June 29, 2008 at 9:18 pm (Changing habits)
Tags: carbon diet, Just One Thing
June was the first month of our “carbon diet.” I hate the word diet, but I’ll use it here the same way I use it about food. This is about changing the way we use carbon, lifelong. It starts by seeing where we are now, deciding where we’d like to be, and moving there incrementally.
This month was pretty darn good, overall. I installed a clock in the shower and limited myself to 5 minutes. I thought this would be a pretty big deal for someone who loves hot water as much as I do, but it was actually not a problem. Doing this cut our hot water electric usage in half – from 180 to 90 kwh. (The water heater is on its own meter, so we can tell exactly how much we spend just heating water.) In addition, our household electric was also down, probably due to the great weather and needing neither heat nor a/c.
We drove the second car – my brother’s truck – about 30 miles. A third of that was hauling wood for winter heat and the rest was a trip to town for a last-minute work meeting and dumpster diving for pallets and sheet mulching cardboard on the way home. He’s been using our car this month to commute to work, so together we’ve gotten that gas-guzzler off the road for about 700 miles and 55 gallons of gas. And now the bad news…
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May 20, 2008 at 3:50 pm (Changing habits)
Tags: carbon, energy savings, Just One Thing
Step two? Where’s step one? I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve seen a hundred versions of “ten easy things you can do to save the planet from greenhouse gasses, global warming, pollution, and peak oil.” You know, things like switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, turning down the thermostat a degree in the winter, and suchlike. You’ve done that, and now you’re wondering what else to do to take the next step.
So here is the next step: figure out the single biggest waste of energy in your household and fix it. Just pick one, but fix it for good and don’t go back.
You might use some of the following tools to help you figure this out:
- Riot4Austerity’s carbon calculator. These folks have calculated that if the whole world were to have the same, sustainable standard of living and consumption, the average American would have to cut consumption by 90%. While you might not be ready to cut 90% of your gasoline or electricity usage, this can help you see if any one area jumps out as being particularly in need of reduction.
- BP’s carbon calculator – neat interface that lets you see instantly how lifestyle choices impact your carbon output.
- Home energy audit with a ranked order of suggestions for improvements based on price and impact.
- Track your gas mileage online or just keep a note of how many miles you drive in an average month. Calculate what it costs to take an average trip, say, to work or the grocery store. If you could eliminate one trip a week, how much money would you save each year?
What’s your bugaboo? Bad gas mileage or superfluous car trips? Hot water? Garbage from packaging on consumer goods you don’t really need? Imported hothouse tomatoes in January? Set yourself a concrete goal – for example, to reduce the number of miles you drive next month by 15%, or to find a commuting buddy and so halve your impact by keeping her car off the road, or to find a more local source for one major food item.
Target waste as step two. By definition, that’s stuff you don’t need, anyway. Step three, when you’re ready, will be to cut things you think you need…until you give them up.
April 20, 2008 at 8:19 pm (Changing habits)
Tags: Food ethics, Just One Thing
When you eat out, how do you choose what to order? Most people would probably say “I just order what I want,” but is it really that simple? After all, there are many things we want from our food: good taste, nutrition, something that will “stick to our ribs” or something “light,” something within our budget or even something that will leave enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow. And I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, food ethics also come into play: where was the food grown, how was it raised, and were people, animals, plants, or the environment unduly harmed on the trip to my table.
After the jump: the questions I ask myself when surveying a menu… Read the rest of this entry »
March 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm (Cooking, recipes)
Tags: Chinese food, Just One Thing, recipe
Given the recent flurry of activity on my Basic Chinese Sauces page, I thought I’d also post my recipe for Chinese restaurant-style sweet and sour sauce. Again, I’m sure any self-respecting Chinese cook would scoff at this, but it is similar to the kind of sauce you find at American Chinese restaurants. Only not quite so eye-popplingly red.
Chinese Sweet-and-Sour Sauce
- 1 small can pineapple chunks or tidbits, including the juice
- 1/2 c. water
- 1/4 to 1/3 c. vinegar
- 1 Tbl. ketchup*
- 1 Tbl. cornstarch
- You may want a little more sugar or honey, or less vinegar, depending on the sweetness of your pineapple juice and your personal preference
1) Cook any meat first. Remove it from the pan.
2) Stir-fry your veggies. If you like, drain the pineapple juice into a measuring cup and throw the fruit into the stir-fry now.
3) Mix up all the sauce ingredients in a measuring cup.
4) Add a few pieces of hot veggies to the measuring cup to pre-heat the cornstarch.
5) Dump all the sauce into the pan with the veggies (and add the meat back, if using) and bring to a boil.
6) Simmer for a minute or two until the sauce is clear and thickened.
I made this with a young adult cooking class, and one amazed young man exclaimed, “Hey! This tastes like sweet and sour sauce!” When I asked why that was such a surprise, he said, “I dunno…I just thought with all that weird stuff in it, it would taste, y’know, gross.”
* Before you get all weirded out about this, think about what ketchup is: Tomato paste, sugar, water, and vinegar. You could use tomato paste instead, but you need so little – just for some color – it’s much easier just to give it a squirt of ketchup.
January 29, 2008 at 10:14 am (Cooking, recipes)
Tags: Chinese food, Just One Thing, recipe
I eat a fair bit of Chinese food at restaurants. Asian foods are one of the places you can generally count on being able to get enough vegetables in your meal, so Chinese is my go-to cuisine when I really want veggies. In recent years, though, I’ve been noticing just how salty is always is, and it seems there’s more and more meat in dishes and fewer veggies. Sometimes I’ll just get a pile of vegetables and steal a few chunks of meat from my husband’s plate, but that meat is certainly factory-farmed and the veggies shipped in from who knows where and I always leave with lots of containers of leftovers…so it’s not an ethicurean dream food.
But what’s a girl to do? There’s just nothing like that delicately-scented white sauce, or the rich brown garlic sauce, or the spicy orange glaze. How the heck does one replicate that at home? Might as well just go out.
Actually, it turns out it’s pretty easy to make all of these sauces at home. You can adjust the salt to your taste, use meat and veggies that suit you, and keep the leftovers in a reusable container! The only tricky bit (until you’ve done it a few times) is working with cornstarch.
See below the cut for recipes and techniques for Basic Chinese White Sauce, Basic Chinese Brown Sauce, and Spicy Orange Glaze.
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January 24, 2008 at 12:47 pm (Changing habits, Food origins, recipes)
Tags: Just One Thing, local food, recipes
I call this salad “theoretically local” because in theory, nappa cabbage, mung bean sprouts, carrots, and scallions could all be grown and bought in SE Michigan. As late as November, I could have bought them at the market – and all of these things keep pretty well into this part of the winter, so if I’d had my act together, I could have made it from local ingredients last night. However, being far from a perfect locavore, I’m guessing all of these ingredients actually came from California. I’m not such a fanatic that I refuse to let trucked-in produce pass my lips.
In fact, I think there is great value in theoretically local foods. Eating things that could grow in your area and could be gotten out of storage this time of year helps you change your tastes. It helps you explore the idea of local/seasonal food without the overhead and commitment of tracking down food sources or growing your own. In short, it teaches me that this salad is the kind of salad to be eating in late January, instead of a romaine-tomato-cucumber type of salad.
As an added bonus, it keeps for a week in the fridge, and if you shred extra ingredients, you’ve practically made kimchee.
Recipe for Asian-style cabbage salad after the break…
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January 17, 2008 at 12:51 pm (Changing habits, Cooking, recipes)
Tags: Just One Thing, Oatmeal, recipe
Couldn’t be simpler (if you have a microwave). Put the following into a microwave-safe bowl:
- 1/2 c. regular rolled oats (not “quick” or “instant” or “steel cut”)
- 1/2 to 1 c. apple juice or cider (or water plus a slug of maple syrup)
- 1/2 an apple, diced
- Cinnamon, to taste
Stir and microwave for 2 minutes. It’ll boil up; you’ll want to use a bowl rather larger than your ingredients. I like a 1:1 ration of oats and liquid; others I know like much more liquid to make the oatmeal more like porridge.
I dare you to go back to those packets of instant
January 13, 2008 at 1:37 pm (Changing habits)
Tags: Better food choices, Just One Thing
To steal a concept and cool catchphrase from Mia, I’m naming my series on switching to healthier, more eco-friendly eating “Just One Thing.” And ok, ok, there will be a series, so it won’t *actually* be just one…but just one per post. One idea that you can adopt, incorporate into your routine, and feel good about. You can read back through the series later, or wait for further inspiration to come along, or just keep doing your one thing until you feel ready for more. There’s always more each of us could do, and at some point, we need to decide enough’s enough…and each person gets to decide that point for herself.
So, today’s One Thing: Pick one food item that you eat regularly and switch to a better variety. “Better” could mean organic, local, humanely raised, made with fewer chemical ingredients, less processed, in-season only, or some other criteria that makes sense to you.
Picking just one of the following will help create a more sustainable food system:
- Organic dairy
- Locally-made bread – Aunt Millie’s is made locally in Southern Michigan and Northern Indiana and Ohio, has no high-fructose corn syrup, and has organic varieties
- Non-factory-farmed meat
- Go organic with your favorite vegetable – fresh or frozen
- Stop eating fresh tomatoes in winter
January 3, 2008 at 2:08 pm (Changing habits)
Tags: Eating better, Just One Thing
I remember stories from my elders of having to cut the switch that would be used on their own behinds when they misbehaved as kids. This is not the kind of switch I’m talking about making.
As I’ve been blogging, I’ve had several comments along the lines of “Wow, I know I should be eating more local foods/not eating this processed crap/learn to cook,” etc. I hear wistfulness, self-reproach, and an unspoken “…but it sounds really hard and I wouldn’t even know where to start.” I understand. I’ve been there!
I’ve always liked to cook. Mom and my grandmothers – and even one grandfather – were kitchen wizards, so I learned from great folks. Even so, when I first got out of college, making under $23K a year and teaching several hours of music lessons three days a week to make ends meet, the lure of processed food was very strong. You stop working at 7pm and cooking an elaborate meal is the last thing on your mind…So I thought I’d share some of my own techniques for getting from that point to where I am today.
Changing your eating habits takes a long time. It’s one of our most personal activities, and one of the first preferences we learn to express. One of the joys of being a grownup is eating exactly what you want. (I wasn’t a huge fan of George H. W. Bush, but I had to laugh at his “I’ve always hated broccoli. Now I’m the president of the United States, and I’m not gonna eat any more broccoli!”) And when your cooking for yourself (and possibly others), a lot of mitigating factors go into determining “what you want.”
So today’s idea is that of the add-in. Start with a favorite commercially-prepared food – say, one of those frozen skillet meals with pasta, sauce, and vegetables. I generally find that these have 2-3 times as much pasta as vegetable and far too much sauce. So, next time you heat one of these up, add up to a cup of frozen vegetables. Need some protein? Add half a can of rinsed beans.
It’s such a simple step…so why bother? Well:
- It’s helping you learn to love your veggies, which are good for you, and often the most readily available local food.
- It’s stretching that bag of dinner further with no change in convenience.
- It’s helping ratchet your tastebuds’ expectations down from the over-salted norm of processed foods in this country.
- It’s augmenting a Kinda Scary processed food (pre-made meal) with an Essentially Benign processed food (plain frozen veggies).
It’s a small, do-able step. You can get anywhere with enough small steps.
Some of my favorite add-ins:
- Peel back the top of a 69 cent frozen entree and fill the space with frozen peas, then heat as usual.
- Add pasta to a “veggie-and-sauce” side dish.
- Add vegetables, beans, and/or meat to a package of Ramen or Thai rice noodle soup
- Add peas to a box of macaroni and cheese (just put the frozen peas in the colander, and when you drain the past, it’ll warm the peas)
And please remember – this kind of switch is not about self-flagellation. Sometimes we need to be stern with ourselves and say, “Yo! Self! Get it in gear! Enough of this waffling!” but there’s no point in making a switch, then beating yourself with it. Don’t waste the energy on feeling bad. Just make the switch.