Archive | February, 2013

Happy dough

22 Feb

Happy dough

This happy face is the result of a lovely afternoon making happy dough. Aka salt dough. My boy thinks that “salt dough” sounds like “sad dough” and he, very sensibly, thinks that happy dough is a far better moniker!

The lovely Rosy Mammy over at Rosy Little Cheeks recently shared the great time she and her big boy had with salt dough. Her description of how much fun her 3 year old had with his diggers in the dough crumbs had me reaching for the flour!

The recipe is beautifully simple:

1/2 cup of salt

1/2 cup of water

1 cup of flour

Mix them altogether and knead into a dough. Then roll out, cut your shapes and zap in the microwave on high for 3 mins and voila, salt dough shapes ready to paint!

Salt dough

The painting was fun.

Painting salt dough

But if my son could type then he’d explain that it was what I did with the trimmings that was the real success here. Sure enough, Rosy Mammy was right – (nearly) 3 year olds can be absorbed for hours with some salt dough crumbs and diggers!

Diggers

The box of crumbs is still being enjoyed 24 hours later. The only downside is that I have to keep the box off the ground so his crawling sister doesn’t get her hands on it (she will attempt to eat anything and this is definitely not for little mouths). Honestly, preparing meals has been much easier as my usual little helper is absorbed in playing with diggers rather than insisting on “helping” me cook!

And here are the finished products.

Finished salt doughThe hearts are for his granddaddy, who had open heart surgery just a few weeks ago and is, happily, healing brilliantly. The happy faces are for me and my boy, momentos of this lovely activity. The rest were an attempt to make tea cups & saucers – I know, they’re not hugely “recognisable” as that but I guess that’s where imagination comes into it!

My boy is all about tea parties at the moment, so I may take this as a hint to make him a “proper” tea set for his birthday next month.

Change the World Wednesday – 6 Ingredient Challenge

20 Feb

It’s that time of week again – a chance to see what Reduce Footprints has suggested as this week’s #CTWW. There’s a definite food theme at the moment, after last week’s Use it Up challenge to reduce food waste, as this week it’s about the 6 Ingredient Challenge that Hobo Mama is hosting.

This is a great idea – a simple but effective way to change our habits and help the planet by only buying food with 6 ingredients or less. The aim is to have more whole foods by cutting down on processed food. This is both good for our health (as it helps avoid hidden salt & sugar) as well as the environment (as less processing means less carbon dioxide produced). It’s also a great way to become a more savvy consumer, as we should all get to grips with reading food labels.

While I had never thought of it in this way, I’ve realised that I already try to do this. For instance, we mostly buy dry beans & pulses as using our magic pressure cooker to gives us that lovely “straight out of a can” taste (honestly, no amount of soaking & boiling ever got our black beans tasting “right” until we discovered the pressure cooker!). Or yogurts, we avoid “diet” yogurts, with their artificial sweeteners, by using organic skimmed yogurt and adding a little stevia or honey if we need it sweetened. I also avoid children’s yogurts and the like, as they’re loaded with sugar and additives (I’m lucky that my kids actually love plain yogurt as they don’t know any different!). We make our own salad dressing using oil and vinegar.

But after checking my kitchen I’ve discovered some foods that I hadn’t really thought about – cereals and bread.

At breakfast we generally all have porridge, but my son also loves Trader Joe’s Os. In fact, he has a bowl of porridge & a bowl of Os and eats them both (yes, we’re in the midst of the fussy food stage so he insists on the two bowls!). I’ve just checked the ingredients of the Os and there’s definitely more than 6 on there. The rest of our breakfast selection seems quite virtuous (rolled oats, wheatgerm, flaxseed, fruit) and our son doesn’t get any added sugar or honey. But it’s a reminder that these Os are processed, despite the cute box with the tasty looking strawberry garnishing a bowl of them and “wholegrain oats” in large font. Realistically, I’m going to leave him to his Os as, honestly, I just like that he eats breakfast without a fuss (which can’t be said at every meal time!). But I will make sure that his nearly 1 year old sister doesn’t get her hands on them. It’s tempting to just give her a handful to scoff while I prepare breakfast but I’ll try and give her fruit instead.

But bread is something I can work on. I just checked and yup, our organic spelt bread contains lots of ingredients including sugar (I find America to be full of very sweet bread – it was kind of a shock when we moved!). I’m lucky that my husband makes great bread. But it’s something I’d love to try. So I’ll try to do my bit for #CTWW by making my own bread this week. Hopefully by declaring my intention on here I’ll have to do it!

Happy Valentines

14 Feb

It’s mid-afternoon on Valentines and the sun is streaming through the window.

I’m lucky enough to be in the middle of a lovely Valentines day.

Breakfast all together, when we got to enjoy the new coffee the kids “treated” us to (see how I got around our “no gifts” Valentines rule this year?). A local Maplewood couple launched a roastery last year – This Town Coffee – so I popped over to pick up some freshly roasted, organic coffee yesterday.

And then lunch all together, rounded off with a sweet treat of specially decorated biscuits.

Valentines cookies - decorated

They were made and decorated with love by some little hands.

Valentines biscuits - little hands helping

The streaky marks on the table are because my nearly 3 year old loves to eat flour. Honestly, he’ll stand there happily eating the flour while helping bake bread or cookies. Strange tastes he has!

Valentiens cookies - little hands cutting

We couldn’t resist cutting some rocket biscuits too, since flying to the moon in a rocket is one of his favourite games to play at the moment!

Valentines cookies - baking

It was a tasty way to celebrate all together. The older I get the more I think the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach!

Change the World Wednesday – use it up!

13 Feb

In January, myself and LowImpactPapa had a serious look at our food shopping habits. We had had an expensive few months with the move from London and Christmas and were looking at ways to tighten our belt financially. Grocery bills were an obvious area to examine (along with abstaining from eating out for the whole of January and turning our thermostat down a couple of degrees!). We were on a mission to reduce our grocery bill, reduce our waste and eat healthily. So we started meal planning and trying to find some new, simple recipes to approach our usual ingredients in new ways.

And it worked! We’ve significantly cut our grocery bills, we’ve cut our food waste by being more mindful in our eating, we’ve each lost about 9 lbs and we’ve got some new recipes that we are enjoying. Plus the kids are enjoying the new takes on familiar ingredients!

But food waste is a huge issue for the world. The NRDC released a report last year about this  called “Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its food from Farm to Fork”. (see here for more information including a pdf of the report). Here’s a quote from the summary:

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables. Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triple- bottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction; businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money; and consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers[emphasis in bold added my me]

So this week’s Change the World Wednesday (#CTWW) over at Reduce Footprints really chimes with the current food philosophy here at Chez Lowimpactparenting. This week’s challenge comes via Mrs Green’s Half Term Challenge over at My Zero Waste. It’s about taking stock of what’s in our fridge, planning some meals around it and enjoying them, knowing that we’re saving money and protecting resources. It’s sounds like what we’re trying to do anyway, so how could I not join in :). But seriously, we were away visiting the in-laws at the weekend, so we’ve been a bit more lax this week than usual as we didn’t have the time to meal plan as thoroughly as usual so this challenge is helping me to refocus on this.

I hadn’t realised quite how many different leftovers we had lurking until doing this. We have some leftover pizza sauce, some leftover rice, some leftover egg whites (from Pancake Tuesday last night!) as well as some homemade black beans. So for lunch today I think I’ll do some bean quesadillas with rice & beans on the side.

Vegetables-wise, we have some courgettes & leeks that I bought last week so should really use up. So I think it’ll be homemade courgette & leek pesto for dinner tonight (which conveniently gets some veg into my nearly 3 year old who’s going through a fussy food stage…though he’ll eat pesto til the cows come home!).

In the fruit bowl, we have some bananas that are on the turn, quite a few grapefruits and some pears, including one that’s half cut already. Luckily, neither of my kids turn their noses up at brown bananas though sometimes we’ll mash them up and serve them on toast if they’re just too mushy to eat from the skin. So afternoon snack will  be bananas and pear and a grapefruit (my 10 month old loves her citrus fruit so I’ll share it with her as the boy only likes grapefruit in juice form!).

Though I’m hoping to get some messy play aka baking in this afternoon too (since Valentine’s Day tomorrow is the perfect excuse for some heart-shaped baked goods!) so afternoon snack may well end up being derailed by that…

Making hummus like a pro

8 Feb

We’ve spent the day waiting for the great blizzard to strike (it’s being called Nemo by some, since even winter storms are branded now). In fact, a snow plow just drove by (the fire house is at the end of our street so it’s pretty well plowed during storms!). On our back porch our home made ruler measures just over 3 inches of snow. I wonder what it will say tomorrow, after the blizzard has blown through.

During the afternoon I heard part of the excellent Last Chance Foods segment on WNYC – I love this show. It covers such an interesting selection of food topics and is often a pleasure to listen to.  If you want to listen you can check out today’s show on how to make hummus like a pro.

Hummus is something that’s often homemade in our house. I’d take the credit, but my husband usually does it. In fact, he usually does much of our cooking (his kitchen skills are some of the many things I love about him!). He had cooked up some chickpeas in the pressure cooker over lunch, in anticipation of making the latest batch of hummus. So of course we were both interested to hear what the secret to making professional tasting hummus was…it turns out it’s about peeling the chickpeas. Which was not something we’d ever thought of before!

Once the kids were in bed we set about the task. It was quite relaxing, mediatative almost. We listened to the newest Friday Night Comedy podcast from the BBC (the News Quiz was even funnier than usual!) as we stood together at the sink popping the chickpeas out of their translucent skins.

Chickpea skins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then my husband set to work, whizzing it up in the food processor with some lemon juice, some crushed garlic, some tahini, some of the water the chickpeas cooked in, some olive oil and some maldon sea salt.  If you’re interested you can check out a recipe he likes on the blog Table & Spoon, where it’s all explained and photographed far more expertly than I could attempt on here!

The result:

Hummus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A creamy, fluffy, scrumptious hummus. Totally more-ish and delicious and actually nicer than any store bought one I’ve tried in a long time. So it seems the trick really is in the peeling of the chickpeas!

And now the snow has started falling again and it’s time for me to head to bed. I wonder how I’ll sleep during my first ever blizzard…

 

Wednesday…a good day to change the world!

6 Feb


I’ve been following the excellent Reduce Footprints blog for a while. Do check it out, as it’s a great place for picking up tips on ways to reduce our footprints on our planet. It also hosts the very cool Change the World Wednesday challenge (check out #CTWW on Twitter).

This week’s challenge is about political pressure, specifically calling on our leaders to investigate and regulate hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. There are so many concerns about fracking, from pollution of water supplies to earthquakes. It’s also great to use my voice for a larger goal, as lobbying our leaders is an important part of living green. They must hear from us, and not just from business groups with vested interests.

OK, my baby is waking from her nap!

Easy green cleaning

5 Feb

Our cleaning products can be full of nasties and can pose a real risk of poisoning if children or pets get into them. It’s no surprise so many households are packed full of harsh chemicals, after decades of “Better Living Through Chemistry”  and advertising telling us we need to have homes that are cleaner than clean or whites that are whiter than white or floors cleaned with antibacterial wipes.  Luckily it’s a very easy step to take to green your cleaning products. What’s even better is that by making your own cleaning products you’ll save a ton of money too.

Making more of my own green cleaning products is one of my eco aims for 2013 so I thought I’d share 3 easy green cleaning solutions that will make your home a cleaner, greener space.

All purpose cleaner:

1 cup water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp of lemon juice
10 drops tea tree oil

Tea tree is a wonderful essential oil with natural antic bacterial and anti fungal properties, so this cleaner is great for everyday use on most surfaces. NB leave out the lemon juice if you have granite counter tops as it can stain them!

Window & Glass cleaner:

Just mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and you’re good to go. Just spray on any glass surfaces and wipe (we use old newspapers for the wiping).

Microwave cleaner:

This is an old trick but works so brilliantly. Put a bowl of warm tap water in the microwave with some lemon slices and cook on high for 1 minute. Then let it sit in the microwave for a few minutes, so the steam stays trapped inside. Then just wipe out the microwave with a damp sponge – easy peasy!

I use spray bottles that I’ve saved from the commercial eco cleaners I was using before switching to homemade. You can also pick up empty spray bottles in places like a dollar store (or pound shop!). I’d love to hear if anyone else has homemade green tips to share, as I’ve become a bit of a white vinegar bore in real life since it’s such a great (and cheap!) alternative to expensive eco cleaners!