Archive | 2012



I made this colorful, hearty, seasonal salad for lunch. It was inspired by a favorite Garden Grille menu item. Ooowee, it was delicious! And of course, all the elements were purchased without any packaging.


radicchio, arugula, roasted butternut squash, apple, black quinoa, sprouted pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, olive oil, and black pepper.

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Trash talk


At my recent visit to the dentist, I made a lot of trash. My hygienist Gena and I talked about all the garbage that is produced during a single patient visit while she worked on my teeth. Plastic film and paper sheets cover the dentist chair and the lamp handles. Disposable plastic suction tubes (called evacuator tips) suck up saliva and rinse water. Plastic sleeves cover the now digital xray devise that I can never quite bite down on properly. Every patient gets a paper and plastic (coated) dentist bib of course. Gena changes her mask several times throughout the day. And she explained that it’s office protocol for her to remove and toss her gloves every time she leaves the room. She used three pairs during my visit.

Lying in that ergonomically wonderful chair, as Gena diligently scraped tartar from my molars, I wondered if there are any reasonable, hygienic ways around medical waste. Our mouths are a jungle of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, so it’s easy to understand why there are so many precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of germs amongst doctors, staff, and patients. When I got home I did some research to see if I could dig up information on active efforts to reduce the trash produced in a dentist’s office. I came across the Eco-Dentistry Association in an online search. The EDA website is wonderful resource. A list of “the big four” breaks down the processes responsible for the most dental practice waste.

1. Infection control methods including disposable barriers and sterilization items and toxic disinfectant

2. Placement and removal of mercury-containing dental material

3. Conventional x-ray systems

4. Conventional vacuum systems

There’s also a search function to locate an EDA member near you. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be any practicing in Providence. I’ve also been browsing stories of trail-blazing dentists who are committed to reducing waste within their small practices. My friend Kory sent me a video of this fellow.

My dentist’s practice may not be very advanced on the environmental frontline, but until I live near a EDA member dentist, I have no current plans to stop seeing them. I love my dentist and my hygienist and they are taking good care of my teeth. My x-rays look good—so far still cavity-free! And I’m still receiving positive reports about my oral hygiene since switching to baking soda toothpowder, a compostable toothbrush, and essential oil-coated cotton floss in a paper box. So I’ll keep on with my routine. I love my teeth. They’ve done a lot for me over the years.

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Glaze fire

Ceramics glazed and in the kiln about to be fired again!

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Warm up

Hang drying wool garments from the fireplace mantel in my bedroom. I’m using the fireplace to store wood for the cast iron stove in my living room. As long as I’m able to stay warm, winter is a breeze.

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All I ever want

We took a break from the ceramic making on Sunday to eat a fantastic dinner at Organic Garden Cafe. My custom dinner bowl was substantial, affordable, and delicious. It fueled many more hours of work late into the night. I was touched by one menu item called the Grateful Bowl, which allows customers to pay what they’re able to on a sliding scale of $1 to $8.50. I imagine I will be returning to this fine establishment in the future.

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The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Thrown and slab bowls.

Thrown and slab bowls.

The urge to make things wells up in me regularly. It’s real and tangible and may even be called a need. Sometimes I’m able to fill that need by cooking a meal, scribbling a drawing in my sketchbook, through photography, or by writing. Other times I’m consumed by a desire to make objects. Useful, functional, quality, beautiful objects. But No Trash practice can be extremely difficult when it comes to studio work.

Lately, while washing my cheaply made, chipped and cracked bowls in the kitchen sink, I’ve been wondering about ceramic production processes on a large and small scale. And as the official start of winter draws near and my seasonal inclination to maximize the amount of green life in my apartment grows, I find myself scrounging for more vessels to accommodate cuttings, separated plant pups, and newly acquired greenhouse perennials. I have been daydreaming of lean windowsill-sized, handmade pots to display them in. The itch to make some ceramics lead me on a trip to the North Shore of Massachusetts this past weekend.

My best friend heads a high school art department in a beautiful seaside town not far from where I was born. I drove up to see her with the intent to make some bowls and pots and to donate four brimming boxes of books (a pile my parents decided to get rid of during their recent move) to her classroom. Books have always stuck to my family and together we’ve amassed quite a collection over the years… and over the years, many of them have sat unopened on shelves. My friend and I sifted through the boxes with one of her students and they happily accepted most of the contents. I like to imagine young art students breathing new life into the books, smearing them with charcoal as they rummage for inspiration.

On Sunday we spent all day and a good part of the night in the classroom studio making ceramic gifts for friends and family. I hadn’t worked with clay since my own high school art class and I had so much fun relearning the basics. A company originally based in Laguna Beach, California called Laguna Clay manufactures the high fire white stoneware clay in Ohio. It comes in a large wedged (kneaded) brick inside a stretch plastic bag. The bricks are shipped to the high school in cardboard boxes from Portland Pottery of Portland, Maine.

Curious about the ingredients and manufacturing processes of clay, I called up the Laguna Clay national headquarters in Los Angeles County and was able to connect with Clay Manager Jon Pacini. He graciously and patiently answered my questions. He told me that the company uses about 8 common minerals mixed in different compositions to create clays with varying properties and characteristics. All of the minerals are obtained from mining companies in the states who distribute them to clay manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and livestock feed manufactures. Clay minerals are used as binders to pelletize feed. Yep, as Jon put it, “clay is used in a whole myriad of things we don’t think about.” He was able to break down the white stoneware clay I worked with on Sunday, which is meant to be durable enough to be used for tableware. It’s comprised of fire clay from Missouri, ball clay from Kentucky and Tennessee, silica from Illinois, and feldspar from South Carolina. These minerals are combined with water, mixed in a “pugmill” and compressed into bricks. Pretty simple. The base ingredient in ceramic glazes is silica sand, which is the same sand used to make window glass. Other glaze ingredients include feldspar, zinc, barium, limestone, and calcium carbonate. The pigments come from metal oxides, like iron, nickel, and cobalt oxide. Jon explained that glazes used today are not so dissimilar from glazes that Japanese potters were experimenting with 2,000 years ago.

Under my friend’s instruction, I tried my hand at throwing some small bowls on the wheel. She told me not to worry about messing up because the scrapped clay is rewedged and completely recycled. And it’s a good thing because my first few attempts collapsed. But after sticking with it for a couple hours, I produced a set of small bowls. Through all the fails and few successes, I had a blast! I also made some small slab pots by rolling pounded clay through a press and then wrapping and seaming it around a plaster mould. Once the vessels are dry, they will be fired in the electric kiln for 8-12 hours at 2,000 degrees! The high heat permanently alters the soft porous material, causing the particles to melt and flow together, strengthening the clay. After the bisque firing (the first firing) glaze is applied to seal the still somewhat porous pieces and they are fired again for another 8+ hours.

I love this kind of meditative, careful work, during which time seems to melt off the clock. I was lucky to be able to experience this every day at woodworking school this past summer. While we busied our hands shaping and forming the clay, we played the Ken Burns National Parks documentary series on the classroom computer, rarely glancing up at the monitor, but listening intently to narrated stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and their work to establish protected “reservoirs” of the natural world. It was a wonderful Sunday.

Since beginning my No Trash Project, I’ve become deeply interested in the life cycle of objects, from the creation or harvesting of source materials used to make each thing I encounter, to the recyclability and biodegradability of those materials once they are disposed of. Taking on different “make my own” projects has led me to a greater understanding of the resources and processes required to produce the quotidian items I possess. My appreciation for the belongings I choose to keep, and my relationships with the objects I use daily continues to grow. So much energy and so many resources are required to bring ceramic making materials (and the packaging surrounding them) to me. So much time, labor, water, and electricity goes into creating each piece of pottery. The things I learned this weekend have changed the way I will look at every ceramic object I meet from this point forward.  

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Rainbow chard

From the farmer’s market. Pow!

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Baby bok choy

From Fertile Underground Grocery. Love those purple and green hues!

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Fertile Underground

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, "No farmers, no food... Know farmers, know food!"

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, “No farmers, no food… Know farmers, know food!”

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. "Sharing is Caring"

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. “Sharing is Caring”

Sprouted lentils!

Sprouted lentils!

Today I picked up some groceries at Fertile Underground on the west side of Providence. Since their opening last year, the cooperative food market has been slowly adding to their local RI farm produce selection (both organic and conventional) and expanding their bulk foods section. Today I was so pleased to see a significant increase the in bulk spices offered since the last time I stopped in. I was also impressed by the number of organic dry bulk legumes and grains (even a few sprouted) that are currently available. Rice, quinoa, cous cous, popping corn, oats, granola, garbanzo beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, red and green lentils, and coffee are stocked. The store is becoming a great local resource for No Trash efforts and as they continue to add more bulk items I’ll be able to rely more heavily on Fertile Underground for my grocery needs. Employees Nancy and Chrissy graciously allowed me to take pictures as I shopped. Every time I’ve been in to shop, the folks working at the register and cafe have been incredibly friendly and helpful. It feels great to be able to support this small business. Less regular trips to co-ops outside of town of course means a reduced carbon footprint. Thank you Fertile Underground for your work to bring alternative food shopping to Providence!

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On my way back from Willimantic I made a stop in Danielson CT at Logee’s Greenhouses. This transportive space has been a favorite destination of mine (especially in cold and dry late autumn and winter months) for years. The business was established in 1892 by William D. Logee who was especially interested in tropical and unusual plants. 110 year-old citrus trees grow up out of the dirt floors of the densely packed greenhouses.

Drifting through the narrow pathways, breathing in the humid and fragrant air, I feel righted and restored. The photo above is taken in one of my favorite corners of the largest house, the succulent and cacti section. I couldn’t resist bringing a couple new friends home with me. Logee’s cannot reuse their plastic pots because of strict policies in place to prevent cross-contamination. I wash the pots at home and bring them to folks at the farmer’s market who will re-use them.

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Willimantic Food Co-op

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I've seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I’ve seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner's castile soap.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.

So many bulk spices!

So many bulk spices!

I spent this past weekend visiting friends and family in NYC. On my trip back up to Providence, I made a slight detour to check out the Willimantic Food Co-op in Willimantic, CT. I learned about the co-op from a woman who works at As220’s Foo(d) counter when I was picking up dinner last week and my reusable take-out containers sparked a conversation about package-free food shopping. She told me that her parents have been members since the co-op opened in the early 1970s and that a visit is worth the drive from Providence. So while traveling across the state, I made my way up to Route 6 and stopped in.

The co-op is impeccably clean and well-stocked. It’s larger than Fertile Underground, the Alternative Food Co-op, and Harvest Co-op Market in Jamaica Plain. The extra space allows room for an impressive variety of dry and liquid food and hygiene bulk goods. I bought some wild rice, local organic chestnuts and apples, and some ever-elusive package-free black quinoa. I also picked up some dish soap, shampoo, and Vermont-brewed Kombucha tea, which is available on tap from a stand on the edge of the produce section. The store employees were all wonderfully helpful and friendly and there was no hesitation in granting me permission to take photos inside the store.

This project has led me to so many wonderful discoveries. Seeing beautiful, inviting, and efficient establishments such as the Willimantic Food Co-op bustling with happy customers is energizing. Though I don’t live in the neighborhood, as I strolled amongst other shoppers, weighing my containers and writing down PLU codes, I couldn’t help but feel that I am part of a community of people in pursuit of a better way to get what they need.

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Oh Garden Grille, you do me right. But I always order more than I can finish because your dishes are so delishes. So I’ve learned to come prepared, with my own to-go wares.

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Homemade Tandoori Spice Mix

I recently discovered an incredible food blog called My New Roots and I’m in love. Many of you may already be familiar with it. Author Sarah Britton is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Chef. Her inventive recipes revolve around a plant-based diet, many of them comprised of few basic whole foods. I so appreciate that she lists the health benefits of the ingredients she uses. I’ve been digging deep into the blog archive, drooling over her dishes. I’ve tried just a couple things I’ve found there so far, including whole roasted tandoori cauliflower, which I made with the beautiful, fresh cauliflower I’ve been buying at the farmer’s market. I mixed up my own batch of tandoori spice blend as per the directions on My New Roots and used the coconut milk that I made in place of coconut cream or yogurt in the tandoori marinade.

Such a lovely food to behold! All of the spices are available in bulk at my local co-ops. My marinade probably wasn’t as thick as Sarah B’s, but it sure was delicious. I’ve also been using the tandoori spice blend for roasting vegetables and in lentil dishes.

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Coconut Milk

Last week I made coconut milk. Before starting my No Trash Project, I would pretty regularly buy cans of coconut milk to use in many favorite Indian and Thai recipes. Since I stopped buying foods in packaging, I have been adapting recipes that call for coconut milk, by either adding shredded coconut, or some other homemade nut milk. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me until recently that I could just make my own. After reading over a few different recipes online, I went to the grocery store and picked up two coconuts. My friend cracked them open and helped me remove the meat from the shells. I diced the meat into small pieces, placed them in a large bowl, added 4 cups of water and blended until smooth. Then I strained the solids from the milk. Voila. Delicious, fresh, and package-free.

The the milk was a little on the thin side and I had some trouble with separation in the bottle shown above. I ended up pouring the milk back into a bowl so that I could hit it again with my immersion blender before each use.

I came across several coconut milk recipes that call for shredded coconut, which I can get in bulk at nearby food co-ops. I think I’ll try to make it that way next time to see if my result is any different. Buying the shredded coconut would certainly save a little time and labor, but may cost a bit more.

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The Foood Show

As I have mentioned before, I co-organize an experimental film series in Providence, RI. Tonight we are presenting The Foood Show, a program of short films about food. In thinking about different food systems in Rhode Island and with increased baking, cooking, sharing, and eating that happens during the holiday season, I tried to organize a program that offers many views of our relationships with food. If you live in the area and are looking for something to do tonight at 9:30pm, come join me at the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe. And yes, they serve food there (on real, reusable dishes, with silverware).

Magic Lantern Cinema Presents:

A Second Helping
Curated by Colleen Doyle
Wed. Nov. 28th // 9:30 PM
Cable Car Cinema // Providence, RI
Admission $5
The discovery of a network of 100 billion neurons in the gut led scientists to nickname it our “second brain.” Like the brain in our head, it is engaged in perpetual contact with the outside world—via the food we swallow. It is the job of the gut to take in an extensive array of external matter, break it down to component parts, send it off to various organs, and turn it into us. Whether we use food to nourish, fuel, pleasure, punish, or heal, it is a part of our human experience. It is no wonder that in its incredibly wide-ranging forms, food is a subject rendered in every medium from paint, to music, to motion picture. This program is the second installment of a Magic Lantern series of food shows that examine different representations of foods on film. As the holiday meal leftovers empty completely from the refrigerator, consider a menu of films about systems new and old that put food in our bellies. Moving from educational films about the body as a machine and the produce canning industry, to an experimental film about a camera’s rude encounter with a breakfast table spread, to an abstract animation of a dancing stringy green vegetable, these works promise to stir up the appetite of our second brain, while bedding down that of our first.
FEATURING: Carpenter-Goldman Laboratories, Inc., “How the Fires of Our Body Are Fed: A Study of the Human Digestive Process” (1926); Charles and Ray Eames, “Bread” (1953); California Packing Corporation, “Pick of the Pod” (1939); Michael Snow “Breakfast (Table Top Dolly)” (1976); John Whitney, “Celery Stalks at Midnight” (1952); Videofreex, “Chicken Dinner” (1971); Naomi Uman “Leche” (1998); Dimitri Kirsanoff, “La Mort du Cerf (Death of a Stag)” (1951)TRT ca. 96 mins


“How the Fires of Our Body Are Fed: A Study of the Human Digestive Process,” Carpenter-Goldman Laboratories, Inc., 1926, 16mm film on video, b&w, silent, 10 min
In this early educational film, the human body is not unlike a steam ship. Both require a regular supply of fuel to work. The image of a man shoveling coal in the stokehole of a ship at sea parallels a shot of a hungry man eating a sandwich during his lunch break onshore. Early microphotography reveals peristalsis (wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract) in a nematode, illustrating basic the mechanics of the human gut.

“Bread,” Charles and Ray Eames, 1953, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 7 min
Witness the splendor of bread!

“Pick of the Pod,” California Packing Corporation, 1939, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 10 min
Opening shots of bustling city streets bathed in late afternoon light are injected with the narration, “5:15 American standard time, the day end rush is on as homebound workers throng the streets of every city, town, and hamlet. The Jane and John Does of the worker day world, all of them made kin by thoughts of home and that looking ahead to dinner gleam in there eyes.” So what dinner awaits them at home? Del Monte brand canned peas of course. Enough for the whole family, available any season of the year because of the new technological marvels of the canning industry.

“Breakfast (Table Top Dolly),” Michael Snow, 1976, 16mm, color, sound, 15 min

A camera tracks across the length of a breakfast table, toppling over and mowing down any flatware, vessels, and fixings in its path.

“Celery Stalks at Midnight,” John Whitney, 1952, 16mm on video, b&w, sound, 3 min

A short by the experimental animator best known for his work on the opening credits of Vertigo.  According to David E. James, “Celery” was made with the aid of an “oil bath that could be manipulated to admit the passage of light,” and visualizes the music comprising its score: Will Bradley and His Orchestra’s rendition of the jazz song by the same name.

“Chicken Dinner,” Videofreex, 1971, video, b&w, sound, 6 min

Summertime in rural upstate New York, a group of young adults walk each other through the steps of tying, beheading, plucking, cutting, and cooking a chicken for dinner.

“Leche,” Naomi Uman, 1998, 16mm, b&w, sound, 30 min
On a small family dairy farm in Aguascalientes, Mexico, a ranchero practices rope tricks, a woman’s hands press liquid from cheese, children stand still in the frame as if posing for a still portrait, a calf nurses, an intolerable snake is decapitated, another set of hands pound tortillas, cows are branded, a dead coyote hangs from a tree, crickets mate, and finally an ailing dairy cow is loaded into a trailer and driven away down the road on her way to the market. Uman hand processed this film in buckets and hung it to dry onsite.

“La Mort du Cerf (Death of a Stag),” Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1951, 16mm on video, b&w, sound, 12 min.
A documentary of a stag hunting party known for its expressive use of cross-cutting.

**Magic Lantern is generously funded by the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies at Brown University.

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Venda Ravioli

Picked up some Mozzarella from the cheese counter at Venda Ravioli on Federal Hill. There was some hemming and hawing between the employees over whether or not they were allowed to accept my reusable containers, but in the end they decided it was okay. I did come away with the paper price sticker…

Magpie is very interested in the contents of this jar.


Castelvetrano olives from Venda Ravioli.

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Tomato soup

I also stopped at the Rocket Fine Street Food truck, which was parked outside of Hope Artiste Village and got some tomato soup in another steel container I had carried to the market. I warmed it on the stove in that same container when I got home. It was a delicious lunch.

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Picked up some hake in my stainless steel container from The Local Catch today at the Farmer’s Market.

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‘Tis the season for family gatherings. I visited with my grandparents yesterday for Thanksgiving. After work on Wednesday, I swung by the Wintertime Farmer’s Market at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and picked up some ingredients to make a couple dishes to share with extended family and friends. I bought a butternut squash, an onion, bulk cranberries (displayed in a large reed basket), russet potatoes, and apples. With the orchard bought sugar pumpkin I had on my counter at home, I made organic vegan potato, butternut squash, and pumpkin mash—seasoned with ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I also made cranberry sauce with my fresh berries, co-op bulk honey, lemon, and ginger. I poured the food into stainless steel and glass containers and refrigerated them until Thursday morning. My grandmother reheated the mash before dinner and the cranberry sauce was served chilled. The container above sits on the maple dining table my grandfather built for my grandmother. Dinner was delicious, and the conversations even better.

Back home with a friend tonight, I made soup from the leftover mash, sautéed onion and garlic, homemade vegetable broth, cayenne, cracked pepper, and olive oil.

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Romanesco broccoli from the farmer’s market. It has kept well in a shallow bowl of water (stem side down) in the refrigerator for the past four days. I never tire of admiring the forms of this vegetable.

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Last December I wrote a post about running. In it I talked about my desire to replace my worn shoes. Unable to find a pair that I could get excited about, I postponed purchasing new ones and since then have managed to squeeze nearly another year’s worth of running out of the old pair. These have carried me over my weekly 25-30 miles of blacktop, concrete, gravel, and packed dirt trails for almost four years now. They’ve held up remarkably well under the pounding.

Everyone wears their shoes differently. I seem to always destroy the “heel counter” of mine from the inside out. I think this could be due to the fact that I have a narrow heel that seems to slip around a bit in most footwear. I’ve finally worn these down to the plastic cupped part of the heel under the padding, which is now putting holes in my socks and blisters on my skin. So, to save my feet and keep my running habit, I will indeed need to get a new pair. My search for a shoe that uses minimal materials and will hold up to New England winter running resumes.

Since starting this project, I’ve been more than happy to purchase most of my clothing used from consignment and thrift stores. I make an exception for socks and skivvies. I will also make an exception for the running shoes. Fit is of utmost importance and having an unused instep and sole that will form to the shape of my foot is key. But great amounts energy go into the production of the synthetic materials used to construct athletic shoes, more energy and chemical adhesives are used to produce the shoes, and even more energy is required to ship them to a store near me. So choosing a new pair has so far been difficult for me in the context of this project. When I do find the new pair I won’t throw my old ones away, but rather donate them to one of these organizations. They will probably have to be recycled given their structural damage.

Running is my favorite way to exercise. I can do it any place, any season, in nearly any terrain. It’s one of my best defenses against stress and it’s a time I use to process all of the matters of my life. Since last year’s running post I have taken up yoga (a conveniently barefoot form exercise), which has been wonderful, but so far hasn’t replaced my beloved daily run.

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Roasted eggplant

Mmhmmm. Organic oven roasted eggplant with olive oil, balsamic, toasted sesame seeds, and cracked pepper. Scored to let the steam escape. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. This is my favorite way to cook this amazingly versatile vegetable at the moment. I’ve been particularly busy lately and this method requires so little work. Just halve and score, drizzle with oil, and roast at 400˚F for 30-40 minutes. No flipping or rotating required. I enjoyed this one for lunch with leftover red quinoa (dinner the night before) and fresh salad greens.

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The perfect thing.

Long before beginning my No Trash Project, I used to store carrots in disposable plastic produce bags in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. They’d hold up fairly well for a couple days, but then quickly become limp and rubbery. While researching ways to keep foods fresh without plastic, I read that storing carrots, celery, and radishes in a bath water keeps them fresh for weeks. In my experience, this is absolutely true. Submerged in fresh water, the veggies stay crisp, crunchy, and flavorful. Sometimes l change the water if I’m storing them for more than a few days. Because the stems and leaves draw water and nutrients from the vegetables, cutting the greens off also helps preserve freshness. And of course, the greens are great for making vegetable broth.

I love my 5 cup glass refrigerator storage container. The size and shape is particularly well-suited for keeping carrots. It can be used in the oven at temperatures up to 425˚F. The glass is also far easier to clean than any kind of plastic container. Plus I find the utilitarian design of the container aesthetically pleasing, especially when it’s filled with vibrant, nutritious food!

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More cruciferous veg from the market. Brussels sprouts still attached to the stock will stay fresher longer than those sold individually. I always put the end of the stock in a cup of water and refrigerate it, snapping the sprouts off over the next several days as needed. This one is pretty tall so I will halve it to fit.

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A beautiful treat from the Saturday Wintertime Farmer’s Market at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. I found a recipe online for whole roasted tandoori cauliflower that I can’t wait to try! I will post my results…

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An unexpected visitor

The nor’easter brought the first snowfall of the season. I had no idea it was coming. I wonder what the winter has in store for us this year…

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Single stream

The informational video I shot and produced for Rhode Resource Recovery Corporation is complete. Thank you to everyone at RIRRC, Animal Studio, and Machines With Magnets for all your great work!

The purpose of this short piece is to provide Rhode Island residents and anyone else interested in recycling in RI with an up-close look at the way recyclables are sorted through the new single stream system at the Materials Recycling Facility in Johnston. For safety reasons, visitors of the facility may only view the operations through the windows of an observation room. As well as being available on the Recycle Together RI website, this video will play on monitors in the observation room to reveal what can’t be seen through the glass. It is also meant to stress the importance of placing proper materials in our collection bins each week so that the facility operations can run efficiently, workers remain safe, and a better quality baled “product” is produced.

The MRF is just the first stop that our papers, cans, and bottles make on their long road to becoming resource materials. Great amounts of energy and resources are required to simply sort our waste so it may be sold as commodities to companies that will process the materials.

Filming at the facility was intense. During each shoot, I was required to wear a reflective vest, a hard hat, safety glasses, and ear protection (the sounds of the machinery and material in motion are deafening). Seeing truck loads of materials dumped on the tip floor one after another was overwhelming. On the one hand, it is gratifying to know the waste has been diverted from the landfill, but the volume of materials and the speed and consistency at which they arrive to the facility is disheartening. The experience has served to underscore the importance of No Trash Project and similar efforts.

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Spray deodorant

In September I posted some thoughts on chemical-free and package-free personal hygiene options, including baking soda and cornstarch deodorant. I’ve been using the powdered blend for nearly two months and it works really well. The active ingredient is the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which works as a deodorant, not an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants inhibit the body’s physiology by clogging pores, blocking the natural release of sweat. Baking soda neutralizes odor-causing bacteria that live on the surface of the skin and hair. Some information on the controversial health effects of antiperspirants and deodorants can be found here.

As I mentioned before, I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily, but I appreciate some odor control, especially in the dog days of summer and on days when I’m particularly active throughout the rest of the year. Now that we’re into the heating season in Northeast, I’m readjusting to familiar challenges in temperature control as I move between the crisp outdoors and overly heated University buildings at work. Applying and shedding several layers of clothing throughout the day is a dance New Englanders are adept at. But there are many occasions when I enter a building and start to sweat before I can remove my mittens, scarf, coat, and sweater (usually in that order).

While the powder has indeed been very effective, I find it’s a little messy transferring it from the salt shaker to my hand to my underarms—especially when I’m in a rush (most days). Also, cornstarch is more difficult to find in bulk than baking soda and I’m always interested in using the least amount of ingredients necessary for any job. So I’ve decided to give a baking soda and water solution a whirl, which I’ve read works well for many people looking for a safe alternatives to aluminum and parabens. To start, I dropped a quarter teaspoon of baking soda into a 4 oz glass spray bottle (I could only find one with a plastic spray nozzle), filled it with water and shook it well until the baking soda disolved. Finding the right ratio might take some experimenting—too much baking soda will likely cause skin irritation and too little will be ineffective. I used it today and so far it seems to be working well! I will be sure to post updates.

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Along with books from my childhood, I also brought back a diary, which I will keep. It was given to me when I was 5 years old, so as you might imagine, there aren’t a lot of lengthy recordings of my day-to-day activities. Instead, several brief entries like the one above are scattered throughout the book of mostly blank pages. In case you can’t make out the entry, it reads:

“Dear Diary let me tel you about Dolphin. Did you know that there were more than fifdy kind”

Sifting through the belongings I saved growing up, it appears there are some fundamental similarities between the child I was and the adult I’ve become. And I’m filled with the sense that perhaps we’re more than a product of our experiences.

I plan to use the rest of the pages. The paper is good and even in this age of personal electronic devices, I still hand draw and write notes, lists, and ideas on a daily basis. So I figure I might as well fill every inch of this precious little book. Plus I kind of dig the floral fabric cover.

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Book seller

My parents are getting ready to move and one of the reasons for my visit with them last week was to collect some belongings that they’ve generously stored for me over the years. I’ve talked about paring back the items in my apartment to make my No Trash Project run more efficiently, but I left out the fact that I still had a closet full of things in another location. Getting my immediate space down to a carefully curated collection of objects—both essential and beautiful, has felt wonderful. But knowing that there was another out of sight pile that needed to be sorted and unloaded was always a bit daunting, especially since I knew these keepsakes from my childhood would be difficult for me to make decisions about. Nostalgia is a mechanism that operates strongly within me.

Before the electricity went out in the storm, I got through the first of what will probably be several passes. My mom and I sifted through the boxes together, which was not always productive, but very enjoyable. There was a great deal of giggling over construction paper elementary school projects, earnest diary entries by my six-year-old self (brimming with spelling errors), loved and battered stuffed animals and dolls, letters from first boyfriends, and sketchbooks full of drawings and poems. Though everything in those boxes was at one time precious, I was able to fill my car trunk with items to let go of.

The stack pictured above is a sample from two boxes of books I brought back to Providence to sell and donate. These books were at one time well adored (I was really into Roald Dahl), but they have been sitting unread and unopened for years. I decided it’s time to put them back into circulation so that they may have a chance to be enjoyed once again. Today I took the boxes to Cellar Stories—a used bookstore downtown. I like the idea of supporting small local booksellers… and of course it’s always nice to get a little cash in exchange. While the shopkeepers looked through my books I perused the aisles of treasures. Just over half of my collection was accepted and I received about $60. I wasn’t able to leave the shop without purchasing a beautiful vintage botanical book that I will share with a friend. But my load is much lighter. I will try to sell the rest at Paper Nautilus (formerly Myopic Books) in Wayland Square, and whatever they wont take I will donate The Salvation Army.

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I visited my parents over the weekend. My stay was extended when the travel ban went into effect in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy and I rode out the storm with them. Fortunately, my mom and I were able to get to the grocery store before the worst of it hit landfall. Customers and employees were anxious to get home. Shoppers stocked up on “non-perishables”—namely canned soups and meats, jars of sauce, boxes of pasta and rice. Last year my parents were without power for 10 days after Hurricane Irene. I thought about how to shop without making trash if I weren’t able to refrigerate foods for 10 days or longer.

The majority of the groceries I buy day to day are fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which sit on the countertop because I shop frequently enough (at least twice a week) that I don’t have to worry about refrigeration. But there are certain foods I eat regularly like greens (salad and sauté) and some vegetables (carrots, radishes) that I usually put directly in cups or containers of water, then into cold storage. The rest of my regular groceries include dried bulk items and occasionally meat (fish, poultry). Dried bulk foods like legumes and grains certainly qualify as non-perishable and are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. There are quite a few in season fruits and vegetables that will keep for a while (depending on variety and freshness) without refrigeration, such apples, citrus fruit, unopened pomegranate, potatoes, yams, garlic, onion, and squash (delicata, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc…). Selecting unripe fruits that can soften slowly without rotting and choosing bulk dried fruits and vegetables that offer some nutritional value are also options for long-term room temperature storage.

Back at the house we filled the tubs with water to wash and cook with if we lost the power. My parents are on well water and they don’t have a generator to power the pumps during outages—this has never been an issue for me in Providence because I’m on city water. But my parents are lucky to live on a river, so they can collect water in buckets to flush the toilets, conserving the tap water reserves in the tubs. Sure enough, we lost power early Monday evening as the winds whipped through the river valley. My dad cooked us dinner by flashlight with the little water that remained in the pipes. My parent’s have a gas stove, which my dad was able to light with a match. As I watched him it occurred to me that in the event of an outage I wouldn’t be able to use the electric stove/oven in my apartment to prepare many of the above mentioned foods that require cooking. I do however have a wood stove with a steel cooktop and could use it to steam, boil, or sauté foods. When dinner was ready, we sat eating by candlelight listening to the sounds of nearby exploding transformers and trees breaking and falling on all sides of the house. Without the distractions of the TV or our respective laptops (all of which are often in use at once during my visits) we stayed talking with each other until the early hours of Tuesday morning. It’s a time spent with my parents that I’ll never forget.

In the light of day on Tuesday we were able to see the damage the storm had caused. Trees were down everywhere and power lines littered the roads. The interstate travel ban was lifted and I was able to snake my way around impassable backroads to the highway home. I got a flat (shredded) tire on the highway probably from debris left by the storm. I will post more on dealing with the tire business soon…

Losing electricity and running water for nearly 24 hours makes me realize how much I take it for granted every day. As we move closer to the winter solstice, the days are getting shorter and much of my work is done after sunset. I think about my parents and the rest of the 8 million who lost power during the storm and could be without it for weeks while crews work to clean up after Sandy. The weather is supposed to shift to colder temperatures as we enter the month of November and many will be without heat. And I think about the people in the world who live their whole lives without plumbing or electricity. At the moment, I’m especially aware of how much I depend on the internet. For my work but also for my No Trash Project research and blog. My friend just sent me a link to WWWASTE, a site that calculates the amount of CO2 you emit each day by surfing the web. One more site to spend energy by visiting, but perhaps an important measurement to be aware of as our lives become more and more interfaced.

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Green tomatoes

I returned home to find my garden looking pretty shabby after a couple chilly nights moved through Providence while I was in Canada. I spent some time this week putting it to bed for the winter. I collected all the remaining ripe and unripe fruit from my browning tomato plants and then pulled them, clipped them up, and added them to my compost.

I’ve read that green tomatoes can be ripened on a windowsill or in a brown paper bag. I plan to try both. I may also dig up some recipes for green tomatoes. I was thinking that sautéing them in oil or even roasting them in the oven would soften both the flavor and texture a bit. Does anyone have any good green tomato tips?

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Raw lunch

I recently enjoyed an outstanding salad on two occasions at a little raw food restaurant called Raw Aura in Mississauga. The ingredients were so fresh and well coordinated. Romaine lettuce, kale, red onions, red pepper, hummus, avocado, pepitas, sunflower seeds, and a fantastic sesame dressing. The gluten-free, raw “breadstick” that comes with the salad has me daydreaming about getting a dehydrator. The salad itself is large and the seeds, hummus, and avocado make it hearty enough to be a very satisfying meal. I’d like to make it at home. I’ll have to guess on the dressing. I think there was ginger in it… The restaurant is small and comfortable and the service was absolutely wonderful both times I ate there.

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Streetside bulk

Walking around Toronto, I got to see something we don’t have in Providence—bulk foods on the street! This display was outside a little College Street market on the edge of Chinatown.

Toronto’s Kensington Market is full of natural food stores and produce markets. This photo was taken outside a shop on Baldwin Street at Augusta Avenue. The entire store is filled with bulk bins and their selection is quite impressive. I perused the small but well stocked space wide-eyed and smiley. Bulk white and dark chocolate bricks were displayed in bins that framed a peanut grinding machine. And oh my, they even had a bin of black quinoa, which I haven’t been able to find in bulk anywhere else. I wish there were shops like this in Providence—well in every city and town, really.

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Green Bin Program

The City of Toronto and the surrounding Greater Toronto Area has an outstanding organic waste curbside collection program called the Green Bin Program. I was interested in visiting any of the local organic waste processing facilities while in the Toronto area but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tour any of them as an individual. However, I was able to connect with a gentleman named Bob Kearse, the Senior Engineer at City of Toronto, Solid Waste Management Services. He answered my questions about the Green Bin Program as it functions currently and he also provided me with information about the processing facility expansion projects underway. 

Amazingly, 90% of single family homes (about 510,000) participate. Research shows that an average of nearly 450 pounds of organic waste is collected per household each year. That means the Green Bin Program diverts 114,750 tons of waste from landfills each year and as the program is rolled out to apartment, condo, and co-op buildings, the waste diversion rates are set to rise.

Food scraps, soiled paper, diapers, sanitary products, and even pet waste is accepted because the material is processed at high enough temperatures that pathogens (disease-causing organisms) are destroyed. The waste is collected from the curb and trucked to facilities where it is first preprocessed to removed debris (e.g. plastic bags and plastic diaper materials, which are extracted and sent to the landfill). The sifted pulp is then put through anaerobic digestion—a process by which naturally occurring anaerobic bacteria break down the organic material in an oxygen deprived vessel. The resulting “digestate” is then trucked to external contractors at secondary facilities where it is processed by aerobic composting. The final product, which is certified by Canada’s Ministry of the Environment, is used on farms, in parks, and in residential gardens.

Toronto’s primary processing facility is the Dufferin Green Bin Facility. They currently process 40,000 tons of waste per year, which is less than half the waste collected from participating residents. The rest has been sent to facilities outside the Greater Toronto Area, but the city is currently working to increase it’s local processing capacity with the expansion of the Dufferin facility and construction of an entirely new second facility—a 75 million dollar project. Above is a photo of the construction at Dufferin. In the foreground is a view of the roof support struts in place on the new anaerobic digester. The tank is about 60 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. In the background “media” is being poured into the new biofilter, which uses microorganisms for air filtration and purification—in other words, it’s job is to remove odor and dust pollution. The City also plans to make use of biogas—the other main product (besides digestate) of anaerobic digestion, to generate power. Bob explained that these projects resulted from “the push from council to improve on what we’re already doing well.”

I’ve written a bit in earlier posts about scaling in and out on the garbage crisis—thinking about both macro and micro issues in waste production. Meticulous research on toothbrush bristles and soap ingredients can at times be mind-numbing, while learning the specs on Rhode Island’s ever shrinking landfill capacity or reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can leave me feeling hopelessly overwhelmed. It’s been important for me to try to aim for some balance between both modes. I am fascinated by the large scale waste management efforts in place today. I often think about where we’d be without landfill, recycling, and compost programs. The data I collect on these operations informs the decisions I make in my daily life (the small realm I can control), such as what I choose to consume (and how), the way I choose to move about, and how I care for the objects and company I keep.

Learning about commercial composting processes makes me look at my backyard operation with a new appreciation. I am so grateful to be able to keep my little bin behind my apartment and I recognize that it’s a privilege many people who live in a city don’t enjoy. My heap can’t breakdown meat scraps or diaper waste, but these are not bi-products of my current lifestyle. For now, simply balancing carbon (dried leaves, cardboard, and paper) and nitrogen (fruit and vegetable scraps) is a self-sufficient and efficient system that keeps my organic waste out of the landfill in Johnston.

Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto website.

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