Dye-Free Red Velvet for your Valentine

Natural red velvet cupcakes © 2013 Tiffany Coggins

Natural red velvet cupcakes © 2013 Tiffany Coggins

I decided to repost this December blog for Valentine’s Day. If you’re planning on baking a special sweet for your sweetie, this is perfect. It is only a little more time and a couple more steps to show your Valentine how much you love them. I hope you try it. Please, post photos of your finished cupcake on my Facebook page.

I love red velvet. I think it’s a beautiful cake and cupcake, but I feel guilty eating it, or making it for my family. Why? Because it is loaded with red food coloring, which has a nasty reputation of causing behavioral problems in people, usually children, sensitive to the chemical. I have also tried to reduce the chemical exposure for myself and my family over the last 10 years.

I decided I needed to find a red velvet recipe made with beets as the natural food color. I spent some time online hunting down recipes to try. I came across this blog for All Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes by Sophistimom. She has a red velvet cake and a red velvet cupcake recipe. I decided on the cupcakes because I was taking them to share with some classmates.

Sophistimom is obviously a great baker and does not shy away from experimentation. I am grateful to her for her persistence. I am a so-so baker, but by no means am I an avid one, nor am I up for baking experiments.

I followed Sophistimom’s directions very carefully. I have to say I had a very successful first try at her dye-free red velvet cupcakes. Now, mine do not look as pretty as hers, but they are tasty. I did not pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes, I’m just too lazy. My cupcakes are also a bit small, because I needed to stretch the recipe.

I did use organic ingredients, except the buttermilk. I usually get organic buttermilk, but my store was out of it at the time.

I had looked at recipes that used raw beets to keep the red brighter and more vibrant, but I decided I really wanted my beets to be cooked. I had very small beets, so I needed about five of them.

I highly recommend Sophistimom’s recipe. I plan on following her blog to see what other yummy and natural recipes she comes up with. Please check her site out.

I’m posting pictures I took of the process. Sorry if they leave you needing a red velvet fix.

Roast Beets
Baked Cupcakes
Cream Cheese Frosting

Eco-friendly and inexpensive evaporated milk

Homemade evaporated milk

I was just making one of my favorite Christmas treats and realized I didn’t have any evaporated milk. I didn’t want to run out at that moment and buy some. So, I did an online search for evaporated milk substitutes. I found this recipe.  It is such an easy and inexpensive way to make evaporated milk; you can skip the expensive little cans of it. I always have whole milk and half and half in my fridge. Not only is this easy and inexpensive, but you can make organic evaporated milk. There is also a recipe where you cook the milk down yourself, which is how evaporated milk is made.

Happy cooking!

Thankful for a Local Thanksgiving

I know many times I push organic, and I truly do believe that organically grown food is better for us and the environment, but I also know in this economy that organic is not always possible for people’s budget. If organic is beyond your means, then aim for local.

Most cities and towns now have a farmers market. The farmers market is a wonderful resource for local and often organic fresh produce. Many times the local farmers market veggies are less expensive than grocery store produce shipped across the country. The farmers market and a great local co-op are where I got almost all my ingredients, including a locally raised, free range fresh turkey.

I’m thankful I can shop local and repay that blessing by sharing what I can. I hope you’ll do the same.

Hurricane and Halloween

Image courtesy of NOAA.gov

I’m keeping those affected by Sandy in my thoughts. I hope everyone is safe and sound. This was meant to be a blog about Halloween, but Sandy has changed that a bit. I know many kids will not get their Halloween, and even worse some of those children may be without a home.

For those that still get to celebrate the fun, kid-focused holiday, be grateful. Consider sending donations to The Red Cross, AmeriCares, or Feeding America. Maybe a local organization is collecting needed supplies to send to victims.

If you do get to celebrate, think of ways to be green. Give out Fair Trade  and organic chocolate and candy. Offer organic apples, they’re tasty and seasonal. Avoid plastic in decorations. If you don’t have a costume yet, hit those second-hand stores to create one that is unique and eco-friendly.

Take care and be safe, no matter where you live.

Eat Local Challenge

Fall farmers market photo by Tiffany Coggins

A local magazine launched an Eat Local Challenge six years ago. Every year some local businesses and some health and wellness organizations get involved to encourage residents to eat food produced within 100 miles of the city.

I definitely do my best to meet the challenge, but I gotta have my coffee and chocolate. Sorry, that is where I draw the line. That said, the coffee and chocolate are organic and fair trade.

Do you live in a community that has a similar challenge? Do you participate?

There are some very good reasons for eating locally. The reasons range from supporting local economies to reducing your carbon footprint. Your health and wallet can benefit as well. By staying away from processed food, we can save money and get a lot of chemicals out of our bodies. Buying in bulk and planning ahead also help keep costs down and encourage healthy eating.

Why not try your own local eating challenge? You might discover some wonderful, local hidden treasures. If you take the challenge, please share your stories on your new finds.

Vermicompost

Bailey Kramer shows me the worms in a vermicompost

I just wrote this story for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s newspaper The Spectator. I’m excited that UWEC is working towards a more sustainable future. Vermicompost is composting with worms. Vermicompost is something almost anyone can do, even if you don’t have a backyard.  A worm bin can fit into a small closet.

I wrote a small blog about composting years ago. I touched on vermicompost, but my story for The Spectator has a lot more information.

Do you vermicompost? Share your experiences in the comment section.

A Green Love

Bag the Habbit Reusable Gift Bag image courtesy of Reuseit.com

I’ll start by saying that you don’t have to spend any money to celebrate your love. You can show how much you care by giving them your time and attention. You can also make handmade cards and gifts for those your Valentines.

For those looking for something to give that aren’t the arts and crafts type, here are some ideas with an environmental plus.

1. Vintage, estate and second-hand jewelry. This has become one of my favorite new things. Check antique stores, pawn shops or even a local jewelry store. One of my favorite jewelry stores locally has a wonderful selection of second-hand jewelry. If you live in the Chippewa Valley sneak a peak in Williams Diamond’s window or Eclectica on Grand.

2. A red, pink or purple reusable bag would be fun and in the spirit of the day of love.

3. Look for the same color theme in a reusable water bottle.

4. Buy organic flowers, or if you cannot find those, how about flowers from your favorite local shop.

5. Give the gift of chocolate, but not any chocolate, organic and Fair Trade chocolate. Another option is locally crafted chocolate. My favorite sweet spot in Eau Claire is Obsession Chocolates. The chocolates and sweet treats are often made with local and organic ingredients and love. Look around your town for a homegrown chocolatier.

6. Treat your guy to a cozy and eco-friendly fleece made with 41 percent recycled fiber from Patagonia in passionate red. Remember, Patagonia encourages you to buy its used clothing on ebay. Patagonia also recycles clothes.

7. How about a gift with a cause? Send a “Bee Mine Valentine,” as Heifer International writes on its page. Send a gift of honeybees to a family in need. The family uses the bees to start a business which then feeds, clothes and educates the family.

8. Cook those you love a beautiful, sustainable meal with local and seasonal ingredients. This is truly a way to say “I love you.”

9. The perennial favorite for Valentine’s Day is sleepwear and lingerie. Make those sweet nothings organic this year.

10. What romantic evening would be complete without some touches like massage oil and candles. You can find green versions of both of these. After all, why end your organic and eco-friendly evening with petroleum or chemical based anything? I’m certain you can find both the oil and candles locally.  In the Chippewa Valley Just Local Foods carries beeswax candles.

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is able to celebrate in a more sustainable way with organic, local and BPA-free food. I am thankful for all the people and bounty in my life. We need to strive to live more sustainably so that others have more to be thankful for in their lives. That is a main goal of sustainability. Celebrate and give thanks!

Turkey Time

Now is the time to start thinking about your Thanksgiving turkey. I can hear some of the replies now.

“What?! But, Green Girl, that seems way to soon!”

It’s not too soon if you want to get a local, free-range, organic turkey, especially a fresh one. Small, local produces do not operate like huge factory farms. I’m already talking to my local meat guy about which farm has the best product and selection for what I want.

If you want a turkey that’s humanly raised and organic, or as close to organic as you can get, then you need to start checking with your local grocery or meat stores. Plan ahead, I know that can be challenging. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not blessed with the plan ahead gene, so I have to work at it too.

The rest of the meal I find pretty easy to get locally and organically. This time of year my favorite stores carry root vegetables and squash that spent little time traveling to me.  Most all of my ingredients can be found within 100 miles of my home and are produced organically.

Life is sweet. I am always grateful for my wonderful, local, caring producers. That is what the Thanksgiving season is about, counting our blessings.

Halloween on the Green Side

HFCS-free brain lolipop and single origin, fair trade chocolate

Halloween can be as green as any other day. By making some simple changes in your holiday traditions you can reduce waste, plastic and damage to the environment.

One thing you can do is start a costume swap. Talk to your friends and your children’s friends. This weekend would be a great time to do a last minute costume exchange, especially for all those procrastinators like me. While you’re doing a costume swap, maybe do a decoration swap as well. You might be sick of some of your older decorations, but someone else may love them.

Instead of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) candy, how about candy made from real, cane sugar. Along those same lines look for candy and chocolate with organic ingredients. If you’re investing in good chocolate you can also seek out single origin and fair trade. All those things make for a more eco-friendly and socially conscious way to treat.

Make decorations from things that might otherwise wind up in the landfull. This kind of decor is called upcycled or recycled. These decorations reduce waste and plastic use. Plus, reusing something takes less energy than recycling an item due to the energy use involved in recycling. Although recycling still takes less energy than making something from a virgin, mined source.

If you use candles, swap out the petroleum-based candles for soy or beeswax candles. Beeswax candles burn cleaner and slower  than the petroleum-based candles. The soy and beeswax candles also produce less indoor air pollution.

If you do even a few of these suggestions you’ll be on your way to having a more sustainable Halloween. I’m sure you can think of other ways to green your Halloween. Feel free to post those ideas here or on my Facebook page.

Have a Happy Halloween.