Friday, February 17, 2012

Birthday gifts

This can be a frustrating topic when you are trying to avoid being a consumer of newly made products from large corporations and you've got a few kids who might be invited to a birthday party at some point in time. But we are working on it.

My oldest son is going to a joint birthday party for a boy and girl in his class tomorrow, they are turning 14. Yes, the party is tomorrow and just on the way to school today he mentioned that he needs to get them gifts still. Keep in mind also that he will be in school all day and then go straight to the slopes where he will snowboard until 8pm. You might be wondering the same thing I am: when might we find time for getting a gift? But I digress.

After talking about how the kids will be getting a lot of gifts from everyone, we discussed the impact of a small, thoughtful gift. He had already asked the boy what he wanted and the boy responded by saying that he liked chai tea. Well, assuming that he was being serious, that is easy. I suggested not asking the girl what she wanted and instead buying her some good chocolate or something tasty that she could enjoy. Let's try to avoid getting anything that will be cast aside and end up just taking up space in the long run.
And then I remembered that over the summer when we were on the cape, we went to a flea market where a guy was selling these cool notebooks and notepads made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and banana and coffee fibre. A percentage of the sale of the products went towards a scholarship fund for some young people in Latin America who study sustainable agriculture development... anyway, I was sold and the deal was great so I bought a bunch, thinking they would make great gifts in situations just like this one.

I had a few other suggestions for gifts for his friends too, but not many. A gift certificate to the local used book store was lingering at the top of my list, but kids do like instant gratification and candy (and tea?) seemed cooler. As much as I wanted to buy chai tea in bulk and buy the kid a nice tea strainer, my realistic side opted for a box of tea instead. Honestly, I just think giving a 14 year old kid tea for a birthday gift is cool enough, so I'll buy a little packaging to support it. HOWEVER, I quite specifically bought a box of tea that was NOT wrapped in plastic (what is the point of that if the tea bags are individually wrapped anyway??) and that was fair trade and organic. As for the girl, I went for my favorite chocolate company, Theo, which is also fair trade and organic and really just a great company to support. My absolute favorite thing ever is chocolate and salt together - so I of course got that for her.

Now, birthday presents for the smaller kids is a little bit more of a challenge, but I'm working on it. So far my favorite gift to give by far is second hand books - either from the used book store or from our book shelves at home. Regifting is a fantastic option and I highly recommend it. The best item to regift is one that has been well loved and appreciated but is still in good condition and has been picked out by your child to pass on deliberately with love. The act of doing this is a gift in itself, and it gives our children an opportunity to own the act of giving something away because they loved it and they want to share it with someone else. This also encourages sharing and hopefully discourages the hoarding mentality that is easily developed by having a lot of stuff in general.

I try to blow off the fact that giving gifts feels like such a social necessity when a child is invited to a birthday party... but I still feel it. I don't want my child to be the one kid that didn't bring a birthday present. But it makes me grumpy that this pressure is there in the first place. So I try to turn it into something good, something thought out. The truth is, I like giving gifts...  so let's find a way to continue to share without caving to the plastic package buying from big corporations who don't need our money anyway. At the very least - shop local!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bake sale packaging solution

I keep running into the bake sale issue. The one where I am supposed to bake for a bake sale and then figure out how to present the baked goods without using plastic bags or some other kind of disposable one time use only wrapping. Obviously this is my issue, but still an issue nonetheless.

And today, I discovered the first of what I hope to be many good ideas for a solution to this problem (and others like it).

My daughter's class was having a bake sale today to raise money for water 1st, a charity to help bring safe water to the people in Malawi, Africa. They would be standing outside in the cold and I knew that whatever I baked would need to be wrapped in something to make it more likely to sell.

So I was contemplating how this was going to work when the idea came to me - recycled paper! (Duh) We recently received something in the mail that had a bunch of brown paper as filler in the box. It was sitting in our pile of paper to burn for fires in the fireplace, but it was the perfect thing. I wrapped the brownies up and found some string to tie them into little packages, with two per package.

Plastic free and cute too!

Making soy milk

Before I start here, let me preface this by saying that I know that there is controversy over soy. I have cut most other non fermented soy items out of our diets, but my kids have this one vice that I continue to indulge them in. However, I do consider it of utmost importance to buy organic soy and to avoid GMOs at all cost.

That said, I decided that I needed to give making soy milk a try. I am so sick of buying packaged soy milk and there are some people in my family who do not like cows milk.
Here's how it went down.

I first bought some organic dried soy beans from the bulk department.
And then I looked for some easy to follow recipes online. Most of you know that I can't stand follow recipes, so I found this video much more useful:
I soaked my soybeans over night. Actually, I meant to make the soy milk yesterday, but before I found this video I got so overwhelmed by the recipe that I was going to use that I put the soaking soybeans in the fridge to soak for one more night so that I could continue to contemplate the task.
I pulled myself together and blended the soybeans up (in batches) with some filtered water and poured it into a big pot to cook.

Now let me tell you a little tip about cooking the soy milk - keep stirring! I didn't at first and consequently spent unnecessary time and energy scraping one of my more favorite pots when I was done. Good news though - the pot was saved.
Remember to scoop off the foam from the top while you are bringing it to a boil.

Something else that I would have done differently here was add more flavor. My final product is decent but to get my kids to drink it at the rate they were blowing through packaged soy milk, I should have put a little more sweetness and vanilla in during the cooking stage.

Once it was done cooking, I strained it through a cheese cloth. I didn't have those nifty clips that they used in the video, so I just secured the cheese cloth with a rubber band  - and since my bowl had a lip at the top, it worked perfectly.
I saved the soybean pulp stuff, also known as okara. My original plan for this stuff was to add some of it to my dog's food or just compost it, but then I remembered seeing another video on the side of that soy milk video, so I went back to find it.
I decided to save all of the okara so that I can make a bunch of these veggies burgers and freeze them for when I need a quick meal.
I let the soy milk cool for a bit before I strained it into some clean glass jars. I used a funnel with a small strainer to catch any lingering bits that might freak my kids out if they were to encounter them. Oh, and remember that as it's cooling you might see a film form on the top of the milk. I just took a spoon and scooped it right up and tossed it into the compost.

And now I have soy milk without all of that packaging! Cross your fingers that the kids like it enough to use it on their cereal in the morning...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chocolate popsicles

I know that it is technically winter since I live in New England and it is the beginning of February... but most of you probably know that the weather has been warm and snow has been non-existent.
Therefore, we find ourselves eating weird things like cold popsicles after school.

As most of you probably remember, I love my stainless steel popsicle maker. And I am often looking for ways to make popsicles without having to buy containers of juice, which in the past has been the easy solution for making popsicles.

But this afternoon my daughter (a self proclaimed chocoholic) reminded me of the time that I once made chocolate popsicles from hot chocolate. It was super easy and simple and this is all you need to do it yourself:

- Hot chocolate mix... you can often find this in bulk bins or you can make your own mix from bulk items. Don't forget to buy fair trade when it comes to chocolate and sugar - it's totally worth it.
- Water or milk for the hot chocolate mix (whichever you prefer)
- Popsicle makers
- A freezer

Make the hot chocolate how you normally like it. I tend to make it on the less hot side since I'm going to freeze it anyway. Also, I'm always freaked out about glass breaking, and I tend to make the hot chocolate in mason jars just because they are bigger and I can make more for the popsicle molds.

Let the hot chocolate cool a little bit and then pour it into the molds and put them into the freezer. You guys - it's that simple!! And if you happen to have the stainless steel molds, it actually freezes much faster... which means chocolate popsicles sooner!


Friday, February 3, 2012


Today is my day off and there is lots to do as always. This is my to do list:

- complete taxes (check)
- wash laundry and hang on drying rack (check)
- donate 3 bags of clothes from hallway pile (check)
- take wooden puzzles ( the ones with all of the correct pieces) to the kids consignment shop (check)
- go to local bookstore and use credit from used books that I turned in to buy first 2 books to a series (we got the 3rd and 4th one from the used book store) for a birthday gift for a friend (check)
- go to library (there now, check)
- learn how to make soy milk from scratch to avoid buying in packaged from now on
- continue to go through and eliminate items in the hallway which have been designated as "get rid of piles" by my older kids - somethings need to go in the attic for future use, like clothes that my youngest will wear... This helps us to avoid buying new even down the line
- vacuum (enough said)
- take a walk with dog and at least one kid
- do my homework (how did this get to the bottom of the list when school is tomorrow morning? Hopefully my teacher isn't reading this...)

And that, my friends, will be everything that I expect myself to do today. Hopefully I will complete more and not less...