Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Using Up Baby Food Cubes

Now that my sweet little boy is not quite so little (though still plenty sweet), he is eating big boy food. He’s not so impressed by puree anymore. I was able to use up almost everything, but I still have bags and bags of beets, avocado, and acorn squash. What to do, what to do…

Actually, using up the acorn squash was easy – soup! I added broth, herbs & spices (I heart cumin), some lentils, and viola – soup. A chili-esque soup. My in-laws were up that weekend, and my FIL enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be as he’s a notoriously picky eater – BUT – I found out that he’s a fellow chili lover! Sweet! So that means pretty much anything loosely resembling chili with cumin is fine by him. (the following night I made chili and cornbread – nom)

The avocado is actually kinda nice to have in cubes – aka ¼ cup premeasured portions. I got the avocados on sale for 50 cents each this winter (that’s super-cheap up here in the great frozen North) and made trays and trays of cubes. 13 avocados worth, to be specific. Yeah, there’s lots o’ avocado up in my freezer. I’ve been taking a cube out every now and then to put on top of my chili, to use as sandwich spread, mixed into salsa… Mashed avocado freezes beautifully, btw. It’s fantastic having these little cubes at my disposal, especially since hubby and Max are not avocado fans so individual portion sizes are ideal.

And, beets. The obvious choice is soup – I’m thinking borscht soup (as in puree everything instead of having chunks so the potatoes will freeze/thaw better). The problem with that is beets do not agree with Max’s belly. He might be ok with beets now, but after the great beet explosion of ’11 I’m not going there for a while. AND – per the usual – hubby won’t eat beets. SO, once again, it’s up to me to eat the veg in the house. Not that I mind, but that’s a lot of borscht soup for lunch.

Do you have other suggestions on how to use up my avocado and beet cubes? Not necessarily in one dish, that might be weird. Or awesome. Who knows!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

image source
Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a year of food life
by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a non-fiction account of the author and her family eating locally for one full year, growing as much of their own food as possible. Including growing their own poultry. (There’s a whole subplot about turkeys – I loved it.) She has a lighthearted and very real writing tone while still being very informative. I listened to the audiobook read by the authors, which perhaps makes the book more interesting as you can hear the laughter in Kingsolver’s voice, but I have a feeling the book would read nicely as well.

This book was… good. A good, solid, good. Having grown up in a gardening household and being raised by children of farmers (aka, my grandparents are/were farmers), this book wasn’t necessarily eye opening for me. BUT – it was definitely worth reading. (technically, I listened to it on CD, but you know what I mean) If you weren’t raised by farmers, but are interested in growing food, read this book. Even if you were raised by farmers, read this book.

While eating locally for a year may seem like a super trendy concept, really, it’s not. It’s how things were done for ever, up until a hundred years or so ago (unless you were super fracking rich). She really delves in to how in these last few decades we, as a populace, have become so very distanced from our food and where it comes from. That part was eye opening for me, not so much in the where-our-food-comes-from way, but in the people-don’t-know-that? way. Apparently there are people who think that tomatoes grow on trees, or have no idea that carrots grow in the ground. While that may make you chuckle at their ignorance, it should also scare you that these people are not an exception. They’re a whole section of the populace.

Kingsolver gives an honest account of how and why they did their experiment with lightheartedness and lots of facts. I really enjoyed listening to this book, and highly recommend it. Even if you think you know it all about eating locally and farming, I bet you’ll learn at least one thing and the rest serves as an excellent reminder and inspiration to do more.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Friday Link Roundup:

little shoes that are now too little - he's growing up so fast

My first link round up – here’s what I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks:

The efforts one person went through to de-pee a carpet:


10 tips for being a good houseguest:


DIY glass travel mug:


Pest solutions:


And did you know that borax kills ants? I had no idea. We have ant problems and I hate using all of that poison – I’ll be sprinkling borax in the crawl spaces shortly!

Weed solutions:


“Green” Paints:


Small changes:


Being unplugged for two months:


What to do with $ change:


I had no idea that coinstar will give gift cards or e-certificates! And I love the idea of having coin jars next to the door for catching and sorting coins…

How often do you wash your jeans and other clothes:


This made me re-think laundry day in a big way

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cleaning Pacifiers

As I’ve mentioned before, Max is a pacifier baby. He doesn’t have a favorite toy or blanket, he has his pacifiers. We have a few dozen (though we can only find about 6 at any given time) and rotate them through daily so they don’t have time to get icky.

Usually I just wash them with soap and water with the rest of the dishes, but every now and then I like to sterilize them.

This last time I had a few canning jars I wanted to sterilize also, so I combined the task.

I put clean pacifiers in the jars, and a few bottle nipples went in too. I boiled water in my teapot, poured it into the jars, and left them to sit until cool. Viola, done!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dandelion Greens

While weeding my garden the other day, pulling up dandelions and tossing them to the side (I usually throw weeds on the lawn and then “mulch” them – aka run them over with the lawn mower), I had a duh moment: don’t mulch the dandelions – eat them!

I gathered up all of those handy weeds, twisted the greens off the roots, and brought them inside. They got a thorough rinsing to get the mud off, and we were ready to go! I lightly steamed them in a pan of water (see photo) and enjoyed as a side dish with dinner.

Rather, I kind of enjoyed them.

Dandelion greens sound so great – they’re free, really good for you, free, easy to procure, free… But they still taste like dandelions. Which, as any kid can attest (because all of us ate those pretty yellow flowers at one point or another, right?) they’re awfully bitter.

The rest of my dandelion bounty stayed in the fridge for a few days (ahem, a week). I wanted to like them. I wanted to eat them. But not so much. (In case you were wondering, hubby wouldn’t go anywhere near them – they’re green after all – and Max doesn’t quite have the teeth for them.)

But, you know what makes dandelion greens taste like ham? A ham bone. Soup to the rescue!

A ham bone from the freezer, misc. veggies from the fridge, half a jar of leftover spaghetti sauce, leftover broth, a few potatoes, and those dandelion greens.

YUM. Ham flavored dandelion greens are so much better than steamed. I bet I could even get hubby to eat dandelions if they taste of ham. I have another ham bone in the fridge, maybe I’ll give it a try.

Have you tried dandelion greens? Or flowers for that matter? How do you make them tasty?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Bagels

You won’t save a ton on this one, but it’s a quick and easy way to save a few pennies:

Cut your own bagels.

Pre-cut bagels are more expensive than ones that are left whole. (At least as far as I’ve ever seen) I prefer the Costco bagels, they’re tasty and freeze well.

Just remember to cut and freeze them within a few days or they might get moldy. I’ve lost more than a few bagels that way, which of course defeats the purpose of saving cash (and results in food waste).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Natural Solutions: Stop Brushing Your Hair

Whaaa??? Stop brushing my hair? Are you serious?


Well, kinda yes. In certain cases, for certain people.

{in my best marketing voice:}
Is your hair poofy? Is it fluffy and unruly? Does humidity make your head resemble a squirrel nest or a burdock?

You might have wavy and/or curly hair and not know it. I did, and I’ve helped others (my mom and my cousin-in-law) discover this about themselves.
{end pseudo-advertisement}

I have curly waves, and I figured this out by not brushing my hair. I was unemployed for a couple months a few years back and when I’d get out of the shower I’d towel dry my hair, skip the brush (because I was lazy and didn’t care who saw me), throw on some ratty sweats respectable clothes and be about my day. Around day three of this routine I discovered that my hair was doing some nice looking things. Like making waves and loose ringlets (updated). Sweet! Score one for laziness!

I found when I tried to style my hair it would fall flat or frizz out. The best thing I could do to encourage my new-found waves was to lightly re-wet my hair if it was frizzing and strategically and gently scrunch with my hands. (You all know what hair scrunching is, right? If not, leave me a comment and I’ll explain) Except for winter when I dislike letting my hair air dry (freeze), I haven’t looked back.

No styling, no brushing, just let it go. If it starts to look like I stuck my finger in an outlet, I either rewet or pull it back into an artfully messy ponybun. Waves and curls are awesome for that. See here. Or here.

And, I lied. I do brush my hair at night before bed. Sometimes. A few times a week. I also brush when I want a smoother ponytail or when I straighten my hair. That’s about it.

A few tips:
Give yourself a grace period. It’ll take a couple of days for your hair to un-train and figure out what it wants to do. I suggest starting out on a weekend, or when you don’t have to look socially presentable for a couple of days. Straighten out your bangs. Curly bangs are a no-no unless it's part of the style. If you don’t have bangs, straighten out your part for a few inches around your forehead. It doesn’t have to be straight straight, I generally finger comb mine so it doesn’t do weird things. Get a good haircut. Go in with your un-brushed hair to the salon, tell the stylist (preferably one with wavy or curly hair) that you want something to bring out even more curl, and take a photo with you. I suggest Steven Tyler, he’s got some great waves. (Yeah, I’m serious, I get my hair cut inspirations from Steven Tyler. I love that man, and his hair. He started parting in the middle, so I started parting in the middle and I LOVE IT. He’s my celebrity hair twin.) And while you’re there, Get some long layers. I get my hair cut in long layers in the front and shorter long layers in back, aka an A-line cut. This works best for my hair since my hair is curlier in the front but not so much in back, hence shorter layers in back to allow for more bounce.

So, take a weekend and don’t brush your hair. See what happens. It could be cool. Let me know what happens.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sewing Kids Clothes Week - Results

Did you do it? Did you sew for your (or a random) kid last week? I did. Here’s what happened:

THREE diapers

hat from hemming my pants (yeah, I'm short)

hat #2 - also from hemming pants

nightshirt from an adult t-shirt

back of nightshirt

pants from adult t-shirt

pants from daddy's button down

shirt from another of daddy's button downs, pants from mommy's jeans

back of shirt

shirt from adult t-shirt, pants from mommy's jeans

shirt back (I like the top stitching)

my favorite - button down from daddy's button down

Not bad for a week! Three diapers, two hats, three pairs of pants, one nightshirt, one t-shirt, two button down shirts. Some days I did over an hour, some days I did less. I did a lot on one or two days, so I probably averaged an hour to an hour and a half a day.

Well, technically I started early because we would be out of town for part of the challenge. So sue me. It's seven days worth of stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Shirt Decals

Hubby lives in t-shirts. He wears them to work, he wears them for play, he wears them to dinner, he wears them to work out. He tries to wear them for formal events but I stop him.

He wears them to the point of frayed collars and holes in the underarms. I intervene at this point.

Me: “Your shirt needs to be thrown away.”
Hubby: “It’s fine.”
Me: “It has gaping holes in the armpits.” I stick my hand through the hole to demonstrate.
Hubby: “It’s fine, I can wear it to exercise.”
Me: “Uh, no.”
Hubby: “You’re not throwing it away.”
Me: “What if I make something for Max out of it?”
Hubby: Grumble, grumble. “Ok. If it’s for Max. But what am I going to wear if you keep throwing away my shirts?”
Me: “I’ll take care of it, I have an idea.”
Hubby: “Uh oh.”
Me: “Trust me, it’ll be good.”
Hubby: “Uh huh.”

Knowing her son’s love for t-shirts, and my love for crafts and DIY, my mother-in-law had gifted me with a book of iron-on decals. Sweet! I got some new, plain t-shirts on sale and started flipping through the book. It had a wide variety of decals, and somehow I didn’t think hubby would like to wear something that said, “Cutie pie” on it, however much I might think it’s funny.

I picked out appropriate decals, got out my iron, read the directions twice, and went to work.

Note to self, next time put a piece of paper in between the layers to prevent bleed through…

In less than ½ hour (and less than one baby nap) I “made” hubby 7 new shirts! Bam! Hubby was pleased, and it made parting with his beloved rags t-shirts much easier.

AND - each t-shirt cost $2, plus a free-to-me book of decals (original price was $13.50 for 25 decals). Considering that a new graphic t-shirt costs $5 or more (I've seen some licensed ones for $50), less than $2.50 apiece including the decal is a great deal!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Compromising with Cats

the ultimate lap kitty
I have two cats – one is declawed on front (I decided he was getting declawed after he laid me open for the umpteenth time just for fun because he never learned to play nice) and the other is fully clawed. They’re both indoor-only cats, which meant I had to come up with some creative ways to keep our clawed kitty, Musette, from destroying my furniture.

I tried those cardboard scratchers, carpet scratching posts, and a few other solutions. She didn’t like any of them. She liked my furniture: specifically my couch and my desk. The desk solution was easy – it was a cheap particleboard desk, and she only liked to scratch the exposed back, so I stapled cardboard in her scratching zones. She loved that.

The couch, however, was a point of contention between us. I couldn’t staple cardboard to it, and she wouldn’t stop scratching it (the “don’t scratch here” sprays don’t work on her). I was at a yardsale a couple of years ago and saw a woven sisal rug for $2. I snatched it up, thinking I’d use it for the kitchen floor. Musette had other ideas, and started scratching that too.

I had a lightbulb moment:

Put the rug on the couch.

At that point she was scratching all four corners of the couch, but had one favorite arm. I folded the rug in half and used safety pins to attach the rug to that arm.

I put obstacles around the other three corners. It worked! After a couple of months I was even able to move the obstacles.

It’s not perfectly beautiful, but it is perfect for our home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning

image source
Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, by the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante
Chelsea Green Publishing Co, White River Junction VT

Preserving food is an art form. Sticking something in the fridge, while technically a form of preservation, is on the low end of the spectrum. Then there’s freezing, which most of us have done, and canning, which most of us are familiar with even if we haven’t tried it.

Then, there are the things covered in this book. Drying – ok, I’ve done that, no biggie. Preserving in vinegar – pickles, check. Preserving with sugar – jelly and jam, check. But lactic fermentation, using the ground or a root cellar, oil, salt, sweet-and-sour preserves, alcohol… Lactic fermentation in particular is out of my current comfort zone, but after reading this book I think I’ll try a jar or two, just to see what happens.

This book does a great job of easing you into the idea of using alternative methods for preservation (aka not freezing or canning – and by canning they mean heat processing canning jars). As the authors of the forwards, the preface, and the introduction (almost 20 pages in all) point out, these methods have been used for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years. Yes, some people died of botulism and other ickiness from improper food storage. But with modern tools, sterilization, and some common sense, we can adapt these methods for safe modern use.

After the initial musings, the different methods are broken into chapters with a brief introduction to each chapter. The ‘recipes’ are collected from gardeners and farmers through Terre Vivante, “an ecological research and education center located in Mens, Domaine de Raud, a region of southeastern France.

Chapter 1: Preserving in the Ground or in a Root Cellar
Chapter 2: Preserving by Drying
Chapter 3: Preserving by Lactic Fermentation
Chapter 4: Preserving in Oil
Chapter 5: Preserving in Vinegar
Chapter 6: Preserving with Salt
Chapter 7: Preserving with Sugar
Chapter 2: Sweet-and-Sour Preserves
Chapter 2: Preserving in Alcohol
Appendix: Which Method for Preserving Each Food

The contributions are all tried and true methods, often passed down from generation to generation. But having been passed down like that, it’s good to keep in mind that there is no individual instruction like you would get in person, and the contributions were initially in French, so there may be something lost in either the transcription process or the translation.

Chapter 1: Preserving in the Ground or in a Root Cellar
I have visions of bins in my basement/glorified-crawl-space filled with beets, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and acorn squash. We all know these are good keepers, and this chapter covers even better ways of preservation – such as storing beets in damp sand, and just how damp to make that sand.

Chapter 2: Preserving by Drying
This may seem like a no-brainer chapter – stick things in a dehydrator and let it do its thing – but there is a bit more finesse needed than that. Most of the time. I had a few, “Well, why not?” moments reading this chapter, like drying eggplant. I’d just never thought of it, but what a great way to preserve that flavor that is lost in freezing.

Chapter 3: Preserving by Lactic Fermentation
I admit, this chapter made me a little nervous. Fermenting things, then eating them… Well, besides yogurt, cheese, booze, cider, vinegar… Ok, maybe I’m being overly cautious. One of the main foods to preserve through lactic fermentation is cabbage in the form of sauerkraut. I’ve never been a fan of sauerkraut, but maybe that’s because I’ve only had the sloppy stuff from the supermarket. I’m going to give sauerkraut a try and see if I like the real thing.

Chapter 4: Preserving in Oil
I’m totally willing to try preservation in oil. The downsides: cost (olive oil gets pricy), and potential for botulism. I can just hear my dad now…  But, with proper cleaning methods, it would be worth a try for maybe a single jar. Like for my itty-bitty current tomatoes.

Chapter 5: Preserving in Vinegar
Pickles! Woo! And, according to this book (as well as several other sources), if you start out with sterilized jars you don’t need to process in a water bath (aka, can them) because the vinegar will kill bacteria. Win!

Chapter 6: Preserving with Salt
This chapter is reminiscent of the lactic fermentation chapter, and also covers fish. I’m not horribly interested in preserving with salt, so honestly I just breezed through this chapter.

Chapter 7: Preserving with Sugar
A wagon I can jump on, sugar. I love sugar. And, what’s nice, is they have options for less sugar, and in some cases no sugar. Apples and pears have enough of their own sugar to be preserved without added sugar, following the correct methods of course.

Chapter 8: Sweet-and-Sour Preserves
A collection of chutneys, ketchups, sauces, pickles, etc, that use a combination of vinegar and sugar for preservation. Ketchup, mmmm…

Chapter 9: Preserving in Alcohol
Not so much my cup of tea, but might be fun to do as gifts.

Appendix: Which Method for Preserving Each Food
Now, this is a handy item. The appendix has a great chart with a list of fruits and vegetables charted against the different preservation methods. Then they have two symbols that indicate a preferred method, or an alternative method (not quite so preferred, but will work in a pinch). I plan on keeping a copy of this chart in the back of my recipe book.

Overall, I’d definitely consider this a worthwhile read if you’re interested in preserving food. I’d borrow it from a library first, like I did. The book is full of good ideas, but it seems like once you get the basic ideas and principles down then the book may become redundant. But if you can find a copy at a good price, and have the room on your shelf, go for it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Seed Starts

I’ve started a lot of plants for my garden this year from seed. Unfortunately, when I wanted to start the seeds, my gardening shed (and consequently, all of my seed pots) was buried in a couple feet of snow. My wonderful coworkers, who are fellow yogurt eaters, came to the rescue and gave me all of their yogurt cups. A quick drill in the bottom for a drainage hole, and viola! Great seed starting pots!

I not only had to be creative with my potting methods – but also with my seedling protection. You see, I have cats. One cat (Sidda) is an avid plant eater, and when he sees my plant starts he goes bonkers and mows them to the ground. (and you thought I just had to contend with woodchucks)

This year I got crafty. I emptied out my clear plastic bins and borrowed a few more, flipped them upside down, and had instant mini-greenhouses. Yay! Not only do the plants benefit from increased moisture and heat in the air, they’re well protected from my omnivorous cat.

Doesn’t he look so innocent?

I think I may grow all of my seed starts like this from now on. As it's getting warmer out I just pick up the totes and bring all of my seedlings outside for some sunshine. AND they're protected from the wind. (or rain, if you're my hubby and want to use the interior floor space for something else)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rainy Weekend

someone figured out the wipes container
On Friday I was going to post some link love. But with blogger being down, that didn’t happen. I snuck one post in before it went screwy, even if it says it posted Saturday and not Thursday. I’ll have to post the links later. If I remember. Oh, and regarding that post – no, I didn’t get to put some stuff out at the curb. I’ll blame the rain, though laziness and a desire to mow the lawn on Friday night probably had something to do with it. If you can be lazy while push-mowing a third of an acre. I don’t feel bad since I’ve put stuff out on the curb once or twice already this spring and had great results, and will continue to do so. I even had a neighbor stop by one day a few weeks ago to ask if he could raid my scrap wood “trash” bin. AKA the wooden crap I pull out of my house that will eventually become kindling for my grandmother’s stove. I told him to go for it, and to feel free to just take anything out of that bin that he wants. One man’s trash and all that. But I digress.

My little helper ha been helping me alllll weekend while we’ve been stuck inside with the rain. I’ll be glad to get back to work where I can, you know, accomplish things. Ok, that’s not fair. I did accomplish things, even with his help. We took back the recycling, went to playgroup, took a load of dishes to my parent’s house and mooched off their dishwasher (what? my dishwasher is broken), did a little sewing, knit a few more rounds on a monkey, put everything in my mouth (wait, that was Max), made a few more cloth diapers that hopefully will not leak like the others (live, learn, and redraft patterns), and did a lot of laundry. Six loads and counting. We went away last weekend and still hadn’t caught up on laundry until yesterday. It’ll be nice to wear the 1st lineup socks to work instead of the hot pink argyle ones.

Just as an aside, if you have to wear hot pink argyle socks to work – own it. Never show fear or indecision, they can smell it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Give Your Stuff Away Day

No, I'm not making this up - there's an organization out there who is encouraging a new Day - Give Your Stuff Away Day (formerly known as Curb Day). It seems pretty straight forward - they have guidelines on their website http://giveyourstuffaway.com/. I've copied their email posted on their homepage below - they encourage you to forward the info to everyone you know to get the word out. This is a Day I can really get behind - I hope to have some stuff at the curb, maybe I'll see some of yours out there too! Let me know if you participate, this could be fun! 


May 14, 2011

Please become a fan on Facebook Give Your Stuff Away Day - free stuff all over the place 

Free stuff will be available in neighborhoods all over the World (hopefully) on May 14, 2011. It’s an event Mike Morone is hoping to establish twice annually. This event, called Give Your Stuff Away Day, could help millions, while shrinking landfills, reducing clutter, saving municipalities money, and boosting the economy a bit.

Because of all the shopping we've done, many of us now own lots of great stuff we never use anymore. And for some reason, we don't sell or give it away. Lots of valuable stuff - just wasting away.

Let's take all this stuff and over one weekend, make it available to others for free.

On May 14th, bring your unwanted stuff to your curb. Some guidelines - no trash, recyclables, illegal or dangerous items. No food, drugs, chemicals, or weapons. Just safe, valuable items we would like to donate. Then watch the fun – or better yet, take a walk and find some free stuff you can use.

This event will create the World's largest giveaway / recycling event - please be a part of it!

Want to help?
• Forward this email to EVERYONE
• Join us on Facebook
• Contact your local government and ask for their endorsements
• Put your stuff out on May 14, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Flannel Pants to Flannel Pants and Shorts

To inspire myself to keep sewing for my baby boy this week, here’s a project I did a few weeks ago:

I made flannel pants into flannel pants! Yay!

Ok, before you think I’m a total nut, I made a pair of hubby’s flannel pants into a pair of flannel pants and shorts for Max.

The legs of hubby’s pants were worn and torn, so using a pair of Max’s pants as a guide I cut out pieces for a pair of itty-bitty pants and shorts.

The pants came out great, and I even used the cord to make a little false drawstring.

The shorts came out way too small, so I took them back apart and added the waistband to the width of the leg and made a new waistband out of coordinating flannel (an old pillowcase).



And since I just used the legs from the pants, I hemmed them up and hubby now has a pair of flannel lounging shorts just in time for summer!

hubby's shorts

Max loves his new shorts and pants – so much so that I couldn’t get a clean photo. I love my wiggly little boy!