Friday, December 18, 2009

Reusable Gift Bags

Last year I decided to turn various bits of fabric that were leftover from projects, and which had been taking up space in my craft corner for at least 5 years, into gift bags.

I love them.

No paper to buy, wrap, and trash. No tape. The gift bags fold and take up very little space when stored. The ones I've made are lined and have a nice weight to them; lining fabric can also be scrap fabric, or from something like an old sheet (the flat ones never wear out like the fitted ones do). Bags can be pieced to highlight particular fabrics as well.

I've tried several different methods, including these:
Simple bag with ribbon tie
Unlined Drawstring Bag
Lined drawstring bag

Making one bag, from cutting the fabric to completing the drawstring, takes about an hour. Wrapping a gift takes 10 seconds.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dairy-Free Meals

This is for my friend Jennifer, who has to cook dairy-free for a while due to her infant's potential allergies. These are some ideas for easy dairy-free meals.

Just about anything you might have other than breakfast cereal, which you can of course prepare with soy or rice milk. Read labels as some nondairy "milks" contain a lot of sugar.

For pancakes or waffles, you can sub prepared nondairy milks in the recipe, or you can blend some cooked oatmeal or cooked rice with water and use that instead.

  • Use bean spreads such as hummus for sandwiches or wraps; bean spreads can be made from almost any bean with varied seasonings. For instance, try black beans with cumin and salsa, or white beans with lots of parsley. Add your favorite veggies.
  • Avocado sandwich
  • Hard-boiled egg or an egg sandwich
  • Leftover roast chicken or turkey sandwich
  • Bean and grain salads
  • Leftovers from dinner

  • Beans and rice (Use canned beans, or cook a big pot of beans and use it for several meals). There are many ethnic variations on beans and rice.
  • Pasta with sauce and veggies (Sunflower seeds or pine nuts add a big burst of flavor if you miss Parmesan).
  • Tacos or burritos, just as good without cheese. I like to make a big batch of taco filling and freeze it in meal-sized containers. Making your own beans is easy, too.
  • Stir-fry, and then fried rice with the leftover rice.
  • Roast chicken and some veggies. Try quinoa for a change of pace side dish.
  • Chili, stew, or soup and bread. If a soup recipe calls for lots of milk or cream, look for another recipe. Veggies have sufficient flavor on their own. My favorite veggie chili is from Cary Neff's book Conscious Cuisine, which our library has.
  • Make-your-own pizza. Pizza is different, but very good and a lot less greasy, without cheese. Call it if focaccia it doesn't look like pizza to you.
  • Sweet potato, white bean, and pepper tian. This is delicious.
  • Moosewood's Chili Burgers and some whole wheat rolls
  • Chicken sausages, sauteed peppers & onions, and rolls
Muffins (use juice or water in place of milk, applesauce, pureed white beans, or pureed oatmeal/rice in place of thick dairy stuff).
Hummus and pita bread

As I noted in a previous post, baking can be the most difficult. Try those substitutions, or look for dairy-free recipes. Oatmeal cookie recipes usually are dairy-free, for instance. Quick breads and muffins often use oil and no butter. If you need a cake, try making Six-Minute Chocolate Cake for the ultimate in fast and easy - seriously, it's easier than waiting in line at the grocery store.

Now - start experimenting!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Slow Cookers - Design and Cooking

One way I like to make my days easier is by not having to worry about dinner when I'm exhausted. Slow cookers seem to have undergone a revival in recent years, but, unfortunately, the design of 20 years ago seems to be better than today's.

I have a 5-quart Rival Crockpot that I purchased in the mid-1990s. It has a solid glass lid that is fairly heavy. I never knew how important that lid was until I decided to buy a smaller slow cooker for our 3-person family (the cooker must be filled at least halfway, or food will burn; 2.5 quarts is a lot of food, and I don't always want to fill up the freezer).

Today's slow cookers generally have glass lids as well, but they are not all glass. Most have a plastic handle that is attached with a screw, and the thin glass lid is framed by metal. The weight of the lid is significantly less than the old style, and presumably the cost to manufacture and ship is reduced, because this design seems to have been universally adopted.

The problem is that this new lid design does not seal as tightly as the heavy glass lids. Slow cookers spit out water and the lids rattle around as the steam pressure builds. Spilling water all over my counter is not something that I consider desirable in an electrical appliance!

A review of some slow cookers can be found on . Cooks Illustrated has some commentary that is available without a subscription, and test results that require a subscription or a trip to the library.

After unsuccessfully scouring thrift stores for a model of the old design, and learning that my mother-in-law is planning to make use of the one that's been sitting in her basement for a few decades, I tested several different new models. I've finally located one that is acceptable, with only minor spitting of water, and only on the high temperature setting after several hours. The design to look for is a crock with small grooves in the rim where the glass lid rests, that allow the accumulating water to stream back into the crock. Also, the width of the slow cooker has an impact; I think it is likely that a round crock will spit less than an oval crock due to a heavier lid per unit area.

The one I found happens to be branded as a Rival, but not all Rivals have this crock design. I also located a smaller, house-brand cooker that has the same crock design and the same insignia on the bottom of the crock (and which does not spit at all, despite heating to the same temperature). I suspect that there is a huge factory in China that makes most of these appliances, no matter what the brand.

For the record, my favorite slow cooker cookbook is Beth Hensperger's Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook; she includes many reasonably healthy recipes, as well as many vegetarian and vegan recipes.

A few things that I like to cook in the slow cooker:
  • Beans. Soak overnight, start on low in the morning, done for dinner.
  • Soup. Get all the dinner prep done before noon and have some great soup for dinner. I like to do this when I have a busy afternoon scheduled.
  • Chicken stock/soup. After roasting a chicken, I put the carcass in the slow cooker and cover with water. I leave it on low overnight, and strain it in the morning. If we will eat chicken soup for dinner that night, I add vegetables and let it cook on low all day, adding brown rice about an hour before dinner. We buy free-range, natural poultry, and I find them to be very low in fat, so stock made with the bones and skin is not greasy at all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reducing Meat & Dairy Products

You can read elsewhere all the reasons (take your pick: health, budget, environment, animal rights) why you might want to reduce meat and dairy products, but here are some things I've learned.

I was vegetarian and off dairy for about 10 years... now, I use small amounts of free range poultry in meals. I still prefer my vegetarian cookbooks, though: recipes that are designed to be vegetarian have a lot of flavor on their own, and it's easy enough to add tofu, poultry/meat, or nuts if a heavier meal is desired. Some of my favorite veg cookbooks:

*Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics; her recipes are quick and tasty.

* Vegan Mediterranean Kitchen by Donna Klein (I like this better than any other vegan cookbook I've seen because it just includes recipes that are vegan without making substitutes for everything. Most vegan cookbooks rely too much on soy, in my opinion.)

* How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (many vegan recipes)

* Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (many vegan recipes)

Here are some websites with vegetarian or vegan recipes:
http://vegkitchen. com/recipes- galore.htm (by cookbook author Nava Atlas; most of her books are predominantly vegan) archives. php (Mollie Katzen wrote the Moosewood Cookbook & others; her newer recipes use less dairy) recipes/ (searchable for vegan and other types) common/recipe. html (mostly vegan)

I prefer ethnic vegetarian foods rather than ones that are modified meat & potato meals - for instance, a meal such as Greek salad and falafel with hummus vs something like a vegetarian version of meatloaf (however, homemade veggie burgers can be quite tasty). You can get a lot of ideas for veg food from ethnic cookbooks that aren't labeled vegetarian; some of the recipes might call for meat, but many cultures have a lot of traditional vegetarian meals, and when they do use meat, it tends to be in vastly smaller quantities.

Vegan is not difficult to do if you're already used to cooking without meat. When I was learning to go without dairy, the most difficult aspect was baking without milk products. Most vegan cookbooks sub soy or rice milk and other soy products. I don't like that for multiple reasons: first, it's a hassle to make soy milk; if you purchase it, the containers it comes in are non-recyclable. Second, I don't want to OD on soy. Third, it gets expensive to have all those subs on hand. We do eat soy, but I prefer to have it in its less processed forms, such as tofu and miso.

Here are the substitutes that I prefer:
EGG: 1 tbsp flax meal in 3 tbsp water. Mix and let sit for a few minutes. It will become somewhat gel-like and works great in baking.
MILK: Cooked rice or oatmeal, pureed with water to a smooth consistency. These work well in baking, in smoothies, in soups.
YOGURT, SOUR CREAM, ETC: Pureed silken tofu. Pureed white beans (yes, even in sweets).
BUTTER: Use oil in about half the amount. You can experiment with mixing the oil with some flour and freezing it for recipes that require solid fat. (Non-hydrogenated, vegan shortening is available, and most vegan cookbooks call for this, but I prefer my method.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Traveling with Kids

The holiday season approaches and many people will be traveling. Since we have family and friends spread out all around the country, we have done a lot of traveling since our daughter was born, including a cross-country road trip when we moved.

Here are a few things that make travel more pleasant for us:

* About a month before taking a trip, either by car or air, I stash away small, lightweight, portable things so that they will be "new" for the trip. For airplane trips, I pack thin paperback books, crayons, paper, random things that I find that are interesting, small plastic animals and toys, a favorite small stuffed animal, etc.

* Storytelling and singing are good past-times in the car. There are audio books that are appropriate for young children that can be fun for adults, as well. Games such as "I spy" are very popular with my daughter.

* Find fun things to do on stops. In the airport, look for an empty gate area to let a toddler run. Some airports have play areas or long hallways with little foot traffic. On roadtrips, some rest areas have short trails and playgrounds.

* For a couple years after potty training, we took the small kid potty in the trunk for long trips, just in case. Some highways have many miles between facilities - and some states have closed their rest stops.

* Establish a travel routine when possible on a trip. On our move, each of the 4 days was exactly the same, and while none of us wanted to get back into the car after lunch, by day 2 our 18-month old knew what was coming and made only minor objections. When we traveled overseas and hit a major heatwave with our 4-year old, we quickly set a routine of morning activity, lunch, then afternoon rest time until it was cooler outside.

* Don't forget to pack some healthy snacks and water. (Healthy snacks because no one needs a sugar crash when everyone is trapped in a small space.)

* Manage expectations. Know that the actual travel is likely to fall somewhere between passable and grueling! Hopefully, the time spent at the destination will make the travel worthwhile.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No time for what?

Recently, Nielson released numbers indicating that kids under age 6 watch an average of 32 hours of screen time weekly; school-age kids still managed to bank about 28 hours weekly (LA Times).

Let's take a look at a week: 168 hours. (168)
According to Dr. Sears, kids need, on average, close to 10 hours/night until age 10: 70 hours. (98)
School-aged kids are gone at least 7 hours/day: 35 hours. (63)
Eating must take about 2 hours/day: 14 hours. (49)
Getting ready for the day and for bedtime: 7 hours. (42)
Playing outside or inside: let's assume two hours daily of free play or activity during the school year: 14 hours. (28)
Homework: 3 hours. (25)
Personal hygiene: 3 hours. (22)

This is telling me two things:
1. Some kids must watch screens nearly every waking moment, because some kids watch none.
2. Our days are as busy as I felt that they were. After subtracting the additional time spent for school transit and sleeping in our household, we are in negative time. And we don't watch TV.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Granola: easy, frugal, delicious!

Instead of buying cereal in a big bag and box, make your own in less time than it takes to wait in the grocery checkout. Cost comparison: you can make 2 large batches of granola from 1 42-ounce oatmeal container, which runs about $2.50, which is the least that you'll pay for a one 15-ounce box of cereal. Taste comparison: no contest!

6-8 c old fashioned rolled oats
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 c honey (can increase if desired, but this is enough)
1/4 c canola oil (ditto)

Preheat oven to 300F and oil two baking sheets. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients and warm slightly in a pot or the microwave. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread on the baking sheets. Stir after 20 minutes, and remove from the oven after 40 minutes. Let cool and store in a container in the fridge.

Optional additions:
1/2 c wheat germ: add at beginning to oats.
coconut: add toward the end of baking time (look for unsweetened, preservative-free coconut in bulk at natural foods stores).
nuts and dried fruit: add after removing from the oven.

Great combinations:
hazelnuts and dried blueberries
pecans and dried cranberries
dried cherries and almonds
dried apricots (chopped) and walnuts
any of the above with chocolate chips, preferably Ghirardelli's bittersweet

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sweet potatoes...

are jewels of the garden. We mostly roast them in their jackets, around 400 degrees, until they are soft to the touch and oozing a little. They require no adornment, although they are tasty with pineapple pieces or minced ginger root mixed in. We rarely have leftovers, but when we do, my daughter likes these even more than pumpkin muffins, and that's saying something:

Sweet potato muffins (makes 12)

1.5 to 2 c leftover mashed roasted sweet potatoes
1 egg, or use the flaxseed egg sub for vegan muffins
2 tbsp canola oil
1 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c pecan meal + 1/4 c unbleached flour OR 1 c unbleached flour
3/4 c UNPACKED brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

To make the pecan meal, whirl about 1c loosely packed pecan halves in some sort of chopper until it is very fine. Mix the wet ingredients well, and then add the dry ingredients and mix until most of the lumps are out. If it seems to dry, add a little water (~ 1/4 c). Bake for about 20-23 minutes at 400F.

For a fabulous vegetarian main dish featuring sweet potatoes, try this:
Sweet potato, White bean, and Pepper Tian
I like to double the amount of beans ( I cook 1/2 pound of dry white beans for the recipe).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

'Tis the season for colds and flu...

and, having had the flu this month, I have no desire to get sick again.

There are coughs and sneezes happening everywhere, and while I'm most likely to get sick through our school connection, with my daughter in daily contact with 25 other kids, I move away from people who are obviously ill no matter where I am. I do not like to take supplements, preferring to get my nutrients from diet, but I decided to do a little research. Here are a few links that may be of interest regarding means of boosting the immune system:

Common Cold at the University of Maryland's Complementary Medicine Reference Center

Echinacea at the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Immune Function at
(Vitacost sells supplements, but their Health Library articles are useful because they are fully referenced from research studies published in journals.)

Feeding your Immune System at

Preventing the Flu

Eat-right plan to increase immunity from Cooking Light at CNN

A summary on immunity from the Healthy Librarian (I won't even consider paper towels, though! I replace hand towels almost daily in cold season instead).

Here's what I've decided to do based on these readings:
  • Limit sugar as much as possible.
  • Take my multivitamin more regularly.
  • Eat high vitamin-C fruit daily (kiwi or citrus, usually).
  • Count my veggies. I always eat more when I do this, aiming for a minimum of 5 servings/day.
  • Regular moderate exercise (which is a real challenge in the winter).
  • Keep drinking decaf green tea.
  • Put homemade yogurt back in my diet.
  • Try to get enough sleep.
  • Meditate daily, which is the best form of stress management I've found.
  • Get some echinacea. I'll have to read further to see if I want to use it as a preventive measure or keep it on hand for when illness strikes. Scratch that, it's in the ragweed family, and I'm allergic to ragweed.
  • Remember, again, to limit sugar.
One of my favorite ways to get a lot of fruit in summer is smoothies. Mine are almost entirely fruit, without added sugar, sometimes but not always with some yogurt or cooked oatmeal to add creamy texture. I'm going to try making smoothies without frozen ingredients as a winter replacement.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fast and Easy Dinner: Stir-fry

Stir-fry has the reputation of being a time-consuming meal because of the vegetable prep required, but it's my meal of choice when we get home late. Some vegetables are quicker to prepare than others; green beans, carrots, broccoli, and asparagus require very little time. We forgo meat in our stir-fries and use egg, tofu, or nuts.

I realize that this long recipe doesn't look like a fast and easy dinner, but it does become one with practice. I can have stir-fry on the table with white rice in 20 minutes. It took me longer to type this than to make tonight's dinner, a green bean - carrot stir fry with egg.

If you want an easy dinner the next night, cook extra rice, and make fried rice. More on that another day.

Stir-fry Steps
  1. Drain & press tofu if using (details below); at dinnertime, start baking it.
  2. Start the rice, especially if using brown rice
  3. Clean and chop vegetables
  4. Make sauce
  5. Cook egg if using
  6. Stir-fry vegetables when rice is about 10 minutes from done
  7. Add sauce, reduce heat, and steam veggies until done
1. Tofu:
Drain, wrap in 2 clean dish towels, and place between 2 plates in the refrigerator. This can be done hours before dinner. Cube and toss with a couple of tsp each tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. If baking, preheat oven to 400F and oil a baking sheet; start the tofu about 30 minutes before you plan to eat. Higher temperature will yield crisper tofu. Tofu can also be prepared in thin slices and baked, then served over the vegetables like cutlets. To cook on the stovetop, after starting the rice, heat canola or peanut oil to high temp and saute the tofu; remove from pan and set aside.

3. Vegetables:
Use what you like, and whatever variety you like. Cut enough vegetables for one meal. Sort into 2 containers: quick-cooking (asparagus tips, for instance) and slow-cooking (larger pieces of broccoli, carrots unless julienned, etc). Vegetables can be prepped early in the day and refrigerated until dinner.

4. Sauce:
There are many jarred sauces, but most of them contain lots of sugar, salt, and/or MSG... and they're simply not necessary. For a stir-fry for 4 people, I use:
1 c water
1 tsp vegetable broth powder (I like Seitenbacher and Rapunzel; both are available at natural foods stores and online)
minced garlic and ginger to taste - at least 1 tsp each (fresh is best, but I won't tell if you use powdered)
1-2 tbsp of something acidic - some dry wine, sherry, mirin, or rice vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch
optional additions: 1-2 tbsp ketchup, 1 1/2 tsp curry powder, or 1 tsp honey

5. Egg: I use 2 eggs, beaten by hand, and cooked into a thin pancake. I slice this into long ribbons or small squares and add to the vegetables after adding the sauce. Cook the egg first, in the same pan that you will use for the vegetables.

Nuts: Cashews, almonds, or walnuts are what I use.

6. Now, put it all together:
Heat 1 tbsp canola or peanut oil over high heat. Add the slow-cooking vegetables and stir-fry for a minute or two. Add the quick-cooking vegetables and stir-fry for a minute or two.

7. Add the sauce, reduce the heat, and add egg/tofu/nuts at this time; cover and keep at a slow simmer for 5-10 minutes until vegetables are at desired crispness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It's close to the end of summer now, but sunscreens are on my mind because of the recent statement from Consumers Union.

There are two primary categories of sunscreens:
Chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone, octisalate, and others; and
Mineral-based sunscreens such as titanium and zinc oxides.

Many sunscreen formulations include both of these categories with multiple effective - or supposedly effective - ingredients. Supposedly? Well, according to the Environmental Working Group, "40% of products on the market contain ingredients that may be unstable alone or in combination" when exposed to sunlight.

So, given that the effectiveness of chemical sunscreens is not proven, it seems a given that the particle-based ones are the route to choose. But not so fast; those particles have been engineered to be smaller - nanoscale (1 nanometer = one millionth of a millimeter) in fact - and there is concern that they could be absorbed through the body's largest organ - the skin - and taken into the lungs; Consumers Union also expressed concern about the impact on the ecosystem.

Doesn't the FDA regulate such products?
From The Washington Post: "The FDA regulates sunscreens as nonprescription drugs and does not require extra safety tests specific for nanoparticles. The agency has little authority over cosmetics. " (take note: other topical products are also likely to have questionable safety)

The EWG says,"FDA has spent the past 30 years drafting sunscreen standards (FDA 2007a), which it urges manufacturers to follow voluntarily. FDA issued its latest draft standards in August 2007, which include a proposal for first-ever UVA standards, but still has failed to finalize the standards to make them mandatory. In lieu of enforceable standards, each sunscreen manufacturer decides on test methods, marketing claims, and the level of protection they are willing and able to provide consumers." (emphasis added)

This should be no surprise to people who are familiar with bisphenol-A or parabens, both of which only began to disappear from products following objections from activist groups and restrictions by other countries.

The EWG reports that, this year, 2 of 5 sunscreens on the market are effective (some of these contain nanoparticles) - in other words, 60% are not effective.

Further information:
Review of Scientific Literature on Nanoparticles, published by the Australian Government

EWG's summary on sunscreens - read study data, view the database that lists ingredients and estimates safety and effectiveness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Candles in the News

Standard candles are made from a blend of paraffin wax and stearin. Paraffin is produced from petroleum; stearin can be made from animal or vegetable fats and hardens the paraffin by raising the melting temperature. Candles can also be formed from beeswax, soy wax, or palm wax.

A recent study at South Carolina State University found that unscented, uncolored paraffin candles emitted chemicals including toluene and benzene, while beeswax- and soy-based candles did not. Candle wicks can also create air pollution: metal-core wicks may contain lead, which becomes airborne upon burning. The CPSC banned lead-core wicks in 2003; to avoid lead, do not burn older candles.

All candles produce soot, fine particles which may irritate the lungs. Scented candles contain additional chemicals which increase emissions of both soot and chemicals. To reduce soot, choose unscented candles, keep the wick trimmed, and minimize drafts; further recommendations may be found here. To reduce emitted chemicals, choose unscented candles, and burn candles infrequently or choose soy or beeswax candles.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Easy dinner

Everyone has, or should have, a few meals that can be assembled and cooked quickly, easily, and without a recipe, for those nights when you'd rather not cook or you get home late. One of my favorites is a frittata. It can be vegetarian or not, dairy-free or not, depending on your preferences and what's hanging around in your refrigerator.

Pictured is tonight's dinner - a spinach-summer squash frittata topped with a few bell pepper rings. These freeze well and make excellent leftovers for lunches. I've tried various ways of cooking these - stovetop, oven, and both, and I've found no textural or flavor differences, but I prefer this method for ease. In the summer, I bake in a toaster oven in the garage to avoid roasting us all out of the house.

The 30-minute baking time is sufficient to prep a salad and clean the dishes generated in cooking, so cleanup is quick after dinner, too.

Frittata (6 servings)

5 large eggs

vegetables, sliced thinly (tonight's used 1/2 pound frozen spinach and 1 medium crookneck squash - onions, potatoes (in small cubes), asparagus and green beans work well also. I almost always use spinach, though.)

optional: cheese (I usually don't add)

Oil a pie plate and preheat oven to 350F. Saute the vegetables (if using potatoes, start these earliest, and cook until done) in a small amount of olive oil until most of the moisture is removed. Add seasonings as desired.

Beat the eggs until your arm is really tired. Put the vegetables into the pie plate and then pour the eggs on top. Using a fork, gently move the vegetables around here and there to mix in the eggs. Make a design on top if desired, with pieces of pepper, asparagus, thinly sliced carrots, etc.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are thoroughly cooked and the frittata is beginning to brown, at 350F. Serve with salsa or ketchup if desired.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Packable Lunch Ideas

I've perused multiple library books on packable lunches looking for lunchbox ideas, but most have meals that are clearly intended to be microwaved - something my daughter won't be able to do at school. Her lunch either has to be cold, or packed to stay hot. (Indeed, Minnesota terminology for a packed lunch is apparently "cold lunch" - not the most appetizing name, especially in January.)
This is a list in progress, of foods that we buy (e.g. no preservatives, food coloring, etc) and which my daugher will eat (yes, she really eats tofu. Relishes it, actually.) If you haven't already guessed, my kitchen serves primarily natural, homemade and low-sugar foods. We do eat lots of nuts, but I am trying to avoid sending those to school due to the prevalence of allergies among children there.
  • Hummus and whole wheat pita
  • Cheese and bread, whole wheat tortilla, or crackers
  • Pita bread with things for stuffing
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Cottage cheese and crackers
  • Baked tofu with pita or tortilla and toppings (shredded carrots, spinach, etc)
  • Wrap with sunflower seed or bean spread, carrots, cabbage, other veggies
  • Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Samosas (baked)
  • Quinoa or couscous salad with garbanzo beans
  • Black beans, kidney beans, or garbanzo beans
  • Pasta salad
  • Cream cheese sandwich with/without cucumber or pepper or carrot
  • Cream cheese and jam sandwich
  • Vegetarian pasties - experiment with fillings
  • Bean salad and pita
Hot, in food jar
  • Tomato rice soup
  • Chicken noodle or chicken rice soup
  • Vegetable noodle or Veg rice soup
  • Lentil soup
  • Pasta with sauce, or with olive oil and cheese
  • Homemade mac & cheese
  • Beans, mashed or not, with tortilla and cheese on the side
  • Taco in a jar - layered or split taco ingredients, with corn tortillas
  • Lasagna
  • Chili, red or green
On the side
  • Fruit - Apples, pears, kiwis, berries, grapes, clementine, banana.
  • Vegetables, sliced as needed- carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers, cucumber, green beans, snap peas
  • Raw energy bars
  • Pickle - cucumber or other veggies
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Sweet potato chips
  • Steamed green beans or sugar snap peas
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Brownies
  • Butterscotch brownies
  • Apple crisp
  • Sugar cookies
  • Gingerbread cookies
  • Banana bread
  • Sweet potato muffins or bread
  • Apple muffins
  • Zucchini muffins
  • Pumpkin bread
  • Pumpkin brownies or cookies
  • Walnut-raisin bars from Laurel's Kitchen
More: a list of lunch ideas from the Wedge Community Co-op. 

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Do-It-Yourself Cleaners

    Have you ever wondered what your great-grandmother used for cleaning her house before there was an entire row of products in the store? While they do clean, many of these products leave chemical and fragrance residues in your home - neither of which is necessary or desirable. For the price of one commercial cleaning product, you can clean your entire home for a few years!

    In recent years, antimicrobial agents have been added to many products, from soaps to paint. Many scientists believe that overuse of these products has the potential to create more resistant bacteria. Additionally, many studies have shown that triclosan, a commonly used antimicrobial, accumulates in our environment, particularly in groundwater. An FDA panel reviewed studies on handwashing in 2005 and concluded that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soaps.

    Cleaning your house is as simple as locating a spray bottle and a few basic ingredients that you may already have. Always label your homemade cleaning containers with name and ingredients. Like all cleaners, these should be kept out of the reach of children. Many of these recipes use vinegar, so you should remember that vinegar and bleach should never be mixed.

    All-purpose cleaners (I use the first two, choosing one based on what I'm cleaning - what could be easier than vinegar and dish detergent?):

    • Vinegar and water mixed in equal amounts. This can also be used as a glass cleaner.

    • Dish detergent diluted with water.
    • 1 tbsp borax, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tsp dish detergent, and fill spray bottle to top with water.

    Scouring agents:

    • Baking soda, which can be mixed with some dish detergent for more cleaning power, or
    • Vinegar and salt.

    Air fresheners:

    • Open the windows.

    • Remove or clean the odor source.
    • Simmer water with cinnamon or other spices on the stove.
    • Mix a favorite essential oil with water in a small spray bottle.

    Furniture cleaner:

    Mix 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice with 1/2 tsp olive oil. Use a soft cloth such as a flannel rag.

    Laundry: Try your laundry without fabric softener or dryer sheets (I never use either). If there are many suds in the rinse water, try reducing the amount of laundry detergent in subsequent loads until the water is clean. If you have soft water, a small amount such as 2 Tbsp detergent might be enough for a large load of laundry.

    Dishes: Look for phosphate-free dishwashing soap and dishwasher detergent. Dishwasher detergent can be mixed from washing soda and borax, but washing soda can be difficult to find.

    One final tip: consider referencing the Materials Safety Data Sheet for any chemical that you use in your home or yard. Manufacturers are required to provide these; they can usually be found with an internet search such as "MSDS (product name)". The MSDS will list hazardous ingredients and particular concerns, toxicity, and recommended protective gear.

    For additional information, including natural oven cleaners, metal polishes, and less toxic ways to limit ants and other pests, try these resources:

    Book, probably available at your library:

    Better Basics for the Home, Annie Berthold-Bond

    Internet links:


    Michigan State Extension

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Another reason to buy locally

    The following quote is from a CNN article about changes in U.S. food safety policy:

    "The rules go into effect within a year for producers with more than 50,000 hens, which produce approximately 71 percent of eggs sold to consumers, the FDA's Sundlof said."

    Farms of 50,000 hens or more produce 71% of eggs! No wonder the eggs I get from local farmers are so noticeably better than supermarket eggs. Their chickens have to be healthier (since they're not sharing tight quarters with at least 49,999 other hens); the shells of the eggs are significantly harder, the yolks are almost orange, and they taste fresher, with a nicer flavor. A study found that free-range hens produce healthier eggs, with increased nutrients and a healthier fat profile. Smaller operations also don't produce the huge quantities of waste that have caused pollution and contamination problems around the country.

    For reference, here's what the Humane Society says about factory-farmed chickens, and further statistics on unsustainable practices in egg-laying hens.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    Reading Resources

    My daughter is a beginning reader, and both she and I have been less than thrilled with many of the books for her reading level. So many of them are seriously lacking either in the story or the art department and do not interest her in the least. We have found some materials that we both enjoy, however:

    Starfall's Learn to Read - this is a fabulous free resource, with phonics-based stories for multiple levels of readers

    Brand New Readers - there are a few of these fun, colorful books available online, and more might be at your library.

    Mini books - these are small books, typically 8 pages, that you copy or print and assemble (one cut and a staple), and kids can color the pictures if desired. Scholastic has books of these that typically contain 25 stories, available from your favorite bookseller, and there are some available online. The advantage of these is that there are so many, they can be cycled, so that I can determine whether they are being read from the words or from memory.

    A template for story paper is also useful for summer journaling. I printed a bunch of these and stapled them together, and by the time school starts, she'll have a book all about her own summer vacation.

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    3 Things to do with Beet Greens

    I've never eaten beet greens until this week. In fact, I've only rarely eaten beets themselves. Last summer I bought them once at the farmers' market - thinking that since there are almost no vegetables I truly dislike, I should see what I can do with them. The beet preparations I experienced in childhood were not fond memories. Roasted, I thought they were ok. This year, I'll try again. But first, the greens, since they are more perishable.

    Slice stems and leaves. Beginning with the stems, and adding the leaves when stems are fork-tender, saute lightly in olive oil with a touch of salt, just until bright green. Then, the beet greens can be

    - served alongside fried rice for the family to taste (could also be sauteed in the fried rice for more adventuresome folk)

    - made into enchiladas with some grass-fed ground beef, onions, and monterey jack cheese (for 4 servings, about 1/3# beef cooked with 1 small onion, 3 oz grated cheese, and about 1.5c sauteed beet greens, rolled into 6 steamed corn tortillas and topped with a sauce made from 1/2 c salsa and 1/2 c vegetable broth - bake, covered, 350, 20 minutes; uncover, top with 1oz grated cheese, and bake, uncovered, 10 more min or until thoroughly hot and cooked)

    - mixed with whole grain pasta, olive oil, and romano cheese.

    There are a lot of beet greens on a handful of beets, so they go a long way.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009


    My nephew's birthday is coming up and today my daughter and I sat down to make cards. I've made cards off and on for years, mostly on the computer. Since my daughter likes to use watercolors, it's companionable for us to work together at the spare table which is set up for projects. I got out a book we both enjoy (since I never had anything that could be termed art education), I Love to Draw, and drew a dragon (my first ever) lighting the candles on a birthday cake (that I could manage by myself). She made a watercolor of a cat. This was far more enjoyable than reading the best offerings (which are never really quite right) and waiting in line at a store. We have a supply of cardstock in rainbow colors and 5x7 envelopes, which fit perfectly when the cardstock is folded once to create a card. I estimated that a card + envelope runs about $0.15, and we reap the benefits of learning and creating our own designs.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Muerbe Teig

    This is my German grandmother's recipe for an open fruit tart. It is simple, full of delicious fruit flavor. I especially like it with blueberries or blackberries. I'm thinking of baking this crust and then putting fresh strawberries on top. In Germany, it would never be served without a dollop of real whipped cream.

    Mürbe Teig (I think this means something like "crumbly dough")

    1 1/3 c flour
    1/3 c butter, flaked
    1/3 c sugar
    pinch salt
    pinch baking powder
    1 tsp vanilla

    Beat butter and sugar together. Add vanilla. Knead in dry ingredients. Cool in refrigerator 30 minutes. Press into pie plate and up the sides. Arrange sliced fruit or berries on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar blended to taste.

    Bake at 375 about 25-30 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

    Works well with fresh plums, peaches, blueberries, raspberries...
    Can also use canned, drained fruit or frozen, thawed, drained fruit.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009


    4 pounds picked today from our 8'x4' raised bed, with the total so far this season about 8 pounds of organic berries.

    More strawberry popsicles.
    Strawberry cake.
    Just strawberries.

    I'm thinking of planting strawberries all over my front yard so I never have to mow again.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Weather Studies

    My daughter is keeping a weather log, tracking temperature, humidity, rainfall amount, and wind direction each day, as well as the time of observation. We made a remarkably easy weather vane from scrap materials: some non-recyclable plastic packaging material that would have otherwise been garbage, a used drinking straw, and old pencil, and a pin.

    We used the plastic sheet instead of the manila file folder - it's weather-proof. We stuck the pencil into a clay pot full of soil so it can easily be moved for mowing the lawn. If the gusting midwestern winds blow it to pieces, we'll revise the design.

    She loves being a scientist and going outside to the weather station with her clipboard! It's also good fraction practice, since the thermometer and humidity gauges have tenths and the rain gauge has eighths.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Empty-the-Fridge Muffins

    Precision in the kitchen is over-rated.

    1 c fruit puree, yogurt, or mixture of wet ingredients
    1/4 c ground flaxseed mixed into wet ingredients, or 1 egg
    a few tbsp of canola oil
    2 c flours of your choice. Sub grain flakes at the ratio of 1c flakes = 1/2 c flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda if fruit is acidic, or if yogurt is used
    about 1/4 c sugar, or 1/2 c if you like things sweet (or mix 2 tbsp (4 for sweet) honey into wet ingredients)
    pinch salt, optional
    spices as desired - cinnamon, cardamon, ginger - depending on fruit used
    Nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, dried fruit if desired - about 1/2 cup

    Mix wet ingredients, pour dry on top, gently mix together. If it seems too wet, add a bit more flour. Bake muffins about 18 minutes at 400F. Makes about 12 muffins.

    This particular rendition obtained the approval of 5 children:
    2 bananas, mashed thoroughly
    about 1.5 c plain yogurt
    3 tbsp canola oil
    1/4 c flax meal
    --- Mix above together, then pour on top:
    about 2.5 c flour (mostly whole wheat)
    about 1/4 c sugar
    1 tbsp cinnamon
    1 tbsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    pinch salt
    Mix and bake as above. This made 16 standard muffins.

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Strawberry Popsicles

    "Mom, can I have another popsicle?"

    about 1/2 pound of cleaned and sliced strawberries
    about 1/2 cup milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond, etc), or juice, or water

    Blend until smooth. Fills 6 small popsicle molds (made by Tupperware in the 1970s, and passed on to me by my mom). Probably fills about 4 modern popsicle molds. Freeze. Enjoy.