My favorite sustainable household products

Lots of you know we have been working for a long time toward a smaller carbon footprint. I am still a mom of four in a fully capitalist society, and everything I buy seems to come packaged in plastic film, cardboard boxes, or both… but we’re trying. These are a few honest reviews (nothing sponsored) about what is working for us (or not.) You can find past posts on this journey here and here and here.

Best finds:

WHO GIVES A CRAP (plastic-free toilet paper)

Okay, I know it’s weird to start with this, but it was the first product I found, and I’m a chronological girl.

TP is important around here, and this TP is soft, sustainable (the kind we buy is 100% recycled paper,) and packaged entirely in paper (including the wrappers around the rolls, the cardboard box it’s shipped in, and the paper tape on the box.) I buy it in boxes of 48 rolls. Added bonus: half their profits go toward building toilets in water-insecure places.

EARTH BREEZE Laundry Detergent

At the risk of sounding like one of the ads that may have popped up on a free phone game (which is exactly how I found them,) I have to say I love this detergent. Each one of these envelopes holds enough detergent to wash 60 loads. The sheets of detergent actually dissolve in cold water without leaving a residue. I tried several brands of detergent pods, and all left sticky starch residue on our clothes if we didn’t wash everything in hot water.

No, I’m not trying to corner the market in Earth Breeze, but I did buy a year’s worth so I could send a package with each of kids to college/grad school.

DROPPS Dishwasher Pods

These pods come without any plastic packaging or microplastics in the pods themselves. I am sure the detergent would still be toxic if you swallowed one, so keep them out of reach of children, but the packaging is entirely recyclable. And my dishes get clean.

I do not, however, recommend their laundry detergent pods.

RIDWELL Recycling Service

My kids’ orthodontist turned me on to Ridwell, so I asked for a subscription last Christmas. It’s a biweekly home pickup of my hard-to-recycle items, and I LOVE IT. Every pickup includes plastic film (think ziplock bags, bread bags, cereal bags, and all that clear packaging that everything you buy is wrapped in,) threads (fabric including clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to resell,) alkaline batteries, and light bulbs, and a “featured” item that rotates. So far they have picked up our extra school supplies, corks, CCDs and DVDs, ski/snowboard equipment (this pickup might be particular to Colorado,) kitchen ware, Prom dresses, electronics, winter and clothes. You can also pay a little extra for a pickup of Styrofoam or Latex paint. Next week’ pickup is books. They’d better bring a big truck.

Ridwell does all the legwork of finding local organizations that will repurpose these items. Many of you may prefer to do that work on your own, but I just don’t have the bandwidth for that. Plus each pick-up serves as a gentle nudge to clean more out of our house.

LOOFAHS for doing the dishes

I was skeptical, but I am now a firm believer in using a loofah (made from a gourd) to clean my dishes. It is just abrasive enough to get the stuff off, and it holds up well for a time or two through the dishwasher. When it begins to disintegrate, I throw it in my compost. It never seems to get that yucky sour-sponge smell, and a sixpack from my local Zero Market lasted me a year. They also hold up in the dishwasher,

I have yet to find any dish soap that works as well as Dawn, so I use that on the loofah.

STEEL/COPPER SCRUBBIE to clean my cast iron

I no longer have a non-stick pan. I have all metal cookware (thanks, all you nice people who bought us pans for our wedding 26 years ago) and one cast iron skillet I bought at Ace Hardware. I scrub it with the copper or steel scrubbie (I think I found this one in a six-pack on Amazon) without any soap, and heat it till dry. So far it has lasted longer than the Teflon on any of my nonstick pans.

I have thrown the scrubbies in the dishwasher when they got gross. Unfortunately, our local recycling does NOT accept these for recycling, though I have read that they are recyclable in some areas.

Also, if you’re looking for some good reading material on this, check out Sharon Schneider’s Handbook for an Integrated Life. Her book is about how to align your economic power with your internal compass. Somehow she managed to synthesize so much (and more) of what we’ve spent years figuring out into a highly readable book.

Seven Quick Takes: not quite back-to-school

ONE: Are your friends/family sending you lots of first day of school photos? We have been getting them, and the traffic patterns around the neighborhood have definitely changed. I rode my bike to the clinic this week, and the traffic to the campus (it hosts both a middle and a high school) was backed up a full mile. Two cars almost hit me as they crossed the bike lane to get to the drop off lane. Everyone is a little out of practice.

We don’t start school again until next week. Jonah will head back for his senior year of college (!) and we’ll do a family road trip (first one in 3 years, since the Year of too Many Road Trips) to take Owen to college next month. I’m elbow-deep in school prep.

TWO: We went back to the beach this month, for the first time in years. It was wonderful. Sam didn’t open his computer all week. I barely cooked at all (remember this gem from the Onion?) and came back refreshed to try some new recipes. Which is good, because it’s peach and tomato season.

Last beach trip:

This beach trip:

THREE: Peach season! I think the easiest way to preserve peaches is to wash them, slice them in half, remove the pits and freeze them like this on a tray. Then, once frozen, they are easy to pop into bags. I like them in halves for lots of recipes, but for smoothies I will often quarter them. I don’t take the skins off. They add fiber and make everything pretty.

For lunch today, I’m planning to make this Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad from Half-Baked Harvest. Our herb garden is in its prime, and I have lots of fresh herbs to go with all the heirloom tomatoes and peaches.

Also, I’m planning to make this Peach Salsa from Natasha’s Kitchen. And Peach Upside Down Cake from Taste of Home.

FOUR: This is the time of year that we rearrange desks. Our rule is that kids can’t have screens (phones, computers, TVs, DSes, etc.) in their bedrooms. This requires lots of desks on our main floor, and we shuffled people around and cleaned spaces up.



FIVE: This year, I’m going back to using BraveWriter‘s Arrow curriculum for my eighth grader. It’s a literature-based writing curriculum that has everything I need (grammar, mechanics, good books, great discussion questions.) They choose great books, and it’s flexible enough to adjust it for each student’s unique needs.

SIX: Turns out I don’t have seven takes today. But I have this awesome photo of the beach to leave with you. Happy end of summer, friends. May there be fresh peaches and tomatoes in your day.

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

Summer Eats: Week 8-10

Our summer farm season is wrapping up.  Two weeks ago we got eggplant, kale, turnips (red and white), carrots, potatoes, a yellow pepper, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and garlic. (Remember how our CSA was hit with terrible hail?  More of the plants than we thought are still producing!)  This week we received cauliflower, broccoli, onions, garlic, peppers, squash, one cucumber, turnips (and lots of them!) and carrots.

In the past I have had trouble with kale.  I’ll eat it, but everyone else (Sam included) found it too bitter.  In fact, after our first CSA, Sam’s comment was “too much kale!” and we found a different one that was a little lighter on the greens.  But greens are good for us, so I was determined to try again.  And I found a winner!

HappyFitMama’s Kale Blueberry Superfood Salad

She says the secrets are cutting out the stem (all the way up the leaf) and working the dressing into the leaves a little bit and letting it sit.  I made it about 1.5 hours before we ate. When Momo got home from dance class, she picked all the kale out of the salad and left behind the raspberries.  (I used raspberries instead of blueberries.)  Can she even be my child? Perhaps not.
At the bookends of the season, I find we have a little bit of lots of different things, but sometimes not large enough quantities to make a main course out of anything.  So I like to serve what we call “Potpourri,” or lots of different things on pretty plates.  Above you see our popcorn, carrots, yellow squash and zucchini (which some of my kids like with Ranch dressing), bread and jam, Sesame Eggplant Obsession, and a variety of cheeses (they are at the top there, served on a gorgeous cheese board my friend made from a walnut tree that came down from his yard- how cool is that?).  My friend Amy says anything tastes better in a margarita glass, and that applies to serving boring supermarket slices cheeses on a handcrafted walnut cheese board, too.

It’s not really a summer food, but I made up a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Soup, and all my kids will eat it.  So here it is. Sorry I don’t know how to make it easy to print. Feel free to cut and paste and adapt to your taste.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or diced
  • 3 potatoes (Yukon Golds or Reds work well), washed a diced (no need to peel)
  • 6 cups chicken stock

Wash and cut one head of cauliflower into florets. Cut 3 carrots into 1 inch pieces. Toss both with a little olive oil; dust with salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees until they start to darken (for me it was about 20 minutes, but it will depend on how big your pieces are.) You can do this earlier in the week and store them in the fridge, or do it right before you make the soup.

Chop 2 slices of bacon and dice one medium onion. Brown the bacon for a few minutes till it starts to darken and then bottom of the pan is slick, then add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add 1 clove crushed garlic and sauté until onions and garlic are translucent.

Add 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, 3 diced potatoes, and the roasted cauliflower and carrots. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Cook 20-30 minutes or until all the vegetables are very soft. Purée with a hand blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with crumbled bacon and crusty bread.

Another variation is to add a tart apple (peeled) with the potatoes.

I think that’s it for our Summer Eats Series.   I am baking bread again, and the kids are asking for our favorite fall soups again.  I hope the end of your summer wraps up well!  I’ve added links to my other Summer Eats posts here.

Summer Eats: Week 1

Summer Eats: Week 2

Summer Eats: Week 3

Summer Eats: Weeks 4-6

Summer Eats: Week 7




Summer Eats: Week 7

One of our favorite ways to cook vegetables is grilled in packets.  So versatile- anything goes, as long as what you put in the packet cooks in approximately the same amount of time- and easy.  This week we had Japanese eggplants, red banana peppers, garlic, potatoes, and summer squash, and I chopped it all up, tossed it with olive oil and folded it into packets to grill.
Japanese eggplants. You can leave the skin on. Here you can see that I changed my mind in the middle to switch from rounds to chunks.

Toss it all with evoo, salt & pepper.

Here you can see I added the garlic cloves (peeled) whole, and whatever herbs we got from the farm this week. (I think it was basil and oregano.)

Here is a finished packet, waiting to go on the grill. Note: I spray the inside of the foil with oil just to make sure the food doesn’t stick to it. And I folded down the corner of this packet to distinguish it from the nearly identical packets of potatoes. The potatoes always take the longest to cook.

I will make packets like these with whatever vegetables we have on hand.  Onions make everything taste better.  And then I grill whatever meat/protein accompaniment I pulled from the freezer or was on sale that week.  Tonight it was burgers.

Can I just say that the whole reason I wanted burgers was to eat one with these gorgeous tomatoes on top?
And then, because I am to only tomato-lover around here, I ate the rest of the tomatoes and left the grilled potatoes to them.

Happy eating, friends!

P.S. You can find Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and Weeks 4-6 of the Summer Eats series here.

Summer Eats: Weeks 4-6

So I’m rocking the summer series here.  Our vacation (on which I did NOT cook) threw me off, and the farm’s getting hit with a terrible hail storm threw me off further. Miraculously, we are still receiving food from the farm, so here are some more of our summer meals (though no longer neatly organized by day.)  Click here for week 1week 2 and week 3.

Martha Stewart’s Eggplant Parmesan.  My husband LOVES eggplant parm and swears that this recipe (neatly printed and left on the counter for all to see) wasn’t the world’s biggest hint.  We had some gorgeous eggplants* from the farm, and I used two of them for this.

Lest you think my children are into my cooking, here’s what my daughter texted to my husband as I was making it:


No photo of the actual meal, though it was good (and pretty healthy, since it was baked instead of fried and I went light on the cheese.)

Pork* Carnitas Tacos with pickled onions* and cojita cheese.  These are always a hit, and sometimes (if I pack some of the meat away for the freezer) we have leftovers for a second meal later.  Nothing like freezer meals for making the afternoon go better around here!

Whole Roast Chicken with Lemony Broccoli (I used zucchini* and patty pan squash* because that’s what we had, but I’m sure broccoli would be delicious.)

And then with the leftover chicken, I made a pasta salad with chicken, grape tomatoes*, green beans and a mustard-basil vinaigrette.  (For the vinaigrette, I mix 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tsp honey, half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped finely, 1/4 cup evoo and 3 tbsp red wine vinegar.)

Smitten Kitchen just posted a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan Melts– I haven’t made them yet, but I do have one more eggplant* waiting to be used.  (Don’t tell my daughter!)


Summer Eats: Week 3

This week, the farm sent us zucchini, yellow squash, onions, garlic, Yukon gold potatoes, green beans, cucumbers (regular and lemon), carrots, musk melons, watermelon, Rainier cherries and peaches.  Yum!

So I made:

Monday: zoodles with pesto*, carrots*, cucumbers*, melon*

Tuesday: chicken pot pie (filling from the freezer, topped with cream biscuits), melon* and carrots*

Wednesday: pot roast* with potatoes*, onions* and carrots* and watermelon * and cherries*

Thursday: sesame chicken over rice, steamed green beans*, watermelon*

Product Details

Friday: stacked vegetable quesadillas (from Simply in Season) with zucchini*, onions*, garlic*, spinach, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese in corn tortillas*

Saturday: fried eggs* with potato*-and-vegetable* hash, pork sausage*, melon


Sunday: leftovers

I ate all the peaches* (so greedy!) on my morning oatmeal every day.

If you’re looking for more Summer Eats here are Week 1 and Week 2.  Please share your favorite farm-to-table foods in the comments!

Summer Eats: Week 2

For previous posts in this series, check out Summer Eats, week 1.

Monday: Chicken Fajitas (I slice the meat in thin strips, marinate it in a mixture of chili powder and lime juice in a ratio of 1:2, and stir fry it with red onions* and peppers) with melon*.

Tuesday: Beef Noodle Bowls from Pioneer Woman (I added steamed broccoli* to ours), a beet salad (roasted golden and red beets* drizzled with balsamic glaze and sprinkled with feta cheese) and Special Cake (with zucchini* in it) to celebrate our friend’s engagement. Hooray!
Wednesday: Tacos (it was Takos Tuesday but on a Wednesday). Musk melon* (like a cantaloupe but way tastier) and green beans*.

Thursday: 3 bean salad (with green beans* and hopefully undetected zucchini*) and quiches with our eggs*, and broiled (or grilled works too) apricots* with mascarpone cheese and cinnamon.

Friday: black bean soup with avocado, lime, and corn chips.  Musk melon*.

Saturday: sauteed vegetables (zucchini*, fennel*, green beans*, onions*) over pasta.

Sunday: out for a birthday dinner, and at home: birthday cake!

What’s for dinner at your house?


Summer Eats: Week 1

Our summer CSA deliveries started a month ago, and we’re working to adjust. It’s a change every year, switching from the routine of winter recipes we love (chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti…) to the new and different, based on what’s in season. I love the challenge, and it makes me enjoy cooking again after my winter rut. The kids often don’t love what I serve, but none of them is going to starve, and at least no one complains any more. (More on the why we joined a CSA here and here and here.)

So I thought I’d share here our weekly menu. My links aren’t working right, so no links today. Hopefully I’ll figure that out and link the recipes where I can. Anything with a * was sourced locally.

Oregano I’m drying

Monday: roasted kielbasa and vegetables (beets*, turnips*, zucchini*, and sweet potatoes with fresh oregano*), and kohlslaw (kohlrabi*, red onion, apples and dried cranberries in a little olive oil and cider vinegar.)


Tuesday: sour cherry nut bars (sour cherries* from our neighbor’s tree), frittatas (eggs* from our chickens) and sautéed chard* with bacon*.


Wednesday: spaghetti and meatballs (I didn’t say we were abandoning ship on our standbys). Don’t tell the kids, but I threw an aging zucchini* in the sauce before I put it through the food mill.

Thursday: maple-mustard spare ribs* with turnip* soup and a garnish of bacon* and croutons* and a green salad.


Smoky turnip soup

Friday: fried rice, sliced cucumbers* and a mango-melon-strawberry* salad.

Saturday: a pasta salad with all the leftover vegetables* and meats tossed in.


Sunday: the other pan of sour cherry bars or toast with strawberry* jam. Hamburgers*, oven fries and fresh cherries*.

Please post your local eats in comments (especially any special ways you’ve gotten your kids love all the stronger vegetables!)

5 steps to cooking on vacation without missing out on your vacation


There may come a day when we can eat out all the time on vacation… or there may not, because eating out is not just expensive but often unhealthy.

And yet, the point of my vacation is to do different things than I do at home.  Like lie on the beach, ski, or explore a new city without spending all day making things from scratch and cleaning up after myself.


So, without further ado, here are my five steps to cook on vacation and still be on vacation.

  1. Eat breakfast in.  Our staples are oats (generally affordable no matter where we go), which I will do as a big batch of cooked oatmeal at the beginning of our week, or I will bake into Baked Oatmeal, and then keep in the fridge until we’ve eaten it all.  Some of the children don’t like oatmeal, though, and so I will splurge on cereals I won’t buy at home. (The non-oatmeal eaters think this is awesome.)
  2. Pack a lunch.  If we’re going to be on the ski slopes, I will throw sandwiches and snacks in the backpack.  We still buy (ridiculously expensive) drinks on top of the mountain, but at least I didn’t spend $60 on a lousy lunch for two.
  3. Or, eat lunch out. Lunch for six people can be more affordable than dinner for six people.  And when some of my little people refuse to explore new foods on vacation, it doesn’t kill me pay for a lunch portion of mac & cheese the same way it does to pay for a “dinner” serving. (Okay, I’m lying.  It still kills me to pay $8 for something that came out of a box that cost 99 cents.)
  4. Think ahead.  I like to prepare ahead for a few meals.  For example, I will bring a few recipe cards for simple meals (roasts in the crockpot, pork tenderloin that cooks quickly, or a crockpot Indian chicken dish).  All three of those dishes have complex flavors that make me feel like I’m somewhere exotic and delicious.  I didn’t prepare ahead, there’s no way I would buy 17 spices in tiny jars for one meal, only to throw them away at the end of a week… or try to stuff them in my luggage to bring home.  (Don’t laugh.  I’ve done it, much to the confusion of the TSA.)  But I have all those spices at home, because these are regular meals in our rotation.  So I throw the spices for the rub or for the crockpot into a little baggie, labeled with the recipe, and tuck it in my luggage.  (It helps to make a note on my recipe card to show exactly which part is already included in the bag of spices.  Otherwise: double cayenne, anyone?)
  5. Go out for dessert.  Even a frozen pizza after a day at the beach is special when we walk to the ice cream shop afterwards.


Here are a few of my easy-exotic recipes that are easily made on vacation:

Crock Pot Butter Chicken (butter chicken is an Indian dish made with garam masala- no butter involved)

Bobby Flay’s Dry Rub (this is good on beef, pork or chicken and can go in the crockpot with a little liquid- here are simple directions for that)

Island Pork Tenderloin (this one requires fresh garlic but was so worth it- my kids licked the plates.)

What are your go-to recipes for cooking easily on vacation?