Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sooo, Earth Day?

I've been pretty stoked about Earth Day this year. What would we do, I wondered. Last year I took the day off and the littlest man and I went to the Arboretum. Maybe we could do something more giving this year, clean up litter maybe?

But, alas, work had to take over the day this year. Too much to do and too many other days taken off; plus, I had to go to the Dr about a weird rash on my back - boo. Adding to that, I really was beginning to feel very blah about the whole thing. Taking just one day to do something green? We're pretty Green all year-round.
A list of green stuff we do everyday of the year:
  • No paper towels - ever.
  • 100% recycled toilet paper; except once when we had people over, it was late at night and we were about to run out - bad combo
  • We haven't bought plastic baggies in a year and a half
  • Only using natural cleaners, mostly baking soda and vinegar
  • Making our own homemade laundry detergent
  • Making our own hand soap - verdict is still out on that one so no post, yet
  • Buying almost all organic food
  • Line dry clothes year round, we've used the dryer only a handful of times since we started a year ago
  • Composting everything we can
  • Recycling everything we can
This list isn't exhaustive and also isn't meant to be a 'nanana-booboo' either. Perhaps I'm trying to assuage my guilt over not doing anything today to celebrate.

So, what did you do for Earth Day? Or what do you do everyday that makes you feel better for not doing anything today?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter, naturally

Every year for Easter we go to Houston to visit Shinerman's family. It's a weekend of fun and eating way too much. Usually it means we bring a ton of 'stuff' back, too. But I guess my and my sister-in-laws frustration with the overflowing Easter baskets got through. There were no Easter baskets, just some crafts. Which is even better, because then they are creating something themselves. I think we actually came back with less than we took. This was because we took some naturally dyed Easter eggs that we, obviously, didn't bring back.

This was our first year to dye the eggs using natural dyes, and I think our last using conventional eggs. In the past it just hadn't made sense to me to pay so much for eggs we weren't going to eat. But this year, I felt really guilty buying the conventional ones. I don't just buy the farm raised eggs because they are better for you, but also because they are better for the chicken. I'm really just so done with factory food. Of course this means that we'll be eating the eggs next year, deviled eggs anyone?

I was really impressed with the outcome of the natural dyes. I didn't take pictures, sorry. Just a few days before I made some black beans from scratch and used the left over water from their soaking. This made an absolutely beautiful purple-blue color. I also saved the brown skins from a dinner's onion. This made the eggs orange-yellow. They also ended up splotchy from air bubbles - not sure why that happened. I also used some turmeric that made the eggs a really bright yellow - those were great and I wish we did more of those. The only disappointment was the chili powder; I had some leftover from a chili packet. But it just left the eggs a light, light beige - unimpressive. The littlest man was full of wonder at figuring out what color things would turn out. So much more fun than the chemical dye pellets!!

So, how did we do it? Just bring the items you are using to create the dye to a boil. Boil until you get the color you think you want. I did these all for about 15 minutes, except the bean soaking water since that was already really deep purple. Drain any solids from the liquid, unless you want to see what sort of patterns they'll give. Stir in a teaspoon or so of vinegar. Put in your hard-boiled eggs. Leave in the liquid until they reach the color you like. We left ours in overnight, mostly for simplicity sake. If you're eating these, be sure you do any overnight soaking in the fridge. I liked the matte look of the eggs, but you can shine 'em up with some vegetable oil if you wish. You can also boil the eggs in the liquid themselves, but I always have a hard time boiling eggs so I decided to do it separately. Yes, I can cook really well but can't boil an egg - crazy, I know.

We also replaced the plastic green grass this year. I have always hated that stuff! It seems like you're still finding it on the floor and in crevises in July. I had some leftover green felt from the littlest man's strawberry Halloween costume. So we just cut that up into strips - perfect!!
We did have to do plastic eggs for the daycare party, though. I made sure that instead of going into his playthings, they went went into a baggie with the felt grass to be used again next year. I may have to find another option for his basket next year, though. He used his 'baby' one again this year and I don't know if a hippopotamus basket will fly for a four-almost-five year old.

How was your Easter? Do anything fun and/or eco-friendly?
I'm testing the mobile post feature

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A few homemade, from scratch items

Where does the time go? I told myself that I would post more than just once this week and I can't believe a week has already passed by! This week has been pretty crazy with work, I had a big deadline and and short week - because I'm taking tomorrow off!! oh, yeah!

Anywho...I didn't just do work business, but home business, too. Our outside fridge's freezer is now home to jars of black beans, kidney beans, and chicken broth. In an effort to reduce our grocery bill, I've made a commitment to make more of our food from scratch. To accomplish this I bought dry beans from the bulk bins and ordered a whole free range chicken from Burgundy Pasture Beef - this isn't it, just all that I'm focusing on today.

Dry Beans

I'll be honest the dry beans take planning, something at which I do not excel. I tried the 'quick-soak' method on the black beans, because I wanted them for dinner. I was making chicken enchiladas and wanted them as a side. With the quick-soak method you bring the beans to a boil in a big pot, boil for a couple minutes, and then you let them soak for an hour. I'm not really sure what I did wrong, but they didn't work out so hot. Even though I soaked them for the right amount of time, it took them forever to cook. The other method is long-soak. You put the beans in a pot, cover with water and let 'em sit for at least 8 hours. Don't put them in the fridge, though, I discovered that slows down the process during another batch.
The kidney beans went easy-peasy. Funny enough, they were my first attempt. I did the long-soak method, put them on before I left for work so they would be ready to cook when I got home that night. After soaking, drain them and put them back in the pot with more water. Bring the beans to a boil and then simmer until they are tender. Since I was cooking these to be used in various recipes, I didn't season them, but you could if you wanted.

After I cooked the beans I put them into quart-size mason jars. As long as you don't fill them past the line there will be enough expansion room. Now, I've got BPA-free beans at the ready and the actual labor involved was minimal.

Whole Free-Range Chicken

I've cooked whole chickens before, usually to lackluster results. I mean they were ok, but you know, just ok. I didn't actually use a recipe this time, so I'll just tell you what I used. I had a bit of a surprise with the free-range bird. There wasn't a plastic bag full of neck and gizzards. The gizzards weren't included and the neck was still attached. So, my first act of business was to remove that. I just snipped it a bit with the scissors, cracked the neck and pulled it off. I froze it to put in the garbage on trash day, but I'm sure you can actually use it for something.

This recipe is really just about what you have on hand. I used the herbs I did because that's what was growing in the garden.
Preheat oven to 350. Mix together salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme in a bowl. Pour olive oil over the chicken and rub it all over. Rub the salt mixture all over the chicken, be sure to get that yummy-ness under the skin. I also put some of the leftover seasoning into the cavity along with some fennel from the garden.

Bake in the oven until the meat's internal temperature is 180, it took about 40 mins for my bird and it was over 4lbs. This was the best chicken I've had. I'm sure the free-range aspect had something to do with it, but I like to think that I did, too. Dinner is served!

The carcass? well...that's another post for another day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Homemade Laundry Detergent - the math

I had a couple of requests to talk about my laundry detergent, so I decided to focus on the money aspect in this post. With the economy like it is I know everyone is trying to save where they can. Be forewarned - I am not a math person, there is a reason I write for a living, so do not expect all of the numbers below to be 100% correct. Thank you for your understanding.

I've been making my own laundry detergent since August, here is the post where you can find the laundry detergent recipe I use. I really like it, it works great on the littlest man's clothes. He's 3 going on 4, so that's saying A LOT! It also lasts forever. I just made my third batch, so that works out to four months per batch. We average three loads a week, so that's 48 loads . The ALL Free & Clear we used to use says it has 32 loads. That's over a month's worth of laundry more! The ALL is about $8, so $.25 a load. Compare that to the numbers below.

Most of the stuff I just got at my local store, including the Dr. Bronner's for my first two batches. For this last batch, I ordered the last Dr. Bronner's from Their prices are great and they have $4.99 shipping no matter how much you get. The soap I ordered was $2.80 per bar. I saw later they had a three pack for 2.39 per bar. I will definitely buy this one next time. That would make it $.08 per load!!

Conclusion - The homemade laundry detergent is DEFINITELY a good buy!!

The batch itself is a bit more than can fit into my biggest mason jar, so I put the extra in a smaller jar and gave it to a friend. She shared it with her mom and now they both are making their own laundry detergent. I cannot tell you how excited that makes me! I love hearing how I'm making an impact on people and how they view greenness and the planet.

I've been creating some other homemade things at the Green H - those posts will have to come later, it's late here and Shinerman has fallen asleep on the other couch - sorry Mom, sofa :)