Friday, July 24, 2009

The Fruits of Our Labors

This summer was my first shot at organic vegetable gardening. Surprisingly, the best performer so far has been the peas. I say surprisingly because I planted them (well, Nature Grandma planted the peas) late in the season (May 1). This is one of those veggies that 1/2 of my family likes and 1/2 hates when frozen, but fresh--we all love them!

I have loved trying our hand at gardening. Nature Kidz get to see what their food looks like before it's wrapped in plastic at the grocery stores, and they get to play with their food. Opening the pea pods is fun and the "packaging" is edible too!

Next year plans are to expand our raised-bed planter to add at least 2-3 more planter boxes. Even as I am still enjoying our current harvest, I look forward to next year's planting season with lots of lessons learned this year!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Something to Read: In Defense of Food

I heard the author, Michael Pollan, on NPR's "This Splendid Table" today. After seeing "Food, Inc." Friday night, I was excited to hear Pollan's interview. Pollan was featured in Food, Inc. and had a very engaging persona. He was no less interesting in the interview (and you can listen to that interview at This Splendid Table's website). He had a great quote, and I paraphrase, but he basically said that up until the 1970's we had a "Ford" economy, meaning that the economy treated workers like Henry Ford approached his workers: "I'm going to pay my workers enough so they can ALL afford my cars." Makes sense, right? Well, Pollan says, nowadays we have a "Wal-Mart mentality"--that is, "I'm going to pay you so little that all you can afford is our food/products." Now, that is in a nutshell why I hate Wal-Mart. Well put, Mr. Pollan.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Olympic Low-Odor Paint

Lowe's now sells a "low odor" zero VOC "green" Olympic paint product, which was used to paint Nature kidz' rooms in these pictures. There is a limited selection of colors, which is kind of a bummer--you have to choose yours from the display at Lowe's. Nature kidz had chosen different shades so when we learned we had to choose from Olympic's offerings, we made new choices. The dark blue is almost exactly the color of painter's tape--though that's not what the color is named, of course.

Nature Kid 2 (the dark blue, above) wanted a dark, intense color, and this paint delivered. We got the primer tinted as well to help get the color on--and let's just say I'm sure it will take many coats of new primer to change this if she decides she wants a lighter color! She absolutely loves it, and I'm getting used to it. The paint itself does what it promises--goes on with very low oder, which dissipates quickly. There is no "new paint" smell in our upstairs, despite there being two newly painted rooms.

Is this the same as conventional paint? No. It's thinner, more runny, and requires more application (coats) to get a good layer on. But to this mom, it's worth it. And more than anything, it's worth seeing the Kidz' happy smiles at their own uniquely designed bedrooms. Each child chose her own theme, paint color, and decor, and it has been really fun making curtains and accessorizing.

Try the paint! It's worth getting used to the differences to have the clear conscience and lack of stink!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Most Pesticide-Ridden Foods

Check out this list I found this list via Trader Joe's (my favorite store these days). The list, from the environmental working group, details 47 commonly purchased produce items in order of pesticide load. I've also heard of "the dirty dozen" foods, which lists the 12 worst foods in terms of contamination by hormones, pesticides, and the like. It also offers explanations for each item's inclusion on the list, such as this rather disturbing detail about a staple in our house:

"4. Apples. With 36 different chemicals detected in FDA testing, half of which are neurotoxins (meaning they cause brain damage), apples are almost as contaminated as strawberries. Peeling non-organic apples reduces but does not eliminate the danger of ingesting these chemicals. Go organic, especially for children."

The dirty dozen list is topped by meats and dairy items. I already buy organic milk and we never buy any meat except chicken, but of course we consume a lot of cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products like kefir. I have to confess that I'm vigilant about purchasing "natural" foods (no chemicals), but I'm hit or miss about organic because they can be shockingly expensive. These two lists really help me choose which foods must absolutely be organic, and which can be conventional. Here's a summary:

The dirty dozen:
1. Meats
2. Dairy
3. Strawberries (good thing we went to an organic farm last week to pick!)
4. apples
5. tomatoes
6. potatoes (ack! who knew?)
7. spinach and other greens
8. coffee
9. peaches
10. grapes
11. celery
12. bell peppers

The Environmental Working Group lists only produce, but includes 47 items listed by chemical load so you can make your own choices and be aware. The worst offender? Peaches. The "best"? Onions and avocadoes. Check out the websites. It's eye-opening!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Keeping the Home Garden Going Strong

A home vegetable garden, especially organically grown, is a labor of love; the gardener has to keep vigilant with water and food and a careful watch for pests and disease.

I keep a compost pile beside the garden, adding my household wastes like coffee grounds, strawberry tops, eggshells, and fruit peels. I planted marigolds to repel bugs. But what I really need is earthworms and ladybugs.

I need earthworms for my compost pile and my vegetable garden, since it's a large raised-bed garden instead of in the ground where earthworms might naturally be. Also, ladybugs eat aphids and other garden pests.

I found a great online source for both: Gardening Zone. This is a great site with all kinds of helpful information as well as good prices for the things we need! I am a bit of a squeamish type (I close my eyes during all those gross surgery scenes on Grey's Anatomy), so getting worms in the mail grosses me out just a bit, but I figure the alternative is waiting for a good rain and them dashing out and plucking the buggers off the sidewalk.

On the other hand, that sounds like a wonderful--and free--way to entertain the Nature Kidz next time it rains.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How did you spend Mother's Day?

I spent Mother's Day at Vollmer's Farm in Bunn, NC. The farm is an off-the-beaten path location with all the trimmings for a fun family-friendly outing. Complete with "horse" swings made of old tires and an adorable "train" ride in mini cars designed to look like cows, the main attraction is the produce--right now, organic pick-your-own strawberries are in season. Yummy. This farm is the only one in the state of North Carolina with certified organic strawberries. Kidz can eat them right out in the strawberry patch as they pick. We picked 7 pounds in very short order, only nibbling one or two each in the process. For $12 per basket, we get fresh berries and the basket is ours to keep.

This is a lot of strawberries. How do we plan to use up these nutritious (1 cup has 49 calories, more than a full day's vitamin C, and lots of fiber) little gems? Well, Nature Kid the Younger gave me a chocolate melting pot for Mother's Day, so I served some up to be dipped in chocolate (you can use organic chocolate for this task). Some will grace cereal, and the rest will be frozen for smoothies and winter oatmeal in months to come. I might even bake a few loaves of strawberry bread for summer cookouts (it can be frozen and thawed later).

Now is the time to seek out local farms for produce-picking fun. You can find the places closest to where you live at Pick Your
What fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Creating a Raised-Bed Organic Veggie Garden

Here's a great idea for fun and educational summer activities for your nature kidz. My Kidz and I have planted an organic veggie garden with the help of Nature Dad, who built the frame for us. Because our soil is rocky clay and therefore not so good for growing things (and really, really hard to dig), we decided to go this route--and we also got to choose the soild we'd use, which is a nutritious mix of compost, peat moss, and topsoil. The entire investment was less than $100, much of that taken up by materials for the wooden frame and the fill dirt, which can be used year after year, so future years should be very inexpensive. And well worth the effort if all goes as planned!

Here are the directions if you want to make one of your own:

1. Build a wooden frame. We made ours by cutting an 8-foot piece in half, and using two 10-foot pieces. Screw them together with deck screws and install metal l-brackets for extra security. Place where you want to plant. You'll need a spot easily accessed for watering and weeding, and which gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.

2. Line bottom with newspaper to prevent weed growth. Fill with a soil mixture that's equal parts compost, peat moss, and topsoil. Stir to mix before filling (I put a pile of each part on a drop cloth, stirred, then shoveled in).

3. Add plants. I recommend Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It's an excellent resource and even gives some good ideas for keeping pests out of your veggie garden.

We planted carrots, corn, peas, two kinds of bell peppers, watermelon, and tomatoes. We chose two varieties of tomatoes--one that matures in 60 days, one in 80 days, so hopefully our harvest is spread out a bit. We also planted a blueberry bush a month or so ago and hope to reap that harvest this summer, too!

I also recommend getting your veggie plants locally. If you have a farmer's market you have a great resource. We got ours at the State Farmer's Market in Raleigh, NC.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Haagen Dazs 5 Ice Cream

OK, I had this recently and since it's natural I wanted to mention it here. This stuff is AWESOME. H-D has this new line of ice creams that are pure and simple--just 5 ingredients in each variety--and oh, what varieties! The brown sugar flavor is, I think, my favorite. The ingredients? SKIM MILK, CREAM, BROWN SUGAR (MOLASSES, SUGAR), SUGAR, EGG YOLKS. That's all.

I'm that kid who used to climb up on the counter to reach the brown sugar that my mom stored up high with all the spices and stuff. You know, that kid who would dig a big spoon into the bag and savor a spoonful of brown sugar all on its own. A guilty pleasure. I am also a huge ice cream fan. Put those two together and I pretty much have to avoid the ice cream aisle for life or else I will get to be the same shape as one of the people from Wall-E.

I would give it a full review but could never do as good a job as Greg from Check it out!

Treadmill vs. Hike Outdoors

I knew I needed some exercise today (ok, every day). I thought about getting on the treadmill. I cleaned house a bit, argued with my steam vac for a while (and I lost the argument and ended up hand-cleaning the sofa), and thought some more. But here's the thing: the treadmill faces the wall/window (it folds up to save space and it's too heavy and pointless for me to turn it to face any other way) and my only entertainment is a magazine or two. That's usually enough, but I have read all my magazines for now.

So, Nature Kid 1 and I decided to take our 2 Nature Dogz to William B. Umstead State Park instead. There we had a good 2-mile hike over hilly, occasionally tough-going, dirt, with a canopy of leafy trees overhead and a babbling brook alongside us. The rocks in the water were large and made nice stepping stones, and the water was so enticing that one of our dogz, who's not really a water loving kind of guy, climbed right in and lay down in the cool water.

It may have been in the 90s today but the hiking trail stayed relatively cool, and we even found a shaded picnic table for the lunch Nature Kid 1 assembled (turkey sandwiches, Kashi cereal, and apple, grape juice, and potato chips for us; water for the doggies).

When we got home we bathed the dogs and decided our next outing would be to the Morrisville Aquatic and Fitness Center for an afternoon splash. I love summer!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Constipated Eggs

Yes, it's a gross title. But this year's Easter craft with my Kidz is blown eggs. We did 2 dozen of these and had friends over to decorate them. While Nature Kid 1 was trying to blow to goo (the scientific name for egg innards) out of an egg, and had trouble, she decided the egg was "constipated." Even at 9 years old she's obsessed with potty talk.

This is a fun craft to do. You simply take a needle and poke holes in the top and bottom of the egg (making the bottom hole a bit larger) and blow out the insides. You can shake the egg before puncturing and also use the needle to break up the yolk to make it come out more easily. Once the insides are out you can set them aside for a nice omelet dinner or for your holiday baking. Wash the eggs off and decorate however you like. I bought paints, an egg coloring kit, stickers, little googly eyes, and the like. A quick google yielded me a Martha Stewart link with fancy schmancy ideas that I thought might be a little out of my Kidz' realm of interest.

To hang your eggs, as I like to do, I used the needle to run a satin ribbon with a knot at one end (smaller than the bottom hole but larger than the top) through the egg. These eggs will keep indefinitely so you can save them for future Easters. Unless your Kidz are like one of mine, who decided it was important to see the inside of the egg.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Green" up your Easter baskets and a book recommendation

First, the book recommendation. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes is an amazing little book that's been around a long time. First published in 1939, it's about a mother bunny with 21 children who manages to become one of the chosen few Easter Bunnies. Check Amazon for reviews. I absolutely love this story and it's inspiring to me as a mom of a mere two bunnies--I mean Kidz. It speaks for the tremendous work and skill that is unique to mothers. My kidz' godparents gave them this book and we treasure it.

My second item for today is a suggestion or two for greening up the Easter basket. My first is for that ubiquitous plastic grass that the Easter bunny seems compelled to insert in the baskets and that we parents seem to still find wrapped around our vacuum cleaner's roller part six months later. Perhaps the Easter Bunny could borrow your shredder and shred paper scraps--if you're a scrapbooker you can leave out some of your paper scraps to be shredded--and later recycled or reused--and tucked into the basket. If not, perhaps you have some construction paper lying around, or even wrapping paper scraps. Shred them (we have a cross-cut shredder, which tends to make confetti instead of "grass" but it can still work) and leave them out for Ms. Bunny. No more clogged vacuum cleaners, or landfills for that matter!

Another suggestion that we made to our Easter bunny: shop for chocolates at a locally owned chocolate shop. We have one near us: Chocolate Smiles in Cary, NC. The down side is that many of their chocolates contain vanillin, which is a synthetic chemical usually made from petroleum. Ewwww. But I was able to find some beautiful selections of chocolate Easter bunnies that my Kidz would surely enjoy if our Easter bunny stops by there. In this economy, it's always good to shop local, and the treats at this shop are handcrafted right in the store. Sadly, the cookie shop in the same strip center has gone out of business.

Have a wonderful Easter, Nature Kidz and Parentz!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Because a friend asked: Natural Goodies!

My pregnant friend mentioned on Facebook that she loves gummy worms. She is also an organic eater. Since I'm a mom and have a sweet tooth of my own, I've done some research on good sources for natural and organic sweets. Since Easter is coming, perhaps you can use some of the following sites to stock your Easter baskets!

First, I always hit my Whole Foods or Earth Fare locally. They usually have a small section of seasonal yummies. When that strikes out, these are good sites:

Natural Candy Store
Awesome selection of natural and organic goodies. We've used quite a few of the products here, including the candy sprinkles for cookies and the Pure Fun organic lollipops. Don't miss the Easter Candy section!

Squirrels Nest
It's too late to order for Easter, but the selection is great and it's Feingold friendly for those following the Feingold plan.

Sadly, this one is going out of business: In an email, Simon Candy Shop cites "Competition from inexpensive imports, rising costs, and the generally bad economy are all contributing factors." In the meantime, you can get some real deals on natural candies, including this adorable barn tin filled with organic lollipops.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Another Holiday, Another Batch of Cookies!

I love holidays. Holidays=sugar cookie baking and decorating. And these photos show the pretty pastel colors than can be achieved with the India Tree natural food colors. You won't get brilliant brights, or the deep reds and greens you might want for Christmas, but I was really excited for Easter because I knew I could get some nice colors! As you can see I didn't have great luck getting a pale springlike grass green, but the pink, light blue, pink, and yellow turned out great!

I used the sugar cookie recipe I have posted here on this blog, and made 2 different icings; one is Alton Brown's Royal Icing that I used for thicker icing that can be piped or spread. The other is a smoother, glossy icing (recipe on this blog--check the tags to the right under "recipes" or "cookies). I made it a bit runny this time--next time I'll remember to make it a bit stickier (and that's easy to do by adding powdered sugar).

My elder Nature Kid has a sleepover with 2 friends tonight, so she decorated some cookies for her friends to take along. We had cousins over last night to decorate with us--it's a great, inexpensive, fun way to spend time with family!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This is exciting news!

Western Wake Farmers Market to Open in May.

Great news for Cary, NC and surrounding areas: on May 2 in Carpenter Village (off Morrisville Carpenter Rd in northwest Cary), the new Western Wake Farmer's Market will open. The location is ideal for folks in Cary, Morrisville, Durham, and parts of Chatham county. I'm really excited to be able to take my Kidz there to look at locally grown, fresh produce.

The organization's website even has a seasonal calendar to keep shoppers aware of what's in season at any given time. This summer the Nature Kidz and I plan to plant an organic garden in our own back yard, but our space and food choices will be limited, so I'm thrilled to have this option available quite soon. We'll be able to purchase fresh foods directly from local farmers--now that's eco friendly, community friendly, and socially conscious!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Green Cleaning for Lazy Momz like Me

Triangle Green Cleaning

I've written here about my cleaning methods; I no longer use all those harsh chemicals or artificial colors and scents. I don't even have to shell out lots of money by paying for fancy cleaners at Whole Foods or even Target. It's cheaper and easier to clean the way our grandmas did, believe it or not.

Forget those faux-boutiquey air fresheners from Glade (gosh, those commercials annoy me); forget the pine sol and brightly colored cleaners that children have mistaken for sports drinks. Instead, try good old fashioned white vinegar, water, and a few drops of essential oil (I like lemon) if so desired. I use this to mop floors (with hot water), to steam clean carpets, and in spray bottles to do counters, showers, mirrors, windows, and toilets. It's antibacterial and cleans even better than commercial cleaners. If you don't like the scent of vinegar, it goes away when it dries.

Plus, the recent news is that it's not good to use antibacterial products like hand soap. They get washed down the drain and enter our water supply, and eventually help create resistant bacteria. Not good!

But what if you hate to clean, like I do? If you have spare cash (which I don't!), you can actually hire a cleaning service that will do the job for you and do it in the greenest way possible. At least, you can in the Raleigh, NC area. Check out Triangle Green Cleaning's website. Prices are competitive. Right after I win the lotto or the economy improves well enough to earn us both fat paychecks, I'm there!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recipes for a Snowstorm, Part 3

Home made whole wheat pancakes with whipped cream

Well, the snowstorm has long since passed by now and the weekend is predicted to be in the 70s. Snow day on Monday, family cookout on Saturday!

That being said, I'd planned to put all 3 of my snow day recipes on the blog so here's the last.

My kidz love pancakes. Sure, you can buy the frozen ones but they're really just empty carbs and even though they're not terribly expensive, making a large batch and freezing the leftovers is healthier and very inexpensive--the ingredients are average household items. You'll pay a bit out of hand for a bottle of real maple syrup and heavy cream but they'll last, are far more natural and taste much, much better.

I made these on the morning of our snow day and have plenty in the freezer for a week's worth of breakfasts for the kidz. Yummy!

1 3/4 whole wheat flour (or 1/2 and 1/2 or use white wheat flour)
2 T sugar
4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 Cups whole organic milk
2 eggs
3T vegetable oil

sift dry ingredients together. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and oil. Mix into dry ingredients with a wooden spoon just intil combined. My ladel onto hot, greased griddle (I use an electric griddle) and turn when bubbles come to surface. Yield depends on size of pancakes. Top with whipped cream, maple syrup, butter, or berries.

Whipped Cream:
1 Cup heavy cream (I use Horizon organic)
1/2 cup sugar (or evaporated cane juice)
2tsp vanilla (add 1 at a time to taste)

Place metal mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer. I use a large stand mixer, but you can do it by hand. Pour very cold cream into bowl just out of the freezer. Whip until cream just starts to thicken; then add sugar and vanilla slowly to taste (we tend to like ours sweet). Beat until peaks form and it's desired thickness for you.

My kidz like their pancakes silver dollar sized with the syrup and whipped cream on the side for dunking.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recipes for a Snowstorm, Part 2

Trader Joe's 17 Bean and Barley Soup mix and Nachos.
(Want more on Trader Joe's frozen foods and all foods frozen? Check out, a vlog by Gregory Ng, the Frozen Food Master.)

Dear Trader Joe,

I write to confess my love to you. I know, perhaps I should be ashamed to do so, as I am a married woman, but this is no ordinary love. This is not even an affair of the heart, a la Maddonna and A-Rod. This is an affair of the stomach. Joe, from your frozen dinners to your all natural Whoopie Pies to your 17 bean and barley soup, I adore you.

Of course, being a woman and you being a (albeit fictional marketing tool) man, I do feel the need to change you to suit me. Thus, I recently purchased and prepared your 17 bean and barley soup for a frosty snow day's dinner and oh--it was perfect!

Here's what I did:

1 package Trader Joe's 17 Bean and Barley soup mix
32 oz box Trader Joe's chicken broth (low sodium)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 TBS organic olive oil
4 organic carrots, peeled and diced
1 tsp. garlic
1 small can green chiles
small onion, peeled and chopped
1.25 pounds Trader Joe's all-natural chicken breast
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. basil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
organic sour cream
grated cheese (about 8 oz; I buy a brick and grate it myself)
Trader Joe's tortilla chips

Soak bean mix in water overnight. In the morning, rinse beans and add to slow cooker with chicken broth, bay leaf, tomatoes and basil and set to high. Heat skillet with olive oil. Add chicken, garlic, cumin, carrots, onion and chiles. Saute until chicken is browned. Add to slow cooker and cook 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.

Serve topped with grated cheese and sour cream. I served nachos on the side: I placed white corn tortilla chips, covered in grated colby jack cheese, in the broiler for a minute or two until bubbly.

Very, very easy and very yummy. As the snow day wears on the aroma of the soup spreads through the house. Cozy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recipes for a Snowstorm, Part 1

I never imagined I'd be writing about a snowstorm in March from my southern haven, but I am! Of course, we only got a couple of inches here, but it's more than enough to make for a snow day for the Kidz, who were thrilled!

One of the first things we did after breakfast was send the Kidz out into the tundra to gather snow for snow ice cream, a treat I fondly recall from my own Virginia childhood. It's incredibly easy to make and incredibly delicious. Here's the recipe:

Snow (oh, about a gallon; not the yellow stuff)
milk or cream(a cup; keep it out to add more to taste)
sugar, agave nectar, or stevia (I used about a cup of organic cane sugar)
2 TBS maple syrup or 1 TBSP vanilla

I divided my snow into 2 bowls and added 1/2 cup cream to each; I then put about 2/3 cup sugar in one with vanilla; I added 1/3 cup sugar and maple syrup to the other. After stirring them well I divvied them up in pretty antique bowls for the kidz. The pretty bowls were, of course, lost on them completely, but they sure gobbled up the snow cream and came back for more!

No snow storm, no matter how wimpy, is complete without it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Here's a Green and Cost-effective Idea

Kid-to-Kid Consignment store, Apex, NC

I have to admit, I hadn't thought much about consigning my Kidz clothes.  Usually my older daughter's things go to her cousin, and her cousin's things come back to my younger one.  It's a wonderful way to get maximum use out of quickly-outgrown clothes.  After all, Reuse is one of the 3 Rs--that is, the 3 green Rs--Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.  

Consignment stores are a great alternative to traditional mall shopping; area momz take their kidz outgrown clothes, shoes, and gear--including maternity wear--and the store puts them on their racks.  The store keeps a portion of the sales price and and the customer takes her portion in cash or store credit (at my local Kid-to-Kid store, store credit is 20% more than the cash portion I'd get).

Stores usually take clothes seasonally--for example, right now my nearest shop is taking spring and summer clothes.  So now would be a great time for a quick check to see whether last year's summer and spring togs will fit this year; if not, try taking them into a consignment shop! It beats having them in the attic, and in these tough times, second hand is not just greenwise, it's moneywise.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Sign of the Times

It looks like green living is now so in vogue that the state government mandates it in North Carolina! I love seeing this sign not only for the fact that it means that recyclables get recycled even when I go out to eat, but also because it shows that recycling is as mainstream as it can be.  If a government, especially in a traditionally conservative state (though 08 proved to swing left), is willing to require something, you know it's probably years past due.  

Way to go, North Carolina!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Do you miss Rice Krispy Treats?

RECIPE:  Crispy Rice Treats 
with Erewhon Organic Crispy Brown Rice cereal & Elyon Natural Vanilla Marshmallows

My Nature Kidz really missed those neat white squares of sugary, marshmallowy goodness.  But regular marshmallows are anything but natural, containing such ingredients as artificial colors (blue is used to make them more white) and flavors (such as vanillin, which is artificial vanilla derived from petroleum).  And that mainstream rice cereal, well, it *seems* benign but contains added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives.  

In order to avoid these issues, I picked up a package of natural marshmallows from my local health food store.  You can make your own homemade marshmallows, of course, but I wanted a shortcut.  All it takes is butter, rice cereal, and marshmallows. Here's the recipe:

1/4 cup (half stick) butter (I actually used more because I misread the instructions, and they turned out great)
1 pkg. Elyon marshmallows (4 cups)
5 cups Crispy Brown Rice cereal (I used Erewhon)

Melt the butter in medium saucepan.  Add marshmallows and stir constantly until melted and mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in rice cereal.  Press into 9x13 pan or 9x9 pan if you're like me and prefer them thick.  Let cool and enjoy.

I really like this version, and even more I like that the cereal is whole grain brown rice based and has no secret ingredients.  Nature Dad approves, too!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Truly Great Idea

(Photo from Papa Spuds website)
Papa Spuds Organics local produce delivery: Raleigh & Durham area.

This is a truly wonderful idea and is now available in my neck of the woods.  Papa Spuds is a food delivery service focusing on local produce.  It's a service you sign up for, and each week you use a set number of "credits" (20 or 40) for a set price ($22.99 or $40.99); there's a suggested selection of items, but you can customize your weekly delivery.  Items range from locally grown seasonal produce such as potatoes and turnips to bakery items, dried fruit and preserves, and even candy!  Many of the items are organic, and you have the option of selecting strictly locally grown items, or from those grown across the USA.

This concept appeals to me on so many levels: the first is my Lazy Mom impulse. It's far easier to click and choose and then sit around waiting for my items than it is to schlep to various groceries looking for fresh organic items.  The second is my eco-conscious tendency; I like that I can choose organic items and those which are local, thus saving resources on many different levels.  The third is a nutrition level: feeding my kidz what I know are the freshest, least pesticide-riddled items makes me feel like they are getting the best possible nutrition.  Also, I like that I can plan menus around what arrives each week: with today's technology, I can go onto sites like, plug in an ingredient, and get recipes right on my laptop!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Product Review: Milk Alternatives made from Rice, Soy, and Almond

Lately the Nature Family has been on a food odyssey. One of our nature kidz has had some allergic reactions and we've been hosting our own non-televised episode of the popular "Mystery Diagnosis" show.  Unfortunately, the most allergenic foods out there also happen to be Nature Kidz' most commonly eaten ones: dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream), wheat, nuts.  Let's just say that our food groups are: mac and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, and peanut butter sandwiches (thank goodness peas, broccoli, and most fruits fit in there too!).  

In order to eliminate dairy for a while (we will introduce it after a period of time to see if there is a reaction), I definitely needed an alternative.  I purchased the ones pictures above at Trader Joe's on the recommendation of another shopper whom I accosted while she was browsing the dairy alternative aisle.  I'm sure she felt thankful to escape when she did, as I peppered her with multiple questions, like: "is it good? Is it thick? Would you say it's more chocolatey or banana--y"?  

At any rate, here are our thoughts:
None of these "milks" have the thickness and creaminess of whole milk. All of them have their fair share of sugar.  All are lower in fat and calories than whole milk.  3 of the 4 come in shelf-stable packaging, which is convenient.

Vitasoy Chocolate Banana:  This dairy-free soy-based beverage is a favorite of mine.  I think it's delicious--it has a nice chocolate flavor and is great in a smoothie with a frozen banana and some ice.  However, Nature Kidz did not like it.  They found it "too banana-ish."  I guess they were expecting chocolate milk.

Vitasoy Strawberry Banana: Elder Nature Kid loves this stuff.  It helps that her favorite smoothie flavor is strawberry banana.  She drinks this one regularly, and she and I shared a smoothie made with frozen banana, ice, and honey and a good measure of this "filk" (faux milk) and it was really very good. Nature Kid the Youngest did not like it at all.  But then, she is a peanut-butter-and-chocolate smoothie lover.

Trader Joe's Vanilla Rice Drink:  This is an acceptable substitute for milk in cereal, but neither kid liked it at all straight. It just doesn't taste like milk, which is what they wanted.  But over cereal or mixed into things like oatmeal, it's a great substitute and a good price.

Almond Breeze Chocolate Almond Drink: This one is Nature Kid the Youngest's favorite.  She declared it "just right!"  It's got a nice rich chocolate flavor.  This one, of course, presents a problem if a person is allergic to almonds, but it's probably the best-tasting of the bunch and is very kid friendly.

Overall, the fact is that there is no really perfect substitute for milk in terms of taste and additives: though "natural," each of the drinks features here has a lot of sugar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Remember Home Made Play Dough?

The consumer in me had never really thought to make play dough, especially when there is Play-Doh at the stores and it's so cheap.  But we don't have any at home right now and I'm not sure the ingredients are all safe and natural, so I decided to make my own. It's incredibly easy, cheap, and fun. All it takes is a few ingredients and some cookie cutters and scissors (and even those are optional) and your kidz can have hours of fun!

I used my India Tree all natural food colors to color this batch, though you can use other natural colorants.  I don't like the flavor of these for food, but they are an excellent idea for decorating!  

Here's the recipe:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar

Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of coloring and knead until distributed evenly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Here it is: Mom'z Mealz (aka the Hippie Meal)

I wrote before about my plan for the faux happy meals.  Well, I finally got my ebay-purchased Happy Meal toys.  I found some 100% recycled paper bags at Target in two sizes: tote sized with handles and a smaller size to fit nuggets and fries.  I also created a little "logo" since we're obviously not creating real happy meals but, rather, Mom'z Mealz.

But here they are.  The ingredients:

Home made lemon-lime soda (see recipe on this blog)
Applegate farms all-natural chicken nuggets
Whole Foods' 365 Everyday brand Organic Shoestring potatoes, tossed in olive oil and baked
organic ketchup
steamed broccoli
small toy

The result?  Two very happy kidz, especially my 6 year old who really, really, really misses happy meals.  It's really all about the toy, anyway.  

My brother heard about this and gave the meals a new name: "Hippie Meals."  I love it.  I will incorporate it into the "logo" I made.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Product Review: Tom's All Natural Cookie Dough (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip)

Dadz Rating: Solid B. 
Kidz Rating: Kid 1: A- "Yummy! So chewy, just right!" Kid 2: B+ --"kinda thick"

I found this brand of cookie dough at my local Super Target; it looked promising as the only ingredients were things I could pronounce and had, myself, put in cookie recipes, like unbleached flour, peanut butter, butter, sugar, and the like.  There was not one mystery ingredient.  A visit to the brand's website provides more information: Tom's Cookies was originally a small San Francisco, CA bakery that has blossomed into a pretty big business (it must be if it's selling its wares at Target!).   

The packaging really does draw this Nature Mom in--its folksy and has that endearing, mom-and-pop feel of companies like Ben & Jerry's.  It certainly was easy to prepare: the website says to cook for 20 minutes at 325; the packaging said 15-18 minutes.  Well, I burned the first batch of 6 and it only came with 12!  The second time I cooked the dough (already formed and waiting to be baked) I shortened baking time to 12 minutes.  They were a little undercooked inside but on the verge of overcooking on the bottoms.  Not good.  

Would I recommend these? Well, that's a tough call.  $4.99 for 12 cookies in a cute box seems like a lot, especially when 20 minutes and a 9x13 pan is all you need for some awesome homemade bar cookies out of stuff you probably already have at home.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My moment of genius

My kidz miss happy meals.  What can I say, there have been times that our family have relied on fast food.  And happy meals, well, they're like crack for kids.  Deep fried "food," soda, and toys.  What more could they want?

Well, I'm not going there any more.  It's not part of our plan.  But still, the 6 year old keeps asking.

So tonight, while chatting on Facebook with my sister in law, I hit upon a possible solution.  The faux happy meal.  Ok, it won't be the actual real thing, but it will come a close second.

I mentioned that at a doctor's office, 6 year old Nature Kid had become obsessed with a toy: a little white dalmation in a red car.  I flipped it over to see where it was from and of course, it said: "Disney. Made for McD Corp." on it.  Of course, the 2 biggest American addictions for kids: Disney and McDonald's.  She mentioned I could probably find the toy on Ebay.

And voila.  One instant message led to another, and I decided I could try it.  I went on Ebay and just won myself about 8 genuine Happy Meal toys of varying types (they have tons and tons on there, new in their packaging, from as far back as the 90s).  My 6 year old adores animals, especially dogs.  My 9 year old likes the Madame Alexander dolls and McD's has periodically done a series of Happy Meal toys featuring those.  Once they arrive I will plan a special "picnic" night at home (since it will probably be too cold for a real picnic, we can spread a blanket on the floor).  I'll bake some of our all natural chicken nuggets (there are a couple of brands my kids like that are more McNuggety than others), some thin "fries," and home made sprite (see my recipe).  I will put it all in brown paper bags and include a toy and voila! A fun "fast food" night I can truly feel okay about.

As I said to my sister in law, I feel like a genius.  Or maybe a sucker. 

But when it all comes together, I'll post a picture.  And their reactions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

One Word: Yummy

Zevia natural sodas.  Available at Whole Foods, $5.99/6-pack

I confess. I am a diet cola-holic.  I'm so bad I'm not even loyal to Coke or Pepsi; either will do in a pinch.  This is not a particularly good thing for my attempts at leading a more natural life.

Enter Zevia natural cola.  This stuff is so good.  It's sweetened with stevia, an all-natural sweetener that's the latest thing in the zero-calorie sweetener market.  It's natural, though.  And wow.  I actually prefer Zevia cola to Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.  I was at Whole Foods (gosh, that place really needs to channel me some advertising money) recently and they had put out samples of the stuff and had a stack of $2 off coupons.  They sure know how to rope in the cheapskates like me--free stuff AND coupons!  And it worked.  I tried a couple of the flavors and they were really good, but cola is really the only soda I drink.  If you're a root beer fan, or an orange soda fan, you just might like Zevia's versions.

Now, I bought a box of stevia once and tried it in my coffee and it was awful--just nasty.  I did a little research on it tonight and it seems that this can be the case when the stevia used is not the best--there can be an aftertaste.  Well, Zevia is super good and just plain sweet.  In fact, it seems to me that it tastes more like regular Pepsi than Diet Pepsi does.  I love it.  Plus, I've just learned that the cans they use for packaging are recycled.  It's good for the eco-conscience, too.

Of course, there is the matter of the price.  Ouch.  And we're not exactly living in carefree times.  But I think I might be able to cut back on total soda consumption in order to afford this stuff.  It's just that good.  Try it.  You'll like it.

To learn more about Stevia, try Dr. Mercola's site.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I have been doing research on low- and zero-VOC paints.  We're going to paint our kidz' room and we wanted to go with the healthiest paint products possible.  With a little internet research we discovered the Common Ground Green Building Center and from there, the AFM Brand of zero-VOC paints.  AFM's "Safecoat" brand of paints offers an amazing collection of gorgeous colors with their Ayurveda line, the colors grouped by personality type using Ayurvedic philosophy. An excerpt:

Pitta individuals may develop occasional inflammatory conditions. They have a general tendency to a moderate, athletic frame with a muscular body mass, and a sharp, energetic personality. Cooling therapy may lower a tendency toward irritability. Balance may be derived by colors that cool, moderate, and soothe.

Under each type is a selection of colors with names like "Revive" and "Fire" and "Memory" (think I'll paint my room in that color). How cool.  How trendy.  How earth-friendly.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Home Made "Sprite" (Lemon-Lime Soda)

KIDZ Rating: A
MOMZ Rating: A

I got this recipe from the Feingold handbook and it's soooo good! Here's a great way to make the occasional treat of soda without any artificial flavors, colors, or nasty high-fructose corn syrup.  It's really quite yummy and you can take it to its healthiest level by using organic fruit and sugar.  It's very simple.  This recipe makes about 14oz or so, or about 2 servings of the drink; there will be leftover simple syrup to use for later batches.

1/4 cup Simple Syrup (see below)
12 oz seltzer water
3T lemon juice
1 1/2 T lime juice (I squeezed my own for the freshest taste possible)

Combine and pour over ice in glasses.

Simple Syrup:  combine 2C sugar (I used organic) and 1C water in pan.  Cook on low heat, stirring often until sugar is dissolved and mixture is clear.  Store extra in refrigerator.

Another recipe from Feingold is for vanilla soda: combine 1/4 C. simple syrup, 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla. and 12 oz seltzer water.  We haven't tried this yet but will soon!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Resolving to Stay Green in 2009

If you're a mom like me, looking for simple but effective ways we can individually make the world a better place, we can start with our mailboxes.  Once again I was overwhelmed this holiday season with catalogs.  And while I don't necessarily mind catalogs now and then, it never ceases to amaze me how I end up on a dozen mailing lists after making a purchase from just one retailer. 

But as it is the new year and time for resolutions, I've resolved to have less filler for my recycle bin.  One way you can do this is by going to Catalog Choice online.  For even more ideas about reducing junk mail, from stopping delivery of unwanted phone books to how to hire a service to do the work for you, try Ecocycle.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Humble Pine Cone

I brought some big pine cones when we moved from Florida.  Our home there had a number of long-leaf pines on the property which produced some really nice, 8-12 inch tall pine cones every year.  I discovered these in our attic when searching for holiday decorations, and realized that they would probably serve a better purpose as a craft and feeder for birds than just sitting around in my attic.

The peanut-butter-and-birdseed pine cone is an old, tried and true activity for kidz.  But, like many things in my crazy busy old life, it isn't something I'd done with my kidz in a number of years.  What better way to spend a cold winter's day?

If you've never made one, it's simple: just spread peanut butter (we used Whole Foods' 365 every day brand peanut butter, which is quite a bargain) on the pine cone, then pour bird seed (purchased at the local grocery or hardware store) over it--the seed should stick.  Kidz who are okay with messy hands can mash the seeds into the peanut butter.  Then just hang the pine cones from tree branches.  

My nature kidz loved doing this and also loved pouring the excess seed onto our deck and watching the winter birds snack--blue birds, cardinals, and more came right into the yard and onto the deck.