Monday, May 14, 2012

Suggestions to Limit Meat & Dairy Prices

This one isn’t for the vegetarians among us.  So, if you're against eating meat and dairy, your view is duly noted but this blog post isn't a debate on whether people should or shouldn't do it.  It's about how those who choose to can save money on their expenses.
Often people ask me how they can save on everyday items like food, and I have thought about that over the years.  I do save on food, but realized after tracking expenses that I really don’t save as much on food.  I have some strategies to keep costs low in certain areas, like buying in bulk and going to the farmer’s market, but there are two areas I’ve only been moderately successful in saving and that’s meat and dairy products.
The reason for this is simple:  I like high quality products for the most part and meat and dairy are two areas where I won’t buy cheap because the quality of the product is so much more inferior.  But I do have some strategies for keeping meat and dairy costs low.
1.       Buy whole chickens, not parts, unless there’s a mega deal.  I buy Greenwise (Publix) chickens or Springer Mountain Farms.  I use coupons for Springer Mountain Farms chicken, either from the newspaper or by contacting the company directly.  Most are for $1.50.  I have written previous articles about how to get 3-4 meals out of one chicken, so for my $6 chicken (or thereabouts), I get 3-4 meals and broth.  That’s fairly economical for a humanely-raised chicken and the taste is incomparable between the two – we would never go back to cheap chicken.  We’d rather eat fewer high quality chickens.  And that brings me to tip #2 –
2.       Eat less meat, so you can eat better quality. We eat meat maybe 2-3 times a week.  The rest of the time, we eat vegetarian.  That way, we can be more selective.  We’re not dependent on it.  Some nights we eat frittatas made with eggs.  Some nights we eat pasta, and some vegetarian curries or stir fries.  But we don’t depend on having meat at every single meal.  Stepping back from meat means you don’t have to keep as much on hand.  And who wouldn’t love a three cheese lasagna?  Meatless meals don't have to be tasteless.
3.       Try different cuts of meat you’re not used to.  My husband made a beef stew recently because I found some grass fed beef ribs for a really cheap price.  It wouldn’t have been enough meat for us to eat ribs, but between the bones and the meat on those bones, we had a nice, tasty pot of stew once we threw in some spuds, carrots, onions and tomato sauce and seasoned it up.  I also like chicken thighs and they can be quite savory.
4.       Improve your everyday fare.  Either ask your grocery store meat department or butcher to grind something especially for you.  For example, I find that I prefer fresh ground meat very much.  So, I find a decent quality, reasonably priced steak and ask them to grind it for me, fresh.  It really makes a big difference and the bonus?  No pink slime! 
5.       Accept gifts.  One of the guys I work with hunts deer and he will give me venison if I want it.  The meat is fresh and very tasty and can be used very much like lean beef.  Another friend made wild boar sausage and brought us some.  That was good, too.
6.       Learn to get it yourself.  In my state, I have an advantage, but I do get to go fishing, scalloping, crabbing and there is a lot of sea life in abundance.  Raise chickens for fresh chicken and eggs, and yes this is even possible in urban areas, in many places.  That way you know the person who is originating it and where it came from and what it took to get it.  Plus, you learn a lot.
And of course, just to placate the vegetarians among us, you could give up meat and dairy altogether and then you wouldn't have any expense to them at all.  Not that you should, but you certainly could. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Building a Wardrobe Both Eco-Friendly and Functional

The basics of building an eco-friendly wardrobe are pretty simple.  I practice these principles myself when buying clothes.  In order to build a wardrobe, try the following principles:
1.       Buy whatever items you can second hand.  This cuts down on the need to have more, cheap and industrialized ‘disposable’ clothing manufactured.  It also keeps use of resources to a minimum.
2.       Buy clothes that tend to be durable and sturdy.  Cotton is the best fabric for most daily uses and it is breathable.  Personally, I stick to ‘natural’ fibers, like cotton, silk and linen.
3.       Clothing items should preferably mix and match with other items in your wardrobe.  Try to avoid items that only go with one thing you own.
4.       Take the minimalist approach – figure out how many items you might need of a particular garment and only keep that many on hand.
5.       If you must buy new, try to buy from manufacturers that have good labor practices and who use organic materials and energy saving processes.  Many of these clothes can be quite expensive, but then paying people what they should be paid for work and taking in the true costs of what it takes to manufacture clothing is expensive.  Inexpensive, cheaply made disposable fashion is an illusion that is damaging people and our environment.
6.       Stick to tailored items.
7.       Begin with neutral colors and build from there.
8.       Take stock of your life and decide what clothes you need and why so you can design a functional wardrobe.
9.       Learn to layer clothes to maximize their use.
For an example of what I mean by a functional wardrobe, let me talk about my own wardrobe.  I work a fairly active job in my industry and mostly I need to wear jeans, khakis, button-up blouses and sturdy shoes.  When I am at home, my clothes are similar, but I can change footwear to sandals or boots, depending on weather.  I add some cardigans and light jackets, long sleeve tops in the winter and a raincoat and boots.  This gets me through most things.  I keep a couple of skirts and two dresses, in case I need something dressy to wear.  I have a couple of handbags and some scarves, a hat and gloves for Winter.  My other items are personal wear, like lingerie, a couple of pairs of pajamas, and then my workout wear (I play sports and jog now, so I do have a couple of sets of these types of clothes).  I don’t keep clothes I don’t need or won’t use, or that don’t fit.  When something needs mending, I mend it if it can be repaired.  If not, I replace it.  I try to accessorize to bring more color, with earrings or scarves.  I picked tops that had my favorite colors to keep things brighter and to give some pattern.
In the Winter, I might wear a long sleeve t-shirt beneath a long sleeve top and layer a jacket over for warmth, that way I don’t have to buy separate seasonal clothes and have less to pay to maintain and care for – I find using these rules liberating in many ways.  Besides washing and hanging clothes, and the occasional pressing or mending, my wardrobe is essentially worry-free and has minimal impact on the environment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Make Your Own Organic Cleaning Products

Many people want know how to make their own organic cleaning products.  The process, like that for Laundry Detergent, is quite simple.  You'll need a few simple, common ingredients to make your own household cleaning products, plus a few extras. 

Common ingredients include: Vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, washing soda (aka sodium carbonate), Borax (sodium borate), table salt or kosher salt, olive or vegetable oil, beeswax and a liquid vegetable or castile soap.

Extras are essential oils, like tea tree, sweet orange, lavender, rose, eucalyptus and sandalwood, for scent.

To create simple homemade, organic cleaning products, some recipes have been provided below:

All Purpose Spray Cleaner: ½ tsp Washing Soda (sodium  carbonate), ½ tsp Borax (sodium borate), ½ tsp vegetable based soap, 2 T vinegar and  2 C hot water.  Shake until well-blended and all small bits have been dissolved.  You can add essential oil to give it a pleasing odor, like sweet orange, lavender or tea tree.

Second All Purpose Spray Cleaner:  In a straight spray bottle, combine three tablespoons Dawn dish detergent, 1/2 cup white vinegar and fill the rest with straight water.  Cuts grease on appliances and countertops.
Drain Cleaner: ½ c baking soda and 1 c white vinegar.  Pour the ½ c baking soda in and slowly add the vinegar a bit at time until the fizzing stops.  Rinse drain with hottest tap water from faucet.
Window Cleaner: ½ tsp vegetable based soap, 3 T vinegar, 2 cups water.  Put inside a spray bottle and shake well to blend.  Use old newspaper for a streak-free shine.
Disinfectant:  2 C water, 3 T vegetable based soap, 20-30 drops tea tree oil.
Stainless Steel Sink, Oven and Countertop Cleaner:  Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply to surface areas.  Let set for 15 mins and then scrub off.
Silver Cleaning: Line sink with aluminum foil, put your tarnished silver in the sink.  Pour boiling water over, a cup of baking soda and a dash of salt.  Let sit for a few minutes and the tarnish will transfer from silver to the aluminum foil, which can be recycled.
Creamy Soft Scrubber:  Pour ½ c baking soda into a bowl and add enough vegetable soap to make a texture similar to a glaze.  To keep it moist for future use, add 1 t olive oil to the recipe, or just make as much as you need for any particular occatsion.
Furniture Polish:  ½ c oil, like olive or vegetable, 1t lemon juice.  Mix ingredients in a glass jar.  Use a soft rag to wipe onto wood surfaces.
Dishwasher Liquid:  ½ c castile soap, ½ c water, 1 t lemon juice, 3 drops tea tree extract, ¼ c white vinegar.  Mix ingredients and store in a squeeze bottle, use 2 T per load.

So, there you have it.  Some easy, simple and very green recipes for organic cleaning products that anyone can make for pennies and using common household items that anyone can easily obtain.  Many of these homemade cleaning product recipes can be made and stored in bulk, with a minimum of planning. All of them work as good, if not better than their non-organic, store-bought counterparts.  Good luck with the organic cleaning product recipes and happy cleaning!