Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quick & Dirty: Weed Identification (not THAT kind of weed!)

See that? That would be Mr. Moon taking his blind date to the prom. Apparently. Anyway, when this plant started growing, we thought it was a thistle. It got so tall, growing there in the drainage flow of the compost pile, and we were so excited to see how big the thistle flower would be on a stalk that is 1.5 inches in diameter, and then suddenly--YELLOW!

[Get it? Blind date, because it was an unidentified plant and he's wearing a silly tuxedo shirt? Yeah, I find myself funny, it's ok, you don't have to laugh. As long as Mr. Moon does. It's required for him to laugh at my jokes.]

Our friend growing next to the compost pile was apparently not a thistle, so I took this picture and posted it on my Facebook soliciting advice. My mother-in-law (except not really because she's my sister-in-law's mom but whatevs) piped up right away to tell me it is apparently called Prickly Lettuce, but that it is in fact not edible. Also very invasive, so we needed to get those flowers off it before it went to seed. *GASP!* Mr. Moon took the flower bundle off right away and we got it taken down the next day, sprinkled a goodly dose of baking soda on the stub, and hopefully it won't become an issue.

I love having a community of resources I can ask these kinds of questions. A Facebook post to the first 5 gardener-friends who see it is a lot faster and more reliable than trolling Google for answers that I'm not really sure are correct from people about whom I have no idea of their credentials.

Isn't living in the future great??

Monday, May 28, 2012

Update: Scallions are less never-ending than promised

When I was a kid, I did a science experiment about growing plants. What I found is that you can take away dirt and light, but plants need water to survive. Simple, right? Not so much. 20 years later, my parents still have that hanging basket of ivy plants that we stuck together after the experiment was over. Even now, you can still tell which plants spent their time lacking soil, or light, or worse yet both. They are a little smaller, a little spindlier, a little yellower. The leaves are closer together on the one that was lacking both light and dirt.

After I posted about my scallions going slimy and shooting off their root bits, I was ruminating about that experiment. I owe a thank you to so many people for helping me learn as much about science as I have--and especially teaching me HOW to learn about science--but my mom is the one who stands out the most. We haven't always been on the same page, but she was awesome at helping to talk me through figuring out doing experiments with the scientific method and not just "doing it for me." No good deed goes unpunished though, and I'll warn you that when your kid wants to do a science experiment about how long it takes a variety of cereals to become soggy in milk--DON'T DO IT. Talk them out of it. My stomach still turns just thinking about it, and halfway through my mom had to do all the testing because I had left it too late to change topics and I couldn't put another spoonful of half-soggy cereal in my mouth.

My scallions were growing as fast as ever, but the slimy parts were getting slimier, and the more I pulled off that outer layer of now-slimy onion, the smaller and yellower they got. I know this may seem silly, but I believe that plants have feelings just like animals do (it's a big part of the reason I'm not vegetarian--I'm killing a living thing either way). I felt kind of bad, because I could tell that my scallions weren't happy and healthy living in a bowl of water with only whatever sunlight filtered in to them. Plus, you know, stanky. The kind of stink that I couldn't seem to just wash out anymore without soaking and scrubbing with soap and vinegar. Yuck.

So we planted them.

We had a glass vase/container around and threw the rocks in the bottom. This way I could SEE the water level to know if it needs more, and it looks like a nice little terrarium or something. Edible house plants FTW.
*TIP: I put a coffee filter between the rocks and the dirt, so that the dirt wouldn't filter down into the rocks. I figure the coffee filter will probably break down eventually, and I probably could have used fabric or cheesecloth, but I didn't have anything handy. So I'll figure out a better plan for when I need to re-plant.
In the meantime, the scallions are clearly happier. In one day, they're greener, hardier, and shooting up new stalks like they're going out of style.

I do like having the scallions and a few herbs at hand inside, so I think the long-term plan needs to be getting a set of wire shelves into the dining room where the rest of the houseplants are sitting in front of a window. Although that somewhat conflicts with the long-term plan of making the beds right by the patio into an herb garden with more yield. We could do both, I suppose. In the meantime, my scallions should be much happier. 

Oh, I almost forgot! The pepper plant that had broken off and was growing like gangbusters in the water with the scallions? I put it into its own little vase of water, and sprinkled a little compost in. Once the mulch settled out, it looks pretty cool. I still don't think it's going to do anything useful (since it seems to be refusing to root-out and I don't see it being strong enough to support any fruit growth). But it's been entertaining so far to see it continue growing like nothing's wrong.

Have you been doing any household experiments lately? Or anything you did years ago/as a kid that you thought was silly at the time, but has come in handy in your adult life?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eats & Treats: Weekly Menu Plan

Last week didn't get posted because by the time I remembered about it on Wednesday, we had already completely re-arranged everything and skipped a lot of stuff. This week is sort of a "back to basics" week, trying to get back on track with planning and execution.

As you may recall, lunches are sort of suggestions. Ironically I think I stuck to my lunch plan last week better than the dinner plans. In any event! 

* Fruit Salad:
I love this because it's a product of looking to see what's on sale and in-season this week, finding lots of produce that's great for salad, and taking advantage. Seasonal eating at its best. On top of that, making a little extra means we can use it for lunch sides the rest of the week.

* Brats:
Of course, who can resist a cook-out on Memorial Day? I was once at a Memorial Day celebration where a recently-returned soldier who had been serving in Iraq was asked how he felt about the holiday becoming synonymous with the first real cook-out of summer (complete with a rant about rampant consumerism in our culture, and the disconnect between our citizens and real values). This soldier got a thoughtful look on his face, clinked bottle necks with his neighbor, sipped his beer, and said something I will never forget: "Grilling out seems to be a favorite American pass-time. We were told we were fighting to preserve America's freedom. So I don't really see anything wrong with people celebrating the work of generations of veterans by celebrating the freedom to stand outside with their friends and family and neighbors, cooking slabs of meat and tofu dogs alike, and relishing in the fact that unlike so many people on this earth, we're not afraid of a bomb dropping into the middle of the party. Someone pass me another beer?" Still, I like to quietly light a candle for all those who have died for our right to hang out and grill on a Monday night. Even if it is Mr. Moon's usual "Saturday" off anyway.

* Chicken & Broccoli:
A couple weeks ago, we tried the nice trick of grilling up extra chicken and then stripping it off the bone the next day for a different meal. I'm not a fan of "leftovers" in most instances, but re-purposing of ingredients just makes me feel accomplished.

* [Pasta] Alfredo & Garlic Bread:
Mum requested that we have this on the menu, so I could teach her how to make Alfredo sauce. I told her I do it by opening a jar, because I've made it from scratch a few times and it's just not worth the trouble. The way my hands are these days, I don't relish standing over a Béchamel sauce for the better part of an hour whisking together a roux, tempering in milk, and then stirring in cheese. Don't get me wrong, my alfredo sauce is the best that one of my instructors ever had, and I hate that it's so difficult to find one that hasn't been preserved with sugar to help keep the emulsion stable in the jar and during reheating. I haven't yet decided whether I'll be making it from scratch, but I'm picking up a jar as a back-up (I already have a jar for myself, anyway). Plus this is an opportunity to personalize dishes to taste: Pops gets veggies, Mum & Mr. Moon and I can get some leftover chicken pieces and whatever veggies we want without putting anyone out. I like to have just a little pasta in for flavor with most of my dish being veggies. Others, not so much.

* Pork Chops & Rice-a-roni vs. Ribs:
Mum's been craving her pork chops cooked in applesauce, but I have never been a fan of pork chops so I'm eating ribs instead. Bonus, clearing out the pantry of an item I won't eat or cook, Rice-a-roni packets. I haven't decided what I'm doing for a side yet, though. Somehow I never have trouble throwing a side together for myself at the last minute.

* Butternut Lentil Soup:
I get into kind of a rut with slow-cooker meals, mostly chili and spaghetti sauce, so this past week I started breaking out of it. Yesterday we had chicken & dumplings. This week it will be butternut lentil soup, an idea I got out of one of my slow-cooker cookbooks. I like to just flip through the books and get ideas, even if I rarely ever follow the recipes exactly. And it's any wonder I'm a terrible baker??

* Leftovers:
Sunday Night as leftovers night has been working really well so far! Some weeks if we get the fridge too full or just don't feel like cooking, it makes it easy to switch Leftovers to a different night and have whatever we'd planned on Sunday. It's kind of the day to clean out the fridge, and use up whatever is wallowing in the back that got lost during the week. My only complaint about it is that it follows the day where we are most likely to have food left over, which means eating the same meal two days in a row. I'm not really a fan of that.

* Lunches:
I especially like to write things in for lunches that need to get used up. Things like TV dinners, tamales, and the metric ton of canned beets. Three weeks now we have planned TV dinners on the menu and three weeks now it has been supplanted by eating out or eating leftovers or making something else because no one wants to eat them. Newsflash: If we don't want to eat them, it's no use keeping them! Time for them to go. I'm much happier keeping small portions of soup and chili and casseroles in the freezer for those OhShit! meals instead of cardboard packaged sodium bombs. If I can't get these beets to move themselves out at all this week, they'll be getting donated to the local food bank.
What does your menu look like this week? Are you focusing on solving any planning issues, or getting rid of certain ingredients that have been sitting around longer than you'd like?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Finances for the Rest of Us

Once upon a time, I had no money skills. I spent all my time scraping by, and any time I seemed to get ahead it just got flushed down the toilet. Car repairs. Unexpected school supplies. Medical bills. Thieving roommates. You know the drill.

I started getting control of my finances while I was working on a $7,000/year income and still covering half of the bills with a $3,000 credit card debt that I was trying to pay off. The tipping point for me was seeing a snippet of Suze Orman's show talking about managing your money, and it got me looking for more information. I stumbled upon Get Rich Slowly.

Along the way, I've read a bunch of personal finance blogs. Books just never quite make sense to me, but blogs are typically written in a much more conversational tone, one where I can give instant feedback through comments--even if I don't, it's still a conversation to me. It helps me process the information better. But through the years I've noticed a lot of personal finance blogs focus on two kinds of lifestyles: That of the Stay-At-Home-Mom working in her home to cut costs so her family can afford everything they need and want; or the office-workers, whether they're working in an office or from home. Sometimes you'd get a little something about being a student, which applied to me a little at the time, but these days that just doesn't apply to me anymore--except the parts that were aimed at students but not really about being a student at all.

The last couple of years, Get Rich Slowly has really disappointed me. The articles are increasingly generic and repetitive. Some of them even going so far as to make offensive assumptions and rude stereotypes. Nothing so overt that the typical reader might notice, but certainly enough that it's put me off. This of course goes hand in hand with my frustration about how modern health and eating advice assumes so much about a lifestyle that so many people simply don't live.

All I can think is that the OffBeat Empire needs to make an OffBeat Money site. Someplace that the typical advice can be given a fresh face with better examples for the rest of us. Those of us who don't work in offices, those of us who choose different styles of parenting than the "standard," examples for the people who choose to stay single whether they choose to travel the world or make an offbeat career for themselves.

Sure, it all boils down to one thing: Spend less than you make. But if I have to read one more article about how you can TOO take lunch to work and put it in your office fridge or buy a mini fridge for under your desk, and the best way to lose weight is to do some exercises at your desk... There aren't enough swear words to express the frustration.

Update: Never-Ending Sacallions

As you may recall, I've been growing scallions in a vase in my kitchen. A few times, I've had to take a couple minutes and clean out the vase, soaking the rocks in vinegar water, and pulling soggy outer layers of onions off the stalks. I could probably avoid doing this as often if I remembered to change the water more frequently...

Then one day I went to clean out the vase and found this:
A bunch of these little root structures looking like they'd broken off the bottom of the stalks, but when I sorted through, each stalk still had roots at the bottom! Though you may be able to see here, some stalks had brighter-white, new roots. Exactly as many had new roots as I had stalk-less root structures, in fact.

I have no idea what this means. But the experiment continues!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dude, Get On That Already!: Kitchen Edition

This is what our Nook looked like, upon us moving in. I'd like to say that Mr. Moon and I made a mess of it all moving in, but the truth is it looked worse than this before we cleaned it up and then made a mess again, and half of this isn't even ours.

Let's review what we're seeing here, shall we? To the left is a pile of boxes full of towels needing put away, and almost-unpictured is a stack of small appliances for the shelves that were built under the lip of the lunch counter. Behind the red curtain is a mess of canned goods needing sorting, though by the time we took this picture the dry goods had been put away in the sewing cupboard next to it. You can also see the drawers of Mum's yarn, tucked away back in the corner where she couldn't get to them because of the kitchen table that was just a catch-all for all manner of everything. We had brought in the recycling bins already, because the floor had been just a pile of recycling waiting to be picked up "later." In front of the table is a chair with a huge roll of foil, both of which still realistically need a home.

The Transformation!
Please let's just ignore the strip of white that needs a paint touch up. There was a shelf there before. But anyway, here we have our new nook!

The angle is a little off, so you can't see the nicely-open floor in front of the small appliance shelves. You can see the canned goods shelves, now with nicely-organized and labeled containers of dry goods. See our nice new kitchen island? I built it myself! I mean, it was a kit, but it still required the use of power tools and even if it took me twice as long as it would have someone else because I kept having to stop to rest, I put it together myself in an afternoon. You can also see here the recycling bins which have spent the last two months in the middle of the floor, newly power washed but still needing re-labeling. What we have discovered is that the bottom one is just too low for anyone to reach, so it gets swapped for the top one when the top one gets full but not overflowing. (Yes, that's a litter box on the floor, and thankfully now it is not right by Mum's head.)

The cart in the corner is full of wine, and had been an ill-used side table in the living room that was just too tall for its purpose. We decided we'd rather have it over in the corner to leave room for the litter box over there, and we could use it as a beverage station (which had previously been a bin taking up space on the counter). So instead we switched that and the yarn drawers, which you can see here! It was only a table cloth to take it from "stack of storage boxes in the corner" to "piece of furniture with visible contents." I also took a couple knick-knacks from the over-crowded mantle, and voila! Side table.

Oh, that basket is our "outdoor" basket. It has a couple pairs of gardening gloves, a large-brimmed hat, a button-up long-sleeved shirt, sunscreen and bug spray in it, all easily accessible when we head out to work in the garden. I'm not sure why exactly the blow-up beach ball ended up in there, and the watering-pitcher probably doesn't need to be, but the most essential piece of equipment there is the stack of blue baskets and the scissors. I like to keep them handy so that if I need herbs for dinner, they're easily accessible.

The most important thing we accomplished here is this feeling of open-ness we found in that nook. More things have a more logical home that is easier to access, and we're less tempted to just toss and stash. I call that a win in my book!

This was the other major project...
You know that junk drawer everyone seems to have in their kitchen? This was ours. I was most of the way through it before I realized I was working on a project, I was really just looking for something, but the next thing I knew... well it was high time anyway.

But wait, if there are no before pictures that means... this is after?? Yes. Trust me, it's so much better. Instead of things just rolling around in there and papers we don't need laying on top of the trash bags we need daily, everything is a lot more logically placed. Down in back is a stack of manuals for things like the toaster oven, the vacuum, etc. Those are things we need handy when we need them, but how often do you need them? So on top is the box of matches, some pens and markers. Unpictured: A measuring tape, a level and a couple binder clips. Then to hold that stuff back from the stuff in front, a box of snack-sized zipper bags next to a stack of sandwich sized ones. And two zipper bags full of twist ties and bread clips, with the roll of trash bags conveniently hanging over the front of the drawer.
* Caveat: Zipper bags seem to be the #1 disposable item I can't quite seem to replace. Besides the fact that we have a veritable buttload as seen below, they're so convenient! Things take up a lot less space than putting them in containers. I used to re-use my bags as much as possible, though I got out of the habit moving away from Michigan and have yet to get back into it. There has been so much on our plate, I just couldn't bring myself to wash them, and find a space for them to hang dry.
Every time we opened this cupboard, something fell out. It was driving me absolutely bonkers, and since I'm having a better day I finally got down there to fix it. Four rolls of plastic wrap. Four rolls of foil. Six boxes of trash bags, not even the right size for our kitchen trash can. Five boxes of zipper sandwich bags, plus three fold-overs and two more of quart-size freezer bags. Three boxes of gallon zipper bags, one of them is even restaurant-case sized! And let's not forget the stack of shower caps used as bowl covers, and a box of bowl covers in different sizes that are actually marketed that way.

In time, I'd like to get the extras stored back out in the garage, and possibly gain a whole shelf in this cupboard. On the other hand, I have no idea what else we would even need to store in here, and the space in the garage is at a premium. Still, no need to have this much back-up around. So once we get through it all, I'll have an extra shelf to use. Wonder what we'll put there? It would be nice to have my french press and coffee grinder a little closer to the rest of the coffee station...

Have you done any re-organizing or re-arranging of furniture lately? Did you find anything exciting in the process? Anything you just need to shake your head and laugh at how much extra you've got sitting around? Or how about just a project you've been putting off for a while that you finally finished?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fixing a debacle

So... you know how we spent 6 hours on Tuesday cleaning the carpets? And you know how I said that water stain came right up? Yeah... I should have waited until it dried.

The edges of the stain are not as exact, but that would be because the entire carpet is brown now. Now so brown that you can even see it in pictures, I tried. Possibly not even so brown that the Old People eyes will even notice. But it's brown! Just like that plain water stain was!

My favorite part? The section that is worst is actually the one with plain water and vinegar, but the spots where I used soap are a bit better. Why is this my favorite part? Oh, that would be because when I called the professional carpet cleaning company to ask them why plain water turned my carpet brown, they said it's because I used soap in the carpet cleaner. Uhmm.... No. Plain water turned the carpet brown first, hence the needing to clean it to begin with.

After I had one person tell me that the only thing that touched the carpet was carbonated water, I had someone else offer to fax/mail me the Material Safety Data Sheets explaining all the exact chemicals that are in their "all natural" cleaning products--but only after I specified that my doctor wanted the info so we could treat my asthma properly. She laughed when I said that man I spoke to on my previous call told me they only used carbonated water, and I asked her to go listen to the call. She then looked in the notes he'd written about the call, said he did say he told me that, apologized for him misleading me, and suggested that at this point our best option would be to hire a professional company or to use "an acidic solution" to re-rinse the carpets to get out any remaining soap.

The problem remains, however, that the plain water was the worst in all of this, and that the carpet did not start turning brown until immediately after we used plain water to rinse. Even the plain vinegar solution spots are worse than the spots where we used soap. It stands to reason, therefore, that the soap is not the issue here.

That being said, there could still be soap residue in the carpets independent of the discoloration, which would cause dirt to collect very rapidly if that were the case. Mr. Moon and I decided that we would rather wait a couple months (until we can afford the expense, time and effort) to repeat the process, since we will probably have to do this every few months anyway (did I mention I hate white carpet? well, carpets in general).

Our plan at this point is the following:

* First, to liberally spread salt over the carpet and smoosh it in, as we did when an old roommate's cat brought home fleas. This will bind itself to a lot of the dirt particles in the carpeting, as well as any soap residue, both of which we discovered by accident. In the case of the fleas, it dehydrates all stages of flea development, including eggs, thus killing the infestation. Works like a charm. For fleas, let sit for 48-72 hours for best results. Longer can't hurt, but a minimum of 24 hours. In this instance, we're only planning to let the salt sit overnight. In any event, the salt is a neutral pH, which relates to the next step...

* Since both employees at the carpet cleaning company made such a big deal out of using an acidic solution to clean because alkaline products tend to leave a residue, we will skip the soap on the next time through and stick with a heavier vinegar solution than we used before. I'm probably going to go so far as to pick up some pH testing strips, to ensure our cleaning solution is truly acidic. I suspect that part of the issue here may be that we have fairly soft water, which would have a high (alkaline) pH level, which may mean I need to adjust my vinegar levels.

Would we do it again?
I've used soap to clean carpets before in this solution, and a number of natural cleaning blogs around the internet seem to have no problem with it either. When the carpet was wet I ran my hand over it and got no soapy smell or sticky/slippery feeling on my hands besides water, so I feel fairly comfortable saying that if there is soap residue, it's not detectable. I think this situation really just boils down to the water reacting badly with the chemicals used by the cleaning company, and needing to get those chemicals out of the carpet. If the chemicals are naturally-occurring plant-based compounds as the company claims, the salt should neutralize them. Which could explain why the stains only started coming out once we added baking soda. There are differences between sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), their pH level in solution for one, but for many applications they're both just sodium/salts. On top of all of that, my asthma has gotten BETTER since we did the carpets, even though the cottonwoods are blooming (which is usually a recipe for disaster in my world).

So the answer is, Yes, I would do it again this way, because it's worked before and I'm more comfortable with the products I used than the ones used by professional cleaning companies. At least my way, I know what got put on my carpet and I can adjust as necessary. Calling and threatening to complain to the Better Business Bureau before I could get them to offer me MSDS should have been totally unnecessary.

As for the "professional" companies?
This is the second place I have had experience with a "natural cleaning solution, low-water" method of cleaning the carpets and I am not just unimpressed, I'm mad. Stains that they said were permanent came up with plain water and a towel. There is a noticeable line about 2 inches from the wall in both houses where you can see that the systems they used didn't clean all the way to the edge. Both houses also include a line of dirt in the carpeting about halfway down where you can see that it never got cleaned to the bottom of the fiber. In our old apartment, you could even FEEL that the under-layer of carpeting wasn't wet, right after they did it--and the fibers were stiff and nasty-feeling. This leads me to believe that these services are only offering a surface clean, at a similar if not more expensive price of traditional services that DON'T claim they can be dry enough for furniture in an hour. My recommendation is to either do it yourself, or just go for a company that's not "low water," and preferably one who will agree to using little to no manufactured chemicals in their machine. Low water in this case means not clean, which means that water is just wasted because it didn't even do its job.

But the best/greenest advice is to get rid of carpeted flooring, and go for smooth-surface flooring that can be mopped easily, as that would use the least water of all. In the end, that would have avoided this whole debacle in the first place. Oh, you spilled your water? Put a towel over it and move on with your day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cleaning with Nature / The Amazing Power of Vinegar: Carpets

How did we spend a gorgeous, warm sunny day?

I'll give you a clue...
After dropping the 'Rents off at the airport (and eating breakfast, and crashing out for a nap while Mr Moon vacuumed), we discovered that this carpet cleaner the 'Rents bought three years ago and never even opened the shipping box? Oh yes, it's a steam mop. It only works on the top layer of carpet and only cleans as much as a small, dry microfiber mop head can collect. This is NOT a room-sized device, let alone one for getting the high traffic areas of three rooms. Though, possibly great for picking up spills and such, and I'm excited to use it in the kitchen.

So Mr Moon and I met up with my uncle who is in town for work for the day. I got to show off the pride of my accomplishment in the garden, he got a couple pictures and made all the right noises, oohing at my project, then we grabbed some lunch at the pub up the street.

And then came the carpet cleaning. We ended up deciding to go back down to Big Lots and rented a Rug Doctor, because we will be damned if we aren't taking advantage of the folks being gone to minimize the disruption that is carpet cleaning.

Where does vinegar come into play? We decided to save some cash and my asthma by opting out of the manufactured-chemical cleaners and stick to our own all-purpose solution: A little natural dish/all purpose detergent (not Castile soap) [about 1 tbls per fill], vinegar [about 2 cups per fill], and water [hot, until full].
* Tip: When filling the water reservoir with pitchers from the sink, rather than turning off the water a bunch of times or wasting water while you pour the pitcher into the reservoir, use two pitchers. If the water is high enough, you can set it so that the second pitcher fills in the time it takes you to dump the first. However, at worst you will have to wait half the time for the next pitcher and you won't have wasted half a pitcher's-worth of water!
We had a couple stains from spills, so we started on those first. One was Kool-aide, but the other was just plain water that had stained the white carpet a nasty brown color. Made some headway on both, but not as much as we wanted. So he moved onto other parts of the room and I decided to boost our cleaning and stain-fighting potential by sprinkling some baking soda into the wet stains and rubbing it in a little bit. When we were done with the rest of the room, we went back over these stains. The red dye stain is just going to be there no matter what, but the other one (from the plain water) came right up! You can barely tell anything!

Now, in our old apartment, we had a couple spots in the main walkway that got soap on them, and they started collecting dirt like nobody's business. So we made a point, after using a little soap in the cleaning solution, to go back and rinse with straight vinegar water. I would recommend, if I were to do this again, that you alternate fills with soap and not soap, because the soap seemed to build up after a couple tanks.

The Final Word:
Mr Moon and I want to splurge on a carpet cleaner to live here one of these days, although my dream house has all hardwood floors and area rugs that can go in the washing machine. Whatever you decide to use inside, whether it's natural soap or the brand-name cleaners, still go back over the carpet with clean water and a splash of vinegar to rinse the cleansers out of your carpet. You will be much happier with the results, and with how much longer they will last.
When is the last time you got your carpets cleaned? Did you do it yourself or hire a pro? How did you feel about the results?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Quick & Dirty: Beer as Slug Bait

Did you ever hear the tip about using old beer as slug bait? I hadn't, until I had something eating my cauliflower leaves and saw one on my garlic. 2+2 probably = 4. Enter: the beer that's been skunking around in the garage for a good long while, which Mr. Moon and I are too afraid to taste test in case it has in fact gone bad.

A couple cups of beer set near the cauliflower and broccoli, removal of any chewed leaves, and we haven't seen any more damage to them. I did, however, have to snag Mr. Moon to help me save the garlic yesterday, as I went out to pick some herbs for the fish and saw at least a dozen munching on the garlic scapes. We used a skewer and a chopstick (I recommend the former rather than the latter) to pluck them off and drop them into the beer. Later, I stuck my head out and watched another one crawl its way into the bowl. I want to feel bad about killing living creatures, but as far as I'm concerned there are worse ways to go than drowning in beer (say, for example, the slug bait/poison I saw in the store, and what does that do to my food?!). Putting the beer elsewhere didn't seem to keep the slugs off my plants!
*Tip: Putting the beer amongst the brocaflowers seemed to keep them off those, but they're still eating the peas. It seems like one cup isn't enough for a 3x5 bed, so expect to have a few placed strategically near the plants they seem to like the most.

It didn't occur to me until hours later that almost all the slugs were at the bottom of the stalks, and they might have only been eating the mushy outer leaves from previous scape harvesting, which wouldn't have been so bad. Does anyone know if that's the case or if I happened to catch them before they climbed further up? Are there any real benefits to letting the bugs stay in the garden, and if so, ways to let them live without losing my own food?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eats & Treats: Weekly Menu, Mother's Day Brunch

Happy Mother's Day! 

Somehow I learned that to love people you feed them (in my family?? NEVER!), and my standards means I usually cook. I once created a new tradition for Christmas day in my family by being SUPER!Broke and giving the gift of Quiche for brunch. Since then, as I'm not a fan of Quiche, we have a tradition of me cooking the main dish for Christmas morning (usually french toast casserole AKA a less-sweet bread pudding). Everybody looks forward to it, and the gift giving becomes a lot easier.

Along a similar vein, Mr. Moon and I decided that rather than a drab card or just a phone call, we would like to do something special for Mum. My family usually takes one grandma and my mom out to brunch, but we decided we'd rather cook ours.

What was on our menu? Waffles (we have three waffle makers, it seemed like a good idea to USE them); quiche "of some kind"; biscuits & sausage gravy; ham; fruit salad (no whipped cream dressing--I'd never heard of anyone even doing that until Mum asked about it!). Notice anything missing from the table? Oh yes, that would be biscuits and gravy because I realized the menu had gotten excessive. Those biscuits will be baked for breakfast one of these days and I'll make gravy later.

How did it go?
The waffles came out great! Lots of leftovers for non-HFCS breakfasty goodness later.
*Tip: One batch of Bisquick batter would have been PLENTY! for four people. Noted.
Fruit salad was supposed to be cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, and watermelon. No dressing. I was disappointed in how un-ripened the cantaloupe was, dry and not-sweet, so it got a honey-lemon dressing. For which I promptly forgot the lemon. *ahem.* Anyway, I also got the kiwi and strawberries added when I realized we had plenty of fruit for all of us and didn't need to add the watermelon. So that will be for later in the week!

The goal for the quiche was for a vegetarian dish, since we'd be having meat elsewhere. I didn't want to cop out on a quiche lorraine. I also know I tend to make that dish somewhat more difficult than it needs to be, so I reined myself in. Sliced mushrooms, julienne onion, and garlic scapes with some shredded aged white cheddar. It was AWESOME! I went heavy on the seasonings in the egg batter, lots of nutmeg and mace and paprika, and even me the quiche-hater enjoyed the bite I tested. Also, thanks to Pillsbury Dough Boy for the pie crust because I am NOT a baker! (Eggs don't count as baking even if they're cooked in a pie crust in the oven. ;)

Ham was simple, a little orange juice in the pan and a little honey on the skin (which was pointless). Sausage also simple, slice roll into patties.

Mum was delighted, Mr. Moon got the quiche he's been asking me to make for the last two years, and Pops got the ham he loves so much. I was happy that everyone else was enjoying their meal, and didn't feel too bad about the sugar & carb overload because a) it wasn't even too bad; and b) holidays don't count.

But What's For Dinner This Week?

The 'Rents are headed out of town on Tuesday at O'-Dark-Thirty in the morning, so Mr. Moon and I have the house to ourselves. All our usual "Oh Shit" meals are pretty well tapped out, and we got a good deal on meat last night on our way home (while needing to purchase another Oh Shit meal!) so we're stocked up on meat products (we each picked up a pack of pork ribs and steak that I still need to get frozen and labeled by owner). Pops teased me that we were probably going to put steak on the menu every night of the week they're gone. It was tempting...

But our focus this week is to save some money & time on not going out for groceries, and eat through some freezer stash so we can get to defrosting the freezer soon. Thus, the TV dinners & pot pie & hot dogs. Chili is from the last batch I made and froze into bags, so we'll heat that up and add some taco meat -- also frozen -- to eat off for a couple days. Those hot dogs will be chili dogs, and one of my favorite foods is chili nachos.

Mr. Moon is going to work through some of the stashed lunch meat on sandwiches, and we're going to try to get through as much of the stock of Mum & Pops' fresh veggies as we can. We actually don't have much in there -- just some green beans and tomatoes, a little cabbage and lettuce, and maybe a couple cucumbers, oh and I guess a few bell peppers and jalapenos (that doesn't seem like "not much"!) -- so we may make a run out later in the week for a few fresh veggies as needed but now that's kind of doubtful.

All in all, I'm enjoying the menus we've been putting together. Taking the decision-making out of the equation once I'm already hungry (which means I'm usually sick to my stomach by that point) means I actually manage to eat most meals every day. Planning lunches helped IMMEDIATELY with our budget because we kept buying stuff FOR lunch and then getting Mr. Moon halfway to work before we thought to eat it. Thus, fast food trips, and moldy bread and forgotten bagels and rotten lunch meat.The last two weeks have been much better, and I even managed to make myself lunch twice, without it being because I was feeding someone else!

Cross-posted to Menu Plan Monday!
What are you cooking this week? Any fun vacation plans in the works? Did you do anything fun for Mother's Day?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mr. Moon is so FULL of Surprises!

While I was taking a nap the other day (yes, some days I feel like a toddler), Mr. Moon was a busy, busy bee. After he got the Heather beds planted, he took it upon himself to clean up our side patio. This area had been a dog run before, and when the 'Rents moved in the area was torn up and full of mud. Due to lack of sunlight, stuck in the small space between two houses with a privacy fence between, there was little likelihood of getting grass to grow back in, so they paved it. That's where the trash bins have sat for the last 9 years.

Being out of sight, out of mind most of the time, the area was a bit cluttered. Leaves from the bushes and trees in the neighbors yard, blown dirt, moss, dampness from cement that wasn't poured with any kind of a grade so it just puddles up. Yeah, it's hit. But Mr. Moon really gave it a day of rehab!

Now, you can open the gate and be met with clean, empty pathway. The trash and recycling bins are along the garage instead of the fence, so they're easily reachable from the side door of the garage (*cough if we ever get the pathway to that door cleaned out ahem*) and in the meantime still easily accessible anyway. Everything got swept up and put away. With the previously-pruned rose bushes no longer covering the walkway, Mum can now go from inside the house all the way around to the back in her powered wheelchair, without hitting any obstructions. That will still be true even if we put in a patio table in the corner. She may not need it right now, but some days maybe, and it's nice to have the option. Plus, space for wheelbarrow as needed.

We still need to power wash the siding and cement and then you can have pictures. But that is a Project For A Different Day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Latest Dirt: The Garlic Experiment

You may recall that when we planted our garden a few weeks ago, we had two sets of returning garlic bunches as well as a couple new ones. Here you can see the bunch on the left that was in this bed, reportedly anywhere from 3-5 years. On the right are the two taller sets of scapes that indicate the new plants. Below on the far left are three sets of scapes that were bunched together in a pot, which we broke up to see if old garlic that gets separated will grow better than old garlic that we just let grow.
To keep ourselves sane and not feel as if we're wasting space, our goal is to get scapes off the old garlic and let it keep away aphids. If it gives us usable bulbs, great. If not, no big deal. The new stuff is for bulbs of usable garlic.

So far, as you can sort of see in these pictures (much better in the bottom one up close) is that I have given these scapes a hair cut. As it happens, I've done it three times now--cut them down to just below where they all split off. I've only given the new stuff a hair cut once when we transplanted, and it looks like it needs a new one soon.
Can you see the difference in stalk width between the new stuff (right) and the oldest of the old stuff? The new stuff looks a lot larger, it's stronger, and it's greener. The potted stuff that got separated is still just as spindly and weak, but it's greener with tinges of red (not sure if this indicates a different kind of garlic). So far, though, the oldest batch grows scapes at about twice the rate of the separated batch. Newest is growing scapes the slowest.

I have absolutely no idea what most of this means. My instinct is telling me that the oldest batch is growing bulbs that are too close together, and they may be suffocating each other. Thus they are fighting for nutrients and, it being in high demand in the soil, they shoot up scapes to try to gather more from the sun and air. The newest bulbs, having more room, can get more from the soil and therefore need less from the air. Perhaps they are focusing their growth energy on making bulbs rather than scapes.

Hypothesis at this point is that we won't get usable bulbs at all from the oldest bunch. I'm undecided whether the separated bunches will be fruitful or not, though I have high hopes for getting exactly what we should expect out of the new plants.

Now I just need to figure out how to save garlic for planting next year to get good bulbs. I know you split bulbs in the spring and fall, so maybe in fall I plant my garlic for next year? I'm sure Uncle Google will know!

Are you raising any fun experiments in your garden this year? Anything you're trying for the first time and have limited expectations of success?

Monday, May 7, 2012

New white board! Plus this week's Menu: May 7-13

As you may recall from previously, we have a white board in our kitchen. It had gotten a but smudgy, and I didn't like that the weekly menu planning always involved me trying desperately not to smear/erase the long-term project planning with my forearm. Thus, I re-did it!

Our new-and-improved home organization system.
Now with lunches!
Now, the sections we use less often are at the top, so we're less likely to smear things when we write the weekly schedule, menu & to-do list.

Now featured: Updated projects list, re-organized by room. It had gotten a bit chaotic down there. Also, color-coded stars next to our daily routine list. Mum & Pops have committed to being in charge of the dishwasher AND have been keeping up on it, so Mr. Moon isn't solely in charge of that anymore.

I put the chores that are repeating--in this case, taking out the trash and updating the whiteboard--in wet-erase marker just like the lines and work schedule so that I can easily erase the schedule and menu and to-do list without worrying about those (or worse, forgetting to re-write the repeating chores).

We had been forgetting to eat lunch a lot of days, and half the time would have time for it but would spend so much time deciding WHAT to eat that we then wouldn't have time to make it! So, I made a point of including enough space to be planning not just dinners but lunches too (breakfast is usually super easy).

This Week's Dinners:
I was about to start writing all this out and suddenly, lightening struck my brain. Why would I re-type all of the week's menu when I can just take a picture and post it? Then I just get to type the commentary!

These dinners meet a lot of our goals. More fish, THREE meals that use up major freezer items, slow-cooker meal on TWO late work-nights, limiting potatoes (though less winning on limiting grains, but, baby steps!). And my favorite part: Lots of customizing without excluding anyone with a totally different meal.

For example: Fish & rice? Each person gets a piece of fish cooked over a bed of rice of their choice, so I can have brown rice if I want without putting anyone else out (although, Mum & Pops will be switching to brown rice as soon as we get their stash of white taken care of). Stir Fry casserole? Each person gets their own customized set of veggies, rice if they want it, and with a batch of stir fry sauce poured over we can eat WHAT we want, WHEN we want it. It makes it easier for me to make dinner for everyone when I'm not making something totally different for myself, just taking the same stuff from different bins.
What are you eating this week? Any fun re-organizing projects on the horizon?

Sunday, May 6, 2012


A while back, Pops got a juicer. We all just kind of rolled our eyes, but I was still pretty excited about it! And today I finally got to play with it.

We bought a 25 pound bag of carrots. I did NOT juice the whole thing, for one reason: the fridge and freezer are FULL. Full to bursting, I've rearranged it three times this week, I'm not doing it AGAIN for a bunch of extra juice. So, the carrots stay in whole form, where they don't need to be refrigerated yet.

I got 2 quarts of juice out of about 8 pounds of carrots. That was only 9 carrots! I mean, one of these carrots was as big around as my FOREARM. It was slow going; I kept having to turn it off to empty the cup. And then the pulp jar. And then I couldn't get the light back on for it to say it was ready to work again because some obscure piece wasn't seated like a pretty pretty princess. And with enough jiggling it finally decided it was ready, so I finished up the last two damn carrots-that-were-really-like-three-each.

If you've never tried raw carrot juice before, it has a satisfying sweetness to it, all on its own. Moreso than the pasteurized stuff you can buy at the store, even. I'm really looking forward to grabbing a bag of fresh-picked apples this fall and seeing what we get out of them. For that matter, maybe making some V-8-type stuff, throwing in some onions and peppers and carrots and tomatoes. And beets! Fresh orange juice? Yes please!

Let's look at cost:
25 lbs carrots = $7, or 28 cents per pound
1 quart juice = 4 lbs = $1.12
1 quart pasteurized juice from Safeway: $4.48
1 quart p. from Cash & Carry (wholesale price) = $3.28

Minimum savings: $2.16/quart, plus the usable pulp. Of course, this doesn't account for labor; these days we all have more time than money, but 2 quarts of juice only took me about 15 minutes after I got everything all set up, including struggling with the equipment.

Not too shabby!

Guess I have to figure out how to use this carrot pulp now. I put some in the rice and beans for dinner, and froze the rest into small baggies for smoothies and carrot muffins. Making V-8 stuff I could throw the pulp into spaghetti sauce, at least. Not sure what else to make!
Do you have a juicer? What do you like to do with it? What do you do with the pulp that's left over?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quick & Dirty: Never-Ending Scallions

I saw this around somewhere and had to try it. The idea is that you can put the white-ends of scallions in water and they will grow, and that you can just keep cutting them off and letting them regrow indefinitely. Last week sometime I took all the white ends of some scallions and put them in water. A few days later, I added some other scallions I'd used. Kept the water changed every few days, used some as needed. This is the result!

It seems like it takes about 4 days to grow from nubbins to a full, useable stalk. I'm considering getting another bunch of stems to use and make starts, because what I have here I use most or all of at once and then have to wait. I'd like to have at least a couple different batches going so that I always have some available to use.
*Tip: Cut them all the way down into the white part of the onion, past any spots where they split off. Otherwise they seem to grow slower and not as sturdily, the tips get brown, and you end up with some spots that just don't grow again.

Shown here with rocks in the bottom to support the roots that wanted to tip over due to being top-heavy. Won't be necessary with the bowl a little more full, but this almost makes it look like a real house plant!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Celebrate the little things

It seems like time gets away from us, we look ahead at what we have yet to do and we forget to appreciate what we've accomplished already. Some of my favorite blogs have a feature where they re-cap their month, but it's usually just a re-cap of their posts. You can scroll for that.

Five little things we accomplished in April that are really kind of big:

* Mr. Moon and I re-affirming our commitment to each other, our relationship, and ourselves.

* So many little moments that culminated in creating good habits. Evidence: The kitchen scrubbing today that only took 45 minutes, including cleaning up from breakfast. Mr. Moon getting lunch today before he walked out the door to work, and it was even a healthy lunch at that!

* You can see 50% of the floor in the garage.

* Nothing falls out of the freezers when you open them.

* The laundry hampers don't have a single full load, there's only one load of clean stuff sitting around to be folded, and I haven't done more than a single load in a day for at least two weeks.

* Bonus item! The kitty box has been scooped at least every 36 hours for the last two weeks.

It's nice to recognize and celebrate the little things in life. So, what have you accomplished lately that you feel like celebrating?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Menu Plan: Cinco De Mayo week!

This week we discovered a fun and exciting lack of plans. Nothing more than our bare-bones schedule. It was nice! So we opted for a more exciting (read: complicated) menu plan. Sorry I failed to post this on Sunday.

Monday: Mr. Moon's day off! We wanted to exploit his love for grilling, so we planned Brats on the Barbie (which if this weren't the first week of posting menus you would know was a boot-up from last week's Brats on Monday menu plan, which got tossed because we needed produce and 10% off for seniors day is on Tuesday). Pork Beer brats for me, chicken and sundried tomato for the rest of the folks. Chunk Salad for a side dish. But wait, where is the starch? you ask. THE BUN. That's all the starchy side you need, I promise. That being said, if you crave a little more variety, you can do what I did and snack on some of my oranges for dessert.

Tuesday: Mr. Moon's other day off! Freezer Meal for the week: we used up the two whole Tilapia. Stuffed them with lemon slices, butter, and fresh herbs from the garden (green onion, garlic scapes, dill, parsley). Side was supposed to be rice but the proper pot wasn't cleaned in time so we got couscous instead. Added some shelled pumpkin seeds to give it some texture and nutritive content. Side of roasted acorn squash, mashed with nutmeg and mace and a little stevia. Late-night dessert for Mr. Moon was strawberries & angel food cake with stevia-sweetened whipped cream. (I just had strawberries.)

Wednesday: Mr. Moon works in the morning, which sucks for Tuesday night plans, but kind of works out because we had date night on a work day. The 'Rents went out for dinner and we stayed in, watched a horror movie on the big screen while we marinated some beef. This dish was inspired by Mr. Moon's favorite dish at work, but despite getting some arrbol chili salsa from them I made it my own. Sautéed onions, orange bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini and diced jalapeno, seasoned only with a little salt and pepper; stew beef marinated in arrbol chili salsa, with a little cumin for good measure; garlic scapes and fresh tomato, gently sweated with more arrbol chili salsa before adding cream to deglaze the pan. It wasn't quite right, so I added just a dash of dark chili powder and it was perfect! Layered in the aforementioned fashion in a nice big bowl, plenty of veggies. Mr. Moon asked if we were serving it over something and I laughed at him. My last two bites were forced in for flavor, but I was full; no need for rice! Although with fewer veggies and a little less meat, this would have been wonderful with rice, but I just don't think it needed it.

Thursday: Mr. Moon works in the evenings through the weekend, so we need meals that either are separate or easy to prepare separately, and fast when we get home around midnight. Tonight the 'Rents are having salad for dinner, and Mr. Moon and I are having meat of some kind (hot dogs for me, pork ribs for him), leftover squash, and steamed broccoli.

Friday: Grilled cheese sandwiches and crockpot tomato soup.

Saturday: Cinco De Mayo! "Mexican" Feast for dinner. Crockpot: rice & beans. Casserole #1, for the 'Rents: texmex lasagna, vegetarian with corn, not spicy, light on the cheese. Casserole #2, for Mr. Moon and myself: also texmex lasagna, with ground beef, more cheese, spicy. Side of jicama cole slaw which has been marinating since Tuesday (well, and also being snacked on for my lunches).

Sunday: Leftovers. Sunday is always leftovers, right now. I don't know if that's because by the end of the week of menu planning I get bored, or just because it seems to work for us. As it is, Mr. Moon gets off work earlier that day, and we usually have time to cobble something together. This is also where we have those single-serving Oh Shit meals stashed, in case there were no leftovers.

We also managed to make a lunch plan for most days this week, but promptly failed to follow it. In any event, having a plan seems to have at least reminded us that we're supposed to be eating SOMETHING for lunch, so that's a bonus.

And there you have it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Food Choices

Living in a house with four people is difficult enough when everyone cooks for themselves. Mr. Moon likes to HELP with the cooking, but prefers to be given direction and instructions rather than be given the title of an end-product and let loose. Mum is learning new things to cook all the time and is limited in her mobility. When we all originally discussed Mr. Moon and I moving here, I agreed to take responsibility for most of the cooking and meal planning and grocery shopping. Pops has no desire to participate in any of it, really, though we can send him grocery shopping and only expect a 10% variance from the list.

But beyond the physical and emotional is the medical. Cancer diet for hormone-related cancers recommends a low-hormone diet. This means that Pops needs to be cutting out, in order of importance: Red meat; fowl; dairy; fish; all animal products altogether (honey is OK). Best advice is to go vegan, but he's a cheese addict and has no desire to limit his enjoyment or undergo major life changes at this stage in life. Don't misunderstand me, he and Mum made LOTS of positive changes between diagnosis and us moving in, and we are gradually continuing those choices. But he's not willing to go totally vegan, and that's his choice.

Pops needs to limit red meat due to gout. Mum has a blood disorder that precludes her from eating too much red meat (too much iron in the blood). I have the opposite problem, I need to eat red meat on a regular basis or else I start dipping into anemia, and the first stage of that is EXTREME CRANKINESS. Two years of trial and error with weekly blood tests and the final medical-professional recommendation was: lean red meat at least every other day, try to increase fish consumption to supplement in between since red meat is supposed to be so bad for you, and keep eating lots of whole grains (which at the time was hard because I was so low-carb, I had to reintroduce them). Besides which, regular protein consumption helps regulate blood sugar, which is something I need to keep track of, and Mum needs to get her diabetes under control. Mr. Moon loves his meat and candy and cookies and dairy and greens and pasta and let's just say if it's tasty he'll eat it, but faced with both parents having diabetes he decided ages ago to make some better life and food and health choices, which I was happy to oblige and encourage.

Trying to combine all these diets has been a chore, and more often than not we all end up eating variations of the same meal. Mum & Pops tend to eat the same thing, and Mr. Moon and I tend to eat together, but we don't always all eat the same thing. Actually, we usually don't.

Where I was going with this is that we've struggled over the last month and change to get our menus and shopping lists in order, to try to be accommodating to each other's needs and treat our own issues with some amount of success. Thing is, this house is covered in candy and cookies and baked goods and the woman with the blood sugar over 300 for the last 6 months bought angel food cakes, the first ingredient of which is sugar, and on our previous grocery trip I had to make her put back three different sets of "treats." Mr. Moon kept snacking on cookies and candy and all sorts of stuff that he says he wants to cut back on, just mindlessly snacking because they're sitting out and open in bowls and drawers and stashes within reach of almost every seat in the house. After Easter he was on a two-day candy binge, even after saying he wanted to stop eating so much sugar. It was then that I had to say, enough is enough.

I hate anyone thinking of me as that stereotypical nagging "wife" figure, dictating what Her Man can eat and what he can't, laying down the law and manipulating him to do things he doesn't want to do, like eat healthier. Our relationship just isn't like that. He made a decision, and asked me to help keep him honest, and I have tried to do that. I do still FEEL like I'm nagging though, and often I find myself channeling my mother with the dirty look pointedly at the candy bar on the belt at the checkout. I hate it. Mr. Moon and I are currently brainstorming a way that we can remind each other of our goals without being nasty, nagging, or guilt-tripping each other. Some way of being positive and supportive while allowing the other person to make their own choices. Still working on that ;)

But all of that culminated in Mum and I talking about better snack choices and not buying more candy and cookies, or at least not leaving them around everywhere. It wouldn't hurt ANYONE to have to walk into another room to grab a small handful of candy if they really want it, and there's no need to have the cookies just sitting out. She's doing this "for her son's health" and not her own, because "[I] don't want him eating that stuff," but after making sure Mr. Moon and I were cool we decided just to let her do what needs to be done for whatever reason she can use to do it. So I've stopped defensively correcting her.

This week we stopped by Winco which has a huge bulk section, and we stocked up on unsalted mixed nuts, almonds, tamari almonds, and walnuts (for baking). I broke out the peanuts I had stocked up and we stashed little snack bowls of nuts near the usual candy spots and put all the candy and cookies a little less conveniently placed. Mr. Moon and I agreed that nut-snacking is totally OK in whatever amounts we want, no judgment, no funny looks. That was 2 days ago and about half the nuts are already gone, but the newness seems to be wearing off and the snacking has tapered off as well. I'm hoping to keep the choice of nuts on a fairly regular rotation so that it's not always the same thing day in and day out, to keep things interesting.

At our weekly menu planning meeting, we also discussed our meal planning goals. We'd kind of fallen back into a meat-starch-veg routine with a few vegetarian soups thrown in the mix, but need to shake things up a bit. So I spent 4 hours preparing for our menu planning meeting by going through all the cookbooks that I had currently accessible, which just happened (due to packing constraints) to be my set of low-carb cookbooks. I tried to focus on vegetarian items, though admittedly I failed hardcore. A trip to storage is happening soon to grab the rest of my books for more inspiration, including my two Moosewood books.

Currently our goals are thus, in no particular order:

* Try to get through the stockpiling in the freezers. I cleaned the indoor freezer out a few weeks ago, but the garage freezer needs to be emptied and defrosted. Much easier when there is less to move out of there.

* Increase fish consumption as a general rule. It's something we all enjoy, and there are lots of health benefits to a diet that gets a majority of the animal protein from fish.

* Increase vegetable consumption. This is a positive way of looking at a couple different goals. It's a goal in and of itself, but as a result, if we are mindful, it will decrease the refined-grain/starch-heavy foods and help to reduce the meat dependance for those of us who need it.

* Keep Oh Shit Meals on hand. For Mr. Moon and myself, this usually looks like having serving-sized pieces of meat on hand such as pork ribs and small steaks, brats and hot dogs and the like, chicken wings, things that can be cooked fairly quickly from frozen as needed. For all of us this means making batches of things like soup and chili, and freezing them in serving sizes and family-meal-sized portions. For example, did you know that a gallon-sized ziplock bag that is mostly-full of chili will make dinner for four people? This goal is also where we find the goal of having a few bags of frozen veggies on hand, going through them regularly but keeping some around for the times that the veggie didn't quite cook right, or whatever was on the menu got scrapped and we need a quick pinch-hitter. (You see that? I made a sports reference!)

* Purchase high-quality meats. If we're going to continue eating meat, and we are, it needs to be the best. Certified Organic labeling is a joke and a half, but buying local, ethically-raised meats is not impossible. We just got some awesome ground beef for $2.99/lb, which is still a good price even for factory beef. It definitely means being conscious about what we buy, buying it when we need it, not stockpiling more than we need and making sure to use it.

* Do more from-scratch baking. Going low-carb so long ago, I found that my taste for sweets really fell off the face of the planet for a while. I can't say I'm low-carb anymore, I still crave chocolate sometimes, and the occasional bag of potato chips tends to find its way home during certain weeks, but for the most part candy and desserts just don't appeal (but I do love my whole wheat pasta!). Contrast that with the 'Rents who seem to be very resistant to the idea of reducing sugars and starches, even if it could mean their lives.

I realized while standing in the store the other day putting back candy and cookies and such that we really unnecessary that I was not going to win the fight against dessert. The only way out of it is to go through it, which means I need to buckle down and start learning to bake. The one batch of cookies I made two years ago didn't turn out badly at all even if the apple pie was inedible; Mr. Moon promises to help, and Mum says she will too. But we're going to be making things like carrot cake, banana bread, zucchini bread muffins... things that I can stuff full of veggies and whole grains and nuts without tasting like cardboard. I can only hope that it doesn't turn out to be an unmitigated disaster. Bonus: they become easy breakfasts for me, the girl with no appetite and especially not in the mornings.

Making "better" food choices is hard, especially with so many different opinions and needs regarding what is "better." I guess this is one of those things were we just need to take baby steps.
Making any food/diet related changes in your house? How do you deal with people who aren't as committed to making those changes? How about the kids who want what they know and aren't really of an age where we can rationalize? Or is it you who isn't quite on board?

Quick & Dirty/Garden Report: Chive blossom!

Isn't she so precious?? My first chive blossom. Well, bud. I'd read that they make pretty purple flowers, but never seen one. Looking forward to what becomes of it.
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