With the exception of a small jar of stevia seeds, my freezer has stood empty for a long while. It is of course void of any packaged frozen foods and because I’m lucky to be able to access fresh foods year-round, I rarely have occasions to freeze foods. While editing down the belongings in my kitchen to the few essential items I use regularly, I donated my plastic ice cube tray. Even in the dog days of summer I prefer most of my drinks iceless (though I do sometimes like to use ice to cool down warm water, home brewed tea, or kombucha) and I dislike the taste of ice cubes that have been frozen in plastic. So I didn’t think I had much need to hang onto it. But when I recently banged up my knee after taking a good tumble on a morning run, I wished I had some kind of cold pack to reduce the swelling around my injury. I did a search for plastic-free ice trays and discovered that stainless steel trays like the ones on the market from the 1930s to the 1950s are being manufactured again as an alternative to plastic trays. I purchased this one from Life Without Plastic. It works really well and it makes perfectly tasteless ice. If the ejection lever gets frozen to the cubes (not uncommon with this design), running the tray under warm water releases the lever, making it easy to lift. This beautiful, functional tool may even inspire some frozen treat experiments. And for first aid purposes, I’m thinking about investing in a good old fashioned hot water bottle to fill with my steel tray-made cubes the next time I bust up my body, since I won’t be using plastic bags to make cold packs.
This evening, I’ll be giving a Natural Home Solutions workshop with some wonderful folks at Fertile Underground in Providence. I will demonstrate how to make homemade moisturizing lotion and deodorants. Jillian McGrath is making a raw avocado/cacao edible face mask. Yeah, that’s right, double duty. And the folks from Karma Clean will be there with samples of their raw soap nuts laundry detergent. So excited! If you live in the area, come in and see us from 5:00-7:00pm for some how-tos and free samples!
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.
Mmmmhmmm, look at all those delicious, package-free ingredients.
I rode my bike over to the Wintertime Farmer’s Market at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket this afternoon to pick up some fish for dinner tonight. Rich and Ann from The Local Catch take a stainless steel container from me each week and fill it with something fresh caught. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. But they know a bit about my preferences and I’ve never been dissatisfied with an order. They always give me something low on the food chain and it’s always really fresh and delicious. This week it’s yellowtail flounder, which I love. It’s sweet and mild. I’m going to prepare it with some long grain wild rice, celeriac mash, and greens.
So, it turns out you don’t need clothespins to line dry laundry. I gleefully stumbled upon this ingenious technique during a meandering internet search. How is it that I never thought of this? It’s so simple and efficient. The twisted line seems to hold garments even better than my wooden spring clothespins. And I like the snapping sound it makes when I pluck the dry clothes from it’s grip. This method is especially good for my indoor setup, which I hang up and take down with each load I dry. Outside in the garden, the line I share with my landlady is a more permanent, untwisted setup. I imagine that in an open air situation, a twisted cotton line might be prone to growing mildew after a rain. At any rate, the pin-less approach will be my new indoor jam for the remainder of the cold season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have amazing friends. Just received this fantastic gift from two dear ones—a 3-tier steel tiffin with two plate separators. Can’t wait to test drive this beauty once the winter storm stops. It will be so perfect for take-away and picnics!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
The index finger on the left hand of my beloved SmartWool gloves gave out this winter. It started to unravel at the beginning of the season and I tried to tie it off but it didn’t hold and now I’m exposed to halfway down my proximal phalanx. It’s been fine when I’m on foot and can pocket my hands, but on really cold days while I’m riding my bike, it can get pretty uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to buddy up in the middle finger, but it’s a tight fit. So it was time for new pair. I searched around for some used gloves in local thrift and consignment stores but couldn’t find any that had much life left in them. So I picked up the above beauties from the Moonlight Rose Alpacas stand at the Wintertime Farmer’s Market. Moonlight Rose breeds and raises alpacas in Swansea, Massachusetts less than 20 miles from Providence. I’ve long admired their hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, and socks on display at the markets. The grey, brown, beige, and white colors are the natural alpaca fiber colors. No dyes are used. Unfortunately the gloves did come with a plastic tagging barb (not recyclable) that holds the company’s paper tag to their products. I find it’s really hard to avoid these little guys when shopping for clothing, even when you are buying used garments. They are so soft and warm and I’m really happy with my purchase. It feels good to buy a locally sourced and produced pair. Hopefully with proper care they will last a long time!
Meanwhile I have to decide what to do with my old pair. I considered the possibility of composting them but they contain 1% elastane and 4% nylon (the other 95% of the yarn is merino wool). I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to cut the rest of the fingers off and sew the ends well enough to prevent unraveling and make them fingerless gloves for warmer weather or for working in the cold studio or archive. I’m determined to stretch their life out, repurpose, or recycle them somehow.
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.
I live in a beautiful space. I smile most times I enter my home. The apartment is located on the second floor of a house that was built more than 220 years ago. Of course there are many features throughout that are more modern, but some of the original details remain intact. It’s easy to see where the building has settled over time and the crooked lines give each room so much character. This place has great bones and shows signs of the many who have loved it before me. The few carefully curated things I’ve chosen to fill it with make it mine for now.
I love my bathroom. I love the old built-in medicine cabinet and the large 12 pane window. It looks out over a small alley and across to the siding of my neighbors’ house. None of their windows are visible from this spot so I don’t have to hang any curtains or blinds and all the natural light that reflects off the pale yellow clapboard floods into the room. My plants love it.
I’ve written a lot about how beautiful food looks when it’s stored in glass or stainless steel. I think the same is true for personal hygiene products. Bulk shampoo, liquid castile soap, baking soda, and package-free bar soap sit on the shelves of my shower. My linen bath towel and hand knitted hemp washcloth hang beside it.
In my medicine cabinet I keep my homemade spray deodorant, bulk carrier oils (sweet almond and grape seed) used as skin moisturizer and hair conditioner/detangler, homemade salve, bulk cornstarch for sockless sneaker wearing, bulk body lotion, an eyelash curler, a terra cotta body buffer, and bar soap. A ceramic dish holds my barrets, bobby pins, new razor blades, and a spool of floss that was once in a paper box dispenser—but the box got a little crushed and ended up as firestarter for the wood stove. The floss is wound around a small plastic spool, which will become landfill waste. The paper and cotton swabs are leftover from before the start of this project. I use them very seldomly because I just use gentle soap and water to clean my outer ears.
A cup of grooming tools (my toothbrush, gum stimulator, safety razor, tweezers, cuticle trimmer, and nail brush) sits on my windowsill next to the jar of baking soda I use to clean my teeth. I use the small stainless steel spoon to scoop a tiny bit onto my compostable toothbrush.
It has taken me some time to pare down the products in my routine to a few package-free essentials that work for my individual skin, hair, nail, tooth and gum care needs. But my space has become very functional and I love my daily rituals.
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.
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.
They even have bulk dry dog and cat food!
And a fantastic selection of bulk oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, and extracts.
I came home restocked with package-free olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and tahini. Oh, the many meals these three simple ingredients will inspire!
Much of North America has been in a deep winter freeze this week. Here in Providence, temperatures never rose out of the teens most days and at night they dropped down close to zero degrees (fahrenheit). January tends to be the coldest time of year here. It’s also a time when the winter blues start to catch up with me. Luckily I’ve discovered a remedy—a little-known East Side gem that works wonders on my state of mind and my dry nasal passages. Brown University’s greenhouse, located on Waterman Street between Prospect and Thayer Street is open to the public daily from 7:30am to 3:30pm. I’m on campus every weekday for work and I like to stop in to warm up, breathe in the humid fragrant air, and gawk at whatever happens to be in bloom.
The conservatory is a resource for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As stated on the department website, “Artists, gardeners, tinkerers, dreamers, readers, thinkers, general plant lovers, and green and brown thumbs are encouraged to visit.” The greenhouse is small but densely packed with a wide range of plant species representing many different climate zones.
Cacti stretch up from a sandy bed toward the roof of the greenhouse, palm trees grow out of the floor, potted orchids adorn a stepped shelf, and alocasia plants spill into one of the pathways. There’s even a tiny goldfish pond.
During most of my visits, I’m the only person there. Each time I enter, an involuntary smile stretches across my face and as I remove my many winter layers and accessories, I feel myself relax and the muscles in my neck and shoulders loosen. I stroll up and down the three aisles observing the specimen. Some days, when I have some time, I sit and read awhile or scribble in my sketchbook. Every visit is restorative, and I leave both mellowed and energized. Each year I grow older, I feel myself grow more intolerant of the cold and weary of the grey winter weather and short spurts of daylight. But I’ve learned to combat the gloom with regular exercise, fresh colorful foods, and heart lifting activities like my afternoon greenhouse sessions.
I completed one of my household projects today. I installed a clothesline in my living room and wasted no time putting it to use. The indoor line has been a long time coming. During the spring, summer, and autumn months I line dry my clothes in the small tenant garden below my kitchen, but of course that’s not an option in the winter. Until now I’ve been hanging garments and linens from every hook, chair, towel rack, doorknob, and drawer pull in my apartment. I had the hank of rope sitting in a drawer for a while, and yesterday I finally purchased the screw hooks I needed to string it up. The hooks are strong with a screw thread deep enough to handle the weight of wet laundry. I drove one into the wood doorframe of the kitchen and the other into the bedroom doorframe, each 75 inches up from the floor. I then just tied a loop or rope from one to the next. Piece of cake. The clothesline is much more efficient than the doorknob method. Strung through the middle of the room, air can circulate around the dripping fabrics and and I don’t have to worry about flipping garments around to dry all sides. With the extremely low humidity level today and the radiators going in the apartment, this laundry was completely dry within a few hours. In the meantime, I didn’t mind ducking and dodging as I passed from room to room. When the laundry was dry I folded it all up, unhooked the line, coiled it and placed it in a drawer. It’s a simple system, and that’s what makes it wonderful. Not using the dryer saves so much energy (and energy costs) and line drying my clothing linens will help them last longer than if they were regularly tumble dried.
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.
It’s snowing on the North Shore tonight. Went for a walk on the beach I was raised on. Warmed up with an amazing spicy vegetable soup. Feeling so grateful to be able to spend the long weekend with friends and family.
I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately. I decided to make myself some turmeric and ginger tea. Straight ginger tea is a regular part of my routine. The rhizome is always available to me at the farmer’s market or the store. I love it. The spicier, the better. The volatile oils found in ginger have been shown to have healing properties. Ginger is used to strengthen immunity, ease stomach and intestinal discomfort, combat chest colds, regulate blood circulation, and reduce inflammation. Turmeric is a rhizome of the ginger family. Both are native to South Asia and need warm humid conditions to grow. Fresh turmeric isn’t available to me as regularly as ginger so whenever I do see it grace market stands I pick some up. I can get the powdered form in bulk at my nearby co-ops, but I love the mild mustard flavor of fresh turmeric. Curcumin (a natural phenol which gives turmeric it’s bright orange-yellow color) and turmerones (the plant’s oils) are believed to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal, anticarcinogenic, and beneficial in liver detoxification.
Today I peeled and grated some ginger and turmeric, then strained and steeped both in water heated to just below boiling. The tea is delicious and soothing. I love the bright color. I’ll be enjoying several cups a day until I’m back to tip-top shape.
I recently received a gift of some Heath ceramic plates for my birthday. I’ve always admired this Sausalito, California-based company’s designs and environmentally conscious practices. Founded in 1948 by ceramicist Edith Heath, the company has upheld the values of timeless design, fair work conditions, and sustainability. Their lower heat, once-fired pieces are made to be durable enough to last for generations. Each piece contains some recycled clay. I will cherish my dishes.
Every time I receive a shipment, whether it’s something I’ve ordered myself because I can’t find a local source or something that’s been sent by someone else, I cringe at the sight of any plastic or foam packing materials. If I receive a cardboard box, I find myself holding my breath before opening it, dreading the possible discovery of packing peanuts, Styrofoam molds, bubble wrap, or inflated plastic air bags inside. The box from Heath arrived sealed with paper tape. Fantastic. As I cut into it I was thrilled to find that the protective filling was 100% paper! I reached into the paper “peanuts” and pulled out a plate. There was no bag, no wrapper, no tape. It still had some dry clay dust on it, and I instantly imagined the factory it was produced in. But there wasn’t a single chip, crack, scuff, or ding. The plates were stacked on top of each other, separated simply by squares of corrugated cardboard. I composted all the materials. My bin is always in need of the carbon.
I contacted the company via email to express my satisfaction with both their product and their shipping materials. I asked who the manufacturer of the “peanuts” was and how long they had been using them. A woman named Stephany got back to me and this is what she wrote,
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.
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.
I’m knitting gifts for some friends and family I didn’t get to see over the holidays. I buy my yarn from Fresh Purls on Hope Street in Providence. They have a great selection of yarns made from natural fibers. Each skein usually comes with a paper tag which can be composted or recycled. I love giving hand knit things. With yesterday’s balmy weather it seemed for a moment that it may be too late late to give wintry accessories. But the forecast shows that we’ll be getting another cold snap before the week is out. So these neck warmers may indeed get some good use this season.
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!
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!
For my birthday, my friend took me iceskating. I’d never been before! We rented me a pair of skates for $2 and turned teetering circles around a nearby rink. We skated until my toes were frozen through and my cheeks hurt from smiling. It was a wonderful gift. A brand new experience to ring in the new year and to celebrate turning another year older. I look forward to the many trash-free adventures ahead of me in 2013.
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.
My new lightweight, unbleached linen towels will replace my old heavy terrycloth cotton towels. The cotton towels are the only items in my laundry that I find sometimes need to be machine dried. They are quite thick and dry very slowly on the line, especially if there isn’t a lot of air circulation, which means that line drying them inside my apartment during the winter months doesn’t work very well. If they stay damp for too long they grow mildew. They also dry scratchy and matted down when hung on the line.
I’ve read a lot about linen and it’s many wonderful properties. Linen is made from flax fiber and it has the ability to absorb water and dry very quickly. This stack of four standard size bath and four hand towels takes up about the same area as one of my terrycloth cotton bath towels. I’ve used the linen towels after showering now and I love them. I really notice the incredible absorbency when I wrap one around my hair. The linen draws out so much moisture and my hair air dries so quickly afterwards, which is great on cold winter days. And I’m amazed by how quickly the saturated linen dries on the towel rack or on my indoor clothesline.
My cotton towels are a little ratty but still quite useful. I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet but found some great ideas here. I love the suggestion of donating old linens to a local animal shelter, so I plan to make some calls to see if any near me could use mine. I also know some artists who would appreciate a donation to their studio rag pile.
This year I am giving few physical gifts to friends and family for the holidays. I filled the ceramic pots I made with colorful succulents and will present those to loved ones without any wrapping, but I have wrapped some of my unplanted pots and hand thrown bowls with Furoshiki style cloth—something I’ve always wanted to try. There are many wonderful illustrated directions available online and I found this video, which was incredibly helpful! The wrapping is beautiful, elegant, and easy to give to the gift receiver or keep as the gift giver to reuse.
The rest of the gifts I will give this year will be experiences. Surprise field trips. And because my wonderful friends and family read my blog, I will wait to share those adventures until after they’ve been had! Sharing good food and conversation with loved ones this week is precious time spent.
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.
radicchio, arugula, roasted butternut squash, apple, black quinoa, sprouted pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, olive oil, and black pepper.
At my recent visit to the dentist, I made a lot of trash. My hygienist Gena and I talked about all the garbage that is produced during a single patient visit while she worked on my teeth. Plastic film and paper sheets cover the dentist chair and the lamp handles. Disposable plastic suction tubes (called evacuator tips) suck up saliva and rinse water. Plastic sleeves cover the now digital xray devise that I can never quite bite down on properly. Every patient gets a paper and plastic (coated) dentist bib of course. Gena changes her mask several times throughout the day. And she explained that it’s office protocol for her to remove and toss her gloves every time she leaves the room. She used three pairs during my visit.
Lying in that ergonomically wonderful chair, as Gena diligently scraped tartar from my molars, I wondered if there are any reasonable, hygienic ways around medical waste. Our mouths are a jungle of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, so it’s easy to understand why there are so many precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of germs amongst doctors, staff, and patients. When I got home I did some research to see if I could dig up information on active efforts to reduce the trash produced in a dentist’s office. I came across the Eco-Dentistry Association in an online search. The EDA website is wonderful resource. A list of “the big four” breaks down the processes responsible for the most dental practice waste.
1. Infection control methods including disposable barriers and sterilization items and toxic disinfectant
2. Placement and removal of mercury-containing dental material
3. Conventional x-ray systems
4. Conventional vacuum systems
There’s also a search function to locate an EDA member near you. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be any practicing in Providence. I’ve also been browsing stories of trail-blazing dentists who are committed to reducing waste within their small practices. My friend Kory sent me a video of this fellow.
My dentist’s practice may not be very advanced on the environmental frontline, but until I live near a EDA member dentist, I have no current plans to stop seeing them. I love my dentist and my hygienist and they are taking good care of my teeth. My x-rays look good—so far still cavity-free! And I’m still receiving positive reports about my oral hygiene since switching to baking soda toothpowder, a compostable toothbrush, and essential oil-coated cotton floss in a paper box. So I’ll keep on with my routine. I love my teeth. They’ve done a lot for me over the years.
Ceramics glazed and in the kiln about to be fired again!
Hang drying wool garments from the fireplace mantel in my bedroom. I’m using the fireplace to store wood for the cast iron stove in my living room. As long as I’m able to stay warm, winter is a breeze.