Thursday, September 30, 2010

Homemade detergent! (kinda)

Well, technically I'm making it. But really all that amounts to is mixing it. Cause.... Yea.

So, as nice as it would be to wash my clothing in nothing but vinegar and Ivory soap, I just don't trust that it would cut it. I simply don't. And after my lousy experience with Charlie's, well, I'm not taking chances just yet.

So, I came across a recipe that claims to be like Tide. Well, we'll see about that, but it does seem reasonable.
The recipe calls for an equal ratio of:
-Sun detergent with bleach alternative
-Sun oxygen cleaner
-Super washing soda
Each load uses one tablespoon of the mixed detergent.

I procured the items.
Ansel was very excited, and wanted to be in the picture.

Now, here's where I got VERY scientific. Or, not. The products ranged from 55oz. to 77oz. Ehhhh... close enough. I dumped all the containers into my big bucket container.

We mixed. And mixed. And then sealed the container and rolled it and tipped it upside down, and back, and so on. All the products are white powders, so it's not easy to know when it's mixed. This is why it would have been better to make a smaller batch. Oh well. Once it was mixed, I filled a smaller container to keep on the shelf above my washing machine.

I'll start using this tomorrow. I finished off my standard detergent today. I'm going to keep using real Tide on diapers because I just don't play around when it comes to that.

Ah! And there's the awesome news..... I did all the fancy advanced math. And when this is all said and done, this detergent costs........ 2.5 cents per load!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Success! (of more than one kind)

I finished Fast Food Nation! I didn't finish it last night, but I did finish it during lunch today. So, I was close to my goal at least. The husband wanted to turn in early last night, so I didn't get much reading time after the boys went to bed(none, I don't think). Ah, well. It's all good. And the book is DONE! It was really very informational. I can't say I learned a ton I didn't already know. It more or less elaborated on concepts I'm already aware of. It's sort of like watching Super Size Me. You already know fast food is bad for you, but the details and the explosion of information renew your zeal about it. If I'm being honest, I would have to admit that reading the book, at times, made me crave fast food. Yes, yes, terrible I know. And no, I did not indulge. And I do not plan to. Oy vey. I think I need to watch Super Size Me again.

And now I'm launching into reading something else altogether. I'm still plodding my way through The Omnivore's Dilemma. But I am also working on improving my overall way of thinking by reading something motivational, in this first case, This I Believe. I will readily and openly admit to being a huge NPR geek. I listen to it often. And now that I've finally figured out how to stream it on my computer such that I can play it on our multi-room stereo system in the house, I am golden! I used to primarily listen to it in the car, and to podcasts now and again(a special favorite is This American Life). This I Believe is something that NPR airs from time to time, and I have always very much enjoyed it. So a book seems perfect!

As for my other success, it was the meal plan for last week. I made my meal plan on Tuesday evening. I printed all my recipes, my grocery list, and the meal plan itself(which is posted on the refrigerator for the week). I went shopping on Wednesday and remembered everything I needed. And every single day I managed to prepare the meal that I had set out to make. So at no point in this last week did we resort to take-out or any other unnecessary anything. Yay! And even one night of the week that I ended up going out with a friend, I prepared dinner for the guys before leaving. As I sit here, the chili is in the crock pot. It's done, but is cooling off a bit before we eat.

Just for fun, here's last week's meal plan:

Wednesday - Garden Gumbo, Rolls

Thursday - Casbah Curried Chicken, Couscous

Friday - Mom's Meatball Stroganoff, Egg noodles, Corn

Saturday - Indian Spiced Chicken, Rice, Israeli Salad

Sunday - Mexican Chicken Stew, Corn muffins

Monday - Fettucini with Bolognese Sauce, Salad

Tuesday - Chili, Tortilla chips

I am also happy to say that we had no food waste! Well, I can't claim that everyone ate absolutely everything that was on their plate. BUT. On work days, the husband took leftovers from the night before for his lunch. In some cases, Ansel and I ate leftovers at home for lunch as well. And if there was still excess, I froze the leftovers as individual portions to use at a later date. So now we have six or seven individual meals frozen. Awesome. That'll help in a pinch. And it means I didn't throw money in the trash.

OK, now I need to get down to business planning this next week. I'm also taking on homemade laundry detergent. It's not exactly "crunchy," but it will be inexpensive. So that's something!

And because posts are better with pictures, here's a picture of the boys from three years ago! Wow! Time flies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Attempting to educate myself

I have done a paltry job of putting anything on this blog except for stuff about food. I assure you, there has been more happening, but it's honestly not been as much the focus as food has. Food, for me, is a big deal. And being successful with such a big change is a big deal for me. And I have been overwhelmingly successful in my opinion. I have never been able to 'conquer' this one. And I haven't entirely. I still have my moments. But I am improving!

One thing that I have been working on is reading. I want to read more in general. But I also want to read more about healthy living and learn how best to feed myself and my family, and to do the best for us and our home.

I am currently reading Fast Food Nation. I admit, I have been 'currently' reading this book for two weeks tomorrow. It's a good book. It's great information. I don't dislike the book. But I'm having a hard time powering through it. I'm almost there! I have about sixty pages to go.

I am simultaneously juggling reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. This is my second time reading the book, but the first time I did not completely finish it. Again, for some reason, I have a hard time getting through it. It's a great book. I love the information. But I just don't feel drawn to, 'oh! I hope I can find time to read this book today.' And as such, I have conveniently not been finding that time.

I'm working on it. My goal is to finish Fast Food Nation today. I can do it!

Mmmm..... Waffles!

A few years ago, I wanted to buy some cookbooks. I really didn't have any, and still hardly do. So I picked up a few inexpensive ones at Home Goods. Of those, really only one has worked out. And it's this, Brunch: The Perfect Weekend Treat.

I've only tried a few things from it, mostly because brunches for us end up being something that can be made really quickly. As I place a higher priority on cooking from scratch and cooking really healthy, I think I'll spend more time with these recipes.

Yesterday I decided to try out Waffles with Caramelized Bananas. Oh boy. These are the BEST waffles ever! So, I will share the recipe with you. I want you to enjoy as well!

Makes 12 waffles to serve 4-6

scant 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp superfine sugar
2 eggs, separated
generous 1 cup milk
3oz butter, melted
Caramelized Bananas
3 1/2oz butter, cut into pieces
3 tbsp corn syrup(I used honey)
3 large ripe bananas, peeled and thickly sliced

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a bowl. Whisk the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter together with a fork, then stir this mixture into the dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.

Using an electric mixer or hand whisk, whisk the egg whites in a clean glass bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the batter mixture. Spoon 2 large tablespoons of the batter into a preheated waffle maker and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.

To make the caramelized bananas, melt the butter with the corn syrup in a pan over low heat and stir until combined. Let simmer for a few minutes until the caramel thickens and darkens slightly. Add the bananas and mix gently to coat. Pour over the warm waffles and serve at once.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Because I could totally be a vegetarian

There's a lot of different opinions on what healthy eating actually is. I happen to subscribe, at least at this point, to a pretty "whole foods" way of thinking. Basically, lots of fruits and vegetables, the fresher the better, some dairy, some meat, whole grains, that sort of thing. I'm not counting calories or carbs to plan meals. I'm just looking to find a balance of things, and to feed my family well.

One thing that we have agreed on is that we would like to consume less meat. We don't desire to cut out all meat, but we do want to eat a higher quality of meat, and less of it overall. As such, I've been working to plan one or two(or three) vegetarian dinners a week. These have resulted in varying degrees of success. Our general pattern thus far is..... if it's Indian, it'll be good. Anything else? Hard sell.

This meal was red lentils, palak paneer, and basmati rice. Pretty simple food!

We did have luck the other day with a chickpeas and tomato pasta salad. The kids liked this one, too, so it will have to stay in rotation. And it calls for a lot of vegetables, which is awesome. I also love single dish meals for some really ridiculous reason, I'm sure.
And the finished product is quite attractive!

Tonight was another veggie success! Garden Gumbo. Well, the kids and I liked it. The husband went to bed really early after a very long day, so hasn't actually eaten it yet. I did, however, notice he stole a piece off the garlic knot rolls I baked. Those are not pictured because they were a first attempt. They tasted good, but, the aesthetics are lacking.
This recipe also had lots of nice, fresh vegetable ingredients! It also used one can of tomatoes.
And this is the closest thing you get to a finished product picture because I got busy with, y'know, life, and forgot to take a picture before we ate and I packed leftovers away. Whoops!

So in conclusion..... I could totally be a vegetarian because I made these three vegetarian meals and, like, ten others so now I'm an expert and could totally do it forever.
Or..... Maybe it's just nice to give the budget and the belly a little break from meat, and we'll go with that.

Edit: I am adding links to the recipes for these meals.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meal plans for saving! (money AND my sanity)

Dinner is a drain. There, I said it. I get really tired of making dinner. It happens every gosh darn day! Sometimes I wish we could take a day off from dinner. But alas, the kids and the husband won't hear of it!

I used to be a non-planner when it came to meals. I would buy staple ingredients every week and freeze whatever meats were on sale that week, buy shelf stable items as I could afford to stock up, and buy way too many vegetables that would end up going bad before I used them.

It was wasteful, but at that point we were eating all conventionally grown items, so we could 'afford' the waste. Now that I've placed a priority on natural and organic items, the price tag is higher. In order to make up the difference, we had to eliminate waste.

And that's where meal planning comes in. Each week, I plan out the next week's dinners. Lunches are easy.... Leftovers go with the husband to work, Ansel and I eat leftovers if we have them or we eat something easy like sandwiches, and Kadin takes a sandwich to school each day. Breakfast is basic staple items.... oatmeal, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc. So those are just a regular part of my shopping.

This has definitely simplified my life. Because I know what I will be making for dinner, I find it easy to start dinner preparations earlier in the day, or overnight if necessary. There is no last minute panic about what to eat. I also don't wait too long to start, then realizing what I had decided on will take more time than I have available. I can also plan the more time consuming meals for the days of the week when I have more time to devote to them. It is really a load off my mind, AND, I find myself almost never wishing we could just order pizza or go out to eat.

I think I'll start posting my weekly meal plans, and then updating the blog most days about how things have turned out. Here's this week's plan:

Wednesday: Rotisserie chicken(the store-made kind, our natural foods grocery has them on sale), baked potatoes, and steamed broccoli.
Thursday: Pasta with bolognese sauce and salad.
Friday: Chicken mole, rice, and corn.
Saturday: Chicken rollers(a sale item at the store), ravioli(another store sale item), and salad.
Sunday: Burritos(this is a big batch make ahead item) and salad.
Monday: Red lentils, palak paneer, and rice.
Tuesday: Thai pasta salad.

I made bread last night, and will be keeping up with that this week. I also plan to make snickerdoodles for the boys and granola snacks for Ansel, as well as protein bars for the husband.

Off to the store we go! Let's hope I stay under budget again!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crunchy Laundry Fail

I've been trying to "green" over a lot of the products we use in our home. I've started switching our bath products over, tried out some "green" cleaning products(as well as using household alternatives, like vinegar), and so on.

And one thing I thought I'd figured out, I discovered I hadn't. Back in the winter sometime, I don't recall when, I started buying Charlie's Soap. At first, it was great! It was a bargain, you only need to use a little bit, our clothes were coming nicely clean and didn't smell strongly of detergent. It was great! I did find that it wasn't cutting it for diaper laundry, so I did keep using regular detergent for that. But otherwise, Charlie's was awesome!
But then a few bags into it, I started to notice that stains weren't coming out like they used to. And the laundry just sort of looked.... dull. And sometimes I was finding I needed to re-wash things to get them really sufficiently clean, and if I have to wash something twice, what's the point?

So I decided to test the theory that it was the Charlie's to blame, and I headed to Target. I didn't want to buy a pricey detergent, but I wanted to get something that looked effective. Enter Arm and Hammer plus Oxi Clean.
Is it eco-friendly? Not likely. Is it super healthy for my family? Probably not. But darn if it didn't clean the clothes.

I would like to, at some point, switch to a greener alternative. But 'green' products are expensive. And I know it'll be a trial and error process to find what works with my washing machine, my family's laundry, our type of water(a little hard, I think), and so on. So there will likely be a few products I buy and reject before finding one that works.

For now, I'd like clean clothes, thank you!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gushing about groceries

OK, so I will admit.... One of the few things I like about the place I live is the natural foods store. I know, I know. But we are only here because of a job, and it's just really not a good fit for our family. But. The natural foods store is awesome. And what's further amazing is that it's actually a chain! And thus being a part of a chain, they offer awesome sales and coupons and such.

Which leads to today. I had three coupons that could all be used simultaneously, so off we went! (fwiw, we were running errands and in the vicinity anyway. I would not have made the whole trip just for this. That's not very eco-friendly!)

So for a whopping $6 and change I got...... this:
That's a pound of ground chuck(all natural, etc. etc.), a pound of salsa, three pounds of local apples, a HUGE bag of organic chips, and raisins. (the raisins were filler. I had to spend $5 to get two of the deals).

Additionally, I DID bake the other day.... Thursday, I think. But I was in such a rush to bake, clean, and so on that I didn't take the time for pictures. We do have fresh bread, banana bread, and chocolate chip cookies to enjoy. And I made peach muffins this morning for the kids and I to eat. Yay baking!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Its grocery Wednesday!

So my new grocery day is Wednesday, for a variety of reasons. So this morning, I spent about an hour planning the next week's meals, making a list, and crossing my fingers and hoping like heck that I would come in close to budget.

So off I go to the natural foods store, happy companion Ansel in tow. There were samples, he was happy.

And wouldn't you know it, I actually came in slightly UNDER budget! I mean, yes, that money did then get allotted elsewhere(what I don't spend on that week's "needs" I put towards staple items). And the great part is that the vast majority of our food this week, including meats, will be mostly organic, definitely "natural," and some local. No HFCS! Woot!

Here's the haul! $112. I promise you, it's quite a good deal for $112. What's hard to see is the four brown packages of meat, and the large bag of organic flour, and things along those lines. And that milk isn't cheap, but totally TOTALLY worth it!

I also have bread dough about to go into the oven, tomorrow I'll make cookies(promised Ansel) and banana bread(have overripe bananas). If I get on a good roll, I might go ahead and make protein bars, but we'll see. Can't put the cart before the horse!

It feels good to be back on the wagon!