Healthful infused oils makes a memorable hostess gift

By Mary Rose Roberts
Bringing the outdoors inside is part of the joy of autumn and seasonal changes. I recently brought my rosemary plant inside in order to freshen up my office with the calming fragrance as well as to use it in dishes throughout the winter. I also wanted to use the herb—known for its high-level of antioxidants, vitamin B, folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin C—to create homemade infused oils for cooking and for Thanksgiving and Christmas hostess gifts. For a bit of a bite, I also planned to crush up cayenne peppers that I grew this summer in my urban potted garden and use it in the oils.

In the past, I’ve purchased infused oils for around $20 at specialty stores. Most of these oils use a high-grade, extra-virgin olive oil—one of nature’s finest oils full of monounsaturated fat that is known to lower the risk of health disease and reduce bad cholesterol. So, I purchased a gallon of extra-virgin olive oil, hit the thrift store for used bottles, sanitized them in the dishwasher and began the process.

Next-Gen Green’s Infused Oil: Rosemary and Red Pepper
5 springs of fresh rosemary
2 cups of extra-virgin olive oil
2 dried cayenne peppers or to taste
Small sauce pan
Pint-sized jar or bottle with a lid or cork

Clean and dry your rosemary. Set aside to dry. Warm the olive oil on the lowest flame for 3 to 5 minutes. It’s important the oil doesn’t get hot, as high temperatures destroy the healthful properties in the oil. Set aside oil and let it cool for 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the rosemary and crushed pepper. Pour the warm olive oil into the bottle using a funnel. Put the bottle aside to cool. Seal the bottle with a lid or a cork. Set the bottle in a dry, cool place with no direct sunlight for at least one week.

After the week, use the oil for drizzling on salads and fresh bread or to flavor potatoes and pasta dishes. It also is a great marinade for chicken and fish.

The oil lasts for two months.

Used sail makes for a unique messenger bag

I’m a fan of sailing. I also am a fan of the highly functional messenger bag. So it was more than a pleasant surprise to find a two-in-one with this recycled messenger bag. Each bag is handmade using a piece of an old sail that is cut and cleaned. It is complemented with a metal grommet surrounded by a diamond sail patch with zigzag sail seam stitching - all of which was original to the sail. In addition, the bag and flap are lined with pre-washed navy blue organic cotton canvas lining that is visible through the grommet opening. 

It costs $145.

Green Tip of the Day: Winterize your home

Respecting energy is part of living a conscious lifestyle. It not only helps conserve global resources, it also saves money—and in today’s economy, who doesn’t need to save some green. So here are a few energy saving tips that you can employ at your home this winter:

1. Set water heater to 120 degrees: According to the Department of Energy, every 10 degree reduction in water temperature will save between 3 to 5 percent in energy costs.

2. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps: Energy saving light bulbs cost as little as $6 and last 12 times longer, saving up to $50 on electric bills over the life of the bulb.

3. Install "foam gaskets" for electrical outlets: With very little time and money, foam pieces can be inserted under the faceplates of outlets and switches on external walls, saving significant energy and money.

4. Cover AC and Hot Water Tanks: Covering window or wall-mounted air conditioning units with a “jacket” during the winter months will keep a home warmer and save money. Also, putting a three inch insulating jacket on a hot water tank will save about $40 a year.

5. Caulk around doors and windows: Caulking—along with weather-stripping—will cut energy use, saving nearly $200 a year.

Source: Rebuilding Together Alexandria

Where bike addicts can park their butt

Although I live in a somewhat conservative town down south, I am often surprised by the amount of bike enthusiasts. Often, after conversations with some of these bike addicts, they tell me they choose two wheels over four not because it’s the green choice, but because it’s the cool choice. Well, I beg to differ. But whatever their reason, I am glad they are doing it. So why not go the extra mile and invest in the Milano Lounge Chair, made from reused bicycle wheels and handlebars? The chair is upholstered with red sparkle vinyl cushions, similar to what is found on the banana seats of old Schwinns. The arm rests are outfitted with heavy-duty inner-tubes. It’s another way bike addicts can be cool and green, without even knowing it.

It costs $475.

Green Tip of the Day: Never forget your reusable bag again

I am always in a rush. So I have to admit, sometimes I forget to bring my reusable bag to the grocery store. I usually realize this once I’ve started loading my cart, and then hang my head as I watch the employee fill up plastic bags with my goods. The solution? I now leave a reusable bag in my car.

As soon as I empty the bag, it either goes directly into the laundry to be washed or back to the rear of my car. It never gets stuffed in a cabinet or drawer.

Now, I never forget my reusable bag and can hang my head high at the check-out line.

(Shout out to Fire Chief and Station Style!)

Buy from your friends

By Mary Rose Roberts
Two weeks ago, I received a phone call that my father had a heart attack and was scheduled for bypass surgery. Everyone told me it was routine and not to worry. But it was anything but routine. My father had complications, and I spent late nights in the ICU bonding with nurses. They were amazing. They kept calm during the crisis, educated me about the complications and soothed my mind. Truly, nurses are saints.

Once my dad was out of the woods, I wanted to get the nurses something to show my thanks for their hard work. I could have ran to Jewel and bought a box of cookies. But being green means skipping the regional grocer and going straight to the baker. In this case, it was my friend, Jen, who has a home-based baking company.

I feel part of making green choices is buying local, which often means giving friends my business. Jen's one of the best bakers I know, so it wasn't too hard of a choice. In fact, the nurses loved her sweet-and-salty smiley cookies. And I loved that I supported a small business.

Grandpa's peanut butter cookies are a gluten-free delight

I’ve learned a lot from my grandpa-in-law, John Ivan. He’s taught me how to be a loving spouse, how to sew a quilt block and how to make the tastiest gluten-free desserts. This is because his late wife Mary Ann, who we lost earlier this year, had a gluten intolerance—just like me. Because of her intolerance, I lucked out by inheriting grandparents who made nothing but gluten-free desserts.

One of my favorites is grandpa’s gluten-free peanut butter cookies. They are simple to make and delicious. The best part is that they can be whipped up quickly with items already in the pantry and fridge. The worst part? Trying to get one before my husband eats them all.

Grandpa's Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
2 cups sugar
2 cups natural peanut butter (of your liking)
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, add sugar and eggs. Mix well. Add the peanut butter and mix. Cool the mixture for 30 minutes. When chilled, use a teaspoon to scoop out the mixture and roll it into balls. Place each one a few inches apart on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Use a fork to make crisscrosses.

Cook for 10 minutes. Makes three dozen.

Don't occupy Wall Street, just stop giving them your money

By Mary Rose Roberts
While people either gripe about or support the Occupy Wall Street Protest, I have a simple solution. Buy local. That doesn’t just mean visiting your farmer’s market. It means making a conscience decision every day to change your buying habits. It means spending your money on family-owned businesses, not Big Boxes or chain restaurants. It also means giving up your Bank of America bank account and supporting a community bank.

Supporting a community bank can do two things. First, it doesn’t reward corporate CEOs who are getting rich off the government’s bailout and end up spending taxpayers' money to pay for some secluded island or a luxury vehicle not made in the USA. (Yes, I am generalizing.) Second, the CEO of a community bank probably lives in your community, spends her or his money there or sends their kids to school in the local area. They often are invested in the community and also provide jobs for those who live there.

So instead of protesting, speak with your dollars. Change your bank. If everyone in America did this, there would be no Bank of America or corporate banks. In fact, I challenge each of my readers to make this one simple change. See what a difference it can make. 

Use coffee grounds to keep pests away

By Mary Rose Roberts
My cousin Barbara is what I would call a country girl and likes to cowgirl it up. She always gives me tips on how to live more simply, from the earth, and different ways to recycle and reuse. I learned something new from her last week: Used coffee grounds can keep away bugs. Instead of tossing coffee grounds in the garbage and later in a landfill emitting methane, put grounds in your garden or even around the perimeter of your house. In the case of insects like ants and slugs, the odor works as a repellent.

It’s a great alternative to using harsh chemicals in your garden and around your house. It also will save you money. 

Too old for a hoodie? Hogwash!

By Mary Rose Roberts
My husband said I need to give up my hoodie sweatshirt. He thinks at a certain age, hoodies should be worn only by skateboards at city parks and snow rats on the mountains. For sure, they are not for a 30-something woman. So I started to search for a sweatshirt made out of U.S.-grown organic cotton that was more mature looking. I found the Snap Hoodie. It has a subtle adult-ness and is a far cry from the Billabong and Roxy sweatshirts I once wore.

It’s $120. But it is a custom-fit, organic cotton sweatshirt handmade in the U.S.A. The maker also claims it is made to last. What do you think? Do you reach an age where you just can’t pull off a hoodie? Or is this unique so it can be worn at any age?

Kick motorboats to the curb and embrace the wind

By Mary Rose Roberts
A few years ago, I was privileged enough to be invited to join a sailboat racing circuit on Lake Michigan. It wasn’t the first time I sailed. As a young girl, my brother would pull our used AquaCat off the sand dunes and drag it down to the water’s edge. We’d fight the waves while we pushed it offshore, and then would run through the chilly water, hop on the AquaCat’s trampoline and check in. It was a thrill, until he’d take us a mile offshore and purposely flip the boat over. I hated it at the time. But it taught me how to swim to shore and toughened me up enough to be able to handle rough days on the lake.

Racing was an adrenaline rush. But the best part of racing was the fact that the wind powered us, followed by our captain’s smarts, the Zen of the crew and the design of the sailboat. To some, it’s quite a spiritual experience. The only disruption to the sail was seeing massive SeaRay sport boats that preferred man-made motors rather that God’s wind. They polluted the lake, while missing the essence of it all and the beauty of the natural environment. I always felt sorry for them, because they were missing out on an adventure and hurting an already dying lake.

If you haven’t had the chance, I highly recommend a sail with skilled seamen and women. You’ll never go back to the motor.

Solar power can work in the Midwest

Check out this Chicago Tribune article about solar-powered homes. If you thought it didn’t work in the Midwest, boy would you be wrong… .

Don't be a hater 'cause used clothes are green

Part of my Aunt Colleen’s green philosophy is to live simply and revert back to the olden days, like giving away old clothes to the goodwill or even buying used clothes. To some, used clothes may seem déclassé. But consignment shopping is anything but. In fact, I find some of my favorite clothes at consignment shops. For example, I recently visited a local shop and scored Seven for All Mankind A-pocket jeans for $34. In comparison, a pair of A-pockets through the company cost $198. That’s a $164 savings.

Consignment shopping is a great way to be green and save some greenbacks. Visit a shop today.

Green Tip of the Day: Recycled pens are cool

Just a quick shout-out to my favorite gluten-free pizza joint, Beau Jo’s in Colorado. Besides running their restaurants mostly through wind and solar—as well as using locally sourced ingredients and dairy-free options—the servers there also write with recycled pens.