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.