Friday, July 25, 2008

Ditch the bags! or More insane solutions to the money crunch!

On to another mission.
Have you ever wondered why it is that we insist on making little time capsules out of our trash for generations to come to remember us by. You know “time capsules” that elementary school classes create, when they stuff a bunch of things they consider important into a little airtight capsule, which gets hidden or buried somewhere.
Well, guess what – you have been doing that all along too! Every time you take out the trash you have made sure that it was sealed in an almost indestructible layer of plastic - the trash bag. Extra strong, double layered, power flex and especially important for the future generations that will have to deal with it “vanilla scented”.
Now, guess what - we don’t need them!
If you are still reeling from giving up paper towels, or if you live in an apartment this one might not be right for you. However, still give it a moment’s thought.
What would happen if you stop lining all the wastebaskets in your house, almost all of which are cleanable plastic by the way? Nothing would happen. You would take that plastic container and dump its contents into the plastic curbside container, which would dump it into the big, bad garbage truck. End of story. No - plastic trash bag!

Another item off your shopping list - and all of a sudden that garbage of yours actually has a more than miniscule chance of biodegrading some day.
If you live in an apartment or you have a neurotic superintendent, this might not work for you. Also it helps if you separate all your food wastes and compost them, because they are actually the only smelly part of your garbage. That means a huge reduction in overall trash by the way. So, to compost helps. There are some very dedicated individuals, who compost even living in an apartment. But I admit it might be harder to do.
I have not bought garbage bags in months - I don’t miss the expense and it actually feels really good to rinse off my plastic garbage containers with a little peppermint Dr.Bronner’s Soap and they smell fresh and clean.
Try it and tell me what you think….

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Food, glorious food!

CSA pick up #8

It has been a great year so far - we could use more rain, but the weather really has been good for the farmers, I think.
The pick-up today was less eventful - no unhappy sheep this time. So let’s get straight to the list:

2 Sweet Peppers $1.49
4 bulbs fennel ( 2 in share - 2 from extras table) $7.47
Lettuce - 2 large, 2 baby (melts in your mouth!) $5.00
1½ pounds rainbow swiss chard $8.97
2 pounds beets $3.98
2 heads escarole $3.38
4 pounds cucumbers $ 10.36
2 pounds summer squash - yellow and green $3.98
2 pounds carrots $2.58
1 pound kale $2.19
2 pints raspberries $15.95
¼ pound basil $ 2.20
10 stems pick-your-own flowers $3.00 (I know it could be more - but I thought this was fair, since it is not food)

1 bunch sorrel $1.99
1 bunch lemon balm $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch thyme $1.99
1 bunch dandelion greens $1.99
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch oregano $1.99

Total this week: $ 86.47 which is a new record for weekly intake I believe! Total veggies from the farm this season $ 505.54!
By the way. I measured the raspberries again at $15 - and before you protest and comment that you can find them cheaper - I would have to point out that this quality is hard to come by and worth every penny. Also, I only wrote up only $1.86 per fennel - when the actual glorious fennel that we received at the farm was going for $3.00 a head at the health food store. So hopefully it averages out somehow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Aargh! What to do with all this FENNEL!

Treatise on Fennel

What can you do with fennel? Well, like with just about any other vegetable out there - you can slice it, dice it, cook it, mash it, puree, grill, sautee…. but honestly. Fennel is an interesting vegetable, it is related to the seed we know as anise and that is its very powerful flavor tone.
To prepare trim off the stalks - chop and freeze for some other time - or use finely minced in salads, soups or sauces. Carefully wash the bulb and then slice thinly. It can than be baked, grilled, creamed or as a simple side dish sauteed in oil of choice until it is tender and then served with a topping of fresh parmesan cheese. Read on for two simple recipes.

Fennel Salad Nicoise: Serves 6

2 bulbs fennel
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoons sugar or agave nectar
½ teaspoon freshly, chopped basil
2 tablespoons freshly, chopped scallions
1 tomato seeded and coarsely chopped
⅓ cup pitted olives

1. Thinly slice fennel bulbs. Put in saucepan with just enough water to cover. Boil until tender.

2.In a bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, sugar and basil. Add fennel and scallions and toss. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. As you are ready to serve add tomatoes and olives.

Fennel Parmesan: Serves 6

2 bulbs fennel
2 cups water
3 vegetarian soup cubes
3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, finely minced - whatever you have on hand ( oregano, thyme, basil, sage etc)
pinch fresh pepper
3 tablespoons guar gum or cornstarch
3 tablespoons parmesan real or vegan substitute
½ cup milk - any kind cow or other
pinch paprika
1 cup white wine

1.Pour yourself the white wine - drink, enjoy and start your cooking. No - just kidding just seeing if you are paying attention. Actually you only need ¼ cup white wine so you could drink the remaining ¾ cup!

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim the fennel stalks off the bulbs and freeze for later use - see above. Trim bottom off fennel bulbs and discard. Quarter each bulb.

3.In a medium size saucepan mix water and soup cubes and add fennel. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.

4.Melt butter or coconut oil in a skillet - add bread crumbs, herbs and pepper and stir until the bread crumbs are browned. Add parmesan and put aside.

5.Drain fennel - reserve liquid and place in a baking dish. Combine ½ cup of the reserved liquid, milk, paprika and guar gum. Cook and stir until thickened - about 2 minutes.

6.Stir in the wine and spoon mixture over fennel. Top with toasted crumbs and bake for 12 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds. Enjoy! (with more wine!).

10 Beauty Tips that are close to free!

Ten budget eco beauty tips:

1. The first thing that comes to mind is of course to eat as much raw food as possible. The more water the food contains the better. A lot of highly paid models switch into raw food mode when they have an important shoot coming up. When I say raw food, I mean raw fruits and vegetables. Some people swear raw eggs give them glowing complexions but personally I would be too afraid of food borne illnesses to even consider that.

2. As you use these raw foods - two stand out in particular. Avocados and Papaya. While you prepare your yummy avocado or papaya dishes DO NOT throw out the peels. Rubbing the insides of either of these two all over your face makes a completely free super effective mask, that when left on for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes nourishes the face and leaves your skin re-hydrated and smooth. Of course do not forget to rinse off after 15 minutes especially if you are expecting guests! Cost: free!

3. For oily skin and acne an egg white mask is particularly good. It draws out impurities and absorbs oil. Directions: beat an egg white until it is frothy - apply to face - let it dry and set - you will want to lie down - after all you have egg on your face! - leave on for 15 to 20 minutes - rinse with water. Your skin will be tight and balanced. Cost: cents

4. Everybody knows the "old tea bags on the eyes trick". Again you are using something you would otherwise toss out. The tannin in the tea acts as an astringent that helps to shrink puffy tissue. Cost: free

5. Dandruff solution: Dissolve two or three aspirins in a warm glass of water - pour on scalp and let it sit for 5 minutes, then rinse with cool water. The salicylic acid in the aspirin is often an active ingredient in over the counter expensive dandruff remedies. Cost: cents

6. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps promise on their labels 18 different uses and indeed you can be very creative with these little treasures. They come in several different scented versions, everything from rose to lavender to peppermint. Even somebody who does not like the idea of mixing and combining different ingredients will love these.
All you have to do is dilute, dilute, dilute. For about 3$ you will get a 4 oz bottle that is a little powerhouse. Dilute ½ tablespoon in one cup and you will have an extremely affordable, mild shampoo, hand soap, body wash and shaving soap. The beauty applications are almost endless while at the same time you can use the same product in a stronger dilution to clean floors, pets, dishes, laundry, cars, countertops, baths and toilets!
Dr. Bronner’s only uses 100% recycled bottles, the soaps are 100% fair trade, organic, vegetable based and biodegradable and the company prides itself never to have paid for advertising. It has grown for over 100 years strictly on word of mouth! Cost: about 3$ for 4 oz of concentrate that will produce a gallon of soap.

7. Deodorants are easy to be made at home. You will want to avoid the over the counter ones because they contain aluminum which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and the aluminum free ones do cost a lot of money.
Natural alternatives include using orange or lemon peel - just rub under your arm. You could also use freshly cut slices of lemon or orange, just not right after shaving or if you have sensitive skin. Aloe vera juice is also refreshing and soothes sensitive skin. Just pinch a leaf and use the gel.
A recipe for a spray deodorant would have to include equal parts alcohol - clear vodka works well - water - and a couple of drops of essential oils -pretty much your choice - rose, lavender, citrus comes to mind. Mix, put in a spray bottle - ready. Cost: Depends on the kind of vodka. Lol, no seriously - definitely under five dollars.

8. For a free hand treatment make it a habit every time you cook to use a little oil on the back of your hands. Any oil will work fine, favorites include olive oil and coconut oil.
As you measure and pour the oil into the pan for stir-fry or bowl for salad dressing, simply tap the cap of your oil container on the back of your hands, rub the two backs of your hands together and leave on during cooking. Afterwards you could rinse off the excess oil, but often you will find that the oil has absorbed completely! Cost: free

9. Several fruits make excellent masks not only for your face but also for the hair. You can mash bananas, melons,berries, avocados and mix with a little olive or coconut oil. Apply to hair, wrap head in warm, moist towel and wait half hour, then wash as per usual. Cost: around one dollar, depending on fruit used.

10. Salt Glow: you can bring this spa treatment home by simply mixing two tablespoons sea salt and two tablespoons oil of your choice. Just rub on any part of you skin that needs softening such as elbows, knees or heels. Cost: under one dollar.

Monday, July 14, 2008

When the sheep are not happy - nobody’s happy! CSA Pickup #7

Today’s pickup at the CSA was funny in the sense that there was no talking! Well there could have been - but nobody would have heard it since the sheep were loudly baahing. They were not happy and everybody had to hear about it.
The reason was that there was some fixing being done to their enclosure and they had to spend part of their precious afternoon inside, next to the harvest room where the distribution was in full swing.
It was funny seeing the reaction to the ongoing protest cries from next door. Most people thought it was really quite amusing and decided to share the greens of their carrot bunches with the sheep, who were only partially consoled by that.
But hearing the sheep bah and seeing the reaction of little kids, who may never have heard a herd of sheep nag before, while picking up the most delicious and nutritious foods available, that is just one of the many benefits of belonging to this wonderful group that can absolutely not be measured in dollars and cents. Picking your peas under a beautiful blue sky with a magnificent view that you know your very being at that spot helps protect, is another one of those intangibles. There is no tallying these things because they are - priceless.

Anyway here is the list

4 heads lettuce $5.96
4 bulbs fennel $7.47
2 bulbs kohlrabi $2.50
1 bunch scallions $2.19
1 ½ pounds chard $8.97
1 pound kale $2.19
1 ½ pounds cucumber $2.68
1 ½ pounds zucchini/ summer squash $2.99
2 bunches carrots $3.58
1 pint peas $2.99
5 stems flowers $3.00
2 pints raspberries $15.95 see note at end
1 bunch chamomile $1.99
1 bunch mint $1.99
1 bunch winter savory $1.99
1 bunch oregano $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch thyme $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch thai basil $1.99
Total this week $ 78.38. that is our strongest week yet!

Added to this season’s total so far of $340.69 gives us our new grand total of $419.07!
Which means I am $8 shy of half time. I paid $775 for my full share plus $80 for my optional berry share, and in seven weeks I have basically recovered half of my money. Since this CSA usually runs for 24 weeks we are so on track here!

Note: I was trying really hard to be fair with the pricing, as always. I found organic raspberries at $3.19 for 6 oz! And those were the cheapest ones. I measured the dry pint as 16 oz versus the standard 18 - and rounded the figures down and still the result was almost $16!

How to turn $4.39 into $70.24! or How to buy Dish Liquid only once a Year!

Again with those titles - but it got your attention.
Turns out I only buy dishwashing detergent once or twice a year. I buy the best there is, in my opinion that honor befalls on Seventh Generation free & clear Natural Dish Liquid, which costs $4.39. Ouch - that is not cheap - but it is not petroleum based so it saves oil, and it is safe for the environment and your health. In dishwashing detergent that means a lot to me because let’s face it we basically eat this stuff. Everybody with an even rudimentary understanding of chemistry knows that the dishes we eat from are basically coated in the soap they are washed with. It is also cruelty free and comes in a recyclable plastic container that was manufactured with 25% post consumer recycled plastic. Not a whole lot - but at least it’s a start.
So now to the math part. I made a couple of assumptions - let’s hope I don’t make an ass out of myself!

I dilute my dishwashing detergent to about 1 tablespoon per cup of water. I have a rather nice looking bamboo hand soap dispenser at my sink - I was never a friend of having the dishwashing bottle right at the sink - somehow not a great look.
So I go through about 1 cup of diluted dishwashing detergent per week. The bottle with its 739 ml lasts about 50 weeks!
If I filled up the dispenser with straight up undiluted dish detergent it would last three weeks. I know that some of you might say you would use less if it was not diluted, but I doubt that. I just think you would wash it down your drain. Even if my math is slightly off - you will definitely be miles ahead budget-wise if you choose to dilute! The soap dispenser can be found at a dollar store or a discounter for under a buck and there are thousand of designs to choose from.
Anyway - I think this boils down to another item eliminated from your grocery list - except once a year - I guess we can all swing that!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Invasion of the Killer Kohlrabi!

Yep, the Kohlrabi are here. I personally love them because they are the one native veggie from my hometown Vienna, and they are a great childhood memory. My grandma used to make them into a soup. Or you can just eat them raw sliced into really thin slices and put on a dark bread with a thick coating of fresh butter or vegan margarine and a bit of salt. Yum!

Here is the list for my sixth Pickup: And for all you just tuning in, you can see the history of pick ups from my CSA here , and just a quick recap. I post my weekly CSA pickups and list the prices I find for comparable items in the health food store or supermarket.
I try to be as fair as possible in my comparisons and count everything I pick up.

4 heads lettuce $5.96
1 ½ pounds rainbow chard $8.97
1 pound kale $2.19
1 pound lacinato kale $2.19
¼ pound basil $1.99
2 summer squash $2.99
2 zucchini $2.99
2 bunches scallions $5.98
1 bunch turnips $2.35
2 kohlrabi $2.50
1 bunch garlic chives $1.99
1 bunch winter savory $1.99
1 bunch lavender $1.99
1 bunch lemon balm $1.99
1 bunch mint $1.99
1 bunch chamomile $1.99
1 bunch oregano thyme $1.99
1 bunch sorrell $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
Total this week: $56.02

Adding to my previous total of $284.67 I get $340.69 as a new grand total. Yippee!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More insane and unheard of solutions to the money crunch.

This is part two of the insanity. Part one can be found here.
So - the first tip was not all that hard now, was it?
This mission however - should you chose to accept it - will be a bit harder. We will get rid of a budget enemy that you thought you needed - but you really don’t.
Paper towels. Think about it, 50 or so years ago - did they have paper towels? Just think how ridiculous a concept this even is - you’ll use it, just like you would a towel - only you’ll throw the towel away after each use. Think about the amount of waste you would create if after every shower you would use paper towels to dry your hair and your body - you would probably go through a whole roll each time you take a shower. But you would not do that - you use a towel. So why is it that in the kitchen we use pristine, bleached paper - that we just throw away? Your precious body is good enough for a towel - but your kitchen floor deserves a piece of paper? But, no you say - “Germs” - how could I expose my kids to germs. First of all - we have this national obsession with germs that is backfiring already. Just look at the explosion of allergies around. The immune systems especially of children need to get a little practice to function - and second - if indeed you are eating a mainly vegetarian diet your exposure to scary germs like salmonella or all the other yucky ones that you only find on meat is minimal. And since the tomato scare is just raging through the US right now - well if your tomatoes came from your local farmer, like your CSA (hint, hint) - they would not be a problem.

So how do we get rid of paper towels you ask (hopefully at this point!) - well the answer lies in the word itself - “towels”.

You could, if you really had to, run out and buy proper tea towels - but that is pricey - the more budget friendly idea would be - to take one of the towels you already have - your choice which one - I prefer darker colors, but that is just me, cut it into squares - and use one fresh one per day. If it gets dirty it goes into the wash - never keep it for more than one day - and there you go. You eliminated your entire bill for paper towels - that can really be a lot and if your have to pay your garbage by the gallon - like some of us do - you’ll be amazed at the reduction in waste. Because every single sheet of paper towel winds up in the trash. So this is also a step to reduce your waste.
I know it will be hard - having paper towels is almost an addiction, but if you think about it every time you run out, you cope somehow - just do it. Say no to the criminal minds that duped us into believing paper towels are a necessity!
Even though I don’t condone running out to spend in order to save, I will give you a link to a site where you can buy really cute towels - but making your own has benefits that go beyond the money saving. It is almost like a pledge!
Check out Crate&Barrel's selection of fancy dishtowels.
or even cooler from the guys that brought you the world’s greatest sponge (see my blog entry ode to a sponge) with the coolest tagline ever “What if a sponge and a papertowel had a love affair? eurosponge!