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Compliance

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On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.

I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.

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Good Tern

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This weekend I made a trip up to midcoast Maine  to visit with some dear friends I made at wood school this past the summer. On my way home I stopped into Good Tern Natural Foods Cooperative and Café. in Rockland, a wonderful source for organic local produce and bulk grocery goods. Each time I’ve been into the co-op, I’ve had a lovely experience. They have an easy tare system at the register. On two occasions I allowed (and welcomed) to rinse one of my less than squeaky clean reusable containers in their kitchen sink to use for my bulk goods purchases.

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Good Tern’s wall of bulk spices is one of the most comprehensive displays I’ve seen of all the co-ops I’ve visited. And their baking goods selection even offers alternatives to gluten flours.

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They even have bulk dry dog and cat food!

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And a fantastic selection of bulk oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, and extracts.

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I came home restocked with package-free olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and tahini. Oh, the many meals these three simple ingredients will inspire!

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Hardware

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Today I spent some time looking for hardware I need to complete a couple household projects. It can be a real challenge to find hardware sold as individual pieces these days. Screws, nails, hinges, and hooks are often sold in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic boxes, each containing more pieces than you might ever use. The leftovers tend to pile up in the junk drawer, under the kitchen sink, on a shelf in the garage or basement. I went to Adler’s, a local family-run business just down the street from my apartment. They have a good selection of loose, unpackaged hardware on display pegs and in drawers. I was able to find the hooks I was looking for marked with just a piece of masking tape. I bought the three I needed, pocketed them (no bag, I insisted), then made the short but very brisk walk home, my home improvement purchase clinking with each step.

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New kicks

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I had a lovely day. It started with an unseasonably warm run. I checked the temperature before I got dressed and it was nearly 60˚F in Providence so I threw on my running shorts and a t-shirt. While working up a good sweat in the warm sun it dawned on me, it’s the middle of January! Crazy. I wore the new running shoes I finally bought to replace the spent ones I’d been sporting for years. Most running and athletic shoes on the market are made from 100% synthetic materials. I really struggled with the idea of buying a new product off a store shelf that costs so much energy to produce and that will not biodegrade once the wearable life has been pounded out of them. I am completely onboard with the minimal running shoe movement for physiological health reasons and the fact that they require less resource material (for instance, there’s no foam in my new pair) to produce than the high stability, bulkier shoes I was rocking before this. So I settled on these of 6oz water-resistant minmal shoes that will get me through all seasons. I felt that they were the best choice of everything I considered at my local running shoe retailers. So far, I really love them. They fit me perfectly, I like the feeling of being in closer contact with the ground as I move over it, and they’ve kept my feet dry and warm even in the slush and snow we had just a couple weeks ago. I believe my old shoes are too damaged in the heel to donate to be worn so I plan give them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

This evening I hung out at Fertile Underground Grocery on the westside of Providence with in-store foodie and event host Jillian McGrath and the rest of the wonderful FUG team. We spoke with interested customers about bulk food shopping and reducing food packaging waste. I had a wonderful time meeting folks from Providence and neighboring cities and discussing my project and ways to take advantage of such wonderful resources as Fertile Underground Grocery. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped to chat!

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Bulk love

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I often recall a scene from a western I watched when I was a very young. I don’t remember the name of the film. I don’t even remember the storyline, but I have a vivid memory of this one fragment. A bright-eyed, handsome young man returns home on horseback to his family’s cabin somewhere in the arid, dusty southwest. He’s barrels into the small house, embraces his mother, father, and sister and then proceeds to unpack the contents of his leather saddlebags on the wood farm table in the center of the room. He presents the family with offerings from his travels to a far off place called California. One by one, he reveals amber honey in a glass jar, flour, sugar, and oats in cotton sacks tied with string. He places a cheese wheel wrapped in a white cloth in his mother’s hands and her eyes well up with tears. A family that has gone so long without these basic foods is overwhelmed and overjoyed. I clearly remember the feeling I had while watching this scene unfold. Though each and every gift given was well-stocked in my own family’s modern kitchen pantry amongst shelves full of many other foods, in that moment the essential goods on the screen—carried in simple cotton cloth and glass, seemed to me the most precious and delicious foods in the whole world.

I think of that moment regularly when I purchase foods in bulk without packaging. I’ve written a lot about how bulk food shopping both inspired and continues to enable my No Trash Project. In my first blog post I explained that for most of my life I passed by the bulk food dispensers of my local grocery stores on my way to pick boxed and bagged grains, legumes, nuts, and baking goods off the middle aisle shelves. Shopping in bulk has become an unexpected source of… well, joy. Equipped with my No Trash food shopping gear, I stock up. The steady drizzle of honey and olive oil from stainless steel fusti spigots into glass jars and bottles is mesmerizing. I love scanning the bins and choosing foods based on their actual appearance rather than an enlarged, color enhanced printed photograph. I love scooping the foods into my cotton bags, writing down PLU (price lookup) codes and relaying the information to the store cashiers. I’ve become an expert on judging how much I need to fill the large cylindrical Weck jars that sit on my kitchen countertop without spillover. I love the sound the foods make as they swirls through my large mouth stainless steel funnel and ping against the sides of the glass containers. Jars filled to the brim with edible goods are something to lay great store by. They are beautiful to behold for the potential they possess. Ingredients waiting to become meals. I take great pleasure in the process of preparing legumes and grains to be cooked. Rationing them out in my glass measuring cup. Rinsing rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, buckwheat, and amaranth until the water runs clear from the pot before placing them on the stovetop. I like the feel of the kernels sifting through my fingers as I swish them in the bath. It’s meditative. And I’m always amazed to see how much water dried beans, and chickpeas absorb during there eight hour soak. They seem to draw in life.

Somehow, every step required to bring bulk foods from the bin to my plate makes each meal taste better. With every bite, I feel a kind of appreciation that I never experienced when I bought foods in packaging. I think about the life-giving properties of  these ingredients that were themselves once alive. I think about how my digestive system turns these foods into me. And I geek out a little. And giggle to myself as I polish off every last lentil, grain of rice, or kernel of quinoa on my plate. Precious things.

I will be speaking at Fertile Underground‘s “Packaging Be Gone” workshop tomorrow (Monday, January 14th) from 5-7pm. FUG’s in-store foodie Jillian will discuss the ins and outs of bulk grocery shopping and I will be there to share advise based on my own experiences. If you live in the area, come meet and greet me! I wil do my best to rein in my enthusiasm… but really, I can’t wait!

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Quinoa bowl

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Another quick, easy, healthy, satisfying lunch. A bowl of protein-packed quinoa with roasted butternut squash, apple, avocado, and sprouted pumpkin seeds. This dish fueled many hours of work.

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Lunch

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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.

Ingredients

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

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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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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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Thanksgiving

‘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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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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Sandy

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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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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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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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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Bike Days

bikeweeks

Today I realized that I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. Biking and walking everywhere feels great, especially since the weather has been so beautiful. This afternoon I ran all of my errands on my bike and still managed to make it to work on time. At certain hours of the day, biking in the city seems faster than driving. I hit the bank, the tailor, the grocery store, and Olive del Mondo (where I received 50¢ off my olive oil refill for returning my bottle to be washed). It’s been a great way to spend more time outside—something I always crave at this time of year as the days get shorter.

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Licorice Root Tea

Licorice is said to ease upset stomachs, aid digestion, and boost immunity. It’s also delicious. Glycyrrhizin, the sweet tasting compound in licorice, is sweeter than table sugar. I got this licorice root in bulk at the co-op and tried drinking it when I had a stomach ache. It was indeed very soothing. It’s a remedy I will definitely turn to in the future.

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Popcorn project

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A recent trash-free snack project shared with friends. Popping corn purchased from Dave of Schartner Farms.

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The ears stripped of their kernels. My friend and I tested different techniques for removing them. I found that rolling the ear in my hand, and pushing the kernels off with my thumb worked the best.

Woops! Should have used a bigger pot! Something about unrelenting popping corn is hilarious. Giggles abound.

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The result was delicious. Seasoned this batch with bulk olive oil, cayenne pepper, paprika, and Himalayan pink salt.

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Details

Backlit bulk bags drying on the line make me smile.

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Shampoo

Our skin is a coat of armor that shields us from the elements. It also acts as a sensor, communicating important information with our brains about the environments we negotiate. The daily duty of stripping the oils it produces with soap and then replacing moisture with oils and creams seems like an agressive treatment of our bodies’ largest organ. Why have I bought into the cycle for so many years? The notion that we are born equipped with the faculties we need to thrive makes sense to me on a logical and intuitive level. But old habits die hard.

I’ve been buying shampoo in bulk (pumped out of a plastic gallon jug) from the co-op in wakefield. It’s not a trash-free solution but it’s a little better than buying smaller bottles of product. I tried “no poo“—an idea I can really get behind, but a practice I could’t stick with. I have long, fine, straight hair. Washing it with a baking soda and water solution left my scalp dry and without conditioner, I could hardly get a brush through the ends of my hair. I’ve tried bar shampoos, but they all seem to leave a waxy buildup behind.

I daydream about cropping my tresses close to my head or even going Sinéad and shaving them completely. When my brother recently shaved his head and it looked good, I found myself comparing the shape of his to mine, wondering if I could pull it off too. How wonderfully low maintenance it would be. But the truth is I’m pretty attached to my long hair. That is to say it’s been attached to me for quite a while, and in some ways is a part of my identity. So for the moment, bulk liquid (sulfate, paraben, and phthalate-free) shampoo is where I’m at. But my work towards using fewer and fewer beauty products continues…

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Powdered baking soda deodorant

powderdeo

Years ago, a conversation with a family friend (a pharmacist) about the health effects of aluminum—a common ingredient in antiperspirants and deodorants, lead me to switch from Secret brand to a crystal deodorant stone. I loved it. No white smears on my clothing, no swollen glands in my armpits, no stains on my shirts and dresses, I found it to be more effective at eliminating odor, it left no greasy residue on my skin, and one rock lasts me more than a year… so again, I’ve been saving money. The particular crystal I chose came in a rigid plastic container. I’ had been using the same one since starting this project and it’s now worn down to the size of a pebble. There are some stones on the market that are packaged in a simple paper box, but I’ve been unable to find such a product locally. So I decided to try to make my own deodorant.

As I was researching recipes I stumbled across some information that surprised me. My “mineral salt, aluminum-free” crystal is actually potassium aluminum sulfate. Aluminum? What gives? Why then is it sold on the shelves of natural food stores with the claim of being a safe alternative to conventional deodorant? I did some digging and found that the crystal is free of aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide, and aluminum zirconium (it’s also phthalate, and paraben-free). These are the types of aluminums found in conventional deodorants that act as antiperspirants. They are taken into the sweat ducts of the skin, acting as a plug. I always thought that because I still perspired with the crystal, it was aluminum-free. I read that the reason potassium alum is considered safe is because the mineral salts are said to be too large to be absorbed into the skin. Potassium alum sits on top of the skin and it’s antimicrobial properties prevent the growth of odor causing bacteria, which is why it works so well as a deodorant. Okay, maybe… but rubbing aluminum of any kind onto my body just doesn’t bode well with me. So I’ve been test driving my homemade concoction over the past several days and it seems to be working quite well.

The recipe is ridiculously simple. One part baking soda (sodium bicarbonate—the odor neutralizer) and six parts cornstarch, mixed well. I’m able to get both ingredients without packaging from the dry bulk goods sections of several local stores. Too much baking soda left on the skin can cause irritation and itching, but this ratio seems to be a good balance. I put the mix into a salt shaker. After showering, I shake some into my hand, pat it on my underarms and I’m good to go. No body odor to speak of, not even after my run a whole day and night after application. I’ve also been sprinkling it into my sneaks on days that I want to go sockless to keep my feet dry (blister-free) and odor-free. Straight cornstarch works perfectly well for this too. I’ve read that a small amount of baking soda mixed into water, applied with a spray bottle works just as well for underarms. I might try that too.

Going without any deodorant at all is another option of course. I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily. Sometimes I forget to put any deodorant on and if I’m not particularly active during the day it’s no big deal. I find that not wearing any synthetic fabrics also greatly minimizes armpit odor. Diet plays a large role too. But my job sometimes requires some heavy lifting (toting films and projectors) and running from place to place. I find that on those days it’s nice to have a little odor control.

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Stevia

I harvested some stevia (stevia rebaudiana) from my garden today. This is my third summer growing it and I’ve been meaning to share my experience with this amazing plant. I first learned about stevia many years ago while visiting Logee’s. An employee was growing some in one of the back greenhouses and brought a few sampling leaves up to the woman working the register. I was offered a taste, and having never heard of the plant before, I was completely surprised and delighted by the explosion of sweetness that hit my tongue. At that time stevia seeds or starter plants were still very difficult to find, because it wasn’t until december 2008 that the Food and Drug Administration gave stevia the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) approval. Today it’s not uncommon to find it among other herbs at greenhouse nurseries in the early spring. It’s sometimes labeled “sweet leaf”.

Stevia is a small perennial shrub that belongs to the Chrysanthemum family and is native to Paraguay. The leaves contain two “glycoside” molecules, steioside and Rebiana (rebaudioside A), which can be up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar (it varies from plant to plant). Stevia is virtually non-caloric and has a zero glycemic index, which means it has no effect on blood sugar levels. The leaves can be used whole or in ground form in food and beverages. I sometimes add fresh leaves to my tea. Otherwise I cut and dry the stocks, then pick and grind the leaves into a powder to use for baking projects in place of sugar. Many stevia recipes can now be found online. Because it is so sweet, I only use very small amounts at a time. The stevia I grow in a small pot in my container garden over one summer will yield enough powder to last me more than a year. In this project, less is always more.

Powdered stevia from last year’s harvest. A little bit goes such a long way!

Hearty Jumble Cookies made with only 1.5 teaspoons of homegrown stevia powder. These gooey treats are gluten-free, dairy-free, and of course trash-free. All the ingredients were obtained without packaging. As with most of the recipes I post, this one is very simple and pretty loose. There’s plenty of room for experimentation and substitution…

2 cups rolled oats
1 large apple, finely-diced
1 cup of raisins or currants
1 cup of nut butter (your choice) 
1 cup pecans (or any nut)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup carob chips or chocolate chips
2 whole eggs
1 cup water
2.5 tsp stevia powder

Combine rolled oats, eggs, water and oil in a mixing bowl. Stir in nut butter and remaining ingredients. Form into balls and place onto an oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy them warm out of the oven, room temperature, or fridge chilled.

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Adaptations

brooklynbaggu

I took a trip down to Brooklyn again this weekend. Anticipating the desire to shop for groceries at some point, I packed a hemp bulk sack and a stainless steel container. On Sunday morning, I borrowed my friend’s nylon totes to hit up the grocery store around the corner from her apartment. Inside I found a small dry bulk goods section where I filled up some mixed nuts, a decent organic produce section, and a bakery from which I was able to get some cookies without any packaging—I placed them in a smaller zip nylon pouch. I enjoy the challenge of exercising the project away from home, and so far I’ve found that whether I’m in an urban or rural place, I can find ways around trash. It’s exciting. Granted Brooklyn, NY or midcoast Maine may not be the toughest tests of No Trash… and I certainly tend to surround myself with like-minded people, but it’s nice to realize that my resourcefulness moves with me beyond the 5 to 10 mile area I navigate on a daily basis.

Breakfast was delicious.

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Broth

Making broth with carrot greens, radish greens, and onions from Schartner.

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A healthy addiction

Mustard greens from Arcadia Farms.

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Rituals

lavendarmint

This morning’s package-free herbal tea—mint and lavender.

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Breakfast love

breakfastlove

Visiting friends in NYC. Rooftop breakfast. CSA produce, nuts, granola, cheese, and the most delicious blackberry jam I have ever tasted—made by my friend Caitlin with berries grown by her parents.

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‘Tis the season

Bulk cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes from Wishingstone Farm.

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Fertile Underground

Stopped into Fertile Underground. I was excited to see that the shop has come along since the last time I was in. They’re doing some wonderful things with the space. I’m so grateful they’re in town. Their bulk section has grown and they now offer some spices. Fantastic!

This bitter melon caught my eye. I had never seen it before. Apparently it’s grown locally. Kim of the Fertile Underground staff offered me some wonderful information on what it tastes like and how to cook it. She recommended stir frying it with other asian vegetables. I brought one home and did just that.

The posters in the windows of Fertile Underground reflect the values of the business. This Eating with the Ecosystem poster is an advertisement for a dinner series designed to raise awareness about New England marine ecosystem sustainability.

“This is not trash. This is future dirt.”

An educational poster campaign produced by ecoRI. It’s a beautiful thing. If you live in the area and don’t have an at home composting setup, you can bring your food scraps to the Hope Street Farmers Market at Lippitt Park in Providence (9:00am-1:00pm) or to the Go Local Farmers Market at the Barrington Congregational Church (9 a.m.-noon) on Saturdays and ecoRI Public Works will compost them for you. See their compost guidelines here.

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Good Tern Natural Food Co-op and Café

I checked out Good Tern Natural Food Co-op and Café today. Another great local bulk goods source located in Rockland, Maine. They had an impressive variety of spices.

I was so excited to see seaweed in bulk at Good Tern. Wakame, Kelp, and Dulse. It was the first time I’d come across it loose in a jar and not in a cellophane wrapper or stretch plastic bag. I’ve dreamed of package-free, homemade seaweed soups and salad.

Got some miso soup in my stainless steel container from the Good Tern Café.

Beautiful local produce!

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Respite

Hot plate dinner on the steps of the CFC studio building. A healthy and delicious meal to end a day of work. And a little lawn gymnastics to go with it.

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Beth’s

Garlic at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, Maine.

Gladioluses in the bench room. The flowers are free with your purchase at Beth’s.

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