Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pass the Weeds, Please (Episode II)

A Foraging Recipe - Weed Pesto

Here is a great pesto I like to make with some of my weeds...

  • ¼ cup Dandelion Greens
  • ¼ cup Purslane
  • ¼ cup Field Garlic (grass)
  • 4 bulbs Field Garlic (bulb)
  • ¼ cup Olive Oil
  • ¼ cup Pine Nuts
  • ¼ cup Basil leaves
  • ¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Mince and lightly saute the garlic bulbs in some Olive Oil to take the edge off. In a food processor: chop up the nuts and garlic bulbs. Add all of the greens and continue to process until everything is finely chopped. Add in cheese and slowly add the olive oil slowly while processing until you reach the desired texture. Leave in the fridge for a few hours before eating. Serve as a dressing for penne pasta, use as a sandwich spread, or serve with crackers or toast.

So, what weeds do you like to eat?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pass the Weeds, Please (Episode I)

I’ve been intrigued by foraging for food in my backyard my whole life. My neighbors and I searched for wild strawberries, ate “onion grass”, and came up with a recipe for “lemon grass” cheese sauce. At the time, it did not concern me whether or not these things were toxic. Lucky for me, they weren’t!

Now I am a suburbanite who does not want to use fertilizer or weed killer to have a lush, green bed of grass in my lawn. Instead, I like to arm my children with baskets to go collect dinner from the lawn. Backyard foraging has become a fun family activity. Here are some of the things we can find in our mid-atlantic yard:

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – This is my absolute favorite weed. I like to just pluck off some of the succulent leave and eat them plain because they are tasty. They have a little bit of a lemony flavor to them. A sprig of purslane makes a great addition to a toss salad, an addition to a tomato sauce, or as a component of a pesto. What is unique about purslane is that the leaves are naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which is rare for green vegetables. The stems are high in Vitamin C. I like to put purslane in a container garden – it doesn’t need too much tending. Most often purslane is considered a weed and people are trying to eradicate it, but if I see some growing in a friends yard, I just say “May I have your weeds?”

How to Identify Purslane

Nutrition Information for Raw Purslane

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – This is my second-favorite weed. Besides the fact that it is a beautiful flower and makes great bouquets, necklaces, rings, and hair accessories, it is extremely useful food and herbal remedy. Have you ever eaten that Whole Foods “Spring Greens” in a bag salad mix? You are probably eating Dandelion greens. The leaves are great in the spring for salads, pesto, or sandwich toppings. Dandelion greens are a great source of Vitamin A and C as well as fiber. The roots are great in the fall for a bitter tea or as a nutritional supplement. Dandelion roots harvested in the fall are high in inulin (soluble fiber). The flowers can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and ground into flour.

How to Identify Dandelions

Nutrition Data for Dandelion: Greens

Wild Blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis) – We have these growing all along our fenceline as well as on our bike-riding route. What could be better than free blackberries? The brambles can be prickly, so take care when picking these. Make sure to wait until they are dark purple before picking – otherwise, they won’t taste very good. Use them just as you would blackberries: Freeze them, make a jam, add to a fruit smoothie, or best – just eat them as you pick!

How to identify Wild Blackberries

Some words of caution…
  1. Don’t eat any foraged food that is from an area that may be exposed to insecticides, road salt (from snow), or any foreign chemical substances that you don’t know about.
  2. Make sure to clean anything that you pluck from your yard thoroughly.
  3. Make sure you can absolutely, positively identify something before you eat it. Many plants in your yard are poisonous.
  4. Don’t encourage non-native invasive species to grow. Check with your state or local invasive species organization.

Properly identifying anything you forage is very important. Here are some great resources to help with that. I am a big fan of naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill who has written a book on the subject and has a wealth of information on his website: http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/. He includes tons of information on identifying plants that are edible and is working on a book for foraging with kids.

An organization called Plants for a Future (http://www.pfaf.org/index.php) has a searchable database of edible plants with all kinds of information on uses of the plants and any hazards or warnings about their usage. It is an excellent free resource.

Frugal and Fun: Backyard Foraging is a Finer Thing. (See more Finer Things at Amy’s Finer Things Fridays).

This is a series and I plan to share more foraging tips, resources, and recipes to try.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cre8 Your Own Energy: Documenting our Solar Project

Okay, so I am not building my own solar panels or anything, but the stars aligned for us this year and we are able to get solar panels on our home. I hope to document that process here a little bit.

Step 1 - Reduce Energy Usage
Of course the process started over a year ago for us. It started with an awareness of how much energy we were using and wasting. We only have electric available in our neighborhood - and boy, were we using more than our share! In the winter, our bills $400-$500+. So, being the geeky engineer-types that we are in my household, we immediately started tracking our usage and started an aggressive campaign to reduce our electric usage. We turned down our heat, turned up our AC, got rid of our "vampires", switched to CFLs, turned the lights off, among many other little energy saving changes. The results were dramatic! I would say we save about $1700/yr over if we had not changed our behavior. This graph is what we've been using to track our usage over time.

Step 2 - Cost/Benefit Analysis
So once we reduced our usage, we looked at the costs and benefits of installing the solar panels on our home. The up-front costs are very high, approximately $60K for the size system we are getting. Luckily, this year there are many state and federal grants and rebates that end up cutting the cost in half to about $30K. We are using a local company called Standard Solar that will take care of all the paperwork and permits for us. Now, we will expect $1200 cost savings every year on our energy bill. In addition, the energy company will pay us a credit for producing clean energy (like a carbon offset price). This system should (theoretically) also increase the value of our home by about $30K. The financial Return on Investment for us (minus the increase in home value) is about 11 years assuming energy costs stay the same. Now, if energy costs rise, our ROI will come much sooner.

That is just the financial benefit. There are also benefits that are not financial. One is knowing that we are not burning through as much natural resources to create our energy. Another is emergency preparedness. If our electric service became rationed or more unreliable, we have a good solid backup. Also, it is a great learning experience for us and the kids. So, overall, it was a go for me and my husband.

Step 3 - Evaluation, Planning, Permits, and Design
Now, this was the easy part for us because the Solar Company does all this work for us. Our solar rep came out and took a bunch of measurements and pictures of the house. They tested the sun exposure and determined that we would have 89% efficiency with the panels. The panels will be mounted on the east-facing back of our roof, so you won't even see them from the street. An engineer at the company then made up a bunch of technical design drawings for us to review and approve.

Now that the design is complete and the permits are pulled and the paperwork is filed, we are ready for our installation. That is yet to happen. I'll let you know how it goes...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What to Do with Old Pants: Travel Pillow Cases

Adult-sized non-tapered chinos or Jeans are just perfect for very simple pillow-case for a travel-size pillow. I love to have travel pillows with us for naps in the car or to use with sleeping bags on overnight trips to Grandma’s house. However, things get so dirty in the car being accidentally stepped on with muddy shoes or ending up with popsicle sticks melted into them. I needed a cover for these travel pillows that I could just throw into the washer with everything else – and I didn’t have too much time toi spend on this project.

So, after making my “coloring bag” (also good for travel in the car), I took the left-over pants legs from my husbands old chinos and made them into a nice little pillow-case. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Get a travel pillow (you could make one from scratch - I found these at CVS).
  2. Cut off a pant leg from a worn pair of chinos. Choose a 15 in section of the pants that is wide enough to fit around the pillow.
  3. Sew: Sew up the side at an angle so the top and bottom end up the same width. Sew down the bottom of the pillowcase.
  4. Fold under the top of the pillow case twice and sew around.
  5. Turn right side out.
Once I was finished with the sewing portion, I wanted to personalize them for the kids. (They do love to have their own, personal items. So, on our trip to the beach in the car, here’s how I did it:
  1. I had them each choose a picture they wanted on them.
  2. Using a ball point pen, I wrote out their name and drew their respective fish, shark, and turtle
  3. Then using a back stitch I hand-stitched around my free-hand drawing. Then I embroidered on their names. With such a thick material for the pillow case - I didn't find any need for a hoop.
  4. Voila – no they each have a one-of-a-kind very special travel pillow.
These get a lot of use around here and can easily just get thrown in the laundry for cleaning.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cre8 4th 0f July T-Shirts (and Rocks)

I love celebrating the 4th of July. This year, we had a nice "small town" 4th of July (even though we live far from a small town). I was looking for a good activity to celebrate with that would appeal to my 13-yo niece as well as my 4 and 6 year old boys. Using some fabric paint and some plain white t-shirts, we made our own Independence Day shirts.

We put coloring books in the middle of the shirt to make sure the paint didn't spread to the back.

And the kids decided to make some patriotic pet rocks....

Fun was had by all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Re-Cre8 Your Garbage: Composting

We've had a composting bin for years, but we didn't know what we were doing with it. We had it next to the shed in the shade and we only put yard clippings in it. It wasn't doing much.

So, as our small little container gardening was going so well for us last summer, we thought we were ready for the next step of composting. We moved our bin to the sunlight. We started collecting kitchen scraps, old cardboard boxes, along with the yard waste to balance out the bin. DH religiously waters and turns the compost. At first, it was a pile of garbage (surprisingly, not too smelly). Eventually it became a beautiful pile of rich topsoil that we can use for this year's planting. Yeah.

And, we've got worms. Ours came of their own accord to feast on the glorious coffee grinds, banana peels, and junk mail. Oh, glorious day!

Composting gets two thumbs up from me. Here's my top ten list for why composting is great.

10. Lots of free pet worms!

9. A chore little kids love - adding their banana peels to the composter.

8. Makes it fun to clean out the refrigerator. The moldier the better for the compost.

7. Switch to fewer garbage pickups and save money.

6. Organic fertilizer for your landscaping.

5. Less waste has to go to waste processing facilities which saves energy.

4. Use fewer plastic trash bags.

3. Great free topsoil for the garden.

2. How often can you get excited about dirt?

1. No stinky food trash smelling up the garage.

Interested in composting? Here are some good resources:
Easy Composting from Montgomery County Recycles

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cre8 Copy-Cat Fiber One Bars (Peanut-Free)

My family loves the Oats and Chocolate Chip Fiber One bars. We all love the taste and convenience. I love all the fiber and nutrients in the bars. There are a few things I don't like about the bars:
  • Peanuts as an ingredient means the kids cannot take them to school in the lunch box (peanut-free school).
  • The individual packaging generates a lot of non-recyclable plastic waste.
  • Even buying them in bulk, they are pretty pricey ~$1/piece
So, I decided to try to make a copycat version of these bars leaving out the ingredients I don't want (Peanuts, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, among others) and also add in some ingredients that I do want (flax meal, oat bran, etc.)

I would really like to add chicory root extract for all the soluble fiber, but I have not been able to find that commercially available. Would love a source if you have one!

This is a huge recipe - makes 30-40 bars and they last well. There are a lot of ingredients here and there is a good amount of room for improvisation. I don't think I actually make them the same way twice...

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar (melted to a syrup)
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup Agave Nectar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ½ cup sunflower butter (mine is sunflowers, tahini, and canola oil)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid lecithin
  • 1 ½ cup barley flakes
  • 2 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 2 cup crisped rice
  • ¼ cup toasted wheat germ
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • ¼ cup white whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup lightly blended almonds
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • ¼ cup dry coconut flakes
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the melted butter with the soy lecithin (you could substitute egg yolk for this - it is the emulsifier) then add all the wet ingredients (including the sunflower butter) and whisk until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix with a wooden spoon until until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and stir until they are evenly distributed. Next, spread the batter into two greased 9x11 baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (or until the edges are lightly browned).

Now, here's the hard part... Cover lightly and leave for 24 hours before cutting. This is a really essential step to keep the bars from falling apart. You may even place in the refrigerator for a few hours before cutting. Cut into bars (I use a pizza cutter, which works great). You can store in a glass container(s) or leave them right in the pan. These are great snacks for the lunch box, after school snacks, a lunch supplement.

Without the chicory root extract, these bars do not have the fiber content that Fiber One Bars do, but they stall have a lot! As well as a bunch of other good nutrients.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ReCre8 Profile: Design*Sponge Before and After

I am certainly no designer. I've always been missing that capability to put all the pieces together in such a way that they just look good. But, I do love getting inspiration from good, talented designers and artists in the world.

One amazing source of ReCre8-ive inspiration is the before and after series on Design*Sponge. Grace Bonney, a Brooklyn-based writer, puts together a beautiful collection of makeover projects that can't help but make you want to go to the thrift store the next time you need something!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cre8 a Knitted Baby Hat - Episode I

I love to knit. Most especially, I love to knit baby hats. I think it is because of the speed and simplicity of the projects. I am always in need of baby gifts and I can whip up a hat in a night or two while I'm watching Top Chef.

I usually make up the pattern as I go, but lately I've been trying to write them down so I can share them. This little baby hat is probably best for babies ages 3 months - 1 year (depending on their head size).

  • Yarn: 2 colors (your choice) Baby Weight DK Yarn (I like Sirdar Snuggly Baby Yarn, which they do not make any more). You will need 1 skein plus a scrap for the second color.
  • Needles: Size 4 circular needles and set of Size 4 double-sided bamboo needles
  • Small Cable Hook
Gauge (Understanding Gauge)
  • 6 stitches/in
Don't know how to read a knitting instruction? Check out "How to Read a Knitting Pattern" at WikiHow or the excellent resources at About.com.
  • Cast On 80 stitches with Color #1 and join to work in the round.
  • Rows 1-3: in Color #1 (K2P2)*20
  • Row 4: in Color #2 (K2P2)*20
  • Rows 5,6: in Color #1 (K2P2)*20
  • Rows 7,8: in Color #2 (K2P2)*20
  • Row 9: in Color #1 (K2P2)*20 -- NOTE: continue in color #1 for the rest of the pattern
  • Rows 10-15: K35 P2 K6 P2 K35
  • Row 16: K35 P2 C6F P2 K35
  • Rows 17-22: (repeat 10)
  • Row 23: (repeat 16)
  • Rows 24-29: (repeat 10)
  • Row 30: (repeat 16)
  • Rows 31-36: (repeat 10)
  • Row 37: (repeat 16)
  • NOTE: While decreasing, switch to your 4 double-sided needles whenever the hat becomes too small for your circular needle.
  • Row 38: (K2 K2tog K3)*5 P2 K6 P2 (K3 K2tog K2)*5
  • Row 39: K30 P2 K6 P2 K30
  • Row 40: (K2 K2tog K2)*5 P2 K6 P2 (K2 K2tog K2)*5
  • Row 41: K25 P2 K6 P2 K25
  • Row 42: (K1 K2tog K2)*5 P2 K6 P2 (K2 K2tog K1)*5
  • Row 43: K20 P2 K6 P2 K20
  • Row 44: (K1 K2tog K1)*5 P2 CF6 P2 (K1 K2tog K1)*5
  • Row 45: K15 P2 K2 K2tog K2 P2 K15
  • Row 46: (K1 K2tog)*5 P2tog K5 P2tog (K2tog K1)*5
  • Row 47: K10 P1 K2tog K1 K2tog P1 K10
  • Row 48: (K2tog)*5 P1 K3 P1 (K2tog)*5
  • Row 49: K5 P1 K2tog K1 P1 K5
  • Row 50: (K2tog)*7
Using a yarn needle work the tail of the yarn through the 7 stitches, removing them from the knitting needles. Pull the top of the hat closed and work the yarn into stitches on the inside of the hat. Work in all your yarn ends to complete.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Garden Planning 2009

The blogosphere has spoken and I have listened. Now is the time to begin planning my 2009 vegetable garden. Thankfully, there are SO many great resources on the Internet for those of us who have a track record of killing plants rather than growing them. Here are two:
One thing I haven't been able to find is some advice about managing pests (from deers and groundhogs to unwelcome bugs) in an eco-friendly way. Anyone have good resources to offer?

Last year I had a container garden which I could conveniently keep on my back deck and the deer couldn't get to (although, a groundhog frequented my garden for a parsley meal). This year, I'm planning to expand to a full-out backyard vegetable garden. Unfortunately, none of my herbs survived the winter other than my bay laurel, so I have to start from scratch. Here's what I would like to plant (it is yet to be seen what I actually do).
  • Vegetables
    • Peppers (Cayenne, Bell, Paprika)
    • Asparagus
    • Lettuce
    • Spinach
    • Tomatoes
    • Garlic
    • Onion
    • Broccoli
    • Pumpkin
    • Squash

  • Herbs
    • Parsley
    • Cilantro
    • Basil
    • Bay Laurel
    • Thyme
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Oregano

  • Sunflowers (because they are just so awesome)...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cre8 Green Lentils Spicy-Style

During the season of lent, many Catholics and other Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Even outside of lent, we try to have at least 3 meat-free dinners a week in order to conserve energy and to lower our grocery bills. This is one of our favorite meat-free meals - and it makes great left-overs to bring to work the next day. I will say it is "inspired" by Indian Daal, in flavors.

  • 2 Tbsp. of butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. dry green lentils
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. turneric
  • 4 finely chopped cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/8 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on your heat preference)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • ~2 c. water
Melt butter in skillet on med-high. Add garlic and onion. Saute until onion becomes translucent. Add the dry lentils and toss until lightly coated with butter. Add enough vegetable broth to cover the lentils. Add cumin, turmeric, cardamom, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cook until all the broth is absorbed stirring frequently. Add more broth about 1/2 cup at a time until absorbed. When all the broth is used up, continue the process using water. Cook until the lentils have reached the desired texture ~45 min. Using a wooden spoon, press some of the lentils against the bottom of the pan, "smushing them", to add thickness to the sauce. Serve over rice.

To find more green-themed ideas, head over to "The Little Green Project" hosted by HeavenlyHomemakers.com.


Friday, February 27, 2009

ReCre8 Frosting Jar: Crayon Holder

This is a very simple project I did for my boys' birthday party. It was useful and I had to assuage my plastic guilt for buying the Betty Crocker frosting. Here's how I did it (as if directions are required):
  • All I did was wash the frosting containers
  • Cut a strip of card stock to fit around the container and tape it in place
  • Add the crayons
At the party, I used Kraft paper as the tablecloths (like you'd find at a crab shack) and put the crayon containers in the center so the kids could just color on the tablecloth. Now I am enjoying having these on-the-go crayon containers for the car, church, or visiting a friend.

Any other uses for frosting jars?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

ReCre8 Printer Paper Box Lids: Cupcake Carrier

So, I was looking at how to transport the 60 cupcakes to pre-school for my twin boys birthday. Clearly something more experienced mothers have already thought through. My husband announced the conundrum at his office and all the moms in the room immediately directed him to use lids from the office printer paper. After we were done, they could just be recycled. It worked like a charm. Now, I have to admit, I did not make these cupcakes and frosting from scratch. It was box mix and Betty Crocker this year. I find that I'm having plastic guilt, but I did find a way to re-use the frosting containers (more on that later).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cre8 an Eco-Friendly Pre-School Birthday Party

I've been struggling this year with putting together a birthday party for my three boys that is simple, fun, and a minimal impact on the environment. This year, no cheap plastic goody bags from Oriental Traders and the like. But, I have been struggling with what to do as an alternative.

In the end, I think I'll only partially meet my goal, but I'll document the party on the blog and let you know how it goes.

In the mean time, I found a great resource over at Kiwi which provided some good ideas - some of which I think I'll use.

Does anyone else struggle with this? Any ideas to share?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cre8 Little Environmentalists

with Family Nature Traditions and Nature Routines

As Richard Louv asks in his fabulous book “Last Child in the Woods”, how can we expect our children to be stewards of the environment when they have never experienced nature? In a manufactured world suburban world, where television, video games, Chuck E Cheese’s, and Jump Zones are pulling your children inside to play and veg, how do you push them back outside to experience the glory of the natural world?

When I look back at my own childhood, it is those simple experiences with nature shared with my friends and family that have had the biggest impact on my desire to preserve and care for the world. So, to instill a passion for protecting the earth in my own children, I turn to family traditions and outings – building positive experiences and memories of the natural world with my boys.

Camping Adventures
Our family tradition that we’ve done for 6 years now is to go camping in the mountains every Memorial Day Weekend. Sometimes we have a ton of friends go with us, sometimes it is just the family, but we go every year. – And yes, you can camp with little babies – even twin babies!
If you are camping a National or State Park, make sure to take advantage of all those great learning opportunities: guided nature walks, presentations by naturalists, hands-on activities at a nature center.

Nature Walks and Picnics
I love exploring nature with my children. They notice so many little things that I don’t see myself. When we go out for a hike, we always bring our picnic lunch. It’s a great opportunity to teach my boys about not leaving anything behind and making as little impact as possible. We pack up the lunch in reusable bags, use our Klean Kanteens for drinks, bring along our cloth napkins (made from old cloths), and include a bag to carry home the compostable material. We talk with the kids about each of these choices we make so they understand the impact of these choices versus the alternative on the environment. And if they see trash on the trail along the way and want to bring it home with us, I try to be supportive rather than grossed out.

I think it is important to celebrate all the nature we see in the local ecosystem along the way. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt. We try to find interesting plants, bugs, birds, and reptiles. We search for animal poop and try to discover what kind of animal made it (see a great resource “Who Pooped in the Park” series to find a local National Park version ) . Most of all, my boys like to look for bones. A little disturbing? Maybe. But, I think it makes them feel like little paleontologists.

Family Rock Climbing
I love Rock Climbing as a family. It is such a great way to experience nature together. It always involves a hike to our climbing location and a day outside with the rocks, the trees, and the dirt. We always go home tired, dirty, and happy. You can’t get that experience by going to the gym.

Gardening and Composting
One of our family routines that we started in 2008 was gardening and composting. These are two things even toddlers can help out with. They see the waste (like their banana peel) turn into fertilizer for their garden which helps the herbs and vegetables grow which ends up in their spaghetti and pizza sauce. The kids love to care for and harvest the herbs, vegetables, and flowers. They beam with pride when they can present their Nana with a sunflower that they grew themselves from seed.

And so much more….
There are so many other ways we can build positive nature experiences with our families. Pick-Your-Own berries, a trip to the pumpkin patch, a visit to the nature center, the botanical gardens, even the beach can build a greater appreciation for the natural world in our children and ourselves. This is the foundation upon which caring for the earth is built.

How do you build your own positive experiences in the natural world?

This is my submission for the February APLS Carnival on “Nature and the Environment”. The carnival will be posted February 20th at The Green Phone Booth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What to Do with Old Pants: Sketchbook Pouch

I saw this great project over at Fun In the Making. Make a protective pouch for your sketchbook or journal using an old pair of jeans. This one looks SUPER easy. I love the idea of reusing that button. The approach is so cleverly simple. You know I'll be making my own and posting up the results... It would look great with a little patch or even some beading.

Friday, February 13, 2009

ReCre8 Bread Crusts: Bread Crust Casserole

I don't know about you, but my kids do not like bread crusts. Especially not the bread crusts from the homemade bread machine bread we make (it tends to be just a little hard on the crusts). I could battle it out and try to force them to eat it, but I like a peaceful meal time.

Since I am taking part in Crunchy Chicken's Food Waste Reduction Challenge, I got to thinking, how can I use these bread crusts rather than just throw them in the composting bin as I have been doing? (Because, to be honest with you, I don't really like eating the crusts either!)

So, I tried out this bread crust casserole and I think it was a pretty good success. (BTW, I count it a success if all the adults eat it and at least one of the kids - so I don't set the bar TOO high!)

So, here's how I did it...

First, I saved all the bread crusts and ends of loaves that got dry in the freezer for a few weeks. I also saved leftover chicken, broccoli, onion, and other vegetables.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
  • 3 cup bread crusts
  • 1 Tbsp. bread crumbs (you can make these by blending up some of the bread crusts)
  • 1-2 cup vegetable leftovers (I used celery, broccoli, and onions)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. First, whisk together the eggs, milk, yogurt, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (save the 2 Tbsp. for later). Cut up the bread crusts to about 1-inch. lengths. Spread out the bread crusts, chicken, vegetables, and cheddar cheese in a casserole dish. Pour on the wet ingredients. Let everything soak in for 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and the remaining parmesan cheese.

Put in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes (until the top turns a golden, crispy brown).

Remember, it's casserole, so, in my opinion, all the ingredients are negotiable! I'm not the best recipe writer, so if you have any ways to improve the directions, please let me know!

P.S. I didn't get a picture, but next time I make it, I'll update this post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Re-Cre8 Profile: TerraCycle Inc.

TerraCycle Inc. is a really cool concept for a business. The co-founders Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer, begun with the idea for a profitable yet eco-friendly and socially responsible business. Their first product turned food waste into plant food sold in re-used soda bottles. Now, they have a suite of products available at major retailers, such as Target.

The company actually pays you to send them your trash (specific trash) and uses that as the raw material for their products. You could get a cork board from waste corks, a Capri-Sun pencil case, or many others - you get the idea.

So, check it out...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'm taking the Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009

This is a challenge hosted by Crunchy Chicken. As I go along, I'll blog about some of the things I come up with to reduce food waste in my home.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cre8: Wholesome Multigrain Bread

In pursuit of the perfect multigrain bread...

About a year ago, my husband and I made the decision that we would make all our own bread for the family. This was one part frugality, 1 part eating healthier, and 1 part that we like to make stuff. So, we pulled our bread maker out of storage, brushed off the dust, searched for recipes online, and got started. We make a whole wheat sandwich bread for the kids as well as a multigrain bread for ourselves, our kids like to call it the “grown up bread”.

I honestly had a lot of trouble finding a good whole wheat multigrain bread. Here was my criteria for the perfect bread:
  • 100% whole wheat flour along with other whole grains for the health benefit.
  • A little bit on the sweeter side.
  • Dense and filling, but not a brick.
  • Moist, not dry.
  • Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Good Cholesterol Benefits.
These were my main concerns. We started with a base recipe I found at bigoven.com and then we tweaked it and tweaked it until we just recently got it JUST RIGHT for our tastes. So, here it goes:

  • 13 oz Warm Water
  • 2 Tbsp Yeast Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 Tbsp Canola Oil
  • 3 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 Tbsp Molasses
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Nonfat Dried Milk
  • 2 ¾ Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • ¼ Cup Gluten
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 3 Tbsp Cornmeal
  • 3 Tbsp Toasted Wheat Germ
  • 1/3 Cup Sunflower Seeds
  • 1/3 Cup Rolled Oats (Toasted)
  • 1 Tbsp Flax Seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Flax Seeds

We use a bread machine to make the dough, but we cook it in the oven. We’ve also made it totally in the bread machine.
  • Proof the yeast in all the water according to your brand’s instructions.
  • Combine ingredients in the order they are listed.
  • Either use your bread machine dough setting or knead by hand accordingly.
  • Let the dough rise ~ 1 hr.
  • Knock the dough down, form into a loaf, and place in a 9-in. loaf pan.
  • Let rise for another hour.
  • Bake at 325* for ~30 min. Remove from loaf pan. If sides and bottom are still moist, return to oven for 10-15 min.
  • Slice and enjoy.
To me, this bread is a meal in and of itself! Since it is so moist, I often eat a slice of it with some homemade yogurt for lunch. I also love it toasted with butter on it. The bread keeps very well for homemade bread and stays nice and moist.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Re-Cre8 Pancakes: Fruit & Cake Rolls

My family just loves pancakes. Who doesn’t? I like them too because they are so easy and fun and you can make them a little healthier just by adding in a few other ingredients (more on that another time). I always like to make a few extra pancakes because they make such great leftovers and they are very portable. Just throw them in the fridge overnight and pack them in a lunchbox the next day. But, I’m not willing to pack along syrup or honey. This is just too messy for a portable meal.

So, the other day as I was packing up an on-the-go dinner for gymnastics, I thought I could re-create these leftover pancakes into something very fun. Fruit and Cake rolls. These rolls taste a lot like Fruit Newtons, if you’ve had them (“they’re not cookies, they are fruit and cake” as the commercial goes…).

This couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you will need:

  • Leftover pancakes

  • Leftover pancakes

  • Fruit preserves or jam of your choice

  • A knife

  • A cutting board

  • A portable container

Here’s what you do

  1. Spread the fruit preserves on one side of the pancake.

  2. Gently roll up the pancake.

  3. Slice it up into bite size rolls and place into the container.

  4. Now enjoy!

Maybe these are not a whole meal, but a great snack or “side dish” or dessert. These can easily go into school lunches, or be taken along on picnics. And, unlike little Fruit Newton snack packs – there is no plastic involved (if you ignore my plastic transportation container, but that could just as easily be a pyrex) and nothing to go into the landfill.