A colorful homemade, trash-free meal on a grey and dreary day at work. I love my 3 tier tiffin. Thank you J and P for this beautiful, functional gift! I’ve been putting it to good use.
Tag Archives | package-free foods
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A beautiful treat from the Saturday Wintertime Farmer’s Market at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. I found a recipe online for whole roasted tandoori cauliflower that I can’t wait to try! I will post my results…
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.
From City Farm.
I have been meaning to share this image of a recent trash-free tailgating session. Last month I went to a concert in Mansfield, Massachusetts with my two best friends in the world. We made a hearty quinoa dish with apples, walnuts, kale, carrots, olive oil, and lemon juice, packed it in one large container and carried it in a cooler. We brought water in glass bottles, homemade trail mix in a jar, some fruit, and three forks. The venue doesn’t permit concertgoers to carry in their own food or beverages so we loaded up on the protein-rich meal in the parking lot for stamina, eliminating the need to purchase overpriced, over packaged food from inside. As we grazed and chatted, I stood admiring my friends in the pink light of the setting sun thinking, “I could do just this all night.” But the show ended up being pretty fantastic too.
Chioggia beets from Arcadia Farms!
From City Farm! Well, at least what’s left of them…
Red, purple, and yellow cherry and grape tomatoes from the farmer’s market.
Today was the first Wednesday Lippitt Park Farmer’s Market of the season. Venders showed up even in the rainy weather. I bought these red beauties from Dave at Schartner Farms and they are the best strawberries I have ever tasted! I no longer buy strawberries year-round because they are always packed in PET plastic clamshell containers. So I look forward to and appreciate the short growing seasons of certain produce more than ever.
I’m growing salad burnet this year. It has a cool crisp flavor that is similar to the taste of cucumber, great in salad or as a garnish. I love the way the rain clings to the points of the small leaves.
From Wishing Stone Farm. These are so delicious and they have an incredible texture. I’ve eaten them stir fried, stewed, and baked this week and I will definitely be looking for them again at tomorrow’s market.
From Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, RI.
Finding completely naked produce isn’t easy. Plastic bags, mesh sacks, cellophane, twist ties, tags, stickers, baskets, boxes, and even Styrofoam trays fill the display stands and shelves of nearly every grocery store in the country. Even at my local farmer’s markets, some venders use plastic bags to parcel out salad mix and berry boxes to hold berries and cherry tomatoes.
I’ve learned to avoid all of these offenders and still eat a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, but I decided a while ago to make an exception for the rubber bands that tie together bunches of herbs, dark leafy greens, beets, radishes, and stalky vegetables. A rubber band is a useful thing, but I’ve found that I seldom have a reason to use them and I’m having trouble finding anyone else who does. The grocery store won’t take them back, and I have stocked my office supply closet at work with at least a year’s supply for the entire staff. I’ve also been trying to pass them off to other artists in the building where my studio is located, but no one seems to be chomping at the bit for rubber bands.
I plan to ask venders at the farmer’s market this Saturday (the first outdoor market of the season!) if anyone can reuse them. The best case scenario would be to return them to the source. I’ll post an update when I find a solution.
These “date bars” recently appeared in a local bulk bin and I’m really excited about them because they taste a lot like Lara Bars, a packaged food I used to enjoy. Just like a Lara Bar, this snack has is made from very simple, healthy ingredients. Dates are the base ingredient—a fruit I love but have not been able to find in bulk. Buying these is far more economical than buying individual plastic wrapped bars.
Beautiful rhubarb from the Schartner Farms! I love relying so heavily on the farmer’s market for groceries because it means buying local, seasonal foods. My ingredients shift based on what’s available at the moment and I’ve been inspired to try a wider range of food than I used to when I did most of my shopping at the grocery store. My meals are made with fresher, more flavorful foods because they aren’t being trucked in from far off places.
Aside from strawberry rhubarb pie, I am not very familiar with this stalky vegetable. I think I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of having to cut the tart taste with fat and/or sugar. But I did some browsing through recipes and tips online and I am looking forward to experimenting with this batch. I saw some rhubarb and spinach salads on several sites that look pretty good. I will post what I come up with.
Look at these perfect baby radishes from New Urban Farmers in Pawtucket. Whether you live near by or not, I strongly recommend checking out their site. The farmers are doing amazing things in their Garden of Life. They even have three geodesic dome greenhouses, and the largest is equipped with two aquaponic systems.
This salad mix is also from New Urban Farmers. Are you seeing the color theme of this week’s market bounty? The purple leaves are amaranth! I never knew that little grain produced such a beautiful and delicious leaf. I think it tastes a little bit like chard. I read that you can even sautée the leaves when they mature. I wonder if I could get the amaranth I buy in bulk to germinate? I’d love to grow some this summer.
Asparagus from Schartner Farms.
Free peppers from my favorite farmer’s market vender. These came with a warning not to touch my eyes after handling them.
This week marks one year since starting my No Trash Project. I feel proud of the progress I’ve made toward reducing my personal waste and excited by my potential to become more efficient still. This project has greatly improved the quality of my life. I feel more focused and motivated in general and I’ve noticed an increase in my productivity. At the same time I also feel more relaxed as my anxiety about participating in flawed systems that generate great amounts of waste has lessened.
Today I spent some time potting up baby herbs for my container garden. Sweet and purple basil, stevia, tarragon, and golden variegated sage. I worked in the rain, digging in the soil. I also located a used plastic restaurant tupperware container to start my worm compost in. I’m looking forward to the growing season.
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.
These came from the farmer’s market. I was told that the flowers and stalks are edible, but I wasn’t given the name of the plant. I believe they’re in the brassicaceae family… anyone know what they’re called?
Flounder from The Local Catch.
I love, love, love arugula.
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.
Leftovers from last night’s dinner with friends = today’s lunch. Raw beet, jicama, and carrot salad with avocado. I carried it to work with me in one of my stainless steel lunch boxes.
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!
From today’s market. Stored in cups of water in the fridge, these leafy good foods will stay fresh for several days.
Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.
Package-free hummus to-go from East Side Pockets. So delicious!
The market bounty in my refrigerator.
The Saturday farmer’s market at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, RI.
Lots of stands, lots of customers!
A personal favorite.