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:

Coca Cola

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?!


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!


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!