Posts Tagged ‘food’

Ginger Whiskey Cocktail

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014


A couple years ago one of my co-workers brought in a few cans of ginger ale along with a box of saltine crackers to ease an office full of upset stomachs – we were all miserable with the flu. I’d never tried it before – but a few sips later my tummy felt a bit better and I was hooked. Ginger ale is a staple ingredient for lots of my favorite cocktails, I use it in my brunch punch and it goes really well with spiced apple whiskey, too. I brought home a four pack of Bruce Cost Unfiltered Ginger Ale a couple of weeks ago and I can’t stop drinking it. It’s more spicy than it is sweet and you get little chunks of fresh ginger in each sip. Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with recipes and loved the way it tasted paired with honey whiskey.


Ginger Whiskey Cocktail, serves one

Ginger Ale
2 oz. Honey Whiskey
Lemon Juice

Add ice to your glass and fill halfway with ginger ale. Add 2 ounces of honey whiskey. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into your drink and save a slice for the garnish. Stir well and top off with ice and ginger ale.



P.S. Check out this post for a list of bar cart essentials and tips for stocking your bar cart on a budget.

Our Favorite Champagne Cocktails

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I can’t believe Christmas is over! Soon, we’ll be counting down – 3..2..1..2014! You’ll need a festive, fizzy drink to toast the new year. As promised in last week’s post, I’m back to share a few of the Wilderness Girls favorite champagne cocktails. Make one the signature drink for your New Years Eve celebration, or set out a variety of fruits (pomegranate seeds, strawberries, raspberries, clementines) and let your guests design their own champagne cocktail.


Jenny’s Pick: Peach Bellini

6 oz. Prosecco
3 oz. Frozen Peach Purée
Peach Slices (for garnish)

Combine prosecco and peach puree in a chilled champagne glass. Garnish with peach slices.


Rachael’s Pick: Prosecco with Fruit
adapted from an Italian Bella Vita Recipe

6 oz. Prosecco
2-3 Clementine Slices
Pomegranate Seeds

Place clementine slices and pomegranate seeds in a champagne glass. Pour prosecco over fruit.


Christina’s Pick: Brunch Punch

6 oz. Champagne
3 oz. Orange Juice
Splash Ginger Ale
Splash Grenadine
1 Maraschino Cherry (for garnish)

Pour champagne into mason jar; add orange juice and ginger ale. Slowly add grenadine and garnish with a maraschino cherry.


Kitchen Essentials with Chef Jacob: Dried Herbs

Monday, December 16th, 2013


Over the years working in kitchens I have learned a few things that can be useful to cooks at home too. Having the right kitchen tools is akin to a mechanic having a well-stocked tool box. Sure, a good mechanic can do a lot with a roadside emergency kit, but in the garage, with the tools of the trade, it is a whole other thing. The same goes for chefs.

Dried herbs are one of the most basic tools a chef uses to build flavor in dishes. Dried herbs get a bad rap with some foodies, who swear by using fresh herbs to flavor their favorite recipes. It’s true that fresh herbs can add a wow factor to your meal, but don’t be so quick to rule out your favorite herb’s dried counterpart. In addition to packing a large amount of flavor in a smaller portion, they’re economical, versatile and more accessible than most fresh herbs.

* Economical — Dried herbs are far less expensive than fresh and they last a lot longer. Fresh herbs are great too, but sometimes a little packet of fresh goes for more than $3 for a small package, and the leftovers die in your crisper drawer. That only has to happen one time to make dried a better deal.
* Versatile — Dried herbs hold up well to high heat and heavily acidic foods. If you use fresh herbs at the beginning of a dish that’s going to be sautéed, braised or simmered for a long time, the herbs will break down and can even become bitter. Dried herbs can take the heat and allow flavors to blend as the food cooks.
* Accessible — Dried herbs are always in season. There’s no such thing as not being able to get dried dill for your tatziki sauce in February. Dried herbs give us the opportunity to use the flavorings we want to use whenever we want to use them.

There are a couple of down sides to choosing dried herbs over fresh. The spice aisle has lots of really great things, but you have to buy a whole jar of the spice. If you need just a few bay leaves why should you have to pay for a whole bunch at once? You really want to buy just what you can use. There was a spice rack in Rachael’s grandmother’s kitchen that hung there for about thirty-five years, right above the stove where heat, moisture and time could have their way with the contents. The day it came off the wall for the last time some of those jars still had their original contents inside. Technically it is true that spices last a long time, but I wouldn’t have reached for that spice rack on a schoolyard triple-dog-dare.

How can you save money and avoid a “Mamaw’s spice rack” situation in your kitchen? Buy only what you need and will use, of course. Rachael likes trying new herbs, spices and blends from the bulk food section at the grocery. I’m a huge fan of Tampico spices sold in pouches in the Mexican food aisle. They’re high quality, inexpensive and sold in small enough packages that you can use them up and replace them before they ever have a chance to get old.

There you have it: dried herbs are a useful and important part of your kitchen arsenal. I’ll leave you with a few pro tips for making the most of your dried herbs.

Dried Herbs: Pro Tips

* Store ‘em right – seal ‘em tight! Dried herbs do best in airtight, light proof containers away from the heat of the oven moisture of the cook top.
* Use dried herbs at the start of a meal and fresh herbs to finish & garnish.
* Never dump dried herbs directly from the jar into the pan. Adding dried herbs by hand gives you the opportunity to crush them up to release the flavor and keeps the container away from the steamy pan to protect your herbs from moisture. This also protects from the cooking bloopers that can happen when you forget there’s no shaker-top on the spice jar and accidentally dump 4 tablespoons of herbs into your pan.
* Herbs can be toasted to bring out aromatic oils. To do this, add your herbs to a cold, dry pan and heat to medium while moving and swirling the herbs in the pan. You’ll know it is done when the herbs are fragrant. Important: If you decide to do this, you must watch your herbs like a hawk. No multi-tasking. No goofing off. Herbs can tell if you look away even for a moment and they will burn to spite you.

Do you have ideas for storing and using dried herbs? Maybe you have a favorite spice blend or local spot to get great spices. Continue the conversation by commenting below.

Please Pass the Salt

Monday, November 25th, 2013


Thanksgiving is right around the corner. In fact, it’s in 4 days and you should probably be thawing your turkey by now!

The impending holiday got me thinking about cooking which got me thinking about salt because we brine our turkey every year. Most days we don’t give any thought to it, but salt is an essential nutrient for humans and there are a whole bunch of different types out there to choose from, many of which I have never tried before.

We had a canister of La Baleine Fine Sea Salt and a box of Morton’s Kosher Salt in the cabinet but I knew there were more options and I wanted to taste and see them for myself. My first stop was one of my favorite spots, the bulk foods section of my local natural food store. There I found pink Himalayan salt and smoked sea salt. My next stop was Cost Plus where I purchased Fleur de Sel and Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt.

My husband Jacob is a chef by training & trade, so I asked him to join me for this culinary experiment. We lined up all of the salts and tasted a few grains of each and then cleared our palates by drinking water. Our first thought — they’re all salty.  For the most part the tastes were the same but there were important differences in each variety’s intensity, size and crystal texture. Some were subtle and others were bold. Some lingered on the tongue while others faded more quickly. We were intrigued to see how one thing could be so similar and so different at once.

Sea Salt: (not pictured) I see sea salt as a replacement for table salt. The iodized table salt that may be in the back of your pantry right now is chemically altered and filled with anti-caking agents. Technically it is salt, but it’s a lot of other things too and if you ask me “tasty” isn’t one of them. If you find you have some lurking in your kitchen, use it for salt paintings, but don’t eat it. Get yourself some fine sea salt instead.

Kosher Salt: This is the workhorse, the salt of chefs at work and at home. Kosher salt has large grains, which lead to even distribution of salt on the food, slower melting and more flavor. Kosher salt does the trick for rimming your margarita glass – no need to buy pricey “margarita salt” when this is what likely rims the glass in your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Himalayan Pink Salt: The most mild of the salts we tasted. I’ve heard that the chemical balance in pink salt is quite close to that within the human body and while I didn’t find any hard data to confirm that in my research for this post, I am inclined to believe it because this salt tastes just like tears.

Fleur de Sel: One of the most famous salts in the world, this large-crystal grey salt is “farmed” from the ocean in France. The grains are enormous, and have a clean salt taste while still being mild. This is a beautiful finishing salt for when you want to see the grains of salt on the plated food. Great for desserts, it would impart a really nice balance sprinkled on cupcakes, caramel or flan. Fleur de Sel was Jacob’s favorite.

Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt: This salt is harvested from the ocean and mixed with the red alaea clay that is only found in Hawaii. The clay brings an earthy taste to balance the sharp saltiness of coarsely ground crystals. Hawaiian Alaea was my favorite of the group and I imagine it would make the best soft pretzels ever. This is another one that would hold up really well as a finishing salt or make a strong impression on the edge of a margarita glass.

Smoked Sea Salt: Jacob and I are calling this one a novelty salt. It would be good shortcut if you’re looking for a smoked flavor but don’t have the time or equipment to actually smoke the meat. The smoke flavor was very strong and, in my view, overshadowed the salt with an almost ashy aftertaste. This one is pretty unpopular in our kitchen and I won’t be buying it again.

A word of advice on seasoning with salt from Chef Jacob:

The first thing they teach you on the first day of culinary school is to wash your hands properly. The second thing they teach you is how to use salt to build flavor. That’s how important it is. If you start a dish with olive oil, onions and garlic in a sauté pan (and you should start many dishes this way) the next thing you reach for should be kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper — not that stale gray pepper dust in the tin, fresh cracked pepper. Next, you add in your other ingredients, tasting and seasoning as you go, building up the flavor layer by layer. Keep tasting and seasoning as you work so you don’t get too much of something. Remember you can always add but you can’t subtract.

Want to learn more? The most helpful guide I found online is this Sea Salt & Gourmet Salts Guide from It’s a breakdown of the major types of salt and what they’re typically used for. Please leave a comment below if you think there’s a salt I missed that I need to try. Happy Thanksgiving!

Christmas Cookie Swap

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I love Christmas baking. I love the new recipes and the tried and true recipes. I love everything about the sweet aromas and time-honored family traditions. That is until I’m three batches into the fifth recipe and I hit the wall, cracked-out on sugar and surrounded by spilled flour and soiled Kitchen Aid parts. I want to provide Santa a bountiful arrangement but I don’t have the patience to create so many different varieties of cookies. What is a Wilderness Girl to do?



Enter the Cookie Swap. The cookie swap is a brilliant event for which each participant bakes several dozens of one type of cookie to exchange with other bakers. You choose your favorite recipe and mass-produce one type, and at the swap, you receive a wide selection of cookies in return. All the variety with none of the hassle of testing and buying ingredients for a bunch of different recipes. The beauty of a Cookie Swap is that it can be as relaxed or as fancy as you want it to be. It can be a small swap between just a few friends, or it can be a bigger group with friends of friends who you’re meeting for the first time. You can do a ballot for cookie superlatives such as best cookie, easiest recipe and most unique, or you can just appreciate each cookie on its own. Whatever you choose will be fun. After all, it’s your party, you can swap how you want to. Regardless of how simple or detailed your party will be, there are a few steps that are crucial to the success of your Cookie Swap:

You must get your Cookie Swap on the calendar early because aint no’body got time for that during the weekend before Christmas. Don’t worry about having the party too early because most cookies freeze really well and you will be grateful for your frozen stash when unexpected guests pop over and you’re able to whip up a cookie tray and hot cocoa bar on short notice.

Take the time to do “real” paper invitations because an invitation sets the tone for your party and it gives your guests all the important details of your swap. There are so many adorable options available online at every price point (including free), that I curated a little collection for you to peruse on Pinterest. The invitation is where you tell your guests the when and where, and how many treats to bring (along with whether to package them separately or bring them all in one big container to be divvied up during the event). If you want them to hold out a dozen for sampling at the party let ‘em know on the invitation. If you have anyone in the group with food allergies, the invitation is the perfect place to spread the word. It is also OK to specify “homemade” on the invite if you suspect someone might go with store bought. After all, the whole point is to swap treats with your friends, not those little guys who bake cookies in the hollow tree, right?

Pre-plan how you want your guests to share their recipes with each other. You can provide blank cards with your invitation or ask your guests to create a recipe card to share. Perhaps you’re collecting all the recipes to include in a little booklet as a party favor. For a more sustainable option exchange recipes via email.

Here’s your opportunity to get creative and reduce the amount of packaging each person uses. Ask your guests to please bring all of their cookies in one large container instead of individual zippie bags. Then, provide cookie tins to each of your guests to take their swapped cookies home in. You’ll still need parchment or freezer paper on hand to wrap up particularly sticky or fragrant cookies that don’t store well with others, but the majority of the packaging can be done with tins which last for ages, can be reused year after year and are recyclable at the end of their useful life.

The Wilderness Girls did a little Cookie Swapping last weekend, and here are our recipes:

Christie’s Recipe: Nigella’s Christmas Chocolate Biscuits


Christina’s Recipe: KISSES Macaroon Cookies Recipe


Jenny’s Recipe: Betty Crocker’s Cream Wafers


Why this cookie is special to Jenny: These were my Aunt Eileen’s favorite cookies, and I remember many a year that my mom and I would go to her house to make them. They are a great kid-helping recipe too. You can have the kids in your family help cut them out, poke the holes in them with a fork, or ice them. We always did the traditional pink, green and yellow icings, but nowadays the icing color possibilities are endless!

Rachael’s Recipe: Mamaw’s Nut Cups


Why this cookie is special to Rachael: When I was a girl, my Mamaw, my Mom and I would sit in Mamaw’s tiny yellow kitchen making nut cups for hours and hours because she never just made one batch. All the time we thought we were making cookies we were really making memories and our own family tradition. This will be Elizabeth’s first year in the kitchen making Nut Cups with Mom and Grandma and the tradition continues.

We had a great time hanging out together and visiting over warm cups of cocoa and more than a few cookies. It was such fun to hear the stories and traditions behind each selection and share some of our favorite treats with some of our favorite girls. Will you try a cookie swap this year? What recipe would you take if you were invited to one?

Gourmet S’Mores Bar

Thursday, October 17th, 2013


One of my favorite memories from last year’s fall foliage trip was roasting marshmallows under the stars. We’d packed the fixings to make a traditional s’more — marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers.

This year, our accommodations were a tad less rustic, with no fire pit for a campfire. We did have a huge fireplace though, which called for a s’mores upgrade. I’ve always wanted to put together a s’mores bar and this was the perfect opportunity.


I packed a variety of chocolate bars, marshmallows and sweet crackers. All of the chocolate bars came from World Market, they have a great selection with lots of unique flavors. It was really hard to choose! After pacing the aisles for a while, I landed on salted caramel milk chocolate, candied ginger and orange zest dark chocolate, Lindt milk chocolate, coconut dark chocolate and raspberry cream dark chocolate. I also picked up organic graham crackers, butter biscuits and vanilla, strawberry & toasted coconut marshmallows.

We had so much fun trying different combinations. Over the evening we each found a favorite flavor combo and took turns preparing our signature s’more for the other girls.

Here are our favorites:




I think this would be a really fun dessert bar for a party; your guests will have a blast getting creative and testing different combinations. Feature the recipe for a few signature s’mores on a chalkboard and set out small takeout boxes so that guests can take home the ingredients of their favorite.


Have you ever put together a s’mores bar before? Are you a s’mores purist? Be sure to tell us below in the comments!

Craving more fall foliage photos? Check out our photostream on Flickr.

Fall Foliage 2013: Where We Ate

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

The Wilderness Girls pride ourselves on being localvores (someone who eats/shops/does business locally, to use it in the broadest sense), and that holds true for our Fall Foliage trips as well!

It’s really easy to go to a chain that you know and are familiar with, but it’s so much more beneficial to the community you visit if you dine at a locally-owned restaurant and you often get better food quality and service to boot.

This year we had a good mix of 2012 favorites and new 2013 picks. Check out our restaurants of choice below.


Beeline Café (Payson, AZ)
Located on the Beeline Highway is a little diner-style spot called Beeline Café. This has become our annual “kicking off the trip” breakfast spot that we hit before our first hike. The menu includes stick-to-your-ribs classics like biscuits and gravy, hearty omelets, oatmeal, as well as sweet creations like Cinnamon Roll French Toast (they use sliced cinnamon rolls instead of bread). The food is classic comfort and the people are genuinely nice (especially when asked for multiple photos of your group in various locations in the restaurant).


Photo credit – Beer Search Party

Beaver Street Brewery (Flagstaff, AZ)
Right in the heart of the historic section of Flagstaff, and near the Northern Arizona University campus, this microbrewery/restaurant serves up great beer and American classics like pizza, burgers, chicken pot pie and sausage/brat platters. Our favorite item off the menu was the Beaver Street Brewery Fondue – cheddar cheese, onions and beer, with bread and veggies to dip. I would recommend getting a couple of fondues, or a fondue and side salads. We all agreed that after the fondue, we were not sure we could finish our meals.


Photo credit – Yelp user Farrah. J.

The Sweet Shoppe & Nut House (Flagstaff, AZ)
After a long day of hiking, we stopped back in old town Flagstaff to browse the shops, and after walking by The Sweet Shoppe and getting a whiff of the chocolate inside, we were drawn in like moths to a flame. Since we were inside, we all decided we would get “just a piece of something.” It was well worth the splurge. In addition to a huge assortment of fudges and chocolates, they have chocolate covered potato chips, Oreos, pretzel rods, as well as huge caramel-covered apples and a gelato stand.


Northern Pines (Flagstaff, AZ)
Just like The Beeline Café has become our first day of the trip breakfast spot, Northern Pines has become our last day of the trip breakfast spot. You cannot go wrong with anything on the menu. We have sampled everything from their multiple benedicts, to tamales and eggs, to pancakes and French toast and it’s all delicious. They even have a chicken fried steak burrito, which looked amazing when we saw another guest receive it, even though it was easily the size of her forearm. It’s a popular spot too, so get there early!


Rock Springs Café (Black Canyon City, AZ)
Rock Springs Café, hands-down, has the best pie in the world. And you would never guess it, as it’s a small building/restaurant along the side of the I-17 going back to Phoenix. You can either stop in the bakery section and pick up a piece of (or whole) pie to go, or you can do like we do, and sit a spell in the café, and enjoy some comfort food, a piece of pie, and then order another for the road (and for each of The Wilderness Hubs). They have sandwiches, burgers, chili, green chili mac & cheese and fried pickles on the regular menu. And the pies run the gamut from fruit (both full crust and crumble), to cream pies, to meringues, to their signature pie – Jack Daniels pecan. It’s not too far from Phoenix, so it’s worth a day trip.

What are your favorite places to eat in Flagstaff, Sedona, or on the way? Share them in the comments below! We are always looking for new options for our next Fall Foliage trip!

Hungry for more fall foliage photos? Check out our photostream on Flickr.

Downtown Phoenix Public Market

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Left to my own devices, I hit my stride in the afternoon and I could go until midnight without the bat of an eye. All of that is behind me since our bright and early daughter came into our world. I don’t know how it happened but I gave birth to a morning person. Now I rise early to “Mama, I like yogurt!” bellowing down the hall from her room. Getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t all bad, really. I act like I don’t like it but the truth is I appreciate the solid Mama-Daughter time with my girl and we often go out in search of adventures while Jacob catches some Saturday morning ZZZ’s. Sometimes we do mundane chores like groceries, post office and bank. Other times we treasure hunt at a thrift shop or run around the park with our arms out to the sides pretending to be airplanes. Sometimes we stay in our jams, eat kid cereal and watch TV. When it is not oppressively hot we enjoy a trip to the Downtown Phoenix Farmer’s Market.

On a recent Saturday morning adventure we picked up fellow Wilderness Girl Christie and hit up the market. Our first stop was the Market Café. A few months back the café changed ownership and it is a whole new experience. The food is simple, fresh and healthy, often made with ingredients from the farmer’s market next-door. So far the frittata is my favorite dish. The griddled new potatoes are not to be missed but the two together are a feast so I recommend finding a friend to split the bounty. You’ll have plenty to satisfy you but still leave a little room for a mid-market snacking and sampling.

Our second stop on this particular morning was the One Windmill Farms farm stand where I spoke with Dave. I asked what is most important to know about the farm and he explained to me that all of the produce is grown organically without chemicals or pesticides. He went on to say that everything is Arizona-grown on land in Queen Creek or Wilcox. This means all of the produce travels less than 200 miles from farm to table. There were red and green champagne grapes, a few varieties of beautiful purple eggplants, beets bigger than my fist, rows and rows of red ripe tomatoes — all of it just a few days removed from the soil. I selected some potatoes and leeks, patty pan squash, sweet potatoes and three of those lovely beets. The food was selling fast and Dave told me that most days they nearly sell out but what is left is donated to charity and the scraps are fed to the free range barnyard chickens. Nothing is ever wasted.

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A few rows down at a much smaller booth a woman sells cucumbers, melons, parsley and eggplants. At the very center of the table is a large stack of flatbread. The woman is an Iraqi refugee. She and her husband till, plant, tend and harvest a small piece of urban farmland in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). When we ask more, the woman reveals she fled Iraq four years ago and she misses home. She is working hard to learn English and takes classes at Rio Salado Community College four days a week. Her hard work is paying off and we enjoyed the conversation with her. She offered us a taste from the tall stack of naan and we were hooked. Her bread was flecked with white and black sesame seeds. It had a crisp texture on the bottom and dough bubbles throughout balanced with an incredibly satisfying chewiness. For me, this is a market must-have.

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One of the largest booths at the market is Maya’s Farm which is an organic farm that practices sustainable, biodynamic methods of cultivation. This booth has the most variety and is so beautifully arranged that the produce practically jumps out at you. We saw lovely varieties of squash, peppers and beans. Maya herself was at the booth to answer questions about her beautiful flowers and interesting fruits.

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In the very center of the market amid all the hustle and bustle, a woman spins yarn from wool. Celia is her name and she owns the Chili Acres farm. They started out raising goats for cheese and other goat’s milk products. A few years ago Cecilia took a weaving course from Navajo elders and fell in love. From there she started getting interested in sheep and spinning. On this morning she was spinning wool from her Navajo churro sheep, Cousin It. Into the wool fibers she spun bits of red and pink from the cochineal she harvested from the cactus on the farm. There are bits of green in the skein she just finished and those are derived from carrot tops. No chemicals go into the yarn she spins, the cheese she crafts or the gluten free baked goods she offers for sale. Next week (9/26) in partnership with the Phoenix Permaculture Alliance, Celia is teaching a class on felting with a “make and take” project for students.

My favorite baker, AZ Bread was at the market with their beautiful hand-formed, hearth fired loaves of country sourdough, chili cheese and cranberry orange. Husband and wife team Gretchen and Ron man the booth together and they’re always happy to talk about the different breads and even share samples.

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What’s bread without a little peanut butter? Our last stop of the morning was at the Peanut Butter Americano booth. This was my first taste of PB Americano but Wilderness Girl Jenny has been a fan for quite some time and she has impeccable taste so I knew we were in for a treat. The company was founded by two classmates who share a passion for service, believe free enterprise is the solution to poverty and are working in a very personal way to help make that change for some of the poorest people in the Americas. While the founders weren’t able to make it to the market that morning they did send a proud mother in their stead. It was such fun to talk to her and hear the story behind PB Americano’s philanthropic mission.

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If you want to visit the Downtown Phoenix Public Market here’s what you need to know:


Café: Daily 7am-10pm
Open Air Market: Wednesday 5pm-8pm, Saturday (May-Sept) 8am-Noon, Saturday (Oct – April)     8am-1pm
Food Truck Friday: Friday 11am-1:30pm

Payment: Cash is best but there are several vendors with card readers attached to their smart phones. You can also use the market ticket system to collect tickets as you browse for everything you want to buy then settle at the main tent and go around with your receipt to pick up your wares.

Parking: Parking in the adjacent lot is free and there are several metered spots in the surrounding blocks. Meters don’t have to be fed on Saturdays.

Dogs: Polite leashed dogs are always welcome.

Don’t forget: A reusable bag for your treasures. During summer it is a good idea to leave a cooler in the trunk of your car to prevent wilting/melting/spoiling.

Where are your favorite farmers markets? Do you have vendors you have to see every time? Tell us all about it in the comments — we love to hear from you!

Bargains by the Scoopful

Monday, September 9th, 2013

When was the last time you stopped by the bulk food section of your local grocery? If you’ve never experienced the frugal, sustainable, delicious treats in the bulk bins or it has been a while since you last indulged now is the time to check it out.

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Why bulk?
Price – There are amazing treasures to be had for pennies on the dollar compared to packaged foods. For example, one local retailer offers organic quick cooking oats in the breakfast food section for $6.99/32oz pkg. A few aisles over in the bulk section those same organic oats are priced at $1.49/lb or $2.98/32oz. That’s a savings of $4.01 over the prepackaged product.

Freshness – Bulk foods move quickly so the product tends to be really fresh. In the oats example, think of how long it might take your family to eat two pounds of dry oats. If you purchase just as much as you need for a week or two you win twice: fresh oats for your table plus you get to keep more of your money for a longer time. If you buy the big package, the store gets the full purchase price up front while you get to store surplus oats as they age in your pantry.

Packaging – When you buy bulk you cut out all of the excess packaging that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Even if your family recycles, packaged goods force you to bring home extra “stuff” In the form of boxes, bags and plastic films. With bulk, you bring home a single plastic bag that can be reused as a trash bin liner, taken along when you walk the dog or even recycled on your next trip back to the grocery.

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Where to shop
Bulk foods are available at many grocery store chains but selection can be limited compared to natural food stores. There are some really impressive bins of healthy choices at Whole Foods and Sprouts. For the price conscious shopper who needs a bargain and a lot of options but doesn’t necessarily require organics, Winco foods can’t be beat. Some stores even have a link on their website that allows you to look up nutrition facts and recipes for their bulk foods.

What to buy
Start with pantry staples like salt, sugar, flour, oats or rice. Buy just enough though; don’t let the bargain price lead you to over-buy or you forfeit some of the benefit. Try a scoop or two of granola, nuts, candy or seeds. Next time you are planning to bake skip the baking aisle entirely and pick up your flour, sugar, oats and chocolate chips from the bulk section.

Even though you are buying in manageable quantities you’ll need to store the food at home so it stays fresh. My pick: Mason jars, of course! Jars allow food to be stored safely in glass and away from scary plastic chemicals. The clear glass makes it easy to see the food in your pantry which makes you more likely to use up what you have instead of wasting or buying duplicate. For dry goods a lid that has been used for sealing a jar in the past can be washed and reused, turning a single-use item into a reusable item.

No matter what you choose, if you try bulk food you will find good, fresh products that keep your wallet full and your carbon footprint light. The beauty of bulk is that no matter what new item you try, you are not making a commitment so try a scoop of adventure today!

Are you a bulk food newbie? Check out this video from Sprouts.

Experienced bulk buyers, what are some of your favorite finds?

Your Green Football Season

Thursday, September 5th, 2013
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Tonight the Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos to begin the 2013 NFL season. Last week the NCAA football season opened. We’re coming up on four straight months of tailgates, parties, sports rivalries and big games. For many people this is the start of “party season” because in addition to college and professional football regular season we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday to celebrate.

It is our time to party but it is the NFL’s time to get down to business. I never gave it much thought before I stumbled upon an article highlighting the sustainability efforts of the NFL. They’re focusing on NFL events, facilities and football clubs in an effort to minimize waste, reduce their environmental impact, build energy efficient office buildings and encourage teams follow sustainable practices. This got me thinking that if the NFL can green their football season maybe we can green ours, too. Following the 4R’s of Sustainability – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink – you can minimize the eco-impact of your football parties.


* Fewer car trips equal fewer trips to the gas pump so carpool to games or friends’ homes to watch the game.

* When it is your turn to host you can reduce paper consumption by skipping paper invitations. Instead, spread the word via text, Facebook event or

* Reduce your landfill contribution by choosing less packaging whenever you can. When you make your own veggie tray instead of buying the pre-packaged one you save money and stay in control of the ingredients. Less celery, more snap peas!


* Don’t follow the siren song of the pre-printed paper goods. I know they make cute paper cups with footballs printed on them but you already have dishes and serveware at home. With a little planning you can create a much nicer tablescape, so leave the gridiron themed plates at the party store.

* A real pint glass will maximize your beer enjoyment, especially if you chill it in the freezer before serving. Pass over the plastic cups in favor of the real thing.


* When you have several guests over for a party it’s a great idea to set up several separate clearly marked recycle & trash stations around your home and patio.

* Keep it clean! Use care not to contaminate recycling loads with food waste like greasy pizza boxes and leftovers.


* Buy beer in kegs instead of cans. It’s fresher, tastier and it comes with far less packaging. You can find some great tips for a more sustainable brew here.

* Try a local specialty. Locally produced products are the freshest and there’s a sense of hometown pride to enjoy when the best products are made right here in your own neighborhood. Also, local products help fight carbon emissions because they don’t take long truck rides to get from the producer to your home.

* Go organic where you can. Organic foods are grown without the use of chemical pesticides. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website for their Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of chemical residue. This will give you a place to start when adding organic to your diet.

Now that we have some tips to get us started, let’s talk about what else we can do to minimize the impact of every party we host from now until the big game in February. Do you have any great ideas for tailgate or outdoor parties? How about some thrifty ideas for reused or recycled party décor? Please leave a comment to let us know about your favorite sustainable party tips.