Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hope for that Box O' Socks!

One of the recently featured Daily Grommets was a company called Zkano that creates organic socks.  You can watch the feature video by clicking on the Daily Grommet link.  Anyway, I went to their website after watching the video and had me a look around.  I totally think it's awesome that they are trying to make a better product that will last longer and have less negative impact on the environment.  I also don't really think the prices are as out there as they could be.  So really cool right?  If any of you go out and get these I would be happy to hear of it!
Thing is, while I probably do need to buy some new socks here in the near future myself; these socks are kind of boring to me.  I know it sounds dumb and shallow but even their more 'exciting' options still include a lot of grey and that just isn't my thing.  I really like fun socks with animated designs.  (You know, stars, hearts, strawberries, frogs?)  Anyway, enough with my silliness.  

Before I left the site I noticed a little link at the top menu that said Zkano Recycles.  I clicked it and began to read the same thing about recycling that all of us have heard before.  Ways to reduce and reuse etc . . . Then at the bottom I was surprised and delighted to read this little tidbit of information:  You can send your old socks to Zkano and they will recycle them for you!  
Here is what the site actually says:

Recycle. Old fibers can be reworked and reused. The most warn out cotton fibers can be composted. Here’s where we come in.
We have the resources to take past-their-prime socks off your hands and have them recycled. Send your old socks* to us at this address: 

Emi-G KnittingAttention: Zkano Recycles Program
1715 Airport Road
Ft Payne, AL 35968
That’s it! We’ll handle recycling from there. 
It’s little steps that make a big difference as we move towards a sustainable lifestyle. Our family is proud that you’re taking a few of those steps in Zkano Socks. 
*Please send six or more pairs in a package. We need to outweigh the carbon footprint from shipping! 
I don't know about the rest of you out there, but I have a growing box of worn through and single un-matching socks which I have been feeling loath to tossing because it seems like such a waste!  
I had heard recently that animal shelters will accept donations of old blankets rags and towels and such, which is great, but I wasn't sure old socks would be as acceptable.  I am so happy to think that I can now send my old socks to someone who will actually be happy to see them!  How cool is that?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Easy Under Cabinet & Hanging Kitchen Storage! (No Drilling Required!)

In the past year or so I've been on a quest to improve and simplify life.
One of the steps I took was to eliminate duplicate items from my kitchen. Things like multiples of the same sized pots and pans, dishes I never used, extra ladles, etc . . . One thing I got rid of was two extra sets of measuring cups. When I got married I received four sets. One basic white set, one rubber handled black set, one nice stainless steel set. (Which I actually re-gifted. Before using them of course.)  and a lovely red set.  When paring down I decided to keep the red ones because my kitchen theme is red and citrus fruits.
When I moved here for years ago I was pleased to find the kitchen was all white with some black trim. Which works well with my brightly colored fruit themed dishes and towels, but since I haven't had a chance to paint in there, it really does seem a bit starved for color.

Of course, there really isn't a lot of wall in my kitchen to paint. One whole wall (and some of each adjoining wall) is covered in a back splash of white tiles.

For years I've searched to try and find cute fruit themed wall stickers to dress the tiles up a bit and add some more color, but to no avail. The only ones I can find are not to my taste, being either too detailed, too dumbed down, and/or too dully colored.  I'm kind of going for modern-Asian-graphic or something.
(Hee hee, I just did a search and found these. They are almost what I want. Maybe I'll get them. I actually haven't looked for a while until now. :}  )

Ooo, just a random tangent! I just recently (after getting paid to do a Coat of Arms for someone,) found and bought these sweet things with my 'pin' money!

Aren't they adorable?

Anyway, enough blah-blah . . .

My point is, I had been wishing there was a way to hang pots, utensils, or really anything under my cupboards in order to better utilize the space.  I had been looking at under-cupboard racks but I was feeling a bit leery of drilling holes into my cupboards.

While looking I did find these two cute items at Smiths Marketplace.
I think this suction-cup basket was $5 and the over drawer towel rack was $7 or something.

I like being able to clear a bit of space near my sink by putting the hand soap and dish sponge up on the wall. I'll also position my soap dish underneath the basket to catch any drips from the sponge.  It works great, even with the dish soap perched in it.

Still, I hadn't found a way to really utilize any of the space under my cabinets.   Finally it came to me!
I realized, while it wouldn't be enough for pans, I could hang my red measuring cups under my cupboards using a small tension rod. No drilling required!  This not only frees up a bit more room in my kitchen drawers, and makes the cups very easy to use and put away, but also adds a nice splash of color. Yay!

All we had to do was measure the area where the rod would go, buy a thin tension rod to fit and some S hooks. My hubby was a darling and pinched one side of each hook together so that once on the rod they wouldn't easily fall off.

Granted, the hooks would be much prettier if they were the fancy black hooks of a prefabricated kitchen rack, but considering the ease and function of this solution I'm not about to complain!

Hopefully this will inspire you to think outside the box for your own storage/decor solutions!

Meatless Monday Menu Ideas

A few weeks ago I signed a pledge to go meatless on Mondays.  The idea is that if everyone just went one day without meat, it will be better for the environment, better for our health and make our food budget go a little further.

I was a bit nervous about what the hubby would say, but he has been very sweet and supportive, though I'm sure he was a bit skeptical that we would actually feel full at first.

I think it's been three weeks now, so three Meatless Mondays later I'm thinking maybe I should share what I've done to help others get some ideas.

If any of you here have any ideas for meatless meals please comment or e-mail me. I'll probably be updating this every few weeks or so when I come up with new meals.

For this first one I had a few things I wanted to use before they got too old, but at first it seemed like they would all need some kind of meat to accompany them and make them into a real meal, then it occurred to me that many sides, side by side can make a meal.
Think deli or salad bar.

Meal Idea 1.  Cream of Mushroom soup (just from a can but dolled up with some fresh onions, celery and other seasonings.)  A green salad (Lettuce, tomatoes) and a side of sweet potato fries.

For the fries I just wash my potatoes  and poke them with a fork and then wrap them in plastic wrap or a damp paper towel and then microwave them for about 3-4 minutes each. Then I remove them and carefully unwrap them on the cutting board, slice them up to desired size and saute them in some olive oil (or whatever oil you prefer) over medium high heat until just crispy and golden.  Then I drain on a paper towel and lightly salt them. So yummy! (I crush regular table salt with a mortar and pestle to help the salt stay better, you could also do this with sea salt.  Steak seasoning is a great way to flavor regular potato fries.)

Meal Idea 2.  Veggie Soup (Canned, dolled up once again) and Cucumber Sandwiches.

Okay, so if you make cucumber sandwiches the way I do, they aren't dairy free, which I guess is sort of part of the pledge . . .
(And yet, eggs aren't? o.O)
I figure maybe I'll cut back on cheese more over time, but sometimes I feel like even with awesome veggies and legumes, one just needs a little cheese now and then.  Baby steps and all.

Here's my recipe for cucumber sandwich spread:

2 Tablespoons Sour Cream
3 Tablespoons Mayo or Miracle Whip
4 ounce of softened cream cheese
1/2 package of dry ranch or Italian dressing mix.

Blend all ingredients until smooth (or good enough for your tastes.  Sometimes the cream cheese is still a bit lumpy, but that doesn't really bother me.)

This is even better after it's been in the fridge over night.

Spread on bread and top with sliced cucumbers.  I find chunkier slices (about 1/8") to be yummier, the cool crispness is a nice contrast to the savory spread.  You can of course slice them really thin if you wish. The spread is quite flavorful so I find I don't need to slather it on. So for me, thin on the spread, thick on the cucumbers, but of course it is all a matter of taste.  Enjoy!

This last one was actually the first meal I did for Meatless Monday. I figured, if eggs are okay than breakfast for dinner was an easy solution.

Meal Idea 3. Omelets and hash browns.

This one also included a bit of cheese, I confess.  We did our omelets with tomatoes, green peppers, onions and some shredded cheese. We also made our own hash browns from fresh potatoes, which honestly, we'd never done before. They turned out a bit sticky, but they were good. I do however, recommend looking up a recipe. (Unlike me.) :}

Meal Idea 4.  Southwest Stuffed Bell Peppers
(Shared by my sweet Sister-In-Law Megan)

We really enjoyed this recipe! Even my little girls at it up! Really tasty and also fun to look at and eat. Thanks Megan!

Another Recipe I've found and enjoy is from a Rachel Ray Magazine that came in the mail.  I was able to find it online luckily so I can share it with you all . . . It's called Chickpeas and Spinach, and is an Indian recipe.
The only really unusual ingredient is Garam Masala, which is a spice mix kind of like curry except this one is more sweet smelling as opposed to savory, (you know like nutmeg or cinnamon sort of.)  I found it at Smiths Marketplace in the aisle where they have all the spices and dry goods in bulk. It was kind of expensive, like $18 a lbs or something, but of course, I didn't buy a whole pound.
I should note that while I did go out and buy the garam masala that I've never made it with the ground coriander, but have just substituted cumin instead.  You could also probably use curry instead of garam masala and it would still be really good, though it would taste entirely different. :} 

My friend Lorri Love shared this recipe with me, and since I love sweet potatoes and black beans there was no way I wasn't going to love this!  

It's truly delicious, though if you aren't a huge fan of cumin, you might want to go light on that ingredient for the dressing, or substitute something else.
Anyway, it's from Better Homes and Gardens and is called Vegetable Bowls with Yogurt-Lime Dressing. 

So there are a few more delicious meatless meals!  

Happy eating!

~Julie :}

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some Fresh Uses for vinegar

This link was posted up on the Bountiful Baskets Facebook Page.  I thought I'd share a few of the most pertinent tips here. I'm especially interested in the fruit and vegetable wash.

Boiling eggs:
When boiling an egg and it’s cracked, a little vinegar in the water will keep the white from running out.

Keeping potatoes white:
A teaspoon of white distilled or cider vinegar added to the water in which you boil potatoes will keep them nice and white. You can keep peeled potatoes from turning dark by covering them with water and adding 2 teaspoons of vinegar.

Freshen vegetables:
Freshen up slightly wilted vegetables by soaking them in cold water and vinegar.

Fruit and vegetable wash:
Add 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar to 1 pint water and use to wash fresh fruits and vegetables, then rinse thoroughly.  Research has shown that vinegar helps kill bacteria on fruits and vegetables.

Check out the link above for more great ways to use vinegar to solve lots of everyday problems.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To live in Bountiful and eat Bountifully!

I promised a loooong time ago that I here in the west and are spreading.  It's all volunteer run and you just pay $16.50 (including tax/fees) and in return they pool the money and buy in bulk from the same suppliers as the grocery stores. They try to go as local as possible and cutting out the middle man makes buying produce a whole lot more affordable.  I've been getting them off and on since the beginning of the year in an effort to meet my New Years resolution to go 80% produce.

Which goal was inspired by Green Smoothie Girl, whom I finally got around to looking up after seeing her on a video where she got a Dressing Your Truth Makeover.  I am sooo glad I did look her up and downloaded her 12 Nutrition Myths.  The one about milk has been such a saving grace for us!  Without reading that I never would have figured out why my oldest girl always had a chronic runny nose year round!
So yes, we've cut out milk, and as such we no longer buy cold cereal.  I really don't miss it.  It is sooo expensive to buy something so processed and mostly air, that often contains too much sugar (and when it truly is healthy you can break your teeth on the hard whole grains and seeds *cough*Kashi*cough*.)
Ok, end of rant about cold cereal.  Anyway, cutting out those two things has been a great decision for us.  We've saved money on our groceries and I don't have to wash nearly as many spoons and bowls.  And yes, I think we're all healthier now.

Now for those of your who already know about Green Smoothie Girl, you might be wondering why I said 80 percent produce instead of 80 percent raw, which is what she does.  This is because I know myself, and I know that big changes don't happen over night, especially when they involve more people than just myself. (Namely, the hubby.)
So I figured, listen to the Flylady and take baby steps.  Let's just up our produce intake and then we can see how much cooking we can eliminate next year.

So this brought me round to my previous thoughts on joining Bountiful Baskets.  I had been thinking about it for at least a year off and on, but the idea of that much produce in my house made my head swim because it seemed that whenever I bought fresh stuff, a large amount very often went to waste.  So, once again, baby steps.

We got one and tried it . . . it did take some getting used to, and if I do recall aright, some things did go bad before we used them, but it was overall really good so we did it again a little while later. . . And again.  Then we did have a little regression where we had to get some Charity food from our Church's storehouse and that was frustrating because while they do give a lot of produce, it's only enough to last a month or so, and then all you have left is a years worth of carbs and meats and condiments.  Which, of course, are good things to have on hand, but it doesn't make for very healthy eating when that's all you have in the house.
Okay, so we did get canned fruits and veggies too, and I did the best I could with those for a while, but I have been most happy to see my hubby's work pick up again because I've missed my Bountiful Basket!

I think that time without one really made me appreciate it more.  I also think that I have finally gotten used to eating more produce.  We used to get one every other week at most, but yesterday I bought my third one in a row, so we will have had fresh produce for three weeks in a row next week!  Of course, this is almost all we are spending on groceries (Aside from some occasional cheese from the local grocery store).
So really, because we are all stocked up on meat and carbs, it's kind of nice that we can just focus on buying fresh things and since we are also no longer buying chips or crackers we have slowly learned to snack on fruit, celery, carrots . . . things like that.

The only other thing that can be a bit of a challenge is that one never knows what the basket will hold until they get it.  So, if you've never cooked with or eaten some of the offerings it will take a little extra research and thought to work it into your meals.  And yes, sometimes it takes a little courage too.

I honestly used to be a very picky eater as a child.  (possibly influenced by picky older siblings as the second youngest of seven.)  There was a time when I was heard to say that I wouldn't eat anything green unless it was jello . . . maybe iceburg lettuce.  Lol. Peas were the worst! I have a very vivid memory of being made to choke them down at dinner once! It was awful!
Eventually, I got brave and tried broccoli.  Which I liked, as long as it was fresh.  When I was a young teenager my Mom discovered Reliv.  Which is a pretty great invention (if they only would cut back on the soy, but of course they didn't know better at the time. They should know by now though!)
It is basically a vitamin/mineral supplement that is taken in drink form.  Let me tell you, this is not a very yummy drink.  My Mom really believed in it though and I took them for her.  I really didn't mind too much.  It actually seemed to cure the chronic cough/cold I 'd had for about two years. (Though, now I'm wondering if that was actually due to Milk. I did stop drinking milk at some point, but I'm not sure if those events coincide.)
Anyway, after choking down Reliv (Which I did for about six years or so) I began to say to myself, "If I can handle this, I can handle anything."  I became a much more adventurous eater thereafter.  Which was good because when one moves around socially, it really is not polite or classy to cringe (or whine) at the site of new, untried foods.  I even started to eat peas, though even now I must say they are still not a favorite.

At any rate I am super excited to try new things now, and I feel adventurous and motivated and so, so, so blessed that we have the opportunity in this day and age to try so many amazing foods from all over the world and that we have the knowledge and resources to find out what each food does for us so that we can choose to be healthier and happier!

~Julie :}