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Tortillas

tortilla

A couple things impelled me to finally try my hand at homemade tortillas. The first was a conversation with my friend who professed the desire to wrap most of the meals I cook for us in a tortilla. I make a lot of veggie stir fry or fresh salad dishes, usually accompanied by some kind of cereal grain and legume, which would indeed be delicious in a flexible, foldable, flatbread. When I first started the No Trash Project, I did a little searching for a package-free tortilla source. I inquired at a few of the many wonderful Mexican food establishments located on the outskirts of Providence. On a couple of occasions I was able to purchase corn tortillas from one vendor who kindly parceled some out for me from a large bulk bag. But the bag was of course plastic, and while it seemed a little better than buying a plastic pack of 12 tortillas from the grocery store, I wasn’t satisfied with that option. Still, I thought I may be able to find a vendor who makes them fresh in-house that would be willing to let me purchase them with a reusable container. Over time, while I busied myself with other packaging problems, I guess I just adapted to a tortilla-less life. But my friend’s love of all things bread reignited my tortilla interest (and craving). So what about making my own? Ouff, it seemed like quite a project. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that lard or shortening was required—at least for flour tortillas, and finding a bulk source for either ingredient would likely be more difficult than finding unpacked tortillas. But what about corn tortillas? What goes into making those?

Then, while looking for recipes for my blue cornmeal, I wondered if I could use it to make tortillas. So I did some research. As it turns out, whole grain stone-ground cornmeal—which retains some of the germ and fibrous hull of the kernels—is great for crumbly cornbread, but won’t hold together on it’s own in a tortilla. Makes sense. Instead, corn tortillas and chips are made from a corn flour called masa (Spanish for dough). To make it, corn kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), and then hulled, leaving the soft endosperm of the grain. This is called nixtamalization, an ancient food processing technique that originated with Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Today, store-bought tortillas are produced with mechanized industrial processes. The processed corn is called nixtamal, which has a distinct flavor and texture. It’s easier to grind into a smooth dough that will hold together in a tortilla and the nutritional value of the corn is actually increased. The alkaline solution convert’s the grain’s bound niacin (vitamin B3) to free niacin, making it available for the body to absorb. The corn also absorbs some of minerals in the lime, increasing the calcium content. Another benefit of nixtamilization is that it decreases mycotoxins (molds) that commonly infect corn crops and can be harmful to humans. This information is a bit jargony but I’ve been learning a lot of these terms in my biology class and as a grower, maker, and eater of food I think it’s fascinating stuff!

masa

Okay so then where does one get masa to make homemade tortillas? Well, one doesn’t. Not from a store anyway. At least not in New England. It is certainly possible to make it from scratch at home, a project I’m very interested in, but it will require finding a package-free or bulk source for the ingredients (dried flour corn kernels and pickling lime) and I’m still not set up with my own food processor or grain mill… I know, I really should get around to that. But I learned that masa harina (Spanish for flour) is widely available on grocery store shelves. Simply reconstituted with water, masa harina becomes dough, ready to be rolled or pressed into tortillas. I called around to see if I could find a store that offered it in a bulk dispenser but had no luck. So, I did something I rarely do these days and decided to purchase a packaged food item. I bought masa harina in a paper bag and transferred the flour to the large glass jar above to preserve freshness. I planned to compost the bag, but instead ended up using it as fire starter in my wood stove on a recent raw and chilly night.

Once I finally acquired the flour, I discovered that making the tortillas is ridiculously easy. I started with half a cup of masa harina, and as per tips I found on the internet, I slowly added a little water, mixing it in to the flour with my hands until I had a dough that seemed to be a good consistency. Not too wet and not too dry. Then I separated the dough into small balls and rolled them out on my counter with a wood rolling pin. Many online instructions for this process will tell you to roll or press the dough (in a tortilla press) between two sheets of plastic to avoid sticking. But I was able to manage without the plastic. I just made sure to put some dry flour on the counter and my roller. When it did stick to the counter, I simply lifted the dough with a large spatula. I used my wide mouth stainless steel funnel to press out small taco size tortillas. I then cooked them over medium-high heat in my cast iron skillet, setting the dough on one side for about 20 seconds, then cooking for 1 minute on the other side, and back again to the first side for another minute. And that’s it. So simple. Tip: I found that placing the cooked tortillas in a covered container will keep them warm and help retain moisture until you’re ready to fill them.

tacos

For lunch I made fish tacos with leftover tilapia (from last night’s dinner), black beans, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime and pepper. Oh my goodness, they were so delicious. As with so many projects that have resulted from the quest for package-free foods, I’m really pleased with the outcome. It led me to learn a lot more about corn and corn products, and a little more about the agricultural history of the crop. I also gained the unique satisfaction that comes with making my own foods from base ingredients, which is in part due to the superior freshness of homemade meals and the cost savings. And of course, I get the enjoyment of a delicious food without the plastic packaging I used to regularly send to the landfill.

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Blue cornbread

cornmeal

I’ve had this blue cornmeal hanging around for a while and I’ve decided to put it to use before it spoils. Like many dry cereal grain flours, cornmeal has a very good shelf life (it may keep for several years if stored in a freezer), but it can eventually turn rancid. So I’m kicking some cornmeal projects into gear.

cornbread

Blue cornmeal is more flavorful and higher in nutritional value than yellow or white. You can use it in any recipe that calls for cornmeal. Today I made skillet blue cornbread. I love the taste of food cooked in an iron skillet and it’s a fantastic non-toxic nonstick surface. The bread is delicious! I’ve already consumed quite a bit more than the slice missing in this photo. I looked at several recipes online and then composed my own, which allowed me to work with the ingredients I had on hand—all of which were purchased without packaging as always. Here’s what I came up with:

1 1/2 cups blue cornmeal

1/2 cup oat flour (any flour could be substituted here, or just use another 1/2 cup of cornmeal)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup raw oat milk (made fresh from oat groats soaked overnight)

2 eggs 

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup finely chopped red pepper

1 medium size minced jalapeño pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oat milk, eggs, apple cider vinegar, honey (warm to liquify if necessary), and canola oil in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in red and jalapeño pepper. Pour the batter into a 10″ cast iron skillet that has been rubbed with oil. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until done. Serve with a wink and a smile. Store in an airtight container. 

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Cereal love

breakfastcereal

I’ve never been too big on sizzling, savory breakfasts in the early mornings. I’m a cereal lover. Upon waking, I crave sweet carbs. I love cold mik over crunchy granola or warm bowls of cooked grains like quinoa, amaranth, and oats. I always add generous amounts of fruit, seeds, and nuts for varied texture and flavor. Most of the breakfast dishes I make happen to be vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free. It’s important to me that my first meal fuels many working hours before I have to break for lunch, so I focus on using ingredients that are protein-rich and high in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids. This morning I enjoyed some homemade granola (this time adding pumpkin seeds to the basic original recipe) flooded in a fresh batch of hemp milk with a diced bartlett pear. I tend to get pretty blissed-out over even the simplest homemade meals. This morning’s bowl of goodness was no exception, so I had to share it.

breakfastcereal2

Mmmmhmmm, look at all those delicious, package-free ingredients.

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Snacks

kalechips

I’ve been getting some delicious organic Kale from the Wintertime Farmer’s Market lately. I like to eat it raw, in stir fries, or as a delicious snack in chip form. Kale chips are really easy to make at home. And you don’t need to own a dehydrator. Just rinse and dry the kale leaves, remove the center stems (which hold a lot of water) and cut them into bite-size pieces. Lightly coat them in cooking oil and bake them in a shallow pan or on a cookie sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until the leaves are dry and crispy but not brown. Shake or turn them in the pan periodically so they crisp evenly. I usually sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on mine. I like to use the discarded stems to make vegetable broth.

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Chia seed drink

chiaseeds

This morning I fixed myself a chia seed drink from seeds I purchased in bulk. Chia seeds are considered a “super food” for their nutrient content. Like hemp and flax seeds, they are a great plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Chia seeds can be used like any other seeds you might cook with, sprinkle over a meal, or stir into cereal or yogurt. Because they are high in soluble fiber, they absorb a lot of water and can be used to make a “gel” that can be stirred into  drinks. I decided to give this a try. I mixed 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into 1 cup of water and stirred them occasionally over a 15 minute period so that they wouldn’t clump. Then I made some ginger  lemon tea and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of the gel when the tea was warm, but not hot. I rather like gelatinous foods so I really enjoyed this textured beverage! Chia seeds are said to keep you hydrated and energized so it ‘s not a bad way to start the day. I think I’ll add it to my regimen for a while.

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Granola

granola

Homemade granola! Quick and easy to make. Granola is so delicious when it’s fresh and I love having the control over what goes into it. This batch is very simple—a good base to add any kind of fruit and nuts to. All the ingredients below were purchased in bulk. And as usual, my recipe is pretty freeform, so go nuts!

4 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup flour for “clumping” (I used rice flour because that’s what I had on my shelf, but oat flour would probably work even better)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup canola oil (other oils can be substituted)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the honey, oil, and extract together in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread the granola in an oiled shallow pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the granola over with a large spatula, being careful not to break it up too much. Return to oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the granola to cool completely before removing it from the pan to serve or store.

granoladetail

Mmmhmmmm, so delicious. Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness. It will keep at room temperature for up to 10 days but because it contains oil (which can become rancid), it should be refrigerated or frozen after that point.

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Homemade lotion

lotion

I love getting snowed in. It’s a rare event I always welcome. I love that it’s a collective experience shared by everyone in the affected region, but also private as we’re each marooned in our own homes. As highways, businesses, and schools close, time seems to slow down. I’m feeling very lucky that I didn’t loose power and heat in the storm, as that can quickly take the pleasure out of the experience. I took advantage of being confined to my apartment to get into some projects that my work has been keeping me from. Today I made moisturizing lotion based on a very simple recipe a friend recently shared with me. It was remarkably easy and I’m so pleased with the result. I’ve made salves before with a similar process but I love the texture and “slip” of the lotion—perfect for dry elbows, knees, hands, and feet. It absorbs into my skin well and has a pleasing, mild scent. Here’s the recipe I ended up using…

4 tablespoons grated beeswax

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup grape seed oil

1/3 cup sweet almond oil

8 tablespoons water

In a double boiler setup (I use a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of water) melt beeswax. When beeswax is almost completely liquified add coconut oil. Pour in slightly warmed remaining oils (one cup total) and whisk with a hand whisk, fork, or immersion blender. Remove the mixture from heat and slowly add water while stirring. Continue whisking for a minute or so until the mixture is homogenized. While hot, the lotion will be very runny. Allow it to cool, mixing it periodically as it sets up. 

The recipe makes about 16oz of lotion. Store in a glass jar in a cool dry place. I scooped some into this little 3 oz jar to give to my friend to sample. Many oils could be substituted in this recipe. And you don’t have to use more than one. I chose to mix the three together because I had them on hand. The oils are available to me in bulk at a couple nearby sources. I’ve seen beeswax sold in brick form without any packaging before but when I went to purchase it for this project I could only find plastic wrapped bricks. So instead I picked up a 100% beeswax package-free candle and grated that. Once I’ve gone through all the beeswax I’ll be left with wick, which I can compost or burn in the wood stove. The one ingredient that did come in packaging is the coconut oil. It came in a 14 oz glass jar. I only use the coconut oil for homemade hygiene products and it lasts a long time. Once it’s empty, the jar will be used again and again to store bulk goods. But the plastic seal that came around the jar lid when it was purchased is landfill waste.

I’m always interested in using less personal hygiene products. Caring for skin from the inside out is something that appeals to me very much. Of course diet, hydration, and exercise all play a roll in skin health and texture. I’ve been trying to drink more water in these dry winter months, but my skin appreciates a little extra help from a topical source in this climate.

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Hemp “pesto”

pesto1

Today I used the hemp meal leftover from Monday’s hemp milk to make hemp “pesto”. I initially intended to use basil for this recipe but I couldn’t find any without packaging. All the basil at my nearby markets is currently being sold in PET plastic packs. I was able to find loose parsley tied with a rubber band so I grabbed a bundle and decided to improvise with that. I used 1/2 cup hemp meal (all that was strained out of the milk), 3 cups chopped parsley (stems included), 6 medium size chopped garlic cloves, 3/4 cup olive oil, and generous amount of cracked pepper. I combined the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pulsed them with my immersion blender until I had a paste. The total time to make the pesto was less than 10 minutes.

pesto2

The hemp meal provided the body that cheese and pine nuts give to traditional pestos. Hemp has a nutty flavor of it’s own that compliments the parsley well. And what a vibrant color! Because I love the taste of parsley, it’s a fine substitue for basil… but I can’t wait to make this with homegrown package-free basil this summer!

pasta

For lunch I cooked some pasta (this one happens to be a gluten-free quinoa fusilli I found in bulk at Karma Co-op in Toronto) and tossed it with a tablespoon of pesto and fresh chopped tomatoes. Oh man, it was delicious! I think this will become another go-to package-free meal.

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Hemp milk

hempmilk

A dairy sensitivity I developed in my adulthood led me to kick the cow milk I was raised on. Before starting the No Trash Project, I was purchasing nut, seed, and grain milks in Tetra Paks, which are difficult to recycle. After swearing off food packaging, I still craved some kind of milk to add to my granola or incorporate into recipes so I began making my own non-dairy milks at home. I’m always thrilled by how easy and rewarding it is. Every kind I’ve made has been far better tasting than anything I could buy off a store shelf. Inspired by a reader’s suggestion, I made hemp milk today. It was the quickest and easiest yet! It seriously only took about 5 minutes to make. I used hemp seeds purchased in bulk from Alternative Food Co-op. The ratio I used is one cup hemp seeds to 4 cups of water (the same ratio I’ve used for the oat, almond, coconut, and cashew milks). The seeds don’t require any soaking prior to blending. Because hemp is soft, the seeds and water homogenized very quickly with the help of my immersion blender. I chose to strain it for smoothness, though much like the cashew milk, the meal is so fine that you can drink it without straining. I would describe the taste as sweet and grassy. Delicious. Of course, it can be sweetened or spiced. I saw one variation online with orange zest that I plan to try.

Hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and they offer a very desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3:1. They’re also a fantastic source of protein, fiber, and amino acids—including all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own.

hempmeal

I love experimenting with the strained nut, seed, and grain meal I’m left with when making the milks.  I think I’m going to use the hemp meal to make a “pesto” with garlic, basil, and olive oil. Stay tuned for that experiment!

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A bowl of energy

amaranthbreakfast

My protein-packed breakfast this morning. Bulk amaranth with grated ginger, galangal (given to me by a dear friend), chopped apple, pepitas, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and olive oil. Amaranth is one of my favorite grains and I often have it for breakfast. I love the nutty taste of the tiny snappy seeds. Just a quarter cup of the dry cereal cooked in water (1:3 ratio for a fluffy texture or 1:4 ratio for a more porridge-like consistency) with some fruit, nuts, and seeds fills me up and keeps me going all morning and well into the afternoon. It’s a high quality source of plant protein and two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine. And it’s a great option for anyone with gluten sensitivities or allergies. Such an impressive little grain.

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Cashew milk

cashewmilk

This morning I made cashew milk. It stands as my favorite of the non-dairy milks I have made so far (including oat, almond, and coconut). The process is the same. I soaked one cup of nuts in a medium-sized mixing bowl overnight, rinsed them in the morning, added 4 cups of fresh water to the bowl and then mixed the two ingredients with my immersion blender. It homogenized much more quickly than the milks, which makes sense because cashews are so soft and less fibrous than most nuts. And straining the solids through a nut milk bag (my repurposed mesh produce bag) was quicker and easier than with the other three. The cashew milk is mildly sweet and very rich. This one might be my jam for a while. Or at least until my recently restocked supply of bulk cashews runs out, which I’m guessing won’t take long, as the milk is a morning breakfast and evening dessert kind of treat. I’m continually amazed by how easy it is to make milk from grains nuts and seeds. I’d also like to make sunflower seed, hazelnut, and rice milk.

cashewmilk

Many of the rubber gaskets for my swing top glass bottles have started to become brittle are breaking down. I searched high and low at my local hardware and kitchen supply stores for replacement gaskets but came up short. So I went online and found some on ebay. Purchased them and wrote a note to the seller asking if he could send them without any plastic and as little packaging as possible. They arrived today loose (12 in total) in a small paper manila envelop. With a stamp. No plastic. Fantastic. But I’m still hoping to find a local source.

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Quinoa bowl

quinoanewbowl

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

squashsalad

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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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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Roasted eggplant

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

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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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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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Popcorn project

poppingcorn

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

kernals

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.

poppedcorn

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

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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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Carrot soup

carrotgingersoup

For lunch. Homemade carrot/ginger soup with basil from the garden.

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Broth

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

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Best breakfast

sethstomatoes

Peach, tomato, and basil salad for breakfast again. This one was made with two beautiful heirloom tomatoes (one red and one yellow) grown and given to me by my friend Seth. Best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Thanks bud!!

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Bench lunch

Chickpea, tomato, peach, and basil salad with olive oil, balsamic, and black pepper. Fuel.

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Good morning

Breakfast this morning. Peaches with sweet and purple basil from the garden and balsamic from Olive Del Mondo.

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Strawberry rhubarb salad

I’d like to share this sweet and tart salad I’ve been making with ingredients from the farmer’s market. Back in May I started buying rhubarb and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’ve been experimenting with different recipes and this one is my favorite so far. It’s so simple and easy to make. The recipe below is loose. The measurements will depend on the size and number of salads. I just wing it.

Ingredients:

spinach, rhubarb, strawberries (optional), red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, and water

Tear and rinse spinach and place it on a plate.

Cut the rhubarb on a diagonal to get two-inch pieces. 

Place the pieces in a skillet and add enough water to float them. Bring to a boil and stir in about a tablespoon of honey. Simmer them until soft (they cook quickly, maybe 3-5 minutes).

Remove the rhubarb from the liquid with a slotted spoon or spatula and place over the bed of spinach, but leave one or two pieces of rhubarb in the skillet to make the dressing.

Add about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to the skillet and simmer the liquid until it thickens to a syrupy consistency. Let cool and then stir in olive oil. Drizzle the dressing over the salad.

Add sliced strawberries if desired.

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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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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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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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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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Good morning

A trash-free breakfast of hot amaranth, nuts, seeds, and fruit—with a drizzle of olive oil.

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Details

Since I began this project my kitchen has slowly become a more efficient workspace. Food moves from the grocery tote to the plate through a well-organized system. At this point, I’m not producing any spoiled food. Everything edible in the kitchen is consumed and the only things going into the compost are peels, shells, skins and tough stems. I went through all the tools in the kitchen and donated every item that was not essential. It’s amazing how the drawers, cabinets, and shelves of a room will fill up over time. I found that I had many multiples of the same tool (three cheese graters for example) and many pots, pans, dishes, and utensils that were never used but for some reason traveled with me through multiple home moves.  Eliminating the clutter has been great. Prepping, cooking, and cleaning routines are simpler. Unloading the bulk of the kitchen items I had been storing for so long has allowed me to focus on finding the right tool for each job. I find a lot of enjoyment in scavenging high quality items made from sustainable materials and I’m slowly weeding out the poorly made, the dysfunctional, and the plastic. Incorporating objects that meet my personal standards of form and functionality has made daily practices more satisfying. Filled with wood, steel, and glass, the dish drying rack has become very photogenic.

Last week I checked another item off the No Trash Project wish list–an immersion blender. My tabletop blender quit several months ago while I was making hummus (it went out with a loud groan and some smoke), so I had been looking for the immersion variety for a while. I hemmed and hawed over what brand to buy and how much to spend. I regularly checked craigslist to see if anyone nearby was selling one used. No such luck. So, I finally took the plunge and bought one new. I decided to go with a high-end product that could stand up to heavy use. In addition to all the foods I’ll be mincing and blending, I’ll also be using it to make recycled paper at home, so I needed to find one with lot of power. I’ve now used mine to make soup and I love it. Because I don’t have to transfer batches to and from a tabletop blender, fewer dishes are dirtied, and less water is used to clean up. I look forward to making a wider range of dishes than I was able to produce in the days of the hand mashing, blender hiatus. Both of the trash-free, puréed soups pictured above were made without set measurements, but I’ve written up a basic recipe for each.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces

4 cups homemade vegetable broth

My most recent batch was made with water, carrots, celery, onion, fennel seeds, and cracked red pepper (combined, boiled, and strained)

1 medium yellow onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic minced

2 Tbs. canola of oil

1 Tbs. curry powder

1 tsp freshly ground cinnamon

——————————————————————

Heat canola oil in a large pot.

Sauté the onion until translucent (about 5-7 minutes).

Add squash and garlic and cook for two more minutes.

Add broth. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for until the squash is tender (about 20 minutes).

Blend soup.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked black pepper, and fresh thyme (or sage) leaves. Salt if desired.

Cauliflower Apple Soup

1 large head of cauliflower chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 to 2 tart apples chopped (6 cups)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium yellow onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

4 cups homemade vegetable broth

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

——————————————————————

Heat canola oil in a large pot.

Sauté the onion until translucent (about 5-7 minutes).

Stir in the apple, curry, garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the cauliflower and broth. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for until the cauliflower is tender (about 20 minutes).

Blend soup.

Stir in the honey and vinegar.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper. Salt if desired.

Because these recipes are so basic, they are both very adaptable. I used spices are stocked on my shelves (I love curry) but there are many substitutes. Trash-free cooking often calls for creativity. I’m learning to be resourceful while shopping and flexible while putting together a meal.

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