with what's left of the ham, which hopefully won't be too much
Saturday: Something light and blessedly ham free. I have a feeling we'll be off the ham for a year or so after this week, until next Christmas when the next ham appears in the mailbox.

Clearly, ham is the gift that keeps on giving, because we'll be thinking of this gift all week! The family should be happy because they are always clamoring for more meat in their dinners. Here it is, kids--all meat, all week. Not the healthiest, but I just can't bear to waste food.

btw.... except for wrapping and mailing, I am almost DONE with Christmas. A week early! Go me!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Election... ugh

(Rant Warning)

Election year is almost here. I hate election year.

I'm a moderate... kind of. I'm fiscally one way, socially another, and I have yet to meet a politician I would trust to hold my purse, much less control the multi-billion dollar US treasury. There are so many choices this time around, which should be promising, but they are each worse than the next. A downward spiral of corruption, self-interest, and wonkiness. Even when they take up the banners I want them to take, it feels transparent and superficial.

It's obvious that the only thing they care about is getting elected. And then it will be back to the same old crap: bickering and finger-pointing and never actually accomplishing anything.

4-H... it's not just for farmers

Not anymore at least. A few homeschooling mommies and I have decided to start our own 4-H club!

My first thought was, I am way too cool for 4-H. WAY too cool. Too cool to attend, too cool to let my kids attend, and certainly too cool to lead the darn thing. But then I looked through their catalog and saw what a variety of learning opportunities they offer. We can get materials to teach sewing, ecology, engineering, cooking, archery, computer design, government... and CHEAP! Just a few dollars for each curriculum set. Homeschoolers are used to 3 or 4 figure curriculum orders, so paying $2 for a learning experience almost makes me feel guilty. I regularly spend more on a lousy cup of green tea.

We had to attend a numbingly boring evening meeting peopled mostly by the horse-y/cow-y/farm-y set, but that, so far, has been the only drawback.

You don't have to be a homeschooler, or a farmer, or an animal lover, to be in 4-H. If you have children between the ages of 5 and 17, I would check it out. You can find your local group here.

Just the dinners, ma'am

You are probably bored with hearing about what I eat for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is usually the same rotation of whole grain muffins/pancakes/french toast/waffles/hot cereal/cold cereal with fruit, and lunch is not a lot more interesting. It really doesn’t vary from week to week, so I’m going to start listing just the dinners.

I was a vegetarian when I married my carnivore husband. Since then, I have whittled our red meat intake from every night to once a week. We also eat chicken or other white meat about twice a week. My family knows they’ll get their caveman style supper every Sunday, which makes them a lot more open to the bean dishes that are staples in our household.

Sunday: Grilled steak, pesto pasta salad, green salad
Monday: Refried Beans, Spanish rice, corn tortillas
Tuesday: Chicken vegetable stirfry with yakisoba noodles
Wednesday: Lemon Rosemary Chicken, linguini, salad
Thursday: Pasta e fagiole soup, homemade whole wheat ciabatta, veggie sticks
Friday: Fettuccini with Creamy Blue Cheese Sauce, salad
Saturday: Vegetable Quiche with Rice Crust, fruit

I'm really looking forward to the creamy blue cheese sauce. I deserve an indulgence tomorrow because I have to juggle our big monthly co-op meeting (about 200 people), a doctor's appointment for my youngest, and a cookie exchange for which I must produce 5 dozen cookies. It's looking to be a busy day, and that creamy, tangy cheese will taste a dream when it's finally over.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

All I Want for Christmas

"All I want for Christmas is a flat-panel television, a digital camera, $50 running shoes, and a pile of toys."

It sounds like an adult wish list, and a rather ambitious one at that, but this, increasingly, is what kids are asking Santa for. And Santa is obliging.

On a message board I frequent, a woman mentioned that she is buying her young children, among other pricey gifts, their own flat-panel HD television sets. Someone mentioned that this seemed excessive, and she responded that this was the first Christmas her family could afford more extravagant gifts, so they are hopping feet first on the spend-spend-spend train with one way tickets to Debtville.

She didn't put it in those exact words, but shockingly close.

My problems with this are many. Here's a few:

  • She obviously feels guilty that her young children enjoyed simpler holidays in the past when 'simple' should be one of the major goals. Thank you, Corporate America. Your work here is done.
  • Electronics are not appropriate gifts for children. Children have no business watching TV often enough to have use for their own set. Even if they are using them for video games--no, especially if they are using them for video games! If parents decides to overdo presents one year, more power to them. They could buy one of those nifty wooden swing sets, or a Brio train set, or any of the thousands of really nice educational and earth-savvy toys.
  • As soon as her family has extra money, it goes to consumer electronics. As opposed to: savings, college funds, charities, investments, or wiser purchases that will be useful and useable in five years.
  • Her children will not be thinking about religion, goodwill toward men, or giving to others this season. They will be too busy watching TV. Their parents have left them no alternative.
  • What will happen if they are back to forced frugality next year? The kids will feel deprived.
  • They are probably convinced they can't afford organic produce.
  • If too many people do this, it will become expected, and then children from more responsible families will feel unloved and left-out. Oh, wait, that's already happened.

In essence, they have ruined Christmas, both this year and possibly the next, for their family and every family they know.

Many of us could afford to buy expensive gadgets for each of our children, but know better. Here is a good rule of thumb for buying children's holiday gifts: Buy them something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. For example, a four-year-old girl could receive the Barbie she's asking for, a bike to replace one she is outgrowing, a cute pair of flannel pajamas, and a big stack of books, plus a stocking full of miscellanea. Nowhere does a television fit in.

If you make a pie graph of a child's life, TV should be a marginal, barely visible sliver. The rest could be eating, sleeping, playing, learning, socializing. The bigger that television section gets, the smaller everything else gets. So even if a parent thought (despite scientific evidence to the contrary) that their children's minds and bodies would not be adversely affected by sitting in front of a flickering screen, they would have to consider that they are taking valuable hours away from the things that really matter.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Lest we start thinking video games and lead-infused plastic are our only options for playthings, here are a few cheap and eco-sensible ideas.

Peekaboo, how-big-is-baby (etc) with a parent or sibling
Wooden spoons and pots
My little ones are usually happiest on my hip or toddling after their older siblings!

Preschoolers/Younger kids:
Painting, especially finger painting
Homemade playdough
"Circle time" games like I'm a little teapot and ring-around-the-roses
Plain cloth dolls
Wooden blocks
Tea parties
Lacing toys
Water play--Fill a basin of water and give them measuring spoons, straws, etc. When it is too cold to be wet outdoors, we do this in the bathtub.
Small musical instruments, including homemade ones. Remember making a guitar froma shoe box and rubber bands?
Imaginative play! When you take away a small child's toys, they make up the most amazing stories and narratives. "Spoiled" children are actually being robbed of their imagination.

Older kids:
All of the above, plus:
Reading library books
Playing with/training pets
This is a great age to learn productive work, like crocheting, weaving, basket-making, carpentry, and cooking--with supervision of course.

There is a woman in my homeschool co-op who just gave birth to her sixth child. I am always amazed by her children's projects. They are the most accomplished kids, always dissecting owl pellets or weaving Egyptian-style belts. She finds the time with six children between teen and newborn, plus running a very successful business, homeschooling, remodeling a home, and all of the little things that take up a mommy's time, so I know that I can do better!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pull out your yarmulke!

Here comes Hanukkah! The only eight nights a year when I can fry potatoes, open a jar of (homemade, organic, of course) apple sauce, and call it dinner. You'd love our menorah--we just gather eight candles from around the house.

Somewhere I have a real menorah, but I can never find it. It's in the Christmas stuff and I don't start digging through that until Hanukkah is over.


Seven Weird Things...

about me!

1. I borrow over $30,000 worth of books and movies from the library every year. I have a little help from the kids. That still seems excessive. How do I read so much when I have so little time? It puts the occasional fine in perspective.

2. When I was in high school, my favorite snack was cheez-it crackers and ranch dressing. It gets weirder--I would put the crackers in a bowl, crunch them up with my spoon, and pour the dressing over, kind of like breakfast cereal and milk.

3. I'm allergic to fish, but not shellfish.

4. Cheap soap/cosmetics/etc give me a weird rash. I have had so many people try to convince me the cheap ones are exactly the same. Tell it to my epidermis, people!

5. I wish I had more children. This is only weird because I have (drumroll...) 8. We're talking about adopting because I think this factory is permanently closed.

6. I was accepted to Stanford and I DIDN'T GO. By choice. It's a long story.

7. I harbor a secret love of hip-hop, the really egregious stuff like 50 Cent and Eminem. It has a great beat.

Aren't I weird?

Monday, December 03, 2007

This Week's Menu, plus a few simple goals

Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Leftovers
Dinner: Miscellaneous Mexican food. Our company ended up staying another day due to airport difficulties—YAY—so we were caught without enough food for a another big "company" meal and ended up getting take-out from a local Mexican restaurant. At least it was local. :-) They gave us so much food; we’ll be eating rice and beans for days. No complaints here.

Breakfast: Blueberry muffins
Lunch: Fruit and yogurt smoothies, whole wheat crackers and cheese
Dinner: Leftover Mexican rice and beans, tortillas, leftover Mexican food

Breakfast: Hot cereal, bananas
Lunch: PBJ, pears
Dinner: Hanukkah Latkes, apple sauce, salad

Breakfast: Homemade apple crisp, milk
Lunch: Salad and cheese wraps
Dinner: Lemon-rosemary chicken, brown rice, salad

Breakfast: Hot cereal, bananas
Lunch: Loukoumades, fruit
Dinner: Chicken and whole wheat pasta soup

Breakfast: Cold cereal, milk, fruit
Lunch: Homemade granola, yogurt, fruit
Dinner: Vegetable quiche, homemade wheat bread

Breakfast: Oatmeal pancakes, apricot-pineapple chutney
Lunch: Hanukkah pretzels, baby carrots
Dinner: Linguine all’Amatriciana, salad, homemade bread

This week’s goals:

  • Baby proof without going crazy at Target—on her six month birthday exactly, little Rachael decided to show off for our guests by crawling. Now she’s everywhere. What a difference a week makes! But I have no inclination to fill my healthy home with plastic, or to patronize a toy industry that seems hell-bent on poisoning our children with lead, so this will be a challenge! I also have to find a safe napping spot for her. We’re co-sleepers, but the ring of pillows isn’t even a challenge anymore.
  • Experiment with whole wheat sourdough starter
  • Visit my friend and her newly home-birthed baby, just one day old as I write.
  • Finish one Christmas gift project and get at least halfway through another.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Healthy and Cheap Dinners

A complaint arises often at many of the forums I frequent: healthy food is too expensive. This, according to too many people, is why they are obese.

I know this is mean, but it needs to be said: you get obese from eating too much and exercising too little. Period. You could be a thin (and very unhealthy) person who lives on Cheetos, as long as you are eating less than 1500 calories a day of the orange poison and going for regular walks.

I always argue that it is far cheaper to eat healthy, but no one will engage. Perhaps because they know I'm right?

Here are a few super cheap, super healthy main dishes that cost less than 25 cents a serving to make:

Homemade vegetarian chili with homemade cornbread
Homemade falafel on homemade pita bread
Cajun red beans and rice
Black bean tacos
Chinese fried rice (with egg in it for protein)
Homemade minestrone
Lentil and rice casserole

This is just offhand--I'm sure I can think of more if you need more. You would need a veggie with these, but I hope the family in question is eating vegetables with their meals already. Produce is generally cheap because there's always something on sale. Plus, you can grow your own, which is more than I can say for Cheetos.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Menu Monday

You will have to forgive me for this week’s menu, at least the second half of it. We are expecting houseguests Thursday through Sunday, so the meals are going to be more… everything. More complicated, more expensive, and, yes, more wasteful. To make up for it, we are eating very simply for the first half of the week.

Breakfast: Whole wheat popovers, fruit and yogurt smoothies
Lunch: Leftovers
Dinner: Homemade cheese pizza

Breakfast: Cold cereal, bananas
Lunch: Homemade mac’n’cheese, carrots, cherry tomatoes
Dinner: Chili, homemade bread, salad

Breakfast: Raspberry muffins
Lunch: Homemade soup from broth, noodles, and veggies
Dinner: Omelets, salad, biscuits

Breakfast: Hot multi-grain cereal with bananas
Lunch: Chicken salad and spinach wraps
Dinner: Vegetable quesadillas, refried beans, fruit

Breakfast: Cold cereal, bananas
Lunch: PBJ, baby carrots
(guests arrive here)
Dinner: Steak gorgonzola, baked potato, artichokes

Breakfast: Blueberry muffins, bacon
Lunch: Out
Dinner: Chicken picata, homemade fettuccini with garlic butter, green salad, fresh bread

Breakfast: Whole grain crepes with strawberries and cream
Lunch: Out
Dinner: Butter herb turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli with asiago, rolls

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'll only say it this once...

...I don't like Christmas.

I am not against Christmas itself. As a Christian/Jew/Buddhist, I am more than happy to have these extra days of celebration in our winter holiday repertoire. I believe in Christ both literally—as a wise man, a Messiah, a savior—and figuratively—as a symbol of peace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Our world is a disheartening place to live right now, so why begrudge the masses a day to make merry?

First, the insane expectations. At no other time of year do family dysfunctions seem so glaring. High expectations and less-than-perfect realities clash. Long healed scars are torn into fresh wounds. At best, we get through it. Second, the waste. My kids don’t need more plastic—what kid does? How many cars are on the road as drivers search for a perfect gift? How many extra calories do we ingest while people in other countries starve? This is as American as we get: clueless in our wisdom, selfish in our giving, secular in our observance of the most religious day in our majority religion’s year.

But the real reason I dread Christmas? The materialism. It borders on extortion. Why does that Xbox game say ‘I love you’ so much louder than a handwritten letter? Because Corporate America can’t live on love alone. What is the true emotional value of a gift given because I have to? Apparently high enough, because no one on my Christmas list would happily relinquish their spot.

If I, who can financially and emotionally afford this insanity, can’t wait for the next month to be over, I can only imagine the strain felt by those who are truly disenfranchised. People without families that look like those on black-and-white movies. People who can’t afford the display of generosity, who may not have stockings even on their feet and don’t have a roof, much less a mantel. People who can’t say “It’s a Wonderful Life” without a heavy dose of irony. I’m praying as much for them as for peace on earth.

So now I am going to stop being a party pooper and try to jump wholeheartedly in the holiday fervor. Really. I'm going to ignore all of the above, caring only about how my organic vegan walnut fudge turns out and whether I find the perfect gift for my stepson's girlfriend. Really.


Friday, November 23, 2007

A Turkeyless Turkey Day

I hope all of my friends in the internet universe had a wonderful Thanksgiving. At my home, we decided to have a brunch instead of a dinner to allow our family and guests to double up on holiday visits. The original plan was to visit a restaurant later that evening for a real turkey dinner, but as evening fell we were still too full from brunch. So it was a happy but turkey-less turkey day for the Marshall family.

How can we do without a turkey? I figure Thanksgiving Day as we celebrate it in the United States is based more upon propaganda than historical fact. Much of the story we learn in school, from the 'traditional foods' we eat to the clothing worn by the fictional pilgrims and natives on our greeting cards, is a cranberry-coated mistruth.

Racial harmony, sharing, thankfulness--this is the legacy I would like to give my children. This is the history I would like to be able to teach. So, for today at least, I will. Without the turkey.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Staying warm

Yetserday morning we woke up to a fluffy white surprise--snow! The kids rushed to finish breakfast and get snow gear on so they could play in it before it melted. Today there was no snow, but everything was covered with ice and frost and the thermometer read below 20 degrees F. Official dates aside, winter has arrived in Washington.

So how are we keeping warm without polluting and spending?

1. We have geothermal heat. If you ever have a chance to install this or buy a house with it, I highly recommend it! It uses so little energy that we could keep the house at 80 degrees all winter without killing our budget. But...

2. We keep the house at 62 during the day and turn it down to 45 at night. BRRRR! Wear flannel jammies and pile on the blankets. During the day we move enough to avoid becoming human popsicles, but a sweater is still necessary. I've actually had people tell me that it costs less to keep a house warmer or to keep a steady temperature. I always wonder if these people use the same logic and leave their cars idling while they grocery shop, or keep the dryer tumbling while empty. Simply put, it takes fuel to warm a home, so the less you run the engine, the less fuel you use.

3. Eliminate all sources of drafts. Close blinds and curtains, put rolled up towels at the bottom of doors. You may want to caulk around windows or even have new insulation blown into your walls. Most repairs will pay for themselves (and then some) in one season.

That's all that comes to mind for now. What is your family doing to stay warm?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Menus

I've noticed a few other blogs doing this, so I thought I'd be a copycat. :-)

But, seriously, I am always hearing how expensive it is to eat healthy. I just don't buy it. Consider the cost per pound of carrots vs. cheetos, organic brown rice vs. rice-a-roni, an apple vs. Ben and Jerry's... and on and on. I have written several articles about shopping strategies and avoiding waste. But that's only part of the equation. Planning and preparing healthy, homemade meals is probably one of the biggest money-saving habits I have! And maybe this can help someone trying to add health and economy to their diet.

Breakfast: Fried egg sandwiches on whole wheat, orange juice
Lunch: PBJ on whole wheat, carrot sticks
Dinner: Chicken and autumn vegetable stew with whole wheat dumplings

Breakfast: Multi-grain hot cereal with maple syrup, red grapes
Lunch: Annie's mac and cheese, sliced apples
Dinner: Oven-BBQ Chicken with brown rice and green salad

Breakfast: Life cereal, milk, satsumas
Lunch: Homemade vegetarian pizza pockets
Dinner: Whole grain pasta with some sort of sauce--maybe pesto from the basil plants in my windowsill?--plus green salad and homemade foccaccia

Thanksgiving! We'll be out pretty much all day.

Breakfast: Whole wheat waffles with apricot pineapple chutney
Lunch: Something with leftovers--hopefully we'll have some
Dinner: Vegetable stirfry with shrimp (I use very little shrimp, just enough that they feel like they had some), brown rice, green salad

Breakfast: Multigrain hot cereal, grapes
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, tomato soup
Dinner: Black bean tacos, grilled bell peppers, spanish rice

Breakfast: Life cereal with milk, satsumas
Lunch: Annie's mac and cheese, carrot sticks
Dinner: Pork roast, homemade cinnamon apple sauce, roasted potatoes and squash

For snacks we eat fruits, veggies with homemade yogurt dip, yogurt, and homemade whole grain goodies. Most of what we eat is organic, although there are exceptions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas Round One

Yesterday I inventoried the pile of bags shoved at the back of my closet. The good news is that I am farther along on my holiday shopping timeline than I thought. The bad news is that I still have a sleigh-load to buy, most of which will have to wait until December. After a trip to the local craft store-one that will not be repeated any time soon because the carts are too small to hold more than one child and the aisles so narrow that the only restrained child could still reach shelves on both sides)-I have newly high blood pressure as well as a few homemade gift ideas and a month-long date with my crochet hook. The present factory is understaffed and underfunded, but officially open for business.

Right now my five-year-old daughter and I are finishing an embroidered picture for one of my in-laws, after which I have to crochet five stuffed bunnies. They’re supposed to be from Santa, so I have to work on them when there are no watchful little ones. Night, maybe? But I *do* like to sleep every now and then. Add to this a steadily growing parade of houseguests, the observance of Jewish holidays, and my promise to make all-new ornaments for my Christmas tree—out of recycled and salvaged materials, of course—and I am nearing the insane stress level under which I seem to function best. Let the breakdown commence!

The goal is cheap! easy! fast! personal! But I'll settle for three out of four. If you have an idea, let me know; otherwise, I'll be publishing mine as they occur to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green Delivery

How are you sending your gifts this year?

I’m sure merely asking this pegs me a micromanager and perhaps even OCD, but I have spent way too much time finding the perfect ecologically correct gift to bungle it in the last step. So far I consider the US Postal Service the least vile method of sending packages. For one thing, the postman is going to swing by my home, and every other home in America, regardless of whether there is a gift package or yet another credit card offer. Taking advantage of existing labor, resources, etc., is always greener than creating a need for new, right? Also, I’ve never been almost ran over on my own sidewalk by a USPS truck—which is more than I can say for FedEx and UPS.

There are other issues to consider… for instance maybe one of the major carriers uses an alternative fuel or makes massive contributions to green causes. I couldn’t find internet documentation of either, so I’ll be patronizing the old-fashioned wasteful-and-yet-best-of-all-possible-evils Postal System until someone gives me a good reason to switch.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Holiday Decluttering

I hate my ISP. I won't even tell you what I pay to NOT have internet half the time.

Complaints aside, we are gearing up for the holiday season! The first step (for me) is decluttering. We will soon have the first of several waves of houseguests crash onto our beach and I will no longer be able to hide our messes behind the guest room door. I also need to make room for the gifts that will begin trickling into our mailbox. So I am going to approach this the same way I do every challenge: make a list and schedule, then ignore both of them and run around like crazy woman at the last minute!

Did I mention I have about a trillion homemade gifts planned and I haven't even bought the supplies yet? Egad! Somehow November always sneaks up on me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Poll Results, plus my adventures in NOT buying socks

The results are in!

Of the 10 people who responded to my poll, it is evenly split. Five were raised to conserve and five were spenders from the get-go. One reported that as a teen she was treated to $3000-4000 clothing shopping sprees regularly! I have a few teenagers around here that want to move to that household.

Americans love to "upgrade", either by buying more goods or buying increasingly expensive goods. It's hard to wean yourself from that mindset. Even the most frugal types are always trying to upgrade, although they have strategies to do so for less money. This week I am going to try to catch myself when I fall into that trap and stop the spending before it starts.

I've already been guilty once today! I was checking out my five-month-old daughter's dwindling sock supply this morning and thinking that perhaps I should buy more. She only has five pairs that I can find, although I suspect another two or three lurk in my unmatched sock basket. She could really use a few brighter pairs to match certain outfits. Plus, my Hanna Andersson catalog has been taunting me for weeks.

But how many pairs of socks does an infant need? I do laundry every day, so our five pairs are more than sufficient. Does she need to have a coordinating pair for every outfit? Probably not. If a true sock emergency arose, I could dig an unmatched pair out of the renegade sock basket. After all, the point of a sock is to keep tiny toes warm, not to advertise my ability to match or my love of organic Swedish cotton. At the rate Rachael grows, we'll need bigger socks in a month or two anyway, and then I can try to match her bright winter clothes. Until then, we'll make do with our summery whites and pastels.

See how easy that was?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The High Cost of Clean

According to American Demographics, the average Generation X household spends $85 dollars a month on housekeeping supplies. Eeeek! I can't even imagine. I suspected that we spend less than most families, but I had no idea how much less.

How much of that money is spent on paper goods that could be replaced with a few old rags? How much on caustic chemicals that will end up in our drinking water? It's really mind-boggling; the average American family spends more on cleaning than a third world family spends on all of their necessities put together.

(Shameless self-promotion alert: This is an issue I have addressed twice on my website, once as a frugal habit of the week and once as an article.) Okay, done now.

Seriously, how do you think people manage to spend so much? I'm really quite boggled by it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

And we call them role models...

Another example of celebrity excessiveness.

If you want a good example of how to ruin our planet in one lifetime, just look to American celebrities. Even those who are lauded for their social and ecological sensitivity, like Brangelina, Ted Turner, and Al Gore, utilize exponentially more resources than the average, appallingly wasteful US family to support their jet-setting, self-promoting lifestyles.

We are the heroes, my friends.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


A few weeks ago, a member of my favorite message board sent out an email asking for help. She was assigned an article on “going green” and needed ideas.

I didn’t respond. I find it slightly offensive that my lifestyle has been hijacked by the media and turned into an empty fashion statement, or worse, a way for obsolete politicians to get their name back in common use. At best, AT BEST, the piece would be in a sappy women’s magazine between “How to Tell If He’s Into You” and “Bigger Breasts in Just Nine Days!” Anyway, how does one fit an entire world view into a short article?

An afterthought: I should have sent her a polite and minimally detailed email with a few beginners’ tips, like hanging out laundry, eating vegan food, buying local, etc. I guess everyone has to start somewhere. I was raised by a pack of hippies, so my materialistic period was just a short hiatus from an eco-friendly lifestyle. Once the urge to rebel passed, I returned to my recycling, crocheting, soap-making roots.

Which brings me to a quandary. How many earth mamas and tree huggers out there are cradle conservers and how many converts? I’d guess about 40/60. What do you think? What is your eco background? Leave a message on my blog or email me at with “Blog Poll” in the message line. I’ll compile the statistics and give you a verdict on Monday.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Raising Animals, Or Not

Lately I have felt like I need my own cow. Maybe a few chickens, too.

Right now the main issue keeping me from rushing out to... wherever one buys livestock... is that my husband hates animals.

Okay, he doesn't *hate* animals. He hates OWNING animals. He used to raise Irish Setters, which will turn anyone off dogs. And our cats, our "cats are never really any work" cats, have been nothing but furry meowing headaches since we acquired them.

I'd say chickens are out of the question. Cows, WAY out of the question. But here is why I still pine for a herd of my own.

  1. I could use a constant, low-cost source of milk and eggs. Livestock could also be low-cost meat if I was brave enough to stick a knife into a creature not already cooked medium rare.
  2. Raising animals places you squarely in an agricultural lifestyle--early to rise, early to bed, in touch with the earth and its seasons, etc. This appeals to me, in theory at least.
  3. It's good for the kids. 4-H is a great program! Also, despite my attempts to dissuade them, my children are convinced that farms are animal utopias where the cows and pigs cavort on green pastures and have cow parties with alfalfa tea. This is kinder than the truth, I suppose.

There are many good reasons not to raise animals--my grandparents had a farm when when I was growing up, so I am more than aware of about a hundred of them--but that doesn't stop me from feeling that longing when my friend complains of having no way to use up the eight gallons a day of organic, fresh milk that her cow produces.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Recipe: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

We had these for breakfast this morning. These muffins are a little too sweet for my taste, but my kids think they are perfect. Made with whole grains, eggs, and nutrient rich pumpkin, these are a balanced meal in themselves. Maybe next time I'll leave out the sugar and see if the honey alone is enough.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease large muffin pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix 1 and 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp cloves.
  3. In another large bowl, mix 1/4 cup sugar, 2/3 cup honey, 1/2 oil (your choice--don't use olive though!), 1 cup mashed pumpkin, and 2 eggs.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
  5. Spoon into muffin pan and bake 35 to 45 minutes.

This made 16 medium muffins.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goodbye Farmer's Market, plus a recipe for whole wheat hot pockets

Yesterday my daughter and I headed for the last farmer's market of this year. Apparently we weren't the only ones! Despite an ever-shrinking number of vendors, there were more shoppers than I have ever seen at a Yakima farmer's market. We circled for almost a half hour looking for a parking space within half a mile (I was planning to buy pumpkins and squash, so proximity was important) before finally giving up. We'll have to make do with last week's vegetables, the dwindling fruits of our frost-bitten tomato plants and apple trees, and some pumpkins from a roadside stand in the neighboring town of Wapato. The culinary theme of this week will be pumpkins: pumpkin soup, pumpkin fettuccine, pumpkin muffins, and the ubiquitous jack-o-lantern.

The farmer's market has been a staple of our family life this year, a solid appointment to anchor the unformed summer week. Its end will leave a two-hour hole in our Sundays. Autumn erupts from pale, jaundiced summer in such a flurry of color that we forget that it is a time of goodbyes: goodbye to flowers and gardens, vacations and visits, long days in the sun. Winter is creeping in, inching ever closer like the high tide. Already I am greeted by frost and a heavy white cloud of breath every morning; soon the frost will turn to solid ice and the children will rush to their windows every morning hoping for snow.

If you aren't already baking, check back to see some of my recipes and ideas. If you are baking, well, check back anyway! Here is today's masterpiece, so simple that it requires not a recipe, but a short description.

Better Than Hot Pockets

  1. Make one batch of your favorite biscuit dough--I made simple whole wheat dough from WW flour, salt, baking powder, and butter.
  2. Instead of rolling and cutting, separate into balls about the size of your palm. Then, roll out as you would pizza dough, into circles
  3. Top with your desired filling, then pull the edges together and seal. I formed mine so they were little squares and baked them with the ends underneath them. It really doesn't matter as long as the filling is contained.
Today I filled our pockets with ham and cheddar, plus a tiny amount of stoneground mustard, and my children made me promise to make another batch tomorrow. I think we'll try spinach, mozzarella, and tomato. These pockets are as frugal and healthy as you want to make them. I use organic and/or natural ingredients, making them a healthy choice for your child's diet.

Tomorrow is baking day, and I plan to make whole wheat pumpkin muffins and experiment with a whole wheat pie crust. I may even try a crust made an alternative grain to surprise a friend who has gluten issues. I'll let you know how these came out, plus print the recipes if they are worth sharing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All Excuses Aside

The other day a mom confided to me that her children never see the inside of a McDonald's. I was about to commend her for cutting out fast food when she added that this is because she is too busy to go inside. They use the drive-through, usually several times a week.

Before I go further, I have a confession to make. Only a quarter of my family's diet is organic. Sometimes it goes up to around half. I've found that we eat a lot more organics when I am in a meatless meal phase. The percentage is steadily rising, but like most mommies, I have a finite grocery budget. This is not my only dietary compromise; we eat fast food about once a month. Last week I gave in to months of begging and purchased a box of cereal straws. I am not a perfect mom, especially not in the food arena.

With my faults on the table, I feel better about criticizing other parents. I am starting to think that everyone feeds their children junk. Starchy, sugary, over-processed junk. And the excuses are always that they have no time, and that healthy food is so expensive.

I'll address the time matter first. None of us have time. You're talking to a homeschooling, work-at-home mother/stepmother of eight. No time here. Anyway, the drive-through takes longer (and costs more, which I address next) than grabbing some apples and string cheese on your way out the door.

As for money, the only way healthy food is more expensive is if you compare the very cheapest of processed food with the most expensive natural foods. "Look, organic blueberries are eight dollars a pint. Oh well, just grab a bag of chips." Mom ignores the very economical organic carrots and bananas--even non-organic fruit beats chips--and buys chips, considering herself forced to feed her growing children junk.

Even on the rare occasion that healthy, natural snacks are more expensive than a bag of starch, they are still a better deal. We are paying for nourishment for growing bodies and minds. If a food doesn't do that, we're getting absolutely nothing for our money. You might as well put your paycheck in the compost bin.

The last time I visited my local drive-through, a fast food meal was around five dollars. You can easily feed one person a healthy, organic diet for a day with that! So let's stop feeding Nabisco's bank account and start feeding our kids.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Mother of Invention

Sadie* has four children, a home business, and the sundry appointments and obligations of modern life. She also has no vehicle. This is not a temporary inconvenience for Sadie, but a voluntary lifestyle.

“I’m used to doing without one,” she says with a dismissive shrug. How does Sadie live a modern life without something that most modern people regard as essential? She plans ahead, combines errands, and relies on a mixture of public transportation and walking.

Sadie’s way of life is even more remarkable when one considers the inefficient and poorly planned public transportation system of the small town we share. Getting from Point A to Point B on a Yakima bus can take hours, even when Points A and B are mere blocks apart. Yet her choice is not without merit. Surprisingly, she spends less time in transit that most modern mothers, and that time is usually spent reading or interacting with her children. Sadie has chopped entire toes off her carbon footprint and has no trouble getting a healthy amount of exercise every day. She is also saving money; transportation, a sizeable chunk of the average household budget, costs her mere pocket change.

Globally, more people share Sadie’s transportation arrangement than the one-car-per-driver situation favored by most American families. Women had busy lives long before Ford perfected the internal combustion engine. Yet most American families would never consider giving up driving—or even cutting back—except as a desperate measure. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but that’s not her only offspring. Ecology, frugality, and simplicity are often discovered in dire situations.

Consider: entire populations make do without the necessities of American life. Two years ago, I found myself suddenly and quite unhappily without a working clothes dryer. In a seven member household, saving laundry for a weekly trip to the Laundromat was out of the question. My husband strung up a line outside so I could air-dry clothes until we bought a new dryer. In that short week I discovered that hanging out laundry takes little time; the next month I found that it also saves a wad of electricity dollars. Years later, our new dryer is used only when the weather demands it.

How many facets of American life could be simplified this easily if circumstances demanded it? Then why wait? Join me in taking a look at your home and your life, evaluating what is really necessary, and trimming the excess. Ask yourself what you would do if forced to be without some of the items we take for granted. Some things may be absolutely necessary (“What would I do without an asthma inhaler?”) but others seem almost ridiculous in their superfluousness (“What would I do if I couldn’t afford soft drinks?”).

As always, give thanks. If you are making these changes voluntarily, you are one of the lucky ones.

*name changed

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Crazy Woman

I apologize for yet another multi-week hiatus from blogging. I enjoy blogging and it takes just a few minutes at the computer, so why can't I seem to get a daily post written? Here might be the answer, or at least part of it.

Things I must do...

  1. Care for five children between the ages of older teen and newborn. This is complicated by my preference for attachment parenting, which necessitates talking and explaining instead of spanking and yelling, and training my baby to be a sensitive and attached human being rather than a "self-soother" who internalizes rather than vocalizing her needs... a subject for another blog. The point is: I am not a low-interaction parent raising low-maintenance children. Quite the opposite.
  2. Homeschool aforementioned children, which includes not just teaching, but all of the offal that goes with it... lesson planning, curriculum buying, copy making, field tripping, social life managing.
  3. Maintain a large, but frugal and ecologically sensible home. This entails making and using homemade cleaners, hanging out laundry, gardening, foraging for good deals in nontraditional venues.
  4. Cook. I'm a foodie, if you haven't guessed already. I like fresh/organic/healthy and I need cheap.
  5. Write. I'm trying to break into freelance writing after a long career hiatus, and the first requirement of a writer is WRITING. I'm trying. But see above.
  6. Be a member of my community. We go places, do things, talk to people and try to generally be a visible family.

Things I cut out to allow time for above:

  1. Unnecessary lessons and errands. This saves gas and emissions as well!
  2. Television. Not a huge loss.
  3. Much of my social life, unfortunately.
  4. Sometimes, blogging. But every day I get more organized and my baby grows more independent, so I promise to get better!

My new goal is to blog every morning, just a little. Check back to see if I make it! And don't forget to leave comments--I LOVE comments.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sleepy after Seattle

We survived our family vacation in Seattle!

One of the best parts of taking a holiday is being so very glad to return home. The kids liked the museums and aquariums the best, but my favorite part was eating from the hole-in-the-wall stands surrounding Pike’s Place Market. Have you ever had french onion soup with fresh artisan cheese? It was so delicious even my preschoolers lapped it up. We saw the most beautiful autumn vegetables, shiny and huge and bright enough to make the neon signs seem pale, and of course watched the fishmongers throwing salmon at each other.

There is truly nothing as tiring as resting. After almost a week, we were irritable, flu-ey, and ready to return to our everyday lives.

This week I am going to be picking apples and experimenting with recipes to use them up. We have only a handful of Granny Smiths, but the Winesap tree is so full it looks ready to buckle. Ripe or not, we are going to begin the apple harvest.

I have missed the farmer’s market for the last two weeks, so next Sunday’s shopping list will be a surprise. Instead of the same old late summer veggies, I hope to find lots of interesting squashes and of course pumpkins. Pumpkin soup and pumpkin ravioli! Pies, cakes, breads, maybe even homemade pumpkin ice cream. Can you tell autumn is my favorite season?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tales of a beef-eating vegan

Sometimes I worry that too many of my posts center on food. Everyone must think that I live only to stock my cupboards and fill my mouth. On the other hand, humans (and only select members of our population) are probably the only members of the animal kingdom that do not spend the majority of their time in pursuit of nourishment. You can just call me the organic Rachael Ray because here comes yet another food-related post. The world would be a cleaner, healthier place if more of us spent our lives foraging for organic and local food instead of buying whatever's cheap at Super Walmart.

We have two food-related developments in the 24 hours or so since I posted last. First, a relative called and asked if I wanted to buy a quarter of a beef cow (butchered and wrapped of course) for $75. It's not USDA certified organic, but it was raised locally and allowed to graze, so it's clean and chemical-free meat. And what a price! I'll be paying less than a dollar a pound.

Second, I found two sources of vegan meal ideas to indulge my growing love of seitan and tempeh. As much as I enjoy experimenting with the new flavors and textures, I have a hard time incorporating them into meals. Life in an Organic Vegan Food Co-op is a blog with enough easy but satisfying dinners to keep me busy for months. Everything is simple (no recipes needed for most of the dishes) and frugal, with ingredients that can be found locally in almost any area. Great Change Recipes features more complicated recipes with things like canned artichokes that are yummy but definitely out-of-area for Washingtonians. In some cases you can substitute ingredients, so it's worth a read. The corn and soy bacon cakes are going to become my new comfort food!

I am very interested in TVP because I have a cheap and local source, but I'm not sure exactly what to do with it. Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

DHMO and you

Learn about this toxic chemical here.

This is, of course, a joke. Do you know the punchline already?

The chemical formula for dihydrogen monoxide is 'H2O', also known as water. But nothing on that web page is a lie. Water indeed causes death when inhaled (also known as drowning), and severe burns when in its gaseous state (steam burns). It is a major cause of erosion, storm systems, etc.

Let's keep this in mind when evaluating dangers. We should be cautious, but not rats blindly following the latest Pied Piper.

I found the above site today when looking for information on Splenda. A web-buddy claimed that it is one molecule away from plastic. Technically, every substance in the universe is one molecule away from plastic. Take water and carbon monoxide. One is H2O and the other CO2. Completely different molecules, but still "one molecule away" from each other. This is what we call hyperbole. If someone gives you this argument, they are either high school chemistry drop-outs or trying to deceive you.

This motivated me to investigate Splenda. I don't eat it, so I've never bothered to investigate. I know only that I see the little logo on everything. Could manufacturers be injecting a plasticine poison into every prepared food on the shelf? Sure, especially if we are clamoring for it. They're in this for money, not the karma.

From what I read, the jury is still out on Splenda. I don't know if I personally would eat it. If you are avoiding it, make sure you are basing your decision on fact and not hyperbole.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How to be a Good Houseguest

This weekend a good friend of our family proved that not all houseguests are in the stressful, demanding category.

Don't get me wrong; I love my family and friends, and with two states between clans, houseguests are a necessary evil. Opening one's home is an exercise in hospitality, and I consider myself a hospitable person. If I enjoy someone's company, it only follows that an extended visit should be an extended joy.

If only.

First, there are the children. Most of our friends and family have young children, who are bound to be crabby from the disruption in their daily life. Then there is the matter of meshing schedules between them and my younger children. Invariably, their naptime coincides with my children's jumping-on-the-couch-and-screaming time. Then there is the childish bickering and parental side taking. And on and on. However long-awaited the visit, all sides are happy to see it come to a close.

Then there are the pets. Dog people just cannot leave Poochie behind, even if Poochie is chronically incontinent and has a history of biting small children. Add to this that my children are afraid of dogs.

Last, the surprises. You will not realize that your sister-in-law snores or that your best friend gargles loudly at precisely 3:34 AM until you are sharing a domicile. After 3 days, all habits become annoying habits.

My husband's best friend took a giant leap toward my good side when he arrived without children or pets. Well, okay, he was already on my good side, but now he has some serious real estate between him and my last nerve.

Then he proceeded to be funny and tolerant for the entire long weekend. He put up with my kids, who followed him like paparazzi. He praised my cooking, which the rest of the household takes for granted. He gave us a good excuse to drive around the area and just look at stuff. He raved about the food I bought from the farmer's market.

I was honestly sorry to see him go. But all good things must come to an end, and, truth be told, I think we annoyed the hell out of him.

On a side note, I stopped by the Grocery Outlet and picked up a case of Fruitabu organic snacks and lots of other healthy goodies. They aren't local, but one could argue that buying salvage and/or factory seconds is the next best thing. I spent under twenty-three dollars for five grocery bags of organic food--can't beat that! If you have a Grocery Outlet near you, check them out for organic foods that can't be bought from local suppliers.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keeping up with the Begley's

Hollywood types are one of my biggest pet peeves, particularly how they like to talk about how wasteful we normal types are even as they consume ten or more times the resources of an average American family. At last, a few exceptions!

Most adults function on the level of junior high schoolers, with celebrities functioning as the popular group. We study them, copy them, and want to be just like them. Civilians had no interest in Humvees until Arnie started driving one--now they are commonplace, a slightly less mundane version of the Suburban. And remember when everyone had that retarded Jennifer Aniston haircut?

We are all going to be in much better shape when conserving becomes as cool as consuming. Imagine the savings in carbon emissions when Paris Hilton is at the top of Best Dressed lists for wearing the same outfit three times--without washing it! Or when Al Gore puts his money where his spokeshole is and ditches the multiple mansions for one adequate dwelling. When Ted Turner sells his private jets and travels in a bought-used electric car. Not only would they be cutting back on their own excessive lifestyles, they would be setting a very public precedent for the rest of America.

I can't name a darn thing you've starred in, but thank you Ed Begley for NOT being a giant freaking hypocrite like most of your cohort.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Confessions of a Sasquatch

Have you ever taken a quiz to calculate your carbon footprint? The last one I tried estimated my footprint at a reasonable sounding 12 acres. Sadly, even at half of the average for my country, I was still consuming almost 3 times my fair share of resources.

This was before I made several positive ecological changes this summer, so I decided to try another. I found this quiz from NPR that calculates your entire family's eco-impact. It's interactive and cartoon-y enough that you can take it with your kids and discuss how your household can change their ways to make Earth a cleaner, happier home.

Our score was 2.6, down from 2.8. I was honestly surprised it was so high because we are the most ecologically conscious family we know. The big issues were meat and dairy consumption (we're omnivores) and transportation. Our electric usage and waste production were 0!

Coincidentally, we gave up meat last week for the Frugal Habit of the Week at my website. I thought it was a healthy and economical choice, but apparently it was good for the planet as well. Maybe we'll start having one vegan week every month.

Monday, September 10, 2007

School supplies and lunches

This is probably the one place you *won't* hear about Britney. Didn't see it, don't want to. Don't care.

Anyway, while the media was following certain walking, singing, and dancing disasters, I was talking with a friend about how devastatingly expensive the back-to-school weeks are for her family. If you have no children in public schools, you might not know that most schools send home a list of necessary supplies that must be purchased in the exact brands and quantities requested. It's an exhaustively long list that often covers two pages and can add up to one hundred dollars or more per child, especially when so many schools fail to send out their list until after the sales in August.

After many years dealing with public and private school systems, this was not news. What was news, however, was that more and more schools are making expensive, restrictive, and unhealthy rules about what can be eaten on campus. Some are mandating that only commercially packaged foods can be brought in school lunches, while others make all students purchase the cafeteria lunch. I assume they provide options for students with severe allergies, but I doubt allowances are made for those who simply prefer organic, whole foods.

Unfortunately, these are only two of many ways that conventional schools are bad for families. If you're stuck in the public school mouse trap (I postulate that nobody is truly stuck, but so many seem to feel they are...), I would suggest writing your school board and requesting the following.

1. Freedom to choose school supplies independently. This would make BTS shopping cheaper, plus allow parents to purchase recycled and otherwise earth-friendly products.

2. Nontoxic cleaners. While they're at it, can they cut back on spraying herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides? If our children must spend their days inside, let's make sure the air quality is safe for growing bodies and minds.

3. Nix the packaged-only rules if they exist, and insist that the lunch program offer vegetarian and chemical free options. When eating an organic apple is a violation of school rules, we have a problem.

Friday, September 07, 2007

PETA, stop sending me letters...

Sometimes PETA pisses me off.

I am all for animal rights, but they're just a little too rigid and way too hypocritical.

For instance, they are one of the largest euthanizers of animals in the US, yet they stage protests to prevent local governments from doing the same. They are against animal research although several of their leaders are open about using medications and treatments that require ongoing contributions from our furry friends. They are quite vocally against eating meat, but I doubt they are all vegan. Plus, they keep sending me letters asking for money, which kills trees and adds to my recycling pile.

Their hearts are in the right place; if only their mouths would follow. So I am always looking for a more reasonable animal rights group to support. If you know of one, please tell me.

Until then, what can my family do? Buy cruelty free health and beauty items. Eat less meat and dairy, and make sure it's humanely raised when we must satisfy our omnivore urges. Encourage legislators to regulate, regulate, regulate. And of course, take good care of the non-human residents of our own home.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thrift Store Find!

Yesterday I decided to check out half price day at Value Village.

I don’t know how many of you frequent special sale days at thrift stores, but in case you haven’t, they get pretty crazy. It’s like the bridal sale at Filene’s, except with toothless women in torn t-shirts who look like they were kicked out of Ultimate Fighting Championship for being too rough.

(here’s a pic of the Filene’s sale if you’ve never experienced it.)

I’ve lost a bit of weight from eating locally so I figured I’d check it out. There were so many handbags! I found a pristine gunmetal gray Kate Spade handbag and it came to $2.50 after discounts. That’s 250 cents, not 250 dollars. Insanity took over, and somehow I walked out with yet more handbags to add to my extensive collection. That’s when I had an epiphany: I can use them as gift baskets!

You see, I have been struggling to come up with impressive gifts that don’t support big business. I’ve always prided myself on conjuring up the perfect gift, but that generally entails shopping on the internet. Locally, my choices seem to be limited to fruit, beaded jewelry, homemade soap, and more fruit. No “wow” gifts there. But if I buy some of those artsy little soaps and make a toiletry gift basket (but in a like-new designer handbag), well, it’s a wow to say the least. And they will cost less than $20 each, which is a good price point for someone with a bazillion kids. So that’s my latest project. I’ll try to post a picture when I finish one.

By the way, while I was plucking chi-chi bags off the cheap plastic racks two women my age were complaining to each other that there are never good purses at thrift stores. Give your local resale shops a chance, people. Everyone thinks theirs is full of useless crap, but I’ve never left empty-handed. Sometimes you have to dig to find treasure.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Milk vs. milk

Are all organic milks created equal? Apparently not. Check out this chart.

Of the two brands of organic milk available at my grocery store, one (Organic Valley) is rated excellent and the other (Horizon) 'ethically challenged'. I always buy Organic Valley milk because it is cheaper, but I buy other Horizon products such as yogurt.

If you click on the brands, you will be taken to a report explaining why they received their rating.

If you aren't already eating organic, dairy should be your first priority. If you follow sales, organic is only slightly more expensive than conventional. Plus, it's real milk, as opposed to a chemical cocktail forced out of sickly and mistreated animals. I won't touch the stuff, much less feed it to my children. Organic milk tastes better too! This is one area where buying organic matters, even if it means drastically reducing your milk consumption.

It's an easy and cheap ($1-2 difference) place to start your organic lifestyle.

Little Ways

Have you ever heard of St. Therese of the Child Jesus? She is a Roman Catholic saint who died tragically young and was known for advocating a "little way" to salvation. That is, instead of aiming for huge works of faith, she tried to make her life holy in the everyday and mundane details.

I hope St. Therese doesn't mind my stealing her idea. There are only few large ways to reduce your carbon footprint that are feasible for the average family. Most of us can't afford major purchases like solar panels and hybrid cars. We don't have the property necessary for self-sustenance. Many of us don't even have access to sufficient public transportation. We can and should make the big changes where we can (and advocate for our leaders to facilitate them), but we shouldn't ignore the thousands of little ways we can make a difference. So one of my new projects is to come up with three small ideas every day. I'll post them on my website and keep some sort of archive.

How would you feel if your kid borrowed your car and returned it dented and barely limping along on four flat tires? Well, we're borrowing this planet. It's a rental home. We need to get serious about changing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

America's Greenest Family

ABC/Yahoo has proclaimed this family 'America's Cheapest Family'.

They aren't actually America's cheapest of course. I know many people who make it on less, or have, or will--myself included. The fact that ABC thinks this is news serves as yet more proof that the media is completely out of touch with the realities of middle America.

What is truly remarkable about this family is their attitude. They are really proud of their economy, as they should be. In an age of insane consumer debt, they are happy to live within their modest means. Is that news? Unfortunately, yes.

Sometimes I am embarassed to admit what an unabashed eco-nut I am. Admitting that you do crazy things like hanging out laundry, buying used cars, and growing vegetables brands you at best as a crusty hippie, at worst an ignorant hillbilly. I'm neither. When you add in the fact that we homeschool and have eight children, the needle flips from hippie to Waco-style extremist. But in reality, I'm as moderate and average as the next mommy; I just care. I'm passionate about leaving this planet a cleaner place than I found it. I think it's cool that my household can lead a comfortable, mainstream life while consuming far less than the average American family half our size.

We aren't America's cheapest family, but we just might be America's greenest. And we should be proud of that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mmm... meat

My computer is possessed. I swear. It's spewing pop-up windows faster than Lindsay Lohan can down tequila shots and I'm waiting for the head to start spinning before I call Father Patrick.

On a positive note, I found a cheap and local source of meat, albeit a temporary one. A local store bought several animals from local 4-H-ers and sold them set apart from the other meat. The store even put a picture of the cute little farmer and the victim above the bin of their meat. If you've ever participated in 4-H or known someone who did, you know how well cared for these livestock are. They're giant mooing housepets. And they are raised without most of the Machiavellian tactics that commercial cattle ranches resort to. The meat flew off the shelves, but not before I filled my freezer.

It's interesting that we green types feel better about eating an animal that was petted every day before its throat was cut (its skin peeled off, its body dismembered and packaged in styrofoam trays, I'll stop here). Isn't it meaningless in the long run? Still, I'd rather cause an unfortunate event than a lifetime of torture. I know PETA wouldn't approve, but that small detail is just enough to keep me a carnivore.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Moroccan Food=Yummy

Once again I have been betrayed by the Yakima Farmer’s Market. Saturn peaches, aka donut peaches, aka squashy peaches, are no more. Gone, along with my waistline. So I have been forced to find another reason to wander aimlessly on Third Street every Sunday morning. The reason? Moroccan food. This week I hit the pavement with a long list of supplies, all of which were easily found here in small town America.

It’s ironic that my commitment to eating locally has led me to a love affair with food from another continent. When my peaches were replaced with late summer veggies, I began searching for ways to incorporate the abundance of zucchini, giant heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet and spicy peppers, and pungent leafy herbs into my family’s diet. North African and eastern Mediterranean cuisines use all of the above ingredients as well as lamb, couscous, bulgur wheat, and plain yogurt, all of which can be found locally and inexpensively. The dishes are super yummy and just spicy enough to tickle your palate without blistering it. In other words, it’s a neo-hippy housewife's dream. Last night we had a cinnamon and rosemary roast with tabbouleh, and tonight I will make stuffed zucchini with a vegetable salad called Fattoush.

And so I inadvertently discovered another benefit of the 100 Mile Diet, if saving a sickly planet isn’t motivation enough: it nudges us out of our suburban spaghetti/tacos/barbecue routine and provides a framework for experimenting with new ideas and flavors.

Yes, recipes will follow later this week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pizza Template Recipe

It's the middle of the week, you forgot to defrost something for dinner, and all you have to work with is a crisper drawer full of not-so-crisp veggies and the usual refrigerator fillers. What are you going to eat? Pizza.

No, not Domino's--homemade. As long as you have flour and yeast, you have the makings of a meal your family will love. Depending on what you put on your pizza, it can be vegan or omnivore-friendly, simple or gourmet, budget-savvy or extravagant. It's a fairly simple equation. Crust + sauce + toppings = yummy dinner.

First you need the crust. I use this recipe from Family Fun, but any will do. If you were really desperate, you could use french bread, english muffins, pitas, tortillas, even plain white bread toast.

Next you need the sauce. I have had good luck finding crazy-cheap organic pizza sauce at the Grocery Outlet, but I've resorted to spaghetti sauce without any complaints. If you're feeling creative, try alfredo sauce, pesto, salsa, bbq sauce... it's all good. I've even used olive oil and fresh herbs.

Last, add your toppings. Get creative with meats and veggies, then top with cheese. Bake at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes, which is just long enough to make a side salad and throw a few plates on the table.

Night before last, I made a shallot, zucchini and fresh spinach pizza topped with feta and gorgonzola cheeses, plus a classic pepperoni pizza for the kids. Not bad for a thrown-together, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-veggie-drawer, weeknight supper.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The road to hell is paved with lip balm.


I intend to buy absolutely nothing, but life has other ideas. I invariably make it almost one week before realizing that I have run out of some little necessity. This week it was Carmex. Some might argue that cosmetics are not a necessity, but my flaky, cracked lips beg to differ.

The preferred lip remedy of the outdoorsy set, Carmex is easy to find here in the Pacific Northwest, even if you refuse to patronize the Walmart/Target/ShopKo sort of establishment. It took me a grand total of one stop at a locally owned grocery store less than five blocks from my home. Not exactly the quest for the holy grail. I was in line with a handful of the yellow plastic tubes before I thought to check where Carmex is made. Hint: it’s not Yakima. Duh. Well, I can live that if there is no local alternative, but it’s not organic either, and I have no idea how it is manufactured. For all I knew, the stuff is made by Exxon-Mobil and tested on genetically modified baby bunnies that are then dumped into Lake Tahoe. So I put it back.

(For the record, later research revealed that Carmex is small family-owned business that tests its products on said family, but you cannot be too careful! Read before you buy!)

Luckily I was in Rosauer’s, which is my absolute favoritest grocery store because it is local and has a HUGE organic section. That’s where I discovered Burt’s Bees. Of course we’ve all seen the brand before, but it hadn’t made a blip on my radar until then. I grabbed one of their tinted lip shimmers--oooh, pretty!--and balked at the price before buying it anyway. With all the tingly moisture of Carmex plus just enough color to ensure my husband and stepsons don’t steal it, this stuff is worth every one of those four hundred pennies. Burt and his apian friends also make baby supplies and just about everything my family keeps in our bathroom cupboard. The products are not made in Yakima, but they are organic, and I don’t care how the bees are treated because I am allergic to the little buggers. In fact, I get a sick pleasure out of using the fruits of their labor to my own benefit.

Of course Woman cannot live on lip shimmers alone. I wear mineral face powder and mascara on a daily basis, plus eyeliner and various lip/cheek/eyelid/whatever coloring products when I leave the house. Because I’ve never met a Sephora I didn’t like, I will probably make it to the end of my six month buy-nothing pledge (and then some) before depleting my considerable supplies, but when they do run out I will replace them with the earth- and critter-friendly products I discovered at the links below.

Juice Beauty
Care by Stella McCartney
L’Occitane Woohoo! Already one of my faves!

On a side note, an unexpected benefit of buying little is that we produce so much less waste. My household of seven is down to one small garbage can or less every week--not the big green dumpster, but the normal cans that everyone used to use. That’s with a baby in disposables! We’re still paying for two cans, but I at least have the satisfaction of seeing a tangible difference every week. Easier on the landfill and easier to drag to and from the main road!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Recipe: Honeydew Soup


1 honeydew melon
1/2 lime
1 tsp honey

Cut honeydew into chunks. Blend in a blender or food processor with honey and lime juice. Serve chilled as a first course or a dessert.

I used the leftover for popsicles. It would also make great sorbet!

4 months in: not exactly buying nothing, but...

With my six month experiment two-thirds over, I figure it’s a good time to evaluate my success.

My original goal was to buy nothing. Absolutely nothing. No exceptions.

Then I realized that my family needed more food than I could grow, so I compromised by buying locally as much as possible and allowing eco-responsible organic brands when local was not available. We are now a healthier family and I have learned to walk right past a display of boxed macaroni and cheese. Even if they’re four for a dollar. Not exactly buying nothing, but an improvement.

Then I realized that I was about to have a baby (well, okay, I already knew that) and that she would require all of the pastel accoutrements we buy for our little bundles of need. I found almost everything used and tried with varying success to nudge gift-givers toward more practical items. Not exactly buying nothing, but I prevented a lot of waste and saved a ton of money.

I originally planned to drive one day a week only and either walk or take the bus on the other days. This was a stupid plan. Have you ever lugged a baby carrier, stroller, and two preschoolers onto a bus? With stitches down under? Cripes. They don’t make stiff enough drinks for that. I have, however, cut my driving by about half—just in time, with gas prices so absurdly high—and started walking when possible. As for public transportation… someday. But not today, or tomorrow, or any day this week.

It sounds like my buy-nothing plan was a failure, yet it feels like an extraordinary success. What began as a protest against the bloated American economic system has became a paradigm shift for my family. The farmer’s market used to be an outing for a lazy Sunday; now it’s our primary source of sustenance. We have favorite vendors and a baker who remembers what cookies we like best. Our garden is perhaps not thriving, but it’s at least producing. We’ve stopped feeling that we need to run to Target every time a new and improved piece of plastic dances across the TV screen. Our carbon footprint is at least a shoe size or two smaller, and we’ve began to let our roots spread in our new hometown. Our impact on the earth is far from zero, but it’s getting smaller every week.

A failure, but one I can be proud of.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Recipe: Cucumber Shallot Salad

Shallots taste like a cross between garlic and mild onion. They add a small but pungent kick to traditional cucumber salad.


1/4 cup vinegar (I use balsamic, but any kind will do)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 finely chopped shallot
dash cayenne (optional)

Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Then, add 2/3 cup water and 2 tsp sugar.

Thinly slice 2 large cucumbers or 3 medium ones. Put in a bowl and pour the vinegar mixture over. Refrigerate for several hours, the longer the better, stirring occasionally.

Makes 6 generous servings.

Note: to take it down a notch, strain the vinegar mixture before adding to cucumbers. This will remove the shallot and most of the cayenne, leaving only a hint of these flavors.

Monday, August 06, 2007

All Hopped Up in Moxee

These children are running through... ?
a. insanely tall hedges
b. an English maze
c. a hop field

As those of you who read the title already know, the answer is C. The munchkins are my preschoolers.

Here are a few interesting facts about American hops:

  • They grow freakin' huge.
  • They are the flavor in beer.
  • They are related to one of America's other favorite plants, marijuana, and contain the same active ingredient.
  • 75 to 90% of them are grown in my area, depending on who you talk to.
  • They are the star of almost every late summer/early fall festival in the Yakima Valley.
  • Because of their prevalence in Central Washington, I can drink all I want without compromising my commitment to buy locally. I'm not an alcoholic; I'm merely supporting local industry. :-)
This weekend we trekked east to Moxee to check out their annual Hop Festival, but we were sidetracked by the hop fields themselves. They are an impressive sight--thousands of acres of fifteen foot tall plants on either side of the road. By the time we finished gawking, it was time to go home for nap. So if you are dying to hear about the drunken festivities or want to know how a mood-altering substance can bring a community together, check out the official website here.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Recipe: Chai Spiced Zucchini Bread

Are you sick of zucchini already?

Farmer's markets and gardens are fairly bursting with the little green squash, but my family is already tired of zucchini latkes, zucchini quesadillas, and fried zucchini in any form. But they weren't complaining when I served this for breakfast! It's also a fun and easy way to sneak another serving of veggies into a starch-loving preschooler's diet.

Chai Spiced Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed to remove most fluid
1 cup nuts
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla
3. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to egg mixture. Mix well.
4. Fold in zucchini and nuts.
5. Bake for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in center of loaves comes out clean.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Recipe: Grilled Saturn Peaches

After weeks of waiting and praying, at last they arrive! Squashy peaches!

They’re actually called Saturn peaches or donut peaches, but my little ones call them squashy peaches because of their flattened shape. Whatever the name, we tried them last year out of curiosity and ended up consuming about fifty pounds of them in the two weeks that was left of harvest season. They are frost-hardy, which explains why they grow here in Yakima but does NOT explain why we had never heard of nor tasted them in California. Just another reason not to live there, I guess.

Let me describe this fruit, as if I could do it justice with mere words. Normal peaches are tasty, but always either a little too acidic or a lot too mushy. They are awkward to eat because of their size; you can’t get your mouth around them and therefore must choose between a face full of peach juice and smeared lip gloss (not happening) or a half-hour of nibbling at them while carefully holding them away from your clothing (my preferred method). The squashy peach is sweet and firm at the same time—alleluia—and, being squashy, fits comfortably into your mouth. Even better, the taste is like distilled peach flavor. It’s peach schnapps without the schnapps. It’s the peach to which you have been unknowingly comparing other peaches, the archetype. Clearly our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to consume as many as possible before they are no longer available.

So my daughter and I cleaned out three separate farmer stalls last Sunday (slight exaggeration), and once I tired of eating them plain, I wiggled into my PMS jeans and went back to buy another twenty pounds for cooking. But what to do with them? I could not bring myself to throw such a noble fruit in the tarts, pies, and cobblers that we use to disguise the inferiority of other peaches. Squashy peaches deserve a preparation method that showcases their virtues. Like a good cut of beef, only the grill can do them justice.

Grilled Saturn Peaches

6 Saturn peaches
½ cup honey
Optional: cinnamon or fresh ginger

1. Heat grill to medium and brush with oil.
2. Prepare peaches by cutting them in half top to bottom and removing the stone, then cutting across from side to side. You should end up with four flat peach slices.
3. Grill cut side down for one minute, then turn and repeat.
4. Remove from grill and drizzle with honey. If desired, grate cinnamon over the top or sprinkle with very finely grated fresh ginger.

Serves 3 people, or me.

Mmmm. Dolcessima!

Is that a word?

If you have something against grilling (you freak of nature), you can sauté them in butter instead of grilling. Just think of a stir-fry, but with butter and peaches where the oil and veggies should be. Don’t forget the honey treatment afterward.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Trip to Californ-I-A

Last weekend my family caravanned south to our former hometown in California, which brought up the whole tangled issue of ecological travel. Isn’t that an oxymoron? It’s a definite sore spot with me that our highest profile “ecologists” spend so much time on private planes, which despite their small numbers produce more pollution than all of the private vehicles in America combined. I guess Al Gore would have a hard time selling books from his 20,000 square foot mansion, but the waste seems so hypocritical that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Now I’m feeling his pain; it’s hard to maintain the 100-mile diet when we’re a thousand miles away, but sometimes life beckons. I want to see the world without destroying it, so here was my plan for a green getaway:

Conserve Fuel: This was probably the biggest consideration for my super-sized family. We all know to take the smallest vehicle, but what exactly is a reasonable size for seven people? You can’t assume the compact car wins, especially when carting large groups. In our case, the two most efficient cars available get 18 mpg and the trusty minivan gets 28, so the larger vehicle is the most ecological choice (18x2=36 and 36>28). We are one of the few families that could justify driving one of those giganto SUV’s, but I think being a little squished is worth preserving the polar ice caps and infinitely more comfortable than breathing smog. Americans opt for comfort over fuel efficiency, but do we really need room for a quick game of arena football in the back seat? We have been known to rent a more fuel efficient vehicle; depending on how far we are traveling, this sometimes saves money as well as emissions.

Eat Normal Food: Another discovery: it’s hard to eat local when I don’t have cooking facilities or any idea what is local and where to purchase it. My remaining choices were: A. bring as much as possible from home and try to favor smaller establishments over corporate fast food, or B. give up and spend several days feeling my butt spread as I sit in the drove-through line. Option A is obviously more environmentally sound, not to mention cheaper and healthier. However, in the interest of family peace I aimed for one meal out per day, with the rest improvised. My kids got their Happy Meal fix and I (almost) kept my waistline.

Treat Hotels like a Home Away from Home--Literally: It seems logical until you put my otherwise sensible family in the alien surroundings of a hotel room and watch them go crazy. Air conditioners (or heaters, depending on the season) running 24/7, lights left on, showers that drain the hotel’s million-gallon tank. We’re paying for it, so why not enjoy it, right? But I don’t leave the earth behind when I leave my home—not this decade at least—so I have started pretending that I’ll be the one paying the electric bill and jacking that thermostat up to 80 where it belongs. I really wish we could have pitched a tent and avoided the temptation altogether, but we needed a roof, a shower, and preferably breakfast. Here are a few lists of green hotels to check out before you make reservations:

Entertainment/Souvenirs/Miscellaneous: Obviously the funeral and all of the related festivities were enough to occupy us, but if I had a spare moment I would have checked out local National Parks. I could also have searched my destination’s local newspaper for upcoming concerts and entertainment. Even the smallest community rarely sees a summer weekend with nothing to do. As for souvenirs, better than freecycling is not buying crap I don’t need in the first place. A picture makes a better memory and won’t end up languishing on the shelf at Goodwill. If we had absoposilutely required a tangible item, I would have gone for something edible. By the grace of God we managed to escape with only a few Happy Meal toys.

The best choice, had this been a pleasure-only trip, would have been to stay closer to home. Not only would we have saved gas, but we would have seen more of our new home state. But sometimes you want to, or have to, venture beyond your own backyard. The good news is that environmentally-conscious traveling is usually budget-conscious as well, which will leave you funds for buying my book when and if I manage to get it published.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Recipe: Caprese Sandwiches

I'm going to start posting recipes separately so they are easier find in the index.

The question of the week is: what on earth are we going to do with all of these tomatoes? If you are anything like me, all you see is tomatoes: in the garden, the grocery store, the farmer's market. They're full of whatever chemicals are reported to fight cancer this week and low calorie, but how many can you throw on a salad before it becomes a tomato-y mess? And the harvest is only in its earliest stages.

If you've had Caprese Salad, you know one way to eat up those 'maters. Just layer them all pretty on a platter with some basil and mozzarella, sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Very easy, and very trendy in a continental euro-snob way. But it isn't enough for a meal unless you have a house of light eaters, and I don't. I do, however, have a house of sandwich lovers, sooo...

Caprese Sandwiches

Ciabatta bread
Olive oil (try some flavored oil--I especially love this with a touch of garlic)
Sliced tomato
Fresh basil
Mozzarella (preferably fresh but the rubber kind works too)

Split the ciabatta bread lengthwise, like you are making a sandwich (go figure). brush inside and out lightly with oil. on the bottom piece, layer tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Make it as big as you want, but remember that you need to fit your mouth around the thing. Now grill it! There are no set amounts, no real instructions, because it is really that simple

When you're tired of sandwiches (won't happen here), you can scroll down this blog and find recipes for gazpacho and pasta all'amatriciana, which are also tomato-ful and blessedly oven-free.

More local entertainment, plus a plea for beer

Maybe it’s the warm weather and long days, maybe the suburban homes teeming with unoccupied schoolchildren and desperate housewives. Whatever the cause, summer can be an endless expanse of boredom or an opportunity to spend some quality family time sharing whatever entertainment your area has to offer. Unless your last name is Trump, this entertainment needs to be convenient and nearly free. I’m not married to a tycoon, so my three youngest children and I spent last Saturday wandering about Yakima’s Folk Life Festival. There was no main attraction, but plenty of stuff to look at: medieval fighting, face painting, an out-of-order kiddie train, and a village-y area with booth after rickety booth of hippie treasures for sale. Oh, and music of course, ranging from the good to the, uh, interesting. A little of everything, except alcohol.

No alcohol? What’s the big deal? Well, it isn’t a huge deal (as in, no one died) but…

Alcohol=more money for whatever charity this is benefiting (this WAS a fundraiser, right?)
Alcohol=generally more fun and festivity, and therefore
Alcohol=more attendees

(Many people don’t know that Sage Mommy worked in her past (pre-marriage) life in the development department of a nonprofit social service agency. I was basically an in-house copy writer and graphic artist, but I was regularly drafted for service on the battlefield known as EVENTS. When I started having babies, I reduced both paid and volunteer efforts to a part-time, contract status, which unfortunately came to a halt when I moved last summer. Point? I know how to run these things. Alcohol is essential. And fun. I loved dressing up for our invitation-only, black tie balls, but my favorite moments of this job were spent in medieval garb behind the counter of a Renaissance Faire beer booth.)

I know (from painful experience) that dealing with general public is always a pain in the ass, and (from downright traumatic experience) that dealing with a less-than-sober general public is even more so. I know that many charities and businesses don’t want to risk appearing to condone excessive drinking. However, moderate consumption of alcohol is part of a healthy lifestyle, and if you are against drinking on principle you should consider relocating away from the beer and wine capital of the Pacific Northwest. The risks can be mitigated, and the financial gain more than offsets the obvious logistic issues.

Most important, I was really craving a beer and there were none in sight. I would have paid five times the going price for a plastic cup of the nastiest beer, more if it were something new and interesting from a local microbrewery. Because

Afternoon in sun with three small children + an unending lineup of amateur folk singers + no mood-altering refreshment = one sad mommy

So whoever runs this thing, call me. We’ll talk. I’ll help if necessary, just to make sure that no other housewife has to suffer as I did.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bacon + Pasta = Yummy

There is apparently a farmer’s market “type”, because I seem to see everyone I know at ours. This Sunday, it was two families from my homeschool co-op, my husband’s coworker, even my doctor. We clearly weren’t there for the entertainment, a faded Elvis impersonator with several more decades under his sequined belt than the original could have hoped to reach. A poorly managed sound system entirely eliminated any background music and left faux Elvis sounding more like an impersonation of an impersonator. Still, fun in a kitschy, kindergarten-recital kind of way.

Farmer’s markets have moved from dirt roads to downtowns and became social events in the process, complete with the finest local entertainment your area has to offer. In Yakima’s case, this can make for an interesting morning, but the apricots and sweet, mild onions were worth it. With the bags of veggies we bought and the first tomatoes from my garden, I was able to make a modified, Central Washington version of the Italian classic, Pasta All’Amatriciana. It is basically bacon pasta... Elvis would have been proud.


8 oz bacon
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
5 large tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and chopped
¼ cup dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan, asiago, or romano cheese as desired
1 lb. pasta—a chunky shapes works best

1. Boil pasta until al dente, drain and set aside.
2. Cut bacon into small-ish pieces and fry until crisp. Set aside.
3. Saute the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium heat until garlic is just turning golden.
4. Add bacon, tomatoes, and red wine, and cook until starting to thicken, about 10 minutes.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Taste before adding, because bacon is salty.
6. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with cheese.

This is cheap, easy, and good, but because no one has heard of it, there is a definite foodie-snob appeal. If someone asks where you found the recipe, tell them Rome.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Souper Summer Dinners

Soup? In the summer? You bet! Soups don't have to be heavy and hot. If you've had enough salads to last you the next few months, here are a couple of recipes for yummy and simple summertime soups to create from your garden and farmer's market bounty. Both are vegan (if you use veggie broth and skip the worcestershire) and ultra-healthy.

Creamy Ginger-Carrot Soup

  1. 2 14-oz cans of broth
  2. 1 can water
  3. 1 lb carrots
  4. 1/2 chopped fresh ginger

Cut carrots to 2-3 inch sections. Bring broth and water to a boil in a saucepan and add carrots. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook covered until carrots are tender, adding water as needed to cover carrots. When carrots are cooked, empty pan--liquid, carrots, and all--into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pan and serve at room temperature.

Here's what mine looked like. I served it with a substantial bread (like ciabatta or focaccia) and a cheese plate. It comfortably serves 4-5 adults. This recipe would work with any starchy vegetable.

Gazpacho is healthy, cheap, and requires no cooking whatsoever, so why aren't we eating it every day? I had trouble finding a viable recipe and therefore ended up coming up with my own variation. My preschoolers loved it and called it ketchup-o.


  1. 4 large tomatoes, chopped, peeled, and seeded
  2. 1/2 onion, so finely chopped it's almost pulverized
  3. 1 cucumber, chopped and peeled
  4. 1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped and seeded
  5. 2 stalks celery, chopped
  6. 1 shallot, finely chopped
  7. 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  8. 1 Tbsp chives
  9. 1 Tbsp parsley
  10. 2 tsp sugar
  11. 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  12. 1/8 cup olive oil
  13. 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
  14. 4 cups vegetable juice (like V8)
  15. Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Combine all in large bowl. Blend half in blender on pulse setting until just blended--don't completely paste-ify it. Add back to bowl and mix well. Blend more if the consistency isn't right; otherwise, chill and serve. This tastes better as it ages!

I sprinkled a little cotija cheese on top and served with french bread. This was a huge hit with my husband and kids, who are usually unrepentant carnivores. It's easily enough for 6 enthusiastic eaters, even 7 or 8.

Check back in a few days for more on my family's ever greener lifestyle and more veggie-full recipes!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Emmie's Back!

I hope my kind readers will forgive my long absence--2 months? can it be? Between pregnancy fatigue and an endless parade of houseguests, sitting down to the computer moved down the priority list to somewhere between having the cat shaved and vacuuming between the couch cushions. My commitment to a greener lifestyle has luckily remained stronger than my motivation to chronicle it. Here are a few observations I've made during my yet short foray into the organic life:

1. Organic, local, and/or healthy food does not necessarily cost more. Why not? I am no expert in agriculture, but I'd guess that transporting those peaches from Chile ain't cheap, at least not as cheap as transporting cherries from the next town over. Plus, I know that the cherries meet US health codes, which we cannot guarantee when dealing with other countries. I'll take my fruit without that side of melamine, thanks.

2. Kids *will* eat that stuff. I know because I have a few. Mine seem to be slowly losing their taste for additives and food-like chemicals, although they still have occasional Cheeto cravings. The munchkins will try anything with enough encouragement, so we have tried about a million different kinds of granola and trail mix with varying results. Being actively involved in the growing and/or purchasing of snacks is a big advantage, so bring them along when you go to the farmer's market and health food store.

3. Once you are used to eating real food, everything else tastes like, well, crap. I spent two days in the hospital following my daughter's birth and found most of the food an unrecognizable chemical and starch cocktail. Granted, institutional food is not meant to be a gourmet experience, but I think they were trying for edible. No such luck. Several guests brought me fast food, which I had trouble convincing myself to eat as well. I was happy to come home just to have a real meal.

So far the most difficult products to find locally and affordably are meat and dairy, but I'm working on it. Darigold is technically local despite being a large regional brand, so I favor them at the grocery store when organic is just too expensive. Meanwhile, I've been incorporating more vegan and vegetarian meals into our diets to keep as local as possible. My latest project is summer soups--recipes will follow early this coming week. Until then, take care of yourselves and enjoy the bounty of summer!