Monday, October 27, 2008

Making your own toothpaste -part deux of the insanity!

So, after promoting making your own toothpaste - I researched the price of tubes to refill. If you don’t know what I am talking about, check it out here.
I was quite shocked to learn that Pearl Paint, one of the cheapest art supply stores in the world charges $1.04 for them. Plus shipping. So that got me thinking. It irks me to put cents worth of homemade tooth paste into a container, that costs $1.00. Since when is the container supposed to be more expensive than what’s inside. So, I looked at what I already have at hand. And then it hit me “Eureka”! Why not use the tube I already have: namely - the old toothpaste tube. So, I went to work.

1. I unravelled the end and cut off the last bit. This would only work with metal tubes. Shame on you, if your toothpaste comes in plastic tubes!

2. Then I inserted my homemade toothpaste - which admittedly was a bit messy. Careful don’t overfill! because then..

3. you have to reseal the end. A small pair of pliers works best.

4. Voila - done - of course you could also use a small container. If you want to be boring…

You are going to be able to do this two or three times only and the tube is going to get shorter each time, but it stays out of the trash -Green- and it is free -Cheap-, but it is definitely insane, although fun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TA-DA! DRUMROLL - PLEASE! Our veggies are now 50% off - officially

Sadly I found out today, that the last pick-up for the season will be on November 8th, which is only 3 weeks away - but all good things must come to an end. For the last week I thought it might be a good idea to do a grand-total of all things picked, and the money saved and all that. Of course at the end of the season it is also the time to think of next year and with so many CSAs now having to establish waiting lists - the sooner you put down that deposit the better! I think I have proven here that a CSA a is well worth the money - especially since the 20th pick-up holds a bit of a surprise. We have now picked up $1762.20 worth of produce - so, we can truly say we have gotten our veggies 50% off - since we only paid $860 for them back in February. Not bad!

4 heads lettuce $6.76
4 roots rutabaga $4.00
1 pound kale $1.86
1 pound broccoli $1.50

1 pound cauliflower $1.50
3 pounds peppers $5.52
2 pounds eggplant $3.00
2 butternut squash $4.00
2 pounds hot peppers $6.00
1 handful raspberries $2.29
1 bunch flowers $5.00
pick your own green beans - 10 pounds - $19.90
pick your own basil - for pesto - hard to price - $5.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch thyme $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99

Total: $78.27
The season’s total so far was $1684.20, if we add this pick-up we have a grand total of $1762.47! Grand indeed, especially if you take into consideration that we paid $860 for our $1762 worth of veggies! The power of the CSA - and a true reward for doing something good for the local economy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to get your Kids to give up Soda!

I think we all know it by now - sodas are by far the worst part of our children’s diet. They have been implicated in everything from childhood obesity to bone loss. They are a nasty mix of hydrogenated corn syrup, caffeine, carbonated water, phosphoric acid, artificial flavors, artificial sugar and sodium benzoate (yum!), and they are completely void of anything remotely beneficial, nutritionally speaking. So, the task would be to remove this item from our children’s diet permanently - or at least ban it from our house and make soda an “on the road treat” only.

Now, the obvious solution would seem to be replacing soda with other forms of soft drinks, such as vitamin waters, sports drinks or iced tea. Ha! Actually that’s just side-stepping the real issue at hand. In reality, you haven’t advanced at all. All these drinks are still manufactured by the same soda industry - you are still feeding the beast! All these so called sports drinks are still loaded with sugar and many unhealthy ingredients. Your dentist will be forever grateful - you will send his kids to college, and the negative impact on the planet remains the same - all these drinks still come in plastic bottles.
But “no” you say, “Iced tea comes in glass bottles!” - well, apart from the fact that it is very unlikely that you will find an iced tea that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it - the very notion that it would be okay for a little kid or a growing teenager to habitually drink a very caffeinated beverage is simply wrong. Black and Green Tea have been implicated as a growth retardant (great, tell that to your football playing son or your daughter with model aspirations - or vice versa), and caffeine affects their little bodies particularly strong: irritability, mood swings, restlessness, dehydration, adrenal exhaustion, mild addiction are just some of the benefits!
So, what is the solution? Well, let’s look for something that is healthy, cheap and makes a positive difference for the planet. May I introduce: Water and Herbal Tea!
Water: plain filtered tap is just fine - stick it in the fridge. Done! You will have an ice cold, delicious, zero-calorie power beverage. Fill up your kid’s stainless steel to-go canteen and they are all set.
Herbal Tea: comes in a dizzying number of flavors; Raspberry Zinger, Lemon Zinger, Bengal Spice, Mandarin Orange, Peach Passion, Honey Vanilla Chamomile, to name a few. Stick two tea-bags into a glass jar, fill with filtered water, and in about 5 hours (or better yet, overnight) you will have an extremely flavorful, inexpensive, delicious, cold drink - try out all the different flavors and you may be surprised how willingly your kids will embrace this change. Cut out the often funny pictures on the tea box and stick them onto the glass jar - or better yet have your kids decorate the jar themselves for extra P.R. impact. Make sure your tea does not have artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners in it. Celestial Seasonings is a great brand to try - they offer flavor variety packs, which is a good way to get you started.

Try to resist the urge to sweeten the tea - it takes about a week for taste-buds to readjust and that way you can keep the tea calorie free. If however you absolutely must sweeten I would suggest agave nectar or stevia for a low-glycemic natural sweetener and then gradually try to phase them out. Both are available at your health food store.
Also, for the grownups, iced Earl Grey tea or Irish Breakfast tea is delicious and may replace that cup of coffee for a fraction of the cost. Enjoy!

High fructose corn syrup and obesity link
Bone loss: check here

Can you guess this veggie?

I am falling behind documenting my pick-ups at the CSA, so I have decided to bunch up two pickups in one post - to speed things up!
So these are actually pickups #18 and #19 and finish up the month of September - I know! - I said I was behind!
Even though the pickups are getting smaller - they are still full of traditional vegetables and unusual ones, just like the one in the picture - which is “celeriac” or celery root - an awesome soup veggie - that will produce great amounts of highly flavored broth and also makes a wonderful flavor addition mixed in with mashed potatoes.

List of Pick-up #18:

1 celeriac $2.00 - educated guess, because you cannot find them anywhere -much less organic!
¼ pound arugula $2.00
2 bunches beets $3.98
⅔ pound lettuce mix $3.75

2 pounds tomatoes $7.98
2 pounds peppers $3.68
1½ pounds chard $3.28
4 delicata winter squash $3.75
1 bunch flowers $5.00
pick your own green beans - unlimited - 10 pounds for me $19.90
1 pint raspberries $2.99
pick your own cherry tomatoes - unlimited - 5 pounds for me $10.00
cornstalks for decorations $4.99 - I have seen then from $4.99 to $12.99 Crazy!
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 handful tomatillos $1.00
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99

Total for pick up #18: $86.25

on to pick up #19

2 heads cabbage $4.00
1 bunch radishes $2.75
¾ pound carrots $1.34
2 pounds peppers $3.68
1 ½ pounds eggplant $2.99
1 ⅓ pounds collard greens $2.79
1 head broccoli $1.50
1 head cauliflower $1.50

Pick your own green beans - another 10 pounds for me $19.90
pick the last cherry tomatoes - 2 pounds $5.00
1 pint raspberries $2.99
1 bunch flowers $5.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch lemon verbena $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 bunch rosemary $1.99
1 handful tomatillos $1.00
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99

Total for pick up #19: $67.38
Our season’s total so far was: $1530.57 We add pick up#18 for $86.25 and pick up #19 for $67.38, and we have an end of September total of $1684.20!

15 Ways to get your Kids to eat their Veggies - Guaranteed!

Ok, let’s back up - I can not guarantee anything - but here are my credentials:
I have raised one picky eater into a handsome, 17 year old, healthy vegetarian and have been a nanny to countless others, some of whom I have turned into artichoke connoisseurs - at age two!
I refuse to believe that kids will not eat healthy food - after all the survival instinct kicks in at one point, and I refuse to have power struggles over food with two year olds - because to put it very bluntly - you won’t win - they will!
So - general rules - it has to be fun - relatively simple - and doable. Some of these tips may seem borderline insane - but let’s face it, so is trying to be a good parent some days! I am not in favor of “sneaky chef” tactics, you know the whole “hiding spinach in brownies” philosophy - because, quite honestly I think it is lying, reenforcing the notion that veggies are bad and brownies are good, and it is also a whole lot of work to hide miniscule amounts of vegetables in cups of sugar and goops of oil - there has to be a better way, and there is - 15 of them! No lying, no tantrums and no marathon sessions in the kitchen!
Some of these you might have tried, some of these tips already work for you, and others are worth a shot. Let’s start:

Let’s try to understand why kids are such picky eaters. I think it has something to do with the basic survival tactics of our caveman ancestors - back then, the kids who did not practice extreme caution when coming across an unknown food, often did not survive their curiousness. As a result, this inbuilt safety mechanism can drive the most dedicated mom or dad up the wall.

Let’s take it step-by-step

1. The “Salad - no way!” problem. What might be going on here is, that the mixing of different textures and flavors feels like a loss of control to our cautious kid. Solution: Try serving the same ingredients as a platter - nothing touches anything else - with the salad dressing as a dip. As you are slicing and dicing the ingredients for a salad don’t mix your child’s portion, simply arrange them in piles on a plate - or for extra coolness- bonus points - make them into a face or a character from a book. The dressing as a dip has to be of the highest quality; only the best oils, with a protein base and not too much sodium. Definitely out: anything with artificial flavors or colors, anything hydrogenated and please no MSG. Tofu as a base, works really well. Readymade dips include nut butters, cream cheese or hummus. Store bought dressings I can recommend include Newman’s Own - especially their “Light” line - and Amy’s salad dressings, available in the health food store or some supermarkets.

2. Rename veggies to give them a funky spin - I learned this trick from my grandmother, who was a cool person way before "cool" was even a term. She would have no problem naming spinach leaves “dragon scales” and snow peas “magic butterfly wings”. You could even make a dragon with spinach as scales with a lovely thousand island dip - maybe some carrot slivers as fiery dragon breath - you get the idea. Be creative - for more inspiration, consult Play With Your Food, by Joost Elffers, available at link

3. Sometimes it all depends on consistency - I know many kids that will not touch any green veggie that has wilted in the cooking process - they call wilted spinach “slimy” and to be honest, they are kind of right - but they will happily eat spinach "raw" - remember, better call it “Dragon Scales”.

4. You have heard this one before - let your kids help you cook. Take a deep breath - stop stressing and have more fun in the kitchen. Okay maybe this does not work after a long, busy day when you are just plain tired, but maybe on the weekend. Let them help you bake, or chop veggies, or mix dough for homemade pizza. They love getting their hands dirty and you can have really great conversations in the kitchen - I don’t know why it is, but being in the kitchen and cooking together gets people to talk to each other. When I say let them chop and cut - before you sue me for handing kitchen knives to your three year old - I am talking about craft kids scissors and plastic lettuce knives, of course. They are quite handy for performing a number of tasks. Not everything can be accomplished with these tools but you would be surprised at how handy scissors are in the kitchen. I actually have several pairs of real scissors in my kitchen, and they are some of my favorite prepping tools.

5. Research recipes together - kids are wizards on the internet and there is not a single fruit or vegetable that does not have an almost exhaustingly long description in Wikipedia or sites like that. Learn about veggies together! Give older kids the power to research recipes and make some choices about what goes on the dinner table. They may surprise you in their fearless approach to try out new things.

6. Join a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture, otherwise known as your neighborhood farm). Buy a share in your farm and go on weekly trips to pick up the bounty! Your kids will be able to breathe fresh air, get to pet chickens, goats and other animals, and maybe help you harvest. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw, at my local CSA, a little boy who helped his mom pick sugar snap peas and announced loudly and with conviction that these were way better than candy - there is a lifelong enthusiastic veggie eater for you. Find your local CSA here.

7. Mono eating: some kids want to eat only one type of food at a time - and that’s fine! Some adults embrace mono eating much later in life, when they realize that it is actually much easier on your digestion. Of course, the quality of these exclusive foods matters greatly, and most doctors agree that eventually kids will grow out of that habit and embrace greater variety. One should keep in mind that nutrition is the sum of its parts, and what is consumed over the course of a week many be more important than any one particular day. Imagine for lunch one day you set up your child with a gigantic bowl of baby carrots and a hummus dip. You’d be amazed at how quickly you’ll see the bottom of that bowl. You might be thinking that your child needs more to eat - but think about it you’re child is full, he or she is smiling, and they’ve just consumed a load of fiber, vitamins, protein, fat and a lot of carrots! It’s great!

8. Smoothies - although I am not one to embrace hiding vegetables - Smoothies do pack a nutritional punch - the basis of smoothies can be milk, tofu, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc. So, this can become a very valuable addition to a picky eater’s menu. Add unusual smoothie ingredients such as: lettuce, cucumbers, carrot juice, tomatoes, cooked butternut squash, cooked pumpkin, zucchini, beets (cooked or raw), or cooked sweet potatoes, and of course your fruits of choice. Try not to make your smoothies too sweet. Have fun experimenting wildly! Most blenders are safe for kids to operate, under adult supervision of course - and working the blender makes smoothies twice as fun for them!

9. Over at the Vegan Lunch Box blog, Jennifer McCann presented a great idea. Her observation was that sometimes vegetables just aren’t as accessible as cookies or crackers. So, the solution here is to buy a condiment box with an ice compartment (available at Linen’s n Things or Bed Bath & Beyond). These plastic boxes have five compartments to hold about two cups each of your soon to be favorite veggies - you put ice underneath to keep the veggies fresh and crispy all day long. This way the box can go straight on the counter in everybody’s view. Check out a picture here:
The options of what to put in the box are endless and open for discussion, of course. Suggestions are cucumber slices, carrots, snap peas, fruit spears, lettuce leaves, apple slices etc - you get the point. Now all you need is a little dressing, hummus, nut butter or any other dip, and you are all set - all day long for a veggie feast.
Whatever is leftover at the end of the day - becomes either pre-diced dinner ingredients or can be used for the next soup, smoothie or crock pot meal.

10. Speaking of crock pots - even small children can help decide what goes into a crock pot - and because it is not hot when you put the meal together, there’s no danger of getting burned - and again you have that involvement that gets children interested, and helps you avoid the power struggle.

11. You should respect that your children might want to eat at a different time than you would. The very first time you try to force your kid to eat, you have lost the battle. You are actually teaching them, that the more he or she resists eating, the more attention you will lavish on them trying to make them eat. This becomes their favorite game really fast. It is much better to wait until they are hungry and ready to eat.

12. Never use food as a bribe or reward or punish a kid for not eating. This creates a no-win situation and could lead to lifelong struggles with food. Especially the perception sweet is good (mostly a reaction they learn from you) is really a hard one to shake.

13. Play with your food! - touch it, make it into silly shapes, dye it with naturals dyes etc. the whole idea of the Japanese Bento Boxes is very intriguing. Check out some of the craziness and steal some of the ideas. Scroll all the way down - it is worth it! Did you see the tomato lobster - crazy! Some of these are extremely elaborate and some probably use artificial food dyes, which I would not recommend, but the general idea is wonderful. You will be amazed what kids will eat, if food is presented this way. Just think about how they are willing to embrace cereals just because some cartoon character is on the box - imagine if the same cartoon character actually is the food they are about to eat.

14. Tell stories that feature your kids, the veggies they are about to eat and the wild adventures they are going to have. This one is not only a lot of fun but really works. Don’t fret if you are not much of a story teller - borrow heavily form the classics - go ahead - whichever story you remember will do - just change the main character to become your child and weave vegetables into the story. This is another one from my grandmother, who was an awesome and fearless story teller. I remember hundreds of stories that featured me and the very lunch I was eating that day! It was so much fun and I remember being completely captivated, making sure I would eat every last bite.

15. Play the ABC Vegetable game. Vow to eat at least one vegetable for every letter of the alphabet with your kids. There is research, choosing, and cooking involved - and it should be fun! Some letters obviously will be harder than others. One mom tried this with her kids and writes a blog about her experiences in “The Great Big Vegetable Challenge” which you can read here
You will find inspirational stories, recipes and tips at this awesome blog.

Well, that’s it! I hope some tips here are useful to you. If you have any more that worked for you, let me know I’d be happy to expand this list.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Insane and unheard-of: Make your own Toothpaste!

Another weird mission - Danger! - If you chose to accept this mission - you might never go back to regular toothpaste.
I don’t know why I did not think about this earlier - but lately I have been quite upset about how much toothpaste actually costs.
Granted, I buy one of the most expensive ones out there - I have gotten hooked on Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste, which retails for anywhere from $3.75 to $5.00 for 3.3 ounces! I have also been buying Tom’s of Maine, which is a bit less expensive at around $5.00 for 5.5 ounces.
If we look at the ingredients, the first one listed for Weleda is:

“Sodium Bicarbonate” which is of course a fancy name for “Baking Soda” - so have I been buying Baking Soda for $5.00 per 3 ounces? It almost seems to be!

Water - could be free out of my faucet!

Glycerin - which is basically a fancy name for vegetable oil - (again - that costs close to nothing)

a list of herby sounding things - but on their website even Weleda admits, that those are present only in highly diluted forms - Translate: miniscule trace amounts

And Sodium Chloride - which - you guessed it, is salt. Again not terrible expensive.

So here is my recipe for home made toothpaste - it is so good, it is almost addictive.
Try your own variations - as always, have fun and experiment wildly!


* Baking Soda - the same kind you hopefully use for cleaning everything else in your house - so why not your teeth? Cost: can be as low as $0.50 for 2 pounds! Buy store brand - no need to go fancy here.

* Salt - whichever you use - it is really good for your gums - Cost: cents

* Glycerin - or any other vegetable oil - no real medicinal use - just used as a binder
It is available in any pharmacy or health food store and costs about $2.00 for 4 fluid ounces - but will last you probably a year! Or you could also use any other oil, that you already have.

* essential oil flavorings: you can use the traditional peppermint, spearmint or go more exotic and use fennel, cinnamon or vanilla. All of these are just meant to add taste, so even though we are conditioned to have minty fresh breath, there are options here. The essential oils will set you back around $5.00 per miniscule 5 mili liter bottle, but they are worth it! First of all, one of these will again last you for years, and second you can use the oils to flavor lots of other things , from cleaning vinegar to perfume.


1. Mix two to three drops of the essential oil of your choice with 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Add one tablespoon salt and two teaspoons glycerin to bind. Mix well and add additional flavors such as fennel or vanilla and you could also add one or two drops tea tree oil.

2. Store in an airtight container - or go to an art supply store and buy tubes to fill yourself, which are meant for paint - but you should be able to use them for your homemade toothpaste. I don’t remember off hand how much those go for, but it can’t be too much!

 Anyway - Let me know how you did - I am really curious to see what you think!

Another CSA pickup - #17

Pickups are getting more manageable again, which is a nice thing. It has been quite a lot of work processing all this food. Many people, after seeing how much I really pick up every week, have asked me - “Well, how much of this do you have to throw out each week?” which is a question that almost makes me gasp. What do you mean throw out? Okay, I admit it every now and then - something does go bad on me. Which drives me nuts. The occasional lettuce that commits suicide in my fridge, before I have a chance to use it, almost makes me cry. I know, I am looking into counseling, there just isn’t much support out there for looney veggie lovers. Generally, I could be considered obsessive - compulsive in my drive to use every last bit of my share. This has endeared me to friends, who I have given little teaser baskets full of produce (when I just couldn’t handle the overflowing counters any longer) and has also prompted me to invest in a new freezer, after I almost killed our refrigerator filling it to the gills with pesto, tomato sauce and green beans. I feel like a squirrel at times, trying to make sure I can rescue some of this produce over into the winter, where I know it will hurt to pay $3 per pound of not even remotely organic green beans.
I know some people really embrace pickling and canning, I just does not seem to be my thing. Somehow I still struggle with the thought of giving up so much of the nutritional value and adding either tons of sugar or salt. I know some pickling actually enhances certain aspects of the veggies - I guess it is something to be learned in the future.

2 heads Lettuce $3.38
2 pounds onions $2.60
4 heads bok choy $6.00

1 pound kale $1.86
8 pounds tomatoes $31.92
4 pounds peppers $7.36
1 ½ pounds rainbow chard $3.28
2 eggplants $3.00
unlimited green beans (15 pounds @1.99) $29.85
6 stems flowers $5.00
1 handful raspberries $2.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes (hard time pricing that) $15
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00

Total this week: $123.20
Added to our season’s total so far of $1407.37 - our new total is: $ 1530.57.
So, if we had bought the produce we received in stores tallying up average prices form chain supermarkets to health food stores we would have had to pay $1500 for veggies we prebought for $ 860 - not a bad deal!