Food Snobbery on a Budget...

this post also appears at "Cooking Green with Lia Jean"

Hi, my name is Lia Jean Green bean-eating-machine Mack, and I'm a food snob.

I blame my parents for having us live in Italy for three years while I was growing up. Every Friday morning, the town we lived in held an open air market - mercato - where you could purchase anything and everything fresh.

Fresh fish from the sea, fresh artichokes picked that morning, homemade pastas that took two seconds to cook...and eat ;) Oh, and let's not forget the cheese wagon. Every Wednesday at the same exact time, a man pulling a cart of cheese wheeled down our street singing, "formaggio... mozzarelli... provelone..."

Now that's a real cheese wagon :)

So I got mega used to eating whole fresh foods...and fell in LOVE! There is no beating the taste of a ripe red tomato mixed with fresh basil, straight from the garden. I think that's why everything tastes so much better in Italy. Everything is fresh and local. So what if I couldn't drink the water or that the heat and electricity went off daily at 3pm because someone had to go home for siesta. I was in food heaven!!!

And then we moved back to the States - God love America - where there is a grocery store open daily on almost every corner. Only thing, most of the food available here comes in a box. Or a plastic bag. Or worse! And it's not fresh. It's not even local!

Oh, the horror!!!

Well, fast forward to 2010. I'm married to super conservation man and together we are raising two amazing little greenies. I've been a stay at home mom for six years and have not one thing in my life to complain about. Nothing, that is, except my food budget. It's tight. Living on one income in a very expensive part of the country and being able to buy good whole food that is fresh, organic, and local is difficult to say the least. But it's doable. And for a while there I was doing pretty good.

For the last two years, however, I've been feeling the pinch. Food prices continue to rise, utilities are still going up, and summer is coming, which can only mean one more thing will be getting more expensive. Gas. Just in time for everyone to want to get out and have fun after being frozen all winter. So nice of them...

Yet, I still want to be able to feed my family well, but wanting to buy and eat only organic, local, fresh foods can be quite costly. I know of one local mom who spent over 15K last year in food alone because they ONLY eat local, organic, fresh meats, cheeses, fruit, vegs, ect.... That's a lot of money.

Of course I could easily manage to buy all sorts of shit food (pardon my language) with my food budget. I could feed my family from the box and dollar menu and have money left over! But I'm a food snob, remember? I cannot eat that stuff. Ingredients I can't pronounce? Food that doesn't even look or taste anything like food? Packaged, frozen, processed, freeze dried disgustingness???

Oh no. Not me, baby. Not after eating REAL food. It's just not possible.

Plus, I don't want my kids eating shit - crap - either. We are what we eat. When we eat crap, we feel like crap and therefore act like crap. And I'm not interested in taking care of kids who act up all the time and get sick all the time because they are being fed crappy food.

So, having very little wiggle room in the budget, but wanting only the best (what mom doesn't?), I've learned how to get most everything we need (aka: I want) on the budget we have. It's fun being a food snob. You just have to find a way to do it when you don't have endless amounts of the green stuff lying around. Below are some of the things I do to get what I want, thus enabling me to eat really yummy good for me food all the time

I don't do all my shopping in one place.
Some things at my main grocery store are too expensive, yet elsewhere they aren't. Took me a while to scout out all the good deals, but now I know that by going to three separate stores on a rotation, I can come home with a lot more of what I want for less $.

I garden.
I grow tomatoes and herbs and carrots and potatoes and all sorts of yumminess :) By doing so, I control what goes in and on my food. The kids have their own garden plots too, and we spend a good deal of time with our beloved Mother Earth to keep it going. After the cost of seeds, what we reap is free. FREE! Best price ever :)

I go to Farmer's Markets.
And stock up. What I find for good deals, I buy bunches of and freeze what we're not eating that week. Frozen blueberries, frozen green beans, frozen anything. Tastes great when picked and stored at peek season. Nothing better than pulling out veggies in the dead of winter that you bought fresh and know where they came from. Tastes great.

I buy in bulk.
When I can, I save up and buy staples in bulk. Flour, sugar, pasta, rice... This year I'm buying 1/4th of a bison and a neighbor of ours who likes to hunt is getting us a deer. Who knows how long this supply of meat will last, especially since we only eat meat two to three times a week. (Meat is pricey) This, of course, will happen after I find an inexpensive deep freezer on Craigslist (anyone have one they don't want?)

I do without.
Yes, you heard it. We don't buy pop (soda). The kids drink juice once a day and that's it. Instead we drink water, H2O, aqua get the picture. Same thing with junk food. Since we don't eat it, we don't buy it, thus we save big bucks. And if it's not on sale and it's not in the budget, oh well. Better luck next time, right?

I stretch it.
I can make five meals out of one chicken. And that doesn't include the amount of chicken stock I make and use from the bones. So I might spend a little more buying an organic chicken - or A LOT more buying an organic local chicken - but I'll make that dollar stretch as much as possible. With a little ingenuity, you can think of ways to make anything stretch more than one meal.

Of course, all of this takes time, energy, and knowledge, something that most of us are hard pressed to find. But it CAN be done if you put in the work. The biggest benefit from all of this? You won't have to compromise. I don't. Just know that there will be times when you can't get the big ticket items, but that's fine. You don't have to have exactly what you want ALL the time, do you? My goal is to have good for us food only, and don't concern myself with specifics.

Everyone can be a food snob on a budget. All you have to do is learn to go with the flow, enjoy what's in season, and make the most of what you've got.


Baby food...doesn't have to be PUREE

When you think of baby food, a few words come to mind, bland, dull colored, puree, mush, all around YUCK! As my 6 month daughter is venturing into the world of food I have realized how many options there are. First, let me start by saying that I had already decided that I would be making my own baby food. For a few reasons, first and foremost because I want to be able to expose my daughter to a variety of different flavors, textures, colors, fruits and vegetables. If I was to buy her food at the store I would be limited in what I could expose her to, if I make it myself the sky is the limit, well actually the produce section at the grocery store but you get the idea.

I want to be able to control what goes into her food, if I make it myself I know EXACTLY what went into her food and I could add things like leeks, basil, vanilla bean, nutmeg...of course not yet she has to get introduced slowly but the options are limitless. I can make kale for her, how many times have you seen kale on the baby food aisle at the grocery store? The future for her and her palate are as big as my imagination.

I think the biggest revelation I have had is that baby food doesn't have to be PUREE. Of course I'm not saying that I can just cut up and apple and gave it to my daughter. What I'm saying is that we start our babies off on food that is a consistency that unless you're eating pudding everyday for the rest of your life isn't a natural consistency. Not that pudding everyday would be a bad thing, but I think one of the greatest things about food (other than the taste) is the different textures everything has in your mouth. How a pear feels when you bite into it compared to an apple, of course you can tell an apple from a pear by the taste of it, but if they both had the exact same flavor you would still be able to distinguish the two by texture.

Anella's first food was avocado, I was really excited to start with avocado because when I feed it to her it will be the exact same texture as when I eat it myself. After avocado, we moved onto peas, now we had a rainy weekend and I decided to puree some peas and freeze them for her. So we heated up the puree fed it to her and she enjoyed it. At dinner that night my husband and I had peas as well, and I realized that if I just pop them out of their little shell she would be able to eat the small pieces that were left. And so it goes, pea after pea. I placed them very carefully on her highchair table and she would slowly pick it up, look at it and stick it in her mouth. Once she got it in her mouth she would make a "chewing" motion and it would be gone. And so it goes, pea after pea. Every once in a while I'd take a peek into her toothless mouth to make sure she wasn't storing them all for later, but after much searching I found that her mouth was empty and she was just enjoying her new ability to feed herself. So this got me to thinking. baby food doesn't have to be puree, and why should it be!

An Eco-Friendly Ant Killer...Go Ahead, Make Your Day...

So, I was thinking that since it was a bit chilly outside today that I'd do some laundry, read the kids some books, and maybe tackle my closet since, as usual, it has gotten out of hand. (It seems to be the place that everything from storage boxes to scrapbook supplies to hand-me-downs ends up.)

Little did I know that my closet had also become one of last week's cookie eating hide outs by my children. I don't regularly look under the storage boxes that have migrated to my closet so I didn't realize - until I picked one up today - that the kids had also inadvertently left behind crumbs from their secret festivities.

And where there are cookie crumbs left behind that mommy doesn't know about...there are ants.

In my closet! Gross! Yuck! Puke!

Now, before I get into the blood bath, let me say this. I'm all for ants outside. They can live free and be merry...outside. The moment anything other than my family starts living, in my house, without paying rent?! Well, it's eviction time, honey.

So what's a crazy about-to-yak green mama to do? I saw one of my all-purpose cleaner spray bottle near by, so I leapt for it and started spraying. And to my instant astonishment, the ants...stopped moving! At closer inspection, they had in fact kicked the bucket.

One spray and the ants didn't have a chance to escape. Hip hip hooray!

The stuff that I sprayed, my trusty EPIC All Purpose Cleaner, is a totally green, eco-friendly, ocean-saving product that does everything from cleaning sticky jelly finger prints off the kitchen table to freshening up the bathroom. No where on the bottle does it say that it's also the most powerful non-toxic, eco-friendly ant killer out there...But it is!

I've since used this every time I see a blasted ant in the house. They tried migrating to the kitchen, but I stopped them in their tracks. I haven't seen one since...phew! ;)

I am so amazed that this stuff works as well as it does - fast, efficient, green - I had to blog about it.

If you hate ants and need a non-toxic, eco-friendly product that works, get some! Trust me, it really works.

Safe and Sustainable Storage: Hidden Dangers of Your Storage Strategies and 4 Safer Alternatives

guest post
by Kenneth McCall

The next time you are packing up your winter clothes or holiday dishes to put into storage, take a second and think about the environmental implications of which packaging materials you choose to use. Unfortunately, the most popular packaging materials used also tend to be the least environmentally friendly. Bubble wrap and packing peanuts take hundreds of years to decompose. Plastic bags also take thousands of years to decompose, contaminating the ocean and harming marine life. On the bright side, today there are more and more biodegradable alternatives available on the market that will not only help the environment, but also help your health.

  1. Eco-Friendly Bubble Wrap

  2. Bubble wrap has been around since the 1960s and is today a multi-billion dollar industry. However, at the same time, these thousands of miles of bubble wrap that have been produced have caused significant damage to our environment. Bubble wrap is made from polyethylene, which takes hundreds of years to break down. However, nowadays, biodegradable bubble wrap is available on the market as a safer alternative. This type of bubble wrap has the same strength and cushioning properties as regular bubble wrap. However, biodegradable bubble wrap will decompose when exposed to sunlight, heat, pressure, and water. Furthermore, this alternative is nontoxic and will not cause any harm to any living species, including humans, animals, and even plants.

  3. Biodegradable Packing Peanuts

  4. Regular packing peanuts are made from polystyrene through environmentally costly processes. Fortunately, today a friendlier alternative is available - biodegradable packing peanuts. These packing peanuts are made from cornstarch and are nontoxic. In fact, there are numerous websites online that offer recipes for making your own cornstarch-based packing peanuts right in your own kitchen. Furthermore, when you are done using them, simply dissolve them in water! Regular packing peanuts also tend to form a small amount of static electricity- these biodegradable packing peanuts are significantly less static, making them a better option for packing up your electronics.

  5. Mycobond

  6. Mycobond is an environmentally friendly alternative to packing foam (also made from polystyrene) that is made from the vegetative parts of mushrooms. The makings of this packing material simply involves letting the mushrooms grow in a controlled environment. Compared to the manufacturing processes of packing foam, Mycobond only uses one tenth the carbon dioxide and one eighth the energy. Mycobond manufacturers are also currently figuring out ways to make the growth process into a simple kit that customers can order and then grow in their own kitchens.

  7. Biodegradable Plastic Bags

  8. Every minute, approximately one million plastic bags are used. Imagine how many of these have been used in the time it has taken you to read this article. Every single one of those bags can take as many as a thousand years to decompose. During this time, most of them float into the ocean, either suffocating marine life or entering the food chain through fish. This eventually has a negative impact on the health of all other living species. On the other hand, biodegradable plastic wrap can decompose in as little as ten days when put in a landfill. Although a bit pricier, these bags are designed to be used multiple times. Not only will you be helping the environment, but you may also end up saving some money in the long run.

Guest blogger Kenneth McCall is an avid ski, boater and bicyclist. When he is not engaged in outdoor activities he directs the IT operations at, building systems and tools for homeowners and businesses needing in places like San Francisco, and many other cities, including self storage in Atlanta.

5 Sustainable Schools We Could All Learn From...

by guest blogger Maxine Dee

Insights and Ideas from 5 Schools that are Living Green to the Upmost

Education starts at home. And we all know it doesn't end there. So when you've brought up your kids to be Eco-conscious green warriors, don't you want them to be in a school where your Green beliefs will be enhanced and applied? I know I would! In fact, I've been so driven to find Green schools these days that I've taken to researching these trends. The number of schools committing themselves to the Eco cause is astounding! I compiled my favorites, initially to pitch these suggestions to my children's school, but I've decided to share this with all the Green Mamas out there! Here are five of these wonderful sustainable schools:

  1. North Avondale Montessori, Cincinnati

  2. One of the 22 LEED-registered buildings in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) district, the North Avondale leads the LEED pack. Standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a building declared as LEED-registered means that it has met the needs and high standards for energy conservation and has paid much attention and care to increasing positive impact (while reducing negative impact) on the environment. In North Avondale Montessori, one of the more recognized projects is their walk out "green roof". The school's roof is planted with a layer of plants that helps soak up rainwater and simultaneously insulate the roof. This treatment not only gives students a patch of green in their own school, it also helps the school reduce their heating and cooling expenses. Aside from this, and perhaps most important, having a green roof give the students hands-on experience that has been proven to be most effective in information retention.

  3. Tarkington Elementary School, Chicago

  4. From floors made of recycled glass to a faculty that takes to heart their task of training students to become genuine stewards of the earth, Tarkington Elementary School is one of the Chicago Public School system's gems. Also a LEED-registered school, Tarkington Elementary fulfills the responsibilities that come with being such a school. With beautiful two-story high windows, the school is not only breathtakingly gorgeous, but it also utilizes natural light to its full extent. Aside from this, Tarkington actually has "intelligent lights" that are sensitive to the amount of natural light in a room and adjust themselves accordingly. As if that was not enough, this school's faculty is such an inspiring bunch! One of their instructors managed to merge a lesson on recycling with mathematics! Now that's just genius dedication I'd love to see in my children's school! With a "green roof" that blooms all year long with plants from the tundra, the students not only get access to such beautiful scenery; they also get a whiff of fresh air in the busy metropolis.

  5. Stadium School, Baltimore City

  6. While it is fantastic that schools take the initiative and action to create sustainable
    environments, it is even more heartwarming to know that the students initiate their own green projects. In Stadium School and 16 other schools in the Baltimore City district, this is a reality. In Stadium School, the Recycling Club is a handful of sixth- to eighth- graders who have taken the initiative to create a paper recycling program in school. Even after acts of vandalism by other schools to derail the project, the Stadium School Recycling Club has forged on to place recycling bins around school, and has even created guidelines about recycling. They've even brought this practice to their own homes! What an inspiring bunch of kids!

  7. West Virginia University

  8. Suppose you have Eco-warrior kids who are about to go off to college. Aside from their quality education, the question on your minds might be, is this college eco-friendly and sustainable as well? With West Virginia University, the answer is a resounding yes. Not only a leader in energy research (having completed more than $90 million in energy-related research), WCU has also created an eco-sustainable environment with simple projects. To reduce trash in dining halls, they introduced a tray-less dining hall. Their dining halls even donated excess food to charities and sends used cooking oil to a biodiesel processor! Tapping the competitive spirit of their gifted students, WVU created Ecolympics, a competition where residence halls are challenged to conserve energy and recycle their waste.

  9. Harvard University

  10. Driven by their goal to drastically reduce their emissions on campus, Harvard dedicates ample research and campus action towards this goal. Among a few of their Green initiatives are their 63 building projects geared towards LEED registration, renewable energy on campus, composting in residential halls, a 55% recycling rate, and many, many others! So while paying for that hefty tuition fee, you're actually helping save the Earth, one Ivy League school at a time!

These are only 5 out of the hundreds of schools all over the USA committed to creating Green learning environments for our children. If your school isn't already one of these eco-schools, then maybe you can print out this article or even send them to the National Wildlife Federation's Eco School Website to inspire them to walk the Green path.

Guest blogger Maxine Dee is a dedicated mother who believes in raising here children in a happy and healthy environment. She has been learning more about living a sustainable lifestyle during the last few years and has come to appreciate the many positive benefits of living a conscious life.