Monday, January 31, 2011

thredUP Offer from Totsy

Totsy is offering a great deal on Pro Memberships to thredUP: FREE + a $5 credit towards your first purchase! Doesn't get much better than that, right?
What is thredUP? It's a swap site for moms to swap their kids' gently used clothes/toys with other moms! Moms (or dads) put together "boxes" of their items their children can no longer wear and list them on the site. Pick a box you like, pay $5 plus shipping, and have it sent to your house. In return, put together your own box. When it's picked, ship it for no cost to yourself.

I've never personally tried thredUP, but it looks promising! Wyatt grows out of his clothes so fast that it's almost physically painful to pay full price for something that he'll only wear a few times. I definitely plan on trying out thredUP (I've already gotten my deal from Totsy) and I'll post a review here when I've picked a box and received it.

Other great baby/kid-related sites (reposted):

Other invitations to various deal sites (reposted):

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No-Heat-Required Bento

(Sorry for the less than stellar picture. I managed to snap just one before my camera battery died!) 

A bagel with thinly sliced chicken, lettuce, and red pepper hummus. An "apple" made from red sweet pepper, chicken, and sesame seeds for garnish.
More of the hummus on the side with strips of orange and yellow sweet pepper.
Mung bean sprouts sauteed in a little sesame oil, with pepper and sesame salt to taste.
Grapes and a baby gala apple for dessert.
I know, I know. Just the word "mung" is enough to make the sprouts sound completely unappetizing. They're not though, I promise!

This is a great bento to eat a room temperature, which is how bento lunches are traditionally eaten. I have access to a microwave both at work and school, but I think it's easier to plan and prepare a bento knowing you won't have to use one. Of course, if the weather stays rainy for the rest of the week, I may be rethinking that sentiment...
I also hope this bento will keep me going until I get home. The bentos I've been packing as of late have been filling at the time, but I'm starving by the time I get home around 6:00. I may start bringing a snack as well.
Hope everyone enjoyed their lunch as much as I did!

- Mother Nature Mom

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Ponyo, Ponyo little fishie in the sea!" Bento

I think I may have found my favorite place in the world.

Actually, make that two places. Recently, Kenny and I went to The Fresh Market in Macon. It's just up the street from the Starbucks that I used to work at, and I could kick myself for never going in before! I was able to find lots of Japanese cooking ingredients that Kroger doesn't carry, such as ponzu and mirin. (Their Asian section is actually pretty small, but it's packed with lots of neat stuff.) The fresh produce section is quite impressive, as is their bakery and coffee selections. I think The Fresh Market will have to be added to our round of stops the next time we go to Macon!

On Monday, Wyatt and I drove to Warner Robins with my parents to shop at Hobby Lobby, the greatest place on earth. (Seriously, it's in my top three with The Fresh Market and Target.) It truly is a magical place. It's a good thing Monday was a holiday; if I'd been able to put my check in the bank, it would have come right back out. Note to self: do not go to either of these places without the intention of spending some money!

My only purchase from Hobby Lobby was a set of tiny food cutters to use in my bento-making. It was actually very hard to choose just one set as they had lots to pick from. They also had a pretty decent selection of silicon baking cups, which are good for bento as well. If I wasn't waiting for some to come in the mail (ahem, get on it Japan), I would have bought a few. I decided to use my new cutters for today's bento...

It's a Ponyo bento!

Don't know Ponyo? It's a delightful animated movie by Studio Ghibli (of My Neighbor Totoro fame) featuring a little fish who wants to be a human girl. The American title is shortened from the Japanese, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. I've probably watched it at least five times on Netflix. The English dub features the voices of Liam Neeson, Kate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, and Betty White. It's available to watch instantly from Netflix - I highly recommend it!

Anyway, this bento features a mini Ponyo hamburger. (I made her eyes too close together, but I still think it's recognizable as Ponyo.) Her hair and fins are pieces of apple, and her eyes and facial features are pieces of potato. There's also some roasted rosemary potatoes and a ham flower. Why? Because "Ponyo wants ham!" Mango slices are tucked in the corner for dessert.

I might give myself a bento break tomorrow. I'm in the mood for sushi, and there's a great little Japanese restaurant within walking distance of campus. They even sell restaurant-style bento lunches! I might have to snap a picture or two to show you all...

- Mother Nature Mom

Banana Walnut Bread + recipe

3 bananas, mashed
¼ c. melted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
½ c. walnuts, chopped (could use pecans instead)

Mash bananas first. It's easier to add the other ingredients this way. Try to use bananas that are overripe with some brown splotches on the peel. Bananas that are green or just ripened will be difficult to mash.

Combine everything in a large bowl and pour into a lightly greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees (325 if you're using a glass pan) for 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick - if it comes away clean, the bread is done. So simple and easy! And so delicious! I recommend it with a big cup of coffee...

- Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Day of the Semester Bento

Are you glad to be back in school? Yeah, me either...

Leftover Tuscan chicken and whole wheat penne pasta in a lettuce "cup"
Edamame, star fruit, kumquats, and a very sad attempt at an apple bunny

I wound up taking a very quick picture outside (where it is 30 degrees, by the way) because the lights were out in the break room in the Arts & Sciences building. Don't know why...? Oh well. Natural light is better anyway.

I want to do a full-fledged Year of the Rabbit bento when my new bento supplies come in (because, yes, I bought more). The apple bunny was mostly for practice. Looks like I could use a bit more...

It's absolutely freezing outside. No outdoor lunch today, or for awhile. There's still some residual snow/ice on the ground around campus. Milledgeville was hit harder than Dublin in Snurricane 2011. (Snurricane? Snow-cano? Snow-nami? I'll stop.)

Is it Spring yet?

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Who would have thought that making homemade laundry detergent would be so easy?

I went the really easy route - I made a powdered detergent instead of a liquid one. Lazy? Maybe. Time saving? You bet!

1 bar soap, such as Ivory, Zote, or Dr. Bronner's
1 1/2 cup borax
1 1/2 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)

Finely grate the entire soap bar into the container you plan to use for your detergent. Add the borax and washing soda. Mix well. Use 1 Tbsp per load (2 Tbsp if you're washing cloth diapers.)

That's it. Seriously.

I used an empty, cleaned applesauce jar for my detergent. A large, empty yogurt tub would work well, too. The scoop is from a can of formula. It's the perfect size since it measures out to be very close to a tablespoon.

(Pardon the glare.)

I found all of the ingredients at my local Kroger. The borax and washing soda was in the detergent/cleaner aisle, and the Dr. Bronner's soap was in the Natural Goods section. Ivory, Zote, and other similar soaps would be near the borax and washing soda. Dr. Bronner's is an all-natural alternative that I found to be highly recommended on several other blogs while doing research. Plus, it comes in so many different scents! Tea tree oil, peppermint, lavender... the list goes on and on. I bought almond, because I'm a little nutty about almond. (Ok, I'll stop now...)

All in all, I paid about $11-$12 for my ingredients, but I still have plenty of borax and washing soda left over to make at least two more batches of laundry detergent. That price beats the pants off the store-bought stuff any day!

For a liquid laundry detergent recipe, visit my friend Sarah's blog, NaturalFor.

- Mother Nature Mom

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Freezer Cooking: The Planning Stage + easy Asian marinade recipe

I had every intention of going to the grocery store today, but it didn't happen. It was raining and dreary outside all day long. Plus, I'm still nursing a cold that I seem to have picked up after eating at my parents' house a few days ago. (Thanks, Mom!) So, I took the opportunity to make a list for everything I'll need for my Freezer Cooking Day.

Keep in mind, I plan on doing a very small FCD. Some people cook enough to last their families for an entire month (hence "once-a-month cooking") - and I'm talking breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I'm not that ambitious, and my freezer is not that big. And since this is the first time I'll be attempting a FCD, I'm going to start small.

I reevaluated my "to-make" list after looking in my cabinets and freezer, and based on Kenny's requests. As of right now, I'll be making:

Kenny's Mom's Spaghetti Sauce X2 (at least)
Asian marinated chicken and shrimp (using a marinade recipe found at Life as Mom)
Chicken Casserole X2 (using my friend, Kat's, recipe)
Mini burgers for bentos (using a recipe from the Just Bento cookbook)

MoneySavingMom has great printable worksheets to use for FCD. They make it simple to figure out what's already in your pantry/freezer, brainstorm recipe ideas, and shop for additional ingredients. There's also plenty of room for notes, and an additional page to write out prep work.

Here's what my lists look like. (Can you see my new Just Bento cookbook? And Kenny's Alton Brown cookbook?) There's another printable sheet to write out recipes, but I already have mine printed on index cards.

I gave the Asian marinade a trial run tonight for dinner, just to see if it we'd want it again. It was delicious! I deviated slightly from Life As Mom's recipe, because I didn't have any sesame oil on hand:

7 Tbsp rice vinegar (mine is basil and oregano infused)
3 Tbsp soy sauce (I used lite)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup oil (I used olive oil)

The original calls for a tablespoon of sesame oil, which probably kicks up the Asian-ness a bit. I compensated with an extra tablespoon of the rice vinegar. I marinated three fairly large chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag in the fridge overnight, then cooked them on top of the stove. They stayed very moist and tender. I served them alongside whole wheat penne pasta and corn. Pretty delicious.

I'm planning on grocery shopping tomorrow, weather and illness permitting. It's time to see what this freezer cooking business is all about!

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Freezer Cooking: The Introduction

Am I really crazy enough to do this? Guess so.

Freezer cooking, or once-a-month cooking, is when a crazy lady (i.e. me) decides to cook A LOT of food all at once, not eat ANY of it, and then stash it in the freezer to eat at a later date.

Ok, so that's not the entire story. But that's basically what I've gotten myself into.

I've considered doing a freezer cooking day for quite some time. I thought it sounded great last semester when I was up to my ears in papers and books and finals. Of course, that was not the time to attempt to do freezer cooking in any capacity, so I decided to put it off until I had a break from school. Since one of my New Year's resolutions is to be more organized, I thought it would be the perfect time to attempt freezer cooking! The idea is to prepare, at least in part, several meals for future use at the same time. This cuts down on cooking and prep time since you're cooking/preparing multiple meals at once. It also cuts down on the stress of having to prepare dinner, especially if it's on a school day. And, if planned correctly, it can save a ton of money.

Interested yet?

With the help of Money Saving Mom and Life As Mom, two wonderful blogging ladies with lots of freezer cooking days under their belts, I think I might be able to pull this off.

The Food:

Kenny's Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
My Mom's Meatloaf
Lawnmower Taco
Lots of marinated chicken and shrimp

Eventually, I'd like to do cookies and muffins as well, but I think I have enough to deal with for the time being.

So, what are some of your favorite meals? I'm willing to try them out and give them a freezer cooking day seal of approval! Especially if it involves chicken, 'cause I have a lot of chicken...

- Mother Nature Mom