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.

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!

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!

Kale Marinara Sauce

This is a very easy way to add nutrition to a convenient, inexpensive, real-food meal anyone can cook!  Other dark-green leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard, can be substituted for kale.

To make 2 servings, you will need:

  • a big handful of spaghetti noodles (For more protein, fiber, and B vitamins, use whole-wheat spaghetti.  We buy the 5-pound bag from Gordon Food Service; it’s affordably priced, tastes good, and has a smooth texture.)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of prepared spaghetti sauce (In most grocery stores, it’s easy to find affordable sauce that doesn’t contain soybean oil or added sugar and that’s high in Vitamin C and fiber.)
  • 3 or 4 leaves of raw kale (This is a great way to use leftovers after making another recipe with kale–most stores make you buy kale in big bunches!)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cooking pots, and a lid for the larger pot
  • spaghetti twonger or fork
  • large spoon
  • colander (pasta-draining sieve)

Fill the larger pot with water, place over high heat, and cover.

Wash the kale.  Tear the leafy part away from the main stem.  Compost or discard the stems.  Tear or chop the leaves into small pieces.

When the water boils, remove lid and add spaghetti (breaking in half if desired).  Turn down heat a little.  Stir occasionally with spaghetti twonger/fork until cooked to desired softness.

Cook kale in oil in the smaller pot over medium heat, stirring frequently with spoon.

When kale is noticeably less fluffy and beginning to brown at the edges, add sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Heat until bubbling.

Drain spaghetti in colander.

Divide spaghetti onto plates and top with sauce.  (If you happen to be fighting off a cold, crush a clove of raw garlic onto your portion and stir it in!)  Eat!

 

Adding kale to spaghetti works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more great meal ideas!

Some Plants Are For Eating

Happy Earth Day!  Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…

  • First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
  • UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
  • Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products.  UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus!  Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
  • GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees.  UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products.  Buy by the case and save!  (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)

As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants.  It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard!  But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example?  You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!

P1020014Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring.  Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming.  Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!

I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating.  In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year.  Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them.  She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first.  Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.

Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though!  We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times.  It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
Read more of this post

Seeking the Greatest Sliced Bread

Like many families, we don’t bake our own bread.  We make quick breads sometimes, like Raisin Bran Bread, but baking with yeast is not something that any of us finds soothing or fun or worth the time.  We really appreciate the convenience of buying bread that’s already neatly sliced and ready to use!

The only trouble is that many of the breads sold in stores contain corn and/or soy, and most of these are not organic or labeled non-GMO, which means that they probably contain genetically modified organisms–92% of all corn and 94% of all soybeans grown in the United States in 2015 were GMO.  We don’t trust GMOs to be safe for our health or the environment, so we’re trying to avoid them.  It can be difficult.

Trader Joe’s store-brand products are GMO-free (except meat and dairy) so we’ve often bought bread there . . . but they don’t make any variety of whole-grain bread that all members of our family like!  (They have a white bread we all like, but white is not as nutritious as whole-wheat.)  We end up buying multiple varieties of Trader Joe’s bread to please everyone, and that’s confusing, and whoever runs out of acceptable bread first starts agitating to buy new bread while we still have the other kind.  Furthermore, the nearest Trader Joe’s is several miles away, so we only shop there about once a month, but we use about a loaf and a half of bread per week.

Last time the kids and I went to Costco, we tried a free sample of Angelic Bakehouse Sprouted 7-Grain Bread.  We all liked it!  My 11-year-old Nicholas was begging me to buy it, but I figured it would turn out to contain some kind of crappy ingredients and/or to be really expensive.  But the 3-loaf pack is just $7 ($2.33 per 16 slices, similar to Trader Joe’s or most whole-wheat supermarket breads) and it contains no GMOs, no corn syrup, no soybean oil, no weird chemicals, no refined sugar–just real food ingredients!  The fiber, protein, and iron levels are just as good as most other whole-grain breads and better than some.  It’s lower in sugar and sodium than a lot of breads, yet it tastes just as good.

The package says you should refrigerate after opening and freeze any bread you are not going to eat within six days.  That’s the downside to not using preservatives.  Still, six days is a decent amount of time for food to stay fresh, and we always keep our bread in the fridge anyway.  Also–while I would never recommend that you disregard a manufacturer’s instructions–our three loaves lasted two weeks without being frozen and didn’t show any sign of spoilage.  (If your bread gets stale, here are 4 things you can do with it!)

Why sprouted grains?  Well, they’re supposed to be more nutritious and easier to digest.  I don’t see a difference in the Nutrition Facts between this bread and most other whole-grain breads, as I said.  I mainly bought this bread because it’s crap-free and tastes good!

What about packaging?  Like nearly every bread you can buy in a store, a loaf of Angelic comes in a plastic bag.  Like nearly every bread sold at Costco, it’s multi-packed inside a larger bag.  Yes, that’s a lot of plastic.  Yes, it is recyclable–but let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that most curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, that you probably need to take plastic bags to a bin outside a store such as Target or Giant Eagle, and that it doesn’t matter how recyclable an item is if you don’t actually recycle it properly!  Before you recycle, see if you can find another use or six for your bags: Put a bowl of leftovers inside a bag instead of covering it with cling-wrap.  Use an old bread bag to carry a snack.  Use it to hold vegetables or cheese that you’re freezing.  Use the large outer bag to carry your muddy shoes.  You could even save up a lot of plastic bags and make an awesome crocheted thing!

Buying bagged bread that’s been trucked from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania does have an environmental impact greater than baking my own bread at home.  But realistically, I can’t do everything, and baking bread is one of the things I’ve decided not to do.  I’m glad to have a new option in healthful, real-food sliced bread!

Costco is also a once-a-month shop for us, but it’s in the opposite direction from Trader Joe’s, so we tend to visit the two stores at different times.  Being able to buy good bread at both stores might make it possible for us to avoid GMO bread completely.

If you’re having trouble finding GMO-free food, check out this directory!

Visit Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop for more thoughts on food!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for other ideas as great as sliced bread!

Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan

When I was in college, in each September’s first meeting of my social organization, a few people would get up and make an earnest speech entitled, “Caffeine Is an Addictive, Psychoactive Drug” in which they tried to convince the new students to respect the power of caffeine by saving it for times when they really needed it.  They were right: If you get too accustomed to caffeine, it quits working, and if you routinely consume too much caffeine you’ll get irritable when you’re on it (but won’t realize that you’re irritable, thus increasing the irritation to everyone around you) as well as experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever you miss a dose.

Mindful of their admonitions, I got through a very demanding educational experience on one cup of coffee most days!  If I felt drowsy on my way to an afternoon lecture, I’d get a caffeinated soda from the famous 35c pop machine.  If I had to pull an all-nighter, I’d drink a cup of black tea after dinner.  (Sodas and tea have less than half as much caffeine per serving as normal coffee.  Note that Starbucks is not normal coffee, and beware!)

I kept up similarly moderate habits throughout my twenties.  Then I became a mother.  Nicholas was the kind of baby who wakes frequently in the night and sometimes stays awake screaming for an extended period.  I went back to work only part-time, but I did have to get to work at a predictable time, and my work is the kind that requires intense focus on tiny details.  Some breastfed babies react badly if their mothers drink coffee, but Nicholas didn’t.  For a long time I stuck to tea at work (because I can drink it without milk in it, and also it has less caffeine), but I kept having days when I would decide to go out to lunch at a place with good coffee and free refills . . . and then my office moved to a building across the street from a mini-mart with affordable coffee, just before I was assigned a big proofreading task . . . and then Nicholas weaned and I started having migraines again, and with the freedom of being alone in my body with no worries of harming my baby, I started just drinking coffee whenever I felt like it.  (Is caffeine a headache treatment or a headache trigger?  It can be either.  The National Headache Foundation summarizes the science.  It was reassuring to find that on days when I stayed home sick and didn’t have any caffeine at all so that I could nap, I didn’t get a headache unless my illness was one that causes head pain–so my headaches weren’t caused by caffeine withdrawal.  Here’s some information on caffeine and health in general.)

After Lydia was born, I had to come back to work full-time.  She’s a somewhat better sleeper than Nicholas at the same age, but she did wake for nursing several times a night, and fitting in baby care around a full-time work schedule is stressful, so I was tired and tempted to slug down coffee constantly.  However, I’ve discovered a simple system that limits me to 3 cups a day by spacing them 6 hours apart.

I drink one cup (10-ounce mug) of coffee at 7:00 a.m., one after lunch at about 1:00 p.m., and one after dinner at about 7:00 p.m.  This system keeps me consistently alert enough but rarely jittery.  If I need to be awake until 1:00 a.m. to finish all the stuff I’m doing at home, I can manage it, but I can get to sleep as early as 11:00 p.m.  What I really like about the after-dinner coffee is that I stay awake while reading Lydia’s bedtime stories and then nursing her to sleep, so I’m able to get up afterward and finish the laundry or whatever.  It’s a big improvement over the frantic “Please go to sleep before I do so I don’t run out of time!!!” feeling that I used to have while lying next to Nicholas struggling to keep my eyes open!

The other crucial component of my system is a hot drink without caffeine.  I drink a cup of peppermint tea when I get to work every day, around 9:15 a.m.  Usually I feel like I “need more coffee” at that point, but if I have some water I’ll feel more alert.  Peppermint may serve a perking-up function, too.  I’ve started buying peppermint tea by the case to save money and time.

The exact spacing, times of day, and amounts of coffee that work best for your body might be different.  If you feel like you’re drinking too much coffee for your health, or you want to drink less so you can afford to drink only fair-trade organic coffee, try my plan and make adjustments until it suits you.

The 7:00, 1:00, 7:00 system works for me!  You can see it in action (actually 6:52, 1:55, 6:45) in this day in my life a year ago.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for other life-improving tips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delicious Roasted Broccoli Leaves

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

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

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

Why My Toddler Doesn’t Watch Sesame Street

I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day.  I liked the pretty colored stripes.  Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA.  Public television for all of Oklahoma.”  Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.

My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”.  Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much??  There are two reasons.

One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all.  The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers.  I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible.  I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox.  (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!)  Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV.  I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.

Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child.  Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room.  It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age.  But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching.  Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake.  Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her.  I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can.  Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.

But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society!  As I said in my previous article:

But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!

Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post

What Insurance Is For

Although I’ve managed to get 5 articles posted in the past 6 weeks, I’m actually not doing all that well, and I finally decided that I owe my readers an explanation.

I was driving, with my whole family in the car, when our car was rear-ended on August 15.  Nobody else was hurt.  I didn’t notice that I was hurt until we were back in the car after exchanging insurance information with the other driver, so it must not have been that bad, right?

Oh, it could be worse.  It could be so much worse.  Riding in cars is very dangerous!  We are lucky and grateful.

But my back still hurts.  This is my 46th day of continuous pain.  Much of the time it’s quite mild, but it wears on me, makes me tired, dulls my appreciation of every good thing in life.  Then there are the times when I try to do some ordinary thing like picking up a half-gallon of milk or my 22-pound toddler, opening a heavy door, or scooting back my desk chair by pushing with my feet–or I’m not even doing anything at all–and my lower-back muscles send out blinding flashes of pain.

I thought it was just the cumulative pain that was making me so tired that I had trouble stumbling through my daily life, so distracted that I found myself wrapping up work days realizing that I’d done only two hours’ worth of work in eight hours, so irritable that I was shrieking at my ten-year-old.  I thought it was because my lower-back muscles were yanking on my upper-back muscles yanking on my neck muscles that I was having more frequent and more severe headaches.  These things are probably true, but there’s more to it than that. Read more…

Two Healthy Breakfasts for Late Summer

Tomato season is in full swing and apple season has begun here in Pennsylvania, so I’m alternating between these two delicious breakfasts!  Both are quick to prepare, with minimal dirty dishes.  They make good snacks, too.  You get plenty of vitamins and fiber from the fruit, plus protein and fat to keep you feeling full.

We planted two tomato plants in our front yard this year and had another tomato plant come up by surprise, and they’re all producing well.  We also get both tomatoes and apples from our CSA organic farm share.

Tomato Toast is simply buttered toast with nutritional yeast flakes, a nice thick layer of sliced tomato, salt, and dill.  (Cilantro instead of dill makes a different flavor, also tasty.)  If you’re really hungry, add a scrambled or fried or sliced hard-boiled egg.  An affordable gluten-free variation is a bowl of warmed-up leftover cooked rice or other grain, with butter, nutritional yeast flakes, diced tomato, salt, and dill.

Easy Fresh Apple Yogurt is simply a diced apple quickly cooked with seasonings and stirred into plain yogurt.  Sometimes I add granola or other cereal.  This morning, I made this with a pear instead (because we were given a bag of home-grown pears) and that’s good, too.  This recipe is ideal for people who get an itchy mouth or upset stomach from eating raw apples–a problem I had only while pregnant with Lydia, which is when I developed this recipe.

Enjoy the season, and check out all the great ideas at Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Works-for-Me Wednesday!

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

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

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

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

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

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

All-Natural Vegetarian Non-Refrigerated Convenience Foods

This is not a sponsored post.  This is a recommendation of products I tried and liked.

Daniel and I try to make enough real, from-scratch, healthy food that I (working in an office) can take leftovers for my lunch every day and he (working at home) can get something ready to eat within a few minutes rather than spend time cooking at lunchtime.  It works out better at some times than others.  In the past year, with the additional distractions of getting our baby daughter ready to go each day, I’ve had more days when I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, couldn’t spare the attention to figure out what leftovers were available, or wasn’t able to carry a lunch because I was bringing something to work (like dish detergent) and there’s a limit to what I can carry along with Lydia and all her gear as we commute by bus!  I was grabbing Trader Joe’s meals from our freezer sometimes and eating in restaurants much more often than normal.  I like restaurants, but at $6-$9 per lunch, that gets expensive!

One day I was buying some milk for my coffee and mixed nuts for snacking at the CVS store half a block from work when I noticed a sale on foods in pouches and noticed that many of these were vegetarian foods.  I took a closer look and saw surprisingly unobjectionable ingredients.
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Read more of this post

Top 3 Veggie Burger Recipes

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

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

DIY Deodorant: Pros and Cons

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

DIY Deodorant ingredients

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

The Good Things:

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

The Bad Things:

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

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

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

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

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

Miracle Salve GIVEAWAY!!

UPDATE:  The winners have been announced (at the end of the article) but please read about this wonderful healing product and consider buying some for yourself.

Miracle Salve, made by Kerry’s Herbals, is a wonderful product that I’ve been using for a decade.  I now have the opportunity to share it!  Seven lucky readers will win a free jar of Miracle Salve!  Two winners will get the two-ounce jar (that’s a couple months’ supply, even if you have serious skin problems) and another five winners will get the half-ounce jar (that’s enough to get a good sense of what this green goo can do for you).

Miracle Salve is made entirely of natural plant oils and beeswax.  It truly is green–not only is it less environmentally damaging than a product made from petrochemical distillates, but it’s literally green in color, a shade similar to my Earthling’s Handbook logo.  It has no added fragrance but simply smells like its ingredients: a pleasant, herbal smell that I like a lot better than the smell of petroleum jelly. Kerry's HerbalsThis smooth, creamy salve soaks into irritated skin, soothes the stinging, and speeds healing.  It’s awesome for rashes, scrapes, and super-dry skin.  Kerry’s Herbals says it even can be used to treat corneal abrasion, which means it must be safe enough to put into your eye!  I haven’t tried that, but it’s never caused any discomfort when I apply it–unlike so many treatments that sting at first. Read more…

The Power of Purple Is Real!!!

I am putting this post in a variety of categories because it’s kind of silly but I’m kind of serious, too.  I would like to believe that in this very complicated world, my actions truly do make a difference, even in unexpected metaphysical ways.

Purple is my favorite color.  At this point in my life, I feel like I finally own enough purple clothing.  On my fortieth birthday, which in various ways did not go very well, I was wearing an all-purple outfit when Daniel and I went out to lunch and he (very uncharacteristically) spilled an entire glass of ice water on me.  When we got home, I was able to change into another all-purple outfit.  That’s the way life should be!  I am happily on my way to being that old woman in the famous poem by Jenny Joseph.

Monday, I wore a purple sweater.  This was really just because I had finally gotten around to washing this particular sweater, so now it was available again, and at this point in the year I am kind of tired of most of my sweaters, but it had been at least two weeks since I’d worn this one.

Tuesday, I wore a purple and white striped knit top.  As I took it out of the drawer, I thought, “But I just wore purple yesterday!” like I might be enjoying myself too much or something, but then I remembered that my church was hosting the East End Lenten Series supper and service that night, and purple is the color for Lent because purple is the color of sadness in church tradition.  It works all backwards with me and is one of the reasons why I like Lent.

Tuesday morning’s e-newsletter, for employees of the gargantuan “health system” where I work, encouraged us to wear purple on Wednesday to support patient safety. Read more of this post

Get Up and Eat: 3 Years of Replenishment

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Three years ago on Ash Wednesday, I wrote this article about the renewal we can experience during Lent.  I had no idea what was coming my way!

You may have heard of the idea of choosing one word as a theme for your year.  You’re supposed to place this word around your home or on a bracelet, where you’ll see it regularly and be reminded of your intention, and it will inspire you and serve as a guiding principle.  Maybe you make some collages or something based on your word, for further inspiration.  Maybe you use it like a mantra for meditation.  Some people tell stories of amazing growth that resulted from this simple choice.

It sounds like a fine idea, and in January of 2012, when several bloggers I read were writing about what word each of them chose, I found that a particular word came into my mind as a goal for my own life.  The word was replenishment.

Almost a year earlier, during my church vestry retreat, I’d thought of replenishment as the one word that best expressed what I wanted for my church: We were worn out from years of struggle, and many people had left, so we were down to a small core of mostly old-ish people working really hard to keep our parish going.  I prayed for replenishment of our individual souls and strengths to keep us working toward the replenishment of our parish with new people and new energy.  It’s working!!  Our church is growing and getting really wonderful now!

But as 2012 dawned, I realized that I could use some replenishment myself.  Not only was I working really hard on the vestry, but I was still working my way out of being a migraineur, which is a deceptively elegant word for “chronic horrible headache victim” or, at least in my case, “person with a massively fucked-up tendency to allow her brain to malfunction and get some kind of bizarre power trip out of it.”  My New Year’s resolution for 2010 had been to battle the headaches from every possible direction, and that really helped: I went from having about four headaches per week to more like two per month!  But that battle had worn me down, what with various lifestyle changes and medical appointments and facing stuff in therapy and attempting to ask for what I need, so although I was suffering less pain, I was very depleted and had this awful sense of being so busy all the time yet never getting everything done.

So: 2012, my year of replenishment!  I didn’t write the word everywhere or make a collage, but I prayed about it a lot and, when faced with choices about what to do, considered what would be the most replenishing choice.  It was going pretty well for the first couple months, and then it was time for Lent, and I decided that I would fast from the idea, “I don’t have time to get things done.”  Well, guess how that turned out? Read more…

DIY Instant Oatmeal: Ditch the Packets!

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

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

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

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