Friday, January 28, 2011

When being "green" is just "mean"

Disclaimer: This post is meant as sarcasm and humor any offense generated is purely coincidental and the responsibility of the reader.

I am all for being a good steward of the resources you are given. Be they natural resources like coal, timber, water, or more ephemeral resources like money, time, and opportunity.   I like reusing things and getting the most out of something.  Of course that is mostly because I am cheap and not from some deeper altruistic need to save the planet.  I like creative solutions to everyday problems and finding ways to use what I have rather than buying something new.  Again mostly because I'm cheap and making the most of my money resource is a pretty big priority to me.  BUT, spending my 2nd most important resource, time, to figure out a way to replace something that is perfectly good and someone else already makes just because it isn't "green" is the definition of insanity to me.  And in some cases I think it's down right mean.

My first case in point is using fabric as reusable gift wrap.  While the idea has merit and can look really pretty, it takes ALL THE JOY our of RIPPING and TEARING open ones gifts!!  Because let's admit it, that is a HUGE part of the fun right?  Especially for kids!  Now I'm not saying you have to use brand new gift wrap paper for every single gift you give, even I'm too cheap for that.  But what you can do is get new tissue paper (it's pretty darn cheap if you stock up after Christmas on just the plain white!!) and reuse the gift bags you've received! You get to save on wrapping and still give the pleasure of ripping into the gift to your friends and loved ones! Of course this means you actually have to wrap the gift inside the bag in the tissue paper rather than just shoving tissue in on top of it, but I think this is a good compromise between brand new and that silly fabric idea!  And if you have a cat like my you are depriving her of her most treasured possession:

Mah paypers!!

Recently I've found another fantastic wonderful "green" idea that has taken a lot of joy out of my daily life.  Reusable lunch boxes.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE these amazing lunch box sets that my mom got the kids back in August.  What I HATE HATE HATE is that my 2nd grader CANNOT remember to bring his home.  I send it to school with him on Monday and I'm lucky if he remembers to bring it back by the following Friday.  So because it is the ONLY one we have and I don't have any brown paper bags he's back to eating that awful crap they serve in his elementary school cafeteria Tuesday through Friday.  I was seriously so stoked to start making lunch for the kids and get them eating better (especially after counting how many days in a month their main choice for lunch is CHICKEN! UGH! Another post completely!), but now all it has done is create a big source of stress for me and my son. So I'm pretty much sold on the idea of buying paper bags and zip top baggies for his lunch from now on. This way he can just throw it away and not be all worried about bringing home his lunch box. And I will get to see this smiling face rather than the sad disappointed in himself look he gives me when he's forgotten the box yet again:


And last but not least, all natural shampoo.  This one gets TWO GIANT THUMBS DOWN from me.  Most of my friends know that I fight a daily loosing battle with my hair. It is both fine and curly. Which makes for a wonderful frizzy mess in humid weather.  Oh and I live in a temperate rain-forest, so yeah humidity is pretty much par for the course here.  So trying to be more "healthy" and more "green" I switched to some hoity-toity all plant based, cruelty-free, organic such and such that was supposed to be better for the planet and nice to animals or some crap like that.  And my hair looked HORRIBLE! Talk about stealing my joy!!  I'm not a very vain person. Really I'm not, but the one thing I've learned in my nearly 38 years is that my hair is picky and if I don't treat it right I'll look like Gilda Radner from her Roseanne Roseannadanna days.  And trust me that is just mean, both to myself and those unfortunate souls who have to view such madness.


So folks in summary, I've learned that my life is by necessity one that I have to live in balance. Not going over board with the "green at all costs" mentality so many get caught up in and keeping in mind the real benefits to myself and my family of each choice we make. Yes it's important to be good stewards, and yes I believe that making healthier choices for ourselves and our world is a good idea. But I won't give up joy, no matter what new fangled idea the enviro-crazies come up with to make our world "greener". 

How about you? What "green" ideas do you find just silly?  What about ones that you were reluctant about in the beginning, but that over time have embraced?  Inquiring minds (well okay just me) want to know!

Friday, January 21, 2011

My first homemade cheese....

So I decided I would make manicotti for dinner tonight (easy, not super cheap, but totally yummy) and then decided what the heck I'll make the ricotta myself!

So I searched the interwebs and found a great little "how to" for whole milk ricotta post. I did have amazing success with this, but I was a tiny bit unsure of the "lemony" flavor, so I went looking and found this post that suggested regular white vinegar instead for a more neutral flavor.

The procedure is of course the same. Ratio of milk to acid is also the same:

1cup of whole milk (I have an awesome source for unpasteurized milk so that is what I used.)
1T acid (lemon juice or distilled white vinegar)
1/4t salt (I prefer kosher)

Mix salt and milk in a heavy bottom sauce pan and bring to just below a boil. I think about 180 is perfect as any hotter and you risk scorching the milk. And having been a barista I know just how nasty scorch milk tastes and smells.

When the milk is at temp, at the acid and gently mix it in then STOP STIRRING! I made the mistake of stirring too hard the first batch and my curds never formed.  Set the pan off the heat and walk away for about 5-10 minutes to let the curds form.

Pour the whole thing into a strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth and let it drain over a bowl.
The longer you drain the more dense and dry the curds will be. (if you have a shallow ladle you can spoon out the majority of the curds and reduce the amount of draining necessary.)

Here's a picture of the curds draining:

The batch I made with lemon juice I mixed with some dill, salt, pepper, and garlic and put in an omelet for breakfast!

I have to say I was amazed at how well it melted and how yummy this was! Super creamy a bit tart/tangy from the lemon and just cheesy enough to complement the eggs perfectly. Of course I had to add couple of shots of hot sauce for "garnish".

The 2nd batch (made with the vinegar) I mixed with an egg, some cream, Italian seasoning, and sausage and stuffed in the manicotti.  Hopefully the kids will enjoy it for dinner tonight!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frugal cooking--Request for recipe submissions!!!

Hello dear readers!! I have a HUGE favor to ask of you.  I'm trying to get out of a cooking rut AND save money. Both things are hard but possible, doing them together are causing me to pull out hair.

So in an effort to not go bald and accomplish the above goals I'm turning to you! Please please please send me your "meals on the cheap" recipe ideas.  My hope is to try to get our food bill for all our meals for 5 people to under $400 a month.  And I'm trying to stay with WHOLE FOODS. The parameters of the recipes are simple:

  • Limited pre-made food as ingredients. I'd like to stay away from boxed/canned/jarred stuff.
  • No BEANS. I don't eat them or like fixing them.
  • Limited casseroles. The kids are NOT big fans. 
  • If your recipe has an unusual ingredient PLEASE give me an idea of where to find it.

Don't limit yourself to main dishes!! I'd love to see some side dish ideas and ways of preparing traditional sides that are original but cheap!

My plan is to try out EVERYTHING you guys send me that fits the parameters and then post both the recipe (giving you credit of course and linking to where ever on the net you want me to in that credit) and the family's reactions to it here on my blog.

You can email me here, post on my Facebook page here if we are friends, "tweet" me a link to your own recipe blog here, or post the recipe or link in the comments below.

Please include:
  • The recipe!!! (duh!)
  • An estimate on how many people it feeds and how long it takes to prep.
  • Your name or the name you want to go by in my blog.
  • Where you found the recipe if it isn't your own personal creation or one you have significantly modified from the original. (have to give credit where credit is due!)
  • A link to your own blog if you wish me to link back to you in my review post.
  • Any other information your little heart desires me to know!

I'll make a button soon for you to put on your blog if you want.

Thank you!!!!!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Looking forward!

So its 2011. A new year, and some how that is supposed to mean a new start.  For my kids it really will be a new start.  Starting a new school tomorrow is a big deal. Probably an even bigger deal in my own mind, so I'm trying to keep own anxiety to myself. 

Austin seems to be the most nervous and actually said he was. But he's also so very excited and hoping some of his soccer buddies are in his class or that he at least gets to see them at lunch. Colton actually thrilled since his 'best friend" who moved out of their school last year goes to the school we've moved into. Lily is still so new at the school deal that she doesn't have any real attachment to where we've been, and is excited to make new friends where we are going.

I, however, have a litteny of concerns floating around in my head. Both the practical and logistical concerns like:
  • What kind of supplies am I going to have to buy, AGAIN.
  • Who are their teachers!!
  • Will I be allowed to walk them to class tomorrow?
  • How timely is the bus they will be riding (our previous bus was notoriously late in the afternoon)
  • Can I manage to make homemade lunches every day like I really want to (okay this doesn't have to do with the new school, but it is a concern)
  • Can we manage to get everyone up and ready by 7:45 with out tears and frustration?? (this is earlier by about 20 minutes over the previous "have to leave the house NOW!" time)
  • How long will it take us to all adjust to the new routines, new homework rules, new teachers level of communication to home, etc. etc.
And the more emotional concerns of my mama bear side:

  • Will the kids like there teachers?
  • How scarey will it be for them to find their way around a new place alone?
  • Will they have someone to sit with at lunch?
  • Can they make it back to their bus okay?
  • Will Colton make it through the day without crying and if he doesn't will there be a kind person there to help him through the tears?
  • Will Lily find the "new girl" roll fun and exciting or scarey and nerve wracking?
  • Will Austin be able to internalize the new rules he will surely have quickly and without too much frustration over such a big transition?
  • Will I be able to find a home with their PTC and be accepted with the same amount of warmth and community as I was at the previous school during my volunteering?
And I'm sure there are more floating around in my brain, just waiting to rear their ugly little heads just as I lay down to go to sleep tonight. 

I don't have any answers to the logistical issues, and won't until we see how things go and I get to talk to their teachers over this next week. The emotinal ones are even more of a "wait and see" sort of situation. I'm not very good at "wait and see", except when I'm labor sitting for a client! I wish I could somehow manage to use the patience I have towards birth with other parts of my life.

Besides the nerves over the kids starting their new school there are other things this year brings for me.

I have decided to finally do something serious about my back and shoulder pain.  For years now most Chiropractors, MDs, and Orthopedic folk have been telling me that the weight of my breasts is the primary cause of my pain. So to that end I will be having reduction surgery this year.  Not exactly sure how soon, but I'm really hoping it will be this spring sometime.  In order to be in the best possible health for that surgery I have set a goal for myself of walking at least a mile or riding 2 miles each and every day.  I hope with that and watching my food choices I can cut some weight and be in better shape, so that I recover well after surgery.

We are also going to be planning a major road trip for when the kids get out of school.  It has been years since much of my family has seen the children and many of them have never met Lily.  The kids are finally old enough to be helpful on a trip such as this and to really enjoy themselves and gain good memories from our adventures.  Right now the tentative plan is to head out in June, going north across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Down through Wyoming to Yellowstone, onto South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore. Down through Iowa to my Dad's in Missouri and spend a few days there. Then on to Chicago to show the kids one of my favorite cities and meet with friends. From there we'll go down through Illinois, stopping to visit family and friends through out the state, and finally getting to my Mom's in Kentucky.  From here I'm hoping my mom will go with us to Branson, MO. Then we'll head back west, though Oklahoma, Texas (just the panhandle most likely, sorry friends in Austin, we'll have to catch you next time!), New Mexico possibly stopping to see a friend in Albuquerque, then up to Las Vegas and home by way of Crater Lake.  Taking 3-4 weeks and our time to see what we wish, enjoy the drive, and learn as much as we can about our great country! All said and done will travel close to 6K miles! I am hoping it all works out the way I have it planned in my head! Oh and did I mention we will be camping the whole way?  Yep NO hotels for this industrious, outdoorsy family! (We will however make full use of the shower facilities at the state parks! LOL)

Big plans that's for sure! To make those happen, getting our finances under control, and keeping to a savings plan will be essential!  And part of that is by reducing our consumption and our food bill! I am hoping to make a lot more from scratch, bread included, this year.

As my planning goes forward I will be looking to you dear readers for help with menu planning, frugal living tips, recipies, traveling with kids tips, and ideas of what to see on our route! 

Happy 2011 Everyone!! Thanks for joining me for yet another year!