Thursday, September 10, 2009

How You Like Them Apples?

They aren't just for dessert and snacks anymore!

We have an apple tree that blesses us with more apples than any reasonable family could eat. They're great for snacks and really unhealthy desserts, but I am always looking for a way to incorporate them into actual meals. Here are two super awesome and reasonably priced recipes that I found at the most unexpected place: Williams-Sonoma.

Puffy Apple Pancake


1 small apple--I made ours with THREE and it was very good
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar


  • Preheat an oven to 400°F.
  • Grease a 9-inch glass pie dish with butter.
  • Peel the apple, then cut it into quarters and core. I have one of those nifty apple things that does it for me. Using a small knife, cut the apple quarters into small chunks.
  • In a small bowl, using a fork, stir together 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Add the apple chunks and toss with the fork until the pieces are evenly coated with the cinnamon-sugar. *NOTE* If you use more apple, you'll need more sugar and cinnamon as well.
  • Pour the apple chunks into the prepared dish, spreading them out evenly with the fork. Set aside.
  • In a blender, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, the eggs, milk, flour and vanilla. Put the blender lid on securely and, holding the lid down tightly, blend on medium speed until all the ingredients are well mixed and frothy, about 1 minute. *ANOTHER NOTE* I did this part by hand. I think it took less time than getting out the blender and then washing it and putting it away.
  • Put the dish in the oven and bake the apple chunks for 5 minutes. Using an oven mitt, carefully pull out the oven rack until the dish is visible. Do not remove the dish.
  • Pour the batter evenly over the apples. Slide the rack back into the oven and close the oven door. Bake the pancake until puffed and brown, about 25 minutes.
  • Using oven mitts, carefully remove the dish from the oven and set it on a wire cooling rack.
  • Dust the pancake with confectioners sugar using a fine-mesh sieve. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Once you've had apples for breakfast, why not have them for lunch as well? I made these sandwiches and they were good enough that I am no longer dreading eating apples three or four times a day for the next month and a half.

Peanut Butter and Apple Sandwich


2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons peanut butter, preferably all- natural
2 slices sandwich bread


  • Put the cream cheese, vanilla and honey in a bowl. Using a fork, mash together until smooth.
  • Put the apple on its side on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the apple in half lengthwise. Then cut each half in half again to make quarters. Lay each quarter on its side and cut away the tough, papery core and seeds. Cut each apple quarter lengthwise into thin slices. *Again, I use the apple machine for this. It takes like twenty seconds to core, peel, and slice one apple!*
  • Using a table knife, spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the second slice of bread.
  • Cover the peanut butter with a layer of apple slices, and top with the second bread slice, cream cheese side down. Press down lightly. Cut the sandwich in half or into quarters with the sharp knife and serve immediately. Ignore small children begging for a bite. Makes 1 sandwich. You'll need a lot more than that!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

One Girl's Green Wardrobe

Does 'back to school' have to be expensive or bad for the environment? My seven-year-old eco-fashionista doesn't think so! Here are a few ways your kids can be paragons of style without compromising their values or your finances.

Buy Organic

T-shirt by Born On Earth, which is a new brand that makes children's clothing from organic materials. It's all made in Southern California, so you don't have to worry about oppressing people in the third world. If the shirt doesn't look brand-new, it might be because Grace has worn it at least five times since the company sent it to us (thanks, guys!). I tried to convince her to save it for the photo shoot... no luck. So you can see that it washes and line-dries well! We have gotten so many comments (especially when we went to Seattle last weekend... it was a real showstopper in Pike's Place) on this shirt because of the cute graphic on the front and the little details all over it. Check it out...

This tee has a modern, fitted cut and it's long enough to cover what low-rise jeans don't. If your little ones also happen to have been born on earth, you might want to check out their website.

Organic, fair trade clothing is more expensive than what you would pick up at Target, but it is well worth it. Take for instance, Born on Earth. The products are 100% organic with water-based inks. They plant one tree for each purchase through a partnership with Trees for the Future. Even their tags and bags are 100% recycled and recyclable. You'll be able to afford at least a few key pieces from green clothing makers if you fill out your wardrobe with the ultra low-cost options that follow.

Recycled Clothing

The outfit above is entirely from freecycle. The shorts are faded, but I think that's back in style now. The shirt was a boy's stained white t-shirt. I sun-bleached it to fade the stains and then tie-dyed with bright colors. The result is a beautiful, wearable piece of art that Grace helped make.

There are many sources of free clothing. First, freecycle and the free section of Craig's List. Second, hand-me-downs. Make it known that you take hand-me-downs and you'll start getting offers. Most people would love to have another mom to give their children's cast-offs to, but they are afraid to offend someone by offering.

Speaking of free clothing, the shirts below are from freecycle as well. Little girls can't wear thin-strapped tanks alone to my daughter's school, but they are cute and modest when layered to cover stains and worn spots in other shirts. I made the skirt--isn't it adorable?

Support your Favorite Cause

Grace cares deeply about the plight of endangered animals, so when she saw this shirt at the Bellevue Mall, she had to have it. We were even more thrilled when when we found out that one dollar from every tee goes to the World Wildlife Fund. You can get this shirt at Justice, which is in most major malls now. If you don't have one near you, there are also eco-themed tops at Cafe Press. Check out the bee green Kids Hoodie.


What can you do with really pretty toile curtains from the Goodwill that don't look right on a single window in your home? If you're a hippie mama like me, you can trace your daughter's favorite jumper onto newspaper, adding a half-inch all around for hems, and use that as a sewing pattern for a stylish jumper. This is a super easy project and the only costs are the curtains (99 cents) and the thread (pennies).

As you can see, procuring a school wardrobe without trashing the planet is attainable and even easy. Just remember to Recycle (by passing on your unneeded clothes and accepting hand-me-downs from others), Reduce (as in reducing the social and ecological impact of your new stuff by buying organic and fair trade), and Reuse (mend, tie-dye, and repurpose to get the maximum use out of every item).

Here's a game for my readers: of all the shoes Grace owns, only one pair was bought brand new. Can you guess which? The choices are: brown flats from first picture, gold sandals, or black tennis shoes. Leave a message with your guess and I'll tell everyone next Monday.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Solar Power

I'm in the middle of a huge writing project on solar power, which means I can't say much about it without plagiarizing myself. However, I can say this: I never realized how do-able making your own solar panels can be. There are a lot of options I have run into while researching my project that seem totally possible, even with my limited skills. I am especially interested in recycling broken solar panels--recycling and carbon-neutral power are two of my favorite things.

My children are really into this concept also. We've done a few solar science projects that have only whet their appetite for more. So, I am tossing around a few ideas right now. I'm thinking about trying to sell this as an article for a major magazine or a feature for a major TV show. After all, how many families decide to build their own solar panels?

I'll be sure to report back here when I have my thoughts on this a little more organized. Oh, and check back tomorrow for my ultra-green back-to-school post. I have made some cool stuff and even procured a few samples from the latest green kids' clothes companies.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Alternatives to Driving

Rising gas prices have led to a flood of articles on saving gas dollars, but most of them focus on things other than actually reducing your time on the road. Here are a few ways I am reducing my driving time.

1. Get to know your public transportation. If you aren't in a major city, it probably sucks. As in: it will take you twice as long to get anywhere. However, this is something that you can get used to. Consider: time that you drive is generally wasted time. You are not accomplishing anything. You are not making meaningful interactions. You're just burning fuel. When you are riding the bus, you can talk to your children, teach homeschooling lessons, make phone calls, pay bills, balance your checkbook, read a book, crochet Christmas gifts, mend socks, etc. The bus may take more time, but unlike driving time it can be productive.

2. Choose one or two days a week that you will drive. For us, it is currently Friday and Sunday. Friday is my errand day; Sunday is church day. I occasionally fall back on the car on other days for birthday parties, lessons, etc, but having two official driving days makes me really avoid driving on those other days.

3. Cut back to one car. It's easier than it sounds. My husband and I have always shared a car. In his old job, our kids walked to school and he took the car. I simply did without a vehicle during the ten or so hours he was gone. If I needed the car, I would drop him off and pick him up, but this wasn't really efficient. Later, when our children began going to a school farther away, my husband took our kids and some neighbor kids to the school on his way to work and the other mom picked them up after school. She thought she was getting off easy because she didn't have to get up as early.

My husband's job for the last several years required some driving, so his company provides one for work days, which eliminates the need for this kind of planning. It's made me lazy, but I'm trying to improve. When we homeschooled, I was getting really bad about spending all day in the car. I restricted my gas budget to $10 per week, and this helped me prioritize my driving.

Cutting back to one car is not just an eco-friendly decision, it is an economically positive one as well. Half the insurance, half the car payments, etc. Similarly, driving less will also save money. It's the way the rest of the world lives, and it's a decision that will probably be forced on us by finances in the near future. As Americans, we need to get used to the idea that oil isn't the answer to every problem.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Get Your Free Kashi Cereal...!

I love it when healthy food is affordable, and you don't get more affordable than free. These samples usually come with pretty decent coupons, so if you like your whole grain cereal you can get another box for a low price.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Joys, and Trials, of Freelance Writing

As much as I love being able to make a living from home, there are a few things that bother me about freelance writing. Most of them fall into the following categories:

Repeat Work: Repeat jobs are like a so-so gift handed to you in a beautifully wrapped package. Don't get me wrong; I want those repeat jobs, because they make up a decent percentage of my living. However, I find it hard to write on the same subject indefinitely. Last year I wrote so much about soccer that I am now an expert despite never having donned a jersey. Right now I am doing my fourth job for a design agency, writing about (you guessed it) design. I feel guilty for being so tired of both topics.

If you are a client, yes, I still want the repeat work.

Random Ratings: At one agency I work for, both the customer and an employee of the agency rate each complete job. The customers here are invariably positive, but the employees are harsh. One gave me a low rating for misspellings, but I was supposed to write the article using misspelled keywords. It was to take advantage of people misspelling things in search engines. This is not an uncommon search engine optimization strategy, so the employee should have known--and they would have if they had read the directions I was given like they are SUPPOSED to.

In another ratings snafu, a client accidentally rated me too low on Elance. They didn't understand the parameters of the scale. Their written evaluation is nothing short of gushing, but because few people leave reviews this one negative number rating has lowered my six month satisfaction rate from 100% to 75%. Ouch. These low ratings affect my ability to get other work, so it's very concerning.

I don't mean to complain about a job that has been nothing short of a blessing, but like all jobs it has its frustrations. If you want to join me in wondering how much you could possibly write about logo design or , here are a few links to places where you can get money for freelance writing:

Go Freelance

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Really? Boycotting Whole Foods?

I guess some people aren't as tolerant as they like to think they are.

The founder of Whole Foods--you know, the place I wish I could afford to shop and sometimes do anyway--recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. He didn't say anything controversial or extreme. He points out that there are a lot of problems with socialized health care in the countries that use it (like 1.8 million people currently on a waiting list in Great Britain for hospital care while we Americans could walk in any day of the week and get pissed off if we had to wait a few hours) and offers a few common sense alternatives.

In response, Democrats want you to boycott Whole Foods. A Facebook site has been set up completely misrepresenting what was written in the article (read the article at the link above and then visit the site to see what I'm talking about. It's pretty egregious). Some are even calling for people holding the stock to sell it so the price will go down, maybe taking the company with it.

I believe strongly in exercising your rights as a citizen in one of the first and last free speech/free economy nations on the globe. However, trying to destroy a company and the people who own its stock--a company that pioneered the free trade and organic movements, no less--because the founder calmly and respectfully expresses his opinion about a political issue and offers his ideas for a better solution... it seems very closed minded and intolerant. Extremist, in fact.

Why the vitriol? Is there no room for debate in the health care 'debate'?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quantity vs. Quality

There is an artisan cheese store called Beecher's that I like to visit in Seattle. For just $20 or more dollars per pound, I can get mouthfuls of organic, homemade, local dairy pleasure.

People always give me stunned looks when I mention how much I will pay for certain food items. After all, in the US we like our food cheap. Because I am more frugal than most, my secret love of artisan cheese just doesn't add up.

I think the artisan cheese is actually a fine economic choice when you consider a few things. It is way healthier than most cheese. The grass fed cows and sheep produce milk with omega whatever acids and lower levels of bad fat. No hormones and garbage either. Dollar per dollar, I'm getting less calories but more nutrition, which is imperative with my fat jeans getting tighter by the millisecond. Plus, the cheese is rich and flavorful enough that I can eat it at a rate of about one bite per day. Last night my husband and I crumbled a little dry jack on our polenta. Today we'll mix some gorgonzola into a homemade vinaigrette.

Americans eat way too much food but spend less than, well, almost anyone in the world on groceries. This is because we are always looking for the cheapest way to get a plate full of meat. We aren't willing to buy legumes, and we won't pay more even if the better nutrition justifies it. We can afford to eat conventional meat and dairy in massive amounts because both are heavily subsidized by the American government. Healthy options, not so much.

We don't just east the wrong food, we eat way too freaking much of it. A typical French croissant is 1 1/2 ounces. An American Sara Lee croissant is 3 1/2 ounces. In Mexico, they use 5 inch tortillas to make quesadillas. Here we use ten inches. In most of Europe, the largest container of milk you can get is 1.5 liters. That's less than half a gallon. In other countries people eat better, but they eat way, way less. That's why we are the fatties of the planet.

We don't just eat more than other countries, we eat more than we used to. Here is a graphic depiction of fast food serving sizes now and just twenty years ago:

Personally, I think the government should tax unhealthy food and use that money to subsidize organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Maybe even make them free. Then I could feel like I am doing something magnanimous whenever I bust out the Cheetos. Plus, it would eradicate the need for food stamps, the school lunch program, and various other bureacracy- and waste-ridden programs. Anyway, if we are going to make socialized health care work, we will need a healthier population to keep the whole bloated barge afloat. Healthier diets is one step closer to that utopia we all want to live in.

Most people need to eat their ideal weight times ten calories per day. So, for an average American female, 1200-1300 calories per day. Wow. That's less than half of what most of us eat.

If you eat half the food, you'll be buying half the groceries. It leaves a lot of budgeting room for things like artisan cheese.

Back to School... or not

One week ago, I took my son to kindergarten. Now, for many people, this is something to look forward to. One less toddler in the house, one more starling out of the nest for seven hours a day. For me, it's a reason to cry into my dishwater. I have VERY mixed feelings about school.

We used to send our kids to private school. They received an excellent education in a very moral atmosphere. However, the families at the school were wealthy, that California type of wealthy with Hummers and McMansions and $300 jeans. We were one of few exceptions. I didn't want my children to be teased or rejected for not having what their peers had, so I pieced together designer wardrobes from thrift stores and made sure they opportunities to earn the key items their friends had. Yet I had very real reservations about the whole scene. The materialism permeated the experience, and even interfered with the moral education that was my reason for sending them there. Paying tuition as well as keeping up with the Joneses became way too expensive when multiplied by several kids, so we turned to charter schools.

Our charter school was geared toward science and math. It catered to gifted students, but... not enough. The kids were bored for much of the day after years in a top private school. Luckily, we were accepted to an even more challenging Latin charter school that required this hellaciously long application process. The day after we received the acceptance letter, we found out we were moving to another state. One without California's wide range of charter schools.

That led me to homeschooling. It was a magical two-plus years. I never dreamed I could find so much inner joy spending the day with a house full of small children. To discover new information with them, to see their faces change when they finally 'get it'--it's priceless. It feeds your soul. Homeschooling was an amazing experience, but an insular one. The kids wanted to branch out. And, to be honest, so did I.

Now we are in public schools. The kids are exposed to some questionable ideas, especially the high schooler. We discuss these things as they come up, and he has appeared to be ready for most of the challenges public school poses. At some point, we all must live in this terrible world of ours. His most scandalous moments have involved another homeschooler, so I can't blame that on the evil world. Because we live in an excellent school district, the education is sufficient, even by my lofty standards. Everyone is involved in honors and gifted programs that will prepare them for successful lives.

But that could change tomorrow. I'm just nor feelinf bought into public school. As a matter of fact, I feel excluded by it and vaguely jealous of my children's teachers. They get all day with my awesome kids. Do they know how lucky they are? How cool my children are? What lovely souls they have? I doubt it. As soon as this schooling arrangement doesn't work, we're outta here. We are tentatively back to school. Today at least. Tomorrow... ?

My schooling philosophy? I will do whatever it takes to get these kids an exceptional education, moral and otherwise. We are partners in this path, so I take their feelings very seriously. It's THEIR life. THEIR education. If they become unhappy with their current schooling situation for legitimate reasons, we will change it once again.