Celebrating our 3 Year Vegiversary with a Portabello Party!

IMG_5238The first official week of summer vacation has been a crazy one in my house with illness, restless kids and the usual bustle of activity, so the last thing on my mind was our 3 year vegiversary. Hard to believe that we made the move to a plant-based lifestyle three years ago and have stuck with it. There hasn’t been a time in the past three years that we have wanted to give up – the transition was easy and I worked hard to find tasty recipes that would keep us satisfied with our decision. Click here to find out more about the reasons behind our switch to a plant-based diet.

I love summer time in Texas, because of the abundance of vegetables. They are so big in both taste and size. I was lucky enough to have already planned and shopped for a really great meal, so the preparation was easy. Portobellos have been a part ofIMG_5239 our diet since we made the switch. They are hearty, have a mild flavor and blend well with a lot of different foods. They are high in fiber, low in fat, boost the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as have 15 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

I found some really large portabello mushrooms and was excited to find a new recipe to try them out with. After some research I found this Mediterranean Stuffed Mushroom Recipe and decided to give it a try. I prepared everything ahead of time because I knew we had a busy afternoon/evening. Once we were all home I popped them in the oven and they were DELICIOUS! I made a few modifications to the recipe and it was fantastic.IMG_5240

One thing that the recipe didn’t mention was cleaning out the gills of the mushroom. Many portabello recipes add this step, but I always do it because I feel it enhances the taste. The gills can sometimes be very muddy and have small insects in them. It is not required and I am sure the insects add extra protein!  Also, I decided to grill the mushrooms on my indoor grill before adding the toppings and I reduced the cooking time in the oven to about 18 minutes. I eliminated the garlic and substituted for garlic powder – sometimes that amount of garlic can be overpowering. I decided not to add the humus to the portabello before cooking – hubs and I both like the taste of uncooked hummus. I added sun-dried tomato and we honestly think this made the
meal!

I hope you try and enjoy this great meal! Let me know what you think! Nom, nom, nom!IMG_5250

People of HTX – D’Andre, City of Houston Public Works

Calling 311 in hopes that the City of Houston will send someone to repair that pothole on your street? You might have to wait a while – it turns out that COH is about 3,000 jobs behind schedule.

Yes, the fourth largest city in the US has quite a back log of repairs to work through. With all the recent rains and flooding, it might take even longer for basic repairs to make their way to the top of the list as more critical projects take priority.

Fiscal issues are a large reason that road improvements have decreased in the City of Houston. There is less mIMG_5128oney to make the actual improvements and hire adequate staff.  Mayor Annise Parker has also tried to pay down the City’s large debt during her administration, which has strained the City’s ability to make infrastructure improvements.

I spoke with D’Andre, a member of the City of Houston Public Works Department Excavation Crew about working for the City of Houston. D’Andre, a veteran of the US Army, is quite happy with his job, but can’t help but notice the potential for improvement.

Name: D’Andre

Job Title: Equipment Worker, City of Houston

How long have you been with the City of Houston?  January 2015

Do you like your job? I love it.

What are your duties on a daily basis? We are with the excavating crew and our particular job is cement excavation. We go to an area that has been marked by surveyors. We pull up (the cement), level the ground, take the rebar out and set it. Once it is set, we layer it with limestone and roll it to pack the limestone down. Once it has been set up completely, a different crew comes in to frame it. Cement trucks will come in and pour in cement and make sure it is level. Once it is poured and leveled, it is finished and layered with magnesium, then brushed so the street won’t be slick. Then it cures for 48 hours. Any damage has been done to people’s yards or sidewalks are backfilled. Then the finishing crew comes in and puts the curb back in.

How long does it take to finish a IMG_5133project? That all depends – because of the man-power issues the City has it might take a while, because we have to keep leaving one project to work on others that are bigger. There also might be equipment issues.

Is City of Houston understaffed? Yes.

Is that a budget issue? It takes a long time to hire people. It might take a full year to hire someone from the time they turn in their application to the time they are actually able to work and then they still have to do on the job training to learn the processes.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced since starting work for COH? The biggest challenge is learning all the policies and procedures.

What do you want people to know about what you do? You can’t call in a complaint to 311 and expect it to be done the next day. It is going to take time, because the City is about 3,000 jobs behind. As the City hires more people the work will get done faster. It is our job to catch up, which is why we work 10 hours shifts, 6 days per week.

What is the worst thing about what you do? I see a lot of people get disenfranchised because they feel they are not being adequately compensated.  If more care and attention was paid to (my fellow employees) the City would be able to keep more people. As IMG_5131a former member of the military it is easier on me, but for many – this is all they have to count on.  It feels almost like a cast system and you get locked into your position.

What is the best thing about what you do? For me personally, it is that I am getting to do something that I love to do. I am a Civil Engineering major, so it is great that I actually get to do what I am learning about in my books.

The 4th R: Refuse

We are all familiar with the 3Rs of Recycling – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. What about the 4th R? I think it is the most powerful statement we can make – refuse. Refuse that shiny new item, plastic bag, that tempting, but useless giveaway.  Just say no!

I have three children and we have attended three parties in the past few days. I woke up and decided to declutter a bit and was ASTOUNDED by the amount of useless plastic crap we have received in the form of goody bags. Goody bags from three parties. This makes me sad on so many levels, but let’s tackle the environmental problem first.FullSizeRender (6)

We probably received at least 2 pounds of plastic at these parties and that is just what we brought home. The decorations, plastic cups and plastic cutlery and all the presents the birthday child received aren’t taken into account. The carbon footprint of a 5 year old’s birthday party should not be this big or outlive generations. How long will that Frozen themed insulated drinking mug be around? Forever. Petroleum based plastic products will never completely biodegrade. They will breakdown eventually (after about 500 years), but they will just be smaller pieces of plastic.

Not only are we giving our kids “favors” that are harmful to the environment, but we are giving them items that are actually harmful to their bodies. My daughter received a beautifully hand decorated plastic case full of candy. She was so excited
to have it until I turned it over and found the label about DHEP. DHEP is a type of plasticizer that gives plastic flexibility, strength and bondability. Why is it harmful? It can leach out if it comes in contact with fluids or changFullSizeRender (7)es in temperature.  DHEP has been found to cause reproductive issues (lowers sperm count) and interferes with testosterone in males. It is harmful to the liver, kidney and lungs, as well. Children under the age of 18 were found to have levels of DHEP twice as high as levels found in adults and children under the age of four were found to have the highest levels overall. This might be due to the fact that babies mouth objects more frequently.

What would you say if a stranger walked up to you on the street and handed you an object and said “Here take this; it only has a little bit of poison in it. Your kid can play with it and will probably be fine.” You wouldn’t accept the object. You would shield your child and run away. You would report him to multiple agencies. Should party favors be any different?

Aside from the environmental factor of goody bags – I just can’t figure out why children going to a party need to receive a gift for doing so. Why can’t the party, cake and entertainment be enough? Often you see the poor frazzled mom rushing round making sure everything is perfect for her little prince/princess and then inevitably she can be found handing out gifts to a herd of children as they exit.

GoodieBagHeroI sat my children down in front of the pile of goodies (pictured above) and we talked about the 4th R. We talked about how next time we are going to exercise our right to refuse. It might be hard and the Frozen or Spiderman themed goody bags might be tempting, but as Nina Badzin of Brain, Child Magazine states, “The revolution has to start somewhere.”

Compost – Texas Style

To be perfectly honest, I have always been a little intimidated by composting. There seems to be a lot of ways you can screw
up your compost – bugs, slime, fruit flies, smelly compost, wrong ratio of brown to green, etc. There are whole weekend classes and online forums devoted to compost – anything that takes so much instruction must be hard, right?

lifetime-dual-compost-tumbler-costcoMy daughter learned about composting in her Earth Science class and kept asking questions about it – I felt guilty that we were so earth conscious in so many ways, but composting wasn’t one of them. I promised her we would look into a compost bin and lo and behold Costco sent us a sign. It was a big sign (everything is big at Costco), but we took it and are now the proud owners of the Lifetime Dual Compost Tumbler.

I despise reading instructions and I am not good at following them. The instructions for this compost bin left a lot to be desired, but my husband and I managed to put it together in a couple of hours. I did some research online and watched the video included with the compost bin and we were set! Because we are newbies to composting, I felt it was important to get an activator to help get things started. We added what was hopefully the right amount of “green to brown” along with some activator and we are now off to the races. Well, the races that take between 4-12 weeks to see any results.We are trying to coexist with the ants in our compost tumbler.

It has been about three weeks and we have run into a few issues. We have had a VERY rainy spring here in Houston and because the bin is not completely sealed, our compost is a bit moister than it probably should be. The rain and sweet smell of decaying fruits/veggies has also caused ants to make their home in our compost bin. This has not been a huge issue, but I am not sure we can get rid of them? Chemicals or insecticides are not an option. Right now we are trying to coexist with the ants.

Overall, I am very happy that we have chosen to compost. I feel confident that there really is not a better way to get rid of all the fruits and veggie scraps we go through in our household.  The amount of waste we are sending to the landfill has gone down.  My family of five throws away less than two garbage bags of trash per week – the rest is recycled and now composted!

I will update with pics of our first complete bin of compost. If you have any questions or comments, please message me!

Scripted Reality…Not Just for TV?

Let me stimageart out by saying that I have three children ages 8, 6 and 4. Obviously, having three kids so close together takes a bit of a toll on the body. I have hangy bits and squishy bits that I try to keep in check by working out. There is a HUGE community on Instagram of people who work out, want to work out, teach you how to work out and try to sell you work out programs. Oh…and there is a lot of “fit food” – A LOT! So, I have found a few people that I like and I occasionally try out new workouts from Instagram and sometimes even recipes. It was all going so well UNTIL I found out a lot of it is fake.

I don’t think anyone I know would call me naive. I am a pretty skeptical person and I guess I believed it when my Instagram work out buddies said they just worked hard every day and ate the right things. I believed them when they said that I could do it to! Well, then came the day that one of them said she was bulimic and that she had struggled with eating disorders her whole life. What? So, unless I throw up…I really can’t look like her? I was so disappointed. They came another blow to my trust in Instagram fitness. I followed a great married couple who worked out together and ate all the right things, posted workouts and also posted that they were BOTH on steroids. I reread the post several times and yes, they were both on low levels of steroids. Ok great…steroids and throwing up will get the body I dream about. Let’s not even talk about the fake before and after photos found on so many posts.

What is most distressing about this is not what it did to my faith in Instagram fitness, but what it is doing to all the young girls out there who are striving to get the perfect #thighgap. Like so many other things, Instagram fitness is18xx1cqdu6kthjpg an illusion. Who posts the best selfies with a filter and skinny arm. Who has the best tan and who has the most followers. Even on Instagram the bottom line equals money. Those with the most followers get freebies sent to them all the time. Free workout wear, supplements, even “fitcations”. What’s a little vomit and artificial hormones compared to money, followers and notoriety?

I’ve learned a few things on my quest for fitness on Instagram and unfortunately one of those things is how to #unfollow.

Vegetarian Superbowl Feast – 2.5 years in the Making

My hubby and I have been married for 12 years and together for about 15 years. In all my years with him I have NEVER been to a Superbowl party. Why? Hubby is a serious football fan and feels his Superbowl viewing can’t be interrupted for such silly things as parties or conversation. So, every year he thinks up a really fantastic menu for his own personal party in our living room. Usually the menu consists of a lot of cheese, meat, chips and dip – my husband used to be the guy who was proud of his “meat sweats”. This year however, he really surprised me and asked for a completely vegetarian meal. Say what? Yup, hubs wanted to go vegetarian for Superbowl 49.

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Cauliflower ready for roasting.

About 2.5 years ago hubs and I made the decision that we were going to stop eating animal protein. He has just had a physical and the results were grim – borderline cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. We watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and the next day we made the decision to stay away from animal protein. Out went milk, cheese and meat. We do not call ourselves vegetarians, because if we really want a burger…we eat one, but 98% of the time we do not eat animal protein. We don’t miss it and to be honest the transition wasn’t hard. I try and cook really tasty meals and am always on the hunt for the next best recipe.

What was on the menu this year? Cauliflower buffalo bites and Butternut Squash Lasagna. I had seen several recipes for the Cauliflower buffalo bites, but decided to go with this one from Skinny Kitchen. We love Frank’s Hot Sauce, but don’t have a lot of opportunity to use it, so I was sold.  The only substitution I made was almond milk for water. First step was the batter which turned out really well. Roasted them and then dipped them in the hot sauce. The recipe says to roast them for an additional 5 minutes, but I left them in for 10. They were really really good! Hubs loved them.

Next on the menu was the lasagna. Giada’s recipes are always a hit in my house, so when I found one from her I knew I had a winner. I used to be so intimidated by squash – I didn’t know how to cut it or roast it, but now we LOVE squash. Acorn

butternut squash puree
Butternut squash puree

squash and butternut squash are my favorite. I always feel like I have worked out after cutting into one of these little guys – it can be a bit of hard work! I have made this recipe before and the only thing I changed was that I didn’t let the sauce thicken very much. While it cooks all of the moisture is absorbed and if the sauce is too thick – the lasagna won’t be very moist. I leave it a bit saucy and it turns out beautifully.

My 8 year old daughter is going though a baking phase so she made some chocolate fudge brownies to finish off the meal and they turned out delicious. Although I spent 3 hours cooking in the kitchen on Superbowl Sunday, it was worth it. We had a meal that was much healthier than the usual Superbowl fare.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Butternut Squash Lasagna

Textile Recycling Facilities – an Alternative for Donating Clothes, Shoes or Household Items

Have you made room in your closet yet for all your Christmas loot and new clothes from the after-Christmas sales racks? Where does your old stuff go? Thrift store, Salvation Army, Goodwill? A textile recycler?

Textile recycling? What is that? Many don’t realize that they are surrounded by opportunities to recycle textiles, shoes and household items. It all starts in a parking lot near you. If you live in an urban area, I am 100% sure you have seen a  bin that say “Donate Used Clothing & Shoes” or “Clothing & Shoe Recycling”. The bins are usually placed in high traffic parking lots – usually on corners of major intersections and are easy to get to from any direction. Until recently, I ignored them – to me they seemed odd and I wasn’t sure who put them there. I have often seen them broken into with homeless people rummaging around through the contents. Certainly my used stuff deserved a better last resting place?

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Bailed clothing ready to be shipped to Guatemala.

I received an invitation to tour a textile recycling facility and my curiosity was peaked. I had just read an NPR article about used American clothing sold in Africa, so this was the perfect opportunity to find out more. I got to the facility and was led into the warehouse by one of the company’s marketing executives. The first thing that struck me was the size of the warehouse and how much stuff was in it. It was loaded to the ceiling in some areas and there was aisle after aisle of either loose clothing, shoes or household goods or bales of the same items. It was massive – a small child or wandering adult could easily get lost in there. The second thing that struck me was that I was surrounded on all sides by a graveyard of items people didn’t want anymore. So much waste. It was sad and sobering.

People often assume that their donated items stay local, but this is not true. Most charity organizations do not have the storage space to keep all the clothing donations they receive. What do they do with them? Like textile recyclers, charities sell them to third world or developing countries. Guatemala is the biggest customer of the facility I was touring. The secondhand clothing industry is a booming business exporting billions of pounds of clothing each year. It is also a very competitive business, where quite literally every penny counts. Bales are bought and sold for pennies on the dollar. How is this lucrative? Because of the sheer volume of items. Who is the biggest vendor of secondhand clothing? America.

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Sorting station for clothing.

Before any thing is bought and sold it first has to be sorted. The warehouse I was in had different stations with one sorter per station. All of the sorters were women and each station was comprised of about 8 bins. Each bin was for a different quality of item. The very best are sold for the highest price while the worst are sold to make rags and mops. Each sorter has to make a split second decision on the items based on quality and condition. Once the items are sorted they are bailed and loaded onto shelves until there is enough to fill a cargo container (usually takes less than 6 weeks to fill a cargo container for any given item). Although clothing is the largest item by volume, it was certainly not the only item int he warehouse. There were shoes, household items such as pots, decorations and furniture. There was also a ton of toys. Ever wonder what happens to old happy meal toys or stuffed animals? Well, they are bagged, sold and shipped across the world for someone else to play with.

One of the questions I asked was about the footprint on an item if it was being shipped across the world. Isn’t the environmental cost too high? In this business it is about landfill diversion. If these items were not being donated they would end up in landfills across the country. Not only would that fill up our already scarce landfill space, but these items do not biodegrade. One plastic toy from McDonald’s is here to stay. The most we could hope for is for it to photo-degrade, and even then it would take hundreds of years.

Toys bagged, ready to be baled and sold.
Toys bagged, ready to be bailed and sold.

We can buy so much now for so little, but what is the underlying cost? Is the $3.99 shirt that you are only going to wear twice really worth it? I suppose having alternatives about how to get rid of our of all our waste is important, but I can’t help but think this is the final solution. Either way, we all have closets filled with unwanted stuff, so when you get rid of it make sure the organization recycles all items or at least recycles what it doesn’t sell.