Archive | October, 2012

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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Painted Rocks

While up in Georgian Bay, I visited a point known as the “Painted Rocks”. It ranks as one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Pink, gold, green, and blue striations wrap around sedimentary boulders that jut out into the bay. Pools of water sit in shallow valleys on different planes across their surfaces. There’s an otherworldly quality to this place. Something about the image above feels surreal, as though it were a computer generated virtual space. Standing on the point watching the sun sink through the clouds I mustered another attempt to consider the extent of the universe and my insignificance in it—a thought that is always comforting to me. It’s wonderful to sit in awe of your surroundings. This comes more automatically for me in a natural setting. I feel lucky to be able to move between developed and undeveloped environments—control and chaos.

One of the pools at the Painted Rocks.

Painterly indeed.

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Bears love food scraps

Spent some time this past week at a friend’s cottage off the northeastern coast of Georgian Bay about 170 miles from Toronto. The area is pretty remote and there aren’t a lot of nearby grocery stores so we shopped for food before heading north. We brought bulk grains and legumes, fruit and vegetables. The cottage is located on a tiny rock island accessible only by boat. Not having curbside pickup casts waste management in a whole new light. Furthermore, having to boat one’s garbage to dumpster sites on the mainland makes generating trash inconvenient and impractical. Being removed from the amenities I enjoy in my usual urban setting leads me to think about how much my self-sufficiency depends on living in a city—with regard to everything from transportation to food access. Produce stickers were the only landfill trash we made while at the cottage. We composted our food scraps in the bin pictured above. The one (somewhat sizable) problem with keeping a compost bin in this area is that it attracts bears. We didn’t see any this time.

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Bulk Barn

So, there’s this chain store in Canada called Bulk Barn. I had my first Bulk Barn experience the other day and I was amazed by the range of products they offer. As I walked up and down they aisles all I could think was why don’t we have something like this in the states? I would think that such a business would do well because of the obvious savings it offers consumers. I was surprised to find that Bulk Barn doesn’t sell reusable bulk bags. Plastic bags that hang over the bins are supplied to shoppers. They do stock a few glass jars but there are no weigh stations in the store. My friend and I were able to purchase a few goods in his reusable mesh produce bags brought from home, but I’m not sure if it would be possible to buy any of the liquid goods in any container other than the plastic tubs provided in the store.

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They stock a wide variety of bulk teas and coffees.

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Bulk cake decorating supplies.

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Bulk pet food!

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Even bulk bird seed…

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Liquid and paste bulk food products like garlic spread, pie filler, and nut butters are kept in tubs at the back of the store. Bar soaps and powdered cleaning supplies are also available, but they don’t stock any liquid soaps or cleaners.

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Bulk molases, corn syrup, and honey. Bulk Barn #5 plastic tubs are provided… perhaps customers could wash these containers at home and refill them? Seeing such a large variety of foods sold in bulk is exciting because choice having choice is always appealing. The dry bulk food bins are impressively large. I’ve often wished for a similar business near me, but I picture a place that sells all organic products with weigh stations at which customers can tare their own containers. The truth is that I can get what I need in bulk at my local co-ops and supporting small businesses is certainly the way I prefer to shop. It’s clear that reduced waste is not an objective that drives the Bulk Barn business. While working on these posts I read on some forums that people had trouble using their own bags at some store locations. I assume fear of violating health codes must be the reason for this… what a shame. Still, I’m always interested to see different systems for dispensing wet and dry bulk foods. The inside of this store was impeccably clean. No food was spilled anywhere. These stainless steel honey dispensers are very efficient appliances. It seems to me that personal containers would never have to come in contact with the food source. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get honey from dispensers like these in reusable jars at any local grocery store? These are the kinds of things I dream about.

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Milestone

It’s been exactly one year since I started this blog. Posting about my daily No Trash adventures—however large or small, has become an important ritual in my life. Dialogue with friends and readers about the project renews my resolve to continue sharing my experiences on this platform. Thank you to everyone for your interest, your inquiries, and your encouragement.

Tonight I shared a delicious meal with a friend at a Cantonese restaurant in Toronto. My meal was pretty large so I scraped what I couldn’t finish into my stainless steel lunchbox, which I had toted around the city during the day. It’s lightweight and this particular box doesn’t take up much space. The rectangular shape fits nicely in my backpack. It’s become one of my favorite objects. I’m looking forward to eating these leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

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Refrigerated bulk

At a Toronto area grocery store—chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, ground flax, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, etc… It’s the first time I’ve seen bulk nuts and seeds (which can go rancid in warm temperatures or when exposed to air because of their oil content) kept in the refrigerated section of a market.

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Air travel

Yesterday I took a trip on a plane. Trash-free air travel takes a bit of planning, but it’s very manageable. To tote toiletries, I fill small glass jars and bottles that I use specifically for traveling with my essentials (baking soda, shampoo, and grape seed oil) and pack them in a small nylon zip pouch.

Airlines make a ton of trash through food service and I find bringing my own sustenance is easy and far more agreeable than anything I could get from and airport cafe or on the plane. An airplane cabin is a pretty dehydrating environment, so I make sure to drink plenty of water the day before and the day of before going through security. I bring my stainless steel canteen and fill it at the water fountain on the other side of the checkpoint. Yesterday I packed my stainless steel lunchbox with a small meal made with ingredients from my garden—stir fried eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and basil. I also brought an apple… ‘tis the season after all. I brought a small bamboo utensil that I think I received as a stocking stuffer many years ago. It’s perfect for travel—practically weightless and compact. The meal was light and delicious and held me over until I reached my destination (Canada). My neighbor in the seat next to me expressed his jealously of my spread.

I sometimes get cold during flights so I like to bring a large scarf/wrap that I can use as a blanket rather than having to ask for plastic wrapped one from a crew member.

At the end of the day, the only piece of trash I made was my boarding pass, which feels good especially when I’m electing a mode of transportation that uses so much fuel.

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Love everlasting

Can’t seem to get enough heirloom tomatoes.

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Eggplant

My eggplant off the vine. A recent conversation with my brother about the origins of the name “eggplant” led us to discover that it was the white cultivars like this one (and some yellowish varieties) that resemble goose or ostrich eggs that were first given the name. I enjoyed this one sliced into coins and pan fried. It was the best eggplant I’ve ever tasted. Seriously.

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Milk & Honey Bazaar

I also visited the Milk & Honey Bazaar in Tiverton. I’d driven by it many times before but had never stopped. Inside they have a beautiful display of artisanal cheeses and jars of local honey and preserves. I did something I very rarely do these days—I bought something in packaging. I was tempted by the golden glow from a jar of Lemon & Ginger Marmalade made at a farm in Middletown, and I couldn’t resist.

I justified the purchase because I know I will reuse the jar and because it’s from a local source. Still, it felt strange because I could make my own preserves at home that would scratch the itch for a sweet spreadable snack. But such projects take some doing and though I’ve gotten pretty good at rearranging my sense of time and responsibility to allow room for the homemade, there are still days when the energy required to make something nonessential but wonderful—like marmalade, just simply isn’t there. So I treated myself and smiled as I ate it.

 

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Farm and sea

Took a trip down to Little Compton this week to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with my family. I got to spend a day at my favorite beach. The weather on Friday was sunny and clear and the warm ocean current moving past the cove made the water particularly inviting. I first visited this place several years ago with a friend who referred to it as “the magic beach”. Giant pink granite rocks that stretch from the shore out into deep water look like dinosaurs lying in the surf. The white sand that surrounds them makes the water appear aqua, as though this tiny stretch of coast was actually in a tropical zone far south of New England. Cement stepping circles poured in a winding path, aid the trek across the back of one of the rocks to a staircase down to the water. Two diving boards are installed there every summer. Taking the plunge from the high board is like a rite of passage.

I’m always struck by how little garbage there is at this spot. It’s private and remote so there isn’t a lot of traffic. But even the water always seems free of debris. Perhaps the position of the beach on the point and the direction of the currents keep trash from riding in with the tide. Being in a natural environment that feels so preserved and untainted is a rare and special experience. These are the places worth fighting for.

On my way back to Providence I stopped at Walker’s Roadside Stand. An impressive display of pumpkins and gourds was practically spilling out into the road. I had some cash and some bulk bags on me (I rarely have cash but I always have bulk bags) so I decided to pick up some produce.

Good gourd!

I love the purple peppers.

There was a huge selection of beautiful heirloom tomatoes on display. Brought some of these home… well actually only a couple made it all the way home because I ate most of them on the ride back. So sweet and tangy.

Cranberry shelling beans!

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Homemade Hummus

Since stocking up on bulk tahini from the Belfast Co-op in Maine this summer, I’ve been enjoying making my own trash-free hummus. It’s so simple and freshly made hummus tastes much better than anything I’ve ever tasted out of a #5 plastic tub. I haven’t been able to find bulk tahini at my local food co-ops. I don’t own a food processor (though lately I’ve been fixing to get one) so I’m not equipped to whip up homemade tahini. To satisfy my hummus hankerings, I had been making my own “chickpea spread” (blended chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil) and occasionally purchasing an 8 or 16 oz order from East Side Pockets with my reusable stainless steel container. Making my own is more satisfying and having the tahini makes all the difference. If I do get a food processor or perhaps borrow one from a friend, I will try making my own tahini. For now I have plenty from the co-op, which should keep for several months in the fridge. Below is the basic hummus recipe I’ve been working from. As always, it’s flexible. I usually throw in some spices and fresh herbs too—like cayenne, red chile, and cilantro. And of course, all of the ingredients are acquired without any packaging.

2 cups cooked chickpeas (I buy mine dry in bulk, then rinse and soak them for 8 hours before cooking)

1/4 cup water (I reserve some of the water used to cook the chickpeas)

2 tablespoons tahini

3-5 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

After cooking the Chickpeas for about 40 minutes, I drain most of the water, reserving about 1/4 cup. Then I add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and blend with my immersion blender (love that thing) until smooth. Easy peasy.

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Chatham Real Food Market Co-op

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I took a trip up to the Adirondacks with some friends this weekend. On our way north we managed to find The Chatham Real Food Market Co-op in Chatham, New York. We stocked up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains to bring with us to our cabin destination. Local farm vendors were selling produce and baked goods out in front of the store. I was able to get bulk salad greens, kale, rainbow carrots, garlic, fingerling potatoes, and butternut squash without a single sticker or tie. Inside the immaculate store, I picked up an eggplant, some apples from the local produce section and some quinoa, red lentils and pepitas from the well-stocked bulk section. There was a small prepared foods section and a cafe area. The employees were lovely. It was the first co-op I’ve been to where I didn’t have to write down the price look-up code (PLU) for the dry bulk goods. I just told the woman at the register what was in my bags and she was able to pull the codes up on the computer while she weighed the goods. I get so excited to see one example after another of small and beautiful cooperative food markets that function so efficiently.

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Geeking over the impressive spread of dry bulk goods.

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