Tell Me About Your Cans

Posted by organicneedle in CSA/ Local Food

can Ok…so last week I told you about my adventures in pantry stocking and my concern over the complete lack of local options. Now that I have whined about it I guess I should actually attempt to DO something about it. I can get my hands on plenty of local produce from about June-November. Last year I even tried my hand at preserving a few items from the CSA through freezing. The results were mixed. The zucchini held up well and I still have a few bags left for zucchini bread. The tomato based sauces like ratatouille I tried to cook and freeze came out not so great…in fact freezer burnt, watery, with a lingering gym sock sort of quality. Everything else ended up down our greedy little gullets within seconds of coming home. I still plan on freezing a few things this year, like zucchini and maybe fresh berries, but in a power outage all the freezer goods in the world aren’t going to feed my ravenous brood.

So…that leaves me with the obvious…yet painful…and labor intensive choice of canning. My grandparents canned, and my parents canned and as a youngster I canned. All I remember of the process was it being a huge pain in the rump and it requiring the boiling of enough equipment to create a shuttle to the moon…which I would have gladly boarded free of charge on any given canning day. So my big question for all of you out there with some canning knowledge is how does one can on a very small, very urban, very lazy scale? Do you need all of that equipment? What is the easiest to can? I would definitely like to can tomatoes considering I, in my CSA season opener enthusiasm, ordered an extra 20lb share of the beauties without a whole lot of thought as to how I am going to preserve them. I also would like to do some fruit…but without all the sugar. What fruits can be done without sugar?  And how? Maybe corn? Rhubarb? Beets? Peaches?

I need help…idiot proof canning instructions. Botulism prevention would be a plus.

I also need equipment.    Any thoughts?  There is the simple or the fancy.  The black is about $25 and is …just a pot with a rack.  The silver number goes for about $90 and is also a pressure cooker.  Both do about 7 quarts at a time.  canner


Any recommendations for jars?  I thought about Craig’s list…but might not get exactly what I need.  Any good source recommendations?

Oh…one more thing…can one of you actually fly here…do the canning for me…clean up afterward…and then spoon feed my the preserves.  Thanks.  Oh…and watching you can may make feet sore…so maybe a little foot rub to top it off.  If its not too much trouble.



Spring Green Cleaning Step 3: Yes…Another List

Posted by organicneedle in green cleaning, recycling, reuse

listMy last tiny bit of advice for your big spring clean out…which I know you ARE doing is to make yet another list…one of things you need/want. BUT DO NOT BUY ANYTHING YET!!!!!! Wait until you are completely done with all of your clean out. Why? Because chances are 50% of the things on your list you really don’t need. Some you may already have, some may have a perfectly good alternative which you already have, and some, in hindsight,..may have been more of a want than a need. Plus…if you are able to nag/encourage your friends to do their clean outs around the same time you may find in their out baskets things you need and vice versa. The truth, people, is we all have way too much crap…chances are what you need/want exists in your little universe. Don’t be afraid to ask. Besides, moms secretly LOVE to unload their kids’ old crap…it gives us a sick high to see junk march out the door. Moohahahahahha.

By not buying all the stuff right away you prevent future clutter, save resources, and save money…some of which you can use to buy the few items you may need in better quality and more responsibly made. I, for one, will be working on greening up the art closet. But if you have had your eye on that lovely but pricey hemp jumpsuit, go for it!

*And for those of you worried about all the trees harmed in my manic list making…don’t fret. I use smelly old used envelopes. Bloomberg makes sure to send me about 400 a day…so I am quite well stocked. We get it, Mike…you like being mayor.*



Spring Green Cleaning Step 2: Make A Checklist

Posted by organicneedle in green cleaning, recycling, reuse

This post is really one for me more then anything else…trying to be very thorough this year in the clean out.  If you too are doing spring cleaning it may be very helpful, in addition to having a list of places to bring your old junk, to create a master list of goals you want to accomplish this season.  (If I write about it here I feel more obligated to actually follow emu through…like you guys might secretly be spying on me…right now…this very minute… and see my piles of untended to clutter and just shake your heads in disbelief.)

So the following is my dreaded list of clean outs and respective junk recipients…

1. Pull out summer clothes, put up fall/winter clothes, pass on things that don’t fit or have too many of, make list of summer needs. (We have a favorite neighbor baby that gets all of our kid hand-me-downs, dress clothes go to Dress for Success .) Check

2. Clean out boys’ closets and pass on the forgotten toys. (Neighbor baby and a local church that runs a charity thrift shop.) CHECK

3. Clean out art supplies…you have no idea how much we have.  This is a great one to enlist some free labor…the miniature people.  My boys love testing markers…and it keeps them very busy while I check off some of the other things on the list.  (Unfortunately dead art supplies go in the trash.)  In Progress

4. Steam clean rugs and couches and vacuum/wash all drapes.  I have a small steam cleaner that I use really hot water in and a touch of Dr. Bronner’s…which has so far not damaged any of the color on anything.  For my washable curtains I use the 7th…although it does not thrill me for deeper cleaning needs.   CHECK

5. Clean out desks and unnecessary paperwork and see if any additional bills can be paid online.  Our paper trail has been greatly reduced over the years by following a few simple steps …so worth the time if you haven’t done so already.  Tossed paper will either be turned into art supplies or simply be recycled.  Don’t think anyone wants my old student loan bills.   Haven’t Touched

6. Clear out unwanted/watched media..books & movies. These will be going to the charity sale …and leftovers donated to a church that sells books to raise money for habitat for humanity. In Progress

7.  Dust Mite Patrol and bedding & stuffed animal clear out…cook pillows, animals and blankets in high temp dryer, wash what can be washed, pack up unneeded blankets for summer.  Pass unwanted blankets and pillows on to the ASPCA .  Sadly…unwanted stuffed animals have no almost no chance at a second life…keep it in mind when choosing gifts for kids.  In Progress

8. Clean out bathroom cabinets…cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and medical supplies.  Toss expired junk…recycling what I can of course.  Check cosmetics for the toxic goodies.  Make a list and order any emergency meds necessary.  Haven’t Touched

9. Go through educational supplies and plan summer projects, make list of possible reuse applications…like seedlings in paper egg carton.  In Progress

10. Finish painting.  Yes…sad but true…I never finished painting the trim in my hall.  Plus I have a whole big ol’ living room/dining room/nook to paint.  I did finally pick a color…which has been the majority of the hold up. I will be using Aura this time because Benjamin can make the color I want whereas Freshaire is limited to their stock. In Progress

11. Clean kitchen shelves and stock pantry. And while I was stocking the pantry I realized 3 things:

A) The freezer had way too may UFOs…unidentifiable frozen objects.

B) Oats should never smell like feet.

C) Rubber nipples are no longer required in my home…at least not in the kitchen.  Snicker snicker.

Which means this step now includes cleaning out the old food, the freezer and the cabinets.  In Progress

The point of being organized is that it will hopefully mean a lot less waste…a lot less headed to the landfill. It is just too easy to end up tossing things in the garbage out of frustration when too much piles up without a destination. Now this is just MY list.  You actually need to go make your own.  Right now.  I’m waiting….and watching.



Spring Green Cleaning Step 1: A Charity List Review

Posted by organicneedle in green cleaning, projects

cleaning It is that time of year again…time to go through all of your junk and clean those nooks and crannies that never see the light of day.   One key to not being overwhelmed by spring cleaning, besides ebbing the the crap tide coming in all year round, is to be organized .  Step 1, of course, is to have less crap in the way of cleaning.  Since most of us crunchettes have a really hard time sending anything to the land of garbage, we need to take the extra step of having a plan for our crap.  Start by creating a list of local charities or even people that might be good recipients for your goods.  (For example…the single mom of 4 down the block who has kids slightly younger than yours might think your ol’ hand-me-downs are the bee’s knees.)  Also make a list of random things you would like to get rid of and start asking around.  Your best friend just may happen to be in desperate need of that extra electric banana peeler you have laying around. I find knowing my old stuff will be well used by someone else makes it much easier not to hold onto things and makes the process go much faster…no time to reconsider needing that neon green and organge afgan/poncho.

So get in those closets and start letting go! You never know what you will find….like this old post I ran around the holidays.  Perfectly good…only slightly used…slightly moldy.  (I am not  lazy blogger…just an accomplished recycler.)

As mentioned, I ran this list around the holidays to help with post holiday clutter…but find it comes in handy for spring cleaning too.  Some of these are specific to NYC, but I am sure you can find equivalents in your neighborhood.

Who :Dress for Success
What they want :office and interview appropriate attire, dress shoes, purses, and accessories
What they do : Dress for Success is a nationwide organization that helps women get back on their feet and into the work place through practical general job skills training, interview practice, and job placement and support. Once a woman has completed her training courses the organization goes one step further; it, through your donations, helps her literally dress for success. Can you imagine living cent to cent and being forced to purchase an entire office appropriate wardrobe? It can be a real roadblock for someone without even enough money for food. If you have things to give click on their link and find a local drop-off. They have offices in almost every major and even many minor cities.

Who : Baby Buggy
What they want : baby gear of all kinds including furniture
What they do : Baby Buggy works with social services to provide families in need with the necessary baby gear by collecting the millions of unwanted items from the 5 boroughs and redistributing them where needed. Their efforts are brilliant because they provide desperately needed relief in our poorer neighborhoods AND save tons of very useful gear from hitting our landfills. They do only serve the NYC area, but if you contact your local social service agency they may know of a similar organization.

What they want : pillows, blankets, pet food and pet supplies
What they do : ASPCA provides care for unwanted animals and assists in finding them loving homes. Your old blankets and pillows can provide a touch of home and comfort to an animal awaiting a home. There are ASPCAs in almost every neighborhood.

Who :DonorsChoose.org
What they want : classroom supplies
What they do : They allow you to choose a specific subject, age, town and even income level of the area to help.  Teachers post exactly what they and their students need.  Trust me…schools need this.  The budget cuts are ugly…and teachers and students feel it.

Who :Materials for the Arts
What do they want : Art supplies of all kinds…including frames
What do they do : In their words,”Materials for the Arts has provided thousands of New York City’s arts and cultural organizations, public schools and community arts programs with the supplies they need to run and expand their programs. Materials are gathered from companies and individuals that no longer need them and redistributed to the artists and educators that do. In the process, hundreds of tons are removed from the waste stream every year and kept out of landfills, helping to sustain our environment and promote reuse and waste reduction. MFTA helps artists realize their visions, provides students with a richer educational experience and furnishes businesses and individuals with a simple and efficient way to enhance the cultural life of their city.”

Who :Dell Inc., Epson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lexmark, MPC Computers
What they want :old or non-working computers, printers, etc
What they do : According to NYC Charities, the offices here in the city will take them back and recycle/refurbish them. Couldn’t find out a lot of details, but since broken computers are virtually impossible to find a home for otherwise, it is certainly worth the effort of returning them to their creators.

Who :Housing Works Thrift Shop
What they want : Clothes, accessories, and housewares, furniture, books, etc.
What they do : The Thrift Shop provides….thrift stores.  Seems simple…but frankly we don’t have a lot.  By providing a place and opportunity for these goods to be purchased they are keeping millions of lbs of unwanted goods out of our landfills and providing affordable goods for lower income families.  And guess what they do with the money they make? They provide for NYC’s population of homeless suffering with HIV and AIDS. This organization is such a great example of how to help so many groups at the same time even when extra funding dollars are scarce.Clean out your clutter, keep goods out of the landfill, help the poor get what they need, and provide for our neediest all at the same time. Brilliant!

I think this list covers just about any household items you might be looking to clear out. If you have something you aren’t sure what to do with, leave a comment and I will try to track down a home for it. As I mentioned in my first charity post, get your friends on board and each take up one charity/ one collection/one drop off. You can even make a little party out of it. After a few glasses of good wine it will be much easier to let go of that old sequence bell bottom jumper 2 sizes too small that is still in your closet. Yes… we know it is still there.



Stocking the Food Pantry:Longevity Vs Sustainability

Posted by organicneedle in CSA/ Local Food, family, projects

pig The past few weeks I have been pretty busy waiting for the piggie flu to infect my world, watching way too much news coverage, and hoping ol’ Bloomy will just decide to shut down all schools so that my brood and I could take off to the Keys pre 100 degree weather.  It has all been very time consuming. Now I will admit that most of my news watching has only aided in increasing my already slightly neurotic germaphobia, but there has been a tiny kernel of enlightenment.

So…here it is.  Living in one of the world’s biggest cities that literally never shuts down, I haven’t done too much planning in terms of stocking a pantry in case of a food shortage. After 9/11 my husband went through a period of evacuation prep. but this didn’t really extend to the scenario of being shut in without incoming supplies. Watching Mexico City shut most of its doors in quarantine made me think of whether I would be well stocked if such an event happened here. Fortunately for Mexico City, it didn’t last long and things never seemed to get to the point of food shortage, but it isn’t difficult to imagine what would have happened had the virus taken a different turn for a longer period.

After my husband got fairly ill last week and was in bed for 3 days with what turned out to not be the flu, I realized that our supplies were foolishly low. Thankfully, due to urban communal living and having amazing friends and neighbors whom I can rely on for the basics, a short term personal quarantine is livable. But what if we all got sick, or the city simply didn’t have incoming supplies for anyone? Would I, would you, be prepared for a large scale city shutdown or a long term personal quarantine?

So then I had to consider what constitutes a well-stocked pantry. (Keep in mind that space is always an issue.) I decided to approach the question by thinking of the basic nutritional needs met in non-perishables….grains, produce, protein, and fat. (I also had to think about what we would actually want to eat…a choice between Ebola and canned Lima beans would be a really, really, really tough call.)

So…here is what I’ve started with….

Produce : canned peaches and pineapple, apple sauce, fruit preserves, raisins, canned tomatoes, apple juice, Fruitabu (All organic except the peaches, pineapple, and tomatoes.)

Grains : organic brown rice, whole grain packaged pasta, dry cereals, organic oats, packaged granolas, granola bars, whole wheat and white flour and other bread making staples, canned corn, falafel mix

Protein : Dried and canned beans in case cooking isn’t an option, dried lentils, peanut butter, peanuts, almonds, canned tuna, canned salmon, anchovies, turkey jerky, tahini

Fat : sealed olive oil, peanuts, almonds and peanut butter count here too

Convenience Items : salt, pepper, mustard, soy sauce, red curry, various spices, coffee, tea, etc.

head soup Now there are a few things that didn’t thrill my inner greenie about this adventure. One…not everything I wanted could be found readily in organic….like no sugar canned peaches and pineapple. (There are organic tomatoes but in my haste to get the job done I bought what was in stock at the store.) Also…obviously part of the preservation of the products is that they are well and heavily packaged in plastic…meaning bulk and paper is pretty much out. And the whole local thing…not so much. (I plan to try to rectify this a little with the upcoming CSA season…more on my cluelessness in that area later in the week.)

So…what have I missed? What other fruits and veggies can survive the can?   Any tips? What do you consider pantry must-haves? How do you reconcile longevity with sustainability? Or when they shut down your city do you just plan on eating the neighbors?



House Commited: Long Overdue Building in Progress Update

Posted by organicneedle in building projects, energy, recycling

Awhile back I wrote about some of the things I would like to see happen in my building in terms of greenness. And I, personally, have made an estimated zero progress, people. Now…individually there are a few fellow communal livers who have taken on some green ways..not sure I can steal credit there too much or at all actually, but what the hell…most of them don’t read this anyway.

Electricity …the building did install timer lights in the laundry room which should reduce the time those lights are on by about 20 hours a day…seriously. I had planned to go to the board meeting and yammer on about installing CFLs and obnoxiously announce that our electric bill was reduced 20% just by switching to a little over half CFL use alone. But I didn’t get to. The Pres. announced that the building has, in fact, been switching over gradually to the CFLs. He even wants the building to have household CFLs on site for people to purchase- reducing trips to store. (Many city people do not drive and the stores with good prices on these things aren’t trainable…yes that is a word…maybe.) I’m not sure what other practical steps can be taken in that direction. He seemed to have it covered…I guess that is why he is the Pres. and I’m just a whiner with a blog.gnome

Garden and Compost . Remember my high hopes of a garden? Well…I had pretty much thought it was a dead end after being told there were "liability issues" with our insurance.  I was wrong.  After some gentle nagging, the Pres. informed me that the area in question is due to be rebuilt over the summer due to some leakage issues into our garage and that he is actually going to have it redesigned slightly to better accommodate a small garden AND actually have it filled with appropriate soil.  Dare I hope for an all organic garden? As far as the security issues…he seems to think we can find away around them.  Yippee!  (Now…I don’t expect this to happen over night…we are dealing with NYC contractors.)

Waste Reduction … This seems to be the area that the most work could be done but absolutely nothing has been done. Almost all of the waste is on an individual level…so people would either have to be inspired to change their behavior through more awareness or through building fines. The fines won’t happen…too much backlash. The Pres. of the Board keeps telling me I should work through the house committee on the issues of composting and recycling…that the board is overwhelmed and, although interested, the budget etc. is taking up everyone’s time. Why not join the house committee? Well…the house committee does a lot of stuff I really have no interest in…like planning the holiday parties…writing naughty notices…and generally taking everyone’s grief about everything from unsatisfactory child art being displayed on doors to ingrown toe nails. (There are a lot of high maintenance folks in this building. Including one who wrote a letter to the management complaining that nannies and children shouldn’t be seen in the lobby. Doesn’t look good to passer-byers. Nice guy, huh?) Not exactly my idea of a good time.   They produce a newsletter for the building every few months.  I could, if I really wanted everyone to be completely sick of me, write a piece for that offering simple suggestions to reduce paper, plastic, etc. waste.  Need to think if I want to be THAT person.  Let me run a sample by you guys to see if I’m up to the challenge.


Things That Are NOT Paper : food, wire hangers, Styrofoam clam shells with half eaten french fries, a broken flip flop, a broken radio with the batteries still in it, a bag of your dog’s crap, lasagna, or anything that is not, in fact, paper.  If you are still unsure if what you hold in your hand should go in the paper bin ask your self this question…IS it paper?  No…move along then, Sparky.

If you still have any questions, please schedule an appointment with my not-yet-3 year old so he can show you how to sort properly.

Now this would be just part 1 of a 4 part installment. Part 2 would obviously be Things That are Not Glass for our more advanced recyclers.

It is fairly amazing any one talks to me at all.



Dr. Bronner’s….Burnt Crayons and Clean Hands

Posted by organicneedle in green cleaning

After reading on Beth’s blog about yet another company slipping some questionable ingredients into our cleaning products, I decided to finally find a better shampoo alternative for the little guys.  I wanted something chemical free and in decent packaging…organic and Fair Trade would be icing on the cake.  I had heard from a few readers that Dr. Bronner’s works well as an all purpose bronner cleaner…including people washing.  So…I picked up Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Peppermint Pure Castile Soap…Organic and Fair Trade  in a nice big 32 oz recyclable #1 plastic bottle for around $14.  No plastic would be swell…sure…but this seemed like it would last a lifetime and a half…meaning a lot less waste then the dinky baby shampoo bottles I have been using.

So…all good to go…no?  Weeeeeeellllll…not so much.  Washed my little angles with the stuff and guess what?  They smelled like burnt crayons.  It wa revolting.  It took 3 washing with the old Aveno and all its chemicals to remove the horrifying smell.

baby bee I did however, find a good ol’ reliable choice in Burt’s Baby Bee Tear Free Shampoo & Wash.  Very gentle, no harsh chemicals, and smells NOT like burnt crayons, which pretty much sold it for me.  The only glitch is that it comes in a puny 8 oz plastic bottle …meaning a lot of bottles in the recycler and costs $7.29 for those measly 8 ounces. Does anyone know if there is a way to get chemical free baby shampoo in bulk?

As for the ginormous bottle of Bronner’s…don’t fret.  I found a perfect use for it.  I water it down 4 to 1 for hand soap in the bathroom.  (Remember my poison control run in?)   I had purchased one of Trader Joe’s chemical free hand soaps right after that…but was disappointed that there was no refill option.  This totally solved that problem and it should last me a few months at least.  Watered down the smell is actually surprisingly not revolting and even pleasant.



Soap Saver Bag and Scrubbie Cloths Results In!!!!!

Posted by organicneedle in Etsy, organic cotton, organicneedle, organicneedle bags

My guinea pigs are the best! guniea pigFirst I shale brief the newcomers on what the hairy heck I’m talking about.  A few weeks ago I put out the call to get a few readers to help me out with new Organic Needle designs. (Whenever I have a new idea I force readers to play along.) So for this guinea pig round I sent out my new organic cotton soap saver/body scrubbie bag and my organic cotton mesh scrubbie washcloths. Gave my test piggies a few weeks to get nice and dirty and try them out and anxiously awaited their feedback.

And here it is…..
Organic Cotton Mesh Soap Saver Bag/Scrubbie Review Highlights (Thanks Beth & Carol for Testing!)
OK…results here were pretty consistent with my own findings which is always a plus. The cotton mesh got good reviews for having a decent amount of exfoliation without being too abrasive. Both reviewers and I found it to be a practical and easy solution for where to put soap shards. The major complaint from the testers and myself…the bag was too big. “I would probably vote for the same width, but almost 50% shorter. The drawstring is also kind of long. I felt weird rubbing this long rope on my body, so I wrapped it around the neck of the bag a couple of times until it was just long enough to hang when not in use.” Fortunately…this is a very easy design fix and one I intend to implement. The original bag was 4×61/2. The new design is 4×5. I want to make sure it is still long enough to hold a regular bar of soap if someone chose to put in a fresh bar. One tester loved the texture of the material for all over body washing, but found it didn’t always rinse out completely. Tough to change this since it is due to the porous nature of the material…which is also what provides the lovely exfoliation. Overall…I am very pleased with the results. “I’ve been looking for a good solution to the soap shard dilemma for a long time, and this is the best so far.” Can’t complain about that.

Organic Cotton Mesh Washcloth (Thanks Heather and Cat!)
Reviewer #1:
Overall, I love this! The size is good and I like that it held up to machine washing/drying. I think this is perfect for light exfoliation and I use it on my face every day. I have sensitive dry-to-normal skin and I liked that it was gentle enough to not irritate my skin, but I still felt like it got dead skin cells and makeup off.

I wouldn’t recommend this for heavier exfoliation as there’s not enough scrub in it but it was also great for light exfoliation on my arms and shoulders too.

The only improvement I would suggest would be to maybe add a hanging loop to one corner. I tend to use this in the shower and I wanted to be able to hang it more securely (draping it over my shower caddy sometimes resulted in it falling down before it was dry).Hmmmm….a hangy loop…interesting..this could happen. I think I will present it as an option.

Reviewer #2:
“Actually, what I used it most for was to take my eye makeup off. When I use a normal washcloth, the cloth absorbs too much of the baby oil and I end up having to use tons of baby oil to get my makeup off. Your cloth worked just perfectly though i had to be gentle. 🙂

When I washed it, the makeup didn’t come out though. I’m still trying to figure out what to soak it in to see if I can clean the cloth up. Not that it matters too much to me (who else sees it anyway), but it might to others.

Overall, I like it!” I’m not sure about the cleaning out of baby oil. Anyone out there have a solution for this?

And me:
I have to say…I LOVE my new washcloths, if I do say so myself. I find them to be the perfect amount of scrub for daily washing.

Once again…THANK YOU TESTERS. You have no idea how helpful it is to get such quality feedback before I market things. I can’t wait to put the changes into place and get things up on Etsy. And for the rest of you…don’t fret…I will always have half-baked design ideas that need testing. You will all get a chance to be my little piggies eventually.

*Photos to follow after the new changes have been made!*