Saturday, July 31, 2010

Minestrone Soup

It's summer, and the veggies are plentiful and cheap!  Zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh herbs are not only available at our local grocery store, but also our co-op and local roadside stands.  (They should all be producing in bushels from our garden, but that's a whole other post.)  What to do with this abundance?  One of our favorite summer meals is minestrone soup, and I have a recipe that is eerily similar to one served at a certain popular national chain Italian restaurant that employed me and Eric as servers once upon a time.  Served with a salad and some crusty breadsticks or focaccia, it can be served as a main course, or it can accompany your favorite grilled meat as a vegetable side dish.  Avere un buon pasto!
Minestrone Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 c. onion, chopped
1/2 c. zucchini (about 1 small one), sliced and quartered
1/2  c. fresh or frozen green beans, cut into 1" pieces
1/4  c. celery, minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 c. broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
2 15-oz. cans white beans, drained
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2  c. carrot, julienned or shredded
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped*
1 T. fresh oregano, chopped*
1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped*
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped*
3 c. hot water
kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
4 c. fresh baby spinach
1/2 lb. small shell pasta, cooked to al dente
*If using dried  herbs, use half the amount of each

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup or stock pot.  Sauté onion, celery, and garlic until softened and onion is translucent.  Add the green beans and zucchini and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add vegetable broth and tomatoes, beans, carrot, herbs, and hot water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add spinach leaves and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Serve with a small scoop of pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  (If you put the pasta into the soup pot, it will expand until all the liquid is absorbed into the pasta, which does not make for good leftovers.  Even the Olive Garden keeps their pasta and soup separate until serving time.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From paper to cloth

Paper napkins, paper towels, paper tissues...these products were regularly on our grocery list at one point in time.  They were so easy, so convenient, and we were so used to buying them that we didn't give their presence in our budget a second thought, let alone what sort of environmental impact they might have had.  But we've incrementally switched to using cloth versions: cloth napkins, cloth diapers and old towels, and cloth tissues (a.k.a. handkerchiefs). 

I still keep a roll of recycled select-a-size paper towels on my kitchen counter for small, quick jobs, but it takes well over a month to go through one roll because I use old diapers and towels for messes and spills now.  And we keep a box of Puffs Plus facial tissues in our main bathroom for guests.  But honestly, I much prefer all of the cloth versions.  Cloth napkins feel so much more elegant and help wipe up spills at the dinner table caused by an energetic four-year-old better than their paper counterparts.  Cloth diapers soak up so much more liquid than paper towels (extremely handy when said four-year-old tries to pour his own milk on the kitchen floor) and clean windows and glass with ease.  Old, ratty towels and washcloths are great for your everyday cleaning jobs around the house.  And when cold season hits, handkerchiefs really do protect one's runny nose from turning into one akin to Rudolph's.

As with many things "green," a case can be made for frugality as well.  We use these napkins, towels, and tissues over and over and over again, and plan to for many years until they utterly fall apart, so we're saving a ton of money.  But we're also doing something responsible for the environment by reducing the amount of paper products produced (which saves trees as well as lakes and rivers from the byproducts of production), in addition to the amount of paper products finding their way into landfills.  Plus, as an added bonus, the performance of the cloth versions far exceeds that of the paper ones.  It's a win-win-win!

These things take time.  We didn't stop using paper for everything in just one day (and we really still haven't) - it happened in baby steps over a few months, maybe even a year.  In fact, there's still one step toward paper reduction that we haven't taken:  toilet paper.  Just the thought of using cloth for that area of life gives me the heebie-jeebies, but we'll probably someday take that step as well.  (I'm hoping that getting back into cloth diapering with this next little one will give me some incentive and motivation.)  So, we still have some changes to make, and when we're ready, we'll take another baby step.

What kind of baby steps are you taking or thinking of taking in regards to paper?


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

R.I.P., Nikon Coolpix 2500

So, our most decent camera died.  Granted, it wasn't all that great compared to today's standards, and was fairly old as far as digital cameras go, but it was with us for some very important and memorable events (China in 2004, the birth of our firstborn in 2006, etc.).  And now it's completely and utterly dead.  It is survived by our Sony Handycam camcorder, which only takes 1 megapixel pictures (blech), but that's better than nothing.  So, for now, look for extremely crappy pictures on this venue and please accept our apologies for any eye-bleeding that incurs. 

Eric & Lisa

With a cherry on top: Our fruit-picking summer

I'm slowly reaching my goal of hitting all the local u-pick fruit this summer and loading up with as much as possible.  (So excited to make that deep freezer work and have cheap fruit all winter at our disposal!)  In early June, we went strawberry picking at a fabulous family-owned organic farm near Plymouth and came home with 14 pounds of plump, sweet berries.  During the first week of July, we went cherry picking for the first time at Lehman's Orchards outside of Niles, Michigan (just 20 minutes away from us), where we picked over 50 pounds of tart cherries and subsequently froze them.  An added bonus from that trip was the 2 gallons of cherry juice that was accidentally squeezed from the pitted berries as they were transported in plastic bags from the farm to our house.  We added a bit of sugar and drank to our hearts' content for almost a week...I miss that juice. Two weeks ago, we brought home 14 pounds of blueberries from The Blueberry Ranch here in Mishawaka.  Last week, my parents gave me a huge bag of peaches from the tree in their backyard, which I peeled, sliced, and froze.  All that's left are raspberries, if I can find a picking farm anywhere nearby (any suggestions, South Bend area residents?), and of course, apples, which we'll pick up at our favorite apple farm on one of our fall trips to Bloomington.  But so far, we're right on track!

What do I plan to do with this abundance of fruit?  The list is practically endless!  Smoothies, pies, cobblers, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal cereal, ice cream, pure snacking on frozen goodness...these only scratch the surface of possibilities for the bags of fruit lining the door of our deep freezer!  We've already enjoyed blueberry-walnut oatmeal, cherry-almond oatmeal, blueberry cobbler, cherry pie, blueberry pancakes, and various versions of breakfast smoothies.  We look forward to raspberry ice cream, peach cobbler, and homemade applesauce.  

All of this fruit-picking has been really good for our family.  Not only have all the fruits been at extremely reasonable prices ($1.25/lb for blueberries as opposed to the $3/pint in the grocery store - hello!), but it's been both satisfying and rewarding to spend time out in the sun together, sweating for our food.  I hope it's helping Ian to have a better understanding of where our food comes from, how it grows, and that what appears on our dinner plates or in our breakfast bowls has a deeper story and that we can have a part in that story beyond our role of consumption. 
Ian and his friend J-man at our early July cherry picking adventure

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oglesbee Odes @ 20 weeks

The news about the new addition to our family never made it onto this particular venue, and for that, we're sorry.  But later is better than never, right?

Meet Oglesbee Gamma:
Gamma is a boy, much to the delight of his older brother, who has all sorts of plans for his little brother and seems to have advanced ideas about how much the little guy will be capable of once he leaves Mommy's tummy.  We're working on it so there's not a huge disappointment when Gamma comes out unable to do much more than sleep, eat, and poop. And no, we're not going to call him Gamma forever -- it's just his name (based on his rank ordering in the family) until he makes his social debut in about 20 weeks, at which point, we'll reveal whatever crazy name we've come up with.

So, 20 weeks have gone and 20 weeks are left.  Here's to hoping the last half is a bit more comfortable than the first half, during which I became very good friends with the, um, porcelain throne, if you will, and spent almost 13 hours a day sleeping.  Now that my energy is returning and food is more appealing to me, I'm looking forward to the rest of this unexpected adventure.  We're halfway there, Baby!

In honor of this occasion, our song for the day is "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi.  Turn up your computer speakers and celebrate with us to some classic power rock on this sunny Friday morning. 

Thursday, July 01, 2010


My goodness, things are dusty around this blog!  A two month's leave of absence seems to have brought out the crickets and cobwebs!  Well, I'm taking today to freshen things up and get things running again.

If there are any readers left out there, you may be wondering what happened.  I, myself, am not quite sure.  It seems to be a combination of a lack of ideas (What do I want to write about?), a lack of focus (What is this blog for, anyway?), and sheer exhaustion (Did I mention I'm almost 20 weeks pregnant?  Oops.). 

At any rate, I have a list of ideas again and a little more energy to go with them, but the focus is still a little unclear.  Is a blog about food, household ideas, and our specific family life too broad in scope?  There are so many good cooking and green/frugal living blogs out there, I feel no need to add my own inadequate offering to the mix. I just don't have the time or plethora of ideas to devote to such a venture.  But I do want to share what's going on with us, what we're learning, and what we've had success with.   I suppose, for today, I'll keep with the general format of what we've had going on, and see what kind of feedback I get.

So, here we go again....