Loving: sun jar

I got this sun jar as a gift quite a while ago, but for some reason my first attempts at using it didn’t work. I was resigned to thinking I got a broken one, but when I went through the basement digging things out for our garage sale, I saw it sitting there in the box and had to try it once more.

The instructions said its reusable battery might need to be replaced occasionally, and we had just recently bought some of those. So I took the jar apart, replaced the battery, and set it in the sun to charge. Sure enough, as the sun went down it light right up. So we’ve been enjoying it ever since.

Did you know you can make one of these yourself?

Commence craft fair season

Wow, is November a busy month for craft fairs. My first is on Sunday, and it’s a new one! Check out the Green Gifts Fair at the Des Moines Social Club.

Then on Nov. 21 comes Craft Saturday, which is always full of great vendors around holiday time.

And finally, as an alternative to the big box Black Friday madness, Market Day will be held the day after Thanksgiving with longer hours.

I will have LOTS of knit and crochet accessories, plus my usual magnets and thumbtacks and candles (with new scents, including my favorite, white tea and ginger).

At the Green Gifts Fair I will also be selling gift certificates to the Family Tree, which can be used for yoga, Nia, massage and other classes. If you want to get some holiday shopping out of the way early, this is your chance!

Tip of the day

If you need to clean gunk out of your microwave, heat a bowl of water for 2-3 minutes before you get started. The steam will loosen the gunk so you can just wipe it away quickly. You may not even have to use any cleaning spray.

How’s that for green cleaning?

I think I read that in Real Simple once, and it has turned a 15-minute scrub-a-thon into a super easy clean. They also suggested putting a lemon slice in the bowl of water to give it a fresh, lemony smell.

Testing: Tom’s of Maine deodorant

A few months ago I wrote an article about eco-friendly beauty products. The gist of it is that there are a lot of controversial ingredients in shampoo, makeup, face wash, etc. that are cool with the FDA, but not with a lot of consumers. Either because they’re harmful to the environment after they swish down your drain or harmful to us because they contain carcinogens and various other yuckiness.

I’m not thrilled about the idea of smearing carcinogens into my skin, so I figured I would try to stop buying a lot of products that have 50 ingredients on the back I can’t pronounce. I’m also trying to buy bar soap instead of body wash in plastic bottles to save packaging.

Anyway, I was a little dubious about switching deodorants as I am a super sweater (strangely both when I’m really hot and really cold), and Degree has always worked for me. But most regular deodorants contain aluminum and other weird stuff, so I decided to try Tom’s of Maine. The apricot smell is absolutely delightful. If it wasn’t creepy I could sit around smelling it all day. The price is about twice as much as I’m used to paying for a deodorant stick, about $6.

So how does it work? It’s labeled long-lasting, and I did find that it was still smelling fresh at the end of the day most days. But when I got really hot (like when I was cleaning out the car) the funk returned. I definitely had to reapply, something I rarely do with Degree. I still think I will keep using it, though.

I also switched salons to an Aveda location that I can walk to downtown. I was really impressed with their multiple, multiple efforts to be eco-friendly in packaging, saving water, using more natural ingredients, offering refillable tubes and on and on. Prices are pretty high, but it’s nice that Aveda salons are all over so the stuff is easier to find.

If you have greened your beauty regimen, please share!

A full load from the farmers market

I wasn’t really expecting anything from the farmers market this morning, but it was just full of good looking produce today. We loaded up our basket so full we could barely carry it. Now it looks like we have a lot of cooking to do!

Mike was excited to try gooseberries. The woman at the stand gave us a recipe for a cobbler, but he’s thinking about making more of a crisp with almonds. I don’t care what it is, let’s eat it! They taste like a blueberry, but more tart.

We also picked up a bright jar of strawberry jam and some of the best pizza sauce I’ve ever tasted from a local restaurant, Rock Power Pizza.

I’m really excited for these beans. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for beans sauteed with shallots worked out so well I can’t wait to have it again. We also decided to try the purple variety.

We are so close to not having to buy tomatoes for a while. Our yellow pear tomatoes are just about ready to go, the purple cherokees are big but still green, and the other plants are full of not-quite-ripe fruit as well. After a long discussion about how it seems like it costs a lot to grow your own we decided that certainly isn’t the case for us. $15 worth of seedlings has become 5 huge plants that will produce hundreds of tomatoes by the end of the summer. I’d like to see how much it affects our grocery bill later this year when we’re buying less produce and making more of our own sauces.

Why am I vegetarian?

Naturally, the more food books you read, the more you start to think about your own diet. And by this point, I’ve read enough Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver to give my food choices a pretty hard look.

I ate a pretty standard American diet up until I was 24. After seeing my cousins, several of my close friends and my boyfriend go vegetarian and not keel over from malnutrition or mope around because they didn’t get to eat what everyone else ate, my mind opened to the idea. They ate very well, in fact, and as a foodie I needed to see that.

But going vegetarian was a decision I had to make entirely on my own. So being in Boulder out on my own (and let’s face it, being in Boulder) was probably the right time for me to start to consider it. I watched a couple of public access shows — one about animal cruelty in factory farms and the second about how quitting meat could reduce your risk for disease, including cancer — and after that thought to myself, why not just try it for a week? If it was hard, I’d just go back to meat. But it wasn’t hard.

I started to realize that I didn’t eat that much meat to begin with. I subsisted mostly on nachos and Spanish rice when I was on my own. When I cooked, I made the recipes I knew. So I started to make them without meat. I think I kind of enjoyed the creativity. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t stomach the idea of meat. I accidentally bought a meat lasagna frozen dinner, and I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. So I tossed it. I felt bad about wasting food, but this was something I had to do all the way.

Of course, I have never gone ALL the way. I kept fish and seafood in my diet, and if I encountered the occasional chicken stock in soup, I didn’t freak out. The truth is that being vegetarian can be very isolating at times, and it’s a constant battle to look at a menu, or at the spread your family cooked for Thanksgiving, and push it away. Thankfully, most of the time I can find plenty to eat, and it doesn’t feel like a big sacrifice. I’m a pro at picking things out, making a veggie sandwich, whatever I have to do. Well meaning people often feel like they have to make a fuss over a vegetarian, and while we appreciate the care, most of the time we’d rather avoid a fuss altogether. We are really good at fending for ourselves.

I’ve gone back and forth on the fish stuff (and other things like Jello and marshmallows that contain “hidden” animal products). I still don’t have a perfect answer. What I try to do is cook with natural foods that create natural substitutes for meat. For a long time I relied on fake this and imitation that. And what I eventually realized is that those things are no better than their Tyson equivalent.

But when I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my mind started to open a little to the idea of eating meat again. Her philosophy is to eat local, and stay small. Small farms, accessible foods. In other words — food you can get to know and people who don’t pollute on a mass scale. I love this philosophy, and I think it takes us back to a time when we had a food system we could manage without intensely damaging our planet. But not everyone wants to be a subsistence farmer. Not everyone has access to the amount of food that she does. Not everyone is going to make bread daily or drop $6 a loaf to get it made my an artisan baker. So I think you have to look at your life and your resources and ask, what is right for me?

The longer I’ve been vegetarian, the more I’ve started to grow uncomfortable with the idea of killing an animal so I can eat it. I don’t need to – I can get my calories elsewhere, no problem. If I’m not doing the slaughtering, I’m not sure someone else should have to do it for me either. So what I’m trying to do is stay vegetarian, but with an eye toward buying as much local food as possible, and growing my own in our garden. (Well, Mike’s the grower. I just eat it!)

I don’t know how much lower my cholesterol is because I didn’t take it before. But I feel healthy, just like I always have. I never noticed a major change healthwise. I certainly didn’t lose weight, though! I read Skinny Bitch, and while it sounded awesome to go vegan and get skinny, it also sounded like an entire menu of fake this and fake that — not exactly a better way to eat in my book.

This works for me now. At some point it may not. I’ve had a lot of fun improvising with meals and learning to cook and eat new things. It’s kind of a food adventure. I think it’s one I share with a lot of other people who have been forced to change their diets for various reasons. If you’ve never read Gluten Free Girl, you really should. She does such a great job of showing how you can absolutely fall in love with food that you once thought would make you miserable. You can take control of your diet and turn it into a good thing. (And you should read about her love story with “the chef”. I got seriously teary after a while).

I also found this article on Slate recently that did a great job of summing up how vegetarians really feel. Read that too while you’re at it.

Loving: Chico Bag

Mike’s brother and his wife gave us (well, I took it) a Chico Bag for Christmas and I’ve been grateful to have it at least a dozen times since. I just stuck it in my purse because it folds up so small, and whenever I’m buying enough stuff to fit into one sack I pull it out and use it.

Even though I reuse plastic shopping bags for trash sacks, I always have more than I know what to do with, so this is one more way to keep from getting them. At Target, especially, it seems like they force you to take extra bags. Oh, you asked for paper? Why don’t I put your eggs in an extra plastic sack? And why don’t I put about three things in your canvas bag so that I have to add at least a few more extra bags to your cart? I don’t get it. I worked at Target and I don’t remember being told to load up hippies with plastic sacks.

You can buy them at health foods stores or online, and I think they’re only $5.