Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day off

Having a day off is busier than it used to be. Since I work 5 days a week (on normal weeks), there is a lot to cram into those 2 spare days... and I have to do it all around everything else that needs to happen.

Today, however, is Saturday... and I have it off. This might very well be one of my last weekend days off for a while and I will certainly miss it. During the week there is always school or camp pick up or drop off, as well as any other kid driving that might need to happen... but the weekends there are no obligations or real serious schedules to work around when I don't have to work, and I love it. It's like pure freedom.

So, do you want to know what I did today? It's pretty exciting actually. I feel like I am getting closer to being more self sufficient with some things after days like today - and I might add that the day certainly isn't over yet... but I might squeeze in a hike instead of more busy work.

We can skip right over the first part of the day called the early morning because it was then that I realized that I had one too many gin and tonics last night. But my fantastic partner cooked me up some nice greasy organic bacon and eggs and made fresh coffee and let me sleep in a little... so the feeling passed quickly and made for a pleasant morning.

Once up and moving, I dragged my teenagers (one is just a preteen but who can tell the difference) out of bed, along with the little guy, and we went to farm girl farm to pick up the second and last week of a borrowed CSA share. Today I had time to go out into the field and pick fresh herbs, which I never use honestly... so I was excited for the new challenge and creativity that they offered. We also got lots of cucumbers for making more pickles since my family devoured the ones that I made last week.

After that, we went to the farmer's market. The kids got some fresh baked goods and I found some unpackaged maple sugar candies to tuck away for treats:

As soon as we got home, I got busy.

First, I started a new batch of butter... since my family seems to eat an insane amount of butter, we had none left in the house.

While that was in the works, I took some fresh mint and made some simple refreshing drinks for us. It's just filtered water with fresh mint sprigs and some lemon in the individual glasses. Add ice and this is so satisfying.

Then I decided that I would put aside some fresh mint to add to the gluten free brownies that I was going to make and dry all of the rest, along with the sage and lavender that I picked.

Meanwhile, I got working on the pickles and finished up the butter. Once the butter was done, I cleaned that up and started the mint brownies.

All of this was so satisfying! I will certainly be growing a MUCH bigger garden next year with lots of different kinds of things. This year we have started our first garden in forever, which I might post about some other day. It's doing well but I just planted practical family staple type things like tomatoes (to make ketchup and sauce), cucumbers (pickles, pickles, pickles!) and lettuce. If I don't have a good garden kicking next year, I'm totally going in on a CSA share... and that's that.

In the end, here is the shot of the fruits of my labor today:


And now it's time to read the little guy a book and then think about maybe making some dinner and take a hike.

Days off are certainly busy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday Links... about plastic

This is certainly worth a look, even if it is totally overwhelming. Check it out:
The Truth About Plastic.

And then read about how the plastic bag companies are fighting back and suing ChicoBag.

Since I absolutely love good quality reusable water bottles, I've been thinking about getting a nice glass water bottle. What do you think?

And I couldn't help but throw this lunch box in with the links today. I love this stuff, as well as glass and stainless steal containers... I would love to replace every single one of the plastic containers in my house.


Sunday, July 24, 2011


One thing that everyone in my family loves is pickles. In our attempt to grow a garden this year with no real time to tend it, we grew a few practical things that we can use a lot of in our family. One of those things is cucumbers - partially because everyone likes them fresh, but mostly because everyone loves pickles.

And while our cucumbers aren't quite ready (but getting there! I'll post pics soon), a friend who went out of town for a bit asked me to take her farm share at farm girl farm for 2 weeks. I haven't had a share at a CSA for a looong time, so it was nice to go pick up veggies from one. If you aren't familiar with CSAs, then you should know that usually when you pick your share, there is a list telling you how much of each veggie or fruit you can take, based on the harvest.

So when I picked up yesterday, I was allowed no limit on how many cucumbers I could take. While I didn't give in to my urge to take them all, I did grab a good amount.

I wanted to practice some quick refrigerator pickles.

I did a quick search online for a pickle recipe, something simple. I opted to work off of this recipe.

I have made pickles in the past, but never quite found the right recipe that I liked. I decided to keep it simple for my first round and then try again with more cucumbers next weekend, based on how these guys end up working out.

They look pretty good, I'll keep you updated in a few days when we crack open the first jar.

The next thing for me to work on is canning. I used to can a long time ago and I remember one of the jars breaking and ever since then I've been nervous to do it again... but this year I will have to! So I just need to find a friend to walk me through it and hold my hand and help me out the first time.
Any takers?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday Links

I realize that my blog could use some technical improvements. However, I'm not so much into the blog itself as I am into the act of blogging about what I am doing and sharing with you all. Hopefully you are all tolerating my low tech site here, but feel free to email me with some advice or tips! Basic things that I don't have the time or energy to research like how to put a video directly in a post instead of linking it... or how to make it so that links open in a new tab instead of in the same tab.
Anyhow, I welcome any help - but meanwhile, I just wanted to say thanks for hanging in there with my low tech ways.

And here are some of the links that I have been checking out this past week.

This article was worth the read, it's about being more aware about how "stuff" owns us.

If you use a non-plastic water bottle and it's not Klean Kanteen, you should probably consider this article.

It's bizarre to think that there would ever be the mentality that cars are more important than people, but luckily that's not the case in Europe.

In my very slow and hesitant planning to can this year, I found this blog post to be encouraging.

And how can we live without some good apps to make organic shopping easier? This list is actually worth looking at if you an app kinda person... otherwise, just skip this one.

Lastly, I leave you with something to consider: kicking the can. Meaning no longer buying food that comes in cans that are lined in BPA. I think that Eden is the only company (that I am aware of) that has BPA free cans, and I also know that tomato products are almost impossible to can without BPA, even though I don't really understand any of this. I will certainly be thinking of these things if I happen to need to purchase something in a can in the future.

That's all I've got for you today - off to swim in the lake with my 4 year old before I have to get to work!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Making butter

I find it funny that we used to only eat earth balance and now we consume so much butter. I made the switch back when I started the eliminating waste project (because it only came in a plastic tub), but quickly found that I liked the freshness and simplicity of butter much better than the packaged earth balance with it's many ingredients, including soy (which I still don't know how I feel about yet). But then there was the dilemma of getting butter in non plastic or foil packaging. I did find some that came in cardboard tubs and I also found some Amish butter in  a big roll that came in paper, but then was wrapped in plastic wrap. Hmmm.

Next step: make my own butter.

But first thing first - finding cream that comes in a glass container. I am still working on that, but much closer (I think)... meanwhile, if you want to make some butter at home, you can just buy cream from your local grocery store. I think heavy cream would be just right.
I got my hands on some very good quality local organic stuff and went to work making my first batch of butter.
You basically have to make whipped cream, and then keep on going. But it takes a while, like 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the temperature of the cream when you start.
The butter eventually separates from the butter milk. Then all you have to do is remove the buttermilk.

And you can save the buttermilk... I'm not too sure what we will use if for yet, but I hear it makes great pancakes.

At first, I didn't realize how thoroughly I needed to remove the buttermilk, so I packed it up like this:

But then I watched this very helpful video and quickly changed my ways.
So much better. And delicious too.
Don't forget to add some salt, or garlic to make garlic butter.

And for a fun project with the kids, put some cream in a little mason jar or old jam jar and shake it up. Shake it for so long that you feel like it's never going to turn into butter, and then shake it up some more. Then you will start to see the transition when it gets thick and then suddenly turns into a serarated ball of butter floating in buttermilk... that's when it's ready. Scoop it out and serve right away.
What a great way to show kids how butter is made.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Low Impact Vacation

We have been out of town. I wanted to write so badly about my preparation for our little trip, but I don't really like to announce to the internet that I'm going to be out of town... so I've held off until our return. But now we are back and oh my, I have so much to share with you!

First off, planning to go on vacation and not create waste is certainly a challenge. There are many factors to consider and much planning to avoid the convenience of disposable products. I started with the shopping and packing before we even left. In the past I would buy easy to cook things that usually come in lots of packaging and are cheap (to save money for other things of course). But this time I shopped just like I would for our home, except that I had to consider what wouldn't be on hand since it wasn't our home. I made sure we had things like oil and tamari and lots of local eggs and milk in glass bottles (yes, it was heavy). I made a lot of granola (finally hit on a recipe that everyone loves!) and made sure we had popcorn and rice and noodles, maple syrup and cheese and juice in glass bottles... all of the basics for an enjoyable trip with a family.
Here is what our fridge looked like when we got to the house in cape cod:
And we of course had all of our coffee making supplies on hand so that we wouldn't have to buy coffee out (luckily there was a coffee maker there!):
When we got to the cape, I went out and bought the fresh stuff to eat. We found a nice veggie stand on the side of the road, which I frequented... however, it brought up another dilemma for me: fresh local produce that required minimal transportation waste but IS NOT organic, or go to the local st*p and sh*p and buy organic, which ONLY came in plastic clamshells or bags, by the way. I went with the local. Because when it comes down to it, I want to support the people around me, the people that I can meet and know are growing the food. Too bad that it wasn't organic though...

Anyhow, I did go to the local natural food store to buy some gluten free bread and some more bug spray, but it was certainly super expensive there. Too bad. I know that most natural food stores that are privately owned are this expensive. I like to support them, but there was no way that I could afford to shop there all week. In the end, we ended up at st*p and sh*p for some of the products that we usually buy at our co-op. It's great that more people can access good products at their supermarket, but it's too bad we had to go into one to buy them. HOLY CRAP those gigantic stores are so overwhelming! How does one shop there on a regular basis?? There is SO MUCH stuff and it's everywhere. And everyone is just wandering up an down isles like there is just too much to choose from. There is something to be said here about simplicity for sure... but I digress.
I put some olives and mozzarella from the olive bar in my jar and grabbed a few other things and headed to the sea of registers. The cashier had no idea what to do with my jar of olives and cheese (I sort of expected this) so she called on another cashier. That cashier was also stumped, so they called over another. With the bagger standing there as well, there were now 4 staff members at the register and no one knew what to do. I explained (again) that the container weighed 1.01lbs, but just call it a pound to make it easy. I pulled out my phone to do the math on a calculator. If the total weight is 2.32 and the container weighs one pound, then the actual weight is 1.32. Multiply that by 7.99 (the cost per pound of the olive bar, but they couldn't figure out where I got that number from) and that is what I need to pay. Finally, I just asked them to open ring $10.54 and just charge me for that. They did, but they were all confused. The bagger, however, thought that it was cool that I brought my own container. She was thinking more about how it wouldn't spill with the tight lid, but I'm still glad I got one person realizing that they can use their own containers...

All in all, we ate really well. We brought our own napkins and dish towels to avoid the disposable options in the house (I'm thinking that the owners are glad we didn't deplete their supply as well). We ate outside for almost every meal, which was great.

Instead of souvenir shops, we hit thrift stores for special cape cod finds. We searched and found some hit or miss style.
Things we found:
- crocs for daughter
- unused coloring books (an awesome Mayan one that I claimed for myself!)
- beautiful dress for daughter
- tennis balls, unused in package, $1 - perfect because we needed new tennis balls to play tennis on our trip and didn't want to buy them from some chain store
- a few other essential clothing items for my boys
- the next size in "skinny" jeans for my already clothing obsessed 4 yr old... I blame his older siblings on this issue, but that's another post
- nice new condition pillows for our sofas, we definitely needed more
- an awesome stainless steal breakfast set with a syrup, milk and sugar container in a cute little wicker serving tray... for $1 total
- much needed shorts for my partner 

We did of course enjoy the local seafood and other delicious treats that are mandatory on vacation. Don't worry, we didn't deprive ourselves of very much at all.

But since this post is going to end up going on forever, I will simplify with photos and a little something about each photo.

Mmmm. These delicious crab cakes and fresh shrimp came from Mac's Seafood, just about the best place to get your fish from on the cape. The people at Macs were awesome - they happily put my crab cakes and shrimp in my own containers. The one guy did admit that he had never been asked to do it before, but he liked the idea.

Mmm. Fresh local donuts from Hole in One  donut shop. We went to their shop in Orleans and they happily put our donuts in our own container. I explained that we were trying to reduce the packaging that we use and the girl who helped me thought that was a cool idea. She did a great job squishing our donuts into the container so they would fit without any issues.

Ah yes, ice cream.  Ice cream cones are a good way to avoid waste (and we ate some), but one night we wanted to go pick some up and bring it back... So we took our containers with us to get ice cream from a local ice cream shop. We were sad that they were all closed but there was one still open and it was a chain: B*n and J*rrys. We decided to do it and went in discussing flavors with the friendly ice cream scooper dude. Before I realized what was happening, he handed us little plastic disposable spoons to taste the flavor we were discussing. Ok ok, it's true that I actually asked for the taste... But I forgot about the spoons! Anyhow, when I asked him if he could put ice cream in my container, he was confused but willing. He said that he could just pack up a pint for me and I wouldn't need my own container, so I explained that we were trying to reduce waste and didn't want the packaging. He immediately got it then and willingly started filling the container, stating that that is just what B&Js likes. (Did he mean reducing packaging? Maybe it's time they are introduced to non single use plastic spoons... I will be emailing them about this).
Anyhow, the guy scooping the ice cream was super interested in what we were doing by the end and was telling us all about the classes he's been taking in college about how people are buying differently now and thinking more about the consequences of their buying habits... Let's hope this becomes more of the norm.

In Povincetown, we opted to eat at this really nice little upstairs farm to table restaurant called tinys. It was a little pricey but the prices made sense and we were happy to support them in exchange for a great meal. I loved how they put their menus on upcycled pieces of wood.

The kids got this amazing french toast, made from Provincetown Portuguese sweet bread and maple butter.

This was what my partner got, a 100% chemical, hormone, antibiotic free pasture raised local beef burger. 

And the cucumber was actually homemade pickles.

I am also not going to lie: we bought some packaged items. Had I been thinking, I would have traveled with a gigantic container and gone to the cape cod potato chip factory and asked them to fill our bucket... but I wasn't thinking. So we bought cape cod potato chips in bags. And they were good.

Ok, enough about food. I wanted to also share that we successfully only filled one trash bag half way for the whole week - there were the 5 of us, plus our dog, plus 3 guests throughout the week. Not bad, even if it is much more than we have been producing at home. The trash and recycling guys tried to come and pick up the trash mid week, but were very confused. They were looking everywhere for our trash but gave up and left. I bet they were REALLY confused when they came yesterday and found almost nothing to take... However, we did have one full trash bag of recycling and one paper bag full of paper recycling (we brought this home because I wasn't sure that they would take everything that we recycled).

And now for some of the fun shots of my family enjoying themselves on the beach:

Conclusion: it is possible to continue living a conscious, low impact lifestyle and take a fun vacation without missing out.
Try it!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Packaging Trials

More people than you would think are open to our approach to reducing waste.
I am finding that it is all in the approach.

Start by walking into a store and say hi, how are you, and then say something like this: "I have a question for you... Would you be willing to put my (fill in the blank) in my own container?" If the person seems a little confused then you can follow up with some kind of reasonable explanation... Depending on what you think they would respond to best: "we are trying to reduce the packaging that we use" usually does the trick, but sometimes I tell them it's an experiment that we are doing. In a very real way this is true - we are trying to see if it's possible to live in our society without using all of that packaging out there.

Anyhow, give it a shot if you are up for it. I think you will be surprised that many businesses are receptive to it. Remember that by us not using packaging saves them money to... And don't forget that your approach is key.

And of course, it's the smaller local businesses that will be most friendly about it... Yet another reason to stay away from the big corporations.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday Links

Ah, so much to say... where do I start? I think I'll just dive in, ready?

Today we will be taking our trash out for the first time in over a month. Honestly, I think we could wait even longer, but it's time for us to have a clean slate again. Funny thing is that one of the most frequent pieces of trash that we have are stickers from our fruits and vegetables. I think it is time to find something creative to do with those little suckers.

We discovered a pleasant surprise in our yard: a ton of wild raspberries growing in a few different locations.

At first, we weren't sure what they were and weather or not they were safe. And then one day my oldest mentioned eating them in passing and I asked him how he knew they were safe. He told me that he eats some at camp and that they were wild raspberries. I went online to looked them up and find out more and I came across this blog that helped explain it to me.

Since then, they have been fair game and we've been eating a lot. Super score.

The little guy helped me with my second batch of granola today. This time we made a lot because I was feeling more confident... plus, we needed a little extra for the week ahead.

My kids now eat granola instead of cereal, since the only way we can buy cereal is in a plastic bag or a box with a plastic bag inside. I would love to find some plan old "o"s in bulk. That would make my kids very happy.

But luckily, they like granola.

This was a sweet article that talks about how they are planting sunflowers all over in Japan to help clean the radioactive soil.

Since I am in the ocean mindset, this article made me think about what our oceans will look like in 50 years if we don't make some serious changes.

And since I am exhausted, I am going to leave you with this last thought.
I have been coming across something interesting this past week - challenges for wasting less. At work, a customer asked us if we were a part of TerraCycle. I looked into it and I was a little confused. It seemed like there was a big push for sending them as much trash as you can, but to do that would mean that you have to purchase the trash in the first place. So, to contribute to this challenge, I would have to waste more.
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of trash being turned into something cool or useful even, instead of ending up in a landfill being a total waste.
But I don't want to buy the things that contribute to this in the first place, so I might just check in with them regularly and see what kind of things they are doing.

I won't be able to post for a while but check back in with me in about a week or so because I should have plenty of interesting experiences to share with you regarding reducing waste. See ya then!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cream cheese

One of my little road blocks has been buying cream cheese. My kids love cream cheese on their bagels, which I can buy without any packaging, but for the past few months they could only put butter on them. The only option to buy cream cheese is in a plastic tub or wrapped in foil, so I've avoided it.

But now, they shall have their cream cheese.

When my youngest was in a Waldorf parent toddler group at Kinderhof, the teacher would always have her own cream cheese that she made and served when we made bread. It seemed so easy when she explained how to do it, but I never felt confident enough try the process myself. But lately, as you all know, I have been up to the challenge of making things on my own to avoid packaging.

So last night I was ready with my local yogurt from a glass jar and a cheese cloth (that's almost all you need). I doubled checked how to make cream cheese on Instuctables, a website that I stumbled across one day where you can learn how to make probably anything (I soon found out that it was started by an old high school friend - great job Eric!), and I went into the kitchen to set up.

I simply put some of the yogurt inside the cheese cloth (you can also use a thin dish towel), tied it up and hung it from something secure. I used a rubber band to tie up the cloth and then tied the bundle with a string that hung from the handle on my cabinet door in the kitchen. I put a bowl underneath it for the excess liquid to drip into and then I left.

I let it hang up for a little more than 12 hours, but you can do it for longer for a thicker consistency. Next time I will try to be patient enough to see what thicker might look like.


When I opened up the cheese cloth, it certainly wasn't wet anymore, but more of a solid cheese. It was very easy to remove from the cloth and put into a container.
I added a little salt to taste and served it up.
In the end, I am happy with this process. Next time I want to add some nice herbs or veggies. Maybe I will mix some bacon into a batch... or red onion and dill, which is my favorite.
The flavor does have a slightly sour yogurt-y taste, but it's still very good. I think if you picked a different yogurt than I did, you might not get that... but that's the kind of yogurt I used.

The other cool thing about this process is that my sister in law just loaned me a yogurt maker. My plan is to keep making yogurt so that I don't have to buy it, then to make cream cheese from the yogurt.

I am really liking the ability to make things for my family, things that we like to indulge in as well as things that we need, without the help of large corporations and their marketing and packaging.