Why we had Banana Bread and Black Bean Soup for Easter dinner

We’ve never established a traditional Easter dinner for our family.  Partly it’s because we don’t eat lamb or ham, but the biggest reason is that for the past 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Easter celebrations at church.  The Easter Vigil service is late Saturday night, followed by a festive reception, and then there’s the Sunday morning service, followed by another festive reception!  As hospitality chairperson, I’m in charge of recruiting people to bring food for the receptions, organizing the array of food, setting up, and cleaning up.  Also, I’ve often read one of the scriptures in the Easter Vigil service, and this year I was a chalice-bearer (serving the Communion wine and, unexpectedly, lighting 14 candles–but that’s another story).

After all that, not only am I tired and burned-out on food management, but we’re not coming home hungry after church!  We eat during the reception, and then there are always some odds and ends left on the serving platters that are easier to eat than put away.  We don’t need another meal until Sunday evening.

We do have to eat then, though.  The extent to which I had planned that meal was thinking, “I’ll bake the last two sweet potatoes, and we’ll eat them with…something….”

I ended up not baking the sweet potatoes. Read more of this post

Darwinian Gardening

Tomato plant and squash plant in a pot, in the garden among morning glories, irises, spearmint, etc.

I’m writing a 3-part series on composting over at Kitchen Stewardship; here’s how to get started with my composting system using 3 ordinary flowerpots, and I also mention two FREE composting systems my family members have used. Here, I’m explaining my general approach to the garden I nourish with my compost.

The idea and the name of Darwinian Gardening come from my mom, who devotes a section of her large garden to “the survival of the fittest,” with lovely and sometimes surprising results.

You could just fertilize some soil and then see what grows there, being totally hands-off about it.  Mom and I intervene a little.  The basic idea is to plant the seeds you have and encourage the plants you like, to grow a uniquely beautiful garden that’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and low-maintenance.

I don’t have a big garden like my parents do.  My front yard is about 12 feet square.  My back yard (not shown in these photos) is on a cliff and very shady, so we struggle to keep anything growing there to control erosion.  One of my favorite things about Darwinian Gardening is that many species of plants intertwine, creating lots of variety in a small area.  My garden may be tiny, but there’s a lot to see here!

Morning glories, lamb’s ears, and purple vine working together to choke out “weeds.”

My garden combines things I planted on purpose with things that just showed up. Every spring, I plant whatever seeds I have, root cuttings from my potted plants, and maybe buy a few bulbs or seeds or seedlings.

A lot of my plants “grow like weeds” and are essentially invasive species, but I don’t consider them “weeds” because I like them!  I only pull up plants I truly don’t want, like poison ivy and burrs.

However, my most enthusiastic plants sometimes choke out other plants that I want to grow, so I intervene by digging them up and moving them to a bare spot.  Morning glory vines twine around other plants and block the sunlight; while I’m supervising my kids playing outdoors, I patrol the garden and carefully unwind morning glories from the other plants and wind them onto things I don’t mind them growing on. Read more of this post

Advanced Task Juggling with Gamification

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (Becca’s brother), a Web developer and permaculture designer in Emporia, Kansas.

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – snap! The job’s a game!” –Mary Poppins

I work from home, and my wife doesn’t, so I do most of the housework as well as home improvements and managing my own work schedule. My clients rarely have fixed deadlines, so it’s usually on me to find the motivation to do my work and stay on task. Friends who don’t work from home often tell me that they wouldn’t know how to “juggle” work tasks along with housework, or that they’ve tried and failed to do it, so I thought I’d share my method.

Where I’m coming from

But first, a little background. I was a die-hard workaholic in high school and through most of college. If I took a class, I wasn’t satisfied unless I got an A on every assignment. If I joined an extracurricular group, I attended every meeting, and I showed up on time or early, and I resented those who didn’t! Then, over spring break of my junior year of college, I visited a friend in a small city in Mexico, and during his workday we took a two-hour lunch break (from 2-4pm, the famed siesta). Noticing my anxiety at the slow pace of the meal, he explained: “In America you have the Protestant work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must work hard. In Mexico, we have the Catholic work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must live well.”

That conversation caused me to question my approach to school, and later to work and housework. It made me ask, Who am I doing this for? What are their expectations? What do I hope to get out of it? How might I meet everyone’s goals, working smarter instead of harder, and leave more time for “living well,” whatever that means?

I had a breakthrough when I stopped getting my satisfaction from completing tasks and started getting it from making progress toward my goals. In school, I stopped worrying about how I did on any particular test or project or class and instead looked ahead to how each task was getting me closer to my longer-term goals. After college, I took a part-time job that paid barely enough to survive on, cutting my living expenses to levels I can barely imagine now, so that I had ample time to explore the city and soak up everything it had to offer. I’ve followed a similar approach in my career ever since: I rarely bill more than 2 to 4 hours a day to clients, which is barely enough to pay the bills and stay mentally abreast of the work, because I have too many other things I want to do with my time!

On the home front, I’ve applied the same strategy to most of the home improvement tasks I’ve undertaken. Read more of this post

Asian Ingredients for Every Kitchen

Longtime readers may have noticed that my family often makes Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food.  Check out my article at Kitchen Stewardship about incorporating Asian flavors and techniques into your everyday cooking!  Here, I’m giving more detail about some of the ingredients I like to keep handy.

Two foods I’ve always considered basics, even when I lived in a dorm and cooked in an electric hot-pot, are rice and soy sauce.

Brown rice is more nutritious and has more fiber; white rice is more traditional.  Basmati rice, sushi rice, or jasmine rice might be most suitable for specific recipes, but properly cooking each variety is a bit of a hassle.  I often use ordinary, inexpensive white rice for everything–Mexican and South American food, too!

Soy sauce should be traditionally brewed–it makes a big difference in flavor.  For years, I only bought Kikkoman because none of the other brands tasted right.  I tried Trader Joe’s soy sauce after learning that Kikkoman now uses genetically modified soybeans in its soy sauce for the US market.  (Kikkoman’s organic variety is, of course, GMO-free…but it’s hard to find and expensive.)  Trader Joe’s house brand plant-based foods are all GMO-free, and their soy sauce is traditionally brewed in Japan and tastes great!

However, if you’re gluten-free, you’ll need a soy sauce with no wheat in it.  Look for tamari, and even so, read the ingredients to make sure.  San-J tamari is gluten-free and very tasty.

If you can’t have soy at all, coconut aminos give a very similar flavor.

Whatever you do, don’t buy La Choy soy sauce–blecchh!!

I do eat non-GMO soy, and tofu is another favorite ingredient in my cooking.  If you’re allergic or opposed to tofu, in most recipes you can substitute boneless chicken–just make sure it gets cooked thoroughly in the recipe, or pre-cook before adding it.

My whole family loves nori seaweed, the greenish-black stuff that’s wrapped around sushi and recently popular in snack packages. We make our own maki rolls (technically different from sushi, maki use more nori) and omusubi (rice balls, also called onigiri) or sometimes we just eat nori by the sheet! It’s great for balancing your metabolism after eating too much sugar.

Rice wine vinegar makes sushi rice taste right and is a useful ingredient in sauces.

Sesame oil is delicious!  It’s more of a seasoning than a cooking oil: Mix it into a sauce or salad dressing, drizzle it on cooked food just before serving, or use a small amount of sesame oil mixed with a lighter oil (like peanut oil) for stir-frying.

A basic yellow curry powder works in both Indian and Thai recipes.  I buy mine in bulk at the food co-op.

Another great spice blend for Indian food is garam masala (also available at the co-op).  I was pleased to find that it has the right flavor for the Middle Eastern dish Loubie, as well.

For hot-and-spicy flavor, dried red pepper flakes or a standard American hot sauce will work, but I prefer sambal oelek chili paste.  It’s spicy but not ridiculously super-strong, just right for mixing into a sauce or adding to one serving just before eating.

Fresh garlic and ginger give the best flavor…but I’ll admit I usually get lazy with ginger and use the dry powder.  A garlic press makes fresh garlic easy to use.

Hondashi, also called bonito broth mix, is instant broth made from dried fish–essentially, fish bouillon.  It adds fishy flavor to soup, rice, or sauce.

Fish sauce has a stronger flavor than hondashi, kind of smoky.  Generally, fish sauce is more suitable for Thai or Vietnamese food, while hondashi is for Japanese food.  We recently tried a recipe for Thai coconut lemongrass soup that called for hondashi, but I ended up adding a dash of fish sauce to my servings to make it taste right…so the next time I made it, I used fish sauce instead of hondashi, and it was much better!

Coconut milk is yummy, in my opinion and both kids’, but my partner Daniel usually doesn’t like it–that soup is a rare exception.  Fortunately, in many recipes the coconut milk is added at the end of cooking, so we can leave it out of the pot and add it to some people’s servings at the table.  This works well with the “curried lentils and random vegetables” kind of meal.  Canned coconut milk is easy to keep in the pantry for spontaneous use.

Lime juice allows for spontaneity, too, if you keep a bottle in the refrigerator door.

Cilantro is great in Thai, Indian, and also Mexican food.  I wish the stores sold smaller bunches of it, but it’ll last two or three weeks in the refrigerator if loosely packed into a glass jar.

Oyster sauce, plum sauce, and hoisin sauce are bottled sauces you’ll usually find in my refrigerator door–but I don’t just use them by themselves; I mix them with other ingredients to make stir-fry sauce.  I especially like the smoky flavor of oyster sauce–try it in Zucchini Tofu!

We also keep stocked up on two kinds of Japanese noodles: Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and taste great with stir-fry, in place of rice.  Udon noodles can be used the same way or in delicious soup.

Pickled ginger is traditionally served alongside sushi, but it’s a tasty garnish for a noodle bowl, too.  Look for a brand without artificial coloring.  I used to love pickled daikon, too, but lately all the brands I can find contain not only artificial coloring but also artificial sweetener!  I have a scary metabolic reaction to artificial sweeteners, so I can’t have any more pickled daikon…but that reminds me…

Daikon is a big, long, white radish with a mild but interesting flavor.  (If red radishes upset your stomach, daikon might not–especially when it’s cooked.)  Most Asian markets and some supermarkets sell fresh daikon, which can be grown in many parts of the United States.  It’s nutritious and low in calories!  Slice it up for your soup or stir-fry.

Those are some of my favorite Asian ingredients!  What are yours?

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more fabulous food ideas!

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!

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

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

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

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!

Make a Soap Saver: neat, clean bar soap with no waste!

The finished Soap Saver hangs in the shower.Photographs by Nicholas Efran

This is a handy tip I learned as a Girl Scout that I still use in my home today.  It’s a great project for Girl Scouts (or any group of kids) as a follow-up to soap carving: kids can put their soap scraps in the Soap Saver and then add any bits of soap they have at home.

A lot of people have switched to liquid soaps, foam soaps, and body-washes instead of bar soaps.  One reason for this is that a bar of soap sitting in a soap dish accumulates a puddle of water underneath, which has an unpleasant look and texture, may harbor germs, and gradually dissolves the soap so that a lot of it ends up being wasted.  A soap dish in the shower really wastes soap if it’s positioned such that the shower water falls on it, causing the soap to melt rapidly and drip from the soap dish onto the shower floor, making the floor slippery.

The other problem with bar soap is that as the bar gets smaller and smaller, it’s more and more difficult to get the soap you need.  You end up turning it over and over and over in your hands, wasting time.  But it’s annoying to throw away perfectly good soap just because it’s a small piece.

However, most hotels still give out bar soap, and most of us don’t use the whole bar during our stay.  If we leave it, they’ll have to throw it away.  It’s best if we can take it home and make use of it.

Also, there are some nice soaps that are available only in bar form, not in liquid, that you might want to use if only you could control the slimy mess problem.

What you need is a Soap Saver!!

pack of 3 Other than soap, the only material needed for this project is a long, narrow mesh tube.  It should be at least 12 inches long; 18 inches is better.  You might happen to purchase some type of fruit or vegetable that comes in a mesh bag you can reuse.  If not, the best source is a scrubby-puff, like these, which I found in a 3-pack for $1 at a local dollar store.

intact scrubby puffOf course, if you happen to have a used scrubby-puff that you don’t mind destroying, that’s even better for the environment than cutting up a new one.  Each puff will provide enough mesh for 2 or more Soap Savers, depending on the size of the puff.

In addition to saving soap, this gadget saves time, because the mesh helps the soap lather up quickly so that you spend less time rubbing it.

Probe through the layers of your scrubby-puff until you locate the cord that holds it together. Carefully slide one scissors blade under the cord and clip it, being careful not to cut a hole in the mesh as you do so. (If young children are doing this project, an adult should prepare the mesh in advance.) Unravel the puff into a long tube of mesh. Cut it into appropriate lengths.
Scrubby puff is made of a mesh tube secured with a cord. unraveled mesh tube--enough for 2 Soap Savers Cut the length of mesh in half with scissors. Read more of this post

How to Clean a Blackened Baking Pan

Part 1Autumn is here! Time for some nice baked squash!  Unfortunately, this tasty side dish can really mess up your baking pan.  Here’s how my nice Corningware pan looked after my most recent batch of butternut squash.  For some reason, this particular squash had an unusually large amount of sugary juice that oozed out the sides and–especially in the areas that weren’t sheltered by the squash sections–burned into a blackened mess.

My pan and I have been through this before.  We’ve learned not to panic.  It takes some patience to recover from this, but it does not require a lot of hard work or any noxious chemicals!  This technique works on most types of baked-on food, not just squash.

This method is safe for any ceramic or glass pan or a metal pan with no special coating.  Don’t use it on a seasoned cast-iron pan (it will remove the seasoning) or a pan with non-stick coating (it may scratch the coating). Read more of this post

Has Your Favorite Soap Been Banned?

The United States Food & Drug Administration banned 19 antibacterial chemicals from hand soaps and body washes.  By September 1, 2017, manufacturers need to reformulate their products or remove the products from the market.  If you’ve been using an antibacterial soap, you may not be able to get it anymore.

Don’t despair!  The reason for the ban is that years of research have shown that antibacterial soaps aren’t as great as advertising has suggested:

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Here’s some detail about the risks of triclosan, the most popular of the newly-banned ingredients. Rather than breed resistant bacteria, breathe chloroform, harm your liver and thyroid, and contaminate your drinking water, why not switch to a new soap?

This is your opportunity to not only get away from triclosan but also do even better for the Earth and your budget by switching to a plant-based soap that will save you money!  I previously explained how to make your own environmentally-friendly foaming hand soap in just one minute using two ingredients at a cost of just 69c per bottle.  If you didn’t do it then, do it now!

If you don’t want foaming soap, just a nice liquid soap to use in the shower, skip the foamer and buy Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, available in 7 delicious scents and unscented.  It’s not only plant-based and all-natural, it’s certified organic, fair-trade, GMO-free, vegan, and packed in a 100% recycled plastic bottle.  This soap is safe enough to brush your teeth with, and you also can use it to wash dishes, hand-washable laundry, household surfaces, etc.

Click here for a $10 discount on a method foaming hand wash and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap to refill it–you’ll pay just $10.88 for your first 33 foamers full of soap!  This link will take you to Grove Collaborative (formerly ePantry), a household products subscription company that does not force you to buy anything you don’t want; each month’s order can be customized as you like, and you can quit at any time.  But if you don’t want to join Grove, you can find method and Dr. Bronner’s products in many other stores.

Happy washing!  Visit Real Food Friday for more articles on keeping our lives real and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips!

Houses Built from Plastic Water Bottles!

This guy in Panama is building a village of houses whose walls are insulated with empty plastic beverage bottles!  Click through to watch the video.  This is a really great idea for making use of garbage, reducing construction costs, and building well-insulated homes that will require less energy to cool or heat.

BUT!  This is not a reason to drink bottled water!  Don’t think that because somebody’s found a use for the empty bottles, it’s perfectly okay to buy and discard them.  Bottled water has a huge environmental impact and on average is not as clean and safe as tap water.  Drink from the sink, refill a reusable bottle when you need to carry water, and if your local tap water is not safe, keep fighting until it is!  Bottled water should be for emergencies only, not an everyday thing.

Peek Into My Pantry!

This rare glimpse into an actual Earthling habitat shows you what foods we keep on hand and how we organize them!  Get all the details in my article at Kitchen Stewardship!

Exclusively in The Earthling’s Handbook, play “Find the differences between these two photos!”  The one on the left was taken first, but then I noticed a few organizational flaws and made some small adjustments before taking the photo at right.  How many differences can you spot?  Let me know in the comments!

p1030408 pantry-version-2

This practical pantry isn’t slick and beautiful, but it’s functional.  We are able to

  • keep extra stuff on hand
  • save money by stocking up at the sale price
  • buy bulk foods and big packages that wouldn’t fit in our kitchen cabinet
  • plan menus using mostly what we have
  • reduce the temptation to eat poorly by having healthy ingredients handy
  • save time and gasoline by shopping less often
  • be prepared if weather or illness stops us from shopping

Our pantry’s basement location also helps us to stay fit and resist unnecessary eating!  If you have to walk across the dining room and down a flight of stairs to get a box of cereal, either you burn some calories doing it or you decide you’re not so hungry after all.

This is the pantry that works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more food-related posts!

Drowning in Veggies? 5 Steps for Using a CSA Farm Share

It’s dinnertime on a Wednesday, and you’ve just been handed 10 pounds of fresh, organic, locally-grown, assorted vegetables!

You’re eager to get some of them onto your family’s plates tonight and make sure you use every bit as wisely as you can before next week—when another load of vegetables will arrive—and you never know what kind of veggies they’ll be until you get them. How will you work your way through such unpredictable abundance?

I’ve got 15 years of experience in utilizing the weekly crate of vegetables from our community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm.  I explain my approach in 5 basic steps and explain how it applied to one week’s actual food for my family, in my first post as a contributing writer for Kitchen Stewardship!  Click on the image to read the article.

CSA Overload!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

HVAC Hacks: Energy-Saving Improvements You Can Make Yourself

HVAC=Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning–the system of ducts that brings hot and/or cold air to the rooms of a building. The advice here applies to systems that deliver only heat or only AC, as well as those that do both.

This is a guest post by Ryan Martin at Home Improvement Leads, who connects quality contractors to homeowners to give them the best home improvement experience possible. They specialize in solar, roofing, and HVAC lead generation for contractors.

We all want to spend less money on energy at home, but sometimes costly HVAC updates and repairs aren’t quite worth the savings they provide over time. Thankfully, there are improvements you can complete yourself for a fraction of what it would cost to have them done professionally. Home Improvement Leads offers a few suggestions for making your home more energy efficient on a budget.

Add Insulation in the Attic

Proper insulation in the attic or the area above the garage is crucial. Since these areas are not climate-controlled, you must use a thermal barrier to stop heat transfer between the attic or crawlspace and your house. If you don’t, heat will more easily enter your home in the summer and exit your home in winter, making everyone uncomfortable and forcing your HVAC to work harder. Read more of this post

Bulk Food in Reused Containers in the Microwave: A Cautionary Tale

I’ve explained how we buy many of our groceries from bulk bins in the food co-op store, dispensing the amount we want to buy into containers we got by buying (and using) foods that came in them.  

Usually, when a jar has a label that can be removed, we soak it off so that the only label on the jar is the one where we write what food is in it now and the numbers for purchasing.  That looks better and is less confusing.  I just demonstrated another reason:

If a jar’s original label had metallic printing on it, and you put it in the microwave, it will give off sparks and an unpleasant smoke smell.  Why would you microwave a jar?  Well, if that jar is full of honey that has crystallized, a few seconds in the microwave will soften it so that you can pour it out.

But if that jar has a metallic label that you did not remove but only covered with the co-op label, this is what happens in only six seconds in the microwave:  

 
Yikes!  There was no damage to the honey, my microwave, or myself–but I wonder if whatever chemicals in the labels turned so black have created something that’s not safe to handle.  I decided to use a new jar of honey in the zucchini bread (I’m revising my recipe–stay tuned!) and figure out what’s best to do about this jar tomorrow.

Cleaning Products to Avoid if You Have Allergies

This is a guest post by Phoebe Parlade.  Follow the link to her well-researched article about the harmful ingredients found in many off-the-shelf cleaning products and about alternative ways to clean that are better for the Earth’s health as well as your own!

 

Do you suffer from allergies? If so, you know how crucial it is to avoid certain allergens. However, you have to do more than avoid pet dander, foods, plants, and so on. Allergens are found in items and products that you come into contact with on a regular basis. You may be surprised to discover that dozens of household cleaning products are a prime cause of allergic reactions.

Cleaning products are riddled with ingredients like formaldehyde and ammonia. These strong chemicals can cause a wide range of allergic reactions. Some examples include throat irritation, coughing, burning eyes, and more. As you can see, cleaning products pose a legitimate threat to you, your family members, and your pets.

Fortunately, you can learn about alternative cleaning methods that are safe and effective. These methods use everyday ingredients that are inexpensive and easily accessible. Reduce the chance of triggering your allergies by exploring natural options for household cleaning.

 

Alternative cleaning products work for me! Visit the Healthy Living Link Party for more great ideas!

Here are some Earthling’s Handbook articles about healthier ways to clean:
Recommendations of specific products and a site where you can buy them all!
Make your own kitchen scouring powder and a cute shaker from reused materials!
The easy, Earth-friendly way to clean a microwave oven!
Homemade wonder-scrub for your bathtub, face, pasta pot, or mittens!

A Really Real-Life Meal Plan

When life gets hectic, it’s tempting to quit spending time on food preparation and just live on junk from the convenience store.  The trouble with that approach is that it deprives your body of nutrients and gives it extra fat and salt to process, at just the time when you most need your body to work smoothly!

If your normal life is pretty hectic, you may be in the habit of preparing meals that use a lot of processed foods and getting take-out several times a week.  You may be thinking that you should eat better, but how are you ever going to find the time?  Start by working a few homemade meals in among your convenience foods, and work your way up from there!  (Also, check out Kitchen Stewardship’s article Real Food Is NOT Realistic! for lots of great tips.)

The first three months of this year were difficult for my family: Between the four of us, we had nine illnesses; I had surgery, was in a lot of pain, and couldn’t lift groceries or our toddler Lydia for three weeks; I had migraines more often than usual; and I was working hard to meet deadlines before my full-time job ended on March 31.  Normally, I plan the menu, and my partner Daniel cooks dinner every weeknight–but with so many distractions, I didn’t plan well; while I was unable to pick up Lydia from childcare, Daniel had to go get her every evening during cooking time; while I was unable to lift things and then while I was working overtime, I couldn’t do as much of the grocery shopping as usual.  We had to make some compromises.

What you see in this photograph is the sheet of paper that hung on our kitchen cabinet for seven weeks, from late February to mid-April.  You can see that we didn’t have a plan for every night.  You can see that we sometimes relied on restaurants or packaged foods.  But you’ll also see some nourishing, affordable, homemade meals that didn’t take all that long to make.  I’ll explain the things that I see need explanation, and I’ll be happy to do more explaining in the comments if you have questions! Recipe links are at the bottom. Read more of this post

Did you find Jesus anything to eat?

Eleven days ago, I launched a challenge to my readers to prevent food waste in some way, big or small, and report back after Easter.  Now it’s the Tuesday after Easter, and I haven’t heard from anyone yet.  Did you accept my challenge?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link to your own post on conserving food.

My own plans went differently than expected.  I knew that Holy Week and this week would be a very busy time for me because these are my last two weeks of full-time work, so I have a lot to do and thought I might need to work some overtime . . . but I was still involved in coordinating the food for my church’s receptions after the Easter Vigil and Easter morning services, which always includes some repurposing of leftovers.  Life threw me a curve ball of digestive mayhem that initially seemed to be just a symptom of the migraine that struck on Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, but then as the headache got better my stomach continued to get worse.  From Friday through Sunday, I wound up preventing food waste by not eating much!  But I couldn’t resist eating small amounts of reception food, including grapes and raw veggies with hummus–and apparently those were just the foods to anger my innards.  Instead of making an innovative Easter dinner out of leftovers, I spent Sunday night in misery, and yesterday I ate only rice and yogurt.  Blah.  I’m finally getting better today.

It wasn’t a superstar week, but I can tell you some things I did do to use food wisely: Read more of this post