Saturday, November 22, 2008

Open for Business!

We opened one jar of bread and butter pickles today. Almost ate the entire jar. Crispy, tangy and crunchy, just the way we like 'em. I haven't made pickles before in my entire life and even though I'm giving myself a pat on the back... Dang! I can make some great pickles!

Needless to say, I'm guessing the floodgates have opened and we will be munching and crunching our way through our basement shelves now!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Do you live in a toxic wasteland?

This is new to me, I apologize to those that know about this, but simply enter your address and zip code and this service will alert you to any chemical spills or toxic dumping activity within 1/3 mile radius of your home.

With my older boys off and biking around the neighborhood and a lake right in our backyard, this is always a concern for me. Between swimming in the lake and rolling around in the park playing football, my boys are certainly germ and toxin carriers! Check it out here: GreenScreener

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gotta Be Greenwashing...

Sitting around the table yesterday at my meetings in NYC I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Something that distracted me.
All day meetings like this always include lunch brought in from a deli or restaurant, coffee cups, bottled water, sodas and so on. And, I hate to tell you how many of these major corporations don't even recycle their own bottles, glass and cans. Many of these are also trying to sell you their green messages and products, which unnerves me to no end. However, that's not what I am there for, so I might casually ask over lunch were I can recycle my glass bottle or where their paper recycling center is, hoping that my concern for the environment might rub off. Even a little.

Yesterday, while concentrating on the presentation at hand, I notice the woman sitting next to me has this bottle in her hand.

What? 100% recyclable? That isn't new! ALL water bottles are recyclable. Eco shape? Smaller label? Less plastic? Whatever. Ooooh, it's FLEXIBLE! That's it, I am *so* sold! Gimme that bottle! As I'm sure all water companies must have heard by now that 60 million empty water bottles are thrown away (read: not recycled) every freakin' day in the US. And, to make matters worse one single person uses 166 disposable plastic water bottles each year.

Is this greenwashing? I certainly felt like it was yesterday as I watched every single meeting attendee throw their water bottles, soda cans, cardboard deli trays and napkins straight into the trash can. I think it's better than nothing, but barely so. Is it deceptive to try to make the consumer feel good about buying this plastic bottle over the other plastic bottle? Isn't any plastic bottle in the landfill a bad plastic bottle? If you don't recycle it, how is this bottle that much better than any other?

Ahhh, if it smells like greenwashing, then I'm pretty sure each sip tastes like greenwashing. Or, BPAs, whatever comes first.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Green Mom on the Road

Last night I...

Packed my bag with an empty thermos (for my airport Starbucks), threw in a container of roasted nuts, a couple of fruit leathers, my trusty iPod, a book I've been meaning to read and my Clean Well hand sanitizer. The working mom is back on the road. My day today goes like this:

Up at 3:30 a.m.

In mini-van by 4:15 a.m.

At airport by 5:00 a.m.

Take off 6:15 a.m.

NYC by 8:30 a.m.

Meetings until 3:30 p.m.

Back to LaGuardia at 4:30 p.m.

Take off at 5:45 p.m.

Home at 8:45 p.m.

Tomorrow? I'm making peach pie. With ice cream. I deserve it. And, so does my husband who was at home, watching over four boys. Or, maybe my boys deserve the pie for putting up with my husband. OK, pie all around. Yum.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So, What Now?

I don't know what to eat. Or if I should eat. I mean, I worked all summer slaving to put up food for the winter, but now... Should I eat it? It's funny, really. There's a light blanket of snow on the ground. It's 27 degrees right now and even colder with the wind chill. Still... Is it time?

I haven't made a pie with all the peaches that almost brought me to tears, there were so many.

Not a single muffin has been made with the tens of pounds of blueberries picked by hand by my boys.

Carrots are frozen, waiting for soup and stew.

Pickles have been canned in their tangy bread and butter brine, but they sit on a shelf in my basement gathering dust.

Row after row of crushed tomatoes are soldiered together on the shelf below, waiting to weather the lasagna brigade sure to come.

Save for a few cupfuls of corn tossed into the soup I made on Sunday and the single can of blueberry cherry sauce I cracked open to serve with crepes during a brunch I was hosting, I haven't touched a thing.

What is wrong with me? Am I hoarding food? Squirreling it away like the furry critters still racing around my backyard furiously trying to hide just one more nut?

I think it's knowing all of that hard work, the precious hours, the late nights and the memory of the farmer's markets will be gone in an instant. I like looking at the rows of shiny jars, the perfectly stacked freezer storage bags labeled so neatly in my deep freezer and the funny root cellar contraption I cobbled together in my garage holding my boxed apples, potatoes and onions. I feel well stocked, ready and prepared.

So, what now? Is it time? When do we eat?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Celebrity Chef

Budgetary constraints mean we are eating in more. A lot more. Like never eat out unless we are traveling, have a gift card or there just isn't any way carry out will do in a pinch. However, that doesn't mean we're eating lower quality food because, I hate to say it, I'm sort of a food snob.

That doesn't mean I only eat lobster and truffles with a side of caviar or anything. Actually, I prefer hearty, home cooked comfort foods over fancy dining any day. Beside, my boys would totally freak out and threaten to strike if fish eggs were on the menu... For that matter, me too.

What I mean is that I prefer my local raw organic cheese, which isn't cheap. I love my fair trade, freshly roasted organic coffee from my food club, but it's certainly more expensive than Folgers. I can't live with the mental anguish that comes with buying meats from factory farms. So, by cutting out the eating out we can still afford these little necessities / luxuries.

Still, I'm back to a full time working mom status and that means that I don't have as much time to prepare all these home cooked, comfort food meals. That said, I've started a new tradition in the Eco Burban household... Sunday cram-session cooking. Cram in as many meals (using similar ingredients) and prep them, or fully cook them so they can be quickly reheated and do it all in one afternoon. This way I can stretch my food dollar and my precious time with my kids.

Today I whipped around my kitchen like one of those crabby celebrity chefs, muttered swear words and all, and managed to bang out the following meals in under three hours:

One humanely and locally raised chicken in the slow cooker gave me:

1 cheesy chicken noodle casserole
1 extra large pot adobo chile, chicken, bean & corn tortilla soup
7 cups of chicken stock reserved in the freezer for another meal

I also prepped a 2.5 lb. tangy BBQ turkey meatloaf and cream cheese smashed potatoes

18 freshly baked chocolate cupcakes perfect for hungry boy's lunchboxes (organic and local mix courtesy of our local mill)

These three meals will provide not only meals possibly not one, but two nights these week. They will also provide leftover lunches for me to take to the office all week.

That is, of course. depending on hungry boys... Last week in a single sitting we put down 2.5 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of potatoes and 12 bread sticks.

In. One. Meal. Scary, ain't it? Now you know why I have to stretch my food dollar!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is the Mall Dead?

There is an interesting article from Newsweek that would suggest that it is. The mall I worked at as a high school student (yes, I thought I was soooo cool!) is now 85% shuttered and slated for demolition to make way for a baseball park. A mere 15 years ago you couldn't get a parking spot and you might wait in line for a Cinnabon for 15 minutes. Today, the store I worked at is long closed, the restaurants are gone and a lone Kohls holds up one of the mall while a tired, old Macy's the other. Is this the end of the mall, or the end of consumerism, or just a by-product of a bad economy? Or, are the consumers hell-bent on the idea of buying "stuff" just looking to new venues to fill the void?

I am a big fan of Craigslist, the thrift stores and Freecycle and according to the article, the numbers are growing:

The Salvation Army has seen sales jump 15 percent at some locations, while The Freecycle Network, a clearing house for second-hand goods has grown from 40 people to around 6 million since its founding in 2003. Each day, the group says, it keeps 500 tons of stuff out of landfills and in use. Another second-hand movement, known as The Compact, where members commit to buying nothing new for an entire year (underwear excluded), has grown from 10 friends to 10,000 members since 2004. Even those who are still buying new are viewing shopping through a changed lens: almost 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 prefer to use brands that are "socially conscious"—environmentally safe and produced through fair labor.

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want a lot of "consumers" driving up the prices at thrift stores or on Craigslist, only to throw away what they don't want or didn't need. I have looked to these places for years to find great reusable goods for Halloween costumes, back to school or holiday decorating. It's been great for the planet and good for the budget. It's a sustainable way of life, so "consumers" please think twice before you shop. Consider the planet, consider your budget and consider what you truly need. If you don't need it, don't buy it. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A CraigsList Christmas

Money is tight, the Detroit economy is looking pretty grim and the family budget is downright squeaky. However, I just don't skimp on Christmas. We don't buy our children frivolous items all year long, they get what they need and as for what they want? Well, our oldest boys babysit. That's right, I raised darn good boy babysitters and they get plenty of work. And, the pay is so good from time to time I ponder the idea of dusting off my old babysitting certificate. Add that to their b-day cash from grandparents and family and that leaves them lots of green to burn on video games, ice cream treats and DVDs. We feel like they work hard to earn what they want all year long and come Christmas time, it's our turn to splurge.

So, how am I going to manage a nice Christmas without breaking the bank AND staying green? Craigslist, plain and simple. Last weekend we bought our 4-year old a new loft bed, as his toddler bed was much, much too small. We saved $1200 by buying a year old set, exactly the same as still sold at the furniture store today. This same mathematical equation can easily be applied to Christmas shopping. For example:

My boys own sports gear (expeeeensive sports gear) for all the sports they play competitively. Baseball, indoor baseball, track, cross country, basketball and so on. However, other sports they just dabble in (hockey, soccer & football) we just peruse Craigslist.

This winter they all want hockey skates to kick around in on our lake after the deep freeze that's rapidly approaching. Detroit really is "Hockey-town" with many young boys playing on hockey leagues wearing ridiculously expensive skates. Where do they off load these skates after a couple of months? Craigslist.

A pair of top quality, barely worn skates that retail for $160 can be easily found for only $30. I'm no math whiz, but that ratio certainly makes sense to me!

Now that I have the skates, I'm getting busy looking for used video games. Anyone have a couple of used Madden 09 video games they want to part with???