photo by Hey Paul

photo by Hey Paul

I love popcorn. I could eat it several times a week in all its buttery, crunchy, salty glory. It’s low in fat (at least without the butter,) high in fiber, and I can eat what feels like a decadent amount because of its natural volume. I’m a popcorn purist, so it’s just a little butter and salt for me, thank you very much.

My children love it too. I carefully dole out their servings, trying to be generous when I really want to hoard it all to myself.

I used to buy boxes of microwave popcorn, 3 or 6 to a package, and ration it out over the course of a week or two. I bought the low fat or plain because the butter flavor tasted like wax, so I would add my own.

I remember hearing about a guy who loved popcorn even more than me. He would hold the popped popcorn bag to his nose and inhale the freshly popped popcorn aroma. Unfortunately it made him sick. He was also inhaling a chemical called diacetyl, which caused “popcorn worker’s lung.”

Yikes! Turns out, people who had worked in food flavoring or microwave popcorn factories got a lethal, irreversible lung disease just by doing their jobs. It makes me feel ill for ever buying these products! In response to consumer outcry, popcorn makers announced they were reducing the levels of diacetyl.

Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? As a popcorn lover addict, I was on the hunt for something better. Air-popped never tasted as crunchy to me, and I ruined my fair share of pans waiting too long for that last kernel to pop. So when I found a way to pop it in the microwave in less than 2 minutes, it changed my life.

 How to make your own microwave popcorn

Making your own microwave popcorn is convenient and you avoid any strange chemicals. You also eliminate the additional packaging – whiteboard outer box, inner plastic wrap – in packaged microwave popcorn. One big bag of popcorn seeds goes a long, long way, so you can splurge on organic or specialty and still spend less than the prepackaged microwave kind.

You need:

  • Regular, bulk popcorn seeds
  • A package of paper lunch bags
  • Oil

Scoop ¼ cup of popcorn seeds into a paper lunch bag. Add ½ tsp of vegetable oil. Fold the paper bag closed, and fold again. (I use about a ½ inch to an inch fold.) Place in the microwave. Cook for 1:45 MORE OR LESS depending on your microwave. You’ll want to watch it carefully until you figure out the best cooking time. Remove when pops are more than 1 second apart.

Pour into bowl, salt and butter as desired. Enjoy!

I don’t recommend reusing the bag. I believe it is a fire hazard, as is any microwave popcorn bag if you leave it unattended.

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DSC05855

Sometimes I feel a little like Phoebe from “Friends,” where even though she doesn’t like mass-produced items, she really loves the apothecary table Rachel buys from Pottery Barn.

Collections of glass bottles, furniture with patina, vintage-inspired, cozy rooms. I know it’s mass-produced, but I love the look. I just have a hard time buying a brand new item that has been designed to look old. Anyone else remember the Seinfeld episode with the old phone? They were so good with product placements!

I’ve discovered that Appleton has an amazing secondhand market, where I’ve found some Pottery Barn-inspired treasures, saved some money, reused perfectly good items, and spent money at stores committed to good causes. Of course, like Phoebe, sometimes you gotta go for the name brand. If no other window sheers will do, go ahead and get the ones you love.

Collections
Their beautifully photographed rooms always feature collections, some of which are for sale, like apothecary jars or silver frames. Here are some of mine.

DSC05853Glass bottles
I love collecting something that only sets me back 50 cents to a dollar whenever I find one. I use them all over the house to store things like scrapbook supplies, bath salts, or pretty rocks my children find on walks.

 

 

 

DSC05854Mirror collage

I already had the oval mirror, but I found the rest of the mirrors on a few trips to St. Vincent de Paul. The most expensive one was $2.50. I’m still on the hunt for a different oval, and I have a crazy plan to do something similar with frames.

 

 

 

DSC05852Candlesticks
I found this “set” of five at Goodwill. I love the odd number. You could do the same with glass candlesticks.

 

 

 

Patina

DSC05851 Then there’s those things that look old…I love rustic, worn items, like this copper still, which I think was $30 at an antique mall. I was giddy when I saw a similar log holder in the catalog for over $200. (I think we need to add some logs!)

 

 

 

 Can’t fake it, make it

DSC05798 Spray paint transforms just about anything. Some spray paint, beads from Christmas ornaments, and wedding decorations turned an unwanted brass fixture into a chandelier for my daughter.

 

 

I was going to write about something else, but I’ve been obsessing about thrift shops and Pottery Barn ever since I read this post from Melissa @ the Inspired Room. And for more “hawt” ideas using Goodwill finds, check out Thrifty Décor Chick.

How about you? Have any more favorite knock-offs from the thrift shop?

 

photo by Jeff Keen

photo by Jeff Keen

I have a confession to make.

  I am not a food purist.

 After I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, my appetite was shot. I was obsessed with food ingredients and genetically-modified crops. When I read Jane Goodall’s Harvest for Hope, I stopped eating meat for a month. My husband began drooling over sausage commercials. I wanted to save the world; but first, I had to feed my family.

  •  Should I buy the lower-priced organic meat that is 2 hours away, or the local grass-fed meat?
  • Should I buy the large jar of unsweetened applesauce with no high fructose corn syrup that will keep for a month, or out-of-season organic apples that could go bad?
  • What if my friend makes a sandwich for me? Should I ask her where the meat came from, and if it’s ethically-raised? Do I want to be THAT person?
  • Can I afford the organic dairy products, or should I get the locally produced rBGH-free?
  • If we pack a meal for the car in ziplock baggies, is that better for the environment than dinner at McDonald’s?
  • Is it better to serve my children organic frozen vegetables I know they will eat, or chance wasting the bok choi they hated from our CSA?

 I don’t have it all figured out for myself, and I certainly can’t tell you what’s best for you.

 I can tell you this: I will try to give you meal ideas that are sustainable, organic, local, and ethical. Not everything will satisfy all four, because I insist they also be affordable and practical. Those are two vital missing pieces from the sustainable food discussion. If it were cheap and easy, everyone would do it, right? I do what I can, and keep trying to improve.

 I posted a comment recently on a blog, where I got schooled on my imperfect solution to a boxed macaroni meal. It was quick, used less packaging, added fresh cheese and butter instead of powdered cheese, and added real, if frozen, vegetables. I wish I would have mentioned the noodles were locally produced with two, real food ingredients, the cheese and butter were hormone free, and the vegetables were organic. But no matter, others quickly pointed out that the vegetables weren’t local or seasonal.

 They were right. I could do better. We can all do better, but I hope that doesn’t stop us from doing what we can.

photo by Ken Bosma

photo by Ken Bosma

Grass-fed beef may be more expensive than a supermarket meat special, but it doesn’t have to give you sticker shock. Whether you’ve decided to buy grass-fed, pasture-raised beef for environmental, health, or ethical reasons, there are ways to make it more affordable for your family.

  • Craigslist.org
    It doesn’t get any more local than craigslist. Try searching for grass-fed or pasture-raised beef. Local farmers use craigslist to get in touch with consumers, and you can ask all the questions you want. You will need to invest in a deep freezer for most quantities, but buying beef by the side, half, or quarter is a budget-friendly way to purchase a variety of beef. You can also get it custom packaged to what you use. For example, one family uses ground beef in 1 ½ lb. quantities, so they have the processor package it accordingly.
  • Meat CSA
    Community supported agriculture is usually associated with fruits and vegetables, but meat CSAs, also called buying clubs, are becoming more common.
    In a CSA, you get a variety of cuts of what the farmer has available. Some meat buying clubs allow you to choose the cuts ahead of time. Farmers often pass on a discount in exchange for your commitment to purchase meat from them for a certain amount of time. Either way, it’s a good way to get a mix of expensive and inexpensive cuts of meat for a lower price.
    Check eatwild.com for CSAs and buying clubs in your area, or even a simple google search to locate a farm near you.
  • Package pricing
    Many farmers offer package pricing, where you average the cost per pound across the expensive and inexpensive cuts. For example, one farm near me offers packages of 22 lbs. or 54 lbs., including roasts, steaks and ground beef. This is a great way to get to know a farmer and discover what kind and how much meat your family will use. If you don’t see package pricing, you can always ask the farmer to put one together for you, and they may offer you a discount over buying individual cuts.

My family is currently buying meat by the package. I asked an area farm that offered a meat CSA if they would put together packages of whatever the CSA families were getting. We’ve enjoyed a large variety of cuts, and we plan on joining.

What tricks have you found to purchase grass-fed beef for your budget?