Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene makes a bad garden worse

My biggest lessons learned from this year's garden:

Rule #1: Don't try to put too much in too small a space, crowding helps disease and bugs spread and suffocates plants.

Rule #2: Don't be afraid to prop up plants early, even if they don't look like they need it.

Rule #3: Earwigs are gross...still.

Rule #4: There is such a thing as too much rain.


Irene brough a hot muggy day Saturday, a drizzle Saturday night that turned into a downpour until about 3pm Sunday that caused massive flooding in surrounding areas Sunday evening into Monday (today). While I am lucky enough to live in an area protected from the floods, many areas were not so lucky and there has been lots of damage to historic bridges and towns. My garden also didn't fare well in the storm.

Before Irene came to town my garden plants had already begun dropping like flies.

As you'll recall I killed one of my tomato plants trying to transplant it (see rule #1).

Then I developed earwigs in some of my lettuce (rules #1 and #3).

My zucchinis then started to look sort of pathetic and now due to crowding and excessive rain I only have 1 of the original 5 plants (see rules #1 and #4).

Also, on Saturday I discovered I'd lost my 2nd tomato plant due to an infestation of earwigs (see rule #3).

Now I have 1 tomato plant, 1 zucchini plant (which I really hope will give me another squash or 2 before kicking the bucket), and 4 lettuce plants.

My basil is doing well in the pots though the lemon basil should probably be transplanted to a larger pot because it is very top heavy and falls over a lot.

The one remaining tomato plant is my green zebra. It is producing a ton of fruit and thriving while the rest of my garden seems to be collapsing around it. Hopefully the rain didn't make it too miserable. I've yet to investigate the plant that was infested by earwigs. The rain may have killed off the disgusting little creepy crawlers but honestly I hate those things so much it gives me the willies just thinking about it. I may have to make the boyfriend look for me though he hates them as much as I do!

The flooding brought on by the hurricane has caused an interesting debate in my head regarding waterway management and flood plains. Many VT towns are effected by flooding while most of NH, which got the same rain and also has a lot of rivers, brooks and streams, has not suffered the same fate. The 2 major differences: NH seems to have a lot more dams. NH towns tend to be built on hills up away from the water while many VT towns seem to be built in the valleys and flood plains. What was once farm land that benefited from an occassional flood is now small towns and communities. So while one might argue that unnatural control of waterways through dams can cause environmental problems and disrupt wild life, it can also be argued that controlling the waterways helps to avert disaster when unusual weather arrives. On the other hand, filling in a marsh to make useful land may be one of those circumstances where "just because you can doesn't mean you should" applies. There is a rural route that travels along a river in NH. In the 1970s my family owned a large stretch of it as farm land. They sold that land next to the river to developers and now it is home to lots of big box stores like Home Depot, KMart, Kohls, Walmart, etc. Last night this whole area had to be evacuated due to rising flood waters, the river rose more than 10ft and filled the parking lots of this shopping meca. Many people were shocked at the sight of it. I think this stretch of land should have remained as farm land. Unfortunately, when desasters like this only come once every 50 years we become complacent and this makes the damage far worse than it needs to be.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Homemade Ravioli


My first adventure in plastic free gourmet was a complete success. While not completely plastic free, it's pretty darn close and my overall waste was incredibly minimal. The beauty of purchasing items from bulk stores and local farms!
I am going to share with you the recipe(s) I used to create fabulous homemade ravioli with remarkably simple homemade cheese. While this is a bit time consuming the result is well worth it and this is a perfect weekend activity when the weather is less than perfect.

Before I start though, I have my first small harvest from my garden, 6 beautiful green zebra tomatoes and a zucchini! I lightly pan fried the zucchini in a bit of olive oil and garlic to serve with my ravioli last night for dinner. It was fantastic! Now I just have to cross my fingers that I'll see a few more pop up!



Alright, now on to the ravioli. The first step is to make the cheese. I wanted to use raw milk but our local co-op only sells raw milk in plastic containers, not glass. I went with a local pasturized whole milk in a glass bottle. The small plastic top is the only waste from my whole adventure:



Homemade Farmer's Cheese:
1/2 gallon milk (raw whole milk is ideal. If you use pasturized, don't use "ultra pasturized")
1/4t salt
1/4C lemon juice (or white vinegar)
1T dried italian seasoning
1/2t garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Pour milk into a large pot and add salt. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring frequently. If you have a candy thermometer heat the milk to 190 degrees.



Remove from heat and immediately add lemon juice. Stir briefly to incorporate then let sit for 10 minutes.



At this point you should have white curds floating in yellow, noncloudy whey. If the liquid is white or cloudy reheat and add a little more lemon juice.

Line a mesh sive or collinder with cheese cloth or other fine mesh bag or cloth (I just used a nylon nut milk bag). Put the sive or collinder over a large pot or bowl to collect the whey in case you didn't remove all the milk curds. Pour the milk through the cheese cloth to collect the curds. Hang the cheese cloth bag over the sink to let drain for 2-4 hours. Yeilds about 2 cups.

Transfer cheese to a small bowl and mix in Itialian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Refridgerate until ready to use.

This cheese is very creamy and mild in flavor. The consistancy is similar to ricotta but even smoother. It's perfect for ravioli filling but I'd also use it to make a cheese dip or to add interest to a salad.

Now for the pasta dough. The hardest part here is rolling it out. Unless you have a pasta roller you're going to get a good workout!

I buy my eggs from a local farm that has eggs that aren't certified organic but are raised organically, without antibiotics and are free range. They also reuse the cartons.

Basic Pasta Dough:
2 eggs
2C flour
1/2t salt
1-3t olive oil
1-2t water

Mix together salt and flour. Create well in the middle. Gently beat eggs together and pour into well in flour. Mix together. This should form a stiff dough. If too dry add olive oil, 1t at a time, mixing and kneading to incorporate. If still too dry add water 1t at a time. Once dough holds together turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 4 minutes. Put dough in a sealed container and let sit for at least 15 minutes. (Can be stored for several days in the refridgerator.)



Making it all come together is the time consuming part. I had my boyfriend roll the dough out once I'd struggled with it longer than I wanted.

Seperate pasta dough into 2 balls. Roll out 1 ball into a large thin sheet. (As thin as possilbe, use a pasta roller if available.) Trim edges so the sheet is a rectangle. Add scraps to second ball and roll that one out the same way. Cut dough into rectagles about 1.5x3 inches in size. Put water in a small bowl. Put 1T of cheese centered in the lower half of each rectangle. Dip your finger in the water bowl and wet the edges of each regtangle, then across the middle. Fold in half and press edges together with a fork. Set ravioli on a tray to dry for 20-40 minutes.



To cook them I boiled water with a tablespoon of olive oil (to keep the ravioli from sticking together). Reduce the heat so the water isn't boiling and add the ravioli. Since my edges were rather thick the ravioli cooked for about 10 minutes which was just perfect! Top with sauce and enjoy!



Since pasta sauce is readily available in glass jars I didn't make my own but a homemade marinara would have made this dish even more fantastic. Maybe the next time I'm at the farmer's market I'll have to get some extra tomatoes to play with!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Garden News

I'm glad that I don't have the space for a big garden. Since it's been such a long time since I've had a garden it's nice to start small. Even my 4x8 patch is proving challenging at times!
My most recent challenge occured when one of my zucchini plants started to grow in the direction of my romaine plants. A large zucchini leaf cast a shadow over a struggling romaine plant. When I was out gathering romaine leaves for a salad I made a startling and revolting discovery. The shade provided by the zucchini leaf not only stunted the growth of the romaine plant, it also created a perfect living space for earwigs. Ugh. I hate earwigs. They really creep me out. I attempted to redirect the zucchini plant so that it's leaves weren't shadowing the romaine but when I checked the next afternoon the zucchini plant had repositioned itself over the romaine plant and the earwigs continued to thrive. Since the plant was being attacked by both shade and pests I decided to cut my losses and dig up the romaine plant. I carefully (with my hand as far back on the handle of my spade as possible) dug out the plant and was able to balance it on the spade and transplant the earwigs to their new home in my compost pile. I'm sure they'll thrive there too but at least it has some benefit for me instead of grossing me out!
Luckily, the rest of my red romaine plants are thriving, check out my awesome romaine jungle!

In an earlier post I talked about how my Belgian Giant tomato plant was taking over the tomato area of my garden and so I attempted to transplant it to save my other tomatoes. After a week of touch and go and then another week of hope it became apparent that my tansplanted tomato plant wasn't going to make it. The limbs were hanging lifeless and the 2 tomatoes it had produced were being eaten by bugs. I pulled it up and added it to the compost pile. Luckily my Green Zebra is thriving now that it has the room. It must have 30 or more tomatoes and 1 is starting to ripen. My other plant, I can't remember the variety of herloom, is doing well and has produced about half a dozen VERY large tomatoes. One is about 5 inches in diameter.
Check out all the greenies on my Zebra:

I was worried that I'd never see a single zucchini from my plants. Zucchini plants are strange. A lot of the under leaves have died as the plants have gotten larger, making me worry that the plant would dry up and die. I've had tons of blossoms and I keep thinking that the next time I peak under the leaves I'll see a baby zucchini but every time I've been disappointed. Until last night. Behold, my first zucchini. It's already pretty much big enough to pick now but I have some zucchini from the co-op that I need to use first.

I also have a lot of basil that I need to pick (pesto!!) and a TON of lemon basil (that plant is gonna turn into a basil tree if I don't stop it!) but I'm not sure what to do with it. I'm thinking a lemon basil cream sauce for pasta with grilled chicken, and tomato.

I am going to be doing some kitchen experimentation tomorrow. I am going to try to make homemade cheese to use in homemade ravioli. I will probably be buying the tomato sauce in a jar because I still need more glass jars! If all goes well I'll post the recipe and some pictures here next week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Not So Green Car

I have a 2001 Toyota Corolla. I got it used in 2005 after my 1990 Dodge Colt was proving far more expensive and unreliable than it was worth. My Corolla has just over 108,000 miles on it and it has been an impressively low maintainance car up until now. I have recently discovered that my car has a slow oil leak. After nearly seizing my engine for lack of oil I went to the local auto parts shop and purchased a 5 quart container of the stuff. Then I felt super guilty. A 5 quart container surely uses less plastic than 5 1 quart containers. But isn't what's in the plastic even worse than the plastic itself? I mean...what do we even do with this stuff after we "properly dispose" of it? According to the American Petrolium Institute recycled motor oil can be re-refined into usable motor oil or used by power plants to produce energy. Their oil recycling website makes this all sound very environmentally friendly. It should also be noted that the API website is giving "Hyrdraulic Fracturing", also known as Fracking, a lot of positive attention. So I'm feeling just a little skeptical that we can have our cake and eat it too in this situation. Once the evening rains stop my lovely boyfriend is going to take a look under my hood. We're hoping that it's just a loose oil filter combined with long trips in hot weather that made all my oil disappear.
The oil leak is also making me feel guilty as that oil, distributed all along my driving routes, is probably mucking up wetlands and streams on its way to the ocean right now...I know it's not much oil in the grand scheme but every small amount adds up!
I need a car. Where I live it's just not practical to not have one. The buses only run once an hour and the trip to work, while only a few miles, is very hilly and the roads aren't bike friendly. In the winter it's too cold to wait around outside for a bus or even consider riding a bike anywhere.
I'm hoping that the oil issue is an easily solved one and that it doesn't cost me a fortune. I'd like this car to live at least until 15, like the other one did. If I'm going to own a car I'd like to be as environmentally responsible about it as possible and part of that means not getting a new car unless it's absolutely neccesary. I am lucky that this car hasn't needed lots of new parts and that it is relatively fuel efficient.
Maybe one day I'll live somewhere where cars aren't a neccessity. But probably not, I do love country life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Disposable Free Backyard BBQ

My college friend has an 18 month old, a new house, a husband that works over an hour away, and a very busy social calander. She is taking part in a CSA, purchased half a cow direct from the farm, and purchases a lot of items organic when she can. She doesn't use paper plates, paper towels, paper napkins, or disposable cups and plasticware. She had a BBQ this weekend, and with 7 siblings, in-laws, cousins, great aunts, work friends, and long time friends there were a lot of people there. She relented and used paper plates, plastic cups, paper napkins, and plasticware.
Which made me think...if I were hosting a BBQ for 40+ people, would I be able to avoid the disposables?
The answer is yes, you can avoid disposables without spending a lot more or worrying that the kids are going to break all of your plates trying to balance them on their laps while swinging on the hammock.
Since BBQs are not intended to be a fine dining experience in most cases (especially when you've invited just about everyone you know) you don't have to worry about matching plates or cups. Usually I'm against the use of hard plastics but for an occassional BBQ they are better than the landfill ones. But I'm not suggesting going to your local walmart and stocking up on all of their outragous summer plastic junk. You don't need to buy it new. And you don't neccessarily need plastic unless you are worried about children (or klutzy/inebriated adults) breaking dishes.
The best way to go disposable free is to ask a relatives/friends to bring plates, cups, and silverware that they aren't too fond of. Lots of people have some old kitchen stuff around that they wouldn't worry about if it did accidentally get broken or lost.
If your friends and relatives don't have what you need, or enough of it, the next best option is to hit up the thrift store. There are usually some great retro (read hideous) pieces that will add some conversation pieces to your BBQ. You can get mismatched plates, bowls, mugs, and glasses and you can probably find way more than you'll need. You can also get some pretty ecclectic silverware. Baby spoons anyone? (They're great for serving condiments out of jars!) Many of these items sell for less than $1 a piece. Silverware is usually less than a quarter an item so you can stock up without breaking the bank! You could also try Freecycle, Craigslist, and yard sales. Chances are there are lots of people in your area looking to get rid of some unattractive kitchenware they were gifted long ago.
Once your BBQ is ended and all of the dishes are cleaned you can keep them for next year's BBQ or other big event at your house or redonate them if you don't have the storage space.
The paper free napkin option is easy, cloth napkins are easy to make out of old sheets, t-shirts, or kitchen towels. It's also a good idea to have some larger rags around incase of spills. If you're feeling extra crafty you could make all of the napkins out of the same old sheet and then stamp them with a logo to represent your family or the BBQ theme. If you take the time to hem them you can give them as gifts to your guests so they can take them home and remember your BBQ. Or just keep them yourself so you have lots of napkins for next time!
As always if your guests are bringing food to share ask them to bring it in a reusable container. Be sure to have plenty of jars on hand for storing leftovers. I made myself a fabulous layered leftover jar from my friend's BBQ, it looked really neat and tasted great later that evening when I got hungry again, that's a really fun way to share leftovers with guests if they don't want to take them home on a pasley plate!

Since we've moved into our new apartment my boyfriend has managed to break 2 bowls, 1 glass, and a small plate. He never used to break dishes, apparently the cabinets don't like him. Since we didn't have many dishes to begin with I have been visiting out local thrift store regularly to hunt for not so hideous pieces to add to our dwindling collection. Every once in a while there is a not so excessively decorated item to be found. For some reason the only time I see a full set of dishes is when they are a color somewhere between brown and yellow or decorated with some kind of animal motif. Now when I see these I'll be thinking of them as great party-ware...and maybe snatch up some of the esecially ecclectic ones just in case.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why you should PYO berries this summer

When summer is in full swing I develop a major love affair with local agriculture. My favorite of all the fabulous local foods are the berries. I feel like Sal in the classic children's book. I want to sit and gorge myself on the fabulous berries warm from the sun fresh off the plant.


Aside from the joy of eating berries fresh from the bush, there are lots of great reason to PYO this season. BYO container and pick to your heart's content! Here's why I love PYO berries:

* Save money. ~ This is a big one for lots of people. If spending $5 or more for a pint of blueberries makes you feel queezy, you're not alone. Luckily, PYO berries are a LOT less expensive than those found in grocery stores and farmer's markets.

* Plastic free. ~ Bring your own container (Shallow cardboard boxes, collanders, sturdy hemp or burlap bags all make great options) and skip the plastic. Many farms offer several options for containers to carry your berries in but bringing your own reusable container is best.

* Support local agriculture. ~ Local agriculture is great for the local economy and for the environment. Find PYO farms that use sustainable practices (just becuase they aren't certified organic doesn't mean they don't use organic practices, so ask!) and have a commitment to the local econonomy.

* Fresh frozen fruit, plastic free! ~ If you've ever frozen your own berries then you know that there is no comparison between these sweet, fresh tasting berries and the rubbery, unripe tasting varieties from the grocery store. Freeze your berries on a cookie sheet and then store them in glass containers (for strawberries, be sure to de-stem and slice prior to freezing).

* The best possible berries. ~ I can't even begin to count the number of times I've spent a small fortune on a package of raspberries only to open it and find that mold has ruined many of them. When you PYO, you get to select only the freshest, most perfectly ripe berries. You won't be wasting your money on moldy or underripe berries.

* Fabulous jams. ~ Canning is a lot easier than you might think. It takes some time to do it right but you don't have to be a dedicated suzy-homemaker to pull off some fabulous jams. Fresh ingredients make all the difference. Use your PYO berries to make jellies and jams and your finished product is guarenteed to be even better than the gourmet jams at the grocery store.

* It's fun and rewarding! ~ Seriously, picking berries is exciting: behind every leaf, under every bush, there is a bounty waiting to be found. When you've filled your containers and paid for your haul, you'll be impressed by what you've accomplished.

So grab your container and a friend or two, and head to your local PYO farm. And unlike Sal, try to bring a few berries home!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plastic Free Cooking

I'm a foodie. Seriously. I love food. I love making it, eating it, and going out to restaurants to enjoy it. If there's one place in my budget that I am willing to splurge, it's food. Forget shoes, clothes, make-up and techno gadgets. Give me high quality food and I will pay the price. I am not one of those people who does not see value in a $3 locally grown organic apple. Organic, locally grown food tastes better and is better for the environment and the local economy. It's worth the price.
If you're a foodie like me then you've probably discovered that it can be a serious challenge to avoid plastic when purchasing some common gourmet ingredients. Is it possible to balance our love of the planet and our love of decadent gourmet foods? With a little creativity, a little extra work (only a little, I promise!) and a whole lot of love, I think it is more than possible to have great food with (almost) no plastic.
With that in mind I am going to start dedicating a weekly column in this blog to a plastic-free recipe complete with advice on how to get your ingredients without plastic. While a certain amount of consideration will be made for convenience there will be some recipes given that take a more complete home made approach which may require a little extra time and effort but will surely result in a more fantastic eating experience. This is going to be a learning experience for me too. (Is it possible to purchase local goat's milk cheese without the plastic? What other items that usually come in plastic can I discover in plastic free form? Is it possible to make my own glass noodles?) I'll be scouring some food blogs and Googling my heart out as well as connecting with some foodie friends who can probably help even though they've never thought to worry about whether an ingredient is plastic free.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm back!!

I've been very busy. Or sick. Or suffering from a horrible case of poison ivy. Or in a heat and humidity coma. July went by so quickly I can't even believe it's August and I have yet to go to the beach at all this summer!
I have been unmotivated to sit at the computer as my computer room does not have a/c and my giant computer puts off quite a bit of heat. (A benefit in the winter, not so much in the summer!)
Speaking of a/c we are using far less electricity to run ours than I had originally thought. This makes me quite happy. We only run our a/c at night for about 4-6 hours and have it set at 75 degrees. It only cools our bedroom which we have sealed off like we're expecting a flood. Our electric bill in June, without the a/c unit, was $30. Our electric bill in July, which included those nights with a heat index over 90 degrees, was $44.
When I got my horrible case of poison ivy I attempted to find relief through natural home remedies but when the hot salt baths and apple cidar vinegar didn't work and aloe vera made things worse I broke down and bought a bottle of calamine lotion in a plastic bottle. My mom gave me some benedryl pills (in plastic bubble packs) and the perscription for prednisone came in a plastic bottle too. No matter how "one with nature" or "environmentally friendly" it feels to tromp through the woods willy-nilly getting poison ivy is not very green. It definitely increased my environmental impact for the month!
For the most part my garden is doing well. My tomato plants, all of which are herloom varieties, have far out grown their stakes and the stems are flopping and sagging sadly. Held straight up they are all far taller than I am, the largest, called Belgian Giant (I thought that just referred to the fruit!) is over 8ft tall easily. It got so big that it was taking over all of the space for the other 2 tomato plants. I know it's a risky move but I had to transplant it for fear of loosing all 3 plants. It's been a week and it's slowly coming back to life. Many of the branches had snapped under it's own weight and when I transplanted it and gave the branches new support still more snapped. I have slowly been trimming off that which is definitely lost and trying to figure out which parts will pull through and survive. I also moved all of my basil plants to pots as they were quickly loosing real estate due to the tomatoes and zucchinis. My zucchini plants are just starting to turn their flowers into vegetables. My romaine needs to be trimmed. One plant has even grown a stalk up the middle with another head on top of that. My goodness! So far considering my serious lack of space and expertise I think my garden is looking quite nice and will have an excellent bounty.
My compost box is busting at the seams thanks to all of the refuse from my farmer's market bounty each week. I really need to upgrade to a proper compost bin as the cardboard box I've been using really doesn't have a bottom any more!
I have been using the same razor now for almost a month and it is getting dangerously dull. I have 2 more blades and then I don't know what I'll do! I am considering attempting to make my own hair removal "wax" with honey, there are a few recipes online. I think that may be more environmentally friendly than shaving and I do like how smooth my legs have felt when using a traditional waxing product. Hopefully I can achieve the same results.
I've been thinking a lot about green and homemade beauty products lately. At knitting club this month we had an Arbonne rep do a presentation about all of thier "natural" and chemical-free lotions and beauty products. While the company seems like they have safer products than most companies they do all come in plastic and aren't made locally. All I kept thinking during the presentation was "I could easily make that" or "how funny, Beth Terry just made a mud mask!" So I was talking to my friend who invited the rep and we are going to do a "not a dirty hippie" party at a knitting club sometime this fall. This gives me enough time to make and test a few recipes to see which ones are worth sharing. So far I want to try a sugar face scrub, a sea salt body srub, honey wax, a clay clarifying mask and a moisturizing/anti wrinkle mask (I have yet to find an adequate looking recipe for this one, I need to do more research on ingredients that help reduce wrinkles). I am also considering looking into some environmentally friendly nail polishes as one of my friends is currently obsessed with doing her own nail art.
I also need to start experiementing with my hair care routine. I've been doing the baking soda and vinegar thing for awhile now but with the humidity the top of my head has looked greasy and almost grayish no matter what I do. I don't like it! I don't want to wash my hair more frequently as the rest of it still feels dry, it's just the top of my head. I am going to get some corn starch and give that a try. Maybe absorbing the oil that way will help it look nicer. I don't want to look like a dirty hippie, I want to be green chic! If the corn starch doesn't work I am thinking of trying lemon juice instead of the apple cidar vinegar. I have read that lemon juice is a better conditioner for blondes but that may just be because it has lightening properties.

Alright, that's all for now. So much Green so little time!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Garden Grows

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My tomatoes (The jungle in the upper left corner) are starting to have baby fruits growing. I have only seen 2 beetles and I gave both of them free airfare into the neighbor's chicken coop. Last weekend at the farmer's market I purchased some zucchini, red romaine, and ginger mint. My garden box is now full (perhaps a little too full!) and thriving. Since the plastic pig is only a 2 gallon can I need to make several trips from the kitchen sink to the garden box to properly water everything.

I added more dirt to my compost bin last weekend. Now that I'm eating raw food my skins, peels, stems, and cores have greatly increased. There is some fabulous black dirt in there from decomposing plant matter. Hopefully I can keep up with all the added refuse. My indoor compost bucket started to attract fruit flies (despite the double layer of charcoal) so I had to clean that out well and have stopped using it for now and just walking outside to put my compost in the bin. We already have an ant proplem, we don't need a fruit fly problem too!! The ants have lived in our apartment longer than we have. I think the only thing that will get rid of them at this point is a good winter freeze.

I'm looking forward to going to the farmer's market again tomorrow. Even my boyfriend enjoys it because there is a local pig farmer selling meat and local cheese, honey, maple, and pickle producers. I'll be buying up the kale and chard at $2 a bunch and hoping to find some greenhouse tomatoes. The local tomatoes at the co-op are SO expensive. I am a tomato addict so I'll pay their high prices if I have to.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Local raw food for sustainable green eating

I love raw food. If I weren't so lazy, strapped for cash, and addicted to cooked food I'd eat raw food every day. Not to mention it's not very practical when you live in the northeastern United States to eat raw food year round.
Spring has sprung and I'm being bombarded by local fresh produce. The coffers are full once again. I'm currently more addicted to sunshine and energy than to the filling, warming, and lack of energy that comes with cooked food. Now is the time to jump back onto the raw food wagon, even if just for a short trip.
Through the years of my flirtations with raw food I have learned how to do raw food as simply or as gormet as I wish. Gormet foods, like mac n' cheeze made with nut cheese and zucchini "noodles" are as rich and decadent as any cooked food. When I first went raw these were the foods I craved. Mock pastas and cheeses, heavy nut fillings and intense flavors of dried tomatoes and fruits. Lately my cravings are for simpler foods like salads, raw soups, and smoothies. I still like to make gormet raw foods on occassion and I LOVE decadent raw desserts (Like chocolate cream pie made with cocoa, honey, and avocado in a walnut, almond, honey crust).
I think eating raw local foods is the best way to eliminate the enviormental impact of your diet. Don't get me wrong, like all diets there are plenty of ways to destroy the planet while eating raw. Many raw foodies like to experiment with exotic foods that need to be shipped from around the world, they buy lots of supliment products and seeweeds packed in plastic, run their dehydrators for days on end, and use all sorts of plastic kitchen tools. I guess that's another reason I've diverted from the "gormet" raw foods. I use my blender (it's a Vitamix and I bought this mostly plastic contraption for raw food, it is the most amazing blender ever and it should last me a very very long time) and a knife to make pretty much anything I could want to eat. I do freeze foods and sometimes I use my toaster oven on a low heat to warm or dehydrate foods. (The only dehydrator food I make is Kale Chips which dry in about 1-2 hours. I dehydrate them in the toaster oven or the oven for a giant batch). I like exotic foods as much as the next foodie but I try to only buy them when they are reduced in price because they will be going bad soon. Yesterday I got a great deal on brown bananas which I'll be freezing to use for raw ice cream. (Put frozen banana chunks in blender, add flavorings of choice, blend, eat). I always keep my eye out for discounted mangos and citrus fruits like grapefruit. I do buy lemons regularly but otherwise I really try to stick with local options.
So what do I eat on a regular basis when eating raw?

Breakfast - A smoothie. Currently I have bananas, strawberries, romaine, spinach, and hemp powder. If I can get a discount on pineapple I love pineapple cilantro smoothies. My basic recipe is seasonal fruit, leafy green, banana if available, maybe some raw honey to sweeten, water, hemp, flax, or spirulina powder.

Lunch - The biggest freakin salad I can possibly eat within 30 minutes (my allowed lunch time). It usually has mescalin, dino kale, and tomatoes. I will add to this whatever else I have on hand like avocado, grapefruit, carrot, cucumber, jicama, sprouts (which I grow myself), and herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley. My dressing favorites are lemon juice, salt, and olive oil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, tahini, raw honey, and cayanne. I also like a sauce that tastes like thai peanut sauce made with tahini, sesame oil, cilantro, lime, and miso. Sometimes I'll make guacamole or hummus (made with zucchini and tahini) for a snack and I'll add that to my salad.

Dinner - Raw soup & salad. I love raw soup. My favorites involve lots of tomatoes, some dried tomatoes, celary, bell pepper, red pepper flakes, and a little avocado for creaminess. Usually I throw whatever veggies I have into the blender and eat/drink it up. I can get at least 8 servings of vegetables for dinner this way. I usually have a bowl of greens in a light dressing with my soup so that I have something to chew. I'm also a firm believer that you cannot eat too many leafy greens. There are tons of raw soup recipes but I usually wing it. The only time I didn't like my soup was when I used mostly cilantro since that's all I really had...it was very strong tasting. I like to add a variety of herbs and spices (for example, one soup could have basil, oregano, garlic, cumin, and cayanne). I usually use either lemon or lime juice to add a bit of sour and I usually add spirulina, hemp, or flax to my soup just like my smoothies.

Dessert - I love raw pies, puddings, and ice cream. Raw puddings made with avocado, with the exception of chocolate which masks the color, will be bright green. I love this. I made a lemon/vanilla pudding that was fabulous and green. My smoothies are usually greenish brown. They look like sludge but taste heavenly. I like that! Of course raw fruit makes a good dessert too.

I have so much more energy when I'm eating raw food. The more greens I eat the more energy I have. My stomach looks flatter almost instantly. The first week I'm usually hungry all the time (so I snack on almonds or dry fruit sparingly). The next week or 2 I feel great and don't crave much cooked food. By the 3rd or 4th week I really do start to crave cooked food. Usually diary products like cheese and ice cream. That's when I'll treat myself to a more gormet meal to mimick the filling decadence of cooked food. Sometimes I don't make it that long and I eat more cooked food.

At the moment I'm transitioning to raw food but still eating some cooked food just to help clean out the fridge of things my boyfriend won't eat. I have some chinese food from this weekend (our takeout uses only the paper boxes with metal handles) as well as some rhubarb pie and some rice and beans. I had a small bowl of rice and beans with my raw soup last night and a piece of pie for dessert. I go to the gym tonight so I'll probably finish off the Chinese food after that and eat a salad as well.

Don't think raw food can be green chic? Check out Pure Food & Wine in NYC. That's green chic for sure!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

As usual I'm making this a multi-topic post. I can't help it...being green is a very multifaceted pursuit!

My last batch of rice and beans was gigantic. Ginormous even. Needless to say my desire to eat just rice and beans is on the decline. Since I'm not one to throw out perfectly good food just because I'm getting bored I decided to get creative! So here are a few options if you're starting to get sick of your rice and beans too:

* Burritos! We do "make your own" at our house and use other leftovers or failing foods (like shredding leftover chicken, using up the last bit of bell pepper, shredding some limp greens, etc) The tortillas do come in plastic bags but we only purchase them rarely and the bags get re-used to store all sorts of things. I would love to buy tortillas without plastic or even learn to make them myself but I haven't found them sans plastic and I haven't figured out how to easily make flour tortillas at home. I guess I could try making something like chapati or naan.

* Curries! I love curries. Indian, Thai, Vietnamese...it doesn't matter. Instead of cooking fresh rice to cover with veggies and sauce I've been using my rice and beans. The beans add a great new level of texture and nutrition and are a great way to make your curry filling without adding meat or tofu.

* Vegetarian "lasagna" casserole. This was a bit of a creative operation of me and it came out very nicely. I layered tomato sauce, rice and beans, eggplant, and zucchini (both cut lengthwise like lasagna noodles) and added some fresh garlic and basil. I topped it with grated parmesean cheese and baked it until the veggies were soft. This was tastey and filling!

In other kitchen news, I made this Strawberry Rhubarb pie with a crumble and lattice top. I haven't tried it yet as it was late when I took it out of the oven but it looks and smells amazing. I no longer use white sugar or white flour for anything so I used organic turbinado sugar and organic unbleached whole wheat flour for the crumble and organic unbleached regular flour for the crust. I can't wait to try it tonight!!

My hair is my final topic. I haven't been counting the days but it's been awhile since I decided to use baking soda and vinegar to wash my hair. It's going well. It seems to get greasy looking more quickly if I workout than it did when I was using commercial products. Though I can make it look nice again with a water wash. There are often times when it feels oily but doesn't look greasy so I don't mind that. I think I've only used baking soda and vinegar 3 or 4 times since starting. I really don't need to use it often. I wait until my hair actually starts looking greasy and that's about once a week.

I'll keep you posted on the pie ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Travel Without Planning

Living in New England I am a casual Boston sports fan. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup my boyfriend and his friends decided they had to go to the parade in Boston. I tagged along because I figured it'd be a cool experience. We got up at 5am to leave town by 6am so I was groggy and not thinking ahead so I didn't bring a water bottle with me. I grabbed a banana and headed out the door! The train station on the way into Boston had a water fountain so I had some water there. Then we were out in the crowds and standing along the street for 3 or 4 hours. One of my boyfriend's friends purchases a few bottles of water to share. I wasn't thirsty so I declined. We were near several small restaurants on the street so when they finished their water I asked a restaurant if they recycled and lucked out. Once the parade was over we walked across town to go to a restaurant. We stopped at a grocery store to get drinks and I was able to get an organic iced tea in a can. I drank it all at the store so that I could recycle it in the breeze way. My boyfriend finished his Gateraide in the T station and asked a worker there if they had recycling for containers. They didn't, just newspaper. Since none of us had bags and it was too crowded to carry extra stuff he threw it away. I was happy that he at least attempted to recycle, his friends just threw their containers away. LOTS of people just dumped their containers in the street, there was trash EVERYWHERE along the parade route. It made me sad. At least some of it was getting recycled by some homeless people picking through for deposites.
I was proud that I was able to minimize my own impact despite not planning ahead. It wasn't perfect but it shows that a little effort can make a difference!

The next day I went strawberry picking with my sister. We got almost 20lbs of berries. I ate so many that my lips started to get dry and swollen (mild strawberry allergy). I am working on cutting up and freezing as many as I can store in the freezer. I lightly greased a cookie sheet and laid the halved berries on there to freeze then once they were mostly frozen I dumped them into a large glass bowl. I still have about 10-14lbs of berries that I need to freeze or use. I also bought some rhubarb from the farm where we were picking so I want to make some strawberry rhubarb pie or crumble. I bought a pound cake and made some whipped cream so we could have some strawberry shortcake. I wanted to get biscuits but they were sold in a plastic blister pack so I skipped it. I know I could make them myself but this week is just too busy! I will have to find time to make pie. I'm debating making my own crust or buying crust, I did find an organic crust in a cardboard/wax paper container so it's an option.

I got my first electric bill, $30. With our 2 giant gaming computers and my boyfriend's need to sleep with 2 fans pointed at him I'm impressed that it was so low. He thinks we can get it lower. We've started completely cutting power to the computers as well as the modem and router when we're not using them. Before I just had my computer and monitor on the surge protector but we put pretty much everything in our office on the surge protectors so that they aren't running when we're not using them. We're also raising the temp in our fridge and freezer just a little bit. My boyfriend has started getting in the habit of shutting off at least 1 of his fans in the middle of the night if he wakes up. This weekend we installed a dimmer in the dining room so now we have dimmers on the kitchen and dining room lights. I know it's all little things but we don't really use much. I think the lowest electric bill I had when I lived in Georgia was $23 and that was in the fall when I didn't need the A/C or the heat. If we could get our bill here lower than that I'd really be impressed. Luckily it's been cooler and breezing in the evenings so we're able to keep the tempurature comfortable inside by opening windows and doors. Our upstairs windows are the crank handle kind so I feel like they don't allow airflow as well. It's a little warmer upstairs but it's not horrible.

My little box garden got an upgrade this weekend. It went from about 2x5 feet to 4x8 feet. I need to weed the new area and add some compost to it then buy the plants to fill it in. I am hoping I can still get some pea plants and a squash or 2. I may also buy some more herbs like oregano. I also want to get catnip to put near the screendoor to keep bugs away. We have a mild ant problem. Vinegar in bowls around the areas where they are coming in seems to be helping though. I'm not really sure why it works but my parents used to do it when I was a kid so I'm keeping the tradition alive. They don't go in the vinegar and drown or anything, maybe they just don't like the smell...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Not-So Green Birthday...and other random stuff

Last night I went to my mom's house for dinner and to celebrate my birthday which is this week. She made a meal per my request. It is one of my favorite pasta dishes: Pasta with shrimp and asparagus in a vodka cream sauce. It is light and flavorful and fabulous. The recipe was featured in a Bon Appetite magazine probably 12 years ago or more. My mom still has the recipe she cut out of the magazine per my request. She also made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was surprisingly not as rich as I expected it to be and not overly sweet. The meal was fabulous but I couldn't help but wonder how much waste had been generated by purchasing the ingredients. My mom doesn't shop in the bulk section, she doesn't buy organic. She usually puts her produce in a plastic produce bag but she does bring her own bags for the check out. They have zero sort recycling at their apartment so she recycles what she can. There were definitely at least 6 plastic bags of various sizes thrown out at my expense and just for 1 meal. I guess what I could have done is offered to help purchase the items that she didn't already have to make the meal and then I could have had more control over the packaging of those items and whether or not they were organic. Though since it was for my birthday my mom probably would have insisted that she purchase the items. It's a sticky situation.
My sister got me some plastic free swag for my kitchen which I was very excited about. She got me a second glass cookie jar with a metal top (great for storing bulk dry goods) and a stainless steel spatula and spoon. She got them at the specialty cooking store in town so I'm sure those 3 items were not cheap. She is so sweet!!
My mom's husband made me a homemade card which was awesome. It was a life-size hat with a cartoon rabbit inside. It's hilarious, I'm putting it on display.
My mom, aside from cooking for me, got me a bouquet of flowers. Which she put in a large plastic pig shaped watering can. The flowers were beautiful local seasonal flowers (peonies that are going to bloom any moment) but a plastic pig...really? I tried to politely decline it but my mom said that since she already bought it and she has no use for a watering can that it would be wasteful for me not to take it. I am thinking I will check to see if the tag is still sticking to it and if so return it. Otherwise I will probably be stuck with a pink plastic pig watering can. I really wanted to get a classic looking metal one too...bummer. Later in the evening I reminded my mom that I am really trying to reduce the amount of plastic that I purchase and use, that I am trying to be more environmentally conscious, and that I don't want to support companies that are not environmentally responsible. My mother hates clutter and junk in her life so I told her that I got that quality from her so I don't want clutter and junk either.

I have some more green projects planned as I get some free time...there's still so much to do for the apartment and I am trying my best to get organized. When I'm not putting things away I am currently working on knitting some cleaning rags and wash clothes. I made some sponge sized clothes for cleaning dishes, counters, and sinks and they work really well. I'll probably want to sprinkle them with baking soda and boil them once a week as they will probably hold onto germs like a sponge would. I would just throw them in the laundry but I only wash with cold water so that won't really help much. I am planning on using the water from steaming vegetables to quickly boil my rags once the veggies are done. That way I can re-use water that's already pretty hot.
I also still haven't purchased any sewing supplies for making myself a hanky book and some bags out of old shirts...so many projects, so little time (and energy!). My boyfriend is still buying sandwich bread in a bag so I'd like to try to make a loaf that he would be happy using for sandwiches. I think he likes the cheap airy bread so it might be difficult to mimic at home but I'm willing to try! I'll probably have to slice it up for him and re-use one of his bread bags to store it. I'm ok with that though.
I still haven't finished my garden. If it would stop raining for 5 minutes I could go outside and work on pulling up the weeds/moss in the area where I want to expand to. I also need to get more compost/soil to lay down which means I'll be adding to my collection of bags...ugh. I am hoping my local garden shop sells pea and zucchini plants as it is probably a little late to plant seeds.

This weekend I'll be making my first trip to one of the local weekend farmer's markets. I'm also hoping to go strawberry picking if the weather cooperates. I really want strawberries for smoothies and desserts but I don't want to buy those stupid clam shell packs!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Taking A Stand Against Big Business



I was going to do today's post about eco-confessions based on a similar post over at MyPlasticFreeLife.com but then I watched Tapped last night and now have more important things to discuss. I'll bare my dirty secrets another day.


After learning about how these large companies take advantage of the public water system, manufacture plastic with no regard to air and water quality regulations, and lobby the government to turn a blind eye to how they are destroying the planet, I am making a commitment to no longer purchase any products from any of the brands owned by Nestle, Coca Cola, or Pepsi. Nestle practically owns every single processed food brand known to man. Aside from it's bottled water, soda, and energy drink brands, Pepsi owns lots of cereal and chip brands including Sun Chip...so much for not feeling guilty about eating chips (it's a compostable bag). Coca Cola owns a lot of bottled water brands on top of lots of other bottled beverage brands. For Pepsi and Nestle the list of products is daunting.

I have linked to each company's official website for a list of their brands:

Nestle
Coca Cola
Pepsi

It simply isn't enough to avoid plastic use on a daily basis. We can choose one product over another to reduce our plastic consumption but if we're buying one Nestle product instead of another it's not going to cause any real change. It's not enough to stop drinking bottled water if your money still ends up in the pocket of the company that sells that bottled water. These companies really only sell convenience products. You don't need to buy Quaker instant oats or Digorno frozen pizza. Humans have been living for thousands of years without baby formula, instant rice, and energy drinks.

This doesn't mean having to give up all "processed" foods. After all, even a chic environmentalist can be hungry and short on time and planning. That doesn't mean we have to starve or sacrifice. There are actually some great companies out there making processed food that you can feel good (or at least a little better) about. Honestly, I don't purchase much processed food to begin with and I rarely have purchased things that could have possibly or definitely were Nestle, Pepsi, or Coca Cola brand products. Trust me though, I'll be telling all of my friends to do their shopping with other brands.

Annie's Homegrown ~*~ "Annie’s chooses packaging materials that are friendly to our Earth. All of our packages are made with recycled content and vegetable based-inks, and all of them can be tossed in the recycling bin. We use post-consumer recycled materials whenever possible – for example, our boxes are made from 100% recycled paper fiber with a minimum of 35% post-consumer content." Annie's also has a renewable energy project and uses natural ingredients that are easy to pronounce and recognize. They have a number of organic options.

Kashi ~*~ Kashi uses recycled paperboard but says nothing about recycled plastic. They are taking steps to reduce their packaging for a number of their products but they do offer a number of "single serving" options. Like Annie's they have a commitment to natural ingredients and try to use ingredients from the US as much as possible. They have some organic options.

Amy's Kitchen ~*~ It worries me that I can't find packaging or sustainability information on their website. I sent them an email so hopefully I'll get some information that way. On the positive side though, they do use primarly organic ingredients and offer only vegetarian foods. Not supporting pesticides and factory farms goes a long way in helping the environment. If you have to choose between Amy's & Stouffers (a Nestle company) and I'd say Amy's is a winner every time.

Izze ~*~ Boycotting the 2 biggest soda manufacturers in the world might leave you wanting some fizz in your life. Izze doesn't use plastic in their packaging, they have a commitment to renewable energy and recycling (they use 10% post-consumer recycled paper for their packaging) and they use all natural ingredients. They do not offer anything organic.

I can't think of any other companies that I would recommend off the top of my head. Of course none of these are prefect and they all use plastic in some capacity or another. However, if you're going to purchase convenience foods it's nice to know the food is coming from a company that cares and is at least trying to do the right thing. Afterall, isn't that how we are too? Not always perfect but trying to do the right thing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chemical Free Hair!!

I don't like the term no 'poo. Not because of it sounds like I have stopped going to the bathroom. It just conjures up all of the horrible greasy hair photos and videos I've seen online from people expressing that they've recently "gone no 'poo". Also, it's kind of misleading. Anyone who doesn't use conventional shampoo is using the term but it's like "vegetarian" it's just too big of a catagory. Do you use homemade shampoo? Just water? Baking soda? Corn startch? On the no 'poo blogs and forums everybody disagrees because everybody has a different method and/or different reason for doing it. Sounds kind of like the vegetarian forums, the similarities build!
So I will not be claiming to be a no 'poo-er. I wash my hair, thank you very much.
I didn't do enough research the first time I tried this a few weeks ago. I ran out of conditioner and still have about half a bottle of shampoo. My long curly hair gets very dry on the ends so I was in the habit of shampooing just my scalp and using conditioner all over my hair. I went through a lot of conditioner. I decided to wash my hair as usual and rinse with apple cidar vinegar and ended up using WAY too much vinegar. I ended up having rather greasy hair but it wasn't that noticeable when my hair was up. I'm used to only washing my hair once or twice a week so I kept forgetting to plan enough time to wash my hair and then have enough time for it to dry (i.e. remembering at 9pm that I needed to wash my hair was not very helpful). So this morning I finally got around to hair washing since I got up extra early for my morning run so I would have time to wash my hair before work. I prepared myself 2 old spaghetti jars full of solutions. The first one was 1T of baking soda in hot water and the other was 1T of apple cider vinegar, 1t of raw honey, and cold water.
When I showered I wetted my hair, massaged my scalp, and rubbed down the length of my hair. I then poured the baking soda solution onto my scalp about a half cup at a time and massaged my scalp. It made my hair feel awful. I rubbed it into the hair at the top of my scalp that was still really greasy from my first attempt at the vinegar. I then washed my body and face as usual and then rinsed my hair under the water, really rubbing and massaging to try to work the grease out. Then I poured the cold water and apple cider vinegar over my scalp and then along my hair, rubbing it in as I went. I then rinsed it out in water with more rubbing and massaging. It was hard to tell with my hair wet how it would come out. I towel dried and combed with a wide tooth comb as usual.

So...how does my hair look now you ask? Soft and fluffy. No more grease! I have naturally very poofy hair but it's not any more or less frizzy than it usually is. It's also not overly dry. I'd say it's about as dry as it usually is when I shampoo and condition. So I would definitely call it a success! I will have to see how my hair fairs over the next few days. Usually the hair closest to my scalp and face starts to get greasy after 3-4 days depending on how often I run and how humid it is. I have plans to go swimming in a local pond today so I will be interested to know how that effects my hair. Usually it only helps lengthen the time before I have to wash again, hopefully it has the same effect this time too.

My boyfriend was not impressed the first time I tried to use apple cider vinegar. My hair smelled like vinegar and my head looked gross. He suggested that with all of the other green and eco friendly choices I've made I could have the indulgence of "real" shampoo and conditioner. He hasn't seen my hair since I washed it this morning so I'll be interested in his opinion this evening. I know it sort of goes against the whole "hippy green" movement to care about appearances but I like fashion and make up and clean hair (I do also use a hair straightener about 3x a month...it dries out my hair but it looks so manageable and shiney and lovely). But then again it is my philosophy that you can care about the planet and still enjoy modern comforts like great clothes and gormet food. (And great hair too!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Great Microwave Debate

My boyfriend hates microwaves. He believes they are, at the very least pointless, and at worst dangerous cancer causing machines. When we moved to Georgia we didn't own one. What's the point of having 1 more unneccessary piece of (plastic) kitchen equipment taking up space? Since I prefer to eat a whole foods diet and cook most of my own food from scratch a microwave wasn't needed.
We had some roadblocks in being microwave free. Like when we bought microwave popcorn for a movie night we were hosting. "Anyone want popcorn?...Well you better not!!" And what do you do about leftovers? I quickly learned that reheating on the stove is (almost) as fast and often tastes better. Certain foods could also be reheated in the toaster oven.
There are lots of benefits to going without a microwave: more counter space, less plastic, smaller environmental impact, discourages buying unhealthy "microwave" meals (which come in lots of packaging). But are microwave ovens really unsafe? Instinctively I think they must be unsafe. So I did what any good internet junky would do while bored at work and Googled it. Unfortunately that only complicated the issue. The FDA and EPA say that normal home microwave oven use is perfectly safe. Unfortunately I've watched way too many documentaries to trust either of those organizations so that really isn't a definitive answer. There are just as many websites quoting studies that have conclusive findings that microwave ovens are a serious health risk as there are websites quoting studies that have conclusive findings that microwaves are just as healthy and safe as any other cooking method.
I often bring leftovers to work where we have no stove for reheating. I usually eat my food at room temperature and forgo the microwave to be on the safe side. Is my caution warrented?

I should also note that, while I think a microwave is completely unneccessary I do have a few other kitchen appliances that aren't all that neccessary either.

Toaster Oven - I could just use the oven. Using a toaster oven uses less energy for small jobs though. I probably could have purchased a used one but I bought it new because the only used ones I found were very dirty.

Rice Cooker - I could just cook the rice on the stove. I purchased this rice cooker before I really considered the environmental impact of the manufacture of new goods. Honestly it's very convenient as it does cook the rice perfectly every time and when I'm making a large meal with rice and have several pots going it's nice to have 1 less thing to think about. We also make a lot of our own sushi so our rice cooker has been put to good use.

I think that's actually it though. We don't have a hand mixer, electric can opener, bread maker, waffle iron, grittle, coffee pot, electric kettle, bread toaster, George Forman grill, or any other gimicky electronic for the kitchen. Oh yea, and we don't have a microwave.

I guess I'll have to keep researching microwave safety. I think either way I can do without.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Even With the Best Intentions...

This weekend was a busy one as more furniture was moved into the apartment. We aquired a free hutch, 2 free desks, and a free dresser. This week we'll also be getting a free table with 6 (free!) chairs. I'm pretty happy about it because I get good quality furniture for free and I reduce my impact by not buying new!
I purchased some plants for my little backyard box garden on Friday. Our local garden center takes back the plastic containers and returns them to the growers. They also take back other plastic and cardboard for recycling. I was told they sold "scoop your own" compost in bulk so I returned the next day to buy a large box full but when I arrived was told that they only sold it by the bucket load (as in tractor bucket, not a hand bucket). I have a VERY small space to garden in and a "bucket load" of compost would be WAY too much for me. If I known this ahead of time I probably could have made arrangements to share a bucket load of compost but since I didn't know and I needed to get my plants in the ground I ended up purchasing 2 bags of compost...in plastic. I was disappointed. I now I have 2 plastic bags and I'm not sure quite what to do with them. I will probably use one to kneel on when gardening. Maybe I'll put one down under my compost bucket to keep the moisture off the wood. At least growing my own tomatoes will cut down on the need for tomatoes to travel to me!
On a related note, I ran out of conditioner a few days ago so I decided, after doing some research online, to give the cider vinegar rinse a try. I will have to try tweaking it but so far my hair looks very very greasy and smells of vinegar. I have very, very thick and wavy hair that is naturally very dry. Finding a good conditioner has always been a challenge for me. I'm not sure what to do! My plan right now is to use my old conditioner bottle to make up a concoction with vinegar, water, and some raw honey. I will see how this works. I will also be looking at some local co-op and health food stores to see if there is a plastic free and environmentally friendly option that I can purchase. I will also have to do more research online to see if there is a better option. I have tried straight avocado before. I don't think that really did anything as my hair was very dry after using it. I'm worried that, at least for the time being, I may have to go back to a conditioner in a plastic container. I will have to keep looking though!

My mom stopped by the apartment this weekend. She was impressed by how "green" it is. She also said "thank goodness for people like you who are willing to spend the extra time and money". I don't want to push the issue so I just said "you'd be surprised but I'm probably saving money and it really doesn't take more time". I'd love if I could convince her to try some greener practices but I know that shoving my green ideals down people's throats doesn't get anywhere. She asked my boyfriend what he thought of my "green-ness". I was glad that he said he thought it was great and it really hasn't effected him and it's inspired him to be more aware of what he buys and uses. He also reminded my mom that I am not forcing him to be green too.
He is making better choices though, without my pushing. He bought a small (plastic) container of lemonaide mix which will probably last him 6 months instead of buying soda. He never really used to buy much soda but he would buy juice or gateraide maybe once a week. He makes a batch of rather watered down lemonaide and it lasts him a week or more. He just likes to have something other than water or milk to drink. I love that he prefers the local milk in glass jugs over commercial milk already so he doesn't even have to think about that decision. He did buy a yoga ball to use as a desk chair. I found one for myself at the thrift store which I'm pretty sure was never removed from the box (or the person kept all the plastic packaging). I sit at a desk all day so at home I think sitting on a ball is much better for my posture!

One of these days I'll be able to post about just 1 topic at a time...there's too much going on right now though!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Green Chic on a Budget

Aside from all of the other challenges associated with moving into a new apartment and trying to be as green, plastic free, and local as possible there is the money issue. Let's face it, getting new furniture (even if it's used) and all of the other stuff you need for an apartment (kitchen supplies, food, bathroom supplies, etc) can be costly. So when the money is running low how do you keep your green priorities?

Actually, it's way easier than you might think. As it happens, most "green" choices are very economical too. Here are a few ways you can save money and the planet. Is there any better win-win?!

Cleaning:

Sure, there are tons of "green" cleaning products on the market. There are some great companies that are doing a good job of making some safer alternatives to the chemical filled gunk that saturates the market these days. The down side is that not all "green" products are really as green as they say they are and anything marked "green" these days is sure to have a significant cost mark up. Luckily there is an easy alternative that is even more green and less costly alternative. If you aren't using baking soda and vinegar to clean just about everything in your house from your teeth to your laundry, to your floors then you should start!
Food grade baking soda (for cooking and personal hygene) can be purchased in bulk at many co-op and health food stores across the country and costs less than a dollar per pound. You can also purchase non-food grade baking soda (for household cleaning) from certain feed or lawn and garden stores for just pennies a pound. When you compare that to $8 a bottle for a commercial "green" cleaning solution that is some serious savings!!
Distilled white vinegar is also a lot less expensive than household cleaners and can be purchased in a variety of container sizes, many of which are glass. I've yet to see it sold in bulk but check your local store, you never know! Vinegar is a great disinfectant too!

Eating:

When I saw that my monthly budget was quickly getting swallowed up by apartment expenses I knew I'd have to reduce the amount of money I spent on food. Eating healthy meals on a budget can seem nearly impossible, especially at a conventional grocery store. Not to mention that EVERYTHING comes in plastic. So how can we avoid plastic, eat well, and save money? Back to the bulk bins!

My local co-op has a huge variety of rices ranging from boring white to exotic wild varieties, all right in the bulk section. Next to that is an equally fantastic variety of beans, lentils, and other legumes. Rice and beans is a staple meal in a wide variety of cultures. It's cheap, easy, and nutritious. I spent less than $5 on beans and rice and made enough to feed a small army (or 2 people for about 2 weeks, eating it for lunch and dinner). My local co-ops also feature discounts on produce that is going to go bad soon. I get "bread" bananas (very brown, great for freezing) at less than 40 cents a pound and discounted onions, potatoes, and carrots. All sold without plastic! The options for discounted produce vary depending on what needs to get used up quickly so you have to be flexible. Keep in mind that pretty much all fruits can be frozen (skin and dice if neccessary) and vegetables call also easily be frozen once lightly steamed. So if it looks like the food you purchased won't last long even in the refigerator cut it up, steam it and freeze it. I freeze my fruit and veggies on a greased sheet and then dump them into glass storage containers. That way they don't stick to each other or the container and are easy to use when you want them.

Summer time is a great time to eat on a budget. Check out your local farm stands and farmer's markets and don't be afraid to ask if they have any discounted produce available. Many farmers will sell bruised tomatoes and other fruits at a discount or if produce is starting to go old they'll likely sell that at a discount as well. Also, if you go later in the day, towards the end of the farmer's market or when the farm stand is about to close, you may be able to get discounts on the remaining produce or other items simply because the farmer doesn't want to pack it all up and move it. If you are buying a bulk quantity of a particular item you can often haggle a discounted price. Remember that farmers work hard to produce food so be reasonable!

Here is my recipe for rice and beans:

2C uncooked brown rice
4C uncooked beans (try a variety or whatever type you prefer)
10-12C water, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
spices and condiments as available (this is the fun part!)

In a rice cooker or in a covered sauce pan, combine rice and 4C water. OPTIONAL: Add spices such as tumeric, chili powder, curry powder, or cumin to the water to flavor the rice. 2T will give subtle flavor, add more for a bolder flavor. Bring water to a boil and then lower heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed.

Dump beans into a large bowl, cover with water and stir with your hands. Pick out any beans that float (they are hollow) or any rocks or other bits that aren't beans. Drain and dump beans into a large pot. Add 8C water to the beans, they should be covered with about 2 inches of extra water. Add minced garlic. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 hours, stirring occassionally. If water level gets low and it is the consistancy of chili add more water. Once the beans are tender drain water. Remove from heat. Add rice to beans and mix thoroughly. Add seasonings as desired. Suggestions are curry powder/sauce, salsa, mustard, hot sauce, cayanne, cumin, salt, pepper...whatever you have on hand! I left mine only mildly spiced with some chili powder and cayanne pepper. Anytime we have a serving we mix it with whatever condiments we want in our bowl. This makes a TON of food as beans and rice both tend to double in size when cooked.

This is not a fancy recipe but it is tasty, filling, cheap, and green!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Experiementing With A Dirty Couch...And Other News

In furnishing my new apartment so far everything we've acquired used. We got a free couch from my boyfriend's brother. Free is free and we need a couch but this couch has had a hard life. It came to us after sitting on a somewhat indoor porch for at least a couple years. By some miracle it didn't smell but it was dirty and had some stains. We borrowed an upholstery cleaner and I decided that I didn't want to use the detergent that the company says is the only thing you should put in the upholstery cleaner. I figured that if baking soda and vinegar could make my laundry clean then they could make my couch clean too.

I was right!! Here's what I did:

First I used my normal hand held vacuum with the upholstery attachment to vacuum out as much dirt as possible. Then I used the upholstery cleaner with a solution of about 3/4 cup baking soda and 6-8 cups of water. I let this dry and then used lemon juice and a rag to vigorously attack the stains. I used this on food stains and larger dirt stains as well as stains that looked like they came from rust. I let this dry and then used the upholstery cleaner again, this time with 1 cup vinegar and 6-8 cups water.

The couch is soft and a lot cleaner than it was when I started. It still doesn't look brand new and probably never will. I plan on cleaning it again. I want to try mixing lemon juice and water in the upholstery cleaner. I will probably do 2-3 cups lemon juice and 4-6 cups water to really work on cleaning the larger dirt stained areas. Then I'll do the same baking soda and then vinegar routine. I will probably also do straight lemon juice and a rag on some of the more stubborn stains that haven't released fully yet.

This could also be done without the upholstery cleaner though it would probably require more elbow grease. Use a spray bottle to evenly distribute a small amount of cleaning solution and a rag to rub it into the couch and then a normal vacuum with an upholstery attachment to vacuum it out. A water safe vacuum would probably be best or just let it dry and vacuum after.

The lemon juice really worked wonders, I will definitely be keeping lots of lemon juice on hand as a stain remover from now on. The acid and enzymes just eat away at the stains, making them disappear instantly.

In other cleaning news: I am frustrated that I can't find a local place to buy white vinegar in bulk. I use this for so many cleaning things but other than large plastic jugs I can only find it in liter sized glass containers with plastic tops. While I plan on re-using these it just seems silly to keep collecting small glass bottles instead of buying bulk. I may have to talk to the people at the local co-ops to see if they have any suggestions.

In somewhat related news: I am loving the soap I got at the co-op. It came without any packaging so I'm not sure who makes it (I think it might say on the display where I got it) but it is amazing. I got the almond bar and it smells great and makes me skin soft and moisturized. I don't have to use much as it has a nice thick lather and it even works well for shaving.

In other green news: I really need to get/make some cloth bags for purchasing baking supplies in bulk. The paper bags are not strong enough and leak easily when I put too much flour or baking soda in them but I hate using the plastic ones too. I want to make my own out of old t-shirts. I don't have a sewing maching so hopefully I will be able to make them sturdy enough on the bottom (and leak proof!) with sewing by hand. I will keep looking for a used sewing machine but everybody always sells their antique ones and want a small fortune for them! I don't do much sewing now but I used to (I made an awesome blanket out of old jeans) and would love to get back into it, especially in the interest of green crafts. Forget buying fabric, it's more fun to use old clothes, or clothes from thrift stores as fabric.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Successes and Hurdles: Life In The Green Lane

Moving into a new apartment is stressful. Becoming as "green" as possible at the same time can add to that stress. Then again, what better time to make a major change than when major changes are already occuring? Well, that was my logic anyway.

So I'm taking on the challenge of really greening up my life. One of my main focuses is reducing the amount of things that I purchase that are considered "throw away" items or that come in "throw away" packaging. Another high priority is reducing the amount of plastic (throw away or otherwise) in my life. Pretty much EVERYTHING in this modern world of ours is made from plastic or comes in plastic so to many people the idea of avoiding plastic is just too daunting.

The fact is, many plastics can't be recycled and even those that are recyclable will eventually end up in a landfill because plastic can't be continuously recycled. The best solution is to use less, as much less as you possibly can or are willing to give up. Like I said, plastic is in EVERYTHING so unless you're going to nearly completely remove yourself from the modern world you probably won't be able to get rid of all of the plastic in your life but it's still worth some effort.

It's been about a week since my boyfriend and I started moving into our new apartment. Surprisingly we've found a lot of success in avoiding plastic and reducing our waste. There have been some challenges along the way too. Let's go with the good news first and take a look at some of our successes.

~*~ BAKING SODA!! I'm skipping all the household cleaners that come in plastic and are full of chemicals and using baking soda to clean just about everything. I buy it from the bulk bin and store it in a glass cookie jar with a metal lid. Cleaning uses so far include:
* Laundry (1/2 cup baking soda to wash)
* Dishes (1/2 cup baking soda in the dishwasher or just a dusting of baking soda and a rag to scrub dishes by hand)
* Counters, sinks, shower (sprinkle baking soda, scrub with rag)

~*~ Vinegar - I bought it in a glass jar with a metal screw top. I would like to buy white vinegar in bulk but I haven't found a local source yet.
* Laundry (1/2 cup in the rinse cycle to soften clothes)
* Dishes (In the rinse area where you'd usually put Jet Dry to reduce clouding/spotting on glass)
* Counters, sinks, shower (spray a little after cleaning then wipe down to disinfect. It will also react with the baking soda so you won't have a silty residue everywhere)

~*~ Furniture - We've collected a lot of used furniture so far and it's all in good condition. The production of new furniture takes a lot of resources and energy so used is good! We still need to find a few more pieces so I'll be yard sale hunting soon.

~*~ Trash bin - I found a 10 gallon metal can with a lid for $10. Used would have been good too but I didn't see any. I also found "plastic bags" made from corn that are completely biodegradable. The corn industry has a lot of problems of it's own but I guess we have to pick the lesser of evils in some cases.

~*~ Shower curtain - While I couldn't find one made from natural materials I did find one made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. That's good enough for me.

~*~ Washing Machine - While it's not front load (to reduce water consumption) it was used and is still in great condition. I recently learned that for most electronics 80% their energy consumption is a result of their manufacturing and that doesn't account for all the water used and waste produced during production. Used is best!

~*~ Clothes drying - I did get a dryer but I also have a metal drying rack (it does have some plastic and I did purchase it new) that I use to dry the majority of my clothes and towels. This reduces energy use and the wear on my clothes. Win-win!

~*~ Glass storage - I'm reusing glass jars I'm collecting from food purchases. So far I have a lemonade jug (which will be great for purchasing apple cidar vinegar in bulk), a spagetti jar, salsa jar, and curry jar (these all have wide tops like mason jars so they'll be great for storing all sorts of stuff like dried goods and foods to freeze or refridgerate). I will also be looking for used mason jars to add to my collection.

~*~ No plastic for eating or drinking. We have nothing but class cups, ceramic plates and bowls and metal silverware (which has been in my family since at least the 70s).

~*~ No plastic for cooking. I have all stainless steel measuring spoons and cups, all bamboo stiring spoons and spatulas, and glass mixing bowls.

~*~ Clothes Hangers. I purchased some wood and metal hangers and we have a bunch of old wire hangers. I do have a few plastic clip hangers for hanging skirts but they came with clothes I purchased back in high school.

~*~ Composting & Recycling - I have already started a compost bin (in a cardboard box for now until I can get my hands on a used whiskey or pickle barrel for cheap) and we've already started collecting recycling though we don't really have a designated place to put it yet. I even found compost starter that came in a cardboard box without a plastic bag inside. Wonderful!

~*~ Personal care products - I'm still using up a lot of lotions, soaps, shampoo, and conditioner in plastic containers. I just ran out of body wash and will be re-using the plastic bottle with a pump top for dispensing vinegar to clean. I purchased a bar of natural almond soap that didn't come in any packaging. It smells heavenly and the almond is hydrating to my skin. I have a whole host of recipes ready for when I run out of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deoderant, sun screen, and lotions. Another win-win as I won't be purchasing plastic or chemical filled products!

~*~ Toilet paper - I found 100% recycled toilet paper sold in paper wrapped rolls. I wish I could buy more than 1 roll wrapped together but this will do for now.

~*~ Food - I'm putting this in the win column even though there's lots of work to do. I've learned that buying processed convenience food is going to be nearly impossible. Most of it comes in lots of plastic packaging and it's bad for you anyway. So I'm preparing more homemade meals. I probably won't ever be able to remove plastic from my food purchsing but I have already started to greatly reduce it by making my own meals.
* Dry goods purchased in bulk (pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, flour, sugar)
* Fresh fruits and vegetables purchased without packaging (twist ties, rubber bands and stickers continue to be a challenge)
* Looking for glass or cardboard packaging when packaging is necessary. Avoiding plastic "windows" in cardboard boxes and plastic tops to glass bottles can be tricky.
* Make your own frozen fruit - I buy it fresh and cut it up and freeze it myself. No plastic required! (Unless it has a stupid sticker on it)

Not a bad start if I do say so myself. I was even able to convince my boyfriend, (who I am not forcing to participate but who is already doing his best out of guilt), not to purchase soda because he usually gets it in a plastic bottle. He opted for chocolate milk from a local diary that comes in glass. There have been some challenges though. Let's take a look:

~*~ Vaccuum - I needed a small one for the stairs and small spaces in our apartment. I couldn't find one that would work used so I purchased new. It's made of palastic and came in some plastic packaging. They did use molded paper (which is almost always recycled just because that's easier) instead of styrofoam to keep everything in place.

~*~ Toaster Oven - I don't have, nor want, a microwave but a toaster oven is a nice way to use less energy and heat when baking smaller things. The only used one I found was terribly stained and dirty so I bought new. This came with lots of plastic and styrofoam packaging.

~*~ Meat - I currently only eat chicken and fish but it seems nearly impossible to buy meat without buying plastic too. I will probably be giving it up all together as most fishing is horrible for the planet. I might try to look for a local seller of properly raised chicken and get it without plastic. Giving up meat may take some time though, I'll do my best for now.

~*~ Cheese - It is probably impossible to buy cheese without plastic unless you buy it right from the maker. I won't be able to give up cheese any time soon so I'll do my best to pick cheese with less plastic for now.

~*~ Bulk foods - I have yet to figure out a no waste way to take them home. I might have to find some metal tins or glass containers to bring with me and have the store weigh them empty. So far I have been using paper bags with the intention to reuse but they get small holes easily and leak. My boyfriend did buy bread in a bag for his sandwiches so I will probably use that bag when he's done with it.

~*~ Aluminum & Non-stick - Most of my pots and pans are aluminum or non-stick. Both of these can leach into food and aluminum has been linked with Alzheimer's disease. I will be replacing them with stainless steel and/or cast iron. I will be hunting for used but may have to get new. ***TIP*** Use a magnet to determine if your pans are stainless steel or not. Magnets stick to steel and not to aluminum.

~*~ Shower head - We need to replace the existing one and I have never seen one that doesn't have at least some plastic.

So there are a few hurdles ahead and I'm sure I'll discover more along the way but so far it really hasn't been a difficult transition. I know that I have to be forgiving of myself and not try to guilt trip my boyfriend when he purchases something with plastic or unneccessary packaging. I know that ultimately greening up my life will improve my health and the health of the planet. Hopefully my green choices will influence others to make the same choices and we can really make an impact together!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Green Shopping: Apartment Basics

Ineveitably, when moving into a new apartment there are things you realize you need that you don't have. So you shop for it. But where do you shop and what do you buy to ensure that you're making green choices for your new place?

Used items are always a good place to start so I checked out Craigslist and also went to my local thrift store.
I found a washer and dryer pair for $200 that was fairly new and lightly used. The washer is top-load but I figure I'm still saving the world energy and resource use by buying used instead of new and by only doing full loads on a short cycle (even when the washer is full I use a medium water level and it still gets all the clothes clean). I also only ever use cold water to do the washing. Since I'm forgetful (I prefer "busy") I often leave the clothes in the washer for a bit after they are finished washing. This lets more water drain from them so if I do use the dryer to dry them (I also have a rack on which I dry most of my clothes) they take less time. Be careful with your dryer's sensor dry settings, sometimes they aren't very accurate. I usually dry my clothes for 20 minutes and then check them. Most of the time they are dry enough to let them air dry the rest of the way...unless drying heavier items like towels and jeans (which I usually line dry anyway).
I also found a dresser and night stand set that was in great condition and came with a mirror. It's a nice set that I'm sure I'll be able to keep for a long time. And it's got lots of storage which is great!
Since my used item shopping yeilded limited results I knew I'd have to go out and buy new. I went to KMart because, while I want to make green choices, I'm not rich. I knew it would be a challenge to find everything I needed without purchasing a lot of plastic or non-green items. There was plastic everywhere I looked and all sorts of chemicals and not very natural materials. But I did pretty well for myself. Here are some of the things I bought:
* Shower curtain made from 100% recycled plastic bottles (no plastic packaging)
* Rugs made from recycled cotton (they did have a spray vynal bottom)
* Bamboo kitchen spoon, and spatulas (better than wood as a renewable resource)
* wood and metal clothes hangers
* metal colander
* wood hand painted trash bin (painted by some under privilaged population with proceeds to help them)
* Metal hanging shower caddy (with rubber suction cups)
* wooden handled metal garden trowel (it was in a plastic bag but I left that at the store).

I did need a few other things that KMart didn't have so I went to an upscale kitchen store. There I found:
* A french style rolling pin (100% wood)
* Stainless steel measuring cups and spoons
* Stainless steel vegetable peeler
* Stainless steel cheese grater (no plastic!!)
* Metal tray for sorting silverwhere (This did come in a plastic wrap)
* Ceramic counter compost bin (This was also wrapped in plastic and has a plastic seal around the rim).
* Glass and metal cookie jar (for my flour or other goods, I will probably end up buying more).

We also got free furniture from family including a bed, futon matress, couch, and a few lamps.

We still need a trash bin for the kitchen, a recycling collecting bin, a table and chairs, a coffee table, more lamps, a compost bin, other gardening tools.
I'm hoping to be able to find most of these things used but I'm sure I'll have to be shopping again!

Also, I need to purchase some organic soil. My local gardening store sells this in bulk so I will be able to buy it without plastic! They also sell compost starter in a wooden box so there is no plastic. I am looking forward to gardening though I need to finish getting moved in first!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving In: Kitchen Plastic Log Part 1

While unpacking my kitchen gadgets (which I haven't seen in over a year) I decided to document what I have that is plastic. I was suprised to have less than I originally thought because when I moved I donated a lot of my plastic to a neighbor in need. This is't a comprehensive documentation of all of my pastic as I still have some more stuff to move (like my Vitamix blender and my rice cooker, both of which I know have plastic) so I will add to it once I move those things as well.
I also included here the nonstick pans that I have which I know are not good for me or the environment. My knives I couldn't tell if they were plastic or wood handled so I included those as well, just in case.
I need to test my other pots and pans to see if they are aluminum as there is a link between aluminum and Alzheimer's read more here. I learned that aliminum is not magnetic whereas stainless steel is so testing with a magnet will indicate which type of pots and pans I have. If they are aluminum I will post them here as well.
On Saturday I will be heading to a local thrift store in hopes of finding some plastic, aluminum, and nonstick free kitchen items such as jars, pots, pans, and other gadgets (like the vegetable peeler, measuring cups and spoons, and cheese grater pictured).
The plastic lids shown below go with my pyrex bowl set that I love. I have yet to find information indicating that Pyrex glass is bad in anyway though I haven't really looked that hard.
Luckily not much of the plastic I currently own is likely to end up in a landfill any time soon as it can all be donated and used by someone else. I will have to check the number on the container of wasabi powder to see if that can be recycled once used. I have a few other plastic spice jars I'll have to add to my collection as well. I'm thinking about using glass and metal salt and pepper shakers to store spices going forward. I wonder if screwing them closed with a bit of reused paper would keep them fresh enough.
Tomorrow is sure to be a busy day, there are so many things to think about when trying to create a green, healthy, low plastic, low waste home!

(And please excuse the poor formating of my photos, HTML can be a real pain for this kind of stuff!)