I’m not sure what I enjoy more, growing my own food or having generous friends who grow and share food with me. These chive flowers and salad greens were a gift from a bestie. Grown in his Bristol, RI vegetable garden. It’s lunchtime and I’m feeling pretty darn fortunate.
This past weekend I got into a project I’d been scheming on since the start of spring. My landlady generously offered me a bit of space to grow some food in by the cement wall/iron fence that surrounds her backyard garden. The sunny spot is located in the small driveway off the alley by which I access my apartment. Two cars fit snuggly in the lot so building anything with substantial depth would have blocked vehicles from pulling in and out. Inspired by readings and projects from the Urban Agriculture class I took at Brown this semester, I decided to try my hand at some vertical gardening. I had seen DIY pallet garden projects in books and online and thought that might be a good place to start. I figured it would be economical too. A couple weeks ago I picked through some discarded samples behind a paper supplier in Pawtucket and found a few good specimens that I could pull apart and rebuild into a Franken-pallet. Gorgeous weather, a visit from my enormously talented woodworker/furniture maker friend, and the day off from work on Monday gave way to a perfect opportunity to finally get busy.
We started with a sturdy 3′ x 4′ pallet that boasted tightly fitted boards on one side. This would serve as the retaining wall on the back of the planter. Then we framed the sides and bottom of the planter with wood from the other dismantled pallets and some leftover scraps that were available from an ongoing home repair project (a new floor being laid in the laundry room/entrance to my apartment). Next, we mapped out the spacing of the boards that would enclose the front of the box. I decided to leave 2.5″ gaps between the boards to plant in. It seemed like a good amount of room for my herbs to grow but not so much space that the soil would forever be spilling out.
After lifting the basic frame into the right location/position and wiring it to the iron fence posts, we built the garden layers from the bottom up. We filled the pallet with soil, laying in and watering each plant, then nailing boards to the frame. We collected sticks from the property (last summer’s cuttings from my landlady’s hedges) and pressed them in between the plants to try to create a webbing that will help retain the soil until the vegetation fills in. To give the plants a good start, we mixed in worm castings as we worked our way up.
Above is the finished garden. Nine rows (including the row planted in the open top) currently hold twelve different edible plants. I’m growing rosemary, oregano, sage, two different kinds of marigolds, dill, cilantro (coriander), three different kinds of basil, tarragon and nasturtium. Marigolds, rosemary, cilantro, and basil are all pest repellent crops. The plants were grown from seed in my windowsill and purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale. I’m pleased with the look of the garden and I think its’s a great use of the very narrow space. I’m not sure how well everything will grow in this planter. I wonder if there will be enough soil for all the root systems that will be vying for water and nutrients. And properly saturating each layer with water may prove to be a bit tricky. There’s already been talk of a piped in irrigation system for the next pallet project. For now, I’m very happy about what we were able to create with the resources around us. The garden is an experiment and I’m excited to see how well it works over the course of the growing season.
To reward ourselves for a day of work in the sun, we bought some take-away and headed to the coast for a sunset feast on the beach. With a bunch of stainless steel containers in tow, we hit-up East Side Pockets and the grocery store salad bar for some good eats. We also packed some water, fruit, and trail mix to snack on. My trusty 17-year-old Block Island beach blanket served as both a nearly sand-free surface to sit ourselves and our delicious meal upon, and later as a much appreciated wrap to keep warm with after sundown.
I recently ran out of the powdered laundry detergent I buy in bulk at my local co-ops, so I decided to make my own. An internet search for homemade laundry detergent usually yields a wide variety of sources for a basic recipe that calls for washing soda, borax, and grated bar soap. But there’s also quite a debate raging online about the potential health risks of using borax for home and body care. Some sources adamantly claim that the median lethal dose of borax is no higher than the median lethal dose of table salt (about 3 grams per kilogram of weight), making it a perfectly safe laundry detergent ingredient. On the other side of the argument, studies indicate that borax powder is a skin, eye, and lung irritant and if ingested it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and lethargy. There is also concern that high or prolonged exposure to borax can lead to infertility and damage to an unborn child.
While wading through some of this information, attempting to sort out factors like the credibility of sources and the dates of each study, it occurred to me that perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree. At some point I realized that I’d rather err on the side of caution and I refocused my energy to try to find some recipes for homemade laundry detergent that didn’t include borax. As it turns out, there are indeed several borax-free recipes floating around on the web and many are just variations of a few basic elements. Baking soda, washing soda, grated bar soap, citric acid, epsom salt, table salt, and white vinegar were the ingredients I came across the most. I’ve begun experimenting to see what mix I like the best, based on what I’m able to acquire within the package-free parameters of my project. For this particular venture I’ve decided to make an exception for products packaged in paperboard or paper bags that are compostable. But to start I did manage to make a completely package-free batch of detergent from one cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), one cup washing soda (sodium carbonate), and one grated 4oz bar of unscented glycerin soap.
I was unable to find boxed washing soda on any local store shelf so I decided to make my own. In my research of each ingredient listed above, I discovered that it’s easy to make washing soda at home by simply heating baking soda in the oven. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (one sodium, one hydrogen, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (two sodium, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). When heated, the glistening, grainy baking soda gives off water and carbon dioxide, leaving dull, powdery washing soda behind. I spread a thin layer of bulk-bought baking soda in a shallow pan and baked it at 400 degrees for one hour. I agitated it about a halfway through the bake time. I’ve only done a couple loads of laundry with my baking soda, washing soda, soap mix, but so far my clothes and linens have come out clean, odorless, and not too stiff. An there doesn’t seem to be any soapy residue left on my fabrics. I should mention that I’ve not yet tested this mix on any tough stains, though I’m sure it won’t be long before an opportunity arises.
I saw some recipes for soapless detergents, which call for baking and washing soda, epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and table salt. Epsom salts are a natural surfactant—a wetting agent that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, allowing it to better penetrate solids. Today, surfactants made from a variety of petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and/or oleochemicals (derived from fats and oils) are used in generic detergents to render water less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with greasy, organic soiling. Considered non-toxic, epsom salts are commonly used in homemade beauty treatments and cleaning solutions. Magnesium sulfate is also used in organic gardening and farming as a soil conditioner/fertilizer. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improve plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfer. And sulfer is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. The other day while I was in the grocery store, I spotted some epsom salts in a paper carton and decided to purchase them. I transfered the salts to a glass jar, then shredded and composted the packaging. I’m looking forward to experimenting with them in my homemade detergent concoctions and I will post about my findings.
I’m feeling very fortunate to have been able to spend today with my mom. My gift to her was an experience. No object gifts, no cards, no trash (she’s come to expect those terms from me). I took her to a concert held in an incredible space at one of her favorite museums. Nine violinists, four violists, three cellists, and two bassists played a program of classical and contemporary music in a small, “round” theater (it was actually more cubic than round). The acoustics were amazing. Later we went out for dinner. It was a great day. I’ll never forget it.
There’s quite a show happening on the hill in Providence right now. A remarkable variety of flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom. The cherry tree outside my bedroom window has opened and the fragrance is incredible. The blossoms are about three weeks later than they were last year. Where ever it falls on the calendar, this blooming period is my absolute favorite time of year in this little city.
One of my turnips from this weekend’s farmer’s market has an especially nice hourglass figure. I wonder what biological factors caused the variation in the shape of this usually spherical root vegetable. I love turnips. They’re members of the Brassicaceae family (along with kale, cabbage, radishes, etc…). I usually eat them thinly sliced in a fresh salad. To store them, I remove the greens, which will draw water out of the root if left attached. Then I float the turnips in a bath of water in a container kept in the refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh and crunchy for more than a week this way, though they never last that long in my house because I eat them so quickly. The greens needn’t be tossed out—they’re edible, and quite tasty. They can be used raw in salads and stir-fried as a stand alone dish or with other ingredients. They can also be added to soups or used to make a broth. I get such a kick out of growing, shopping for, and eating plants that can be consumed in their entirety. Roots, stocks, leaves, flowers, fruit, and all. No pealing or shucking required.
During a class discussion on recycling in my Master Composter Training course, I learned that food storage plastic wrap (Saran wrap, Clingwrap) is not a recyclable plastic film. Plastic film receptacles are located at major grocery stores and pharmacies across the state of Rhode Island to collect stretch plastic poducts like plastic bags, which shouldn’t go into your bin with your other recyclable items. I thought that plastic wrap fell into this category and would sometimes deposit rinsed pieces that had been used at catered events at my office. Learning that the material cannot be processed to become resource material (plastic lumber for decking or park furniture for instance) secured plastic wrap a place at the top of my list of household trash “offenders”. In preparation for a No Trash Talk I gave recently, I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to present basic tips to people who are interested in reducing their waste output but don’t know where to begin. At the end of the talk I encouraged audience members to start in the kitchen, and I tried to impress upon listeners that one habit we should all try to break is purchasing and using plastic wrap. I really think it’s a completely unnecessary product and a waste of money. I’m not sure what case can be made to suggest that using plastic wrap is easier than using a container to store leftovers. Besides, who wants to futz with that stuff anyway? It’s always clinging to itself and it never stays put. Food storage can be effective, efficient, and convenient without disposables!
Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and zaalouk from Tea in Sahara on Governor Street. I took a break from work and biked over to the café to save my growling stomach. The owner very kindly agreed to put my order in my stainless steel containers. A woman sitting sipping tea inside admired them and asked where she could find some. I gave her a list of sources. When I thanked the owner for honoring my special request, he said “No, thank you!” I left smiling from ear to ear.
On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.
I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.
Over the weekend I went on the final field trip of my Master Composter Training course. Saturday morning we visited Nancy Warner of The Worm Ladies of Charleston at her beautiful south county home. Nancy came to visit our class a couple of weeks ago to talk about vermiculture with Eisenia foetida or red wiggler worms. In her backyard garden we got to see her impressive composting operation in action. I first met Nancy at the open house she hosted in honor of Earth Week almost exactly one year ago. At that time she sold me a half a pound of worms to get started with my own vermiculture setup. I’m sorry to report that the effort failed. What started off as a seemingly healthy worm bin, soon turned into a site of epic predation when the black sugar ants that lived in my tenant garden got into the bin and ate my poor wigglers. I lifted the lid one day to find the worms completely gone and thousands of ants in their place. I wasn’t sure the ants had eaten the worms (I thought perhaps they came in to eat the food scraps and simply drove the worms out through the air holes) until Nancy confirmed that the ants are indeed predators of the red wigglers. There seems to be quite a huge population of ants living around the exterior of my apartment (and they sometimes like to crawl up the side of the brick house and in through the windows looking for food). Ants and aphids have a mutualistic relationship and for gardeners and farmers, this dynamic duo is a real nuisance. If I’m going to give vermiculture another shot, I need to deal with the ants first. I’ve thought about trying to separate my worms from the ants by keeping my bin inside under my kitchen sink, but I’m afraid that will just lure them indoors. So as much as I’d love to just coexist with all these buggers, if I am going to grow my own food and experiment with organic waste management techniques I may have to give extermination some more serious thought. A slow acting homemade pesticide of borax, sugar, and water is said to be a very effective bait.
In the meantime, I decided to hold off on bringing more worms home from Nancy’s place. Instead I purchased a gallon of castings (worm poop) from her to use to fertilize my developing container garden, once the time comes to transplant my seedlings and harden them off to spend the summer outside. It’s a wonderful organic soil conditioner that will surely give my veggies and herbs a fantastic start. Without hesitation, Nancy let me empty one of her pre-packed ziplock bags of “black gold” into my own glass jar, which I brought from home. She is able to reuse the bag.
Then, just as I did a year ago, upon leaving Nancy’s house I headed down the road for a walk and a nap on East Beach. The weather was gorgeous. My first beach day of the season.
This week marks a significant anniversary for me. It’s been exactly two years since I started my No Trash Project. I’ve been reflecting on the milestone as I engage in activities aimed at advancing my Zero Waste practices. This evening, my Master Composter Training class met at City Farm to learn about the different composting systems in place on the 3/4 acre Southside plot. The farm produces 2 tons of food (over 70 different crops) per season. It was warm and sunny in Providence today—a stark contrast to yesterday’s frigid, rainy weather, so I was excited to be outside. City farmer Rich Pederson gave us a tour of the several composting sites on the property and spoke about the practices and holding bins that have worked best for the farmers. It was really valuable to hear about his experiences with the varied setups, especially since his perspective is that of someone who is composting in an urban environment, which requires slightly different considerations than rural compost operations, namely rodents and potentially concerned neighbors. Rich described himself as a “lazy composter” and said he chooses a “lasagna” layering approach with his carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials . To aerate the compost, he plunges a digging bar into the pile to agitate the material and allow oxygen to enter, but he doesn’t “churn” up the pile with a pitchfork or shovel. I like his approach. It’s a lot more manageable for spaghetti armed folks such as myself. Rich also talked about their tumbler composter, which he especially likes to use during the winter months. I’ve always wondered how well they work as they seem like a good option for urban composters who need to completely seal off their compost from opportunistic city dwelling pests.
Before leaving the farm I snapped this photo of some baby salad greens and herbs. I can’t wait for the Annual Rare and Unusual Plant Sale in May!
A colorful homemade, trash-free meal on a grey and dreary day at work. I love my 3 tier tiffin. Thank you J and P for this beautiful, functional gift! I’ve been putting it to good use.
I’m taking a Master Composter Training course at University of Rhode Island this month and it’s been wonderful so far. I’m learning so much! The course is comprised of classroom lectures and fieldtrips. Unfortunately I had to miss the first class trip to Earth Care Farm in Charlestown, RI at the beginning of the month. I was so disappointed because I’ve wanted to visit the farm since first hearing about the operation nearly a year ago. I called up Earth Care founder Mike Merner and although he’s very busy at this time of year, he graciously agreed to show me around the farm on a separate occasion. So one morning before work last week, I headed down to South County. We couldn’t have picked a better day for my visit—it was the warmest day so far this season here in the northeast.
Earth Care is located at the end of a road aptly named Country Drive. The pavement ends at the farm’s gated entrance where an engraved wood sign reads, EARTH CARE FARM: WORKING IN HARMONY WITH NATURE. I continued down the dirt driveway and pulled up to the farmhouse. I grabbed my pen, notebook, and camera from my bag and stepped out of the car. The air smelled like earth. Signs pointing to the office directed me up onto the porch of the house. I peered in through the screen door and saw Mike sitting at the desk inside. I recognized him from a photo on the Earth Care website. He was on the phone but he waved me in and invited me to take a seat. He explained that he was on hold, trying to order a tractor part. When he hung up, I introduced myself and briefly explained that my No Trash Project was behind my interest in both small and large scale composting operations. I thanked him for taking the extra time to show me around the farm. He smiled and told me he was happy to do it.
We began the tour around to the side of the house where three small compost piles sit in front of a large fenced in garden. This is Mike’s personal compost. Mainly food scraps and yard debris. This three-pile setup is the same basic system implemented on a large scale at the farm. The first pile is the accumulating pile. A combination of nitrogenous (“green” stuff, like food scraps and grass clippings) and carbonaceous (“brown” stuff, like dried leaves) materials is added to this pile. The second pile is the composting pile. It was once the accumulating pile but when it’s turned over to the composting pile nothing more gets added. It must be aerated to assist in the decomposition of materials and to prevent the pile from becoming anaerobic . This can be done with a pitchfork or a shovel. The third pile is the finishing pile. Once the composting pile, it has been turned over to its final stage. This pile is rich, dark earth. Few materials remain identifiable, save some seashells, eggshells, and some woody materials, which take a very long time to break down. This is the pile to take from. The finished compost can now be used to enrich the garden soil and fertilize the crops.
Next we walked the rest of the way down the dirt drive to the large accumulating and composting windrows that lay beyond the garden. Mike told me that this year’s accumulating pile has quite a bit of woody material from all the trees that came down in the storms that moved through New England during the fall and winter months. Scattered across this pile were paper bags of yard debris. Earth Care also accepts animal manure, animal bedding, seaweed, paper, spent bark mulch, and food scraps. At one point in our conversation, I used the terms food waste and yard waste. Mike stopped me and put his hand on my shoulder and said ” We need to get away from using the word waste to describe compostable materials. It sends out the wrong vibrations.” Noted. I won’t forget that.
The compost piles at Earth Care reach thermophilic temperatures ranging between 104 and 160 degrees fahrenheit. Heat loving bacteria work quickly to consume materials. This energy generates heat within the compost pile and the high temperatures kill many harmful pathogens that can be found in animal manure. An equally large windrow lies beside the accumulating pile. This is the one of the composting piles. Payloader tractors are used to turn the piles bit by bit.
Fairly large pieces of wood and molluscan seashells are visible in the composting pile. Wood contains a chemical compound called lignin. Second only to cellulose, lignin is one of the most abundant polymers on Earth. Because of its complex structure, lignin takes a very long time to break down. As do seashells. They’re comprised of calcium carbonate, which helps to raise the pH level of the finished compost. Earth Care accepts gurry and shells, two pre-consumer by-products of the fishing industry. Gurry is the word used to describe all the parts of fish that get discarded. This includes heads, tails, fins, and entrails. An average of forty-five percent of all the organisms we pull out of the ocean for consumption becomes gurry. The rest is sold as food. Luckily, gurry and seashells make great soil conditioners and Earth Care is making great use of both. Delivery trucks dump the gurry into “containers” or troughs in the compost formed with the payloaders. Gurry is the one material that can be added to the composting pile and it serves to enhance the finished product. As the pile gets turned, the gurry is evenly distributed throughout.
While Mike and I stood talking about squid guts, a customer arrived to purchase some compost. An Earth Care employee named John loaded her pickup truck with a yard or so of mature black compost and Mike disappeared to the office to fetch her a receipt for payment. I took advantage of the pause in the lesson to take some pictures. When Mike returned we made our way up to the finished compost piles. The difference in the color and consistency of this windrow was vivid. Mike explained that this finished compost had been sifted through three-quarter inch screen to remove large debris that may interfere with plant growth. From what I understand, the screener is large machine that is towed into the farm. The compost tumbles through a large cylindrical drum screen and conveyor belts send the finished compost and the large debris in two different directions. The material that doesn’t fall through the screen (large debris) is added back into the accumulating pile. Mike picked up a handful of the dark finished material and held it out toward me. “There are more microorganisms in this handful of compost than there are people on this planet.” He said. Amazing.
Another customer arrived and with surprising agility and speed, John once again scooped up the black gold and deposited it into the bed of the man’s pickup truck. He was a landscaper who was about to plant some trees in a customer’s yard and was purchasing some compost “to give them a good fighting start.” A little help from some microbes could make a big difference.
Earth Care Farm was one of the first composting farms in the region to receive a USDA organic certification. But Mike decided to relinquish that title because he feels that the corruption within the department leads to regulations that have little to do with human and environmental health. And because the government owns the “O” word, Earth Care now uses words like holistic to describe their product. And phrases like, “working in harmony with nature.”
But as with anything, there is a good deal of trial and error in the composting business. I was telling Mike about the Nylon 4 in my compostable toothbrush and the claims that the synthetic will eventually break down in a backyard compost pile. He said he wanted to show me something and led me over to the pasture next to the finished compost. He started to explain that at one point they were accepting paper product from a manufacturer that among other things produced paper used to make hospital gowns and the sheets that are used to cover exam tables in doctors’ offices. Mike had been told by the company that all the products had been screened for any toxins and were deemed clean. But as the product broke down, Mike and his employees started to notice that something was being left behind. Fine synthetic fibers that had been woven into the paper were matting together and sticking to the screener as the compost was being sifted. “Here’s some.” Mike bent down and picked a bit of the material up out of the grass and dirt and handed it to me. “It’s polyester,” he said. “and when I called the company to ask about it they told me that there was nothing to worry about because the material wasn’t harmful to the environment and it would eventually break down. We spread the compost containing the stuff in this field many years ago and it’s still here.” The matted fibers are a nuisance and could potentially strangle seed sprouts and roots so Earth Care stopped accepting the paper product from that particular company.
My visit ended where it began, back in the garden. Mike mentioned that he was going to plant peas and beans later that day. It was time to get them in the ground. He invited me to join him and John for lunch. Unfortunately it was time for me to get back to Providence. Before we shook hands and parted, I asked him how long he’d been at this business. He told me that he started landscaping in 1972, bought the property we stood on in 1978, and then began the composting business in 1979. He explained that the idea to make and sell compost for agricultural and landscaping use was born out of a simple thought that came to him one day while he was digging in the garden, “Good health begins in the soil. If we have healthy soil we can grow healthy food to support healthy lives.”
I’ve written about homemade deodorants in previous posts. By now it’s no secret that name brand deodorants/antiperspirants containing aluminum may pose health risks. And no matter what your stance is on the Alzheimer’s link, most rational thinkers can at the very least agree that clogging up our sweat ducts with product to prevent a natural function of the body probably isn’t good for us. So in the interest of healthy bodies and a healthy environment, I have been experimenting with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) deodorant concoctions. Baking soda is alkalizing and it neutralizes the odor causing bateria found on the surface of skin and hair. I tried a very basic powder version and then switched to an even simpler spray. I’ve been very happy with the spray, but I decided to try making a cream deodorant for some friends who were interested in finding a healthy alternative to store-bought products but weren’t totally sold on sprinkling or spritzing. The cream is closer in consistency to the stick deodorants that we are all familiar with, and therefore perhaps more appealing to some folks.
The recipe I used is very simple: one part coconut oil, one part baking soda, one part cornstarch. I’ve seen some recipes that call for arrowroot in place of cornstarch but haven’t been able to find it in bulk nearby (though I did see some in bulk at Good Tern). I decided to start with a small batch and measured out 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of each ingredient. In a double boiler setup (a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of boiling water) I liquified the coconut oil. While the oil was melting, I mixed the cornstarch and baking soda together in another bowl. I then poured the coconut oil into the powder mix and whisked it well. Finally, while it was still somewhat runny, I poured the deodorant into a couple small jars and allowed it to cool and set up completely before capping them. Not including the setting time, the whole operation took less than 10 minutes. My friends, who are are all very honest when it comes to giving me feedback on my No Trash experiments, seem to really like the stuff. And they each have varying levels of perspiration and body odor due to their unique body chemistries and levels of daily activity. I sampled some myself and have to say it’s quite lovely. The coconut oil is very moisturizing and I personally enjoy the aroma. Like the powder and the spray, it works great! And I think it’s better than the other versions for travel because I can put it into a tiny salve or lip balm container.
Note: some people are sensitive to baking soda and can experience irritation when applying it directly to the skin, so it’s best to err on the side of caution when trying a baking soda body product for the first time.
This past week, I took advantage of the quiet University spring recess and used some of my saved vacation days to visit with friends and family. No trash travel has become pretty manageable and routine for me. Armed with a water bottle, stainless steel container, travel utensils (chopsticks and my bamboo spoon/fork), a few reusable bulk bags, a couple mini glass jars and bottles filled with my essential hygiene products, and my wits I am able to adapt to most scenarios without having to make trash. Committing to Zero Waste means having to be resourceful and I really appreciate the challenge of taking my project beyond my usual stomping ground. While the travel kit I described above serves me well most of the time, there are occasional circumstances in which I find myself missing something from home. This time around it was my trash-free herbal remedies I longed for when I found myself suffering from… ahem, acute menstrual cramps. Luckily I was staying in Toronto and as I had discovered during previous visits, the city is full of many great bulk sources. So on a borrowed bike, I took a ride to see if I could find something to ease the pain. At home I have been using teas and decoctions in place of over-the-counter or prescription pain pills to cope with the monthly distress. Slowly sipping on a warm liquid with pain relieving and anti-spasmodic properties gets me through the peak cramps. And I feel good knowing that I am not using medication that can adversely effect my stomach or liver.
I was able to pick up some chamomile at great little store called Strictly Bulk. The slogan on their very simple website reads, “because you don’t eat packaging”. I filled up one of my hemp bulk bags with enough little flowers to make several cups of tea per day for at least three days, after which I knew I would be feeling much better. Studies suggest that chamomile may work to relieve menstrual cramps. I find that drinking chamomile tea has an overall relaxing effect that helps take the edge off of menstrual pain. And I was very glad to get a hold of this trusty, familiar aid while away from home. Meanwhile the chamomile sprouts on my windowsill are growing taller and stronger.
Last week I rode my bike to my public library to check out a book that has long been on my must-read list. When I arrived I discovered that my library card had expired. I hoped it could simply be reactivated but was told I needed a new card instead. When I asked why, the woman at the circulation desk said she wasn’t sure exactly, but it had something to do with the barcode identification system in place. Bummer. I went ahead and got a new one. Being able to borrow books is important to me, especially in the context of my project.
I’ve been slowly working to pare down my personal library to a small collection of novels, textbooks, and oversized art books that I still use as reference tools for work and personal projects. There was a time when I used to tote around quite a few more, lugging them from one apartment to the next, just so that they could sit unopened on a shelf. Many were books that I had read once, but had no desire to reread. Some were books that were given to me that I never had any desire to read in the first place. I used to feel quite guilty about donating unwanted gifts, but that particular kind of guilt is a mechanism that no longer operates very strongly within me. Storing, keeping, collecting, stashing, or hoarding things that become untouched, unused, and unloved makes me feel far worse. I like to think that donating my neglected belongings restores their potential, giving them a new chance to serve their purpose and/or provide someone with pleasure.
The woman at circulation withdrew a new card for me from a drawer. My stomach flipped a little when I saw that it was more of a card “kit”, which included a mini keychain card and a standard wallet card, held together by a perforated bit of plastic. I wonder why the card set design includes the disposable piece? Couldn’t they be manufacture so that the mini keychain card was attached directly to the wallet card? And how are all these cards made anyway? I looked it up and found this video, which shows how credit cards are manufactured. There are many components that go into swipe cards of all kinds (credit cards, gift cards, identification cards, etc…), but they’re mostly made up of sheets of polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). In the past I’ve struggled to find information on the recyclability of expired cards. My Rhode Island Recyclopedia doesn’t list them. So I’ve been saving a pile with the intention of passing them off to my artist friends who can use them in studio processes (mixing and spreading glue for instance). But while working on this post I came upon a company called Earthworks System that apparently collects and processes expired cards to produce recycled PVC resource material for new cards. Consumers can mail old cards to the company’s facility in Ohio. It seems like one of the better options I’ve found for diverting this item we depend on so heavily from landfills. Certainly security is an issue that must be considered when it comes to the disposal of credit cards. We’re taught to cut them up into little pieces to prevent fraudulent activity. I wonder if Earthworks System has any solutions or suggestions for dealing with cards that have personal and information on them. Do they accept shredded card material? Shredded or not shredded, if the card information is expired, is it safe to send it in the mail? Hmmm, I will do some more thinking and investigating on this issue.
So when will my new library card expire? Apparently as long as I continue to actively borrow from the Ocean State Library system, it will never expire. Fantastic! Incentive to keep up with my reading list. Meanwhile, I am devouring the book above. Gah, I don’t know how it took me so long to pick it up.
Here in the northern hemisphere, spring has officially sprung! And so have my chamomile sprouts. Today, the Earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in equal parts day and night across the globe. In my biology class I’m learning about photoperiodism, the physiological response of an organism to changes in the photoperiod. The photoperiod is the relative length of day (light) and night (dark) periods in a 24-hour cycle. Flowering plants like chamomile use a photoreceptor protein to sense these changes and signal the buds to bloom. Some plants require longer night periods to bloom, while others require shorter night periods. My chamomile plants will open their potent flowers when the days are long and the nights are short. Well, first they have to survive the nursery period. Here’s hoping I can prove to be a proficient caregiver!
A couple things impelled me to finally try my hand at homemade tortillas. The first was a conversation with my friend who professed the desire to wrap most of the meals I cook for us in a tortilla. I make a lot of veggie stir fry or fresh salad dishes, usually accompanied by some kind of cereal grain and legume, which would indeed be delicious in a flexible, foldable, flatbread. When I first started the No Trash Project, I did a little searching for a package-free tortilla source. I inquired at a few of the many wonderful Mexican food establishments located on the outskirts of Providence. On a couple of occasions I was able to purchase corn tortillas from one vendor who kindly parceled some out for me from a large bulk bag. But the bag was of course plastic, and while it seemed a little better than buying a plastic pack of 12 tortillas from the grocery store, I wasn’t satisfied with that option. Still, I thought I may be able to find a vendor who makes them fresh in-house that would be willing to let me purchase them with a reusable container. Over time, while I busied myself with other packaging problems, I guess I just adapted to a tortilla-less life. But my friend’s love of all things bread reignited my tortilla interest (and craving). So what about making my own? Ouff, it seemed like quite a project. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that lard or shortening was required—at least for flour tortillas, and finding a bulk source for either ingredient would likely be more difficult than finding unpacked tortillas. But what about corn tortillas? What goes into making those?
Then, while looking for recipes for my blue cornmeal, I wondered if I could use it to make tortillas. So I did some research. As it turns out, whole grain stone-ground cornmeal—which retains some of the germ and fibrous hull of the kernels—is great for crumbly cornbread, but won’t hold together on it’s own in a tortilla. Makes sense. Instead, corn tortillas and chips are made from a corn flour called masa (Spanish for dough). To make it, corn kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), and then hulled, leaving the soft endosperm of the grain. This is called nixtamalization, an ancient food processing technique that originated with Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Today, store-bought tortillas are produced with mechanized industrial processes. The processed corn is called nixtamal, which has a distinct flavor and texture. It’s easier to grind into a smooth dough that will hold together in a tortilla and the nutritional value of the corn is actually increased. The alkaline solution convert’s the grain’s bound niacin (vitamin B3) to free niacin, making it available for the body to absorb. The corn also absorbs some of minerals in the lime, increasing the calcium content. Another benefit of nixtamilization is that it decreases mycotoxins (molds) that commonly infect corn crops and can be harmful to humans. This information is a bit jargony but I’ve been learning a lot of these terms in my biology class and as a grower, maker, and eater of food I think it’s fascinating stuff!
Okay so then where does one get masa to make homemade tortillas? Well, one doesn’t. Not from a store anyway. At least not in New England. It is certainly possible to make it from scratch at home, a project I’m very interested in, but it will require finding a package-free or bulk source for the ingredients (dried flour corn kernels and pickling lime) and I’m still not set up with my own food processor or grain mill… I know, I really should get around to that. But I learned that masa harina (Spanish for flour) is widely available on grocery store shelves. Simply reconstituted with water, masa harina becomes dough, ready to be rolled or pressed into tortillas. I called around to see if I could find a store that offered it in a bulk dispenser but had no luck. So, I did something I rarely do these days and decided to purchase a packaged food item. I bought masa harina in a paper bag and transferred the flour to the large glass jar above to preserve freshness. I planned to compost the bag, but instead ended up using it as fire starter in my wood stove on a recent raw and chilly night.
Once I finally acquired the flour, I discovered that making the tortillas is ridiculously easy. I started with half a cup of masa harina, and as per tips I found on the internet, I slowly added a little water, mixing it in to the flour with my hands until I had a dough that seemed to be a good consistency. Not too wet and not too dry. Then I separated the dough into small balls and rolled them out on my counter with a wood rolling pin. Many online instructions for this process will tell you to roll or press the dough (in a tortilla press) between two sheets of plastic to avoid sticking. But I was able to manage without the plastic. I just made sure to put some dry flour on the counter and my roller. When it did stick to the counter, I simply lifted the dough with a large spatula. I used my wide mouth stainless steel funnel to press out small taco size tortillas. I then cooked them over medium-high heat in my cast iron skillet, setting the dough on one side for about 20 seconds, then cooking for 1 minute on the other side, and back again to the first side for another minute. And that’s it. So simple. Tip: I found that placing the cooked tortillas in a covered container will keep them warm and help retain moisture until you’re ready to fill them.
For lunch I made fish tacos with leftover tilapia (from last night’s dinner), black beans, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime and pepper. Oh my goodness, they were so delicious. As with so many projects that have resulted from the quest for package-free foods, I’m really pleased with the outcome. It led me to learn a lot more about corn and corn products, and a little more about the agricultural history of the crop. I also gained the unique satisfaction that comes with making my own foods from base ingredients, which is in part due to the superior freshness of homemade meals and the cost savings. And of course, I get the enjoyment of a delicious food without the plastic packaging I used to regularly send to the landfill.
I know some pretty incredible people. A dear family friend recently gave this yarn to me. I think of her often on my journey toward Zero Waste, as her values and work have influenced me greatly. Pam is a renaissance woman who for as long as I’ve known her (about 14 years) has been interested in sustainability, health, and handmade processes. She spun these wool yarns herself. The gray yarn on the bottom is a worsted Shetland yarn she made with wool fibers from her friend’s sheep in Idaho. The warmer colored yarn on top is a woolen yarn she made from Polwarth sheep fibers she collected while living in Australia. I can’t wait to knit something from these beautifully crafted, oh-so-soft materials. She described the processing of both to me in an email.
“The Shetland wool was prepped and spun worsted–that means all of the fibers were combed out first so they are parallel and then the spinning is also controlled in a way that preserves the alignment of the fibers. If you look closely, you’ll see it’s a relatively smooth yarn. I spun it on a drop spindle. The Polwarth is from Australia and I got it when I lived there. That one I prepped and spun woolen. I washed it first and then carded it with hand cards. This makes the fibers go in all different directions. I spun it on my spinning wheel using a long draw (a technique where you draw your hand back and let the twist enter the yarn). I also fulled this yarn. That’s a finishing technique where you basically shock the fibers. Fibers either felt or full–trial and error will let you know which one your fiber will do. So for fulling I put the yarn in a bucket of really hot water with soap. Using a small plunger I plunged it up and down a bunch of times. Then I took that hot, soapy, skein and put it into a bucket of ice water. The process is repeated a bunch of times until it looks finished. Woolen yarns tend to be fuzzy and this helps give it a cleaner look.”
Everything Pam does she does all the way. Her past projects include a hand-knit mohair sweater made from yarn spun with angora fur she collected over time from her pet rabbit, Jambo. And another sweater she knit using silk yarn spun from the silk fibers she collected from her own silk worms. I don’t remember where she got the silk worms, but I do remember that they escaped their designated habitat and made their cocoons all over the bathroom of her San Francisco apartment. Not wanting to disturb their pupa phase, she coexisted with her metamorphosing roommates for weeks until they emerged as moths.
Once while I was in high school and Pam was staying with us, I arrived home after class and entered the kitchen through the sliding glass door. I was met with a strange and terrible odor that filled the house. “Pam!” I shouted. “What’s that smell?!” She appeared laughing and said, “I’m rendering cow kidney fat.” Sure enough there was large pot of white suet chunks and water simmering on the stove. “What? Why?” I exclaimed. “I’m making soap,” she giggled. “The old fashioned way!” Oh, duh. Of course she was. And she did. Lavender and orange scented bars, which she later gave to my family. The soap smelled lovely.
It was Pam who first hipped me to the questionable and hazardous ingredients in common beauty and hygiene products. She taught me the importance of knowing the source of the goods we consume and the conditions under which they were produced. And most importantly, she taught me there’s almost always an alternative way of getting what we need, if we are dissatisfied with the products that are marketed toward us.
These days Pam’s newest loves are paper, print, and book making. She runs a studio called Shotwell Paper Mill in SF’s Mission district. All their papers are made from recycled fibers. Check out this beautiful video of Pam making paper from an old pair of jeans. She also rides her bike around San Francisco collecting used jute coffee and cacao bean sacks from local coffee roasters and turns them into beautiful cocoa colored sheets. She explained that since great amounts of work, energy, and resources are required to grow and harvest the jute and manufacture the bean sacks, it seems right to extend the life of the jute fibers by turning them into paper. Yep. I like the way this lady thinks. Oh and she also keeps a beehive and grows food in her local community garden. I hope to visit her and see all these fantastic projects in person someday soon.
Thank you, Pam for this beautiful gift and the endless inspiration.
Oh March, you fickle old girl. I love the changes you bring each year. The image above is was taken while I was out for a run Friday morning. It was snowing sideways and the temperature didn’t get up above freezing all day. But by mid-day Saturday, much of the accumulated snow had already melted in the sun. Sunday brought more sun and mild temperatures nearing 50 degrees Fahrenheit so I jumped at the chance to log some hours outdoors.
My best friend and I took a drive out to the Willimantic Food Co-op to stock up on some bulk goods that we can’t get package-free in Providence, namely liquid soap (for household and personal hygiene purposes), agave nectar, honey, and canola oil. Fertile Underground Grocery’s bulk selection continues to grow and I’ve been told that their goal is to one day offer these liquid bulk goods, but for now I’m still making out of town trips every two months to fill up my glass jars and swing top bottles. Of course, having to drive 40-60 minutes to get to the nearest liquid bulk goods source is not ideal. I take care to plan ahead, writing lists and packing a shopping kit with ample vessels to minimize my trips. Carpooling with a friend and incorporating an outdoor adventure into the errand helps ease my anxiety about burning the fuel.
We hit up Old Furnace State Park—one of my favorite semi-nearby hiking spots. The extra hour of daylight seemed like such a gift. The air was warm enough to smell the wet earth and leaves underfoot. On several instances I was overcome by excitement and found myself breaking into a full sprint along the trails. My friend and I weren’t the only ones enjoying the warm weather—the birds were chirping up quite a chorus. Being confined to my apartment or office for most of the winter has its serious drawbacks, no doubt, but the cabin fever makes the coming of spring that much sweeter.
I feel as though too much time has gone by since my last post. I have so many things I want to write about, photos loaded, and drafts saved. I had trouble choosing a topic tonight. So bear with me as I gush about some things that have me excited these days.
This past weekend was lovely. It began with a small test of will power when I signed off, shut down, and unplugged my computer, phone, and lights on Friday night in participation of the 4th annual National Day of Unplugging. The respite officially took place from sunset Friday, March 1st to sunset Saturday, March 2nd. I was a little late to the party because I had to work Friday evening, but I did manage to hold out for 24 hours. Well, almost. The digital detox is meant be a break from laptops, iphones, and tablets. I decided to try to go without using any electricity (save my refrigerator). I ended up turning on some lights and my electric stovetop to cook dinner late Saturday, about 20 hours into my power-free period. On Saturday I rode out to the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center for the Urban Agricultural Spring Kickoff hosted by Southside Community Land Trust. Demonstration and information tables on seed starting, urban chicken keeping, rain barrels, bee keeping, and maple sugaring were set up along the pathways of the indoor gardens. I talked with some friendly folks, gathered some resources, and got the inspiration (kick in the pants) I needed to start my seeds.
As the event was winding down, I took some time to peruse the gardens. The botanical center boasts of nearly 12,000 square feet of plantings. The air inside the building was warm, humid, and fragrant. A stark contrast to the chilly, windy, and grey weather outside. As I moved rather languidly from room to room, species to species, I lost track of the time. Actually my sense of time was pretty well off throughout the entire day as my phone, which normally acts as my time piece, was powered down. I suddenly realized I was the last person (besides a couple botanical center employees) in the place. So I bundled up in my enduring wool outerwear and hit the road back to the east side. Time to get busy.
I’m sitting in on two classes at Brown this semester and I’m IN LOVE WITH THEM. One is an Urban Agriculture course in the Environmental Studies department and the other is a Biology course called Plants, Food, and People. There’s been some wonderful overlap between the two, and both seem to be mirroring my life and personal projects in uncanny ways. Or maybe it’s the other way around. At any rate, I’m so excited for the growing season. We’ve been learning about vertical farming in my Urban Ag class. Innovative systems like the Sky Greens vertical farms, and the Plantagon are taking shape around the world. One of the primary problems of growing food indoors is how to maximize sunlight. In my apartment, I have just one window that faces south. It overlooks the tenant garden below my kitchen and receives the most uninterrupted light of all my windows, the rest of which are moderately shaded by trees. It’s the best spot I’ve got to start seeds so I’ve been experimenting with ways of using the light efficiently.
With hemp twine, I strung up some Burpee seed starting cells (a 100% biodegradable product made from plant fibers) that I picked up from the hardware store. I wanted some lightweight vessels that I could fill with soil and easily string together. It occurred to me after I purchased them that I might have been able to make my own from folded recycled paper, but I wonder if I could come up with something that won’t drop out the bottom when saturated with water. I’ll have to do some tests. Meanwhile I feel good about using this particular product. The only packaging is a paper sleeve. I marked the cells with a wax pencil to keep track of what I’ve planted.
I also planted seeds in some small glass Weck jars that I normally use for spices or hygiene goods. I’m hoping the glass lids will help trap humidity while the seeds germinate. Mini greenhouses. I placed some paper labels on the lids, but I may tape them to the sides of the jars with acid-free paper tape to allow more light to fall on the seeds. In my biology class, we’re learning about the factors that affect germination, including lightness and darkness, water, oxygen (I sometimes forget that plants actually respire!), and temperature. I’m also gaining a basic understanding of what occurs on a cellular level as a seed grows from an embryonic state into an adult plant. This new information and vocabulary gives me a new perpective, and I imagine it’s going to provide a whole new level of enjoyment in growing my own food this season. So the seeds are in the dirt, they have plenty of moisture, but not so much that they can’t breath. They have as much light as I can offer, and hopefully they won’t get too cold by the window. Now for the waiting game. Waiting, wishing… and singing to them. Okay, okay I know how woo-woo that sounds but I can’t help it. Growing things engages both my scientific and nurturing (dorky) self.
I’ve had this blue cornmeal hanging around for a while and I’ve decided to put it to use before it spoils. Like many dry cereal grain flours, cornmeal has a very good shelf life (it may keep for several years if stored in a freezer), but it can eventually turn rancid. So I’m kicking some cornmeal projects into gear.
Blue cornmeal is more flavorful and higher in nutritional value than yellow or white. You can use it in any recipe that calls for cornmeal. Today I made skillet blue cornbread. I love the taste of food cooked in an iron skillet and it’s a fantastic non-toxic nonstick surface. The bread is delicious! I’ve already consumed quite a bit more than the slice missing in this photo. I looked at several recipes online and then composed my own, which allowed me to work with the ingredients I had on hand—all of which were purchased without packaging as always. Here’s what I came up with:
1 1/2 cups blue cornmeal
1/2 cup oat flour (any flour could be substituted here, or just use another 1/2 cup of cornmeal)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raw oat milk (made fresh from oat groats soaked overnight)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup finely chopped red pepper
1 medium size minced jalapeño pepper
Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oat milk, eggs, apple cider vinegar, honey (warm to liquify if necessary), and canola oil in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in red and jalapeño pepper. Pour the batter into a 10″ cast iron skillet that has been rubbed with oil. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until done. Serve with a wink and a smile. Store in an airtight container.
With the exception of a small jar of stevia seeds, my freezer has stood empty for a long while. It is of course void of any packaged frozen foods and because I’m lucky to be able to access fresh foods year-round, I rarely have occasions to freeze foods. While editing down the belongings in my kitchen to the few essential items I use regularly, I donated my plastic ice cube tray. Even in the dog days of summer I prefer most of my drinks iceless (though I do sometimes like to use ice to cool down warm water, home brewed tea, or kombucha) and I dislike the taste of ice cubes that have been frozen in plastic. So I didn’t think I had much need to hang onto it. But when I recently banged up my knee after taking a good tumble on a morning run, I wished I had some kind of cold pack to reduce the swelling around my injury. I did a search for plastic-free ice trays and discovered that stainless steel trays like the ones on the market from the 1930s to the 1950s are being manufactured again as an alternative to plastic trays. I purchased this one from Life Without Plastic. It works really well and it makes perfectly tasteless ice. If the ejection lever gets frozen to the cubes (not uncommon with this design), running the tray under warm water releases the lever, making it easy to lift. This beautiful, functional tool may even inspire some frozen treat experiments. And for first aid purposes, I’m thinking about investing in a good old fashioned hot water bottle to fill with my steel tray-made cubes the next time I bust up my body, since I won’t be using plastic bags to make cold packs.
This evening, I’ll be giving a Natural Home Solutions workshop with some wonderful folks at Fertile Underground in Providence. I will demonstrate how to make homemade moisturizing lotion and deodorants. Jillian McGrath is making a raw avocado/cacao edible face mask. Yeah, that’s right, double duty. And the folks from Karma Clean will be there with samples of their raw soap nuts laundry detergent. So excited! If you live in the area, come in and see us from 5:00-7:00pm for some how-tos and free samples!
I’ve never been too big on sizzling, savory breakfasts in the early mornings. I’m a cereal lover. Upon waking, I crave sweet carbs. I love cold mik over crunchy granola or warm bowls of cooked grains like quinoa, amaranth, and oats. I always add generous amounts of fruit, seeds, and nuts for varied texture and flavor. Most of the breakfast dishes I make happen to be vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free. It’s important to me that my first meal fuels many working hours before I have to break for lunch, so I focus on using ingredients that are protein-rich and high in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids. This morning I enjoyed some homemade granola (this time adding pumpkin seeds to the basic original recipe) flooded in a fresh batch of hemp milk with a diced bartlett pear. I tend to get pretty blissed-out over even the simplest homemade meals. This morning’s bowl of goodness was no exception, so I had to share it.
Mmmmhmmm, look at all those delicious, package-free ingredients.
I rode my bike over to the Wintertime Farmer’s Market at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket this afternoon to pick up some fish for dinner tonight. Rich and Ann from The Local Catch take a stainless steel container from me each week and fill it with something fresh caught. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. But they know a bit about my preferences and I’ve never been dissatisfied with an order. They always give me something low on the food chain and it’s always really fresh and delicious. This week it’s yellowtail flounder, which I love. It’s sweet and mild. I’m going to prepare it with some long grain wild rice, celeriac mash, and greens.
So, it turns out you don’t need clothespins to line dry laundry. I gleefully stumbled upon this ingenious technique during a meandering internet search. How is it that I never thought of this? It’s so simple and efficient. The twisted line seems to hold garments even better than my wooden spring clothespins. And I like the snapping sound it makes when I pluck the dry clothes from it’s grip. This method is especially good for my indoor setup, which I hang up and take down with each load I dry. Outside in the garden, the line I share with my landlady is a more permanent, untwisted setup. I imagine that in an open air situation, a twisted cotton line might be prone to growing mildew after a rain. At any rate, the pin-less approach will be my new indoor jam for the remainder of the cold season.
I’ve been getting some delicious organic Kale from the Wintertime Farmer’s Market lately. I like to eat it raw, in stir fries, or as a delicious snack in chip form. Kale chips are really easy to make at home. And you don’t need to own a dehydrator. Just rinse and dry the kale leaves, remove the center stems (which hold a lot of water) and cut them into bite-size pieces. Lightly coat them in cooking oil and bake them in a shallow pan or on a cookie sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until the leaves are dry and crispy but not brown. Shake or turn them in the pan periodically so they crisp evenly. I usually sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on mine. I like to use the discarded stems to make vegetable broth.
This morning I fixed myself a chia seed drink from seeds I purchased in bulk. Chia seeds are considered a “super food” for their nutrient content. Like hemp and flax seeds, they are a great plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Chia seeds can be used like any other seeds you might cook with, sprinkle over a meal, or stir into cereal or yogurt. Because they are high in soluble fiber, they absorb a lot of water and can be used to make a “gel” that can be stirred into drinks. I decided to give this a try. I mixed 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into 1 cup of water and stirred them occasionally over a 15 minute period so that they wouldn’t clump. Then I made some ginger lemon tea and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of the gel when the tea was warm, but not hot. I rather like gelatinous foods so I really enjoyed this textured beverage! Chia seeds are said to keep you hydrated and energized so it ‘s not a bad way to start the day. I think I’ll add it to my regimen for a while.
Homemade granola! Quick and easy to make. Granola is so delicious when it’s fresh and I love having the control over what goes into it. This batch is very simple—a good base to add any kind of fruit and nuts to. All the ingredients below were purchased in bulk. And as usual, my recipe is pretty freeform, so go nuts!
4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flour for “clumping” (I used rice flour because that’s what I had on my shelf, but oat flour would probably work even better)
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil (other oils can be substituted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the honey, oil, and extract together in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread the granola in an oiled shallow pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the granola over with a large spatula, being careful not to break it up too much. Return to oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the granola to cool completely before removing it from the pan to serve or store.
Mmmhmmmm, so delicious. Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness. It will keep at room temperature for up to 10 days but because it contains oil (which can become rancid), it should be refrigerated or frozen after that point.
I love getting snowed in. It’s a rare event I always welcome. I love that it’s a collective experience shared by everyone in the affected region, but also private as we’re each marooned in our own homes. As highways, businesses, and schools close, time seems to slow down. I’m feeling very lucky that I didn’t loose power and heat in the storm, as that can quickly take the pleasure out of the experience. I took advantage of being confined to my apartment to get into some projects that my work has been keeping me from. Today I made moisturizing lotion based on a very simple recipe a friend recently shared with me. It was remarkably easy and I’m so pleased with the result. I’ve made salves before with a similar process but I love the texture and “slip” of the lotion—perfect for dry elbows, knees, hands, and feet. It absorbs into my skin well and has a pleasing, mild scent. Here’s the recipe I ended up using…
4 tablespoons grated beeswax
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grape seed oil
1/3 cup sweet almond oil
8 tablespoons water
In a double boiler setup (I use a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of water) melt beeswax. When beeswax is almost completely liquified add coconut oil. Pour in slightly warmed remaining oils (one cup total) and whisk with a hand whisk, fork, or immersion blender. Remove the mixture from heat and slowly add water while stirring. Continue whisking for a minute or so until the mixture is homogenized. While hot, the lotion will be very runny. Allow it to cool, mixing it periodically as it sets up.
The recipe makes about 16oz of lotion. Store in a glass jar in a cool dry place. I scooped some into this little 3 oz jar to give to my friend to sample. Many oils could be substituted in this recipe. And you don’t have to use more than one. I chose to mix the three together because I had them on hand. The oils are available to me in bulk at a couple nearby sources. I’ve seen beeswax sold in brick form without any packaging before but when I went to purchase it for this project I could only find plastic wrapped bricks. So instead I picked up a 100% beeswax package-free candle and grated that. Once I’ve gone through all the beeswax I’ll be left with wick, which I can compost or burn in the wood stove. The one ingredient that did come in packaging is the coconut oil. It came in a 14 oz glass jar. I only use the coconut oil for homemade hygiene products and it lasts a long time. Once it’s empty, the jar will be used again and again to store bulk goods. But the plastic seal that came around the jar lid when it was purchased is landfill waste.
I’m always interested in using less personal hygiene products. Caring for skin from the inside out is something that appeals to me very much. Of course diet, hydration, and exercise all play a roll in skin health and texture. I’ve been trying to drink more water in these dry winter months, but my skin appreciates a little extra help from a topical source in this climate.
I have amazing friends. Just received this fantastic gift from two dear ones—a 3-tier steel tiffin with two plate separators. Can’t wait to test drive this beauty once the winter storm stops. It will be so perfect for take-away and picnics!
Today I used the hemp meal leftover from Monday’s hemp milk to make hemp “pesto”. I initially intended to use basil for this recipe but I couldn’t find any without packaging. All the basil at my nearby markets is currently being sold in PET plastic packs. I was able to find loose parsley tied with a rubber band so I grabbed a bundle and decided to improvise with that. I used 1/2 cup hemp meal (all that was strained out of the milk), 3 cups chopped parsley (stems included), 6 medium size chopped garlic cloves, 3/4 cup olive oil, and generous amount of cracked pepper. I combined the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pulsed them with my immersion blender until I had a paste. The total time to make the pesto was less than 10 minutes.
The hemp meal provided the body that cheese and pine nuts give to traditional pestos. Hemp has a nutty flavor of it’s own that compliments the parsley well. And what a vibrant color! Because I love the taste of parsley, it’s a fine substitue for basil… but I can’t wait to make this with homegrown package-free basil this summer!
For lunch I cooked some pasta (this one happens to be a gluten-free quinoa fusilli I found in bulk at Karma Co-op in Toronto) and tossed it with a tablespoon of pesto and fresh chopped tomatoes. Oh man, it was delicious! I think this will become another go-to package-free meal.
A dairy sensitivity I developed in my adulthood led me to kick the cow milk I was raised on. Before starting the No Trash Project, I was purchasing nut, seed, and grain milks in Tetra Paks, which are difficult to recycle. After swearing off food packaging, I still craved some kind of milk to add to my granola or incorporate into recipes so I began making my own non-dairy milks at home. I’m always thrilled by how easy and rewarding it is. Every kind I’ve made has been far better tasting than anything I could buy off a store shelf. Inspired by a reader’s suggestion, I made hemp milk today. It was the quickest and easiest yet! It seriously only took about 5 minutes to make. I used hemp seeds purchased in bulk from Alternative Food Co-op. The ratio I used is one cup hemp seeds to 4 cups of water (the same ratio I’ve used for the oat, almond, coconut, and cashew milks). The seeds don’t require any soaking prior to blending. Because hemp is soft, the seeds and water homogenized very quickly with the help of my immersion blender. I chose to strain it for smoothness, though much like the cashew milk, the meal is so fine that you can drink it without straining. I would describe the taste as sweet and grassy. Delicious. Of course, it can be sweetened or spiced. I saw one variation online with orange zest that I plan to try.
Hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and they offer a very desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3:1. They’re also a fantastic source of protein, fiber, and amino acids—including all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own.
I love experimenting with the strained nut, seed, and grain meal I’m left with when making the milks. I think I’m going to use the hemp meal to make a “pesto” with garlic, basil, and olive oil. Stay tuned for that experiment!