More Tips for Saving Time in the Kitchen

>> Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recently, a friend was asking me about eating a vegetarian diet. She explained that she'd like to eat less meat and more fresh produce, but she felt like vegetables take more time to prepare with all of the cutting and chopping and cooking. Meat and boxed dinners just seemed easier.

As I've said before, cooking from scratch is an important part of being a Conscious Shopper:

  • When you buy basic ingredients like oats, beans, and rice from the bulk bins, you cut back on your trash production.
  • When you use fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, you cast a vote for a reformed food system and keep your family healthier.
  • And perhaps most importantly, you save money, making it possible for you to afford those fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.
But the flip side of all these benefits is TIME. Cooking from scratch takes more time. Time that, like my friend, you may not feel you have.

I've already told you my two biggest tips for saving time in the kitchen: Keep It Simple, Stupid and Have a Meal Plan. Here are a few other ideas:
  • Double and Freeze. It takes about the same amount of time to make four servings as it does to make eight, so next time you're making a soup or casserole, double the recipe and freeze half. Then you'll have a frozen meal waiting for you the next time you feel too tired to cook.
  • Freeze Ahead. Similar to the previous tip, I will often make a huge batch of beans and freeze them in two cup portions (about the same amount that's in a can). Or I'll make a ginormous pot of rice, use some for dinner and freeze the rest for future fried rice meals. Individual ingredients freeze just as well as a whole casserole and can be a lifesaver when you're short on time.
  • Plan Ahead. If you know a specific day is going to be too busy to make dinner, plan for it. When you prepare your menu, choose a meal that's quick to prepare, like burritos or grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • Prep Ahead. I just popped my casserole in the oven, now I get to go take a nap, right? I wish...Instead I use that time to prep veggies for the next day's lunch or dinner. (Or I empty my dishwasher.)
  • Learn to Love Your Crockpot. Here are a few recipes (a year's worth) to get you started.
  • Start a Dinner Co-Op. This is an intriguing concept that I've never tried. The idea is that you find a friend to swap dinners with (preferably one who lives close to you because of that whole carbon footprint thing). You make dinner, doubling the recipe and delivering half to your friend. Then on a different night, she makes dinner, doubling the recipe, and bringing half to you.
  • Go frozen. Now I personally don't buy frozen fruits or vegetables anymore simply because I don't want the extra packaging waste and I can get great local produce year round here in NC. But let's face it - we're not all Marathon Runners in every category. If you need to cut a few corners to keep your family eating a healthy diet, frozen is a better choice than canned because the produce is frozen right after it's picked, preserving it at the peak of freshness. In fact, some could argue that it's healthier to eat frozen vegetables than fresh vegetables shipped halfway across the world.
I have to admit that I'm better at dishing out these tips than I am at following them. In general, I have plenty of time to cook, and it helps that I really enjoy cooking. But a few weekends ago when I was helping out with the community gardens summit and manned a booth the same day for Earth Day, I got home after ten hours of running around, plopped onto the couch, and announced, "I don't know how people who work ever make dinner from scratch. After a whole day of work, the last thing you want to do is come home and work some more!"

I had leftover soup in my freezer that I completely forgot about and a husband who wasn't volunteering to fill in for me, so we ordered a pizza. I'm not proud, but sometimes it happens.

So working readers, what tips do you have for saving time in the kitchen?


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Announcing the Winner of the Magic School Bus Giveaway

>> Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sorry this is late. I have been struck down by killer allergies and have been a grump all day. Time for bed, but before I go...

The grand prize winner of the Magic School Bus giveaway is Susan, who wrote:

the Magic school bus series is great, and my daughter loves it. This would be great to have!
The next winner is Mia J., who wrote:
My daughter enjoys Junie B. Jones and also the A to Z Mysteries.
And the final winner is Julie, who wrote:
When my son (now 8) was between 2 - 5, he LOVED the Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer. My favorite is the one entitled "Just Go To Bed" because getting him to simmer down at night is something we've always had difficulty with, and that book addresses it in a humorous and sweet way. "Pajama Time" by Sandra Boynton is also good for that!!
Susan, Mia, and Julie, please contact me with your mailing addresses at consciousshopperblog at gmail dot com.

I enjoyed looking up all of your book recommendations. If you didn't win, you can still find all of the Magic School Bus books at your local library or bookstore.

UPDATE: Because Susan and Julie did not contact me, I chose two new winners.


How I Line Dry My Clothes

>> Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Now that I'm sitting down to write this, this tip seems so ridiculously simple that it feels silly to share it. Except that I used the "I don't have a backyard" excuse for years before it finally dawned on me to do this, so in case others are in my position, this is how I line dry my clothes:

I line dry all of our shirts and pants indoors on hangers, either hanging on the shower curtain rod in the bathroom or in one of our three bedroom closets. I only line dry pants and shirts; I haven't advanced to underwear or towels yet, but if I do someday, I'll get one of these babies.

I started line drying my clothes this way when we first moved to Raleigh and lived in an apartment. Now that we're in a house, we do have a backyard where we could put a clothesline, but the yard is so small and I don't want to sacrifice space. Plus, my current method has the advantage that the clothes are already on hangers, so I don't have an extra step before putting them away.

Occasionally, I'm feeling pressed for time and end up tossing my clothes into the dryer. And every time, I wish I hadn't because after the clothes dry in the dryer, they still have to be hung up and put away. If I'm going to hang them up anyway, I might as well hang them wet!

Abbie commented yesterday, "We used to line-dry indoors, actually on a rack, near the air vent, but our humid summers here in NoVa, prevented our clothing from drying, and it started to smell bad. So we put them back in the dryer."

North Carolina is also hot and humid, but I haven't had that problem yet. Maybe because we use our air conditioning in the summer?

According to the Saving Electricity site, an average load of laundry costs $0.36 to dry in the dryer. If I'm line drying two loads a week, that comes out to a savings of $37.44 a year. If I advanced to line drying all nine of the loads I wash in a week (two of clothes, two of underwear, three of towels/sheets, and two of diapers), I would save $168.48 a year. If I could just get my toddler to start using the potty, that would save both time and money right there...

How do you line dry?


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Challengicious Monday: Save Energy When Washing Dishes and Laundry

>> Monday, April 26, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next energy-related challenge:

Save Energy When Washing Dishes and Laundry

To complete this challenge, you can...

  • Only wash full loads. Unless your dishwasher is full or you've got a full load of laundry, save it for the next load.
  • Air dry your dishes. Instead of using the "heated dry" setting on your dishwasher, open the door and let them air dry.
  • Wash your clothes on cold. According to Progress Energy, each load that I wash in cold can saves me about $0.50.
  • Wash your clothes and dishes off-peak. Some newer models of dishwashers have a timer so you can run a load in the middle of the night when people generally use less energy. If possible, nighttime is also the best time to use your dryer - especially during the summer when your air-conditioner has to compete with the heat from your dryer.
  • Line dry your clothes. Hang your clothes on a line and let the sun dry them. Along with your refrigerator, the dryer is your biggest energy hogging appliance.
If you've been holding back from line drying your clothes because of limited space or HOA rules, stay tuned. Later this week, I'll show you how I line dry some of my clothes.

Will you take the challenge?

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


I Got Bored...

>> Saturday, April 24, 2010

As you can tell, I've been messing around with my template today. I decided the old template was getting too messy. This one is more streamlined and gives me more flexibility, and I like the tabs. Still need to add an image to the header...What do you think so far?

It will probably take me a week to get all my links and images back up in the sidebar, looking the way I want, so in the meantime if you can't find something, shoot me an email.


Let Them Eat Cake...From Scratch

>> Friday, April 23, 2010

Second Son had a birthday recently, and this is the cake I made for him:

Frugal bloggers often repeat the message that you can save money on groceries by cooking from scratch. From my own experience, I can tell you that's true...sometimes. But sometimes, from-scratch food is more expensive. For example, I can get a box of macaroni and cheese for something like $0.35 at Aldi, and recently I even bought Annie's organic mac and cheese for $0.50 a box at Kroger. There's no way I could come close to making organic mac and cheese from scratch for $0.50. Does boxed mac and cheese taste as good as homemade? Absolutely not...but it works in a pinch.

I think that's the big take-home message: If you're short on time or don't need gourmet flavor every night, stick with a box or jar or can. If you want to make really good tasting food for less than it costs to buy already prepared really good tasting food, cook from scratch.

That's totally the lesson I've learned about birthday cakes. A boxed cake mix and a tub of frosting costs about $3.50, or less if you buy them on sale. But I really don't like cake mix. I mean really, really don't. For most of my life, I skipped the cake on my birthday and went with pie. And then we lived in the DC suburbs and discovered this amazing bakery called Cake Love. Holy schmoly! That's some good (expensive) cake!

So when comparing the cost of making a cake from scratch, I'm less concerned with the cost of a box mix that I don't enjoy and more concerned with the cost of a really good cake from a bakery.

The first step is finding a good basic recipe. Here's the one I use:

Basic Yellow Cake
from McCall's Cooking School

2 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two round 9 inch cake pans or one 9X13 rectangular pan.
  • Sift flour with baking powder and salt.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Continue beating 2 minutes.
  • At low speed, beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour.
  • Add vanilla. Beat just until smooth.
  • Pour the batter into prepared pans. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with finger.
  • Cook in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.
  • Remove from pans. Cook completely before frosting.
With a basic frosting recipe, this cake costs about $8 when made with all organic ingredients. With conventional ingredients, it would only cost a little more than making a cake with a boxed mix and a tub of frosting but would taste much better.

To make my son's cake, I followed these steps:

Orange-Pineapple Praline Cake

1 c. orange juice
grated orange peel
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 c. coconut
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 c. melted butter
2 c. heavy cream
maraschino cherries
  • Using basic yellow cake recipe, replace milk with 1 c. orange juice. Stir grated orange peel into the batter.
  • Turn 1/4 of the cake batter into each pan. Using a spoon, spread each with 1/2 c. crushed pineapple.
  • Spoon remaining batter evenly over the pineapple.
  • Place cake pans on center rack in oven and back for about 30 minutes or until surface springs back when gently touched with fingertip.
  • Mix coconut, brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter.
  • At the end of the baking time, remove layers from the oven. Spoon praline mixture onto the surface of one layer; return it to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes.
  • Let second layer cool slightly in pan and then transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Remove praline layer from the oven; cool slightly. Move to wire rack to cool completely.
  • Beat cream at high speed until stiff peaks hold when beaters are lifted. Place plain cake layer on a platter; spread with half the cream and remaining pineapple.
  • Add the praline-topped layer; frost sides with remaining cream, piping rosettes on top. Garnish with maraschino cherries.
The total cost of the cake I made for my son was around $14, about the same as a cake from my local grocery store bakery, but mine is made from organic ingredients. A Cake Love cake of the same size costs about $50. How does it compare in taste? I'd give Cake Love a 10, mine an 8...and a cake mix a 2. That's worth it to me.

What do you prefer? Cake mix or cake from scratch?

Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area and that I use organic ingredients whenever possible. Your costs may vary.


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Dandelions Are Welcome

>> Thursday, April 22, 2010

My bloggy friend Jenn from It's Not Easy Being Green and the Green Phone Booth often writes posts linking to a recent article she's read and then adding her own thoughts on the subject. She has a knack for finding really interesting posts and articles from all over the web and must read every newspaper published. I, on the other hand, can't motivate myself to read any news sites beyond the New York Times and Grist, so it's a good thing she keeps me informed (and it doesn't hurt that she's hilarious).

In the spirit of Jenn's blog...I read The Dandelion King yesterday on, of course, the New York Times, and I couldn't resist sharing it with you. The gist of the article is that the author's yard is overrun with that suburban nemesis, dandelions. And he doesn't care. In fact, he's let it get that way on purpose by choosing not to apply chemicals to his lawn and then being too lazy to dig out the dandelions and weeds by hand.

Isn't it ugly? Doesn't it reduce property values? The author says that we might think that now, but maybe in the future we will "engineer a new ethos that allows us to fight chemical negative externalities without creating aesthetic and hence financial ones. Maybe someday suburban neighborhoods will consist of lawns that look like mine, and everyone will admire them."

The first step is for you to look at your neighborhood anew. Next time you see an unblemished expanse of grass, think about the chemicals that probably got dumped in your vicinity to create it. Are you grateful for that?

And next time you see a yardful of sprouting dandelions, note that they look remarkably like things we call “flowers.” And later, when the flowers turn into fluff balls, look closely at one of those fluff balls and ask yourself whether it’s really so unattractive. Meanwhile, absorb the fact that the lawn you’re looking at is doing nothing to harm pets, toddlers or people in general.

Wouldn’t you like to live next to a yard like that? How much would that be worth to you?

As I read this article, I couldn't help but nod along. Yes, yes, yes! You see, this is my backyard:

Because it was so wet and muddy all winter here in North Carolina, and we kept walking through the wet and the mud, all of the grass in my backyard died over the winter and was replaced with clover and wild strawberries. At the beginning of spring when the clover and strawberry flowers were in bloom, it was gorgeous. A field of purple and blue in my own backyard. And the wildlife! Bees and butterflies and birds galore!

Don't kids need a velvet carpet of grass to play on? I say no! Last summer when we had grass, I had to force my kids to play in the backyard. There wasn't anything to do back there. But now there are flowers to pick and bugs to find and holes to dig. Plus, we're lucky to have a fabulous park just around the corner with a playground, basketball courts, and grassy lawn for playing soccer, so we can use our backyard for other things.

I have to admit that we've let it get a little out of control. It could use a good mowing. And some grass seed. But someday I'd love to have a certified wildlife garden in my backyard using the National Wildlife Federation's guide and lots of native plants.

Green grass that no one can walk on? Not for me! Dandelions are welcome here.


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Which Is More Important: Personal or Political Action?

>> Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm over at the Green Phone Booth today with this month's APLS Carnival:

Recently, I was reading an interview on Grist with Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff fame, and there were two things she said that I found very interesting:

What would you encourage people to do on an individual level

A. People ask me that a lot, and I like to see where they are so I ask them, "What can you think of to do?" They say, "I can recycle. I can ride my bike more. I can buy organic. I can buy this instead of this." Really individual actions as opposed to, "I can work with my neighbors to shut down this toxic factory." We have a consumer part of ourselves and a citizen part of ourselves. And throughout this country's history, the citizen parts of ourselves have accomplished enormously wonderful things to make this country a better place. But in recent decades, I feel like the consumer part of ourselves is spoken to and validated and nurtured so much that we've over-identified with it and the citizen part of ourself has atrophied. We just need to start reinvigorating that citizen muscle. So the number one thing to do is to hook up with others who share your values and start making some real change.



Spring Recycling

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The other day, a friend was telling me how she'd joined a group online called Messies Anonymous to help her get better organized and become, well, less messy. As she was describing the qualities of a Messy Person, I realized, "Oh, my gosh! That's me!"

Case in point:

This is my bedroom closet. It's supposed to be a walk-in closet, but we can't walk into it because because of all the crap on the floor. We haven't been able to walk into it for, oh, four or five months now. Maybe longer. I forget.

You see, I have this little problem where I know something can be recycled, so I don't throw it away. But then I never recycle it. It just sits around our house for months and months, causing clutter and getting in the way. I swear I didn't have this problem before I went green. Going green has turned me into a packrat!

Spring is often thought of as the season where you throw open the shutters, dig out the cleaning supplies, and deep clean. Well I've decided that this year's spring cleaning for me needs to be all about the recycling.

In that closet pictured above, I have a phone, two laptops, two cameras, a lamp, a wheat grinder, some metal containers, a printer, and a scanner. I need to sell the laptops, put the printer on Freecycle, and see if my husband can fix the scanner. The phone, lamp, wheat grinder, and metal containers can all be recycled at my local recycling drop-off location. I'm pretty sure I can recycle cameras...must research.

In another corner of my bedroom, I have this pile of boxes that's headed for the recycling bin.

I scrounged up all this from under our sinks. The caps are headed for Aveda and the toothbrushes for Whole Food's Gimme 5 bin. To recycle the toothpaste tubes, I need to remove the top plastic part, and then it can go in my regular recycling bin. One of the reasons we use Tom's of Maine toothpaste is because it comes in an aluminum tube rather than plastic.

Last but not least, I've got this monstrous pile of clothing that must be sorted. It's all stuff we've outgrown, stained, or ripped beyond repair. Clothing with fabric I like will be cut up and saved for future sewing projects. (I have high hopes that I'll get to that some day.) The rest will be taken to Goodwill.

All right, I'm off to do some recycling.

How's your spring cleaning going?


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Challengicious Monday: Save Energy When Cooking

>> Monday, April 19, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next energy-related challenge:

Save Energy When Cooking

To complete this challenge, you can...

  • Keep a lid on your pots. Not only does the lid keep in heat, but it also helps the water boil faster. Win, win.
  • Match pans to the appropriate burner size. There's a reason your oven comes with different size burners. For the most efficient cooking, make sure the pan you're cooking with is about the same size as the burner you're cooking on.
  • Don't peek in the oven. It may be tempting to peek, but every time you open the oven door, heat escapes and your oven has to work extra hard. Instead, keep the window on your oven door clean and turn on the light.
  • Use your microwave. Especially for reheating foods. Microwaves use a lot less energy than ovens and save time.
  • Cook less - enjoy foods raw. Of course, the best way to save energy when cooking is not to cook at all - especially during the summer when your air conditioner has to fight with your oven. Learn to enjoy foods fresh, and you'll save energy...and time!
  • Use man-power. We're so quick these days to buy the latest new appliance to do all the work for us in the kitchen. Instead of dragging out your big mixer, try a spoon or whisk. Instead of a bread machine, knead by hand. You can even find hand-powered blenders.
  • Bake efficiently. If you're good at organizing your time, this is my best tip for saving energy in the kitchen. Instead of turning on the oven every night, try doing all of your baking on one or two days. Bake your bread, casseroles, baked potatoes, and cookies all at once.
The truth is that you don't save much energy by cooking more efficiently, so if you have limited time, focus your efforts on heating and cooling. But every little bit counts, every little bit saves some money, and most of these tips are so easy, why not do them?

I'm happy to say that I'm a Marathon Runner in this category. And since what you eat matters more than how you cook it, I get bonus points for being an almost vegetarian. If you're taking the Meatless Monday challenge over at the Green Phone Booth, you can give yourself bonus points too.

Will you take the challenge?

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Step One of My DIY Energy Audit

>> Friday, April 16, 2010

Step one of the U.S. Department of Energy's DIY audit is "locating air leaks:"

First, make a list of obvious air leaks (drafts). The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5% to 30% per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward. Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Check to see if air can flow through these places:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Window frames
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners
  • I'm starting today with my electrical outlets and switch plates, specifically the ones on exterior walls of my house. Sealing the air leaks on these is so simple. You start with a pack of electric outlet and switch sealers from your local hardware store. (Or if you're truly DIY, you can make your own outlet sealers with styrofoam meat trays.)

    To install, simply screw off the outlet cover.

    Press the pre-cut sealer in position around the outlets or light switch, and screw the cover back on.

    Repeat with all of the outlets and light switches on your exterior walls, and voila! With just a few minutes of your time, you've reduced drafts in your home and knocked a little bit off of your electricity bill.

    When we bought our house in Maryland, the home inspector told us that people lose more energy through their outlets than through their windows. I don't know if that's really true or not, but it's worth the couple bucks investment if it is!

    One final reminder to my Triangle readers!

    Dig In is tomorrow, and I will be there helping out with the booth for the Raleigh Community Gardeners. I'll also be at the Planet Earth Celebration in Raleigh from 3 to 5 manning a booth for the Advocates for Health in Action. If you're going to be at either of those events, let's connect!


    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


    Post-Easter Eggs Dyed Naturally

    >> Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Every year after Easter, I promise myself that next year I'll try the natural method for dying eggs, and every Easter without fail, I break that promise to myself. For one thing, the natural method (using plants to make a dye instead of food coloring or a store bought kit) is more time-consuming, and Easter is already a busy time of year. But for another thing, being the conscious shopper that I am, I couldn't bring myself to waste perfectly good beets and spinach and blueberries on egg dye.

    So this year like usual, we went with our old standby...a Paas egg-dying kit, which hasn't changed in 25 years. Seriously. It's exactly the same every year that I've bought one, and exactly the same as I remember from when I was little. Ah, nostalgia...If only it didn't contain those pesky artificial colors.

    Then yesterday, I was making veggie broth out of my vegetable scraps - carrot and potato peels, celery leaves, onion pieces - and at the same time, I was preparing some beets to cook for dinner, and it occurred to me...Instead of wasting perfectly good beets on egg dye, maybe I could use the beet peels and stems. Instead of the food part, I could use the waste part.

    Here's what we did:

    Step 1: Fill a pot with a quart of water, 2 Tbsp. of vinegar, and beet scraps.
    Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 or 30 minutes. Then remove and compost beet scraps.

    Step 2: Prepare eggs. We were having scrambled eggs for dinner, so I used the method where you poke a small hole in each end of the eggshell and blow out the eggs into a separate bowl. Then clean the shells well. The advantage of this method is that you don't have to keep the dyed eggs refrigerated, and you can keep them as long as you want. The disadvantage is that they float in the water, unlike hardboiled eggs. This turned out to be a bigger problem than expected...On the other hand, the disadvantage of hardboiling the eggs is that your eggs take on a strange taste, depending on what you used to dye it (or so I've read).

    Step 3: Submerge the eggs into the dye and let sit until desired color is achieved. At first, we tried 5 minutes, but the eggs turned such a light pink, you could barely tell they were dyed at all. I decided to let them sit in the dye overnight, but like I said, our eggs weren't sinking. We couldn't sit around all night holding the eggs in the dye, so I put a small plate on top of all the eggs to hold them down.

    Step 4: Remove eggs and enjoy. When we woke up in the morning, our white eggs had turned into brown eggs. Not red like beets. A slightly pink, dirty looking brown!

    Will we ever dye eggs naturally again?

    It was kind of a failed project, in the sense that we ended up with ugly eggs instead of beautiful Easter eggs. On the other hand, it was a fun failed project - one that both kids and grown-ups enjoyed - and I got a little extra use out of my beet scraps and eggshells that were headed for the trash. So yes, I'd do it again, but next time..

    • I would use hardboiled eggs.
    • I would let the eggs sit in the water for less time.
    Hmmm...I wonder what other food scraps I could use to entertain my children...

    Have you ever tried the natural egg-dying method? How'd it go for you?


    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!



    >> Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    My post at the Green Phone Booth this week is actually from Sunday, but in case you missed it:

    Have you ever thought about the importance of dirt? The makers of the new film Dirt! The Movie have given it plenty of thought: What is dirt? Why is it important? Who cares about it? And what can you do about it? Check out their trailer for a little preview.

    If you live in the Triangle area and would like to see this movie, I'm hosting a movie night at my house with the Raleigh Community Gardens meetup. Join the group if you're interested, and please RSVP. I have a small house.


    Book Review and Giveaway: The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge

    >> Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Have you ever tried to teach your kids about climate change? What a big topic! Luckily, the folks behind The Magic School Bus series are here to help us out.

    The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge Review

    Ms. Fizzle and her magic school bus are at it again. The students in Ms. Fizzle's class are preparing a play about global warming, and what better way to learn about the whats, hows, and whys of global warming than to visit the arctic, slide on a sunbeam, fly over a city, and search out renewable energy. Ms. Frizzle's unusual field trip inspires her students to go green and show others how they can help.

    This past Sunday, we sat down as a family to read The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. Scholastic recommends this book for ages 7 to 12, and I completely agree. My two-year-old lasted the first few pages. My almost-five-year-old lost interest halfway through ("This is a loooong book, Momma").

    My very-above-average-intelligence six-year-old read the whole book with me and definitely understood all of the concepts. But he's also a very sensitive child (he gets scared watching Charlie and Lola), so I try to steer him away from doom-and-gloom topics. I appreciated that this book falls more into the "what can you do?" camp than the "we're all going to die" camp of environmentalism, but I'll probably still hold on to this book for another couple of years before reading it to them again.

    Nevertheless, I think this book would make a great introduction to climate change for a slightly older child. Like all of the books in the Magic School Bus series, it explains a difficult scientific concept in a manner that's easy to understand, logical, and fun, and my kids are big fans of the pseudo-comicbook style illustrations. And in case you were wondering, it is printed on "100% recycled fiber of which 50% is post-consumer waste."

    For more information, visit the official book page. You can also participate in a webcast with author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen on April 20th at 1 PM ET.

    The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge Giveaway

    Scholastic is generously offering three prizes to readers of The Conscious Shopper. One grand prize winner will receive a kids organic "Go Green" t-shirt and a copy of the book. Two additional winners will each receive a copy of the book. Please note that this giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. Also, although this is a children's book, you don't have to have kids to enter. This book would make a great gift for a grandchild, niece, nephew, kid-next-door, etc.

    To enter:
    • Leave a comment on this post stating your favorite children's book or series (besides this one).
    • You can earn up to two extra entries by sharing this post on Facebook or tweeting it on Twitter and then leaving a comment for each thing that you do. This is completely based on the honor system, and remember that each comment is a separate entry.
    You have until Tuesday, April 27 to enter. I'll select a winner using a random number generator and announce the results on the 28th. Make sure you either plan on coming back to see the results or you leave a way for me to contact you if you've won. Good luck!

    This contest has ended. The winners are Susan, Mia J, and Julie. Please contact me with your address at consciousshopperblog at gmail dot com.

    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke!
    Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!
    • Disclaimer: Scholastic sent me a copy of this book to be able to write this review but did not compensate me in any other way. I was not under any obligations to write a positive review, and all of the opinions contained in this post are my own.


    Challengicious Monday: Save Energy Through Heating and Cooling

    >> Monday, April 12, 2010

    Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next energy-related challenge:

    Save Energy Through Heating and Cooling

    To complete this challenge, you can...

    • Change your air filter regularly. Most of the time, that means monthly, but you can get filters that last longer. Just remember to change them when they are supposed to be changed. You can even get reusable furnace filters.
    • Don't make your A/C or furnace work too hard.
      • Keep doors and windows closed tightly.
      • Run exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen only when you need them.
      • Close the flue in your fireplace when you're not using it.
      • Uncover all your vents.
    • Keep your air conditioning unit properly maintained. Think of it like a car - sometimes it's going to need a tune-up.
    • Cover bare floors in the winter and uncover them in the summer. Adding rugs can improve your comfort level when you're cold, while a bare floor can be cool and soothing on those hot summer days.
    • Avoid using your oven on hot days.
    • Block the sun.
      • In the summer, keep the curtains drawn when the sun is on that side of your house, or install outside awnings over your windows.
      • In the winter, use heavy drapes as extra insulation over leaky windows, but keep south facing windows uncovered to allow the sun to warm your home naturally.
    • Raise your thermostat a few degrees in the summer and lower it a few degrees in the winter.
      • Shoot for a daytime temperature of 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter. For each degree that you raise or lower your thermostat, you will save 3-5% off your heating/cooling costs.
      • Use a programmable thermostat to automatically raise or lower the temperature settings when you leave home or at night. (If you have a heat pump, it's probably best to ignore this advice unless you have a special programmable thermostat that can raise and lower the temperature gradually.)
    • Install and use ceiling fans. But remember that fans cool people, not rooms, so they will only save energy (and money) if you use them correctly. That means:
      • Turn the fan off when you leave a room. Think of a fan like a light - it does no good when no one is in the room to use it.
      • In the spring and fall, use ceiling fans instead of turning on the A/C.
      • In the summer, keep your thermostat set a few degrees higher than your comfort level, and turn your ceiling fans on high. Ceiling fans work along the same lines as a breeze on a hot day.
      • In the winter, reverse the direction the fan turns (usually just by flipping a switch), turn the fan on low, and keep your thermostat set lower. The fans will push air toward the ceiling, forcing the warm air down into the room.
      • Make sure you get the appropriate size fan for your room. A small fan in a large room is not going to do a good job.
    • Landscape smart.
      • Plant medium-height trees on the east and west sides of your home to block the sun when it's low in the sky.
      • Plant tall deciduous trees on the south side of your home. They'll block out the sun when it's high in the sky in the summer but allow the sun through when it's at a lower angle in the winter .
      • Plant dense evergreens on the north side of your home where they'll block cold winter winds.
    • Seal leaks and add insulation. Use this DIY Guide to Sealing and Insulating from Energy Star.
      • Seal and repair leaky air ducts to cut your heating/cooling costs by up to 30 percent.
      • Add insulation, and make sure it's installed properly. The best place to add insulation? The attic.
      • Check for air leaks around windows, doors, outlets, entrances to attics and crawlspaces, and in attics and basements. Conscious Shopper reader Frank directed me to this smoke test that you can use to find leaks around your windows and doors (although he says you could easily do it with a cigarette or smokey incense).
    • Install energy efficient windows and doors.
    • Upgrade to a more efficient A/C unit. If you live in a moderate climate, consider getting a heat pump - they are 30% more efficient than a typical air conditioner. Or take a look at geothermal heat pumps, which cost more but are even more efficient and last much longer.
    Most of these steps are completely free, and those that do cost money should save you money over the long run. As we go through these Saving Energy challenges, keep reminding yourself that saving energy = saving money.

    I'm planning on switching to a reusable filter this month. We do the rest of the Baby Steps and Jogging Stride steps except for the landscaping tips because we're renting. I need to check for and seal air leaks, but I can't do the other Marathon Runner tips because of the renting thing.

    Sealing leaks and adding insulation is actually a huge thing and may take you more than a week to complete. Don't worry - most of the steps in the next few weeks are super easy, so you should have plenty of time to focus on caulking and insulating.

    Will You Take the Challenge?

    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke!
    Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


    A Bunch of Miscellany

    >> Saturday, April 10, 2010

    I spent the past week in Ocean City, MD with my husband and ZERO kids. It was strange and wonderful at the same time. But I'm glad to have my little rugrats back.

    I've been hopping around the blogosphere this week, so in case you missed these posts:

    Tips for Meatless Eating from an Almost Vegetarian...We've started a Meatless Mondays challenge at the Green Phone Booth, so I provided a few tips to help people get started. If you want to participate, you can link up a recipe every Monday over at the Booth. And thanks to Kellie for spear-heading this!

    The Community of Change Welcomes Erin of The Green Phone Booth...I'm swapping guest posts with Suzy and Andy, the couple behind the One Small Change challenge. Look for their post next week at the Green Phone Booth.

    Buying Less Plastic = Spending Less Money...My guest post over at Fake Plastic Fish describes how much money I save by avoiding plastic when shopping. I even surprised myself with how much I save!

    Which Is More Important...Personal or Political Action?...I'm hosting the APLS Carnival this month over at the Green Phone Booth. If you want to participate, check out this month's topic, write a post on your own blog, and then email the link to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com by April 15.

    Have a good weekend!


    An Interview with Condo Blues

    >> Thursday, April 8, 2010

    We're talking energy efficiency for the next couple months here at The Conscious Shopper. This is one of my favorite topics because it can save so much money without requiring huge investments or new technology. If you check the archives, you'll find lots of articles on energy efficiency - I got addicted last year.

    Unfortunately, though, I'm still renting so I haven't been able to improve my own home's energy efficiency as much as I'd like. Luckily, there are other bloggers out there that have made more strides in this category than I have, and today I want to introduce you to the one I think is a DIY maven and energy queen: Lisa from Condo Blues.

    I think I do all right keeping my energy use low, but holy cow, Lisa blew me away with her numbers! Keep reading below to find out how Lisa reduced here energy use by 32%.

    Q: Can you give me some background info about why you decided to improve your home's energy efficiency?

    A: It all started with the February natural gas bill. I felt that it was extremely high. My husband said that the winter bill is always high. I thought it should be lower since one of the reasons we chose to by our home is that had a new furnace and should be more energy efficient and compared to our old rental with the ancient furnace.

    I started researching how to make our new home more energy efficient. A slew of Greenzillas insisted that the only way I could lower my home's energy bills was to toss all of my new but one notch under Energy Star rated appliances and HVAC system and install expensive alternative energy systems. I'm not against those items but I couldn't afford to just chuck them all - I just bought a house! I also thought that getting rid of new and working items was wasteful. For example, if I replaced my then new and current refrigerator with an Energy Star rated equivalent I would only reduce my electricity use by $1.00 for the year. I could easily save a dollar's worth of energy with that refrigerator if I keep it full, made sure the seals where tight, lower the temperature a degree, and vacuumed the coils on the back.

    I was determined to prove the zealots wrong and learn how to use what I had wisely and efficiently. I did it as a year long project and tried to reduce my use as inexpensively as I could. I did it with inexpensive home improvements, new habits, and a whole lotta CLF light bulbs.

    Q: You say in your bio that you reduced your "home's electricity use by 32% in 2007 by changing habits, using my current appliances wisely, and with less than $200 worth of home improvements." If you're willing, I'd love to see some exact numbers. (For example, our average daily electricity use is 27 kWh for our 1200 square foot home.)

    A: I have a 1500 square foot free standing condominium. Basically it looks like a regular free standing house but acts like a condo - the Home Owners Association mows my lawn and takes care of street and green space maintenance in our neighborhood. My daily average electricity use is 15 KWh. I have an all electric kitchen. The only Energy Star rated appliances I have are my HE washing machine, which I bought half way into the 20% Energy Reduction Project because my old one died beyond repair and the dishwasher that came with the condo. My daily average natural gas use is 1.5 CCF. I use natural gas for the hot water heater, furnace, and fire place. I don't use the natural gas fireplace often. The last time we used it was during a power outage for heat and light.

    Q: You seem big into DIY projects. What tools would you recommend every gal have in her toolbelt?

    A: I'm picky. I love custom items but I want to pay for them on my terms. More often than not, that means making or revamping something old into something new. My husband and I love the retro mixed with modern look. We hate sending things to the landfill.

    I'm very lucky that my father never chased me away when he was working on a project. He always answered my little kid questions and let me "help" by handing him things or carry a broken whatis to the store so we could match it to the replacement part. My first DIY project was helping my Dad make a step stool out of scrap wood so I could reach the bathroom sink in order to brush my teeth as a toddler. My mom still has that step stool it's come in handy over the years!

    I'd recommend a basic toolkit that has a Phillips screw driver (it's the one with the head that looks like a cross), a flat head screw driver, a hammer, a pair of needle nose pliers, an adjustable wrench, a tape measure, level (great for hanging shelves, curtain rods, pictures, etc.), and an electric drill if you want to get fancy.

    Q: I'm completely terrified of power tools. Any tips for a girl who generally lets her husband do the sawing and drilling?

    A: Put on your safety glasses, tie any long hair back and dive in! Your first project may not be 100%, but just like anything, your skills will improve the more you use them. If you have a husband or person in your life who's skillful but tries to micromanage your project without your consent, try to do it when they aren't around or are busy with something else. If you're worried about cutting yourself with a table or circular saw, you can pay to have the home improvement store make those cuts in the wood you buy from them for you. Having a good home improvement book or Web site with lots of step by step instructions and photos helps too.

    Fortunately very few of my energy saving home improvements involved power tools and heavy duty DIYs. Most of them involved spray foam or caulk. I did use a rotary tool to cut a metal door sweep to fit my door which you could do with a small hand saw. I used that project to try out the new toy my in laws gave me for Christmas. :)

    Q: At the Conscious Shopper, I divide a lot of my going green tips into Baby Steps (easy), Jogging Stride steps (medium), and Marathon Runner steps (hardest). Can you give us your favorite Baby Step, Jogging Stride, and Marathon Runner tips for improving a home's energy efficiency?

    A: I'd pay someone or do my own DIY home energy audit as a energy saving Baby Step. You need to know how much energy you are using and where your home's and weaknesses are before you can reduce your use.

    As a Jogging Stride step I would seal air leaks in your home with caulk (there are removable caulk options for renters), weather stripping, spray foam, or door sweeps. Even newly built homes like mine have little gaps around doors and windows that draw heated or cooled interior air out of your home.

    For a Marathon Runner I would either replace an energy inefficient appliance with a more energy efficient model or add more insulation to your home.

    What resources have you found that might be helpful to someone interested in improving their home's energy efficiency?

    A: The Energy Star website has an online home energy audit tool that lets you do a free home energy audit. I used it to do the home energy audit that gave me the idea to do the 20% Energy Reduction Challenge. It has a lot of great information about how to make your home more energy efficient. DIY Network has a slew of shows and advice when you're trying to decide if a project is a DIY job or if it's better to call in a pro. Of course I think Condo Blues has some great real world examples on how to go green and save money doing it too.

    I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Condo Blues. Her blog is really a wealth of information. Check it out!


    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


    Two Events Triangle Residents Won't Want to Miss

    >> Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    This post is for my Triangle readers.

    Many of you know that I'm involved with several groups that are working to build up and establish community gardens in the area: the Raleigh Community Gardeners, Triangle Area Homesteaders, and the Advocates for Health in Action.

    I'm pleased to tell you that there's a lot going on with community gardens in Raleigh, and specifically, there are two big events coming up that you need to know about.

    EVENT #1: Kick-off Event for Alliance Medical Community Garden Featuring Will Allen

    • When: April 6 from 6-8pm
    • Where: Alliance Medical Ministry
    • What: Kick-off the planned community garden at Alliance Medical Ministries and meet Will Allen. Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Catering With A Cause will provide food for the reception.
    • Contact: RSVP to or call 919-250-0043
    I'm going to be out of town for this event and am so completely bummed. Will Allen is the founder of Growing Power, Inc., and one of my food heroes. We're very lucky to have him come back to Raleigh.

    EVENT #2: Dig In!
    • When: April 17 from 9 am -12:30 pm
    • Where: Marbles Children's Museum
    • What: Learn about the benefits of starting a community garden, attend presentations describing how how to start, maintain, and manage a garden, browse booths with info about gardening, and meet fellow Wake County residents interested in gardening.
    • Contact: Register to attend DIG IN here!
    I've been involved with planning this event and am super excited about it. It's on the morning of Raleigh's Planet Earth Celebration, so you'll be downtown that day anyway, right? Might as well come learn how to start a garden in your neighborhood.


    Challengicious Monday: Get a Home Energy Audit

    >> Monday, April 5, 2010

    Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next energy-related challenge:

    Get a Home Energy Audit

    To complete this challenge, you can...

    • Do an online energy audit. Free online energy audits are offered by many power companies. They ask for information about your home and combine it with your energy usage history to create an energy profile with suggestions for improvements. The downside is that without a home visit and walk-through, an online audit can only provide limited information and generic suggestions.
    • Conduct a DIY audit. Walk-through your home looking for air leaks and places that are improperly sealed or insulated. Add caulking, weather-stripping, and insulation. Replace high-watt bulbs with lower watt bulbs or compact fluorescent lightbulbs, a poorly performing heating and cooling system with a more efficient one, and old appliances with Energy Star rated appliances. Find a detailed list of suggestions at the U.S. Department of Energy site.
    • Get a professional home energy audit. Having someone else perform your audit for you may be the easiest route, but because it's the most expensive (and we're conscious shoppers), it's also the most difficult. But if you can afford a professional audit, the savings you'll get from improving your home should offset the cost of the audit.
    Last year when we were living in our apartment, I tried the online audit from my power company. It was pretty generic so I'll probably just skip it this time and try the DIY route. Because we're still renters, there are limited improvements we can make, and I don't want to invest the money in a professional audit. If you're a homeowner and not too DIY inclined, I definitely recommend that route.

    For more information, check out Energy Efficiency: Renewable Energy's Less Cool Cousin.

    Will you take the challenge?

    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


    April Extreme Challenge

    >> Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Here's your extreme challenge for April:

    Go No 'Poo

    "No 'poo" is slang in the green world for "no shampoo." What it really means is that you wash your hair with baking soda and rinse with apple cider vinegar, and you wash your hair less often.

    Why go no poo?
    • To save money. Compare a $5 bottle of shampoo to a $1 box of baking soda.
    • To save packaging. Shampoo and conditioner usually come in plastic bottles, and even if you recycle those, their next life is probably a park bench. Baking soda comes in a cardboard box and vinegar in a glass jar, and because you only use a small amount each time you wash your hair, you end up using a lot less packaging.
    • To avoid potentially harmful chemicals. Although there are plenty of eco-friendly, less toxic shampoos and conditioners on the market, what could be less harmful than baking soda and vinegar?
    • To live naturally. Hey parents, have you ever noticed how long you can go without washing your kids hair? Supposedly, that's how hair is supposed to be, and if you wash it less and put fewer chemicals on it, your hair can look that natural, luscious, and shiny too.
    Those are the main reasons I've thought of. If you've gone no poo, why did you do it?

    There are several methods for going no poo. Here's one:
    1. Obtain a couple old squirt bottles such as old shampoo bottles, salad dressing bottles, or sports bottles.
    2. Fill one bottle with a ratio of 1 Tbsp. baking soda to 1 c. water. Fill the other bottle with a ratio of 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar to 1 c. water. If desired, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the apple cider vinegar solution to cover the smell.
    3. Squeeze some of the baking soda solution on to your scalp and massage for a few seconds. You're aiming to clean your scalp, not your hair. Leave on while you wash your body and then rinse out.
    4. Squeeze some of the vinegar solution on to your hair. Leave on for a few seconds and then rinse.
    I've read that there's an "adjustment period" while your hair returns to it's natural state and starts producing less grease. Then you'll be able to wash your hair less and less - some people go as long as a week!

    Want to see no poo in action? Here are a few bloggy friends that have gone no poo:
    Here's what my family will be doing:

    Last month's challenge was easy peasy. This one, I'm not excited about. At all.

    I'm starting this challenge late this month because of spring break, but I'm committing to try no poo for at least a month. I'm really nervous about it because of the supposed adjustment period. I'm also skeptical.

    My sister the cosmetologist only washes her hair every other day, or even every third day, and she has gorgeous hair. She told me that if you stop washing your hair so often, your body will adjust and produce less grease, and that hair is healthier when it's not washed so much. So I gave it a go...For a whole year, I gave it a go! I kept thinking, "Soon my head will catch on that it doesn't need to make so much grease." But it never did! Finally after a year, I was tired of looking awful every other day, and I went back to daily washings. And that is why I don't believe no poo will work for me. But we'll see!

    Will you accept the April Extreme Challenge to go no poo for a month? Let me know in the comments what your family will be doing.

    You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


    Announcing the Winner of the Glass Dharma Straws Giveaway

    >> Thursday, April 1, 2010

    The winner of the $25 gift certificate to Glass Dharma is Kim and Ken Carlile, who wrote:

    I've made my husband start bringing his sandwich baggie from lunch home with him to reuse.
    Congratulations, and I'll be in touch with you soon about how to redeem your gift certificate!

    And remember for those of you who didn't win, you can purchase your own Glass Dharma straws by visiting their website.

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