Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!

Did you make a new year’s resolution to waste less food, to do more cooking from scratch, or to buy less over-packaged food?  If you did, or if you have ever bought a canister of ready-to-use breadcrumbs, this article is for YOU!  And if you don’t fit into any of those categories, but you do eat bread and there is any chance that you’ll ever make a recipe that uses breadcrumbs, you should read this, too!

The thing is, breadcrumbs are just bread, made into crumbs.  It’s easy to do!  When you buy breadcrumbs, you’re paying to have machines crumble the bread for you and pack it in a container.  Crumbs are much more expensive than the number of slices of bread required to make that many crumbs.  Furthermore, when you buy crumbs as a separate product, you’re buying different bread than what you already have at home (some of which likely goes to waste from time to time, when it gets stale before you can eat it or because nobody likes to eat the bread heels) and you’re buying whatever quantity comes in a package–so after using the amount you need in your recipe, you’re likely to have some left, and if you can’t think of a use for them quickly, they’re going to go to waste, too.

bread in fridgeHere’s what was on the bottom shelf of our refrigerator one Saturday last fall when my son Nicholas (then 10 years old) decided to document in photos our process of converting unwanted bread into useful breadcrumbs.  In the center is an entire baguette that my partner Daniel bought, planning to make a specific sandwich–but then he got sick for just a couple days, and a baguette gets stale very quickly!  You also can see other bread bags, one with the current half-used loaf of bread but most nearly empty.  We took the heels out of that half-loaf bag but left the rest of the slices for our fresh-bread uses.  (Also on the shelf are tortillas, a jar of olives, and some kind of parsley or something, which you can just ignore.)

The first step is to inventory your breads and sort out what is no longer good for fresh eating but could still be used for crumbs.  Discard any bread that looks or smells moldy.  But bread that is damp from being in the refrigerator can still be salvaged! Read more of this post

Coffee Hour at Midnight (how to host on short notice)

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

I’ve written before about hosting church coffee hour.  The people in my church are willing to eat packaged coffee-cakes and things of that ilk, but most of them prefer healthier snacks, and so do I–our coffee hour begins just before noon, so my stomach is ready for lunch, not just simple carbs! I try hard to avoid making the excuse that I’m too busy to serve healthy, basically “real”, vegetarian food with some nutrients.  This article explains how to be prepared to serve real food for a snacky gathering on short notice, and gives one example of the specific array of food one might serve.

My church’s coffee hours are coordinated by a volunteer called the Hospitality Chairperson.  I was Hospitality Chairperson for three years, started to feel burned out, and turned over the position to the awesome Barb Curlee, who did it for nine years but finally decided it was too much work for a cancer patient–and nobody else wanted the job, so I took it back!  It was something of a leap of faith, since at that point I was newly pregnant and starting to feel queasy, but for a long while it was easy to recruit volunteers and I only had to bring the food once every few months.  But then we hit a dry spell.

Every Sunday, I set out the coffee hour sign-up book on the table next to the food.  It’s a nice little binder that another parishioner fills each year with pages listing the dates of all the Sundays and special events, with Bible quotes chosen to inspire generous food-sharing!  Ideally, people notice the book, sign up for a Sunday, remember to bring the food, set it up, and clean it up–and all I have to do is thank them graciously and keep an eye on whether or not they remembered to put out the napkins and fill the cream pitcher.  Sometimes, though, everyone’s busy or not paying attention, so I spend coffee hour begging people to sign up, and then I fill in for the Sundays nobody wanted.

This particular coffee hour was in late September (I just now found the photo and remembered I’d planned to post about it!) five or six weeks after I’d been in a car accident.  I was doing kind of okay, but I needed a lot of rest and was having trouble remembering and/or getting around to all of the things I usually do.  It was Thursday or Friday morning when I suddenly grabbed my ten-year-old Nicholas and gasped, “Did anybody sign up for coffee hour?  Did we even put out the book?!”  He couldn’t remember, either.  Luckily, the church is on my way home from work, so I stopped by and tiptoed around the AA meeting to check out my little binder.  Alas, Sunday’s sign-up space was bare! . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday morning, when we were shopping in Trader Joe’s and Nicholas said, “Can we try Eggplant Garlic Dip?  We could serve it at coffee hour!” and I agreed  . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday night at 11:22 p.m. when I had finally gotten my toddler to sleep and was tidying up the kitchen and noticed the jar of dip sitting randomly on the counter. Read more…

24 Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers–Not Just Turkey!

My partner Daniel’s cousin Mike has just concluded a 25-year tradition of inviting all the extended family to Thanksgiving dinner at his home in upstate New York.  We’re planning to get together next November, too, but it’ll have to be somewhere else because Mike is selling his house and moving to Florida.  As one of only a few family units living close enough to New York to travel there by car instead of airplane, we’ve enjoyed a generous portion of leftovers each year–this time, we brought home a big cooler and two small ones and a couple of grocery bags of surplus food!  Here are our tips for using up the kinds of goodies that tend to be left over after a big celebration like this.  (Thanks for all the great food and happy memories, Mike!!)

  • Freeze stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cooked vegetables in quart buckets.  On a boring weekend toward the end of winter, defrost them, bake some fish, open a can of cranberry sauce, and have a Fishgiving Feast!
  • Chop up leftover turkey and use it in Tetrazzini.  This recipe also absorbs mushrooms, peas, bell pepper, olives, cheese, and butter, if you have any of those left over.
  • Use leftover baked or roasted sweet potatoes or squash to make New England Yam Bake or Butternut Squash Burritos.  (Both recipes work with either vegetable.  Squash that has been baked with the skin on, rather than diced and roasted, usually needs to be drained so that it isn’t too wet.)
  • Add leftover corn to your burritos or other Mexican meals, such as Mexican Pizza, or to Cheesy Zucchini Casserole (using that zucchini you probably froze in the summer when there was too much of it around!).
  • Here are 4 ways to use extra bread, even if it’s stale!  Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding also accommodates assorted bits of vegetables and cheese.
  • Crackers from the appetizer tray can be crunched up along with bread to make breadcrumbs for use in recipes like Cheesy Walnut Burgers.
  • Most types of vegetables work in High-Protein Vegan Pasta Salad, Pasta Prima Becca, and/or Flexican Cornbread Pizza.  If you have at least 1 cup of a raw vegetable, shred and freeze for later use.
  • Shred excess carrots and onions and make Apricot Lentil Soup or Masoor Dal or Grildebeen Burgers.
  • Serve extra desserts at church coffee hour or a similar event.  Thanks to Mike’s generosity with desserts–he always buys some cheesecakes and ice cream, in addition to the pumpkin and apple pies that come with the catering package and a couple of homemade desserts–we brought home two complete apple pies and one pumpkin pie and a big chunk of cheesecake!  Because nobody had signed up to host Sunday’s coffee hour, and we were due home Saturday night, I’d sent email to the parish announcing a “share your Thanksgiving bounty” coffee hour, and thus we disposed of one of our apple pies.
  • Stuffing is a delicious side dish to sauteed mushrooms–which have been our Thanksgiving protein the years we didn’t go to Mike’s house.
  • Leftover nuts from making pecan pie, or from appetizers?  Make Nutshroom Burgers!
  • Make leftover fruit–even if it’s bruised or past its prime–into a pie filling or a versatile fruit sauce.
  • Puree leftover cranberry sauce, apples, sweet potatoes, squash, and/or other fruit and use in place of the applesauce in Raisin Bran Bread.  You don’t have to cook the fruit mixture before adding it to the dough.  I did this shortly before Thanksgiving with some excess baked buttercup squash and the good parts of a few old apples, and the bread is really good!
  • If you have 2 or 3 extra raw sweet potatoes and a bunch of greens, make this amazing soup!

We’re mostly vegetarian, but we do eat turkey at Thanksgiving when it’s the main course…but we’re nervous about taking leftover meat on a 10-hour road trip, and anyway Mike usually has estimated the group’s turkey appetite more accurately than most of the other dishes so that there isn’t a whole lot of turkey left.  That’s why only one of our tips involves turkey.  Oddly enough, most of the “using Thanksgiving leftovers” articles I’ve seen focus on the turkey–which is why I’m hoping to write a helpful resource for people who have other foods left over!

Do you have more ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers?  Please share in the comments!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Works-for-Me Wednesday and Real Food Friday for more great tips!

Delicious Roasted Broccoli Leaves

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul Hop
The past few years have taught us what Earthlings really want to know, and we are pleased to be spreading the word that cauliflower leaves are edible!  In that spirit, we’d like to tell you that broccoli leaves are edible, too, and explain a slightly easier method of preparation.

Our local organic CSA farm has had a good crop of broccoli this year, and they give it to us with leaves intact.  Fresh broccoli sold in supermarkets often has had its leaves trimmed, at least the larger ones.  What do you suppose happens to them?  I hope they don’t just get thrown away, because broccoli leaves are highly nutritious, with a slightly different nutrient profile than broccoli florets or stalks.  They’re particularly high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that our bodies convert into Vitamin A.  I wasn’t able to find a nutrient analysis for cooked broccoli leaves, but a one-ounce serving of raw leaves contains 43% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C, 5% of folate, 3% of potassium and manganese, and some Omega-3 fatty acids–and less than 8 calories!

Broccoli leaves could be substituted for spinach or kale in many raw or cooked recipes.  When we cut up broccoli from our farm to steam as a side dish or use in High-Protein Pasta Salad or Broccoli Casserole, we typically include the leaves, but we think they don’t taste as good in those contexts as the other parts of the broccoli do.  Roasted leaves, though, are an addictive snack food or yummy side dish!  They have the crispy crunch of thin potato chips and a tasty, toasty flavor that is quite different from the flavor of steamed broccoli. Read more of this post

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

WARNING: People who are offended by graphic discussion of menstruation should go read something else.

I first tried a reusable menstrual cup in 1997 and reusable cloth menstrual pads in 2001.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different brands, and I’ve written about why these alternatives are better than disposable pads and tampons and lots more about how great they are, with details about how to use them.  This article is about one specific brand whose cup and pad I’ve tried in the past year.  This is my new favorite cup, and the pad is very good, too.

Sckoon is primarily an organic-cotton company.  They make lots of baby clothes and some other cotton items, including cloth menstrual pads.  Recently, they also started making a menstrual cup out of medical-grade silicone (and it comes in an organic cotton storage bag).  Their organic cotton is grown and processed in Egypt, but their menstrual cup is made in USA.  They use recycled materials in packaging.

What I haven’t been able to find out about Sckoon is how to pronounce their name.  They didn’t answer my question, choosing instead to maintain an air of mystery…so I’m going with “Skoon” unless I learn otherwise.

I have joined Sckoon’s affiliate program, so you can click here to get 10% off your order (or manually enter the discount code ER01HG) and I will earn a 10% commission! Read more of this post

Cutting Food Waste at Home and Worldwide (70+ recipes and tips!)

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.  Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

(The recipe section of this article originally appeared on the Thrifty Tips page of The Earthling’s Handbook.)

Most of the current focus on environmental harm has been on the effects of pollution generated through industrial processes, but there’s another type of human activity that probably hits a lot closer to home for most people: food waste. Discarded food often ends up rotting in landfills, emitting greenhouse gases as it decomposes. Moreover, all the resources–fertilizer, water, energy, and labor–that go into the production of wasted food have also essentially been wasted at this point and could be better utilized.

It’s estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year. In the United States alone, as much as 40 percent of the food we purchase ends up being thrown away. About a third of all food produced worldwide is either thrown out or destroyed before it is eaten–a loss of a whopping $1 trillion in foodstuffs. With the world population expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, it’s important that we work to counteract this profligacy and misuse of our nutritional resources, or many may face hunger and starvation.

There’s a dichotomy in the way food is wasted between the developing world and the developed world. Read more of this post

3 Ways to Save on Fair-Trade Coffee

Daniel and I both drink coffee, at least 3 cups a day each.  That adds up!  We support human rights and environmental stewardship by buying only fair-trade*, organic coffee for our home.  My church also buys fair-trade, organic coffee.  This coffee is more expensive than the big mainstream brands.  How can we get the most value for our money?

*(Yes, I have heard that fair-trade certification isn’t always perfect; I’m also willing to buy coffee from companies that “have a relationship” with coffee farmers and treat them well but have not obtained official fair-trade certification; what I’m looking for is some acknowledgement that the coffee is grown by people in a place and that these people deserve fair compensation for their labor and this place deserves not to be ruined.)

Buy in bulk.

Organic coffee in the supermarket often costs $10 or more for a 12-ounce (3/4 pound) bag–and then what will you do with that bag?  Years ago, Daniel and I made coffee one of the things we routinely bought in reused containers from the bulk section of our local food co-op.  Just recently, after he read my post about buying by the case, we talked about other products we might be able to get cheaper if we ordered a case.  It turns out that the co-op’s “case” price for coffee is a 5-pound bag.  We use about a pound of coffee a week, so 5 pounds is not an unreasonable amount to buy at once, especially since it’s whole beans that we grind shortly before brewing–it won’t go bad or anything.  This month, Equal Exchange Breakfast Blend is on sale for $8.99/pound; after the 20% discount for buying a case, our 5-pound bag costs $35.96, which is $7.19/pound–almost half the price per pound of the supermarket coffee! Read more of this post

Make Your Own Foaming Hand Soap!

This tip is a real winner: You can make your own foaming soap in about one minute by mixing just two ingredients.  Foaming soap will save you a lot of money because you’ll need less soap to get clean.  Refilling your foamer will save even more money and reduce the packaging you discard.  You can use plant-based soap, which is better for the environment and probably better for your health than soap made from petroleum distillates and undisclosed chemicals, without breaking your budget.  You can choose whatever scent you like!

This is not a sponsored post.  I’m recommending two specific products (a foamer and a soap) that have worked really well for me for several years.  However, if you already have a soap foamer and a plant-based liquid soap, try them together!  I’ve used several brands of soap and never found one that didn’t work.  You may need a higher ratio of soap to water if your soap is not as concentrated as Dr. Bronner’s.  Some soaps settle to the bottom overnight; just shake to re-mix. Read more of this post

Top 3 Veggie Burger Recipes

Daniel and I have tried dozens of varieties of veggie burgers in the past 15 years or so, since they started appearing in stores and restaurants.  We gave up meat for Lent in 2002, and since then we’ve never gone back to eating as much meat as we used to eat.  In particular, we really don’t eat hamburgers anymore, after learning that grinding meat causes any bacteria on the surface to be distributed throughout the meat and that ground beef and chicken are the meats with the highest risk of food poisoning.  But we do like to eat a tasty chunk of protein on a bun with ketchup and pickles!  We buy frozen veggie burgers sometimes, but they tend to cost around a dollar per patty, and they’re packed in plastic, and they’ve been shipped across the continent in a freezer truck, and many of them feature large amounts of genetically modified, isolated soy protein.

Here are our 3 favorite recipes for homemade veggie burgers, and then some tips on how to cook and freeze them.  All these recipes work well for making “meatballs” or nuggets instead of full-size burgers, if you prefer. Read more…

Technology to Help You Be Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly This Summer

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos, who offered to share her research on these new technologies with my readers.  I’m not a smartphone user myself and don’t carry any other high-tech device routinely, which is one way to conserve energy…but if you’re already carrying a device or you’re considering getting one for other reasons, adding energy efficiency to its tasks is a great idea!  Also, some of these products are things you set up in your home that don’t require a “smart” device to control them.  It’s interesting to learn what’s new in climate control!

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

With summer just around the corner, many people expect to use their air conditioners heavily in order to stay cool during sweltering days. Doing so, however, traditionally consumes a lot of electricity, costing a pretty penny and harming the natural environment. This situation is changing with the development of new technological products that aim to cut energy consumption with consequent benefits both to the earth’s ecology and consumers’ pocketbooks.

The Apple Watch and HomeKit app aim to make it easy to control devices from different manufacturers from a single interface. As long as they use compatible products in their homes, people will be able to adjust their thermostats, dim and raise lighting levels and manage a lot of other functions right from their Watches. They can thus turn off appliances when they don’t need to use them, reducing energy consumption. Many smart home devices from different producers haven’t worked well together in the past, but now they’re being brought together through the HomeKit interface.

Those who are put off by the Apple Watch’s high price, starting at $349, may be interested in the Misfit Flash fitness band, which only costs $50. Although it’s primarily designed to help users exercise more efficiently, Misfit has extended its capabilities through partnerships with other companies. Users can use the Flash to control thermostat equipment from Nest, smart home systems from Logitech, and many other devices. With the right products from partner firms, users of the Flash will be able to lower their energy usage by finely controlling the performance of their home equipment. Read more…

Grildebeen Burgers (homemade veggie burgers)

Most supermarkets these days sell convenient frozen veggie burgers.  We’ve eaten a lot of these, and most of them are quite tasty and nutritious.  But they tend to cost around a dollar per patty, and they’re packed in plastic, and they’ve been shipped across the continent in a freezer truck, and many of them feature large amounts of genetically modified, isolated soy protein.

This is one recipe for homemade veggie burgers that we really like.  Four years ago, I explained how we were still calling them by the original recipe’s name even though it didn’t make sense with our modification of the cooking instructions…and how that made me think of a future animal, the Grildebeest.  In the comments, my brother asked if we’d now be calling the burgers Grildebeens.  Ultimately, yes, we modified the recipe to be a little more to our taste, and we are still making these burgers regularly and calling them Grildebeen Burgers.  So here’s our recipe! Read more of this post

DIY Deodorant: Pros and Cons

Last September, I reblogged The Zero-Waste Chef’s post about how to make your own deodorant and hoped that having it on my own site would motivate me to try this handy do-it-yourself option.  I actually did get around to it within a few weeks…creating deodorant that then became unusable for me for months.  It wasn’t until this spring that I was able to give it a fair trial.  Now I can tell you what’s good about it and what isn’t.

DIY Deodorant ingredients

The ingredients: coconut oil, baking soda, corn starch, and essential oil. Image from The Zero Waste Chef.

The Good Things:

  • It works!!!
  • It truly was easy to make and took me just a few minutes.  Combining the ingredients was soothing and satisfying.
  • It hasn’t made grease stains or white marks on any of my clothing.
  • It’s less expensive than buying natural deodorant, which is $5-$7 in my area.  The ingredients for a baby-food jar full of DIY Deodorant, which gives approximately the same number of applications as a stick of solid deodorant, cost less than $1.  It’s hard to find even a nasty-chemical-filled deodorant for $1 these days.
  • It does not have a plastic package that will never biodegrade and is made from irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bad Things:

  • It really needs to be stored at a room temperature of approximately 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit.  Within two days after the time when I happened to make my DIY Deodorant, my house settled down to its winter temperature, which maxes out at 70 degrees on the thermostat but is a bit colder (66? 67?) up in my bedroom where I keep and use my deodorant.  The coconut oil hardened so that I had a jar of solid stuff impenetrable to my fingertips.  I considered using some kind of tool to scrape out each dose, but that would be really annoying–and given that I apply deodorant while I’m half-conscious and often stepping over a crawling baby, there was a high risk of flipping bits of this oily stuff all over the room!  I ended up deciding to leave it alone until the weather got warmer.  I live in Pennsylvania.  This deodorant was unusable for seven months.  And within a few weeks after it finally became scoopable, we had a 90-degree day when we left the drapes open so that the bedroom heated up, causing the coconut oil to become liquid so that the DIY Deodorant was unscoopable in a different way: too drippy!  (It was fine again the next day, though, and didn’t even need re-mixing.)  The Zero Waste Chef lives in central California, where the weather is more consistent, and I think that’s a big reason why this stuff works so well for her.
  • You need to wash your hands after applying it, or at least wipe them hard on something that you don’t mind grease-staining.  I’m not thrilled with adding this extra step to my morning routine.
  • If you drop a bit of the deodorant–which is easy to do because it’s crumbly–it will leave an oil spot.  Annoying.  Especially on paper items, a tiny bit of coconut oil can make a big, obvious grease stain.

Overall, I think I will keep using this stuff until it’s gone and consider making more for late-spring-through-early-fall-except-on-very-hot-days use, but for most of the year I’m going to stick with Tom’s of Maine long-lasting natural deodorant.  It works well for me, it’s easy to use, the fragrances are pleasant and not too strong, the price is acceptable with coupons and sales frequently available, and it’s sold in many stores that are convenient for me.  Daniel and I both have been using Tom’s deodorant for about ten years now.  We do not recommend Tom’s antiperspirant, and we have not liked any other brand of store-bought natural deodorant that we’ve tried.  Tom’s deodorant is available from ePantry for only $5.89; click here to learn more about ePantry and get a special deal!

If you live in a consistently warmish climate, though, DIY Deodorant may be all you need!  Give it a try!

UPDATE: Readers inform me that blending beeswax into your DIY Deodorant makes it more stable in changing temperatures, and you can even refill a twist-up deodorant container with it!  See the comments below for information and links.

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more great tips.  Visit Real Food Friday for more things (mostly edibles!) that you can make from food ingredients.

ePantry and Earth-friendly Cleaning Product Reviews

UPDATE: If you decide to join ePantry, click here to save $10 on your first order and get a free soy candle! This is an affiliate link that will give me a discount, too–at no cost to you.  As noted below, this was NOT a sponsored post; ePantry encouraged me to sign up as an affiliate after they read this post.

Last week, I explained some things to consider before subscribing to household product deliveries.  Now I’m going to tell you about my experience with one particular subscription service and the specific products I bought from them.  This is not a sponsored post.  Aside from the special offer of $10 discount plus a free bottle of dish detergent, I received no special consideration from ePantry or any of the product manufacturers, and I did not tell them I was going to write a review.  After evaluating each product, I’ll tell you what else I recommend in this category–not all products are available through ePantry. I have been using Earth-friendly cleaning products since 1997, so I’ve tried a lot of them.  If you’re just starting to switch from conventional cleaning products to plant-based ones, I hope to help you choose cleaners you’ll like!

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This is my second ePantry order. Left to right: Method foaming hand wash, Yes To hand soap, Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent, Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner, Method antibacterial cleaner, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day multi-surface cleaner. In the jar in front is a soy candle that was my free bonus item.

I first heard of ePantry from a blog that was raving about it and offering a special introductory offer.  My first thought was that I don’t need to subscribe to green products because I’m able to buy them by the case to save money or to buy them in my local stores when I’m there buying groceries anyway.  Still, I spent some time looking around ePantry’s site.  Most of the products they carry are just a few brands–Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, and Method–all of which I can buy at Target, for gosh sakes; they didn’t have the more interesting brands that my local crunchy hippie store sells, let alone anything I’d have to buy by mail.  Prices were okay but not all that exciting.  Oh well.  I decided it wasn’t for me, but I was glad that other households who don’t shop in crunchy hippie stores would be using green products for more of their cleaning because they could get them so conveniently (which seemed to be the gist of the comments on that blog).

Four months later, I saw the same special offer on Jaimie Ramsey’s blog, and this time I took it.  Why?  Well, our springtime calendar was beginning to fill up with special events, and when that happens, I have to scale back the grocery shopping, planning menus based on what we have in the pantry supplemented with strategic forays to stores when Daniel or I have time to get there–it’s not possible to time our shopping as well as we normally do, and that can mean running out of something.  Also, I realized that although we can buy Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and Method products at Target, we hadn’t actually gotten around to trying any of those products except Method foaming hand soap.  (Seventh Generation, on the other hand, is a brand we’ve bought frequently since 1997; we’ve tried most of their products.)  I decided to use ePantry’s special offer as an affordable way to motivate myself to write some product reviews!

First, here are the pros and cons of the ePantry service, in my opinion. Read more of this post

Will a household products subscription help YOU save the earth?

A household products subscription is an arrangement by which a company mails you certain items–like soap, toilet paper, and laundry detergent–on a regular basis.  A number of companies have started offering this service recently.  Some of them only sell environmentally preferable products like plant-based detergents and recycled paper.  Others offer these items among a wide range of products.  Will subscribing to earth-friendly products delivered to your door help you to reduce your environmental impact?

Well, it depends!  Here are some questions to consider.

Would this get you to change to greener products than you’ve been using?  If you’ve been washing your dishes in petroleum distillates because your local stores don’t carry plant-based dish detergent, then buying the green stuff would be an improvement.  But if a subscription just means buying by mail the same products you’ve been sticking into your cart as you walk through your local store buying milk and vegetables each week, then the subscription is actually worse for the environment because of the additional energy used to ship your package and deliver it to your home, on top of the energy you use going to and from the store. Read more of this post

Save Money on Earth-Friendly Products!

Earth Day is coming up in less than a month!  What will be your Earth Day resolution?

One easy thing to do is to switch to a more earth-friendly version of something you use regularly–like toilet paper.  There are many brands of toilet paper on the market now that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (that’s paper that good citizens put into recycling bins) and either not whitened or bleached with oxygen instead of chlorine bleach–and they are not all scratchy!  In fact, I haven’t encountered a scratchy recycled-paper toilet tissue in about 15 years.  If you’re really particular about texture, buy a small amount of a brand before you try my money-saving tip.

One objection to switching to a better product may be that it costs more or it isn’t sold at your usual store.  Of course, nobody wants to make a special trip every time they run out of toilet paper or wants to spend a lot of money on it.  There’s a simple solution to both problems, and it will make your life more convenient, too! Read more…

Two Affordable GMO-Free Cereals

I don’t trust genetically modified food to be safe for our health or environment.  About five years ago, I realized that several of our favorite breakfast cereals contained corn, and I’d been reading that most corn grown in the United States that isn’t organically grown is now GMO.  We gave up buying those cereals routinely…but it was hard to resist the best sales!  We love eating cereal, and the mainstream brands are inexpensive, especially on sale, whereas the organic brands are priced so much higher that we’re rarely willing to pay for them (except for this delicious, low-sugar granola from Costco).  We wound up getting most of our cereals from Trader Joe’s, where all house-brand products are GMO-free and the prices aren’t too bad.

Did you know that Cheerios contain corn?  You probably think that’s an oat cereal.  But if you compare Cheerios to most of the store-brand imitators, the flavor is a bit different: The generic ones taste more plain, while Cheerios have a particular roasty-toastiness.  The difference in ingredients is that Cheerios contain a small amount of corn.  Therefore, no more Cheerios for my family.

We were still buying Post Grape Nuts, though.  No corn in those!  But one day I noticed that the box said, “Now with more protein!” and read the ingredients for the first time in years: They now contained soy protein.  Most non-organic soybeans grown in the United States are now GMO, too.  Sigh.  No more Grape Nuts.

Then, one wonderful day last year, I noticed a sign above the enormous pile of yellow boxes that were on special at Costco: GMO-free Cheerios.  Really?!  I examined the box excitedly but saw nothing there about GMOs one way or another.  Warily, I bought one of the big double packs at the bargain price, and when I got home I searched for information online.  I learned that General Mills decided to put in a little effort to use non-GMO corn and sugar in original flavor Cheerios because the recipe is so simple (compared to flavored Cheerios) that this was easy to do.  Hooray!

Not long afterward, I was craving Grape Nuts, saw them on sale, and noticed the Non-GMO Project logo on the box!  Right next to it was a circle saying Soy Free, and sure enough, isolated soy protein is no longer in the ingredient list.  Post took the soy out of Grape Nuts to make them GMO-free to appeal to certain target markets–like me!

I’m so glad that my family can have convenient snacks of affordable Cheerios and Grape Nuts again!  Our nine-month-old daughter can practice her pincer grip on crunchy little circles without being exposed to weird untested ingredients, and when she accidentally scatters some of them on the floor I don’t freak out about wasting expensive food.  (I do eat Cheerios that have been on the floor, sometimes….)

I know that some of the most serious healthy eaters these days won’t eat any ready-made packaged cereals or won’t eat any grain foods at all.  I’ve heard the arguments against them–but I feel that my family is thriving on grains as a part of our diet, and some of the simpler and less sweetened cereals are some of the grain foods we eat.  It’s great that some of the major brands are responding to consumer pressure to sell foods free of GMOs.

These two nutritious cereals that I’ve been enjoying since childhood work for me now that they are GMO-free!  Visit Real Food Friday for more articles on healthy eating!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for more great food ideas!

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (winter, with a baby)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish. That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.  Our 8-month-old daughter, Lydia, is abstaining from cow’s milk until after her first birthday, because I have some family history of dairy allergies that may have been triggered by too-early exposure to cow’s milk.  However, she’s an enthusiastic eater of just about everything we’ve let her eat!  We also have a 10-year-old son, Nicholas, whose preferences have some effect on our menu.

I highly recommend the book Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, not so much for the specific recipes as for a laid-back, nutritious approach to feeding a baby, toddler, or preschooler.  I’ve been looking at it often to get ideas for ingredients we could set aside or prepare a little differently for Lydia, and to support my conviction that we can (again) raise a child who’s open to trying lots of interesting foods.  The Picky Eater’s 30 Family-Friendly Recipes are great inspiration, too!  Unlike Nicholas when he was little, Lydia is not keen on being fed ground-up food with a spoon but prefers to feed herself, so we’re constantly looking for soft foods that can be picked up in blobs and for foods that are firm enough to be cut in chunks but soft enough to be bitten and chewed without teeth.

Here’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in December and January.  I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so that we can eat as soon as I get home from work.  Lunches are usually leftovers and sandwiches.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Masoor Dal over rice and lettuce leaves left over from making the salad to go with our Christmas Stuffed Shells. Plain yogurt on top for the dairy eaters.  Lydia loves Masoor Dal as much as the rest of us!  We didn’t even tone down the spices for her.  She was wearing a large bib, and I kept pushing up her sleeves, but still she managed to mash oily, turmeric-seasoned lentils all over her clothes.  I changed her outfit and doused the stained one with Bac-Out immediately after dinner!
  • Monday: Sauteed mushrooms and kale, in lots of olive oil with lots of garlic, over whole-wheat couscous.  I mixed some nutritional yeast flakes into mine.  Lydia sampled a mushroom slice but had trouble with it–she doesn’t have any teeth yet–so her main course was leftover Masoor Dal.
  • Tuesday: Falafels made from bulk mix.  Cucumber slices.  The last of the lettuce.  Yogurt.  Lydia was happy eating just the falafels.  We make them small (easier to get them cooked all the way through without burning or crumbling) so they were an appealing size for her to pick up, hold, and gnaw on.
  • Wednesday: Japanese Udon Noodle Soup with daikon radish, sweet potato, mushrooms, and nori seaweed.  I got to cook this meal, after leaving work early on New Year’s Eve.  I made the daikon and sweet potato into strips about 1″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ and cooked them soft, but not falling apart, so that Lydia could hold and eat them.  She loved them!  Each of us older people also had a scrambled egg in our soup.
  • Thursday: We thawed out quarts of Mexican rice and black beans that I’d brought home in November, when somebody had ordered far too much food for an event at work and the leftovers were up for grabs.  The only meal cheaper than beans and rice is FREE beans and rice!  We also had avocado with this meal.  Avocado is a great baby food, and I remember Nicholas loving it, but Lydia ate only a few strips in favor of totally chowing down on the beans!  We couldn’t believe she packed such a large volume of beans into her little body!  An almost equal volume of beans was scrubbed off her highchair, face, neck, hair, arms, and floor…and the hideous black stains were completely removed from her clothing by Bac-Out!  I expected some diapers filled with masses of obvious black beans, but in fact she digested them quite fully.
  • Friday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I’d made for the Stuffed Shells–similar to this sauce.  Lydia ate a lot of saucy spaghetti (as well as admiring the wiggly noodles and tossing them about) and 24 hours later had a diaper rash from too much citric acid.  We need to be more careful about tomatoes and other acidic foods until her digestion matures.
  • Saturday: We visited Daniel’s grandfather in Ohio for his 99th birthday!!!  We had an excellent brunch of baked oatmeal and various egg dishes at the Green Marble Coffee Shoppe, where Lydia enjoyed the fruit served on the side–it seems cantaloupe is her favorite–as well as a jar of apricot baby food.  Then we visited with Herschel at his home until late afternoon.  We got home around dinnertime and decided to go out to the New Dumpling House, the Chinese restaurant near home, for hot and sour soup (contains pork), tofu with black mushrooms, and mixed vegetables in garlic sauce.  Lydia had been asleep in the car, fell asleep again as we walked over to the restaurant, and stayed asleep in the sling carrier while I ate most of my dinner!  That was nice.  She woke up in time to enjoy some tofu.

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Flexican Cornbread Pizza

Meatless MondayTasty TuesdayHearth & Soul Blog HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

This recipe has a history.  It started with my mom’s trusty recipe for Mexican Pizza.  Then came my serendipitous discoveries that (a) it can be adapted to a non-Mexican-flavored version, which my family loves just as much as the Mexican version, and (b) it can be baked in a toaster-oven.  More than a year ago, I opened a contest to name this recipe…but none of the suggestions really grabbed me.  Meanwhile, my life-partner Daniel has referred to it at least once as Flexican Cornbread Pizza, which I think is a pretty good name, and he’s been kind of depressed lately, but he really enjoyed this meal when I made it last night, so…

THE WINNER IS DAN EFRAN, CREATOR OF COOL STUFF TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY!!!  YAAAYYY!!!

Absolutely no nepotism was involved.  It’s really more about my fondness for words that combine two other words.  This recipe is flexible and can be Mexican in flavor, and it’s like a pizza with a cornbread crust, so Flexican Cornbread Pizza is a perfect name.  Unless we come up with something even punnier.

This recipe can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  Here is the Mexican version, and here is an Italian version I made on a hot summer day, and below is the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on last night’s cozy January dinner.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.  From start to finish, you can make it in 30 minutes or less, even if your onions or other vegetables are frozen shredded–they’ll thaw easily in the first stage of cooking.

These instructions are for baking in a standard oven, on a cookie sheet with sides.  See the above Italian version to adjust quantities to make a 9″ square pan to bake in the toaster-oven.

To make 6 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked and rinsed beans. I used pinto beans last night; I rinsed 2 cans, set aside 1/4 cup for the baby’s dinner (she also had black olives and Cheerios), and used the rest on the pizza.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion, or 1 or 2 green onions.  I used the last bits left over from a sweet white onion we’d cut up for other meals.
  • vegetables.  I used 4 big leaves of kale, 8 large white button mushrooms, and a big handful of black olives.
  • herbs, fresh or dried.  I used 1 stalk dried rosemary and 2 stalks dried thyme.  (Did you know?  Most fresh herbs will turn into dried herbs if you just put them in an open-topped plastic bag in the refrigerator and forget about them.  It doesn’t work with basil or parsley because they’re too wet and will get moldy.)
  • other seasonings to taste.  I used about 1/4 tsp. each of sea salt and white pepper.
  • Optional: 1 cup marinara sauce.  We didn’t use any this time.  Another option is to leave it off the pizza but serve it on the side.
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • Grease for the baking pan. I used coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cornmeal.
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • 1 cup flour.  I used whole-wheat flour.
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder.
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I used yogurt. (If applesauce is sweetened, omit syrup/honey.)
  • 1 Tbsp. sorghum syrup or honey.
  • Optional: 1 egg.  The crust holds together better if you use egg than if you don’t.
  • Optional: 1 cup grated cheese.  I used mozzarella.

Dice onion, any fresh herbs, and vegetables.  Saute them in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, in a skillet, for a few minutes, crumbling in any dried herbs and adding other seasonings.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the cookie sheet, bottom and sides, from one end to about 3 inches from the other end.  (If you want your crust really thin, you can grease the whole pan.  I prefer to make it thicker.)

Mix cornmeal, salt, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and put yogurt, syrup, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and egg in it.  Mix them together and then mix with the dry ingredients; don’t mix too long or hard, just until combined.  (Over-mixing will pop the bubbles created by the baking powder, resulting in less fluffy cornbread.)

Pour the batter into the pan–start at one end and spread batter toward the other end, using a rubber scraper, until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2 inch deep.

If using sauce, spread it over the batter.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture and beans evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle optional cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into rectangles and serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  Leftover pieces easily reheat in the microwave or toaster-oven.

Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

Back in 2007, I wrote about the little tree Daniel and I, with the help of former housemate Bill, made for our first Christmas together, back in 1996.  Made mostly of repurposed materials, this is a great alternative to cutting down a real tree or using a factory-made artificial tree.  It’s still going strong!  I’m finally responding to all the requests for photos of it.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the construction, but I’m reprinting the verbal description, and I bet you can figure it out–it was easy to make.

Christmas tree on the game cabinet

We just set it up for our 19th Christmas together.  Every year, we simply bring it up from the basement, wipe off dust with a damp cloth, and decorate!  Here’s how we made it: Read more…

DIY Instant Oatmeal: Ditch the Packets!

I love oatmeal.  It’s nutritious, with plenty of fiber and minerals and Vitamin B1, and has many health benefits.  It’s filling.  It can be seasoned any way you like.  Quick-cooking oats are really easy to make–I don’t even bother cooking them in a pot, just mix them with boiling water in a bowl–and very low-priced, especially in bulk at the food co-op or in a large canister at GFS Marketplace.  I have a favorite recipe for oatmeal that includes other healthy and filling ingredients like almond butter, and I also make fruit-flavored oatmeal whenever we finish up a jar of jam.

But in my workplace, I can’t store a lot of ingredients, nor do I have a nice counter space to assemble food.  I don’t want to be licking sorghum syrup and almond butter off my filing cabinet!  I do have a very nice electric kettle which provides properly boiling water (much better than a microwave) suitable for cooking oatmeal….

At times, I’ve bought instant oatmeal in single-serving packets.  They’re okay.  Some of the flavors are quite tasty, and a snack of oatmeal is very satisfying.  But seeing those plastic-lined packets piling up in my wastebasket makes me feel a little sick.  And a packet costs about 5 times as much as a serving of quick oats with embellishments.  The giant boxes of packets, with a lower price per serving and slightly less cardboard waste, inevitably are “variety packs” including at least one flavor that I don’t like as well as the others.  The less-expensive brands of flavored oatmeal usually include weird ingredients that might not be so healthy, plus a lot of sugar.  Some flavors contain dried fruit, but after being stored mixed into the oatmeal it is so dry that it isn’t very appetizing.

Now that I’m a nursing mother again, I’m especially in need of healthy snacks, and oatmeal may increase milk production–it does seem to have that effect on me.  A few months ago, Costco had a sale on Nature’s Path organic instant oatmeal with no weird ingredients…and I plowed through those 32 packets in less than 6 weeks.  Furthermore, I felt that a packet wasn’t really quite enough food for me now, so I sometimes ate two packets together.  I had to find a less wasteful option! Read more…