Category Archives: Green Living

Homemade Vegetable Stock

I have been making my own chicken stock for a long time. But since I have been buying almost no meat over the last couple months, I have been making vegetable stock instead. Now I know that most cookbook recipes call for whole onions, carrots, celery, etc, but I just can’t bring myself to use whole anything for stock when we could eat those whole things. So I’ve started to freeze scraps and make stock that way. With the amount of cooking that I do, I can make 3-4 quarts every week or so. I use it for lentil-kale-potato soup, risotto, and/or freeze it. The best thing about making your own vegetable stock is that it’s practically free! Here’s the run-down:

Freeze ends and peels of:

  • onion
  • garlic
  • scallions
  • carrot
  • celery
  • pepper
  • zucchini
  • parsley
  • cilantro
  • spinach
  • tomato

I’ve been using the same produce bag (the kinds you find in any grocery store) for a couple months now – it hasn’t ripped yet! Once it’s full, I throw all the scraps in a pot, fill it with water, add a tablespoon or so of salt, some pepper, and a teaspoon or so each of dried thyme and dried rosemary. I bring it to a boil, then simmer for 2-3 hours.

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After it cools a little, I strain the stock and put the scraps into the compost. No waste!

Garden Transformation: Lawn to Vegetable Garden

To reconcile my suburban track-home existence, far from the true “back to basics” life I dream of, I have transformed my backyard into a food-producing space. Okay, maybe the present progressive form “am transforming” is a better tense choice. It’s far from there … the point I want it to be. But it’s getting there. Time and money both play a huge factor in my inability to make it go faster.

Time. For a mother and teacher, time is always my shackle – that priceless commodity more valuable than diamonds. There never seems to be enough time. Time to plan fabulous earth-shattering lessons that cause students to leave with lightbulbs literally hanging over their heads. Time to grade the endless mountain of quizzes, tests, and essays. Time to plan, prep, and cook healthy all-from-scratch meals, snacks, and desserts for my family. Time to spend quality time with my children. Time to keep a sparkling, shiny, dust-free home. Time to hang laundry. Time to sleep – what is this sleep you speak of? And there certainly isn’t enough time to plan, plant, and maintain my garden. Not to mention that during 2009 and 2012, I was pregnant with about 8 months of “all-day sickness” – whoever came up with the name “morning sickness” obviously didn’t go through what I went through. So, in my garden, I do the best that I can. And that’s all I can ask of myself. Given my time constraints, I’d say it isn’t half bad.

Here are a series of pictures over time of my ever-evolving garden. I should also mention my distain for grass. As my dad has said, “if you water it, it will just grow, and you will have to mow it.” So simple, yet so true. My front yard is that front yard – the one dead and brown eye-sore on the street. And I seriously couldn’t care less. We haven’t watered it in a couple of years. When I have more time and money, I will work on landscaping the front with water-wise drought-resistant California native plants, some edibles, and small trees. But that is for another time and another post.

Back to my backyard. The planting space of my back yard is 110 feet across by approximately 21 feet deep. That’s a lot of square footage to work with, food-wise. When we moved in, it started out completely un-landscaped (brand new neighborhood). After a year or so, we hired a landscaper to do a quick patio and lawn with some dirt space on the perimeter for planting (FYI – never trust a landscaper who drives a Hummer – complete waste of money!). Then in the last couple years, I have begun to dig up all that grass. This was a huge chore because it wasn’t enough for me to simply cover up the grass to kill it due to the fine plastic mesh that ran under the entire area of the sod. The idea of plastic under all my plants is just icky to me. Therefore, I had to dig up the sod, remove all the fine mesh underneath, turn the sod over, cover it with newspaper and cardboard, and bring in truckloads of dirt to cover it up. Let’s just say that it’s a work in progress. Anyway, on to the pictures (I apologize for the poor quality – some were taken with a cell phone camera through a screen):

2010 5-4 DSC04709 2010 May – South-East Side of House

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2010 May – Backyard

The following 8 photos are from 2013 March – Getting Rid of the Grass: Phase 1

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2013 03-30 19.07.13

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2013 Spring – South-East Side of House (Look how big the rosemary has gotten!)

The following 9 photos are from 2014 Spring – Getting Rid of the Grass: Phase 2

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And here are a couple beds. This one has potato plants growing in it. For my son and my niece’s first birthday party, we had a garden theme. For some of the outdoor activities, my sister got two bales of straw to use as seating. After the party, I ended up using them as mulch around my garden (more thoughts on that later).

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Here are the two raised beds I decided to keep. We had radishes, peppers, garlic, green onions, bulb onions, kale, and spinach growing in them.

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And last but not least, here is a picture of my all-time favorite purchase ever – my wood chipper. It was just a little over $100 from Amazon. The directions say that it can take a small branch up to 1.25 inches or so in diameters, but I’m not about to push it – I definitely do not want this baby to break. I use it for all small branches, twigs, bamboo, and leaves. Since we are moving towards a permaculture set-up, we are actively collecting as much mulch-able material to make into wood chips to use as ground cover (more on this later). Anyway, here’s the green monster:

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My Love Affair with …

… my travel mug. That’s right. Don’t judge. I love it. I’ve had it since 2002, and it still works like new. I have used it almost every day – it goes with me in the car, to my classes, to teacher’s meetings, on walks in the stroller … I fill it with Peet’s coffee that I brew at home; the kind barista’s at Peet’s (and a few other select coffee shops) fill it with what feels like ultra-caffeinated coffee, hot or cold … (and Peet’s generously gives me 10 cents for bringing in my own mug) … it might just be my best friend.

And here it is in all it’s worn glory:

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It’s a little scratched and coffee-stained, but it’s solid. Why would I ever want to drink coffee from one of those paper cups with a plastic lid? Not one reason comes to mind. My mug is superior on all counts.

Think of the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills. Every day, people drink coffee from paper and plastic cups and throw them away. You may think, “but it’s made of paper – I can recycle it!” Think again. Those paper cups are coated with a plastic-based resin called polyethylene to help with temperature control; this resin makes them non-recyclable. According to the EPA, “in 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash” and paper/cardboard made up 27.4% of the total. Of that 27.4%, I’m not sure how much was from coffee cups; I could look it up and spout more statistics but those numbers don’t really mean anything to me. What is 27.4% of 251 million tons of trash? All I know is that it is a LOT! I am just going to take the common sense approach and say that not using disposable items is the right thing to do.

Think about your own coffee habits. Are you guilty of using disposable cups? I am not into public shaming, but you know who you are! (Yes you do … don’t deny it.) Get out there and get your own travel mug today.