Friday, April 30, 2010

Organic vs. Affordable - could shopping get more complicated?

Shopping has become way more complicated for me and so I'm always looking for ways to simplify - like send my husband shopping instead :) I guess what I know and what I can afford and have time to research always stop me dead in my tracks. There is local, organic, local organic, imported organic, natural, whole, processed, low-fat, sugar free... oh, and then there are coupons, on sale, cheaper in bulk... ok, you get the picture. How can I shop and not feel completely frozen by my choices.

To top it off, we are now making food for our 6 month old and the topic of what to feed her has been on our minds. This month we wanted to try pears or apples and the question was where to get them, what type, organic or not, etc. I remembered something I learned about in a Northwest Environmental Institute (NWEI) discussion series titled menu for the future that I did with some friends last year (I highly recommend their courses but that could be a whole post in itself). There is a list out there distributed by the Environmental Working Group called the "dirty dozen" 12 top foods tested by the USDA and FDA for pesticides after washing Then today I came across this article on the dirty dozen at thedailygreen which covers more than just fruits and veggies and also has a link to the clean 15. These are great shopping resources.

I still think the easiest shopping trip is the one straight to the farm or farmers market. Organic or not I get to talk with supplier directly about their farming products and practices. This is exactly why we buy meat directly from "farmer Scott" at Abundant Life Farms through his buyers club right here in Portland. We visited his farm and we know how he cares for his animals. He isn't certified organic but the choice is easy for me. We are even investing in bulk purchase of a half a hog from his farm because it is cheaper and I feel much better about eating meat when I get this out of my freezer (there could have been a good pun about "freezing up" at the market in there somewhere).

After direct from the supplier, I use my pocket guide linked here and I try to stay in season first, even if I'm at the store. Organic frozen might be cheaper for some items then organic fresh, especially off season and then finally we of course try to grow some of our own. I have recently tried to get in to coupons, but find that most of them are not for fresh produce. Still, there are plenty for other eco-friendly products, toiletries, even gardening equipment, so I try to just watch for what we might actually buy - I still have a lot to learn about coupons and deal hunting though.

So now I want to know, what helps you make your food choices at the store and how do you prioritize? I would love your tips.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It’s not all about food :)

Ok, by the looks of my posts lately you would think all my posts are about food. We do focus our attention around what we eat in our house a lot because I think it can make a huge impact. But we also eat out and do other things too. So I guess I wanted to blog this week about some other stuff. I know, gardening … oh wait, that’s food too. The half a hog we are ordering – uh, I guess not… Ok you get the picture.

So what about the stuff we do and not the stuff we buy. Here are some of the free or very inexpensive things we have been up to lately:

  • Making Cards and Crafts - The weekends have been filled with birthday parties as of late and so we have been making a lot of cards and gifts. I like to have my older hand make cards with her own twist and we added in a few Mother’s day cards as well. Sometimes we color, use markers, cut and paste pictures from old magazines, add in a recipe, use water colors, or decorate with stickers… I really leave it totally up to her.

  • Get outside – While not always nice weather we take advantage of every moment, we have been gardening (more on that later), walking to the library and park and even got out the stomp rockets hidden away since last October and made all sorts of new friends at the park when we busted them out.

  • Dancing/Pretending – We love to dress up and put on music and dance as a whole family, I think I burn a ton of calories too! My older also loves to pretend she is fishing or flying too far away places with her friends, or getting caught in daddy’s traps.

  • Playing games – I already talked about crazy eights but we do a lot of memory and candy land and I think with the crazy eights success we might have to try Uno – but I would love to hear what others are playing.

  • Reading books – We have now officially read the Lorax I think 100 times! Apparently reading never gets old.

  • Hide and seek – Not with each other but with household objects. This started with Easter eggs but has progressed to other toys and we take turns hiding and seeking

Here are some things I really want to try again soon that we haven’t done in a while:

  • Indoor tent - Make a fort around tables and chairs with blankets and sheets, etc.

  • Play dough – we went through a HUGE play dough phase and I’m not sure what happened but I think I need to resurrect this one.

  • Biking, hiking, and running – as the weather warms up we’ll be getting out more and I can’t wait for more long walks and bike rides.

  • Swimming – I won 2 free passes to the parks and recs pool on a facebook and I’m now looking forward to more time at the pool (though this one isn’t free but relatively inexpensive I suppose)

  • Movies in the Park – We LOVED this last year, with the baby it might be difficult but I’m hoping we can still get in a few this summer.

  • Volunteering - Here is one that I would really like for us to do as a family now that my husband is not working and our weekends seem to be less about chores and errands and more about family time. I would love some tips on volunteering as a family if anyone has any.

  • Last but not least - Help around the house – We all have chores and even if it means coming down to the basement to help move laundry, cleaning dishes, or sorting recycling, we need to get everyone, especially our older, more involved in housework - but make it fun too.

Of course then there are the adult things like working on my photos, blogs, and catching up with friends. Reading (ok, maybe just magazines and web articles these days), crocheting (I really need to find time for this again), and just relaxing (does this translate as too much TV time?). What do you do for more fun that costs less these days?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meatless Monday - Egg Alternatives

I’m the baker, I love to bake. My husband is the cook, so I let him cook – it is a good combo. But with all of our talk about attempting to go meatless I realize that baking vegan or without eggs is not my forte. Don’t get me wrong there are 100’s of blog out there with recipes so please excuse my ignorance on this post, but if you are like me and haven’t done this before maybe my research will spark an interest for you. For Meatless Monday this week I set off to learn more about egg substitute and here is what I have learned so far:
  • Fruit - I have tried replacing some recipes like muffins or pancakes with applesauce or bananas and that has works on most of the time- but was a disaster in my last brownie attempt
  • Tofu - I have seen silken tofu used in some recipes such as cake or even a quiche (about ¼ cup blended smooth per egg) – I even saw a frittata recipe out there - Oh and don’t forget the BLENDED SMOOTH part here!
  • Egg replacers - This is where I start to lose touch. I don’t know anything about these so I had to do some research and sure enough – my beloved Bob’s Red Mill right here in OR has an all natural eggg replacer - you basically mix with water and one bag will go a long way. So I’m going to try this next as I think for cookies and brownies this might be my best bet. The most popular though seems to be Ener-G egg replacer which is a site with a TON of recipes as well (oh, can’t wait to try zucchini bread this summer with the zuc’s I just planted last week).
  • Flaxseed Meal – basically as far as I can tell you mix with water just like the egg replacers mentioned above.
  • Soy Yogurt – don’t know why I didn’t think of this one and can’t wait to try it actually, it will probably taste awesome in some banana bread…mmmm

So from my own experience I would say that one egg is easy to replace (fruit or tofu is an easy one with just one egg) but three or more is more difficult and you really need to match the egg consistency better (so egg replacer may be the way to go). Also, this list isn’t exhaustive, I saw several posts about potato starches and baking sodas, etc… so I’m sure there is more to it than just this but I think this will get me started!

FYI some cakes and breads like banana bread also call for milk, that’s easy – just opt for soy or rice milk and with butter you could opt for vegi or canola oil (but reduce the amount a little - it isn't a straight conversion from butter), shortening (think Crisco but this probably isn't the healthiest option), Earth’s Best, or something like apple or pear butter… but then maybe that is a whole other post.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Decrease your trash can size

Every year or so we visit family in Hawaii (I know what a shame and on our new budget it might not be happening any time soon). When we go I'm always reminded that in most areas of the island (the big island at least) there is no garbage collection, in other words, you have to take your own garbage to the dump. Think about this. If you had to collect up your own trash, hold it at your house until the next time you could make it to the dump, wouldn't you think twice about what you threw away?

So there is recycling and composting and worm bins and many ways to deal with our garbage. If you had to keep it around longer you might choose to use more rags and less paper towels, and compost more to reduce food waste in your garbage (I mean, you have to put this stuff in your car). Even if you have pickup you can get really good at all this then you won't fill your can every week.

Here is a simple way to save a few dollars every month - which adds up over the year. Resize your garbage can. Get a smaller can and pay less or if you are really careful with what you throw out you might be able to opt for every-other-week garbage pickup. Think carefully about each item you throw away and where it might go other than the trash. Think hard about what you are putting in the trash and if there is an alternative product you can use that creates less waste. Think to yourself, if I had to carry this to the dump myself, when I had the time, would I be throwing this out?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meatless Monday - Asparagus

Asparagus will be one of our first local foods in farmers markets around here and despite the fact that it constantly gets caught in my braces I still love this food. So I went in search of a great recipe to try and came across everything about asparagus at - who knew!

Not sure what I'll be pairing my asparagus with just yet, but my favorite way to eat it is just roasted. In the oven with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice (the lemon juice is a must). About 10 mins at a high temp like 400 degrees and I could eat just this for dinner but maybe we'll try some couscous or quinoa on the side. If you're not an asparagus fan, I bet you would still love a creamy asparagus soup and pureed up creamy and smooth you or the kids will never know what it started out as.

I'm so tempted to grow my own this year and after spending Sunday in the garden I just might have to give it a try if I can find some ready to plant at a garden near us. Cheers to gardening and fresh market season I can't wait to try more fruit and veggies as they grow right here in my own backyard!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hours of nearly free fun

A few weeks back I ran to the craft store to get outdoor paint to paint rocks. We plan to paint garden rocks as a part of our birthday party festivities. The rocks were free, the paint was cheap, and the art will stay in our garden forever! This in and of itself was a nice fun project and about all I had expected to find. But of course I had to hit up the Clarence bins sitting right out the front door.

What did I find to my surprise but a deck of Crazy Eights (the card game). Listed as $0.50 I thought I had a deal but they rang up as $0.01 (yes 1 cent). Crazy Eights is like Uno for kids, you match colors and numbers and eights are wild cards. After a few rounds and the occasional reminder about how the game works we haven't turned on the TV in 4 nights in a row. We can't get enough of the game and we all delight in seeing how many cards pile up or squeal when someone finally wins a really long game. We have long enjoyed game night with Candyland and memory - looks like we have found yet another fun game to add to the list.

What is your favorite family fun night game? We are always looking for new ones to keep our eyes out for at Goodwill or to add to the gift wish list.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

FREE eBook: 42 Recycled Crafts

I just had to share this with others - I have been looking for new crafts to do with my older daughter and I came accross this today in a post from Frugal Living...

FREE eBook: 42 Recycled Crafts

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Consignment Shopping

Well, our older daughter is turning 4 this week and has officially grown out of all of last summers cloths. With the weather getting nicer it is getting harder to dress her. She got some amazing hand-me-down cloths from a friend that I'm super grateful for because she never gets free used items. There were lots of summer dresses and in fact she LOVES dresses so it was perfect (actually grandma also made her several dresses that she is loving and homemade items are yet another more for less blog aren't they). The problem is it is a little to cold still for a sun dress so we allow her to wear them with shirts underneath - well after trying on 3 different shirts this morning I realized the poor girl needs some shirts :)

I sent stay-at-home daddy on a mission today with a list of local children's consignment shops to find summer shirts for our daughter. He is headed to Small Wonders Consignment on Foster in SE Portland and maybe Goodwill on 52nd and Woodstock as well. I know some day we might just have to brave the giant parking lot of cars to get $5-7 geranimals brand shirts at WalMart but somehow consignment shopping just seems more natural to us these days. Big discount stores can certainly be cost effective I suppose, but all too often I drop our daughter off at school and see another child wearing the exact same shirt our child had on yesterday and I think - hay, they shop at Target too. I can't wait to see what he uncovers and I hope he enjoys it as much as I do (who am I kidding...)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meatless Monday

This weeks Meatless Monday will be a meatless birthday party extravaganza. I took the baby yesterday and did our organic whole food shopping for pita bread and hummus, and some organic pasta. The plan is to grab fruits and vegetables from the local stand on Thursday and make some magic on Saturday. The meal will include vegi kabobs from the grill, hummus and guacamole dips, fruit - lots of fruit (since we are starting to see a few things local and from from CA come around our way), and some mac and cheese for the kids and kid in us adults. Drinks were purchased in bulk and we have this crazy idea that we will not be using disposable anything (I hope we have enough of everything). With this plan we we are busting out the grill for the first time this year so now I'm on the hunt for meatless Monday grill food (mmmm... portobello mushrooms). If anyone has one please share. And watch for party pics coming soon!

Oh and FYI that Lentil soup from Deonne was AMAZING! Plus last night we had some miso soup with tofu and udon noodles in it and some veggie pot stickers on the side (best way to get veg in the kids). So I think shopping at the Asian market paid off well for us last week.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More Cooking Resources

Why do all my posts come back to cooking and yet I don't actually feel like a good cook. Maybe the world is trying to tell me something.

Anyway, I saw a friend fan this blog and had to share it - it is right there with many of the ideas we are trying to improve in our own house. Check out Cook With What You Have and if you are here in Portland she teaches cooking classes. I have to say that I'm very interested in her mother daughter cooking lessons.

I promise to try to talk about something other than just cooking in a blog post soon!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why would you eat breakfast in a bowl - in your car?

I’m driving in this morning (something I already feel guilty enough about and am contemplating trying to change) and I hear a commercial for BK that talks about a manly breakfast on the go that comes in a bowl… oh and it is only $2. The only breakfast I eat in a bowl is oatmeal (you know healthy oats and stuff) and I actually think $2 is too expensive for something so cheap to make on your own. But this got me to thinking about how I’m really a breakfast person and I have been pretty creative with bringing my own homemade breakfast on the go lately (I'm not eating in my car - I promise). So I thought I would blog about breakfast today.

I like protein for breakfast most days – oatmeal is easy but I really like egg sandwiches (or you could make it a tofu scramble). I picked up eggs at Trader Joes ($1.79 per dozen – the best deal I have found) and scrambled six of them up. I threw in some cheese (Tillamook cheese here is usually $2/$5 at Safeway so $2.50 and I only use like 1/3 of the bag) and a little bacon we had left over from another breakfast (you could skip the bacon and better yet throw in some veggies like mushrooms or peppers if you like them all in all you add maybe another $50). I placed the scramble in between 2 slices of whole wheat or whole grain Oroweat sandwich thins - (100 calories and 5 grams of fiber and cost around $3.50 but there are lots of coupons out there for them right now) this is the best breakfast sandwich I have ever made and paired with a little yogurt from TJ’s I’m one happy person in the mornings. I figure it cost me roughly $6.00 to make 6 sandwiches and I guarantee you the taste better than breakfast in a bowl

Are you a breakfast person and if so what are your tips for eating cheap and healthy for breakfast? I’m always looking for good ideas and if you have more than a few I’m always looking for more guest bloggers too. This blog was started to grow my community and help my family live more on less – I see there are lots of you out there doing the same so please share your story!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meatless Monday

How many times have I meal planned the same 5-6 meals each week (or maybe eaten from 12 standards for a month)? It is tough to break out of habit and pattern especially when you are busy. One thing we find helps with this is to try shopping at some different places. Shopping somewhere different forces you to go look harder at the shelves, try new brands, and hopefully inspires you to try something new. This week's inspiration came from just that, a trip to another store.
My husband is part Chinese and as I have said in the past - the passionate cook in our family. Last week he made a monthly trip to a large Asian market in our area to pick up rice and few other family food staples. We always get more for less on our Asian items direct from an Asian food market rather than the standard American grocery store chain - And...every time he goes he tries something new. The produce and vegetables there are different. The noodles and pastries inspire new dishes that aren't your typical pasta dinner.

So this week he picked up black beans with a determination to make a black bean stir fry from scratch (not using a jar of black bean sauce). Onions, garlic, large dark brown mushrooms, tofu and a combination of a few recipes he found online sizzled in a wok and we had an excellent dinner.

But, I have to confess here that our meatless meal this week will be Deonne's red lentils from last week (I can't wait to try them) and we put a little chicken in this dish - but with plenty of black beans leftover this will be a meatless favorite in the future soon (yea, one of those 12 I suppose for a while). One note, my husband used the black beans whole and the fermented flavor was a little strong for our older child (nearly 4) who was eating with us - apparently if you mash and mix the beans before using you can cut down on this a bit... or if you are like me and don't have a clue how to make black bean sauce from scratch, just pick up a jar of black bean sauce for your first attempt.

If you want to try to make it yourself there here is the recipie he used:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Fun for Less than $10

Easter baskets. What kid doesn't want one filled with candy and goodies?

The candy and crappy-junk-toy companies are so persuasive, making me want to buy up a bunch of stuff to fill a basket for my four-year-old. I've really had to hold myself back every time I stepped into a grocery store in the past couple of weeks. The chocolates, the pastels and the egg-shaped everythings were calling my name.

But in the end, my own inner voice was even MORE persuasive. I made a few purchases, but also looked around my house for things that we already have and can include for free. Here is how we will delight one sweet boy on Easter morning. And it only cost me $9.24 (plus the cost of eggs, which I am not counting since we will eat them as food and not treats).

Sweet treats:
  • From the Easter Bunny: One Small(ish) Lindt Milk Chocolate Bunny ($2.50 on sale) and a handful of Lindor Truffle eggs (also on sale for $2.50)
  • From the grandparents: A small basket of assorted chocolates sent with love from Indiana (free)
Easter Egg Hunt:
  • 1 1/2 dozen eggs colored and decorated ($2.99 for the egg decorating kit)
  • Another dozen or so plastic eggs (free, found them in a drawer recently) and filled with random (free) stuff from around the house including: stickers (from the bottom of the junk drawer in the kitchen), a little ceramic cat from my jewelry box, a dollar bill from my coat pocket, a quarter (also found in jewelry box), some sequins (craft box), and a couple of the truffle eggs (see above).
The point of all this is that my kid will have plenty of candy (we actually go through it pretty slowly - this will last us into summer), and some other fun surprises, and will not even know what he is "missing" (i.e. cheap plastic doo-dads and such that will be broken, lost or forgotten in minutes).