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Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

J and I experienced the new documentary Food Inc. a couple of weeks ago, and though I’m not through digesting it enough to share a whole lot of my thoughts here, I can’t not tell you about the Chipotle-sponsored free nationwide screenings of Food Inc happening this week.  If you haven’t yet seen this important film, or if you want to take friends or family members, please check out this link for a list of dates and locations.  Here in Houston, the free showing will be at the Angelika tomorrow night (July 15th) at 7:30 p.m.

I am so glad we saw Food Inc.  It reminded me of what I already knew, opened my eyes to new information, and gave me a major kick in the pants to keep me motivated in pursuing local and sustainable food.  Now, off to the Tuesday afternoon Rice farmers’ market!

(Huge HT to Vicki Powers of Houston on the Cheap for letting Houstonians know about this!)

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After realizing that the Laptop Lunch was too small for J’s needs, I despaired a little, as it’s one of the biggest bento boxes on the market (see my complete review of the Laptop Lunch here).  According to the company, it holds 1400 mL or 3 cups, with each of the two larger compartments measuring 8 ounces and the two smaller compartments measuring 4 ounces each.  When filled according to the traditional bento ratio of 3 parts rice/carbohydrates, 2 parts veggies/fruit, and 1 part protein (all by volume), the box would provide a 1,400 calorie lunch.  That ratio, however, is not what works best for us, and our high vegetable consumption really drops the box’s caloric capacity.  What to do?

I zipped through Whole Foods one day on a Coconut Bliss run, when something shiny caught my eye.  A whole display of stacked, two-compartment, sparkly stainless steel lunch boxes, looking rather like an arsenal of space capsules, waved cheerfully at me.  Oh man.  I try to eschew impulse buys, but I just couldn’t resist this one.  It was big and looked easy to clean.  Bingo!

Here it is in action.

Step 1: fill bottom compartment.  This container is so roomy that I fit a generous portion of mixed baby greens, sliced cucumbers, shredded cabbage, sliced green bell pepper, sliced carrots, shredded organic cheddar, and a portion of homemade vinaigrette (the plastic dressing container is from the Laptop Lunch set).

bottom compressed

Step 2: place stainless steel divider over bottom layer.

bottom with lid compressed

Step 3: pack top compartment.  It doesn’t look terribly appealing, I suppose, but this was actually quite tasty — seasoned brown rice, beef and veggie patty (kind of like meatloaf), and an herbed mushroom sauce.

top compressed

Step 4: slap the lid on top, slide it into its carrier, and fasten it securely.  Doesn’t it look just like a space capsule?

whole compressed

Step 5: when  I manage to remember, I like to add a cloth napkin to the package, and on his workout days, I often slip a Lara Bar in the loop too.

whole with napkin compressed

Cool, right?

Downsides:

  • Can’t be microwaved.  This doesn’t bother us since we try to avoid microwaves and don’t mind eating cold leftovers.
  • Doesn’t fit easily into an insulated bag with an ice pack.  Since J drops his lunchbox in the refrigerator as soon as he arrives at the office, though, this doesn’t affect us.

Upsides (compared to the Laptop Lunch Box):

  • So easy to clean!  And only two compartments!
  • No plastic.
  • Very cool retro look.
  • Large capacity.  That leaves lots and lots of room for vegetables.  Sometimes, I fill up the bottom compartment with cut up veggies and fruit and throw in a small container of peanut butter or hummus.

My great sorrow: It doesn’t have a brand name on it anywhere, I threw away the box, and I can’t find anything just like it online!  How awful is that?  They aren’t carrying it at Whole Foods anymore either.  I plan to ask a manager next time I’m there if they have records of the manufacturer.  I’m sure they do, and I would really like to buy another one.

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It seems I’m not the only one with lunchboxes on the brain.  Apartment Therapy dumped yet another super cool brown bag idea in my inbox this morning.  I suppose it’s the economy.  Everyone wants to save a buck these days and, and taking a bagged lunch is one of the easiest, healthiest ways to save a whole bushel of ’em.  And if you can pat yourself on the back for being green on top of it all, that’s even better.  But how about doing all of that in style?

oots1These lunchboxes by OOTS! marry good looks and practicality better than any I’ve seen so far.  I simply adore that blue and pink combo.  And look how my Klean Kanteen would fit on top!  I love it.  Love, love, love it.

Unfortunately, at $45 each when you by them with the inner lidded compartments (a must in my book), these boxes are a little harder on the budget up front than some other perfectly suitable options (exhibit a: the Laptop Lunch, which I reviewed yesterday).  The only catch is, this one is light years ahead of the Laptop Lunch in the cool quotient department, at least when it comes to adult usage.

oots 2

Oh dear.  I’m not sure I can justify spending the money on it right now, but I really want one.  Birthday fairy?  Santa Clause?  Easter bunny?  Are you listening?

Go check these out at the official OOTS! website. This design team has some really cool baby and child accessories too, by the way.

(Photos are from the OOTS! website.)

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember my anticipation as I counted down the days to Valentine’s this past February.  I bought my husband a pile of gifts and could hardly stand the tension with them sitting wrapped on the table for what seemed like forever.

2009 02 11_0272_edited-1 compressed

Do you know that feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone you adore?  One they aren’t expecting?  One they couldn’t guess even if they tried for weeks?  It’s thrilling and excruciating at the same time.  I begged J to open them early.  He refused, of course, but his reaction was worth the wait.

Perhaps not many husbands would ooh and aah over a new lunchbox, but J did.  He loves taking his lunch to work.  It’s healthier than buying a lunch, it saves us a ton of money, and I also think that it’s a way he feels loved and cared for.  So he was tickled pink to discover that I bought him an Americanized bento box called the Laptop Lunch.

closed laptop lunch box

I’m not sure why he felt compelled to deface his lunchbox with all of those stickers, but — alas! — he did, and sometimes we need to allow our husbands such childish expressions.  Sigh.  (I suppose it’s no secret now where he went to school and where he works.  🙂

Have you heard of bento?  According to Biggie, the author of the wildly popular bento blog, Lunch in a Box,

A Bento lunch is a compact, balanced, visually appealing meal packed in a box. Historically, it’s a Japanese box lunch, similar in concept to the Indian tiffin, the Korean dosirak, or the Filipino baon lunch. In Japanese, “bento” or “obento” refers to the packed meal, and “bento-bako” refers to the bento box itself. See the Wikipedia entry on bento for more details.

The Laptop Lunch contains multiple compartments that keep all of your food separated and even houses utensils.  I call it Americanized for a few reasons.  First, it’s bigger than most Japanese bento boxes.  Second, it’s made in America and contains no BPA, lead, or the other scary things that are coming out of China these days.  Finally, it doesn’t have a Japanese look, though, frankly, I’m a little relieved about that.  The largest authentic Japanese bento box I found online sported the slogan “Pleasure Supply” on top.  Yes, really.  I’m not going to go there, but suffice it to say I thought we might be asking for trouble if J actually toted something like that to work.

Here’s the inside of the Laptop Lunch box:

laptop lunch compressed

Unfortunately, this one of the less visually appealing lunches I’ve packed for him, but I happened to have the camera handy this time.  As you can see, I was able to pack some leftover braised lamb and natural chicken sausage, bell peppers, cucumbers, and potatoes.  The fork and knife are tucked into the slot on the right-hand side.  Because the man burns through so many calories, he also had a little baggie of nuts to go with this meal.

Why I Love the Bento Concept:

  • Bento boxes reduce waste.  No more zippie bags or disposable tupperware!
  • It encourages healthy choices.  The food we make at home is far healthier than almost anything you can buy at a lunch spot.
  • Bento boxes simplify what you carry.  Because I avoided zippie bags, J used to juggle a slew of little glass Pyrex containers on his way to and from work.  Don’t get me wrong; I love my Pyrex, but bento allows me to put it all in one box without all the foods touching each other.
  • No breakage.  Again, better than the Pyrex.
  • It saves money.  Although the boxes are a moderate investment up front (e.g., approximately $23 for the Laptop Lunch), the ability to pack a good, healthy lunch quickly and efficiently every day adds up to major savings over time.
  • I love the idea of making lunch visually appealing.  I think all of our senses are important in our experience of food.  If you want to go the extra mile in this department, there are lots and lots of guides and gadgets out there for making everything from themed lunch boxes to fashioning crabs and octopus out of sausages or piglets out of rice (to see more examples of elaborate bentos, go to Google Images and search for “bento”).  That’s not how I want to spen my time, but I can certainly appreciate those who pour their creativity into their children’s lunches.  I prefer the appeal of different colored fruits and veggies.
  • Compact.  J puts his lunch in the fridge when he gets to work, and taking up less space is definitely desirable.  This is all on top of making it easier for him to tote to and from the office.
  • I find it motivating.  I want to pack lunches for J now.  It’s just plain fun!

Pros of the Laptop Lunch:

  • Made in the USA
  • As safe as plastic can get
  • High quality construction (the plastic is thick and sturdy)
  • Fun to look at, though I do wonder that J never batted an eyelash over the bright purple exterior!  All the fun colors could be a big plus for enticing children to eat healthy lunches.  (By the way, other colors are available at http://www.laptoplunches.com)
  • The size is perfect for older children, women, and men with smaller appetites.  This does depend on what you put in the box, of course.  We try to go heavy on the veggies, and they take up a lot of room without providing many calories.  The picture I showed above has a lot fewer vegetables than we try to eat at each meal, which bothers me.  If your family goes mostly meatless or likes a lot of starches, this size box might be  just right even for dad.  That’s just not how it works in our home.

Cons of the Laptop Lunch:

  • All the tiny compartments can be super annoying to clean all the time.  I highly recommend buying a second set of “innards.”  I caught a sale and was able to do this.  It helps a lot!
  • Too small for really big appetites.  J stands 6’5″ tall, has a naturally high metabolism, and works out on top of it all.  He burns through a lot of calories.  Plus, we like to eat our biggest meals at lunch time, so the Laptop Lunch doesn’t really suit his needs.  He always has to take lots of snacks with him when he uses this box.

Overall, I highly recommend Laptop Lunch boxes.  They are safe, well-constructed, and well-designed.  My only real complaint is the availability of only one size.  I’d love a larger one for my husband, but this size probably works beautifully for most people.

I have since bought something that suits J’s needs even better, so I’ll share about that next time.

Definitely check out the Lunch in a Box blog if you want to learn more about all of this.  I find it all quite fascinating, though I’m happy to enjoy bento at far less sophisticated (and time-consuming!) level.

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I started switching out conventional body care, skin care, and cosmetic products for healthier alternatives long ago, but one major hold-out has been mascara.  It’s my favorite cosmetic by far, and I just couldn’t believe that a healthy one could do the job.  Recently, though, I impulsively added two of the more popular “natural” options on the market, Ecco Bella and Reviva, to my cart while placing an order with Vitacost.  Some persistent eye burning and itching over the previous few weeks nudged me over the edge.

My experience with these products has left me with mixed feelings.  One one hand, I am encouraged that less toxic mascaras can perform really well.  Not only do these mascaras not irritate my eyes, but they really do thicken and lengthen my lashes without clumping.  (I’ve noticed that they perform better after about a week of use than right after opening, by the way.)  I can’t tell a major difference between my old favorite and these new brands.  I can even use multiple coats for a more dramatic effect.  Yippee!

On the other hand, I’m quite annoyed that I didn’t do more research first.  The ingredient lists on these brands are not ideal, dumping both products into the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database’s “moderate risk” category.  Argh.  I like to keep the things I put on my body in the “low hazard” zone, but given that my old favorite mascara rated a 9 out of 10 (yikes!), I’m looking at this as a major step in the right direction.  Now that I’ve had a positive experience with alternative products, I’m willing to go out of my way to seek out purer options.  Since Ecco Bella and Reviva are so much healthier than most drugstore and department store options, and since they’re also easier to find than a lot of healthier brands, they make a great baby step for those of us who can’t quite pry our fingers off that magic wand.  Thus, here are my thoughts on these two brands:

Ecco Bella

Cost: $9.57 through Vitacost; more through retail stores

Risk: 3 out of 10, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (if you’ve never visited this site, I highly recommend doing so; it’s quite an eye-opener)

Pros:
Has a nice mirror on the side of the tube
Lower hazard rating than Reviva
Seems quite resistant to wear and tears (though not at the level of a waterproof product)

Cons:
About twice the price of Reviva
Creates a stiffer, less natural texture than Reviva

Reviva

Cost: $4.59 through Vitacost; more at retail locations

Risk: EWG gives it a 5 out of 10, again naming it a moderately risky product.

Pros:
My lashes feel softer and more natural with this mascara than with Ecco Bella
Resistant to wear and tears
Half the price of Ecco Bella
Washes off more easily than Ecco Bella (I see this as a pro because I don’t want to use eye makeup removers)
Seems to create a little bit more volume and oomph

Cons:
Higher risk rating

Honestly, even though I know I should be using the lower-rated Ecco Bella, I favor Reviva for its softer texture, better results, and easier removal.  Next time around, I’m going to order a product called Ultra Lengthening Fruit Pigmented Mascara by 100% Pure.  A blogger I follow said she found it on eBay and that it’s a dream to use.  Its ingredient list is pristine, so I hope she’s right!

Do you use, or have you ever used, natural mascaras?  What is your experience?  Are there any brands you recommend?

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My new apartment has a ledge over the kitchen sink that’s simply begging for cheerful houseplants.  Combine that with my desire to keep growing fresh herbs after the move, and you can understand why I was so thrilled that The Kitchn blog pointed me to a fabulous Chow article on growing herbs indoors.  The article explains why peppermint, lemongrass, and chives are easiest, while basil and sage are best avoided by the indoor gardener.  The author also details proper watering and feeding protocol, which, as a total gardening nincompoop, I really appreciate.  If you’ve ever wanted to grow herbs indoors, or — from one brown thumb to another — if you’ve ever killed herbs indoors, you might check it out.

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Besides raising safety concerns for ourselves and others, hurricane Ike ruined Justice’s and my plans for a special date night yesterday.  With posts on gardening and its wonderful fruits flooding the blogosphere lately, my increasing interest in eating seasonally (spawned by the farmers’ markets), my mother-in-law’s recent success growing just a handful of spinach plants, and rising grocery costs, I finally had the thought the other day, You know, maybe I’ll plant some tomatoes next year.  I like tomatoes, you see, and the ones at the grocery store are awful, while those at the farmers’ market are expensive.  This isn’t a completely new concept.  Justice and I have both talked about starting a garden, but the conversations so far have been pretty abstract.  This was the first time I felt a real desire to do something.  I think I’m settling more into nesting mode as I approach graduation.  Domesticity is starting to sound really good these days.

This thought then led to another one a few days later, Why wait until next spring to plant something?  I had a point.  Dark, leafy greens and lettuces grow all fall and winter here, and they’re some of my favorite vegetables.  In fact, as much as I love cucumbers, I prefer the winter farmers’ markets to the summer ones.  And my grandpa, who is a fantastic gardener by the way (oh, for his peaches, peas, onions, and tomatoes!), says that kale tastes better after the weather gets cold.  I quickly performed a Google search on “Houston fall gardening” and came up with lots of great information.  Apparently, September is not too late for greens and lettuces.  Hurrah! 

But since I know approximately, oh, nothing about gardening, I scoured the Urban Harvest website for information.  (Urban Harvest is a local non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about organic gardening, supporting school and community gardens, and sponsoring the Bayou City Farmers’ Market, which I think is the best one in Houston.)  Lo and behold, they were offering a beginner’s class on home fruit and vegetable gardening in only two days!  I eagerly called, bought a membership for a very reasonable fee, and registered myself and my husband for the class.  We used some money that we had set aside for our anniversary for the purchase.  We wondered what could be a better gift to ourselves for our anniversary than investing in a new hobby for the two of us to enjoy together?

I have to be realistic about this, of course.  My childhood gardening attempts failed miserably, and as much as I love the idea of gardening, I haven’t generally enjoyed the reality in the past.  However, I love to research, plan, and coordinate; I think gardening makes all the sense in the world; and I adore cooking with fresh ingredients.  Plus, I’m trying to keep an open mind.  My husband, as it turns out, hates research and planning but really enjoys working with his hands outside.  I think we might make a good team for gardening success.  Who knows?  We’ll start small this year and work our way up if all goes well.

For the moment, I’m most excited about the opportunity to spend time learning something new together.  Learning together thrills me because it always produces the best conversations!  I enjoy my husband so much.  Yes, I think this will be a fun little adventure for our marriage.  Maybe it will grow into a life-long hobby we’ll enjoy for the next fifty years together.  Or maybe in fifty years we’ll look back, shake our heads in amazement, say, “What were we thinking?!”, and tell our grandchildren all about our young folly.  Either way, I think gardening is bound to produce memories we’ll treasure.

Hurricane Ike will pass soon, and then Urban Harvest will reschedule the class.  I look forward to sharing our experiences here. 

What do you think of gardening?  Have you always loved it, or was it an acquired taste?  How did you learn about it?  From your parents?  Classes?  Books?  Do you have any tips for newbies?

(This post is a part of Frugal Friday, a blog carnival at Biblical Womanhood.)

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