Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Broccoli Soup for the Soul

Lately we've been in a broccoli phase - pasta with broccoli (delish!), raw broccoli, steamed broccoli... the days have gotten a bit colder here so I decided to experiment with broccoli soup. Yum!

The only thing is, I'm not much of a fan of cream. Cream of broccoli sounds heavy and not so good for a curl-up-on-the-couch evening (like many winter/spring evenings). So here's my super easy and yummy recipe for a...

Not-too-Creamy Vegetarian Broccoli Soup (vegan option included)

1 large carrot
1 onion (white for a sweeter flavor or red for a stronger flavor)
1 head of broccoli
1 cube vegetable broth (make sure it doesn't have glutamate in it!)
3/4 cup your favorite unsalted butter (or butter alternative, like Earth Balance)
2 heaping spoonfuls of heavy cream (or 3 spoonfuls of soy or almond milk)
3 heaping spoonfuls of flour
olive oil
salt and pepper
(optional: garlic clove - remove before pureeing)

1. In a pot with one half liter of water, add the cube of vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

2. Place the butter, chopped onion, carrot and broccoli in a pan and sautée for 5-7 minutes. Take off heat and put in three heaping spoonfuls of flour while the mixture is warm, stirring it thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the cream (or soy/almond milk) to the vegetable broth, then pour the vegetables in. Cover the pot and let sit on low to medium heat for 10-15 minutes to simmer.

4. With a hand mixer, puree the mixture in the pot until it reaches a desired texture.

5. Take off heat, stir thoroughly, add a dash of olive oil and serve to two hungry (or three not-so-hungry) friends.

There are our two bowls of soup in the big white mugs (and homemade croutons in the middle!)

Happy cooking!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Biodegradable Shoes, Oh My!

I've been hearing rumors about biodegradable shoes for quite some time now, but haven't (until recently) done any due diligence to find out who makes them, what they're made of, and how I can get my hands on a pair or two. From what I've learned, biodegradable shoes aren't very common, but some major players in the shoe market are starting to catch on to the "green" trend (for better or for worse, let's just hope this is a trend that doesn't go out of style!).

So, the main question... why biodegradable shoes? 

For starters, we've become a culture that no longer fixes something when it's broken, we often find it easier to replace it. When it comes to the possibly billions of shoes thrown away each year around the world, we often forget what happens to these shoes after they depart our curb. Some are incinerated, but those that remain could sit for some 1,000 years before they would biodegrade. A thousand years! That's how long it takes rubber and plastic to break down, that means that shoe would live long after our generation and that of nine further ones. Why should we create such a burden for our environment?

... But won't they melt on my feet or something?

No, not even close. In order to biodegrade, shoes would need ideal conditions in order to start the process - water will not do the trick. Biodegradable shoes would break down completely in roughly 20 years, so you've got plenty of time to wear them out. (Let us not forget, our bodies are biodegradable as well but we do just fine under sun and water!)

I've found some great (and cute!) shoes that deserve looking into!

Form & Fauna's shoe production uses organic cotton, hemp, and charmeuse/hemp blended fabrics for their stylish shoes, water-based glues and scrap wood for heels, wedges, and platforms. Their collections are handcrafted in the USA! They do use a little rubber, so these shoes may not be totally biodegradable.
Form & Fauna's Sunset Wedge in Bluejay (with cork wedge heel)

Simple shoes has started making eco-friendly shoes, These men's Gummy shoes combine organic-washed cotton uppers, a removable recycled footbed, recycled PET laces and an outsole made of recycled carpet padding - what a good-looking shoe!

Brooks shoes give athletes of all kinds a way to do their part. They state,
Among our proudest achievements is the creation of the BioMogo midsole, one of the sporting goods industry’s most exciting environmental innovations ever. Traditional midsoles made of Ethylene Vinyl Acetate™ (EVA) are one of the least biodegradable shoe components, lasting up to 1,000 years in a landfill. We added a non-toxic, natural additive to our MoGo compound that encourages anaerobic microbes to munch away once the material hits an active, enclosed landfill. A five-year study found that BioMoGo degrades 50 times faster than the standard midsole in anaerobic conditions, and will save 29.9 million pounds of landfill waste in roughly 20 to 25 years. BioMoGo made its debut in the Trance™ 8 in 2009, and by 2010, was available in most of our men’s and women’s performance running shoes.
Last, but most certainly not least is OAT. This company really put some thought into their shoes - and the afterlife of their shoes! Not only are they cute and biodegradable, but if they end up underground... they sprout wildflowers! That's right. Seed packets are located in the tongue of the shoe and an instructional packet is included with how to plant your shoes (!).
What we do, what we say, what we make, use or throw out has an impact, however big or small. Every day you can choose what that impact is going to be. - Sprout's website

Remember, most natural fibers (cotton, hemp, etc) are biodegradable. Make sure you look at the material contents of shoes before purchasing to make sure you're not only making the best decision for your feet but for the environment as well.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What to do With Leftover Wrapping Paper

The holidays are over and not only do you have a fridge full of leftover food but you've probably got a lot of wrapping paper too, from gifts you've received.

So, what can you do with leftover wrapping paper?

1) Recycle it. Make sure to remove the tape or other items that might impede the recycling process. (Remember, some paper is dyed, laminated and/or contains non-paper additives like glitter and plastics which cannot be recycled.)

2) Save it for next year. If your wrapping paper isn't ripped up, it can be reused again!

3) Shred it. Shredded paper is often used as puppy and kitten bedding in animal shelters. Call your local shelter to see if they'll accept your shredded paper as bedding!

4) Pack it. Use crumpled or shredded wrapping paper to pack fragile items away for storage (like Christmas ornaments!) or when sending items through the post.

5) Litter! It's not what you're thinking... some papers can be turned into kitty litter. Here's a tutorial! 

6) Compost it. Some papers can be composted (note: glossy, heavily inked papers cannot) - here's how

7) Get crafty. Plenty of decoupage and paper mache projects can come directly from your used wrapping paper!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wrap it Up!

The holidays are just around the corner, and I'm sure that just like us you've got a mound of presents that are just waiting to be wrapped and put under your tree. My thought this holiday season is: how do I not contribute to the wasteful use of paper? Last year I remember passing by trash bins overflowing with wrapping paper after Christmas, telling myself that I would find more creative ways to wrap my gifts. It seemed like a sad after-effect of the holidays - to boot, most gift wrapping can't be recycled, and those that can be recycled generally aren't. According to, if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

So, reused materials. I've found some great ways to wrap of those gifts in style to make them the prettiest and most eco-friendly presents under your tree.

Wrap it with fabric! Perfect for smaller gifts, especially jewelry boxes.  Remember, fabric can also come from old tee-shirts or sweaters.
A doubly-useful gift? Use a scarf!
Maps! They're colorful and fun. Try comics and newspaper too!

And make your own bows! If you have leftover wrapping paper or even just old magazines, you can create these beautiful bows very easily!

Here's a tutorial on how to make these super cute spiky bows

And one on how to make the "standard" bow  

If you must use wrapping paper, please make sure it's recycled. Here's some tips on wrapping paper from Earth 911.

Happy wrapping!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Have a Successful Etsy Shop!

Do you want to make a little extra money selling your awesomeness? Or do you already have an Etsy (or other crafty site) shop and need a few extra tips to help encourage sales? I've put together a few ideas to help both beginners and those who need a little push in the right direction.

Determine what it is that you do well. Do you knit? Are you a photographer? Maybe you make miniature buildings perfectly to scale, screen-print tee shirts, make pins, birdhouses, wire sculptures, jewelry; everything has a market! If you lack ideas, look online for help to get you started (Pinterest is an AWESOME place for inspiration!). If you have more than one crafty hobby, pare it down to just one - for now - to make starting easier.

Perfect your craft. Use your own items for a few weeks to see if they have any flaws, and you can also loan out or give away some to friends and family for them to do the same. If you find any flaws in your product, remake or fix the product and try the process again. You want to make sure that when customers purchase your product that they’re getting the best quality for their money (and of course that they become repeat customers and leave good reviews!)

Take pictures of your items. If you’re a great photographer or have an eye for a good photo, you can take your own photos. If not, recruit a friend or even outsource the job; good visual representations of your products are essential! If the pictures don't truly match the colors of the product, try different lighting to accurately capture it (natural sunlight is best). No camera phone pictures allowed!

Write great descriptions of your products. Make sure you add how they were made, the materials used, their size, etc. Don’t leave any detail out! Some potential buyers won't be motivated to contact you for additional information, and may just move on to a similar product <-- no good!

List them for sale. There are many online marketplaces that allow individuals to sell their art: ArtFire, BuyHandmade, Dawanda, Folksy, Etsy (the largest), Craftster, Coriandr, Misi, All Things Original – the list goes on and on (expect to pay a small listing fee and/or a percentage of the sale price to the site).

Market your products. Put your social media skills to use – share the link to your online store on facebook, set up a twitter account to spread the news of new additions to your site, start a blog linking to your site, even kickoff the opening of your online store by doing a feature on a popularly read blog or website including a giveaway.  Get people talking (and retweeting, sharing, etc.)!

Give stuff away. Sometimes having your items in an auction gift basket for your favorite charity can be a great way to spread your store name. Even just one item every few months can bring you more customers over time. 

Communicate with your customers. When you start making sales, make sure to send a small note to your customer saying “thank you!” and marking the item as “shipped” as soon as it is in the mail. Also ensure to leave positive feedback for your buyers (assuming it was positive) welcoming them back in the future. If you fail to receive feedback on a sold item, follow up with a message to the buyer asking them if they’ve received the product and if everything is okay. Great customer service is key!   

Spread out. Create some business cards with your shop web address and contact information and look for local art/craft fairs and shows, festivals, etc. where you could potentially sell your products. If the cost of having your own booth or table is too costly, try finding another crafter (or two!) that might be willing to split the table with you. Additionally, try contacting locally-owned stores who might be interested in carrying your product for a percentage of the sales.

Want to SUPER kick-start some sales online? Look for those who have "liked" your items, added your shop to their favorites or previously bought your products and send them a coupon (online) for x% off any item in your shop. 

Good luck and happy crafting!

Picture credits: Clancy Ratliff, Gordon Hatton