Archive | March, 2012

Magnolias

Last week when temperatures rose to the 70s and 80s, everything bloomed early. This Magnolia tree next to my apartment looked magnificent.

 

This week, temperatures dipped into the 20s some nights (last night we had freezing rain and snow) and all of the blossoms have shriveled and turned brown, but they still cling to the branches. It’s a shame to see the blooming period of magnolias and dogwoods interrupted.

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Soup to-go

Homemade spicy lentil soup to go. There’s an electric cooktop in the kitchen of the office building I work in. I can put this container directly on the burner to reheat food. I keep my own kitchen towel in the desk in my office to use as heat pad for a hot container, to clean up spills, and to dry my hands after washing.

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Market goods

At the farmer’s market yesterday I picked up some chard from Dave of Schartner Farms. It was a little wilted by the time I got it home but the leaves perked up in some water in the fridge.

I also picked up my stainless steel container from guys at The Local Catch. This week they filled it with fresh scallops from Block Island. I’m so grateful that they have agreed to tote my container to and from the market every week.

I couldn’t resist picking up some herbs from another stand I passed. Lemon balm and mint. The woman helping me said that they would gladly take back the plastic containers to be reused if I return them after repotting.

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The Flu!

On the night of my last post I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. I woke up on Wednesday morning with the flu that I had managed to dodge all winter. Armed with some cotton hankies, herbal teas and elixirs, I hunkered down for what I decided would be my first time dealing with such an illness without taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Luckily my work situation allows me to take the time I need to recover and I’m not under pressure to show up and perform on the job despite illness. My bathroom cabinet is now empty of all the decongestants, cough syrups, and expectorants I used to have stocked, and lately I have been trying to practice more natural forms of healthcare. This bout of the flu has been a good test of my new self-imposed systems.

Back in November, I wrote a post about medicine in the face of the No Trash Project. My friend Kory wrote a comment in which he talked about fever suppressants potentially being harmful to the body’s recovery in times of illness. Since writing that post I made the personal decision to see a naturopathic doctor who I was able to ask about that concept. She explained that in most cases a fever is not something to fear—that it is a normal self-preserving mechanism of the body. Increased temperatures will serve to neutralize and eliminate toxemia brought on by a viral or bacterial infection. What I learned is that instead of suppressing a fever, it may actually be more beneficial to “assist” the fever.

This concept is new and strangely exciting to me. Helping the body in its natural functions as opposed to fighting it makes sense to me on an intuitive level. So when I woke up with a fever on Wednesday I chose not to start popping Tylenol to try to bring it down the way I always used to. Instead I called in sick to work, drank some yarrow and mint tea and simply slept through it.

When I woke up on Thursday the fever was gone. I was still run down but I was already feeling much better. By the end of the day I felt well enough to go outside and experience the remarkable 80-degree weather we had. I took a book to the woods and sat reading on a rock in the sun. Since then the flu is has been running its course and I’m trying to take it easy (though I did go back to work yesterday, which may have been premature). I feel that I am on the road to recovery and my suffering hasn’t been any greater than when I’ve used medication to relieve flu symptoms in the past. In fact, I can say that I really appreciate not feeling any of the side effects that come with so many cold and flu medications.

There’s a rock by the pond in Lincoln Woods that I like to go to—some of you locals may know it. That’s where I went Thursday afternoon. Not a bad place to sit and recover from the flu. I brought water in a bottle, tea in a jar, a couple cotton hankies, and a book (Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record) to this spot and sat reading, sipping, and sniffling in the afternoon sun. I still can’t believe how warm it got this week.

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Spring equinox

Today is the spring equinox, but it looked and felt more like summer out there. People were walking around in bathing suits. The jet stream is making a dramatic curve across the 48 states allowing the cool air from Canada to move down west coast and all the warm air from the Gulf to move up the midwest and east coast. Winter was largely a no-show this year. These record high temperatures are unsettling to say the least. But the warm and balmy air feels good on my skin and lungs and I try to accept and enjoy the physical comfort.

This evening I rode my bike to the market to pick up some groceries for dinner. It was beautiful out. The man at the fish counter said, “You’re going to start a new trend of bringing your own container.” I smiled. That would be great. The girl who rang up my purchase was patient while I gave her the price look-up (PLU) code for my bulk rice. On the ride home I passed a man eating soft serve. I wonder what the weather will be like this summer.

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Leftovers

Leftovers from last night’s dinner with friends = today’s lunch. Raw beet, jicama, and carrot salad with avocado. I carried it to work with me in one of my stainless steel lunch boxes.

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Market day

Garlic and potatoes from Schartner Farms. Onions from Wishing Stone Farm.

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Energy cubes

Many people have asked me if I miss eating snack foods like chips, crackers, and granola bars, which are only available in packaging. To my surprise, after nearly a year of working on this project, I can honestly answer that I do not crave any packaged food—savory, salty, or sweet. I’ve managed to find healthy, package-free replacements to satisfy every kind of hankering. When I look at the dried bulk and produce section of the grocery store, I see ingredients for small snacks or large meals.

After consuming nearly all of the energy cubes/chunks I purchased at the co-op last week, I decided to try making my own. I looked at a few recipes online and then just improvised. I ended up with a vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, nearly raw (except for the almond butter and the popped amaranth), delicious snack.

My “recipe” is below. The measurements are approximate. I used what I had on hand—any other nuts, seeds, fruits and grains can be substituted.

1 cup honey

1 cup nut butter (I used almond)

1 cup popped amaranth

½ cup chopped almonds

½ cup chopped dried apricots

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

Heat honey until warm. Slowly add nut butter until just mixable.

Add and mix in the remaining ingredients one by one. When the mixture became too stiff to stir, I used my hands to fold in the rest of the dry ingredients.

Press the mixture into an oiled 8”x8” pan. Cool for one hour. Cut into 1 inch cubes. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month. Freeze indefinitely. 

Popped amaranth is really easy to make.

Place a skillet or a saucepan on the stove over high heat. Let it become hot enough that a drop of water disappears when you drop it on the surface.

Put a spoonful of dry amaranth seeds into the skillet (only pop a small amount at a time, otherwise the amaranth will burn).

Shake the skillet or stir the seeds continuously until all the amaranth has popped (about 15-20 seconds).

Pour the popped amaranth into a bowl and add more spoonfuls to your skillet until you have the desired amount.

Pressed in the pan…

They are sticky and delicious. I’m storing them in 16oz glass jars in the refrigerator. They’re a great snack before or after a run, or even as dessert.

Okay, last one… look at all that good stuff!

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Junk mail

I’ve talked about eliminating junk mail before. I’ve been meaning to share these tips to reduce the catalogues and credit card offers, which I came across on the RIRRC website. I was pleased to find the Direct Marketing Association website and I quickly registered. A statistic on the RIRRC page states that the average American receives an estimated 41 pounds of junk mail a year. That’s a lot of paper. I’m still receiving coupon papers and service offers like the ones in the photo above. They are all addressed to “our neighbor” or “current resident” and there are often duplicate copies delivered on the same day. For offers from businesses like Geico and Verizon, I will call them again and try to get on a do not mail list—though it makes me a little uneasy to have to provide my name and address to a company just so that they’ll stop sending mail! As for the coupon papers… I’m still working on that.

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Oat Milk

I decided to try making oat milk at home. The standard recipe that I found on several online sources looked really simple. The ingredients are: oat groats, water, and salt (optional). So I picked up some organic oat groats in bulk from a nearby Whole Foods.

The oat milk was so easy to make. Here’s the recipe I followed:

1/4 cup raw organic oat groats

4 cups water 

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.

Soak the oat groats in a bowl of water for about 8 hours. Rinse the oats and discard the soaking water.

Place the oats, salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let the oats cool completely.

Blend the cooked oats with the 3 cups of water until very smooth (I used my immersion blender and added the water directly to the saucepan—which meant less dishes to wash afterwards!).

strain through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container. I reserved the solids to use in a baking recipe (not sure what I’m going to make yet). The oat milk will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

You can also make raw oat milk.

Leave the soaked and rinsed oats in a colander in a cool spot for 12-24 hours to initiate the sprouting process. Then blend the oats with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 4 cups of water until very smooth. Let the blended oats sit for 1 hour before straining.

The texture of the oat milk is smooth and creamy. Cooked oat milk tastes nutty and I’ve read that raw oat milk has a grassier flavor. Homemade oat milk is a wonderful solution to a packaging problem. Store-bought oat milk (and other boxed liquids) come in a drink carton that is comprised of 75% paper, 20% plastic, and 5% aluminium foil. There is also usually a plastic pour spout on the top of the carton. Making your own is also far more economical. A quart of organic oat milk from the store will cost around 3 to 4 dollars. The oat groats I bought in bulk only cost $1.69 per pound.

f drinking the milk straight, you might try sweetening it with a little honey. Today I topped mine with freshly ground cinnamon. It was delicious.

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Environmental Toothbrush

For many years, I have used an electric toothbrush. My family had one when I was growing up and I have used one ever since. I always thought of it as an important tool to maintain oral hygiene and health. Since starting this project almost a year ago, I have been using the same replacement head. The brush is becoming pretty shabby and less effective. I knew that I wouldn’t be buying a new replacement head (because they’re made out of plastic and come in plastic packaging), so I planned to transition to a more sustainable manual toothbrush. 

I had read that there are recyclable and compostable toothbrushes on the market. I considered buying a preserve toothbrush, which is made from recycled yogurt cups and will be turned into plastic lumber if you ship it back to the company once the toothbrush is spent. But I struggle with the idea that that a park bench made from that plastic lumber will eventually end up in a landfill. So I set my heart on finding a compostable brush instead. The problem with this option is that currently, there are no compostable toothbrushes being made or even sold in the United States. 

After a lot of research, I found myself torn between two products. The first is a pig’s hair and beechwood toothbrush manufactured in Germany sold on the Life Without Plastic website. The bristles come from longhaired pigs that are bred and raised for meat in China. I’m not sure where the beechwood comes from. The head of this toothbrush is wrapped in a small piece of biodegradable plastic.

The second toothbrush I considered was The Environmental Toothbrush, which is made with nylon 4 and bamboo—sold in Australia. I settled on The Environmental Toothbrush, in part because it is more affordable and because the packaging is 100% paper. I was also very satisfied with my email correspondence with the company’s international sales manager. He provided thorough answers to all my questions about the nylon bristles, materials sourcing, and shipping materials. Still, it’s difficult to for me to determine whether or not this particular product was the best choice from an environmental standpoint.

The toothbrushes are sourced and manufactured in China then shipped to Australia, where they are then shipped to national and international buyers. Of course the fuel required to bring this product to my doorstep is quite problematic. I was told by the sales manager that they are desperately seeking a distributor in the US. I’m also not sure how I feel about the synthetic bristles on this brush, but currently the only other compostable option on the market is an animal product, which presents a whole other set of issues. I was told that in standard composts, the bristles should break down in 12-24 months. Below is an extract from a scientific journal that was included in the email.

Nylon 4

It has been reported that nylon 4 was degraded in the soil and in the activated sludge. The results confirmed that Nylon 4 is readily degradable in the environment. Furthermore, the biodegradability of nylon 4 and nylon 6 blends was investigated in compost and activated sludge. The nylon 4 in the blend was completely degraded in 4 months while nylon 6 was not degraded [90]. Recently, Yamano et al. was able to isolate polyamide 4 degrading microorganisms (ND-10 and ND-11) from activated sludge. The strains were identified as Pseudomonas sp. The supernatant from the culture broth of strain ND-11 degraded completely the emulsified nylon 4 in 24 h and produced γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as degradation product.

Above is the package as it arrived, in a small piece of brown paper (secured with plastic packing tape).

The toothbrushes are packaged in unbleached paper. I bought one package, which contains 12 brushes.

It certainly looks nice. I will provide reviews once I have used it for a while.

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Greens

From today’s market. Stored in cups of water in the fridge, these leafy good foods will stay fresh for several days.

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Co-op bounty

Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.

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On the line

Today was warm and breezy. Perfect weather for line-drying. First outdoor session of the season. I’m so excited for spring!

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End table

Working to complete my second woodworking project, an end table with a drawer.

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Wood stove

I’m feeling very lucky to have the wood stove in my apartment. I love putting a big pot of water on it to humidify the space. In past winters, I resorted to an electric humidifier to relieve my dry skin, nose and throat. The steaming pot of water seems to work even better. All the windows in the apartment fog up!

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Vermiculture

Last week I attended a compost conference and trade show at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, RI. Nancy Warner, co-owner of The Worm Ladies of Charleston, Inc spoke about vermiculture: the practice of raising red wiggler worms to consume food scraps and some other household waste. Red wigglers will eat organic waste and turn it into “vermicompost” or “worm castings”, which is known as the best compost on earth. One great thing about vermiculture is that you don’t need to have a yard to compost your food scraps. Watertight bins can be kept indoors and don’t require a lot of space, so even city dwellers in tiny apartments can compost! And worm composting is virtually odorless if done properly. Read more about composting with worms here.

I’m interested in trying vermiculture in addition to the traditional compost pile I’ve been keeping in an open wood frame and chicken wire bin for more than a year. I learned that the garden-variety night crawlers in my compost are not dining on the organic waste. I hope to pay The Worm Ladies a visit soon.

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East Side Pockets

Package-free hummus to-go from East Side Pockets. So delicious!

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Chicago hardy

March is here and my Chicago Hardy fig tree that has been wintering over in my studio is starting to wake up. Largely because they are not a local fruit, I cannot find figs without packaging. Because they are my favorite fruit, I have been growing my own in my container garden for the past several years. The fruit grows and ripens throughout the summer months. In the fall the tree drops all it’s leaves and I take it inside where it can go dormant for the winter. I always love seeing the tiny fig leaves shoot out in the spring.

Welcome back, old friend!

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