Monday, July 28, 2014

My birthday gift arrived...here comes a future review

Alright!  My birthday gift arrived and it was the compost bin I wanted from NatureMill.  After hearing everything Michael went through I am really hoping that the bin works better than his experience so far.  There will be a full review once we hook it up and use it for about a month (provided we keep it), I should at least give it a chance to make compost before I say if it's worth it or not.  What I can tell you at this point is this:

  • Customer Service is non-existent. He placed his order on an in stock item that was listed to ship in 5-7 days.  Well, after two weeks he tried to call them and got what sounded like voice mail, as in one individual not a department.  His emails were also not returned.  Finally, his card was charged after he tried to get a hold of them to cancel and the unit arrived.
  • The unit is made of some kind of foam material, which is mildly concerning to me.  It gets hot inside and I'm nervous it will melt.  The mechanics inside are stainless steel, but the rest of the inside is this foam stuff.
  • The website is not up to date.  The stainless steel version has not been available to a while and yet the images are still of that one, which is not what you get...you get a foam textured unit.
  • Easy returns is a complete lie!  Once you use the item it cannot be returned at all.  If it breaks they send you replacement parts and you fix it yourself.
  • Not all foods can go in it.  We eat a lot of green vegetables, which cannot go in it.  I understand no corn cobs or large bones, but broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and mustard greens?  Those are all items we eat a lot of.
  • It is a really tight fit.  The lid is hard to open and so it the bottom.  I assume this is how they avoid any smell, but I cannot currently open it without the entire unit moving or using my legs to stabilize it
  • All doors and lids seal with the foam, which may or may not break down with wear and tear.
So far I want to send it back and am really nervous Michael just spent $500 on what will not last us until winter. I offered to send it back but he said it is what I wanted so we can keep it.  I can tell he is really unhappy with the purchase so far and is nervous, as I am, that it won't turn out to be a good purchase and there is no chance of getting any money back, because the warranty only gives you replacement parts not a refund.  If the item melts there is nothing you can do, they do not allow you to mail the item back in...you'd actually have to buy a new unit at discount, but who would want a new one after theirs died a quick death. I'm really nervous that this might backfire on me.  Here is hoping a friends high recommendation of it is true.  She loves hers, but I wonder if she has the old model that is stainless steel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Just Another Life Update

It has been a couple weeks since my last update and I'm finally getting my life into order.  I don't mean that it is generally a mess, but I'm finding a schedule that works for me.  This week I managed to find someone to work one of my shifts that was completely outside of my availability, so now I will actually have a day off and only 7 shifts to work between my jobs!  Perhaps I will get some gardening done, but that may be hopeful thinking.

Eating Better
I am officially under 140 lbs and that is nice, especially since I wasn't trying to do anything other than eat better.  I've tried a few new cookbooks and am loving the library selection!  I also love that no one else ever seems to put holds on them and I can just renew my checkout until I'm done. I haven't found many recipes to use outright, but I have found so many that I can adjust to my needs that work well.  Of course, the beet hummus recipe I found was awful, but we think we have an idea on how to fix it next time.  All in all, though, this CSA is really helping us branch out and eat fresh, clean foods.

Reading
We have been reading books for at least 20 minutes a day, and 20 minutes minimum to Abigail. During class breaks I tend to read, during my downtime I read, before bed I read.  I'm reading a lot more now and I love it.  I am also using Hoopla Digital more.  I'm not often a fan of audio books, but it has been helpful for books about organizing or cleaning or easy reading books; I listen to it and follow along or do my chores and get a book chapter in.

Breaking Ties and Cleaning House
It's been really great to clean up  my life.  I cut ties with someone who was constantly bringing me down and causing stress, and that led me to check-out the audio book about throwing things away.  I felt so good I just wanted to keep going.  So I did! I checked out an audio book about throwing things away and it gives to goal to throw 50 things away while listening to it.  I didn't throw away 50 things, but I did keep a list and donated a lot.  I'll post it all later...Based on the rules it's less than 25 things, but I am proud of how much I cleaned out.

T.V. Time
Well, we don't have a cable provider, but I was still using Hulu and Amazon Prime a lot.  I do still use Prime to watch documentaries at times, and we still check out movies from the library, but currently on the air tv shows? I couldn't even tell you what is on, let alone what is happening.  Goodbye Hulu time suck! Goodbye long tv shows on Prime.  Don't get me wrong, I still watch some things, but I got into a show that had over 20 seasons and two seasons in I was losing interest, season 3 I was fast-forwarding through half of the episodes, and by the time I hit season 4 I skipped entire episodes and finally said I was done.  No more tv shows, not even ones that are done airing or have several seasons behind it already. It will be hard when Downtown Abbey comes on again.

Trash Time
One of my goals was to cut down on trash.  It wasn't that we make a ton, but I felt we could still do better.  So, how are we doing?  We still make trash, but we honestly probably make less than one trash bin or trash a month.  If it wasn't for food scraps like tomato tops and vegetable skins we wouldn't even need to take it to the curb as often.  My birthday is coming up and Michael said he ordered my gift.  My immediate response was "COMPOSTER!!!!" Well, after prying more and more, chances are I'm not getting a NatureMill composter, but I will get one eventually.  He currently thinks I'm insane for wanting one for my birthday more than anything.  And honestly, other than pay part of my tuition bill, the NatureMill Ultra is next on the list.  Maybe that makes me insane, but I really want one.  It would decrease our trash even that much more.  I think it might get us down to "needing" to take out the trash every other month or less.  Recycling bin, that poor thing is finally less full as we've cut back on buying things.

Gardening
Another reason I want the composter is so I can turn it over in the garden.  I was drying out egg shells in the house and shaking them in a container to break them up, but after a couple containers of it and covering all my plant bases in it to avoid slugs I stopped.  It would just get gross too fast if things weren't washed enough and it was a bit of a pain.  The bin would really help with that.  Another gardening project is finishing the yard design, which is completely drawn up on graphing paper, but now the skeleton design needs a shell and some paint.  Oh...and we have some big water barrels for water storage.  Guess who said I can turn them into rain barrels this fall?!  YEAH!

So, overall it's going great.  There should be more reviews coming, more recipes, and even some reviews of recipes I found online that belong to other people and came out great!  I'll even toss in a link to the recipe, because why not share it!  Oh and vegan my ice cream adventures are really taking off and now without the banana! I start yoga and Kettle Bell next week and will have at least one day off a week from work and school for that.  So, less weight, healthier eating, less trash, less consumer culture, better life style...over all it's a win!  It's not been completely smooth sailing, but it's totally a win!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Recipe: Beet Chips

We have found that we really love these. They are slightly firm, don't stain your hands, and are a great munching snack.  They aren't flimsy or hard, it's a nice middle ground where the beet holds it's shape well, is slightly crisp, but still soft in texture. Oh and you don't need a fork!!! I recommend an apron while cooking though.

Ingredients:
3 beets
1" fresh ginger
1/3 cup water
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup granulated cane sugar

Method:
Day 1
Use a vegetable peeler and peel the beets.
Set your mandoline to 1.5 mm or 3 mm and cut beets (or cut by hand to width of a debit card).*
Place in a bowl in the fridge uncovered overnight.  You can do this for a few hours, but overnight seems to work best to reduce the bleeding and keep them crisper.

Day 2
Take your ginger, peel it, and slice it up into at least 4 pieces.  The more pieces the more flavor it will give off, but too many pieces and it may be hard to get out of the pot later.
In a medium size pot, combine all ingredients except the beets and bring to a low boil and then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Once 5 minutes has passed, remove the ginger, add the beets, and return to a boil.
Boil for 3 minutes, stirring the beets so that all the beets get a chance to be coated in the vinegar mixture for a bit of time.  Do not go over 3 minutes or the beets will get too soft and won't hold their shape well.
Remove from heat and let everything cool in the pot.
Once cooled, removed beets and place in a lidded jar for storage. We use a large mason jar and have extra room. (Discard the vinegar mixture or save to use on a salad).
Store in the fridge and enjoy!

*If cutting by hand, I recommend cutting the beets in half;  place the flat side down to help stabilize them.

Note:
I have no idea how long these will hold in a fridge in a mason jar. I'm betting it's a while, but they seldom last 3 days without being completely devoured by us.  Who'd have thought this journey to being healthier and more eco-friendly would bring about a love of beets! Not us, but now we are really excited to get beets in the weekly CSA box.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Eco-Life Update

Alright, being eco is not always easy.  We have an older house with no air conditioning, and we temperature control with the two ceiling fans and windows.  If it's cool out we open the windows, blinds, and curtains, but if it's warm out we close them all during the day.  There have been a couple days where we felt the need to shower before bed, but that is often on a hot day we still had to cook on.  In other news, I'm getting better about stacking my recipes!  If I have two recipes that call for the same oven temperature I get one in the oven going and once the next one is ready I toss it in too!  I can fit two pans side by side and have two racks, so if two pans are bread they go on top and the lower can be for dried fruit or veggie chips with no problem.  It helps reduce the heat in the house.

For a couple weeks we were getting Panera bagels on Tuesday for the $7 for 13 deal.  It was nice, but in the end we would have to both eat a bagel a day!  That's a lot of carbs and calories for one item.  Instead of making full loaves, I made focaccia this week and it came out awesome!  I only make one or two loaves of bread a month right now, so we have cut back on bread a lot.  I also don't make cakes anymore at the moment.  I did make a nutella bread the other day and it was the worst idea ever.  It was tasty, but not tasty enough for the calories I consumed in the 36 hours it took to eat the entire nutella twist.

So, if we aren't eating bread what are we eating?  Well, the CSA has started and each Thursday we get more fruits and vegetables.  We paid extra for an additional full share of fruit and we split a full fruit and veggie share with someone else.  So the first week Michael came home with 6 containers of strawberries, 2 beets, 2 carrots, 2 parsnips, 3 potatoes, half a bunch of collard greens, a container of salad greens, grape tomatoes, and 2 rutabaga. I may even be forgetting something.  He came in with the ice chest full and my PinkThumb Produce Bac Sac full! (Review coming soon).  So we went out and bought a bigger ice chest with wheels and said goodbye to our styrofoam one from last year.  We made an oriental vegetable soup and tossed in the potatoes with it, had an edamame salad, beet hummus, strawberry jam, fresh fruit cups, and froze half of the strawberries. I'll I had to pick up at the local asian store was one raddish!

The next week was similar but we had turnip, rhubarb, kale, and large tomatoes instead of rutabaga and collard greens.  I made half the berries into strawberry rhubarb jam, beet carpaccio, oven candied strawberries, potato-parsnip mash, turnip chips, and we made a salad using the lettuce growing in the window.  That combined with my muesli, focaccia, otsu, and the left over beet hummus and we were set for the week.  The best part is, other than tofu we keep the items for otsu on hand all the time, it goes into the staple supply with flour, sugar, oats, noodles.  We don't have to get much at the store anymore.

If you noticed, I said we used the lettuce from our window.  That's right, we bought romaine at the store a while back for a salad and I put the base in water.  It takes about a week or two, but it does give us enough leaves to combine with the greens we get from the CSA, or roughly enough leaves for a one person salad or several sandwiches.  We also have tomatoes, basil, mint, thyme, and cayene peppers growing on the front porch.  The back yard has green and red peppers, green onions, garlic, raspberries, and regular onions. Our wild raspberries are doing well this year in the back of the back yard, but our garden raspberries are likely dead.  We put the plant in the ground after getting it as a gift, but it doesn't seem to be doing well.  Actually, I really think it is dead.  That being said, I never did research to see if I could put peppers near it, but we got 36 pepper plants from a neighbor for free and I couldn't turn that down!  We grabbed mint, thyme, and a cherry tomato plant at the farmers market and the basil plant is from Trader Joe's via my dad.

It doesn't seem like we are growing much, but it is our first year and we felt it was more important to start small and learn before taking on a ton and killing it all.  This will also lead to more reviews, as our pepper plants in the ground are being attacked by something, but the hanging ones aren't.  Growing 100% pesticide free means I get to do things like shake up egg shells and place them around the peppers to avoid slug damage.  That actually seems to be helping a bit.  My basil is looking rough now that it is outside, which I think is due to aphids and leaf spot based on how it looks and the fact that it was thriving inside! I only took it outside because Abby really wanted to play with it and I thought it'd be fine out there, better actually.  So I may have to restart that.  Oh well, live and learn.  The plant was free anyway.  Actually we spent about $5 on all our plants, so the biggest cost has been pots, planters and soil.

We are still working on killing the tv, well I am, Michael has no interest in giving up YouTube at night.  He didn't like the book I gave him to read, he says he wants to read it but hates the internal conflict narrative.  Instead of skipping over the parts of No Impact Man where he is debating his struggles with choices, he just put the book down and quit reading.  Great!  We are reading to Abby 20 minutes a day minimum, which in turn means we are also reading at night.  Michael actually passed out after reading to her last night, it was cute to see him asleep in the chair and her sitting on his lap just staring off into space as bed time approached.  I have gone through half of my magazine supply and recycled what I do not want.  Once I start my paper flowers, the others will quickly follow.

We are making the transition into e-books.  I hate to do it, but when space is an issue you don't have much choice.  Abby still gets printed books, but we are donating a lot of ours to the library's store so they can raise money by selling them and in turn we are replacing those that we like with e-books.  Some books we are keeping, you know my collection of classics, autographed copies of books, text books, art books, non-fiction and cook books, and my favorites that I've already bought 4 times but can't get via e-book (which would have been cheaper than buying a new copy every time one got ruined by rain, coffee, or children).  I guess really we are cutting down on fiction books in print.  If more of my non-fiction books were in e-book format I'd think about switching over, but for now getting down to one small book shelf will work.  I used to have multiple 6+ foot high shelves full of books!  That's cutting my collection down to 25% or less.

As you can see, things are going good.  We still have the same struggles as most families with tv time, but when it comes to the reduce, reuse, recycle part of life I think we are ahead of the game.  We are even learning to be urban gardeners and source food from local farms.  We hang clothes to dry, we have planned out the rest of the garden beds to build just before winter, and we spend a lot of time outside as a family.  It's been a really positive change in our lives.  Once I'm down to one job (two currently) or just two jobs that have more normal hours (no off at 2 am shifts), things will be even easier.  Here's to summer classes being half done, to my garden slowly showing signs of life, and to eating cleaner and not letting slight hiccups stop me from getting back on track.

Recipe: Muesli

We get our rolled oats at the local farmers market.  Unlike store bought oats they aren't steamed in advance or even rolled out, they roll them right in front of you, so the nutrients is all still there!  It's great, same price as steal cut oats at the store, and we love the flavor.  Two weeks ago they had refrigerator oatmeal as samples and a cookbook I have includes a muesli recipe, so I thought why not combine the two ideas, exchange a few ingredients with things we prefer, and switch it up a bit.  Here's my recipe:

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or craisins
1/4 teaspoon salt (two quick dashes will work)
Kiefer
Optional:
1-1.5 tsp maple syrup
1/4 cup oat germ
Craisins or diced apples for garnish

Method:
Take all of the dry ingredients, including oat germ if using it, and mix in a bowl, tupperware, pamper chef measuring bowl, large mason jar, etc.  Shake to mix well.  Store in cool, dry place until ready to eat.  Your bowl or jar is your choice, but you will want to be sure you can get a 1/2 cup measuring scoop into it or are comfortable pouring from it.

Serving:
Take 1/2 of the oat mix and combine with 1/2 cup of kiefer (if you used oat germ you may need to add up to an additional 1/4 cup kiefer or add water) and maple syrup if using it.  Mix and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour (I prefer to make it the night before and let it all mix, but in a pinch you can eat it after 1 hour).  Garnish with some diced apples or more craisins if desired.

Nutrition and Sourcing:
Info below is based on 1 tsp of maple syrup, no extra garnish, and no oat germ.  If you do not have local oats available to you and would like fresh oats, you can actually order them online for the same price we pay in person from The Grainery.  We love them, seriously!  We buy 2 bags at a time and go back every two to four weeks to get more.
Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
Calories 199
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 4 g6 %
Saturated Fat 1 g6 %
Monounsaturated Fat 1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 5 mg2 %
Sodium 136 mg6 %
Potassium 7 mg0 %
Total Carbohydrate 32 g11 %
Dietary Fiber 5 g20 %
Sugars 11 g
Protein 10 g19 %
Vitamin A5 %
Vitamin C2 %
Calcium16 %
Iron8 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: Diva Cup

For those who have no idea what diva cup it, it's a reusable feminine hygene product.  So, men you might want to check out now unless you are looking into this for someone else, or just really want to know.  Anyway, it's a menstrual cup, it's silicone and you replace it every year. I've had the chance to use it several times now and I'm finally ready to give it a full review.

First, the sizing is really easy to figure out.  If you have ever had a baby you are a size two or if you haven't had a baby but are 30 or older you are a size two.  If you are under 30 and have never had a baby you are size one.  It's that easy!  So I ordered my size two and it was here in two days.  I read all the instructions and at first found it kind of awkward to insert.  I really recommend trying multiple fold methods to figure out what works best for you. For me it was folding it in half, and it made it pretty simple. I was done, on with  my day.  Or so I thought...

Well, there is a part in the instructions that says once inserted to turn it a complete turn.  I skipped that part because it was so awkward at first and I couldn't seem to get it.  Problem one is that I needed to trim my nails.  I have really long natural nails and I have to trim them every week or two because they grow so fast. I was due to trim them back down from the quarter inch they were.  Next, I needed to do the turn before it was all the way in place and it was harder to reach the stem.  After a while it was no longer an issue, but at first it wasn't easy for me to grab the end piece and turn.

Flow!  Supposedly you can wear it for up to 12 hours and it will hold just under 1 ounce.  For most women this is great, because the average full cycle flow is 1-2 ounces.  For me...not so much.  I'm one of those people who suddenly had a major change in cycle and flow triggering exams and medications to correct it.  I can lose 1-2 ounces in three to four hours.  On average I lose 4+ ounces a cycle and I get my cycle twice a month...every 15-17 days! It's insane and after a battery of exams I get to take a medication to try and fix it. That being said...I'm a rare case and once I got the timing and flow down this worked great for me!

I always thought my flow was heavy, but how do you tell when you are using disposable tampons and pads. I'd always have leaks and I'd even have leaks with overnight pads.  I will say that due to how heavy my flow is the first two days of my cycle I would wear a pad with the cup at first.  After a couple times I was able to empty and replace the cup within 30 minutes of bed and change it when I wake up and I was fine.  After the first two days my flow really lightens up so I could go to the every 12 hours for a change.  This is likely what most women get to do...it's kind of nice.

The icky part...okay so it isn't all rainbows, butterflies and my little ponies! Emptying it was really gross at first.  Learn how to angle your hand/wrist and learn when you need to empty. Once I figure that out it was fine.  I will say that if you have a really heavy flow or do the 12 hours change thing to fill it up more, it might be best to not use a low flow toilet.  I've had times where it's so full I'd flush and there would be some residual blood and what still visible.  Since I think that leaving it like that is a fast way to make Michael turned off or sick to his stomach I just flush twice if it happens...or I put a couple squares of toilet paper down before I pull it out if I get it part way out.  Works just fine and I couldn't be happier to still be using it.  Oh and a bonus!  Ever use tampons or pads and have a smell?  There is no smell with this because the oxygen doesn't get in there to create it!

Verdict:  Get it and use it!  Once you figure it out, which only takes two cycles it's amazing!  Even if you have a heavy flow it works, just change it more often.  It can also help you determine if you have an abnormally heavy flow and give numbers to your doctor so they can help correct things.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Pudding (Sets faster)

I made a vegan chocolate mousse the other day and it was good, but you could taste the alcohol in it.  Win with the husband, not so much with me.  I used the recipe to make a new recipe for vegan chocolate pudding. I have one I already use, but this one sets a lot faster...and thus is a huge win if you aren't making the pudding a day in advance.

Ingredients:

12 oz of silken tofu (soft tofu)*
1 1/2 cups vegan semisweet chocolate chips or 1 bag of Ghirardelli Mini Semi Sweet Chips**
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
Pinch of salt
Splash of vanilla extract (optional)

Method:

Using a double broiler (or place a small pan or metal bowl in a larger one that contains water). Bring water to a simmer.  If you are using the mini chips listed pour in the entire bag, if you are using large chips measure the chips out and add in 1/2 cup increments as the chips melt down.

Either in a small sauce pan or microwave, heat the soy milk and place into a blender or food processor.  Drain the water out of the soy container* and all ingredients with the melted chocolate last and turn it on!  Chill for 60-90 minutes in container(s) and enjoy!

*I have included a link to the exact silken tofu I use.  If you use this same one you can open the container, drain the water, cut the tofu in half and cut one of those halves in half again.  You will then use the large half and one of the two smaller halves (or quarters to be exact); this will equal 12 oz.  I highly recommend draining the water and cutting the tofu in the container as silken and soft tofu will break very easily making it  very hard to cut accurately depending on the breaks.  The extra tofu you can store in water to use later or you may be able to add it in for softer pudding, use less for firmer pudding that comes out almost like dense mousse.

**I use Ghirardelli Chips, they are dairy free but are made in a factory with milk chocolate chips.  If you have a dairy allergy get vegan chips at a health food store and measure your chips out.

PICTURE SOON!  Third batch is in the fridge now!