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Archive for the ‘Eco Tips’ Category

We’ve woken to some chilly mornings since we arrived in the UK a month ago — the horizon, filled with a thick icy fog and the fields outside our door, dotted with frost-covered fleece.

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And while we have lots to accomplish, there are days when all we can do is wait (…for phone calls…for appointments…for answers…and so on). Yet, when the world outside is icy and all your earthly belongings are floating their way across the Atlantic Ocean – passing the time requires a bit of improvising. This feels especially true when little ones are (still) out of school and noisily underfoot. 

Here’s what we got up to yesterday…

Perhaps I’ve been hiding under a rock, but I never realized that rice pudding had it’s own special rice.  I’ve always used medium grain and been pretty happy with the result.  After finding proper “pudding rice” at the grocers, I decided to conduct a little rice pudding taste off (an idea everyone seemed in favor of).  Recipe number one came from here (a long-time family favorite).  The second was prepared “the French way” (as we call it).  I found Recipe number two here.  Hard to say which batch was the clear winner…as there was much back-n-forth gobbling going on. I think I still prefer the former…or was it the latter??  They’re both good (and frankly, rather similar). 

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Does every little girl (and boy?) go through a phase when they like styling/playing with hair? Wynn keeps asking for one of those plastic, long-haired doll-head-things, and I keep reminding her that now is not the time to acquire bulky new toys that require their own suitcases. Plus, who needs pretend hair when your mama (and sister and self!) has the real thing?  Yes – I’ll admit, I’m a ready volunteer, as I (not-so-secretly) love when she plays with and styles my hair.  I consider it a perk of having both long hair and daughters. 

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However, what she’s really in love with and could do for hours on end is braid.  At home she would braid ribbon and floss and twine and yarn.  Here, on the farm, far from the colorful strands that fill our currently-in-transit craft box – there is no such ribbon or floss, twine or yarn. 

So we decided to make some braiding materials with plastic bags.  Have you ever done this before?  We’ve made bracelets and key chains using this technique.  Simply cut the plastic bags into thin (or thick) ribbons.  I cut horizontal strips.  At the moment she just uses three…but I’m sure braids of 6 and more are in her future. 

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And finally, we’ve been digging deep into our recycling box these past few weeks – searching for both fun and functionality.  We have found at least twenty uses for all-things-Tetra-Pak — which is the brand name for those waxy, watertight boxes that carry juice ‘n soup ‘n stock ‘n such.

These are entirely up to the task of drying kitchen utensils, holding paintbrushes (and water), playing in the bath with and (most recently) they come in very hand for carrying snacks in the car. 

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And since the UK is a place of many (many) coins, we also needed another change purse.  So we decided to make one using this (easy) technique. 

* I struggled to find a glue that would hold to the waxy surface. Even powerful and “waterproof” Locktite couldn’t manage it.  In the end, I had to strip away some of the wax, to reveal the cardboard underneath – then gluing was no problem.

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Just another pajama day on the farm. I’m certainly trying to enjoy these slooooow days, since I know there’s craziness on the horizon.  But thankfully, that’s not today.

And usually, by the time we’re done crafting from within – the world outside has warmed up enough for us to venture out and begin another day.

 

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…that if you accidentally brew too much coffee, you can pour it into ice cube trays and use it to make iced lattes? This way – as the ice melts, your coffee gets stronger – not weaker. Brilliant, right??

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…that 85% of people don’t wash their cloth grocery bags (a number that included me until recently!)?  I feel so much better about plopping these clean bags onto my kitchen counter.  I am the 15%!!!

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…that if a Professional Declutterer/Organizer visits your home, he/she might walk straight to your refrigerator and draw a direct correlation between the number of magnets on your refrigerator and the level of clutter in your house?  <Gulp!>

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…if you take an old birthday/holiday card and pre-punch holes around the words/images (with a dull embroidery needle), little kids might spend hours quietly “sewing” next to you on a rainy afternoon?

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…that this is what a locust looks like right up close? 

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He looks kind of innocent, doesn’t he?  Giving no indication that he would ever think to swarm or ruin, cause plague or famine.  All I know is, I’m going to miss his constant summertime sound. See you next year Mr. Locust. Until then, stay out of trouble little guy!

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Okay – I cannot believe it’s been over 6 months since I first received this book (as a gift for my birthday) and I haven’t told you (or written) about it yet.  I almost feel like I’ve been keeping something from you?!?  Sorry – forgive me?

Honestly, I love this book.  It is, quite frankly, a book I would have loved to write…well…if I had more time and/or talent in the kitchen.  No matter, because the book Jennifer Reese wrote, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is far better than any food-related book I could have whipped up.  {And, as you know, but just for the record, I DID NOT received a free copy of this book and therefore feel compelled to sing its praises. It’s just a great, great book and worthy of a few words between sisters.}

In the past six months I have made (and dreamed of making) so many of the wonderful recipes from this “what you should & shouldn’t cook from scratch” collection.

Here is a sample (just a SAMPLE) of some things I’ve (proudly) made from scratch with Ms. Reese’s help:

Buttermilk Biscuits (fool-proof/toddler-proof recipe)

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Peanut Butter (ridiculously simple; haven’t bought a jar since January)

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Yogurt (something I’ve always wanted to make from scratch!)

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Lemon curd (reminds me of the wonderful jars we brought home from the Farmers Market when we lived in the UK)

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 Pasta (the girls ♥ this)

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Oh…and it was this book that inspired me to make clotted cream – a recipe/technique I’ve already shared with you.

These are, as you may have noticed, rather simple things (no duck terrine or flambe souffle) – but they are also things I usually buy; assuming, on most occasions, that one “doesn’t bother” to cook this stuff.

I have a number of things on my “what to cook from this book next” list.  Though, I can’t say I’ll cross ALL of them off…given that the author went as far as raising goats, curing pastrami and making Camembert (for heavens sake!).  That said, I intend to give homemade Worcestershire sauce a try (truth be told, just to say I’ve done it).  Then I might move onto cured salmon – which is placed (ambitiously) on page 22 of her book (right after “cream cheese”).

You name it and it’s probably in here – from Grapenuts to donuts, bacon to bitters, honey to hotdog buns – this is a one-stop-recipe-included-shop to anything and everything you’ve ever even considered making from scratch. 

That is, if you’re the kind of cook who enjoys a bit of adventure (and a bit of a laugh) in your kitchen. 

Homemade lard anyone?  No?  Then how about ginger ale? Beef jerky? Corn dogs? Kimchi? Potato chips? Turkish delight?  Mustard? Ricotta? Vanilla extract? English muffins?

You get the picture, right? 

Such a great gift for a resourceful chef, as well as a good reminder to all of us that just about anything is possible – if you have the time, the tools…and a good recipe.

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p.s. You can find more about The Tipsy Baker at her blog.

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Having two kids in school means going to a lot of parties.  Parties that bounce and tumble, splash and crash, whoop and whiney.  Yes, birthday parties are a pretty big deal around here.

And, be warned, if you invite us to your birthday party, chances are you’ll get a handmade gift – whether you wanted one or not. 

You’re welcome  &/or  I’m sorry – depending on how you (and your brood) feel about homemade gifts.

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The other thing you’re bound to get is handmade wrapping paper.  As I’ve mentioned before, I try not to buy gift wrap these days.  One reason is that I try hard not to support the made-for-immediate-disposal-industry – but also because I enjoy giving the girls time to adorn & decorate the gifts we give. I tend to make/buy most of these presents (without too much input from them).  So, at least, by decorating the paper they have a roll to play and can spend a (pre-party) moment focusing on their friend’s special day.  That way, it isn’t just about showing up and waiting for a goodie bag to get dropped into their hands.

Here are a few of our favorite wrapping ideas/supplies:

1. Brown packaging paper or art roll paper (like this one from Ikea).  We often save the drawings we make using our art roll paper and when a birthday comes along, we repurpose those same drawings into wrapping paper .

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2. Natural twine (here’s the one I have)

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3. Stamps (we love our letter stamps, but any stamps will do) & ink.  I would (seriously!) recommend washable ink.

Letter stamps are ideal for letting them personalize the paper (as well as learn how to spell their friends’ names)…

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Don’t have ink or stamps?  No problem.  Try a pencil eraser (or the like) and dip it into a food-coloring-covered sponge – like we did here:

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We’ve made so many different kinds of wrapping paper over the years, but “crazy cakes” is one of our favorites.  To make it we use a birthday cake stamp, then the girls enjoy coloring all different kinds of combinations and giving them “crazy cake” names…

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We also like making designs/images with fingerprints – as long as you don’t mind having some temporarily inky fingers. {We don’t.}

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So many gift-wrapping options – it’s a good thing we have SO many parties to practice for. <smile>

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Did you know that if you stick lemons in a jar of water in the fridge your lemons will last for ages?  Mom taught me this.  I’ve tried it and it works great!

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Did you know that if you combine a bit of vinegar with a bit of salt in a small cup of water, then add a scruffy, old penny it will come out gleaming?

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* This can be a fun experiment for little ones.  Not to mention a good way to keep them busy for half an hour…

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Did you know that (nearly) empty honeybears are a great place to make/store honey-mustard dressing?  I improvise mine each time, but I guess it looks a bit like this (though, I add some olive oil, salt & ground pepper).

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Did you know that we lost the guitar pick for our melody harp?   

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So we got creative…

Ideally, you’ll have an old guitar pick to trace, then just draw/trace onto a (zero balance!) gift card (or the like) — then cut and you’re left with a perfectly, perfect guitar pick.  (…for our musicians any way.)

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Well.  Now you know. <smile>

love-s-210[1]

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Our Copenhagen kitchen did not come with a microwave. We considered buying one, but purchasing electronics in a foreign country requires careful consideration.  It would be added to the list of things we’d need to sell if/when we leave Europe.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently seen lots of reports on dangers that microwaves pose on our health, which has made me even more convinced that I’m glad we don’t have one.  It seems to be another creation to satisfy our need for convenience, while sacrificing our health.

This report is a bit over-the-top and makes microwaves sound completely evil, however there are some convincing scientific reports mentioned. I like Food Babe’s simple Top 5 reasons not to use a Microwave. Visit her site for a more thorough explanation of each.

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I was never a huge fan of microwaves to begin with.  I seldom ever cooked anything in one, but I did think I would miss the convenience of reheating leftovers.  To my surprise, I have rarely had an I-miss-my-microwave moment.  However, it does take a bit of time to learn how to reheat things without one.  I mostly use liquid, butter/oil, steam or the oven to reheat things…oh, and a little patience, since it takes a bit more time.

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Here are a few tips for reheating without a microwave, in case you consider doing away with yours!

  • Rice, pasta and sauce-dishes:  Add a little bit of liquid (chicken stock, water or extra pasta sauce) and reheat on the stovetop with a lid.
  • Baked dishes (such as casseroles) and whole pieces of meat (like chicken breast): Add some liquid, cover with foil and heat in a HOT oven.  If the oven is at a low temperature, it will take a long time to heat and will continue to cook the food, rather than just reheat it.
  • Cooked vegetables: Add butter or olive oil and heat on the stove top. Again, using a lid to create steam speeds up the process.
  • Pizza heats up well in a pan on the stove, but an oven works well too.
  • Think outside of the box: Make a slightly different meal out of something that is left over.  Cold boiled or baked potatoes can be sliced and warmed in a bit of oil and/or butter to create a crispy potato that might even be more enjoyable than first.  I often add cold grains, such as quinoa, rice and cous cous to salads.  Meats can be easily eaten cold or added to stirfry or soups.  They could also be breaded and fried on low heat to warm all the way through.

I know if I had one, I’d probably still use it occasionally (cold coffee = no bueno) but it might be a fun challenge for those with a microwave to see how long they can go without using it.  It might not be as hard as you think.

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When we lived in Idaho, we used to buy our milk in big glass bottles from a local dairy farm.  I miss that milk (…not to mention all that wide open space).  <*Sigh*>  I ‘m sure there must be a local farm SOMEWHERE on the fringe of this big city, but I haven’t found it yet.  So, meanwhile we’ve resorted to buying milk in plastic gallon jugs.

Last summer we made a watering can out of a couple of these and I recently went online searching for those How-To directions.  Instead, I saw a photo of a sandwich holder and was instantly smitten. 

I love projects that start (and end) in my recycling box.  No trips, no tools, no purchases necessary. 

Just a girl and her recycling box.  Oh yes – those projects suit me perfectly.

P1090276  P1090278They’ll be great for carting sandwiches to/from the pool this summer (waterproof!).  I’m also envisioning these going to school in lunchboxes sometime soon.  After all, I want to savor each and every moment that my daughters enjoy announcing to all their friends,

“Hey! My mom MADE this sandwich holder…this skirt…this backpack…these leg warmers…”

Etcetera, etcetera.  Because let’s be honest, there may come a day when they run at the sight of my newest creation.  A day when they beg for plastic from Target and gift cards from Macys. 

But for now – they think I’m a genius. <smile>  And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that… I. Love. That.

Here’s how I made ‘em:

1. Cut out a couple of cardboard templates, which look (sorta/kinda) like this:

P1090249 2. Trace these onto your milk containers.  You’ll trace the small one onto three edges and the large one onto one edge.

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3. Cut these out with a box cutter. VERY carefully.  You’ll have cartons that look like this:

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4. Once the shape is right, take a thumb tack and punch tiny holes around the bottom edge of the three shorter flaps (not the larger flap/lid).  This helps them fold open and close easier.

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5. Then add a small square of industrial-strength Velcro and you’re finished!

I also made a mini version from a yogurt container, which turned out really cute and would be perfect for fruit/snacks.

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Fill ‘em with anything you like. <smile>

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