Archive | April, 2012

Hey old friend

Spicy salad greens from Wishing Stone Farm. I’ve missed these over the winter!

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Kale flowers

From Dave at Schartner Farms. I love these colors.

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Museum of Natural History project

To my great pleasure, my professional projects occasionally overlap with my No Trash Project. I’ve mentioned before that I work on an experimental film series called The Magic Lantern Cinema. The name is taken from an early image projection technology that was developed in the 17th century. My co-organizers and I program monthly screenings around Providence. We present short films in both digital and celluloid film formats. I recently had the opportunity to work with the Museum of Natural History to program a show in their planetarium. Among the museum’s archive holdings is an extraordinary collection of nearly 6,000 antique glass magic lantern slides. Amazingly they also have a magic lantern projector that was donated by a volunteer.

For several months I worked alongside my friend and co-organizer Josh, perusing the contents of the collection, selecting slides to be projected against the star field on the dome of the planetarium. We also selected short films on 16mm to screen next to the slides. Two musicians programmed an electronic soundtrack that they performed live during the show.

While working in the attic archive (behind the clock on the face of the old building) I discovered fantastic images of plants and fossils, insects and mammals, geological forms and celestial objects. I learned that the slides were originally used for educational purposes. The public came to view slides during museum lectures.

Choosing images from this incredibly rich collection to screen during an hour-long program was a difficult task. We needed guidelines to curate by. Since we would be projecting a throw of still and moving images onto the rotating star field illuminated by the museum’s Zeiss star projector, it seemed appropriate to imagine that we were projecting from Earth into outer space. Inspired by the Voyager Interstellar Spacecraft mission, a subject that’s touched on in the Museum’s regular Saturday planetarium program, we began to suppose that we were programming a show for an extra terrestrial audience. What images would we choose to represent our world (natural and manmade) if we had the attention of alien life? And how would our selections of the slides change if we had never in our lives encountered the forms contained in them?

So we began to do some research on Voyager 1 and 2 to find out how the contents of the time capsules were chosen. In an intro by Carl Sagan in the book Murmurs of Earth, Sagan talks about organizing a group of scientists to offer advise on how to determine the messages on board such interstellar time capsules. Barney M. Oliver, the vice-president for research and development at the Hewlett-Packard Corporation at the time suggested that because the chance of such an encounter is so infinitesimal, the real function of such a project is “to appeal to and expand the human spirit, and to make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence a welcome expectation of mankind.”

This quote really grounded my thinking about the slide selection. Because our real and present audience would be human, conversations between Josh and I moved into what the experience of this kind of show could offer our own species. What we came to was the notion that by projecting these images of quotidian objects and familiar forms of life in the context of such a unique program, we may be able to defamiliarize them, and ultimately provide a chance at a renewed relationship to the things pictured.

Okay, so if you’re still with me you may be wondering what all this has to do with reducing waste. And I promise I’m getting to that. Another thing that struck me in Carl Sagan’s intro was when he writes of the uniqueness of our planet. Though scientists think now that it is likely that there are innumerable other planets in the universe that have seen the origins of life and even the evolution of life forms to the development of intelligence, our Earth is like no other. He writes that, “creatures on such other planets would be astonishingly different from human beings or any other such creatures that inhabit our little planetary home, the Earth. Like history, evolution proceeds in a multitude of small and unpredictable steps, the variation in any one of which producing profound differences later on.”

For me, contemplating that uniqueness does serve to heighten my appreciation for the natural world around me. I think it’s important to put ourselves through exercises that prompt us to reconsider the things that we encounter daily. Pairing slides of celestial objects with images of elements from this world allowed me to practice the wonderful exercise of zooming way in and out on planet Earth, from geological forms of the Grand Canyon to the hairs on the head of a bumble bee. I feel it’s helping me condition my brain to zoom in and out on the problem of personal waste production, from the piped hills of a modern day landfill to the synthetic bristles on my compostable toothbrush.

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Free peppers from my favorite farmer’s market vender. These came with a warning not to touch my eyes after handling them.

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Happy Earth Day!

This week marks one year since starting my No Trash Project. I feel proud of the progress I’ve made toward reducing my personal waste and excited by my potential to become more efficient still. This project has greatly improved the quality of my life. I feel more focused and motivated in general and I’ve noticed an increase in my productivity. At the same time I also feel more relaxed as my anxiety about participating in flawed systems that generate great amounts of waste has lessened.

Today I spent some time potting up baby herbs for my container garden. Sweet and purple basil, stevia, tarragon, and golden variegated sage. I worked in the rain, digging in the soil. I also located a used plastic restaurant tupperware container to start my worm compost in. I’m looking forward to the growing season.

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Worm Ladies

Today I took a trip down to Charleston to visit the Worm Ladies at an open house they hosted in honor of Earth Week. The open house was held at Worm Lady co-owner Nancy Warner’s home on East Beach Road. Guests gathered in her beautiful backyard garden to learn about vermiculture. It was nice to spend some time talking to friendly people who are all interested in the practice of turning food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer. I took home a half pound of red wigglers in a brown paper bag to get started.

This electric tumbler sifts high volumes of compost, separating the precious worm castings (collected in the plastic bins below) from the debris that doesn’t get eaten by the worms. Nicknamed “black gold”, a five gallon bucket of castings sells for $60.

Made a stop at East Beach, about a mile down the road from Nancy’s house. First visit to the ocean this spring.

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Early bloom

The lilacs are several weeks early this year.

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Almond milk

Since making oat milk at home, I’ve wanted to try making other dairy-free milks. For some reason I had the impression that nut milks would be more complicated than the oat milk but, as it turns out, the almond milk I made today was even easier! It’s raw so the cooking step was eliminated.

In a pot, I covered raw almonds (purchased in bulk!) with water and soaked them overnight. In the morning rinsed them, added more water and blended them in the same pot with my immersion blender. The soft nuts broke up more quickly than I had expected. I probably blended them for one minute total.

Then I strained them through a clean mesh produce bag. Straining them through a bag is quicker than though a mesh wire strainer because you can squeeze every last drop of milk out, leaving only the almond solids. There are nut milk bags on the market designed specifically for this purpose, but my produce bag worked perfectly.

I am saving the solids to make my next batch of energy cubes. But they could be useful for many cooking projects.

Delicious raw almond milk. No Tetra Pak and no added ingredients like evaporated cane juice, calcium carbonate, tapioca starch, salt, potassium citrate, carrageenan, or sunflower lecithin which you often see listed on the back of store bought brands. This homemade version is naturally sweet and with the 1 to 3 ratio I used, it’s thicker than any almond milk I’ve ever had out of a box. I may experiment with honey and spices for future batches. Maybe even a little cocoa powder for chocolate milk!

So here’s the recipe written out…

2 cups raw almonds 

6 cups water

Soak the almonds in water for about 8 hours or overnight.

Discard soaking water and rinse almonds.

Combine almonds with the 6 cups of water.

Blend until smooth.

Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or a nut milk bag (I used a mesh produce bag). Save the solids and use for a baking project, mix into a cooked grain dish, or use as a filler for energy cubes. Store the milk in the refrigerator. Drink it straight, pour it over cold cereal, or use it to cook hot cereal like oatmeal.

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Spring cleaning

Today I washed the screens to my apartment windows. I’ve been meaning to do it so that I can have the windows wide open to let the spring in. The screens will keep the bees that swarm the cherry tree from coming into my bedroom and keep my cat from attempting to leap from the windowsill to the tree in pursuit of the bees, birds, and squirrels. When I replaced them with the storm windows this past fall, I noticed that they were pretty grimy and probably hadn’t been cleaned in years. So I brought them outside with some diluted castile soap (purchased in bulk at the co-op, the same soap I use to wash my dishes) and rinsed them down with the hose. They came clean quickly. No chemicals needed. Now I can breathe easier knowing that the breezes blowing through my apartment aren’t being filtered through so much dust and dirt.

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Cherry blossoms

The cherry tree blossoms outside my bedroom window have finally opened. The fragrance is incredible. I can’t think of a better trash-free air freshener. I’m very sensitive to perfumes—especially products with floral scents, but I welcome any floral scent straight from the source.

The fragrance of the tree has led me to ponder the strangeness of products that are designed to mask and “eliminate” pesky odors. Commercials, print ads, and package labels urge us to use these products near the garbage can or on a stinky carpet to cover up mold and bacteria that may be hazardous to our health with sprays and plugins that often contain chemicals that are hazardous to our health.

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Today I spent some time tearing up the cardboard boxes my new bed arrived in to add some badly needed carbon to my compost bin. It’s a project I’d been putting off while my work schedule was extra busy. The weather was beautiful today, so I pulled them out of the closet I had tucked them into, went down to the small garden under my kitchen where my compost bin lives, and sat ripping them into little bits. It was meditative work that I was happy to do on a low stress Sunday. I’ve been working to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio in my compost. Food scraps from my kitchen are added almost everyday so there’s usually excess nitrogen. All that cardboard will help keep the fruit flies at bay.

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Edible flowers

These came from the farmer’s market. I was told that the flowers and stalks are edible, but I wasn’t given the name of the plant. I believe they’re in the brassicaceae family… anyone know what they’re called?

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From the market

Sunflower sprouts!

Flounder from The Local Catch.

I love, love, love arugula.

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Bed frame

I finally found a bed frame. After much deliberation about whether to borrow one, find one used, or make one, I decided to buy this platform frame made from sustainably harvested hardwood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, sealed with a simple, straight linseed oil finish. I love the minimal design. Because my bed sticks out into the pathway through the room, I wanted something as small and unobtrusive as possible. Having the mattress raised up off the floor feels great because I can clean under it. And I feel more grown up. Next on my wish list is a mattress made from organic materials. When I met with Krystal Noiseux at RIRRC, she told me about a company in Massachusetts called Conigliaro Industries, a recycling service company that accepts mattresses. When I visited their website I found that they market the mattresses to Nationwide Mattress Recycling. A statistic on the NMR website states that 9,000,000 mattresses and box springs end up in a landfill or incinerator each year in the U.S. When I do find something to replace the mattress I’m using now, I will probably take it to Conigliaro. I’d like to donate it but that might be difficult to do given that it has grown so old and uncomfortable.

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Potato crisps

Another package-free snack food I enjoy is homemade potato “crisps”. Thinly sliced organic russet potatoes tossed in oil and baked on a cookie sheet. Sometimes I add a little cayenne pepper or sliced garlic. These came with me to work today along with a delicious kale salad. I honestly prefer them to any kind of potato chip. Baked in oil, they’re certainly healthier than deep fried chips.

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Carrot lentil soup

Vegetable broth made from stalks, stems and overripe vegetables serves as the base for the soup. This batch got it’s color from the half a beet leftover from a salad made the night before. Using these bits to make broth before they wind up in the compost feels great.

The carrots from the farmers market became carrot lentil soup this weekend. There’s lots of soup on this blog. Maybe it’s because I love my immersion blender. Maybe it’s because I love soup.

Topped with pepper, oil, and toasted pepitas. The soup will be delicious for several days.

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From the farmer’s market


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In bloom

Out on the street in front of my apartment, a spectacular show is going on. The ornamental pear tree blossoms are heartier than the magnolias and so far have withstood the freezing night time temperatures we’ve had this week.

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