Become a Temporary Vegetarian!

This is one of the easiest things you can do to make a positive difference in the world.  Every time you choose a vegetarian meal instead of meat, you conserve some resources.  You don’t have to be vegetarian full-time or forever to make a difference.

Meat production has a huge environmental impact.  Growing plants and feeding them to meat animals uses more water, fuel, pesticide, and fertilizer, per calorie of person-food, than just eating the plants ourselves.  The waste products of meat animals pollute our drinking water.  The use of antibiotics on meat animals contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can kill people.

Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1.  Whether you’re a Christian or not, you can use Lent as a 40-day free trial period to make the small sacrifice of changing one habit to a less wasteful habit.  You will make a difference, and you will learn something.  After Easter, you can reflect on what you learned and decide whether to keep the new habit permanently, modify it, or go back to your old ways and try making a different change next Lent.

Daniel and I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent 15 years ago.  It led to a permanent change in our eating habits.  We’re really glad we tried it!

Click here to read my article at Kitchen Stewardship with lots of advice on trying a less-meat or no-meat diet!  I’m always available for tech support on this topic, so please feel free to ask me about your specific meat-replacing questions.

6 book reviews and Peyton Place GIVEAWAY!!!

p1040349I thought it was time to reread Peyton Place because I hadn’t read it in years–I couldn’t remember how long.  But I found that I remembered it too well to thoroughly enjoy it again, and that’s why I decided to give away this book, which I read 3 or 4 times years ago.  This is a Book-of-the-Month Club facsimile of the first edition of this classic novel of scandalous secrets.  It looks great on the shelf but is lightweight for carrying around with you.

Giveaway is open to anyone with a United States mailing address.  To enter, leave a comment on this article.  One entry per reader, even if you have multiple comments.  Winner will be selected by a random drawing on March 1, 2017.

Peyton Place is the story of a small New England town and dozens of its inhabitants, many of whom have secrets: past decisions they regret, plots to deceive each other, or unacceptable yearnings.  Set in the late 1930s through the 1940s, published in 1956, it vividly evokes a society with strict taboos and enormous fear of gossip.  The character development and dialogue are excellent, and the scene-setting prose really pulls you into each moment.  The book became famous because it was so shocking by 1950s standards, but it’s become a classic because it’s really a compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Murder. Incest. Abortion. Gruesome poverty. Profanity and hostile language. Sexy teenagers. Lewd jokes.

Now, on to the six new books I’ve read in the past few months!

The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas

Tina is on her way to school in Manhattan when she hears an explosion in the subway station.  She decides to take a bus instead.  Nobody’s heard anything about any explosion, and she wouldn’t think any more of it, except that her tuna sandwich is mysteriously missing.  Next day, her sneakers are missing.  Then it’s a statue in the park, then her bathroom medicine cabinet–and then she’s assaulted by a guy on a skateboard whose jacket says Prince of Darkness.  Tina remembers her grandmother’s advice to “make a wish by running water and seal it with silver,” and she wishes the statue would come back and set things right.  Then she meets a mysterious subway fiddler and a semi-annoying boy, and together they save the world from doom!

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I’ve now fulfilled my pledge not to read this book until I could get a used copy for free–thus, no impact.  I heard about Colin Beavan’s attempt to change his family’s lifestyle to zero environmental impact when he was doing it in 2007, but because I’d been on the greener-living journey for about 17 years at that point, I figured there would be no surprises for me in his blog or the book he wrote after completing the year.  I was wrong.

You see, I was raised in a family (and Girl Scout movement) that valued “using resources wisely,” so I always was thinking about it to some extent, and then I started gradually trying one thing after another to conserve more and produce less waste.  It’s been a very gradual and mostly comfortable journey.  Colin Beavan, and even more so his high-fashion, grew-up-rich wife Michelle, started with a carelessly wasteful lifestyle and suddenly tried to change everything really quickly.  They tried things I never have, like living without electricity.  They had to learn skills I picked up as a child and have never set aside for any length of time, like cooking from raw ingredients.  Their insights and personal growth are really impressive.

The experiment began with Colin waking up in the morning and realizing that he couldn’t blow his nose on a disposable paper product.  He eventually realized the answer was handkerchiefs and that he could use cloths he already had.  But by the time he figured that out, he’d realized that he’d been thinking of this project as a battle against his “selfish” needs and desires, but it was really about learning new habits that fulfill the same needs and desires.

What’s most remarkable about this story is the changes in what Colin and Michelle began to think of as rewarding, fun, and normal, especially those that came from tuning in to what their toddler was doing or from listening to their own minds instead of television.  Although they didn’t continue the most extreme of their changes after the year ended, they made many permanent changes.  Can one family’s choices really make a difference toward slowing global climate change?  Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Just because our individual actions are not remembered doesn’t mean they’re not crucial.  The straw that breaks the back requires all the rest of us straws.  The domino that begins the domino effect requires each of us to be in line for the chain reaction to take place.

The one thing I don’t get about this book is the author’s hostility toward the many people who asked him what he used instead of toilet paper and his refusal to answer that question.  He seems to think people were asking with intent to portray his project as disgusting and crazy.  Gosh, isn’t it possible that they were asking so that they could switch to this greener habit themselves?  They can’t do that if you won’t tell them how!  Well, don’t worry: I will tell you.  (I’ll also tell you what his daughter used instead of disposable diapers and what his wife used instead of tampons.  He didn’t mind putting those facts in the book….)

The Survivalist’s Daughter by Hazel Hart

Kindra is the sixteen-year-old daughter of homesteaders who live in an isolated mountain cabin, home-school her, and attend a very conservative church.  She’s restless and wants to see more of the world, but her parents barely allow her to talk to the guy working at the general store.  Suddenly, one morning, federal agents raid their home, kill her mother, arrest her father, separate Kindra from her one-year-old brother, and take her in for questioning about her father’s illegal gun sales.  The grieving teenager so sheltered she’s never eaten fast food is suddenly plunged into the real world and the custody of relatives she never knew she had.  The adults want to integrate her into the family’s everyday life by pretending everything’s normal and there’s no time to talk, but Kindra wants to understand why her father lied about her family and to find her brother and take care of him.  She and her newfound sister hatch a plot that ends up having unintended consequences.

This exciting story really pulled me along, and many of the details were well-written and realistic.  But some of the dialogue and characterization and plot points felt amateurish.  The author teaches community college, and this book reads a lot like something somebody wrote for school–but an A+ effort!

Trigger warnings: Violent death of a parent.  Otherwise, this is a surprisingly tame story considering the plot–scary ideas more than graphic scary action.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

This interesting set of essays on Christianity comes from the perspective of a guy from Texas who barely knew his father and barely knew God, despite lifelong church attendance, but slowly things started to change, and now he’s been on a long road trip and lived in the woods with hippies and ended up in Portland, Oregon, where he spends a lot of time at the famously liberal Reed College.  He’s become a Christian in a whole different way than he was before, and he’s still learning.

Throughout the book, I wondered how old the author is, because he writes in an innocent way that sounds young, yet he’s clearly had a lot of experiences.  One of my favorite parts is the story of how he started tithing, giving 10% of his income to the church.  It’s so much like my “magic penny” experience of quadrupling my contribution that it gave me chills.  He does a great job of explaining the weird feelings of being a Christian “outside the safe cocoon of big Christianity” so that you find yourself explaining your beliefs, like this:

I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out that the show isn’t real.

Wolfy & the Strudelbakers by Zvi Jagendorf

Wolfy Helfgott is a little boy when he and his parents, uncle, aunt, and cousin flee Nazi-occupied Vienna and settle in London–only to be bombed out in the Blitz and evacuated to a little seaside village.  They return to London after the war, and Wolfy grows into a teenager juggling British everyday life with the demands of Orthodox Judaism and the eccentric customs of his family.  Some of the chapters are from the perspective of other family members.  As an adult, Wolfy–who’s now changed his name to Will Halfgo–travels to Israel to meet the other part of the extended family who fled Vienna, and he repeats the traditional cemetery visit that connects to so many threads of his past.

This book combines zany humor and eccentricity with deep grief and worry in the way only twentieth-century Jewish stories can.  I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Korobi Roy is a college student in Kolkata, India, raised by her grandparents after both parents died.  She’s engaged to marry her true love, Rajat Bose, whose parents own an art distribution business with a New York City gallery that’s struggling in the aftermath of 9/11.  Everything seems perfect as Korobi and Rajat prepare to marry–but then Korobi has an argument with her grandfather, and later that night he suffers a fatal heart attack.  Her grandmother now feels released from her grandfather’s insistence that they keep secret from Korobi the truth about her parents.  When Korobi learns that her father is not Indian and may still be alive in the United States, she feels compelled to travel to find him.  While she’s away, things go wrong for both the Roy and Bose families, both Korobi and Rajat are tempted by other people, and then Korobi discovers a terrible secret about the New York gallery and then learns that even her grandparents didn’t know all the truth about her parents.

I love this tensely plotted novel, thick with descriptions of Indian life both traditional and modern.  It has so many plot twists yet never seems over-the-top.

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!

Muslim women in India: Are they like us?

My daughter Lydia, who is two and a half years old, noticed this picture in the newspaper I was reading.  This is a photograph by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, as it appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, February 12, 2017.


LYDIA: Who are they?

MAMA: They are standing in line to vote in India.

LYDIA: Are they like us?

MAMA: Well, they are people.  They live in a country where the grownups vote to choose a president.  They stand in line like we do.  But their country is far away, so some things are different.  They have different people to choose when they vote.  And they are all wearing headscarves.

LYDIA: I wear a headscarf!  It’s blue.

MAMA: These have some very pretty flowers and patterns.  (We admire the scarves until something else catches her attention.)
I vaguely recall that I once tied a blue bandanna around her head.  She has often seen Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women wearing scarves that completely cover their hair.  Are they like us?  Yes and no.  We all are people, and the things that are different between people make Earth an interesting place to be.  That’s not so hard to understand.

DIY Vegan Bacon from Potato Peels!

I’m excited to share this recipe because it seems to be unique or at least not well-known.  I did some web-searching, seeking tips for perfecting my recipe, but all I found were recipes for making vegan bacon from other (more expensive) ingredients or for making stuffed potato skins using store-bought vegan bacon.

We had this idea when we were peeling a lot of potatoes to make cream-of-potato soup.  We were talking about how the tastiest potato soups have a little ham or bacon in them, and about how a crisp slice of bacon makes a delicious garnish on top of a bowl of soup, and meanwhile we were looking at all these long curly strips of potato peel . . . and someone, I think it was 12-year-old Nicholas, wondered aloud if maybe we could fry up the potato peels into something kind of like bacon.

potato peels fryingYes, we can!  Even our first try was pretty good.  After several rounds of experimentation, we’ve decided that we’ll never be able to get anyone to think this actually is bacon, but it’s a yummy, smoky, salty, greasy, crispy food that makes a better substitute for bacon than anything else you can make out of garbage in 5 minutes!

It’s especially practical if you want something bacon-ish to go with your potato-based meal.  But if you’re peeling potatoes for something else, and you want the “bacon” for another meal, just stuff those clean peels in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day or two until you’re ready to cook them–or cook them right away, refrigerate, and reheat in a skillet when ready to eat . . . or just eat some out of the jar with your fingers every time you open the fridge, because they really are that good.

What you see here is a 12″ skillet containing the peels of 4 medium-sized potatoes.  This produced a little over 1 cup (loosely packed) of finished “bacon.”  This recipe is not written with specific quantities because the amount of peel we’ve been working with has been different each time, and the seasoning is really a matter of taste. Read more of this post

10 Links for Greening Your Lifestyle

This is a guest post by Michelle Peng, who collected these resources on realistic ways to go green in everyday life.

Save About $600 per Year by Switching to Solar Energy

Financial Incentives for Green Home Improvements

18 Green Business Ideas for Eco-Minded Entrepreneurs

Home Energy Conservation for Kids

5 Unique Ways to Go Green if You’re Living in a Dorm  [EDITOR’S NOTE: I laughed out loud at the idea that “It might be more expensive . . . buying a small set of dishes, bowls, and silverware instead of paper goods.”  I still have more than half of the dollar-store dishes I bought when I started college in 1991!!!  Imagine how much money I’ve saved and how much garbage I’ve prevented!]

Harness The Power Of The Sun: The Complete Guide To Using Solar Energy

21 Easy, Life-Changing Home Improvement Tips for Greener Seniors

A Guide to Becoming a Tree Hugger: 40 Resources for Green Living

10 Painless Ways to Go Green with Your Pet  [EDITOR’S NOTE: These are focused on dogs and cats.  If you’re choosing a new pet, a smaller animal has a smaller environmental footprint and may even protect you from identity theft!]

Tips for Hosting a Sustainable Sporting Event

Feel free to share more helpful links in the comments!

Is Your Pussyhat Keeping Someone Warm?

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper.  Click photo to read the article

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper. Click photo to read the article “Pittsburghers pledge to continue fighting after women’s march.”

In photographs of last Saturday’s women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and around the United States, many pink hats are visible, most of them with ears, indicating solidarity with the Pussyhat Project that was so popular it caused shortages of pink yarn in some parts of the country.  It’s obvious that many thousands of pink pussyhats now exist.

Why haven’t I seen any of them this week?

I live in the East End of Pittsburgh.  This is a very liberal area where support for equal rights is seen as a good thing by the general public; it’s highly unlikely that someone would be harassed for wearing a feminist symbol in public around here.

The weather has been warm for January but damp.  I do see people wearing knitted hats.  I haven’t yet seen a pink hat with ears, not even one.  Where did they all go?

If you have a pussyhat, wear it as your warm hat for the rest of the winter!  Let it remind you and everyone else that this protest was not just a one-day thing but that we need to stand up for equal rights for everybody every day!

If you have a pussyhat that you are not going to wear again, for whatever reason–please give it to someone who needs a warm hat or to an organization like a homeless shelter that will put that hat on a cold head.  A warm hat can keep a person alive on a cold night.

Don’t let that knitting go to waste!  Share the warmth and keep America great!

Matrix Logic: The New Baby’s Relatives

Matrix logic or logic grid puzzles challenge you to figure out the characteristics of several people, using a series of clues, marking “yes” answers with an O and “no” answers with an X in a grid of boxes.  You can see an example grid in this Wikipedia article.

My 12-year-old Nicholas enjoys matrix logic almost as much as I do, so when he asked me last night to make up a matrix logic puzzle for him, I jumped at the chance.  He wanted it to have 5 people and 5 facts about each.  I challenged myself to do it with just 5 clues.

This puzzle is about 5 people who have a new baby in their family.  What is each person’s first name, last name, month of birth, day of birth, and relationship to the baby?

Get your graph paper!  Read more of this post

How to Approach Life Planning to Secure Your Children’s Futures

This is a guest post by Jackie Waters. Ms. Waters believes balance and diligence can help you achieve a beautiful, clean home. She runs hyper-tidy.com, providing advice on being…Hyper Tidy!

If you’re not an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, you may have anxiety about life planning and making the right decisions to secure your children’s futures. You’re not alone. Many parents are not sure where to begin with planning for contingencies in relation to their children, making financial considerations, and knowing where to go for help. Our guide will help get you started.

Do Estate Planning Now

You need to do some basic estate planning regardless of your age and the ages of your children. The first step is to write a will to determine who will serve as guardians for your children if they are minors. Even if your children are not minors, you should have a will so that you can rest assured that your final wishes will be carried out and that your property, possessions, and assets will be divided as you desired them to be.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on attorney’s fees in drawing up a will; many online resources are cost-saving alternatives that produce binding legal documents just like attorneys do. However, if you have a large estate, several specific requests, or questions about guardianship, it may be better to meet with an attorney. Read more of this post

How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: Drink Better Milk

Did you make a new year’s resolution to “eat better” without defining specifically what you meant? or did you try to start the new year choosing all the healthiest, most responsible foods, and now you’re reeling at the difficulty of changing too many habits at once?

Sometimes it’s best to make one change at a time so you can focus on getting it right.  (To make more changes in a year, try a new month’s resolution each month, or give up something for Lent.)  One change you might make is choosing milk that’s better for your health and the environment.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where does the milk come from?  Where do the cows live, and where is the milk processed and packaged?  Milk that travels a shorter distance from farm to packaging plant to store is better for the environment because less fuel is burned to transport it.  Here’s a handy online tool for finding your milk’s source.
  • Are hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides involved in the production of the milk?  Did the cows eat grass in a pasture or eat genetically-modified corn or even gummy worms in a crowded barn?  Grass is what cows are made to eat, and the milk of grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid, which is good for the heart.  Grassy pastures are better for the environment than concentrated animal feeding operationsCertified organic milk comes from cows who were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, ate food that was not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and got at least some outdoor grazing time eating fresh grass.  Many small farmers that can’t afford every detail of organic certification still manage to meet most of these standards.
  • How is the milk packaged?  Milk stored in light-permeable containers loses riboflavin and Vitamin A.  If your milk containers are recyclable, will you actually recycle them?  If you won’t recycle, do you have a second use for those empty containers?  If you’re able to buy milk in returnable, refillable containers, that is the option with the lowest environmental impact: Washing and sterilizing a bottle uses much less energy than making a new bottle even from recycled material.
  • Where can you buy the milk?  If the milk that’s best according to all the other criteria is available only from a store that you otherwise wouldn’t visit, and you have to drive to get there, your car is burning fuel, which might be enough to offset the environmental benefits of that milk.  Also, if buying better milk is inconvenient and time-consuming, you’re unlikely to keep up the habit.  Aim to buy the best milk you can get at stores where you’re going anyway, where you can easily stop on your way home from somewhere, or within walking/biking distance (so you can double up with that resolution about exercise!).

I wrote about my family’s milk choices in 2012–check out that article for more detail.  Since then, the milk that used to be our #1 choice is no longer available, but we’ve found a new favorite milk. Read more of this post

Top 10 New Articles of 2016

This isn’t really a blog.  It’s a constantly expanding reference book.  Every year, when I look at the statistics on which articles drew the most readers in the previous year, all or most of the popular articles are more than a year old.

2016 was an unusual year for The Earthling’s Handbook.  Losing my job in June, after working reduced hours since March, meant that I no longer had lunch breaks sitting in front of the computer writing new articles and promoting the site by leaving comments on other blogs.  I’ve found it much harder to work writing and blog-reading time into my schedule while I’m at home, often distracted by my two-year-old’s needs or my twelve-year-old’s desire to use the computer himself, and using a lot of my computer time to look for a new job!  I wrote fewer new articles in 2016 than in past years, but more importantly, I was less active on other blogs.  (By the way, Facebook has not brought me the incredible increase in traffic that “everyone” said it would.  Linking my articles to blog carnivals and commenting on other blogs brings in far more readers.)

Also, in 2016 I became a contributing writer at Kitchen Stewardship.  Each of my monthly articles includes a lot of links to The Earthling’s Handbook–often to articles that are more than a year old.  That causes a surge in overall traffic for a few days after the publication of each new KS article, but a lot of it is going to old articles.

I’m not surprised to see that 2016’s top 10 most-read articles overlap heavily with 2012’s.  All the suspense lies in seeing which of the new articles got the most readers–and the short answer is, book reviews.  If I just gave you the top 10 list, 6 of the articles would be book reviews! See, this is what I mean about the effect of linking to blog carnivals: Quick Lit, hosted by The Modern Mrs. Darcy, brings me a lot of readers every month I can get my act together for a book-review post!

So I’m just going to tell you that the most popular new article of 2016 was Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Coincidental and that you can read all my book review posts here, and then I’ll get on with

Top 10 New Articles of 2016 That Are NOT Book Reviews

  1. The City of Slim Shadies.  This essay on my experience of working for 17 years with data on the lives of 1,517 high-risk boys is probably the most introspective writing I did all year.
  2. A Person Who Deserves to Wear This Dress.  Cleaning all the way to the back of my closet, I found a surprise that served as both a Halloween costume and a self-esteem boost.
  3. Homemade Halvah: A sweet, nutritious, energy snack!  This is my easiest new recipe of the year.  Vegan, gluten-free, and perfect after a long walk.
  4. Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan.  Here I horrified some of my readers by explaining how I keep my coffee consumption down to a level they would never attempt.
  5. 5 Fish-Free Family-Friendly Meals.  Annoyed by “meatless” menus for Lent that all involved fish, I promoted these vegan, gluten-free ideas: Gallo Pinto, Green Ribbon Lentils, Black Bean Soup, Sloppy Joes, and Masoor Dal.
  6. A Really Real-Life Meal Plan.  When life gives you 7 weeks of craziness, make a blog post based on a photo of your so-called meal plan that hung on the kitchen cabinet…and give yourself some credit for having come up with any healthy, home-cooked meals during that time!
  7. Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?  I was surprised to learn that splitting everything 50/50 doesn’t necessarily result in feelings of cooperation and harmony between parents…so we did it differently with the second baby.
  8. How to Clean a Blackened Baking Pan.  When I made the batch of Honey Baked Lentils and butternut squash that provided the photos for my Kitchen Stewardship article about this tasty, thrifty, nutritious meal, I managed to get one of the pans totally encrusted with burned squash-juice…thus creating an opportunity for photographic documentation of my best pan-cleaning technique!
  9. Cooperation, Communication, and Consequences.  This is one of the few parenting/discipline articles I’ve written lately, featuring examples from a discussion board as well as from my own family.
  10. Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!  This photo tutorial explains how to turn your random bits of stale bread into useful breadcrumbs and how to freeze them for later use.

There really was more to life than books in 2016!  But I’m grateful for all the excellent books I enjoyed last year–and looking back on it, I’m glad I wrote so many reviews because they help me to remember what I read, what I liked about it, and where I was in my life when I read it.

It’s hard to predict what will happen around here in 2017.  Maybe I’ll get a new job with the same kind of lunch breaks, and my writing will really pick up.  Maybe something different will happen, but I’ll figure out how to do more writing from home.  Either way, thanks for reading, and please stick around!

Go Green in 2017: How to Clean

Photographs by Nicholas Efran.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  One change you could make is replacing cleansers that harm the environment with cleaning products or cleaning methods that are safer for your family as well as the wider world.

rubbing alcohol, peroxide, baking soda, vinegarWhat’s wrong with conventional cleaning products?

These health risks don’t affect only people who are in direct contact with the cleanser; many cleansers leave a residue on the surface or in the air that can be absorbed through our skin and/or lungs, and some of these chemicals are bioaccumulative–our bodies can’t get rid of them, so over time our repeated exposures can build up to toxic levels.

p1040148Here’s our complete guide to cleaning a typical Earth dwelling.  We’ve tried many environmentally-friendly products over the past 20 years and have found more good ones than duds.  Here, we recommend some brand-name products that work especially well and some inexpensive basic materials that are great for various cleaning projects. Yes, it is possible to make more homemade cleaning products than we do.  We’ve struck a balance between purchased and homemade products that works well with our cleaning habits and the amount of spare time we have.  If you use an awesome homemade cleanser, feel free to share details or a link in the comments!

For basic home cleaning, you will need:

  • dish detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • all-purpose cleaner

Other items we use regularly that you may or may not need, depending on your home furnishings and cleaning standards, are:

  • dishwasher detergent
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • furniture polish
  • antibacterial spray
  • rubbing alcohol

Look for these items in your local stores where you shop regularly. If you can’t find them there, encourage your stores to make them available; meanwhile, order online. Many of the brand-name products are available from Grove Collaborative–click here for a $10 discount on your first order!  Here is more information about Grove (formerly known as ePantry).

Here are the details on how to use each type of cleanser. Read more of this post

Vegetarian Yuletide Stew

Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.

My brother Ben Stallings invented this meal last night, and all 8 assembled relatives liked it!  The red and green colors are appropriate to the season.  It’s healthy, inexpensive, and quick to make.

p1040088To make about 10 main-dish servings, you will need

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 45 oz. canned black beans, or 3-4 cups cooked black beans
  • 45 oz. canned diced tomatoes, or 3-4 cups fresh or frozen-and-thawed diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups shredded kale
  • salt to taste
  • granulated garlic to taste
  • oregano to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste

Dice onion and brown it in olive oil in a large saucepan.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans.

Combine all ingredients in the saucepan.  Simmer until kale is cooked to your liking.

Serve with rice and grated cheese for each person to add as she prefers.  (The serving in the picture is mixed with a lot of rice, and no cheese.)

Visit Real Food Friday for more great things to eat at your holiday gatherings!

3 DIY Repairs to Eliminate Health Risks in Your Home

This is a guest post by Charlotte Meier.  Ms. Meier operates Home Safety Hub, which provides resources on preventing injury and property loss.

People don’t like to think that their homes are responsible for their illnesses, but if you feel worse when you are at home and better when you are not, there is a good chance that something in your house is making you sick. If you suspect that your home is making you sick, there are repairs you can make to reduce the health risks found in your home.

Install Water Filters

If your family has stomach pain or unexplained bouts of diarrhea, you may have an issue with your water. Whether you have well water or municipal water, there may be impurities, toxic chemicals, and carcinogens in it that can harm your health. Water filters reduce and remove the impurities, making your water cleaner, better tasting, and better for your skin and overall health.

Some people opt for whole-house water filters that deliver clean, odor-free water to the whole home. By removing chlorine, chloramines, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and herbicides, these filters improve the taste and odor of your water. Whole-house water filters improve the appearance of skin by eliminating chlorine and reduce stains in tubs, sinks, and toilets. Other people opt for point-of-use water filters to get clean, delicious, odor-free water from the sink. Point-of-use filters are known to block more impurities than whole-house systems and provide better-tasting water. Read more of this post

Coleslaw All Year Long–made with yogurt!

Coleslaw is a summertime food, right?  It’s true that it makes a tasty accompaniment to burgers or cold sandwiches, and its chilly crunch is refreshing on a hot day.

But the main ingredient in coleslaw is cabbage, and in temperate climates cabbage is in season (therefore, inexpensive) in the autumn and winter.  It makes sense to enjoy coleslaw in cold weather, too, especially if you don’t like cooked cabbage so much.  Coleslaw makes a perfect side dish for fish, and who wants to bake fish in the summer?  Try a cozy winter meal of fish, coleslaw, and maybe some biscuits or cornbread.

Six years ago, I found a recipe for Copycat KFC Coleslaw that we really liked, but it calls for buttermilk and mayonnaise.  We never have buttermilk on hand, and we rarely have mayonnaise.  So I substituted plain yogurt for both, and that was pretty good, but I often wound up tweaking the coleslaw by adding more of this or that, taking notes.  Now I’ve worked out a yogurt-based recipe that consistently comes out well.

The Earthling’s Coleslaw Recipe

For best results, make this recipe at least 2 hours before you plan to eat it.  The flavors combine better with time.

First, grate your cabbage and measure to see how much you have. Read more of this post

EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT.

This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell since it happened, but it almost doesn’t sound real.  This really did happen, though, and it was an important encouragement just when I needed one, and now I’m at a point where I really need encouragement again.  I’m kind of writing this for myself to read, but I also hope that it will help other people to see a glimmer of hope in desperate times.

In November 2014, I was in my fourth month of pregnancy and finally starting to get past the nausea when I had a nightmare.  I dreamed that I was walking in the jungle, admiring the exotic plants, having a pleasant hike until I noticed a glimmering spot in my vision.  Then, gradually, I understood that a migraine was coming, but I was in the jungle with no medicine and no help and–and I woke up, and in fact my vision really was disrupted.  This is the only time in my life that this ever started while I was asleep and I was able to perceive it.  I quickly got up and took my prescription migraine medication, which the midwife had told me was safer for my baby than allowing the migraine to proceed because migraines disrupt blood circulation.  I did not get much of a headache and was able to go back to sleep and then get through a normal workday.

The next time, I had no warning.  I just suddenly got a bad headache, and when I took my medicine it came right back up again.  But I had to go to work I had to I had to, because I was working toward a deadline but also because if I missed one more day, I wouldn’t be able to travel for Thanksgiving.

By then I’d worked out a morning survival strategy that involved having a bagel with butter at work every morning, except on the day when I was out of bagels and therefore would go to the bagel shop before work to buy a half-dozen bagels for later days, plus a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee to enjoy at the bagel shop.  This was my cream cheese day.  I told myself to look forward to the treat because I would feel better when I ate it, if not before.

Instead, I got worse.  A lot worse.  You know how doctors ask you to rank your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?  For years, I never ranked anything higher than 9, because it seemed to me that it would be possible for pain to be worse than what I had experienced.  I was right: In 2010, I had a migraine that went to Level 10 and stayed there until I went to the emergency room and was given an off-label schizophrenia drug that brought it down to a 3.

On this day in 2014, I hit Level 10 as I stepped off the bus into bright sunshine.  It only lasted one minute, maybe less, but that was too much.  My vision fragmented as if smashed by a rock, and that was about how my head felt.  I staggered across the sidewalk, crashed into the fence, and clung there, not thinking, barely breathing.  Then the pain dropped to Level 8, which for me is the clumsy, self-criticizing level where speech is difficult and vomiting is likely.  I ripped myself off the fence and stalked across the street toward the bank (because I needed cash for the bagels) as my brain yammered, Don’t you dare throw up; the baby needs every calorie; you are a terrible mother taking terrible care of your poor innocent baby; don’t even think about the hospital; they won’t give you any off-label schizophrenia drug when you’re pregnant; don’t be ridiculous; they can’t help you; stand up straight and look normal you freak; go to the bank like a grown-up and get your stupid bagel and go to work; nobody will help you; get yourself together and act like someone who can be trusted with a baby!!!

So I got to the bank machine, and I kept dropping my card, and then I must have pressed the wrong button because the machine was in Spanish, and it was my fault that I was doing it wrong and my fault that I don’t know Spanish, and although I muddled through well enough to get the cash, by then I was in tears.

I turned around, stupid and incompetent and crying in public, and in front of me was someone I had never seen before.  She was young, probably a student at the adjacent University of Pittsburgh.  She had a Chinese accent.

She smiled so gently at me and said, “Everything will be all right.”

I stared at her for a moment, and then, slowly, I repeated, “Everything will be all right.”

“Yes!” she said. “Everything will be all right.”  She hugged me.  My brain filled with different ideas: The headache will go away; I will feel better soon; I have money in my hand and more in the bank; I’m going to have a nice meal and several more meals today; I’m really quite lucky; I have what I need; I will have a healthy, beautiful baby, and all the struggles will be worth it worth it worth it.  Everything will be all right.  Maybe not this instant, but it will be.

She stepped back, gave me a radiant smile, then hurried on down the sidewalk as I called a bewildered “thank you…” after her.

Then I walked to the bagel place, and by the time I got there I was running; I ran straight to the back and into the bathroom and puked, but I hit the toilet perfectly, and after washing my face I looked into the mirror and said aloud, “Everything will be all right.”  That demonstrated that I could speak normally.  I went out and ordered my bagels and coffee.

Half an hour later, I had no headache at all.  I went on to a happy and productive day at work.

Of course, not everything was all right forever from then on.  I hit more really low spots before that pregnancy was over, and I’ve hit many more since then.  Life sucks sometimes!

But the odds are that everything will be all right, pretty soon.  Hang in there!  Try to notice the things that are okay, as well as the bad things that are so much more noticeable.  Try to look forward to the future.  It’s hard.  The past several weeks have made it obvious to me, again, that I’m not good at this.  I tell myself awful things and wish I could just give up.  I can tell that my brain is upside-down, but I don’t know how to fix it.  I just have to try to get along until things pick up.

This is Advent, the season of waiting, the darkest time of year.  Even if you are not a Christian or not religious at all, try for a few weeks to pray when you find yourself waiting.  It may not seem to accomplish much, but it is better than doing nothing.  If you’re too upset for specific prayers, just focus on this one idea: Everything will be all right.  It will.  It will.

Turnips Armored in Self-Defense

For my latest article at Kitchen Stewardship, Kitchen Shortcuts for Busy Times, I needed photographs of at least one of the shortcuts, and the one I chose was cooking rice at the beginning of the week to use in three different meals.  Naturally, I found myself doing this at a busy time…which got busier…so that I ended up making the three rice-based meals on the last three days before the deadline and having very little time to take photos because everyone was hungry.  In fact, I forgot to take a photo of this dish until after we’d started eating!  And this isn’t a very good photo.  But this recipe, which we were trying for the first time, has such an interesting name and backstory that I decided to write about it over here rather than clutter the KS article–where it’s just the main dish that gets rice as its side dish.

p1040004Okay, so what we have here are some baked turnips with cheese and seasoning.  This is the tastiest way to prepare turnips that we’ve ever encountered, and it was easy and quick to put together, with a short baking time.

I mean, it’s not as if we like turnips.  I don’t think we’ve ever bought them on purpose.  We just get them in our farm share and then have to figure out how to use them.  Typically, we’ve either put them in Japanese Udon Noodle Soup or roasted them with olive oil and herbs, and either way they are good enough that we enjoy eating them in that meal.  Then we’re done with turnips until the next ones show up.

Well, this autumn we received large bags of turnips two weeks in a row.  We made the Udon Soup, but that only used three large turnips.  We’d recently roasted various other vegetables and were feeling a bit tired of roasted vegetables.  Time for something new!

Daniel suggested, “They had turnips in Europe in the Middle Ages.  Let’s see what they did with them,” and pulled out two books of authentic medieval recipes.  Both of them gave the same basic instructions, which sounded plausible, so we decided to try cooking turnips by this method whose “odd name might be a way of warding off attacks by hungry diners in Rome’s busy taverns, but it only made the poor turnips more vulnerable!” according to Gillian Riley in Renaissance Recipes.

We agree that this tasty armor’s effect is the opposite of protecting the turnips.  Here’s what we did, based on the somewhat vague instructions in the cookbooks:

  • Peel all the turnips and slice about 1/3 inch thick.
  • Steam turnips in a pot with just a little water, just until they begin to soften.
  • Grease the casserole dish with butter.  Put a layer of turnips on the bottom.
  • Put thin slices of cheese (we used muenster) on top of turnips.
  • Sprinkle with nutmeg and black pepper.
  • Make another layer of turnips, then cheese, then spices.  Continue until all turnips are in place.
  • Bake uncovered at 350F until cheese is thoroughly melted–about 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and perhaps a salad or fruit.  We had clementines.

We highly recommend this approach to turnips!  They were sweet and tasty, complemented by the flavors of the cheese and spices.  It was a gooey, satisfying, filling dish.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food ideas!  Don’t forget to check out my time-saving tips!

4 Easy Homemade Sauces for Instinctive Cooking

Are you good at following recipes but wish you had the knack for just throwing together a meal from ingredients you happen to have?  The way I got started on developing that knack was to learn to make a basic sauce from scratch.  Over at Kitchen Stewardship, I explain how to learn 4 sauces and how to use them:

  • Marinara sauce for Italian pasta dishes
  • Teriyaki sauce for stir-fry or salad
  • Herby olive oil sauce for awesome vegan food that’ll satisfy chicken cravings
  • Spicy peanut sauce for Thai-style noodle/rice bowls

All of them are flexible, easy to customize to your taste.  Two of them are ready in 5 minutes or less.  They’ll save you a lot of money, compared to buying ready-to-use sauces in bottles, and they may be healthier!

p1030961Here is a recent meal I made with the teriyaki sauce.  (Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.)  We had a cauliflower from our farm share, complete with all its leaves, and I stir-fried both the flower and the leaves while marinating tofu in the sauce, then added the tofu and sauce to the wok and cooked until bubbly.  Delicious!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more great food ideas!

How to Save the Earth from Donald Trump and the Republican Congressional Majority

I was devastated by last Tuesday’s election results.  There are many reasons I object to Donald Trump (like his racist lies about crime) and many reasons I hoped for a Democratic majority in Congress, but what I’m writing about here is our environment.  Even if you voted Republican, you may not want to live in a polluted wasteland that’s getting hotter every decade, so while this government is advancing the parts of its agenda that won your vote, you’ll want to take action to keep Earth habitable. What can we do?

First, it is not too late to stop Trump from taking office!  It’s possible for the Electoral College to vote for the winner of the popular vote (Hillary Clinton) so that she becomes President instead.  This probably won’t happen, but it’s worthwhile to speak up if you support the idea.  (A more realistic goal is to abolish the Electoral College before the next election.  How is it fair that a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 4 times as much as a Texas resident’s vote?!?  We the people should get one vote each!  Here’s more about what’s wrong with the Electoral College, and here’s what we wrote about it before the 2000 election disaster.)  We’d still have the Republicans in Congress, but they can do less harm with a Democratic President.

Next, start now stuffing Trump’s suggestion box with pleas for environmental protection!  Especially, oppose his absurd goal of abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency–it will be bad enough if he appoints someone blatantly anti-environment to head the EPA, but if he manages to get rid of it entirely, we’ll really be at the mercy of big polluters as our state governments scrabble to protect us (or don’t even try, as is likely in some states).  This action plan for slowing global warming includes many good ideas to advocate.  Will Trump’s administration really heed the input of ordinary Americans?  The fact that they’re asking for it means it’s worth a try.

Also, start now making contributions to organizations that lobby for the environment and/or sue polluters.  My favorites are Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists.  It’s easiest to set up a monthly donation (put it on the credit card whose rewards scheme is most useful to you!) so that you donate consistently and kind of painlessly; this also minimizes the nagging emails you’ll get, and I’ve found that environmental organizations are better than other charities at reducing paper mail when you ask them.  Think you can’t afford to donate?  Look for changes you can make to save money and the environment, and put aside the difference.  Another option is to make something environmentally friendly that you can sell (for example, root cuttings from your plants and pot them in repurposed containers that you decorate) and donate the profits.

As issues come up affecting the environment, contact your senator and congressional representative encouraging them to vote for a clean and healthy world.  Phone calls may be more effective than email or paper letters, but if you aren’t able to call during office hours, emailing is better than doing nothing–staffers often count the pro and con emails received about an issue, even if they don’t have time to read each one in full.

Vote with your purchases.  The main reason Republicans in general oppose environmental regulations is not that they want all living things to be poisoned and fried to a crisp, but that they want businesses to make as much money as possible.  One thing that is giving me hope is that during the George W. Bush administration, 2001-2009, despite the anti-environmental attitude and actions of the President and Congress, ordinary citizens’ interest in being more “green” surged, making environmentally friendly options far more available than they had been.  Trend analysts pay a lot of attention to this kind of thing, and businesses respond.  That’s why they took the genetically-modified organisms out of Cheerios and Grape-nuts, for example.  Consumer pressure works!  Do your best to show corporate America that we want less packaging, fewer harmful chemicals, more organic and vegetarian foods, more reusable products, more renewable energy, more fuel-efficient engines, more public transit, and so forth.

Get ready for 2018!  Check out your representatives’ environmental scorecards, and if they’re not doing their jobs protecting Earth, get ready to throw the bums out and elect someone greener!  Every representative in the House and 1/3 of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018.

What else can we do?  Did I miss anything?

I’m still appalled by the election results, but doing what I can to work toward making the world a better place works for me!  Just in case I sound too chirpy here, let me add: I’ve been working on this for a long time.  Not only did I slog onward in my ever-greener lifestyle throughout the George W. Bush administration, but I was dodging excess packaging and picking up recyclables and line-drying laundry during the first George Bush administration and on through the Clinton years.  It isn’t always easy, but I’m truly speaking from experience when I tell you that trying to do the right thing has always been worth it.

Grandma, Grace, Portage, Petunias, and a Jade Green Sweatshirt

My grandma would be 101 years old today, if she were still alive.  Last year I tried to write the centennial tribute she deserved, but I was recovering from a brain injury, so not only was everything a struggle but I felt really terrible and inadequate about everything…and also, I realized, “Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.”

So here is another article with some inspirations from Grandma that have struck me over the past few months.

Grace

The school I attended in seventh and eighth grades closed this year and will be torn down.  That’s fine with me–it was poorly designed in the first place and was in bad shape when I was there 30 years ago.  I was reminiscing to my son about the bleak concrete courtyard in which we were forced to hang around until the first bell rang, and about how I was on the first bus to arrive and therefore had to sit there for 40 minutes, often getting bullied.  In particular, there was this one eighth-grade football player who made my seventh-grade mornings miserable by yelling insults at me across the courtyard while his friends laughed.

Suddenly I remembered telling Grandma about that, when she called after I’d spent the whole day wincing shamefully over what that football player had yelled when he noticed that I was sitting with my legs crossed at the knee.  I couldn’t bear to repeat exactly everything he said (the gist was that I was trying to control my urge to be raped by him); what I told her was his opening line of sneering, “Who sits with their legs crossed?!” in a way that sounded like it was a totally stupid, wrong thing to do.  Grandma said, “Hmm, who sits with her legs crossed?  A graceful, elegant lady with impeccable manners!”  That really turned it around for me.  That bully and others continued to hurt my feelings, but it did help to notice how often their insults boiled down to, “You’re behaving too well!  You think you’re better than us!” which implied that, for all their frightening volume and vitriol and violence, they actually were afraid that I was better than them–and gee, maybe I was.  It depends on what your standards are, and I’m glad that Grandma nudged me to consider mine. Read more of this post