Monday, August 31, 2009

Negative Peer Pressure and Green Moms

Do you ever find yourself feeling like you need to hide exactly how green you are?

I certainly do, especially when we have houseguests. I put away the homemade cleansers so no one sees that I don't use the commercial antibacterial stuff. I make 'normal' meals, like meat tacos. I buy packaged foods for my cupboards. If asked, I describe my blog as a 'family' blog.

None of the words for people who embrace an ecofriendly lifestyle have positive connotations: hippy, crunchy. My personal favorite comes from a Chemistry classmate: "You are so granola." From there, it's all downhill. Activist, dirty, extremist, nutcase.

My houseguests are without exception wonderful people who would accept any weirdness I threw their way, but I feel the need to put on a show of how conventional I am. People have been trained by the media to think that our disposable lifestyles are cleaner and safer than the alternative. I don't want to have to sound like a perpetual Sierra Club ad and I don't want anyone to think they are going to be attacked by germs if they use my toilet. So I buy individually packaged granola bars instead of making my own and put the homemade laundry soap in an old Tide box.

People should feel guilty for not hanging things out, for not reusing, for pouring anti-bacterial crap into our waterways. Instead, I blush when the kids ask for falafel or when freecycling comes into the convo. I feel a little shame at cleaning with vinegar and old rags. wtf?

From now on, it's no more Miss Nice Mommy. My house is green, but it is as clean and comfortable as any other. It's time for all of us green mommies to be proud of who we are and what we stand for!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And I thought I was green...

I'm reading a book on urban homesteading and really digging the idea of being off the economic grid. I started searching for sites to help me along and found this one. The website is published by a family of four that lives almost entirely on products grown or otherwise created on their small city-sized plot in Pasadena. It's like the city version of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I hope they are as inspiring to all of my friends in the blogosphere as they are to me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun Lunch Ideas

When I homeschooled, we relied on leftovers for lunch. Leftover meat could be rolled in a tortilla and baked to make taquitos, or I could throw together a salad and serve with slices of cheese. I didn't have to plan for lunch. Now, however, with everyone in school (including me), lunch is a little more complicated. Modern parents can't rely on the schools to provide a healthy lunch, nor can we send the traditional PBJ in this allergy-prone era. Here are my solutions:

1. The Leftover Wrap. I keep whole wheat tortillas in the fridge--they stay good forever, it seems--and I use leftovers to make healthy, tasty wraps for our lunches. The only potential problem is sogginess, but there are ways to solve this. First, spread something thick and water resistant on the wrap before filling, like cream cheese, hummus, or a nut butter. Second, use hardier veggies, like cole slaw mix, broccoli, or cabbage. Thicker leafy vegetables work too--think chard, spinach, and kale. From there, just add a filling, fold, and enjoy. You can get really creative with wraps! Our favorite right now is hummus, red curry chicken, and shredded cabbage. Don't knock it until you've tried it!

2. Cheese and whole grains. This is the easiest lunch solution, and my kids are almost guaranteed to eat it provided we haven't had it for lunch all week. I slice cheese and send it with whole grain crackers, whole grain toast, or just about any whole wheat grain. Whole wheat pitas can be sent with spaghetti or pizza sauce and shredded cheese for DIY pizzas. Kids love cheese, so be creative and you might be surprised at what they will eat.

3. Chopped fruits and veggies with protein dips. These can include hummus, which is super cheap when homemade with the recipe at the bottom of this post, or nut butters. Earthbound Farm sent me some individually packaged organic carrots and apple slices that were so good we couldn't manage to save any for when school started. If you go to their website, you can get on their mailing list and get coupons for delicious, healthy products sent to your home. With or without coupons, these still cost less per ounce than packaged chips, and the nutrition is clearly superior. I'm not fond of things that come in individual packages, but this company uses recycled materials, which takes some of the guilt out of this easy, busy-morning solution.

4. Pasta Salads. Mayo-based salads are a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, and not even really healthy. Oil based salads, on the other hand, are safer and healthier. Simply start with whole grain pasta boiled as directed--they give a kick of healthy fiber and don't get mushy--then add your child's favorite crunchy vegetables chopped into bite-sized pieces. Complete with a protein, like nuts, beans, or crumbled cheese, and mix with olive oil and spices to make a yummy pasta salad.

Any of the above main courses with a homemade snack (like pumpkin bread or peanut butter cookies) and a fruit or veggie will make a frugal and green lunch that your kid is very likely to eat instead of trading for a Twinkie. If you have any fun lunch ideas, email me or leave a message. I'm always looking for kid friendly lunch ideas that are tasty enough that I can bring them to school as well.

Easy Homemade Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
salt and pepper to taste

Put all in food processor or blender and process until a paste forms. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hamburger Heaven

I try to use as little meat as possible, but hamburger has two things going for it: it's cheap, and it's versatile. Whether you buy half a grass-fed cow from the local farm or follow the sales, if you are like most households, hamburger is a staple.

I reduce the environmental impact of hamburger by stretching it as far as it will go and by serving it on rushed nights when our only other option is fast food. I buy hamburger when it is on sale and process it in the following manner:

1. Determine the weight of the hamburger and measure out one-quarter that weight of dry TVP. Hydrate the TVP by mixing equal volumes of hot water into it and letting set until absorbed. Then, add to the burger.

2. While you're at it, throw in a few handfuls of dry oatmeal, barley, or bulghur. Crackers and bread work as well if you have some you need to use up. The point is to add fiber with whatever you have around the house.

Adding protein and fiber not only stretches your hamburger, it lower the overall fat percentage and makes it more filling. I then add some finely chopped onion and garlic, because we like those in all of our hamburger recipes.

3. Make your recipes and freeze them. You might have your own favorites, but here are some of mine.

Meatballs two different ways (if you are going to make these, get the sauces started and cooking on the stove before doing anything else)

Take the mix mentioned above and add some of your favorite spices (mine today had about a tablespoon each of dill and rosemary) and an egg or two. Roll into balls and brown in a pan over medium heat. Do this in batches so there is only a single layer in the pan at any time.

As they finish browning, add half to each of the two sauces: spaghetti sauce and one other. I seem to get good spaghetti sauce on sale for less than it would cost me, so I just use jarred. The second sauce is made with whatever I happen to have around. If I have mushrooms, I make Swedish meatball sauce; if I have the stuff for homemade BBQ or sweet and sour, I make one of those. Let them simmer for an hour or so, then put in separate ziploc or freezer containers.

Easy Mini Meatloaf

I add two eggs for one large-family batch. Work in, then add your choice of spices and some kind of tomato-based liquid. I use about one cup for the aforementioned large-family batch. I like to play around with spices--adding taco seasoning for the spice and leftover salsa for the tomato, or spaghetti sauce for the tomato with extra garlic and oregano. I then put a handful or so in each well of a large muffin pan and top with a layer of the same tomato product. You can then either bake the whole thing at 350 until done, then taking the meatloaves out of the pan and freezing; or wrap up the whole pan and freeze raw, to be cooked another day.

Browned Meat

The rest gets browned and frozen in meal sized portions to be added to tacos, casseroles, or whatever inspires me.

In a normal hamburger session, I spend less than two hours of cooking to get six meals: two meatball, one meatloaf, and three browned beef. One days that are overbooked, I take out a package and put it in the refrigerator in the morning. For the meatballs, you can thaw overnight and empty the bag into the crockpot in the morning, leaving it to simmer on low until you are ready to eat.

All of these meals are faster than a pizza and much cheaper... I hope they make your busy life a little easier!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dealing with a Stiff...

...basket of laundry. What did you think I was going to say?

No one wants to wear scratchy underwear. I understand that, believe me. This is the number one argument against hanging out clothes, but you can fix this problem with relative ease. There are two ways I deal with this:

1. Add a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle. The vinegar smell will be gone before the clothes even dry, but for some reason it makes them softer. Some things, like blue jeans and towels, still need a little help.

2. Put clothes in the dryer with a damp dishtowel for a few minutes. I know the point is to not use the dryer, BUT using it for three minutes beats using it for forty-five.

Some things, like crisp cotton, need ironed anyway. That takes care of the stiffness. I don't consider it a waste of electric because I iron those items even when they are dryer-dried.