Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CSA Weeks #7, 8, and 9

Has it been this long?! I'll admit I've been neglecting my blogging duties (more about that in my previous post), but I hadn't realised I'd missed so many CSA updates. And there's another one to come for tonight!

I won't get into the ins and outs of where all the food has gone, but instead just generalities. First of all, we've lost a lot of greens. Our fridge tends to freeze stuff when it gets too full and it has been too full. (Frozen greens are limp and gross!) I've dialed down the temp and hopefully that will help. Also my youngest (still breastfeeding) gets terrible gas pains whenever I indulge in a green salad. This has been a major deterrent, despite how much I love them.

Next, I can't seem to keep the beets. Why do they always go soft on me? I can't figure it out. The potatoes and sweet potatoes are kicking along, as are the onions, except that they're now sprouting on me. The garlic is piling up (another gas-maker) and so are the celery and carrots. Fruit is not a problem - it generally gets eaten long before the week is through. The challenges lately? Avocado, cauliflower, and cucumber (we were overloaded in the summer).

My biggest problem lately however, has been focus. I've been busy with my new business and have not been cooking as much. The push is now easing and I'm starting to cook again. We've all got colds now, though, so that might put a hamper on things for a few more days.

As for recipes, well I've made chili, lasagna, and shepherd's pie recently using some of the produce. All are easy, frugal stand-bys and are especially welcome with the cold weather we've had lately. (I'll post recipe links soon!)

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #7
Mushrooms (bag) 103 g
Yams (2) 501 g
Onions - medium (5) 585 g
Onions - small (4) 255 g
Beets (5) 390 g
Avocado (1) 193 g
Spring Mix (bag) 220 g
Baby Swiss Chard (bag) 238 g
Celery (bunch) 688 g
Green Pepper (1) 229 g
Garlic (2) 100 g
Tomato (1) 176 g
Apples (6) 571 g
Total - 5.041 kg

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #8
Yams (2) 430 g
Onions (3) 493 g
Spring Mix (bag) 147 g
Baby Spinach (bag) 154 g
Carrots (bag) 996 g
Garlic (2) 98 g
Apples (6) 707 g
Pears (2) 325 g
Oranges (4) 664 g
Cauliflower (1) 649 g
Bananas (5) 1020 g
Potatoes (4) 591 g
Total - 6.274 kg

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #9
Red Onions (3) 459 g
Spring Mix (bag) 156 g
Spinach (bunch) 222 g
Garlic (1) 51 g
Apples (4) 516 g
Grapefruit (1) 371 g
Lemon (1) 127 g
Bananas (5) 1034 g
Avocado (1) 180 g
Green Pepper (1) 318 g
Potatoes (4) 615 g
Green Beans 366 g
Summer Lettuce 233 g
Celery (bunch) 689 g
Slicing Cucumber (1) 335 g
Total - 7.672 kg

Oh and I have to mention that I have been enjoying immensely the Beretta Organics ground turkey I bought from Goodness Me! last week. I have never tasted anything like it! It tastes like 'meat'. I can't really describe it except to say that it is soooooo good. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, it tastes the way ground turkey should taste. It actually tastes even better than I ever thought it could taste. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so. I've had ground beef from Beretta in the past and raved about it. I've also got some of their bacon sitting in the freezer for a special occasion and I'm sure it will be the best bacon I've ever had. I've already looked into buying in bulk from Beretta, but since we don't live in their delivery area we'd have to drive to King City to pick it up ourselves. I'm seriously considering placing an order to do just that. Not only does the meat taste better, it feels better to know that the animals have been respected and raised in a humane and healthy fashion.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Life Less Simple

Well, this is not simplifying at all: I've started a new business. I had no intention of working from home, but it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I am now a consultant for Usborne Books at Home, a company based in the UK that makes wonderful books for children and teens. As a consultant, I do home shows, exhibits, and promote literacy. Once I have a little experience under my belt, I aim to get certified to sell to schools and do literacy fairs.

I got hooked a few weeks ago when a friend of mine hosted a party and I was blown away by the quality of the books. I wanted them all. Better yet, they have a large French language catalogue. My husband is French and we are endeavouring to raise the boys bilingual. Trying to find French books for purchase (the library is pretty well stocked) in Hamilton is a losing battle. We're limited to a very small rack at one Indigo store. Usborne has almost 500 French titles in Canada. They sell very well in Quebec and I hope to find a wide audience in our area.
Recycling things to make and do
So why didn't I just buy instead of deciding to sell? My husband asked me the same question. I already have my hands full already with two little ones and a university course on the side. (Not to mention my poor, neglected blog.) Despite this, I was craving another challenge. I'm lucky to be surrounded in my life by small business owners and there's a part of me that has itched to try my hand at it. I attended my first Social Mamas mamapreneurs meeting this month and found a welcoming group of creative and talented businesswomen full of helpful ideas to get me started.
The Story of Rubbish
But how does my new job fit into my philosophy of simplicity, self-sufficiency, and frugality? That was my big stumbling block
- Simple? Not. My life and the life of my family will become more busy and complicated for sure. We will also have a lot more 'stuff' in our home, but books are something I make an exception for and we've already got a ton of them. A little more won't hurt and they are useful, reusable, beautiful, and educational.
- Self-sufficient? I will be providing access for my children to a wealth of high quality, engaging reading material for very little cost to us. I will also (I hope!) be bringing a little more money into our budget, thereby allowing us a little more financial freedom.
- Frugal? The initial investment was very very small and will be made back quickly. In return, I have LOTS and LOTS of great books. Assuming I would have been buying the books anyway in the future, this is a very frugal decision.
Le temps et les changements climatiques
Now, can I run a business in a way that supports and promotes my principles? This is where I'm looking for suggestions. Usborne itself has impressive ethical and safety policies, which pertain to the manufacturing of its products. But how do I advertise and communicate and package in an eco-conscious fashion? I'd rather not give customers their orders in plastic bags, so I'm trying to find a greener way to meet the need to keep the books safe from the elements. I'm not seeing many options yet. I've got a theory I'm about to test and if it works, I may have a solution. More on that another time. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment, I'm all ears. As for advertising and marketing, I'm relying on word-of-mouth and the internet. I've got a temporary website set up and will be making a more customized one myself (once I learn a little about web design). Facebook and Twitter are also becoming fixtures in my life as I learn how to use them as business tools rather than pure social networking arenas.

This is a strange new world for me and having done no research ahead of time, I'm scrambling to catch up. How do you balance your work life and home life and manage to adhere to your personal philosophy of life?

Update: find my new Usborne website here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CSA Week #6

Realising this blog won't write itself, I figure it's time. I'll admit I'm hesitant since I'm feeling a little guilty about my progress with our veggies. My reason for blogging about our experience with a weekly Community Supported Agriculture share was to force me to be accountable and push me to use it wisely. Thank goodness for that, otherwise we might have long been buried in rotting produce.

I'll also admit that this week I've also been a little distracted. I've been crocheting my little heart out, both for my family and for charity. The kids have been challenging too this week and when they'd finally relax, so would I. We had our in-laws here for the weekend and for once, I didn't cook much. (Usually I relish the opportunity to try out some new recipes on them, as they're adventurous eaters.)

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #6
Carrots (bag) 921 g
Onions (4) 639 g
Boston Lettuce (1) 234 g
Arugula (1 bunch) 103 g
Celery (1) 831 g
Yams (1) 470 g
Potatoes (5) 748 g
Cabbage (1) 524 g
Bosc Pears (5) 926 g
Apples (6) 888 g
Bananas (6) 1.006 kg
Oranges (3) 438 g
Total - 7.728 kg

We've currently got 3 full bags of carrots (!) in the fridge begging to be used. There's still zucchini, avocado (is it still usable?), lots of salad greens, celery, some apples, and pears. There's a pile of onions, potatoes, and yams waiting patiently for consumption. I still haven't made the Curried Carrot and Cashew Soup (today, maybe) or the Zucchini Carrot Muffins. I did make a butter chicken dish using some of the onion, potato, and carrot - delicious, but I used a commercial spice mix so won't be posting the recipe this time. I'm still a little intimidated by guacamole (is it tough to make? how quickly does it need to be eaten? are the avocados still edible?) so that hasn't been made yet.

I did make a Spelt Bread this weekend, which was well received. It's super easy and quick with only 5 ingredients and no rise time. I've been inspired to try making green smoothies with some of our greens, but am a little nervous that K., who is still breastfeeding, will get really gassy. I'm willing to try it at least once, since it seems like an excellent way to get in some important nutrients. I suppose I'd better get busy, after all, we get another haul tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

APLS Blog Carnival at Greening Families

I'm thrilled to be listed first in my first submission for November's APLS (Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) Blog Carnival. Hosted by Greening Families, this month's posts concern how people have been affected by their efforts to live a more sustainable life. Read all the posts here. For more about APLS read this.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Behind the Times and Loving It

One could argue that it's because I'm getting older (though I'm only 33), or because I have two young children, but I believe that it's mostly because of our decision to simplify our lives and live a more frugal and sustainable life that has caused it. I never would have guessed that I'd become so out of "the know" regarding popular culture. I couldn't tell you what television shows, movies, songs, or stars are popular. I haven't the slightest idea. What's more: I don't care. How far I have come.

Media unplugged: It began with not listening to the radio, when I became a stay at home mom, as I was no longer commuting to work. I also no longer watched the news in the morning as I prepared for the work day. With a young baby who was very sensitive and needy, we quit going to the movies, because he couldn't take being away from me for very long. When my son started paying attention to television and began to react to what he saw, we stopped watching many things when he was in the room. We then realised that there was little time or energy to watch these things when he wasn't in the room. Eventually we cancelled our television service. When my beloved newspapers started piling up after having our second child, I cancelled the newspaper too. I recently received some magazine subscriptions for my birthday (at my request), but I can't keep up and don't want them renewed.

Shop less: As finances got tighter, shopping lessened. I found one of the best ways to save money was to not go shopping! I started to fall out of fashion (not that I was ever terribly "in fashion"). The latest technical gadgets became far out of our reach. Flashy cars (not that we'd ever really coveted those either) were an impossibility without going into debt. The big house was too expensive to buy, decorate, and maintain. The "better neighbourhood" was too far away from my husband's new job and to live closer cost less so we moved. (BONUS: We love our current house, neighbourhood, and city much more than the last.) Without television urging us to "buy, buy, buy", we don't even know what we're missing.

Have you seen...? Have you heard...?: No and no. I keep somewhat up to date with current events via the internet, and I overhear friends discussing current entertainment. Aside from that, don't know, don't care. For my Christmas wishlist, I ask for DVD box sets of the next season of some of my favourite tv shows (many of which have long since ended) and throughout the year I slowly plod through them. I really enjoyed The Sopranos, but I still haven't finished the final season. I adore LOST, but please don't talk to me about it; I still haven't finished last season. Every now and then I borrow a season of Big Love or Weeds from the library, but I only get to watch a few episodes before it goes back and I'm on the waiting list again. (I should 'fess up here and admit that I am pretty aware of what is popular in the preschooler entertainment world. Somehow, we haven't escaped that!)

Don't you miss it?: I never thought I'd say this, as I used to be quite the pop culture junkie, but absolutely not. I am more aware now of advertising and marketing. When watching television at someone else's house, I feel assaulted by the commercials. "Leave me alone! I don't need that!" I feel.

What do you do with your time?: I've found that I have more time and energy (and money) for other pursuits. I cook more. I read much more. I spend more time with family. I play with my children. I vacation in the backyard. I socialize more. I blog. I grow my own food. I can and freeze and dehydrate homegrown or local produce. I research ways to save money, eliminate chemicals from our home, be more self-sufficient. With out the busy-ness of keeping up with popular culture, I live at a slightly (since I have two very young children) slower pace. The best part: now that I am not so distracted, I have and take the opportunity to savour simple pleasures and share these with my husband and children.

"...The positive psychologists confirmed scientifically, in other words, what simple-living advocates have been asserting for so long anecdotally: a life lived with less emphasis on acquisition might have the effect of leaving more time for richer, less resource-intensive life awards, making both the planet and the people happier." from "No Impact Man", by Colin Beavan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CSA Week #5

This CSA Tuesday, a few events reminded me of the importance and centrality of food and eating:

While picking up this week's CSA share, I met a new mom of a 2 week old girl. She had her baby in a carrier on her front and we chatted as we loaded our food into bags. I was happy to see that she and her husband are concerned about the quality of food their family eats and where it comes from, and are committed to a CSA even in the crazy early days of parenthood.

As I drove back home and was stopped at a traffic light, I noticed 3 teenage boys (I'm guessing about age 16) crossing the street. They looked like average teenagers, dressed in trendy clothes and talking and laughing together. Then I saw that each of them was carrying an empty reusable shopping bag and were on their way to the local grocery store. How wonderful that not only are they involved in food shopping (although they could just be buying pop and snacks for all I know - but I'm being optimistic), but they are helping to eliminate plastic bags by bringing their own.

Before all of this, I was at Ronald McDonald House with Social Mamas, preparing dinner. I always enjoy myself there (it's no secret I like to cook) in the great big light-filled kitchen. We spend the time talking about anything and everything (often heavy topics like religion for some unknown reason), and always laughing. Every now and then, someone comes into the kitchen for some food or just to pass through and we're reminded of our purpose there: to make a home-cooked meal for the families of children who are in the hospital. Most of the time, these are really sad cases. We met a mom last night whose son suffered brain damage and blindness as a result of choking on popcorn in a movie theatre. He went without oxygen for 10 minutes and noone helped him. They don't know if the blindness will be permanent. I can't even imagine.

At first I felt bad for our cheerful chatter, thinking we might be being insensitive, but then I realised that the sounds from the kitchen might help others feel like it was an ordinary household and not just a very serious and sad place. As I peeled and chopped the vegetables carefully and arranged them on a platter, I was aware of how cooking for others is a way to comfort and nurture. It can be so easy to forget the basic importance of nourishing our bodies and our souls.

All this brings me to our CSA...

The leeks from the past two weeks and some of the celery went into a delcious Slowcooker Chicken with Leeks in Cranberry Walnut Sauce. The lettuce and arugula have been almost all used in some tasty salads, and the fruit was eaten fresh. The mushrooms were dehydrated - so cool and likely the topic of another post - as were previous weeks' parsley and red kale. Last week's kale will also be dried and the yams will likely be chopped and frozen. I'm still planning on making a guacamole, but I can't seem to get around to it. We've already lost one avocado, and all the turnips and beets.

What we received this week in our share:

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #5
Carrots (bag) 936 g
Zucchini (2) 497 g
Onions (6) 1340 g
Swiss Chard (bunch) 295 g
Red Potatoes (5) 939 g
Avocado (1) 211 g
Spinach (bunch) 232 g
Yam (1 XL) 518 g
Bartlett Pears (5) 833 g
Apples (9) 985 g
Bananas (6) 975 g
Total - 7.76 kg

The zucchini are a welcome addition, but they hail from Mexico and I'm a little conflicted about that. We certainly don't need more carrots, but I'll find something to make with them: perhaps another batch of Carrot Zucchini Muffins and some Curried Carrot and Cashew Soup. I'll likely combine this week's and last week's potatoes with some of the onions and roast them for dinner. I'm going to try using some of last week's butternut squash in an Acorn Squash Lasagna, since butternut and acorn squash are interchangeable. And the rest? We'll see...

Festival of Frugality #203

My blog post Homemade Gifts has been included in the latest http://www.domesticcents.com/links/festival-of-frugality-203/. There are links to many excellent posts about all things frugal-minded. Go have a read!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CSA Week #4

While I've still got of last week's produce still kicking around, things should change this week as I fire up the dehydrator. I managed to use all but a few leaves of the boston lettuce in salads (soo yummy and pretty) and the previous week's romaine is long gone. The bananas were gobbled up and today I made a delicious and easy Apple and Pear Sauce. One pumpkin succumbed to a toddler's heavy hand (K knocked it down a few times, the skin split, and it rotted). Aside from that, we've got everything else left. I plan (yes, I've said it before) to catch up this week.

Speaking of which, here's what we got:

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #4
Yams (2) 636 g
Mushrooms 101 g
Leeks (3) 345 g
Butternut Squash (1) 2.39 kg
Avocado (1) 223 g
Celery 654 g
Boston Lettuce 227 g
Arugula 125 g
Kale 359 g
Apples (10) 1.11 kg
Bartlett Pears (3) 489 g
Bananas (5) 929 g
Oranges (3) 385 g
Total - 7.98 kg

The very small oranges were a nice surprise and 2 of the 3 were consumed by F and I within minutes of them coming in the door. Also welcome is the arugula since I love its nutty flavour and would like some variety in my now daily green salad. The kale is green this week, not red and the pears are Bartlett not d'Anjou. We've got our requisite butternut squash (destined to join its brethren in the freezer), as well as apples (gala), and bananas.

My excitement over the oranges made me realise that my best efforts will go awry (am I mixing metaphors here?) once clementine season arrives. I think they're only grown in Morroco. They are one of my favourite fruits and as I said to DH, "I'm not made of stone."

Homemade Gifts

Now that Halloween has passed, Christmas is fast approaching. What a tricky time for a frugalista and a...greenie (haven't found myself a good nickname there)? How to wade through the commercialization and over-consumption that is the Christmas beast? Better yet, how to do it as the parent of two young children?

I'll start with the second first: we give our children very little for Christmas. Sacrilege! What we do give is second hand where possible and generally consists of books or music or a toy. The grandparents (they've got 6) will shower them with more than enough gifts and so we keep it very simple at home. The boys are 1 year (K) and 3.5 years (F) and so far this is working well for us.

What about my husband and I? We are very good at not buying indulgences throughout the year for ourselves and try to save these wants for special occasions. In the past we have stuck to a strict budget when buying for each other and buy a few small gifts that we're sure the other really wants: again things like books, music, DVDs, games, etc. Lately my husband is getting harder to buy for because he has less time for reading and playing. Back when we were both working we would also buy a gift for the two of us ("the house"). This year we may even forgo gifts for each other and just get something for "the house": most likely a digital SLR camera as it's something we would use constantly.

What do others get us? Our family likes us to create wishlists for every member of the family. This is a great idea, but the more we simplify, the shorter these lists get. Making them for the boys is even harder since they "need" very little. As F gets older, he's better able to vocalize his wants, but we try very hard to teach him that wants are not needs and that we don't get everything we want, which is okay. Luckily he still enjoys simple pleasures and even favourite fruits get him very excited. Our youngest, K, needs next to nothing and wants less. Most of what he has is handed down and he couldn't care less. It's a wonderful age! Above all, we encourage gift-givers to give the kids preloved (used) items and not to overindulge.

What do we get the rest of the world? Now there's the tricky part. For nieces and nephews I've made things like hats and mittens when they were young:

We ask for wishlists when available or find something thoughtful and useful (perhaps even educational or creative) and keep the budget low. For adult family members, over the past several years, we've been making baskets. Here are some previous examples (I can't believe I didn't get pics of last years when I made biscotti, cookies, sauces, and other yummies!):

These include items to be consumed (food and drink) and, increasingly, homemade items. I love to cook and bake (obviously) and so I tend to give many baked goods and things that can be frozen and consumed later. This year we have a pressure-canner which I'm hoping to use for soups and chilis and the like. (I'm very excited about this and will definitely blog about it.) And I'm working on a way to present these baskets next year without cellophane (which was always on its second life when I used it).

Aside from comestibles, I've found it difficult to think of useful items that can be homemade. I don't want to give silly useless, or tacky things that must be displayed. That is not green and it is not frugal. I was thrilled today to find (at my new favourite blog Domestic Cents) a listing of 50+ Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas. Nicki gives lost of unique ideas and links to wonderful sites. (I said to myself, not for the first time, as I was discovering yet another fascinating blog, "how am I supposed to do anything else with my time?") I'm loving Skip To My Lou, Bella Dia, Geekware, Stardust Shoes, I could go on and on. Go, have a look around, and if tell me if you've gone down the homemade route before.

Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival

I have just participated in my first Blog Carnival at Make It From Scratch. You'll find lots of delicious recipes and other crafts and things. My contribution is my Zucchini Carrot Muffins. Please check it out!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

As the carrots and apples from my weekly organic CSA shares are piling up, it is time to get muffin making. The zucchini is from this year's container garden harvest, which I shredded and froze for just such an occasion. I've made these once before and they were a huge hit with the family. I found them a little sweet however, and have reduced the sugar this time. (Normally I would replace some of the oil and sugar with mashed ripe banana, but I'm all out.)

These are one of my favourite ways to sneak vegetables into my kiddies. They devour them and prove how great they taste.

makes 28 medium-sized muffins

2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped peeled apple
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds (or chopped almonds)
2 teaspoons orange zest (optional - didn't use, didn't have)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup multigrain flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins

1. Gently toss together carrot, zucchini, apple, coconut, hemp seeds and orange peel; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

3. Combine eggs, oil and vanilla; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened (batter will be thick). Fold in carrot mixture and raisins. (I mix with my hands, I find this the easiest way.)

4. Fill greased or paper-lined muffins cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to wire rack.

Adapted from Recipezaar Recipe #118885

Click here for a printable version.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

CSA Week #3

Week 3 of our fall Community Supported Agriculture share and our fridge is getting FULL! So full that the veggies are starting to freeze. We lost most last week's spinach and kale because of this (what good there was went into a soup).

I'm still dealing with the nausea and lack of appetite from my cold/flu (no I'm not pregnant - I checked) and I'm not back into my cooking/baking stride. With last week's bounty, I made a turkey stock

and a tomato veggie soup.

We also had a salad with the romaine lettuce. Most of the fruit was eaten. Still left: beets (which are piling up - I love them, but they're a lot of work), turnips, pears, apples, parsley, avocado, mushrooms, celery, romaine lettuce.

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #3
Carrots (bag) 907 g
Mushrooms 104 g
Leeks (2) 225 g
Pie Pumpkins (2) 1.2 kg
Butternut Squash (1) 1.45 kg
Onions (2) 528 g
Red Kale 455 g
Potatoes (4) 455 g
Pears (5) 920 g
Apples (7) 815 g
Boston Lettuce 201 g
Bananas (4) 925 g
Total - 8.2 kg

Plans for this week's goodies include: soup (yes, more soup!), carrot-zucchini muffins (with frozen shredded zucchini from my own garden), and lots of preserving (see below). We're just 3 weeks in and already I'm a little wiser than when we started.

What I've learned so far:

- Local fall fruit gets boring fast. Every time I come in the door with bananas, which are the first of the CSA fruits to be eaten, my 3.5-year-old (a serious fruit lover) gets very excited. "BANANAS! THANK YOU MAMA!!" he yells. It's really sweet, but a little sad since I feel like I'm depriving him of the other colours of the fruit rainbow. My mom recently brought us non-local strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. It was all I could do not to snatch them from her and devour them greedily all by myself (I'm an even bigger fruit lover than my son).

- One family can only eat so much soup. I've made LOTS of soup already and I foresee more to come. I love homemade soup and so does my husband, but both of us are getting a little sick of soup. I've been freezing over half of what I make and even still we're feeling overwhelmed.

- We're going to have to preserve a lot of what we get because we just don't eat this much food, let alone vegetables. I've borrowed a food dehydrator and I'll be giving it a test run, as I consider purchasing one. I've read that drying kale is a great way to use it, so I'll be starting with that first and then will try the parsley and mushrooms. I've already frozen a bunch of chopped butternut squash and yam, and will probably be doing the same with this week's butternut squash. The apples and pears will get made into sauce and then frozen.

- We most likely will not be doing a winter share (Jan 6 - Apr 2). There will be more than enough leftovers from this share to fulfill most of our needs in the early new year!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CSA Week 2

I can't believe it's already Saturday and I'm just posting about the CSA I picked up this past Tuesday! (The two kids and I have been sick and that's thrown a wrench in our plans, but more on that later.)

First, what happened with the rest of last week's veggies? I'm ashamed to admit that the spinach bit the dust. I hadn't expected it to go so soon, but alas it wilted and withered and in the green bin it went without so much as a taste taken. Half of the salad greens went too. The beets and mushrooms are still awaiting consumption. The remaining apples went into soup or were eaten by my son. 2 of the pears are still hanging on. Most of the enormous butternut squash went into a Curried Butternut Squash Peanut Butter Soup but only this Thursday. The rest of it has been frozen for either another soup or a squash lasagna.

Here's what I found in my goodie box this week:

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #2
Onions (2) 353 g
Italian Parsley 157 g
Spinach 252 g
Avocado (1) 166 g
Butternut Squash (1 small) 811 g
Yams or Sweet Potato** (2) 897 g
White Carrots (7) 424 g
Mystery Root Vegetable* (5) 310 g
Beets (7) 345 g
Mushrooms 116 g
Apples (7) 787 g
Bananas (5) 918 g
Celery 787 g
Red Kale 284 g
Hydroponic Romaine Lettuce 283 g
Total Weight - 6.89 kg

* Thanks to the help of my father, these have been identified as small turnips. I'd considered posting a pic on Facebook and asking my friends to 'name that root vegetable'!
** I honestly can't tell the difference despite many efforts to educate myself.

I'm planning to make a veggie soup tomorrow with some of the veggies (not sure which yet) with a turkey stock I made on Thursday (also used up some veggies), the fate of the rest is as yet undecided, We're making good progress on the romaine lettuce, but in all this has been tougher week. I've fallen behind in my eating and cooking because I've been sick since last Sunday and have been enjoying a general lack of appetite and bouts of nausea - yippee! So I haven't zipped through the veggies as I'd hoped. Fingers crossed that this week is better.

Friday, October 16, 2009

3 Days Into Our CSA Box

So here we are on day 3 (which would have been day 4 had I picked the box up on time) of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box of organic food. Here's how much we've eaten our way through so far and where it's gone:

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #1
3 red cubanelle peppers - 431 g bread and soup
2 onions - 521 g bread and soup
4 small potatoes - 435 g soup
6 beets - 558 g
5 carrots - 408 g bread and soup
2 heads of broccoli - 740 g soup
1 bunch of spinach - 421 g
1 small bag of salad greens - 159 g
1 extra large butternut squash - 3.5 kg
1 small bag of mushrooms - 136 g
7 apples - 869 g 2 eaten by the boys
5 pears - 435 g 2 eaten by the boys
5 bananas - 728 g eaten by the boys
Total Weight - 9.771 kg 6kg to go

That doesn't look so good, but if you consider that 3.5 kg is one butternut squash (which is destined for a delicious curried butternut squash peanut butter soup), and that I already currently have an enormous load of various types of local apples scattered about my kitchen from other sources, that's not too bad. I've made a cream of broccoli soup, two 2-lb loaves of "garden patch bread", and tonight made a roasted vegetable soup (which, to be fair, also included 5 peppers, an onion, and a large sweet potato all from a local grower and lovingly donated by my mother).

What will I do with the rest? The squash and about 4 apples will go into the above-mentioned soup. I'll make a salad from the spinach and greens. The beets will be roasted and eaten as a side dish. The remaining fruit will be eaten probably by the boys. The mushrooms: I don't know. I forgot to put them in tonight's soup, so I'm not sure.

I'll be posting recipes for any dishes I mention, but they may not go up right away. (I do have 2 very young children after all!)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What our family is doing to combat climate change

Thanks to a Facebook update from the David Suzuki Foundation, I was inspired to join www.blogactionday.org. I pledged to post a blog today in the category "Mommy and Family". Kind of vague, but nonetheless, it got me thinking: What is my family doing on a very local level to combat climate change

That led me to the next question: What human actions contribute to climate change? Wikipedia says:
Of most concern in these anthropogenic factors is the increase in CO2 levels due to emissions from fossil fuel combustion, followed by aerosols (particulate matter in the atmosphere) and cement manufacture. Other factors, including land use, ozone depletion, animal agriculture and deforestation, are also of concern in the roles they play - both separately and in conjunction with other factors - in affecting climate.

While somewhat informative, the Wikipedia article gives me little guidance as to how I can be of influence, so I kept searching. Back I went to the source of this blog, The David Suzuki Foundation, which has a handy list of things we can do to help slow climate change. I read through them to see how we measure up. Here's my list of what we're doing and where we can improve:

1. Reduce your home heating and electricity use
- We recently completed a Home Energy Audit and spent 18 months upgrading our 50+-year-old home. We replaced our 40-year-old (!) furnace, insulated our roof, attic, and basement, caulked, weather-stripped, changed plumbing fixtures, fixed leaks. In all, we managed to bring our home above the best estimate of improvement of our auditor and got a nice chunk of cash back from the federal and provincial governments (not to mention all our savings in gas, electricity, and water). What else we can do: we didn't fully insulate the basement (couldn't afford it at the time and we were expecting a baby) and we could replace our other toilets and some very old windows and doors.

2. Choose energy-efficient appliances - When buying appliances for our home when we moved in, we did our best to choose energy-efficient ones. In hindsight, we should have opted for a gas stove and clothes dryer as they are more energy efficient.

3. Check the Canadian government’s Auto Smart ratings for the next car you intend to buy to make sure it’s fuel efficient and low polluting - Our cars - a compact and a station wagon - are used, one is made domestically, and both are as fuel-efficient as was possible in their class.

4. Walk, bike, carpool or take transit to get to one of your regular destinations each week
- We combine errands whenever possible to reduce driving. Where we can improve: In good weather DH can cycle to work, I can cycle with kiddies in tow, when going to events without kids I can carpool with others. Public transit within the city is not practical with two young children and DH finds the 20-minute bus ride down the road to work overly long and cumbersome to do on a regular basis. (He's on the bus for 20 minutes then walks for 10 minutes - compared to 10 minutes in the car.)

5. Consider vacationing close to home - That's an easy one since we don't have the funds to do otherwise

6. Choose a home within a 30-minute bike, walk or transit ride from your daily destinations - We chose our current house based on its proximity to DH's work as it shaves 20 minutes (and all the highway driving) off his commute each way. I've got no commute, as I am a stay-at-home-mom

7. Take care of your trash - We recycle, green bin, vermicompost, soon will backyard compost. We attempt to reduce the amount of packaging brought into our home, but it is a challenge. Our 3.5-year-old is toilet trained, our 11-month-old is in cloth diapers except at night. Heck, even our cats 'go' outside most of the time.

8. Eat wisely - If you've read any of my other blog posts, you'll know we're trying very hard in this regard.

9. Learn about how to plan a green, low-carbon wedding - We'll be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary this Sunday, so this doesn't apply to us. However, our wedding was admittedly rather high-carbon, since we were married in Hawaii. It was a small wedding party (only 11 others attended), so that's something. Our reception (in Cornwall, ON) was within easy driving distance for the majority of attendees, but some had to travel from the Toronto area.

10. Take the David Suzuki Foundation’s Nature Challenge to learn more about other ways you can help protect the environment - On my to do list.

11. Go Carbon neutral - Not sure exactly what this entails, but will be reading more about it.

Hmmm, we've got a lot of bases covered here, but this is only part one of the Suzuki Foundation's "What you can do". In future blogs I'll be exploring the following areas: at work, food and climate change, go carbon neutral, take action, David Suzuki's Nature Challenge.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CSA - Yay!

I picked up my first ever CSA box today - what an thrilling experience! It's like Christmas, opening up that box and not knowing what you're going to find inside. (I kept saying "this is so exciting!") I was pleasantly surprised with the bounty I found. (More on that later.) I've been eagerly anticipating our first box for several weeks, so it's a wonder how I managed to forget to pick it up yesterday. Thankfully, we had 24 hours to pick it up before it's given away. So on the way home from preschool, with my 3.5-year-old and 11.5-month-old in tow, we picked up our lonely box. (Technically it had 2 other boxes to keep it company - clearly I wasn't the only one who'd forgotten - but there was a tall stack of empties sitting next to them.)

How did I get here? Well, I've been kicking around the idea of joining a CSA for some time now and after reading "The Dinner Diaries", I was inspired to finally take the plunge. A few weeks ago. I signed up with Plan B Organic Farm in Flamborough. According to their website: "Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) is a system of growing and distributing organic produce that restores the link between the farmers and city dwellers." Basically, you pay ahead of time and then every week you pick up a box full of produce from a local depot. Plan B is a multi-farm CSA, so the summer produce comes from 12 organic farms in southern Ontario. In fall and winter, it comes from "local and imported origin" although you can choose just local (that would mean slim pickin's in the dead of winter). Go to their website to see all the yummy goodies you can get in a box.

I only signed up in September, so I did a single share for Fall 2009, which spans Oct.13-Dec.31. It amounts to $25/week for 12 weeks. It's a real bargain for organic produce and saves so much effort trying to locate a good variety of local food every week. A single share is: "One week's worth of fruit and vegetables - approximately 8-10 items/week, enough for a household with 1-2 adults." To be clear, 8-10 items does not mean 1 apple, 1 pear, 2 potatoes, 1 head of lettuce, etc. Take a look at what came in my first box!

FrugalMaman's Fall CSA Box Week #1
3 red cubanelle peppers - 431 g
2 onions - 521 g
4 small potatoes - 435 g
6 beets - 558 g
5 carrots - 408 g
2 heads of broccoli - 740 g
1 bunch of spinach - 421 g
1 small bag of salad greens - 159 g
1 extra large butternut squash - 3.5 kg
1 small bag of mushrooms - 136 g
7 apples - 869 g
5 pears - 435 g
5 bananas - 728 g
Total Weight - 9.771 kg

It looks like I'm going to be kept on my toes planning meals around all this fresh produce! I know what to do with these fruits and vegetables, and luckily my family eats everything we received. (My 3.5-year-old son is very excited about all the fruit and was begging to dig in as soon as we arrived home.) I am looking forward to some delicious salads and soups over the next week. I must admit I'm a little nervous, though, about one day finding a lot of strange looking root vegetables in my box. At least this is the easy part of the season!

I intend to track how we fare with our fare. Should it work out well, I'll be signing up for a winter share.

More from the Plan B website:

Why buy produce from Plan B in the fall instead of the supermarket?
- The best selection & value of local and imported certified organic produce
- Plan B "puts local first" in the shares, with stored root crops, local greenhouse greens, and local apples all season long.
- The imported foods in your share are as fresh as you can get. They don't sit out on a store shelf losing valuable nutrients, they go straight from the cooler to you.
-Support Plan B in their ongoing work of developing a local organic farm business by buying from us year round!

Friday, October 9, 2009

My whole family is in Detox

As one of the characters in my son's latest DVD obsession ("Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails") says, "slowly, slowly, gently, gently." That's my motto right now as I attempt to remove as many toxic products as I can from our personal care regime. I've been reading "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" and "Ecoholic" and am learning all kinds of nasty things about what's in our medicine cabinets. My motives are twofold: to remove unwanted chemicals from our lives (and bodies) and to save money in the process.

So I embarked on a journey, filled with perhaps 'too much information', to find better choices for everyday products like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, hand soap, hand cream, moisturizer, baby body wash, etc. I began by visiting www.cosmeticsdatabase.com to look up the ratings of the items we're currently using. The result was pretty scary: just about everything turned up high on the hazard scale. From what I can tell, the more heavily marketed brands and the ones always offering free samples and coupons are pretty toxic. Even the stuff for babies is bad! An easy rule of thumb is if it's heavily scented or brightly coloured, it's bad news. After that, you're dealing with specifics and the issue becomes more challenging.

Here's a sampling of our bathroom cabinet contents and their ratings on the Cosmetics Database.

Product Name - Hazard Level (out of 10, 0-2 low, 3-6 moderate, 7-10 high)

Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo Original Formula - 8
GilletteSatin Care Shave Gel Dry Skin - 8 (in 2007 was 10)
istyle "i'm flexible" molding wax - 8
Pampers Kandoo Foaming Handsoap Pump, Magic Melon - 7
Pampers Kandoo Flushable Wipes, Magic Melon - 7
Glysomed Hand Cream - 7
Gillette Series Shave Gel for Sensitive Skin (men's) - 6
Garnier Fructis Style Curl Shaping Gel Spray - Curls & Shine - 6
Sesame Street Finger Paint Bubble Bath - 6
Huggies Naturally Refreshing Wash for Hair & Body, Cucumber & Green Tea - 6*
Gillette Satin Care Shave Gel Alluring Avocado - 5 to 8*
Banana Boat Kids Dri Blok SPF 30 - 5
Banana Boat Kids Dri Sport SPF 30 - 5
Garnier Fructis Fortifying Shampoo Color Resist - 5
Garnier Fructis Fortifying Conditioner Color Resist - 5
Avon Bubble Bath, French Lilac - 4 to 6*
Gillette Antiperspirant and Deodorant ClearGel, Wild Rain - 4
John Frieda Collection Frizz-Ease Hair Serum - 4
Avon Feelin' Fresh Original Roll-on Antiperspirant - 3 to 6*
Avon Tranquil Moments Roll-on Antiperspirant - 3 to 6*
Dove Beauty Bar Unscented - 3
Thentix Skin Conditioner- not found
* Approximation since specific brand not listed

  • The kid stuff is all between moderate and high on the hazard scale! I mean, come on, children are the most sensitive and there aren't regulations to protect them from scary chemicals being slathered all over their growing little bodies?
  • We've got nothing in the low range.
  • The colour green does not mean "green"!

So having discovered we've got a cupboard full of baddies, I've got two options: turf any unused product right away, or use up what is left and find a nicer replacement. I'm opting for the first one since none of us is showing any adverse effects and I don't want to be wasteful.

Next choice: do we really need to replace it? For the most part, we've trimmed a lot of unnecessary products already, but it's always worth reexamining something. For example, do I really need a hairspray for curly hair? Or an anti-aging serum? Or does my 3.5 year-old need a special body wash and shampoo? The answer to all these questions is no, but those are the easy ones. What about: coal tar dandruff shampoo (for a particular scalp condition), or antiperspirant, or shaving gel?

What do we replace it with? That is a toughie. I've searched through the cosmetics database for products on the low end of the scale in different categories. That part is easy enough. The hard part is finding a place in Canada (the database primarily lists American products) that sells what I want.Comparison shopping for price adds another level of difficulty. Good times! To help me in my quest, I used Well.ca and printed out my shopping cart to bring with me to my local stores. Well.ca has free shipping, but their prices tend to be a little higher. If I can't find something near me, I'll order from them. I have yet to buy a single item, but I'm going shopping today. Wish me luck!

I could go on and on about how it seems utterly insane to me that finding products for my family that aren't possible carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, bioaccumulative, etc. should be this hard. Some would argue that there isn't hard proof in the form of human trials for some of these claims. Perhaps, but do we need it? I don't want my family to be lab rats. If there's a better way, I'm looking for it. I'm trying to find a balance (on of my favourite words) between simplicity and convenience, ecological and economical. I'll post my findings as I continue my quest.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Locally delicious or how much do you know about your meal?

I just finished the most wonderful meal. It was simple, quick, inexpensive and sooo delicious. Now, I have to admit that part of the reason it was inexpensive was that my mother had given me some of the ingredients most of which were bought from local growers at the Milton Farmer's Market, but even if I'd bought them myself they wouldn't have cost much. I sauteed some onions, added lean ground beef which I seasoned and browned, then threw in some fresh peas and chopped red pepper. I served it with some of my mom's delicious potatoes baked with cheese and onion. Nothing fancy, extravagant, or high in fat or calories. My 3-year-old said, unsolicited, "mama, I like this burger." My husband said, "I could finish everything that's left, it's so good." I was proud.
So, what's the big deal? First of all, most of the ingredients (onions, peppers, peas, beef) were locally grown/raised. Second, and perhaps most important, the beef was grass-fed. What's the difference and/or who cares? Well, until recently, I would have said the same thing. Lately I've been reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals", by Michael Pollan. I'd done some research and decided that it was a book I needed to read. That is a huge understatement. I'm about halfway through and if I had all the time in world, I could have read it all in one sitting it's that fascinating and spellbinding. (Granted, not everyone is as interested in where their food comes from, but he is an excellent writer and the book is anything but dry.) I can tell you this from my reading so far: just about everything we eat is made from corn. Really. Unless you grow your own organic vegetables and eat whole foods, chances are excellent that corn factors prominently in your diet and your body. But, as I say so often in my blogs, that is another story.

Back to the beef. You know how you sometimes see or hear "grain-fed beef", as if it's a good thing? It's not. Turns out cows don't eat grain. They eat grass. That's what they're supposed to eat. Cheap, easily grown, subsidized corn had to be used somehow and without getting into details, it fattens a steer up quickly, and humans are forcing them to eat it. Because it goes against their physiology, we have to devise all kinds of clever and ingenious ways to keep costs low and keep them alive until slaughter. Antibiotics, feedlots, e-coli, and hormones are a part of our supermarket beef because we are feeding cows something they have not evolved to eat.

All this brings me back to my meal... I was at Whole Foods in Oakville (great place, but not quite as good as the Organic Garage - a few blocks away) yesterday and spotted a package of grass-fed lean ground beef. It comes from Beretta Organics, a family-run farm located outside King City, Ontario. A little more expensive, yes, but there is another way of looking at it: regular supermarket beef is underpriced and unnaturally cheap. It didn't cost the world, by any means, so I snatched a package and was super-excited to try it out. The verdict? Mmmmmm. Ground beef never tasted so good. My husband said "it has a different texture!" True, it was not chewy, but instead tender and oh so savoury. I can only imagine what a grass-fed steak would taste like.

Having children has changed me, hopefully for the better. It has opened my eyes to so many things, including what I put in my body and how I feed my family. I am also much more sensitive to injustices and the more I learn about how food animals are treated, the more I am upset by it. I strive to grow better, buy better, cook better, and eat better. I live in the suburbs, but I still have a strong urge to grow my own foods and support better practices for growing and for raising animals. It's a process and it has take me years to get here. I have miles to go yet. I remind myself that I am a role model for my children and that I can make a difference by teaching them my values. I am nourishing not only their bodies and with every meal, I have another opportunity.

Want to know more about grass-fed beef? Try these links:

Want to locate a source near you? Go here to find local sellers in Canada or the US:

Hamiltonians can find info at the Hamilton Local Food Directory:

Other informative Books to try:
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Self-Sufficientish Bible - cont'd

I have almost finished this excellent book. At first I thought I'd read bits and pieces of it, but it was so interesting that I'm reading it cover-to-cover. As expected, the "Bible" covers topics such as gardening, energy, recycling, composting, transportation, eco-minded consumption. I've read about all kinds of interesting ideas, suggestions, and projects.

I did not realise that regular cotton clothing had such a nasty side! It takes large amounts of dangerous chemicals to grow and the water and the workers become polluted. There is loss of habitat for many species due to re-routed water for irrigation and the corresponding increasing salt levels in the adjacent waterways. A 2005 study of Indian cotton farm workers over a 5-month period found 82 percent suffered from some symptoms of poisoning (mild-39%, moderate-37%, severe-6%). The WHO reports that over 20,000 people a year die from exposure to the agrochemicals used in cotton production. I had no idea. Buying used clothing helps, since it has already been manufactured, and hemp is a great alternative. I've begun sourcing hemp clothing in the Hamilton area and will post what I find.

Another surprise for me was the environmental impact of funerals. I'd always thought that cremation was pretty environmentally sound. Not so, apparently. Mercury from dental fillings can be release during the process of cremation and about 15% of mercury in the atmosphere could be attributed to this. Cremation is also energy intensive and a large amount of fuel is required, the authors say it could be the equivalent of a third of one person's average annual carbon emissions. This is not to say that burial in a casket is much better, the materials in coffins can include plastic and formaldehyde, which can pollute groundwater. (Not mentioned in the book, is the impact of the chemicals used in the embalming process.) Some greener options are suggested, including green coffins such as cardboard where the attendees of the funeral are given a pen to write a message to the deceased.

The Self-Sufficientish Bible is also cram-packed with nifty alternatives for everyday items. One of my favourites is the alarm clock powered by water. (I've been looking for a source for these, but they're not easy to find.) Or the solar-powered or crank charger for electronic gadgets (I think Canadian Tire sells one of these). Even better is the hand-crank MP3 Player (so far I can only find these in the UK). When I look around on the internet, I find all kinds of eco-friendly gadgets in Europe and the UK. As usual, they're way ahead of us and we'll just have to wait for the cool stuff to make its way over the pond.

(This once again raises the issue of where to find green products in Canada! I'm reading 2 other books right now, "It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living" by Crissy Trask [a US publication, but it lists some Canadian sites] and "Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada" by Adria Vasil. Hopefully they will provide some insight. I also just spotted a post on EcoSherpa that lists some "Canadian eco-merchants who offer online shopping".)

Okay, before I get too off-topic...there's some good ideas regarding celebrations and balloons. I had never considered the fact that expensive mylar balloons don't biodegrade, but cheap latex ones do. Another neat idea is to get together with a bunch of friends and buy (reusable) party supplies together to use year after year. This saves everyone money and reduces the amount of seldom-used stuff cluttering up our houses. I would have loved more info on gift-giving and how to make your own gifts. They do mention recycling greeting cards by cutting part or all of the cover off and pasting on a blank card, something I've recently begun to do. (I decided with my husband that we won't buy each other any more cards and instead we'll make our own by finding a nice verse and writing it one of our many inexpensive blank cards.)

All in all, this was a really enjoyable read. I loved the UK perspective, although there was some info that didn't apply to Canadian readers with respect to gardening, allotments, climate, and some available products for purchase. This book was light-hearted with great visuals. I have been inspired by their ideas on foraging for wild food and making your own cider. Best of all, they included some yummy recipes including those made with seasonal produce grown in your own garden, some of which I will be sure to try out (e.g, bread-machine apple bread, carrot cake, pumpkin and chestnut risotto)! Next, to investigate Andy & Dave Hamilton's website www.selfsufficientish.com.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Edible Container Garden

I may have overdone it this year, but I was very enthusiastic and hopeful. I've got very little land that gets enough sun to grow an edible crop, so the vast majority of my edible garden is in containers. As of today, my edible garden now includes: lettuce, arugula, radish, beet, green onion, pea, strawberry, raspberry, red currant, chive, oregano, parsley, basil, mint, cilantro, chocolate mint, tomato, cucumber (straight 8 and pickling), bell pepper, cubanelle pepper. All but the raspberry and red currant are in containers!

I've got 18 sqft of "Square Foot Garden" in 3 planters attached to the outside of my deck railing. Despite all the claims by Mel Bartholomew in his book, All New Square Food Gardening, my plants have not done very well in them the previous two years. This year I added about 2 inches of compost to the top after planting and so far the plants are doing much better. Has anybody else tried square foot gardening? I was so excited about it after reading the book, but after a lot of money and effort, I've been pretty disappointed. Maybe it would be better if they were on the ground and were about to stay a little cooler or hold more water?

Since my hopes were sky high, I had to gather enough planters or pots for the rest of my babies. I've got alpine strawberries in hanging baskets, but everything else is in a pot or planter. I couldn't keep everything on the floor of my deck or we'd have no room for ourselves (although I think that is still becoming an issue), so I used some bungee cords to attach some pots to trellises I have on the driveway. I also got some window box brackets for two planters and nabbed an excellent deal on wall planters at 4 for $4 (reg. $6.99 ea). When I ran out of large pots for tomatoes, I used old drywall pails and drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. I managed to get a huge fiberglass planter for $15 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Burlington (LOVE that place) which I'm hoping to use for a potted apple tree next year.

Everything is doing very well for the most part. I'm having to improvise as I discover problems, since my goal is to spend little to no money on the garden at this point. We've had huge amounts of rain, so I've had to water very little. When I do, I use the water from our at-capacity rain barrel. I spotted aphids on my tomatoes and have brewed a tomato leaf concoction to spray on the leaves, which should hopefully work. One pot of zucchini has fruit that is skinny at the blossom end (see pic below). I'm guessing it's because the terra cotta pot dries out more easily?

We did have a hail storm that tore holes in the leaves of practically everything, but they're all recovering nicely. My cilantro has bolted and now looked ridiculous, so I chopped it down. (I just read that this happens to cilantro in very et weather.) The lettuce and basil are still holding back and I'm trying to harvest as much as I can to prevent bolting. Something is eating my radish leaves, but they are still growing fine, so I'm ignoring it. I think my cat has been eating my green onion shoots although I haven't caught her in the act. Another issue I'm dealing with is finding space for my sprawling cucumber vines. I haven't figured out what to do for the planter boxes, but I've got to decide soon or they'll strangle my tomatoes and peppers! I think I'll let them trail over the railing onto a trellis and hopefully they won't burn where they touch the wood.

I decided to weigh my harvest for fun after I saw the weigh in at A Posse Ad Esse, but my less than 100g so far looks pretty silly compared to Paul Gardener's 48.22lbs. Next year I'll try pumpkins and really bring that number up!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My new favourite term: Self Sufficient-ish

I borrowed an excellent book from the Hamilton Library called The Self Sufficient-ish Bible: An Eco-Living Guide for the 21st Century  by Andy and Dave Hamilton (great last name). (Let me digress here to rant about the fact that new pulp-fiction novels and pop culture DVDs can be very hard to borrow from the library due to the long waiting lists. However the books I've just checked out regarding energy conservation and self-sufficiency have no waiting lists! That's really sad. Good for me, but sad.)

I've read a little already and absolutely love it. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be very useful for me since it's written in the UK and I was seeing a lot of products we don't have here and there were lots of words we don't use and references to climate that is different than ours. Well, happily I found with more reading that there's only a tiny bit that doesn't apply. What is wonderful about it being written in the UK is that there are so many new and fresh ideas. The different perspective is refreshing. Here are some fun things I've read about so far:
  • hand-crank MP3 players
  • putting foil behind a radiator to reflect more heat back into a room
  • hay-box cooker (you put your hot pot of soup or stew into a box, surround it with hay, newspaper, or rags, then cover tightly)
  • a solar cooker you make yourself
  • pot-in-pot cooler (a way to keep food or beverages cool for up to two days, which consists of two nested terra cotta pots separated by damp sand and covered with a damp cloth)
  • Bokashi composting (a Japanese method of composting indoors that uses Bokashi bran)
I'm only about 50 pages in, so I'll post more nifty things as I continue. Oh, and the term "self sufficient-ish" refers to ways in which anyone can live a more self sufficient life without having to go all the way. In other words, you can have a balcony edible garden and a worm composter and reduce your energy consumption and reduce your chemical use, etc. while still living in the city. Every little bit helps. Great reading and full of photos and diagrams.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who am I and how did I get here?

It all began when I became pregnant with my first child. No, wait, it began when my DH decided to quit engineering and go back to school to become a teacher. No, I suppose it started when we were saving for the down payment for our first house. Or maybe when we were saving for our wedding. I guess it's hard to pinpoint when I began making conscious choices about reducing spending and doing more with less. It was a gradual process, and has resulted in our family living comfortably and happily on one income.

Never have I been ashamed to spend less or buy less, but as I became more adept at stretching our dollars, I started to walk proud and tall, wearing my super-frugalness as a cape of sorts. (Of course it wasn't a real cape, that would be pretty silly looking, although my 3-year-old son would love it.) A close friend and former co-worker was an excellent mentor and cheerleader. I don't know if I would be as inspired or successful, were it not for her.

After joining a local mom's group in Hamilton, I found that I wanted to share with others ways to save money, spend less, and simplify. A lot of moms are on maternity leave or living on one income for the first time. The forum threads I started were very popular and I was thrilled with the wonderful and useful ideas that were flowing back and forth. It's great to share information about thriftiness with other moms in the area because I've learned of so many local businesses and parks that were new to me. I've come to rely on the support that we give to each other in any endeavor. Never before have I been a part of such a positive and loving community.

One day, Monica, our Social Mamas founder, declared that she was pitching a tv show based on our group. In no time at all filming for the pilot began. I was scared and thrilled when she asked me to do a regular "Frugalista" segment on every show. I've never liked the spotlight, but when I realised that this was a way to get a very important message out to so many moms, I jumped at the chance. My mind began to buzz (and honestly hasn't stopped since) with ideas for segments and tie-in blogs for the Social Mamas website. I've been researching my heart out and stumbled upon some fantastic blogs. I then realised that all my fervor might be too much for just one audience (the other Mamas might begin to resent me if every day I'm suggesting yet another way to pare down and save up).

All of this led me to this blog. I relish the opportunity to share ideas and learn from others. I feel like a sponge ready to soak up the wisdom of other simplifiers and do-more-with-lessers, kitchen-gardeners and cook-from-scratchers. I can't wait to get that first comment on a blog...