Slow Cooking for Busy, Green Families

Slow Cooker Chicken

Sorry I’ve been so quiet here, but I’ve been swamped getting my kids ready for back-to-school and going back to school myself. Fall is always incredibly busy for me, as it is for most moms and families. I’m pulled in so many directions this time of year, that cooking at home is difficult.

The challenge is to stay green and healthy, while keeping my sanity. No small task. I have found one thing that helps me, if I plan ahead. Oh, planning, that is a challenge for me too. When it comes to meals, I often find myself in the category of “fly by the seat of my pants.”

If you can manage to plan ahead, just a little bit, slow cookers are an ideal way to stay on your healthy, green path. You can add all those glorious local ingredients in the morning and return home to a delicious, organic, local, home-cooked meal. It also uses less energy than turning on the oven.

One step greener is to use a solar oven. Unfortunately, my yard is too wooded and shady to take advantage of the free solar energy. When we tried it in our yard, we literally had to move the oven four times. That’s OK if you can be there all day, but it doesn’t work if you are gone.

The other night my family and I ate a delicious meal that was waiting for us when we came home. That morning I sliced an organic onion, and put it  in the bottom of the crock, added browned organic chicken, fresh thyme, rosemary, minced garlic, organic chicken broth and some leftover green olives. I then set the slow cooker and went about my busy day. When we came home that night, Voila!

So, dust off your slow cooker or pick up a second-hand one at a thrift sale or a new one at the store, and make your crazy, busy life a little saner and greener.

Happy Independence Day!

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe day celebrating the independence of our nation. Remember, keep those fingers. You need them to open your beverage.

While you are holding onto your digits, remember to keep your celebrations as green as possible. Look for wonderful organic berries, like the strawberries that are in season here.

For your burgers, hunt down organic, grass-fed beef, bison or other wild game, or veggie burgers. You can also find hot dogs and brats made from organic or wild game or vegetarian ingredients.

If you feel you have to grab for disposables, find ones that have recycled content. Recycled paper plates and cups are out there, along with plates, cups and utensils made from corn or sugar. All those are not quite as green as using reusable plates, cups or utensils, but it’s better than using stuff made from chlorine bleached, virgin stock.

I am completely in love with my cloth napkins. The napkins do not have to be expensive or linen. Make the small investment. The napkins can get washed with any of your usual loads, so it’s really not any more work. No, you do not need to iron, unless that’s your thing. It is definitely not my thing.

You can arm yourself with cheap reusables by hitting Good Will, Salvation Army, Savers or garage sales. Look for melamine plates or old Corning Ware. Do the same for glassware. Then seek out old mismatched silverware. If anything happens to any of it, you won’t be gnashing your teeth or yelling at small children. A dishwasher is easy to load and run, and there won’t be huge piles of garbage sitting at your curb.

Celebrate, be safe and be green!

Mother’s Day Garden

If you haven’t gotten your mother her Mother’s Day gift, well, welcome to the procrastination association. I may have an idea to help you out of this conundrum. How about planting your mom a garden? There are different types of gardens, but all are beneficial, if they are organic.

1. Vegetable garden: your mom could have fresh ingredients and fewer trips to the store, if you planted a vegetable garden for her. It could be a small plot, raised bed or even container garden. Go one step further and offer routine weeding over the summer.

2. A cutting garden: mom could have fresh cut flowers every week with a cutting garden. If it is organic, she can be assured that there are no petrol-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers brought into her house with that bouquet.

3. A rain garden: if your mom lives in an urban area where there is a lot of runoff during rainstorms, this is a great way to reduce urban flooding and runoff to storm drains. A rain garden allows the water to slowing be absorbed into the ground.

4. Raised bed garden: this make weeding and caring for a garden easier because there is less bending involved. If you use a rolling gardeners stool then there is no bending involved.

5. Herb garden: is great for those culinarily gifted moms. If your mom really loves to cook or make herbal remedies this is the garden for her.  Having fresh herbs at ones fingertips for tinctures, potions or pots-of-love is the dream of many.

I’m sure you can think of more garden types or what your mom would like. Find a local nursery or garden store, especially one that carries native plants and organic gardening supplies, and get started on a Mother’s Day gift that will give all summer long and for years to come.

Healthy Make-Up

Americans spend about $8 billion on cosmetics annually, according to World Watch Institute. That’s a whole lot of dough to look pretty. The next question might be; how good, or bad, for us are the cosmetics we shell out billions for each year? We slather, spray, smear, spritz, and rub these potions and lotions directly onto our largest organ, our skin. Even though our skin is a barrier, it is still quite permeable. Our skin absorbs all sorts of things, both good and bad.

Are there cosmetics that are healthier for us? Are there cosmetics that are dangerous? There answer to both these questions is yes. There are still lipsticks being sold that have lead in the ingredients; bad. Many cosmetics are now made without any petrochemicals: good. I could literally write page after page about numerous cosmetic companies. I won’t do that. I will list a few that have extremely low toxicity levels and then give you a link to do some research for yourself.

Coastal Classic Creations

Rejuva Minerals

Maia’s Mineral Galaxy

Erth Mineral

Terra Firma Cosmetics

Luna Organics

Miessence

Zosimos Botanicals

To check out the cosmetics that you are currently using go to Cosmetic Database by Environmental Working Group and see how your products stack up. I will warn you, this database is huge. The site also asks for a small donation to support its work, but it is not required to use the database.

The cosmetic companies I listed all signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pledge. Many other companies signed as well, but these companies repeatedly showed up with low toxicity levels.

I have not tried any of the brands listed. I have used Bare Escentuals and Arbonne in the past. Bare Escentuals, or Bare Minerals as it is also known, has some good products that are considered safe, but there are some questionable ingredients, like mica. Arbonne has not been tested by the Cosmetic Database, so I would rather not make a recommendation based on safety at this time, but I have been happy with its products. I hope this helps some people sort through the vast sea of cosmetics, and weed out some of the more toxic items in your dressing table.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Today I will celebrate my Irish heritage with homemade, organic and naturally cured corned beef; organic, locally grown cabbage and potatoes; and locally brewed beer.  Yum!  I can’t wait! How are you celebrating St. Patty’s day in a sustainable way?

Make Your Valentine’s Day Eco-Friendly

Here is a short list of ideas if you are looking for a last minute, green Valentine gift.

1. Organic, fair trade chocolate

2. Organic flowers, preferably locally grown

3. Dinner at home made from organic, seasonal and local ingredients

4. A massage for your sweetheart from you

5. Something baked with love and organic, local ingredients

6. Beeswax or soy candles to set the mood

7. Recycled paper card

8. A walk shared with your honey

9. Whispers of sweet nothings

10. Hugs and kisses; free and always eco-friendly

Green Cocktails

Want to find a way to green your evening cocktail?  I found a couple vodkas at a local store to help you do just that.

The first vodka is called Prairie Organic Vodka.  It is made in Benson, Minnesota from organic corn grown nearby.  It is also gluten-free.  The parent company of Prairie is the Phillips Distilling CompanyFood and Wine Magazine named Prairie the best new vodka in 2009.  Its Facebook page says it won the Double Gold Award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) in 2008, but I looked at the PDF from that year and I could not find it listed anywhere.  I did find it listed as a Bronze Medal winner in 2010.

Vodka 360 is the other vodka I came across.  McCormick Distilling is its parent company.  This vodka is not organic.  My best guess is that it is made from GMO grains, which is not eco-friendly.  I do applaud 360 for the green initiatives it is taking such as: using recycled paper in labeling, using recycled glass in the bottles, reusing the swing-top caps, purchasing renewable energy certificates, and using biodiesel.

I found other organic vodkas online.  Rain Organic Vodka which won a Double Gold at the SFWSC in 2008. Sazerac Company of New Orleans is the parent company.

Square One Organic Vodka is made from organic American rye.  Square One also uses wind power in its production and purchases carbon offset credits for air travel.  This is a smaller, family owned business. 

Crop Organic Vodka is another organic vodka on the market.  Its parent company is Chatham Imports Inc

Ocean Vodka is made in Hawaii using organic cane sugar, and desalinated water from 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.  The company also uses other sustainable initiatives in its business.

Vodka 14 is organic, and uses sustainable practices in the bottling process.  It has also won a Silver Medal in the SFWSC twice, and other taste awards.

Kanon Organic Vodka is a Swedish vodka that is produced with ingredients that are locally sources, everything is from within three miles of the distillery.  Kanon also uses power produced by wind, water and steam from the fermentation process. 

Braeside Farms Vodka is made in Oregon with its own estate grown potatoes and barley.  Braeside Farms also distills whiskey, honey liqueur and topinambur (a sunchoke vodka). It is a very small, what they call nano, distillery.

Another Oregon distiller is Organic Nation, or O-N.  O-N Vodka is made organically and sustainably.  O-N also makes gin. Both the vodka and gin have won taste awards from SFWSC.

I also found CapRock Organic Vodka, Pure Green Organic Vodka and Purus Vodka.  I was surprised by the number of organic vodkas I found online.  It would be great to see all these available in locally.  In my search I also found organic gin and whiskey.  Most of the companies seem to be doing multiple things sustainably.  Some companies even donate regularly to environmental causes.

Just think, if you add your own organic mixer, and reuse or recycle everything you have made a difference, and had fun.  Who says going green is boring?  Not me.

I have not personally tried any of these vodkas, but next time I buy vodka I will give one a try.  In order to visit any of the sites you must be 21 or older.  And remember, drink responsibly.

Free Range Freezer

Image courtesy of deathfood.com

It feels good to have my freezer full of free-range, organic, grass-fed, locally produced meat.  I have whole chickens and a lamb from the CSA we get veggies from in the summer, and a quarter cow from a local farmer who raises organic, grass-fed beef.

As a matter of fact, our freezer is so full that if my husband gets a deer while hunting we’ll need to donate it to a local food pantry.

It’s win-win for everybody.  We support local, sustainable producers, reduce our corporate food consumption, and can donate food that is greatly needed.

It also saves money and time at the grocery store.  It is one less thing to put on the list.  Buying from the producer saves the mark-up that the store adds.

It is also piece of mind because I know where this meat is coming from, I know the conditions in which it was raised, and I feel less at risk for E Coli from CAFO raised beef.

Look around your town, check with your local co-op, natural food store or university extension office to find out about your local meat producers.  The investment in a deep freeze is worth it.  You will know you are feeding your family healthier food, and doing your part to reduce the carbon footprint of the meat you eat.

Remember, It’s Not Too Late to Green Halloween

That bewitched night is close at hand, but it’s not too late to green the Halloween festivities at your house. Following is a short list of easy ways to have a more sustainable holiday.

1) Buy and hand-out locally made candy and chocolate.

2) If you can’t find locally made candy or chocolate, then look for organic and fair trade goodies.

3) Go through your closet for costume ideas.  While you’re at it, create a costume box for future use.

4) Hit the second-hand shop for costume ideas.

5) Make some of your own decorations from off-cast items.

6) Reuse, reuse, reuse! If you do buy a plastic or mass produced Halloween decoration, use it until it falls apart.

7) Switch to LED or fluorescent holiday lights.

8 ) Skip the powered inflatables.

9) Use locally produced ingredients for all your Halloween cooking and entertaining.

10) Bring reusable and compostables into your entertaining mix. Invest in black cloth napkins and reusable black plates. Use compostable cups for the extra large gatherings.

If everyone did a few of these things every year, and added more of the ideas every year, it would make a significant dent in  Halloween waste.  Happy haunting!

High Fructose Corn Syrup Everywhere You Look

Yesterday I wrote about the new study which confirmed what many of us have thought for a long time: high fructose corn syrup sucks.  Now, what do you do about it.  I’m sure you’ve all gone through your cabinets with a fine tooth comb to rid your home of this scourge.  There are two ways to avoid HFCS: don’t eat processed food, including most restaurant food, and/or shop the natural food section.  But remember, you always have to read those labels.  I really think HFCS and trans-fats have a lot to do with our countries weight and health issues.  Eat real food, eat organic food, shop your local farmers market, frequent stores that carry locally produced food and eat at restaurants that use local ingredients.  Changing habit is hard, but it can be done, and you’ll be glad you did.