Thursday, April 19, 2007

crunch crunch

it's been a long and troubled road for me and the green thing. i tried to join the environmental club in college, but it didn't take. it seemed to me that to really belong with the other members i should like things like camping and hiking and mountain biking, which, no. not going to happen. also, everybody was getting all psyched about discovering seitan and tofu and whole wheat pasta and i was like, dude, whatever, the moosewood cookbook was my stepmom's bible. i took organic puffed-rice-and-rice-syrup "krispies" in my lunch in 7th grade. sorry, but i can't share in your wide-eyed tempeh evangelism. plus, the enviro-kids were just so....earnest. i was much more into cynical and ironic.

also, in my youth (or childhood) i was much more prone, as most teenagers and college-age-type people can be, to absolutism. black and white. right and wrong. more specifically, i'm right, and if you don't agree with me, you're wrong. and it just pissed me off so much that so many people could be so wrong!! i mean, what's the point of doing anything to help the environment if so many other (stupid f-ing) people weren't going to do anything! it's all hopeless. screw it. and i also applied this to myself, as in: why bother being a vegetarian if i'm not going to go whole hog and be vegan and stop wearing leather? wouldn't that just be hypocritical? and why bother making an effort to conserve energy if i don't want to go live totally off the grid with, like, some goats?

so that whole attitude eventually (mostly) wore off somewhere in my mid-twenties, but i still didn't jump into any big eco-activity. i don't know why. i mean, i am certainly on the hippie end of the spectrum, with my cloth diapers and herbal remedies and so on. but as far as doing more, i think mainly i didn't know where to start—and i still, subconsciously, felt like making a difference meant doing something on a grand scale, or doing things like going to rallies and marches and such, which didn't really appeal. but in the past couple of years—and more so even in the past few months—i've found ways to connect to the whole green thing on a personal, small scale that really make sense to me, and that reinforce ideas i've already had. and since i've started making these changes, i can honestly say, with no snark or sarcasm, that i feel more peaceful. and that's not a natural state for me. so i thought, at the risk of sounding preachy, that i'd write about what i've been doing. if this isn't your thing, you can just stop reading now. you know, if you hate the earth and don't care about our children!! ahem. sorry. the old teenage rage bubbles up now and again. on with the show!

in general terms, i've been trying to be much more conscious of: how much stuff we put in the garbage, how much energy we use, and what we're putting down the drains and therefore back into the dirt and water.

more specifically, that breaks down like this:

cleaning (the house): when wile started crawling around and touching everything and then shoving his hands in his (and my) mouth, i started thinking about all of the nasty cleaning products we use and how i really didn't want them in my mouth, thanks. so i threw out our fantastic and bleach and scrubbing bubbles and replacing them with stuff that doesn't come with a poison control number on the side of the bottle. partially this has meant switching to method products, which are totally non-toxic and smell lovely. but as i'm diving deeper into this green thing, i'm moving away from even that into using things that are even less toxic and have less packaging. like baking soda. now i use it as a gentle abrasive, for scrubbing the stovetop, the pots, the tub, the shower, the countertops if they need it. and i'm going to replace my grapefruit all-pupose cleaner with a reusable spray bottle filled with diluted(1 teaspoon : 3/4 cup water) dr.bronner's , which comes in nice big recyclable gallon jugs and is super non-toxic, organic, fair-trade, and comes in a just-as-good-as-grapefruit lavender scent. for the floors, i'll continue to use apple cider vinegar, which also comes in nice big recyclable jugs. vinegar actually has tons of uses, which i'm going to start to try out. i also just ordered some laundry detergent from charlie's soap, which is all eco-excellent and recommended for wile's diapers and a small company. supposedly you can use it in the dishwasher too. we shall see.... and i'm amassing a collection of cloth rags (from old clothes, towels, etc) in a quest to never use another paper towel.

cleaning (me): again, i came to the realization that i didn't want to put anything on my body that i wouldn't put in my mouth.... plus, my history with beauty products is an unhappy one.

i've fought a long fight with shampoo/conditioner. the day i washed my hair, no matter how well i conditioned, my hair looked and felt like crap. it would be okay the next day, good the next, perfect the next, then all of the sudden super greasy and gross the next, and i'd start the dance all over again. so i figured i had nothing to lose by trying this natural method i read about: you wash/massage your scalp with a baking soda paste, and then rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar. yes, i'm cleaning my hair with the same stuff i use to clean my stove and my floor. not kidding. and i l-o-v-e the end result. this is a good description of the whole process. it did take a little perserverance, i'm not going to lie—everything i read about it warned that you'd have "yucky" hair for the first couple of weeks of using the baking soda/vinegar method, because your scalp would continue to overproduce oil, as it had been doing to compensate for all the oils that the shampoo stripped away. i could never get a more precise description than "yucky", but now that i've lived through it i can give you one: my hair felt like it was coated in a mixture of wax and motor oil. by day 13, i was getting a little cranky, and tired of bandanas. but then like magic, on day 14, my hair was perfect and soft and glossy. no joke. i'm still getting my proportions down—like, today i used too much baking soda and my hair's a little dry. but i just threw a yodi tiny bit of rosemary oil on it and it's fine. and no, i don't smell like a big pickle.

my (combination) skin has always been tempermental and blotchy and responded exactly the same whether i used some shmancy wash from keihl's, or some organic wash from weleda, or cetaphil from the drugstore, or just water. so for a long time i went with just water, especially after i read some article about milla jovovitch (katinka!) that talked about how she only used warm water to wash her face because that's what her skin/beauty guru person told her. sold! but as i'm getting on in years and seeing more wrinkles, and since my beloved city doesn't have the most pristine air quality, and since i don't like the idea of the sunscreen that i use on my face in the summer hanging around on my skin any longer than it has to, i figured it was time i found a wash/moisturizer that i liked and that was chemical-free. so i did: olive oil. again, not kidding. i'm not going to type out the whole process, as it has already been done so well here. and here. my skin looks good and feels awesome. i still get zits every now and then, but that's hormonal. but the flaky dryness with the oily spots next to the red blotches? gone. amazing. i've also been using the almighty baking soda to exfoliate—make a very watery paste of it in your hand and then use it like you'd use any scrub.

recycling my own clothes: a couple months back i was reading casey's blog and discovered wardrobe refashion. yes!! ecology via clothing! now that truly, like nothing else, spoke to me. i've always preferred vintage/thrifted clothes. and i've always hated getting rid of clothes. so i'm signing on for the next round, and i'm psyched. i've got big plans for my favorite shirt from 5th grade. oh and i crocheted a hat that i thought was for me but ended up being for wile. you'll see all of this and more once i take my refashioning pledge....

screwing con-ed: most simply, doing what my parents told me to do a million times and turning off the lights as i leave a room.... but also trying not to turn on the lights at all during the day, and just opening the window shades when it's dim, which is double-good because it saves energy plus natural light is good for your mental health. next, i'm going to replace all of our lightbulbs with florescents.

and i'm trying to ignore the fact that we have a dryer. we put up a clothesline in the backyard when wile was born to hang his diapers on, since they last longer that way, and the sunlight bleaches out the poop stains. and at the end of last summer, i found myself hanging more and more non-diaper items on the line. so even though it's been too cold for the line, i've been trying to hang more things to dry on my indoor racks. and now that spring (knock on wood) seems to be here, finally, and the line can go back into use, i'm going to hang everything. no dryer. and i'm going to buy some more racks and keep it up even when it gets cold again.

and speaking of coned, they now allow you to get your power from a windmills and stuff. i'm looking into it....

eating: as i've documented here, i'm in love with our farmer's market. and at this point, i'd say we do about 80% of our food shopping there. cheese, butter, milk, fish, vegetables, honey, poultry, beef, pork, smoked trout, jam, eggs, bread, turkey sausage, pickles—really, there's not much more we need. and i like eating only what's there—i like waiting till the peaches are in season to have a peach. and i'm even liking finding creative things to do with the slim pickings of the winter. most out-of-season fruit tastes like it's been shipped from halfway across the planet. of course, there are some fruits i won't give up, even though they're never going to grow on a farm within driving distance of my farmer's market in any season: lemons, limes, grapefruit, pomegranates. and some things—oils, vinegars, beans, rice, pasta—that they just don't sell there. so for those things that i do go to the store for, i've been buying organic, and shopping at the little health food store, when i can.

also: i'm not a vegetarian, nor am i going to be. obviously. i asked for beef-cheek ravioli for my birthday. and stephen is planning a pig roast in our backyard for sometime this summer. but there's no need to eat as much meat as we had been. i know it would be better to not eat meat at all; we've all heard about how land being used for animals to graze could be about 20x more productive if it were used for growing soybeans or grains, and how the waste from factory farms is polluting everything, and about the scary hormones they're giving the animals, etc. but i'm not ready to completely step away from the meats. so, as i said, we're buying all our meat from the farmer's market, from a small organic family farm. and i'm trying to make a few non-meat meals every week, which, as i mentioned, i have a lot of experience with....

trash: another cool thing about our farmer's market is that they have compost bins at the entrance. i would always watch people dumping their compostable trash into the bins and think "wow, that's great that people do that." it only took, oh, i don't know, about a year for that thought to progress to "wow, it would be great if i did that." i'm a little slow. but finally i took the plunge. we put all of our food scraps into a variety of old chinese delivery tupperware and haul them off to the market every saturday. and if we need to do a mid-week dump, there's a compst heap....right in the back of the playground i take wile to. so convenient. it took a little getting used to at home, but now i don't even think about it.

i'm also trying to exorcise plastic bags. they're inevitable sometimes—and useful to have around for things like toting home wile's dirty diapers from a day out of the house—but they're like gremlins, they just seem to multiply, and all of the sudden there's 50 of them under the sink. so i'm trying trying trying to remember to bring a tote bag with me whenever i go shopping for anything. and to ignore the looks of amusement/confusion/annoyance from some of the baggers at our local supermarkets.

so, that's my story. it's not perfect; i could definitely do more, and maybe next year i will. hey, i haven't even seen an inconvenient truth yet! who knows what i'll do then!

some other good links, if you're so inclined:
no-impact man

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

best thing i've eaten this week - short ribs

as you already know if you live on the east coast, it rained on sunday. no, i'm sorry, that's wrong—it motherf-ing rained on sunday. as stephen said, "i've seen it rain harder, and i've seen it rain longer, but i've never seen it rain this hard for this long." pouring, pounding rain for at least 12 hours straight. so i decided that it was the perfect day to cook up the short ribs that i bought at the farmer's market a couple of weeks ago and that had been lingering in the freezer ever since.

i'd never cooked short ribs before, but i was prety sure i should just braise them. i looked on the interweb, and got confirmation of my hunch, plus some hot tips. so here's what i did:

1) browned the ribs. which is absolutely necessary when braising any kind of meat, but a pain in the ass, what with the spattering oil and the entire house ending up smelling like fried. but i found a new method, from james beard, via jeremiah tower, by way of regina shrambling. throw them in the broiler! so much freakin easier! just brush or spray the meat with some olive oil, salt + pepper it, put it in the broiler, and turn it turn it turn it so that each side gets some flame. granted, i had to clean the greasy broiler pan, but i think if i had used heavy duty foil i wouldn't have even had to do that. so. much. better.

2) put them in a deep ovenproof pot/pan/dutch oven along with a quart or so of beef stock (enough to cover them almost entirely), a sliced-up onion, some fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary), and a couple of splashes of sherry vinegar. then i stuck it in a 300˚ oven for about 3 hours.

3) made a sauce. i took the meat and bones (which the meat had fallen off, yum) out of the pot and set them aside. then i de-greased the stock, which could have been a much easier process if we owned a dang baster and i could have just sucked the layer of grease off the top. as it was, i had to pour the stock through a strainer (to weed out the onions and branches of herbs) into a gravy separator, then pour it back out into a different pot (because i had to do it in batches, since there was about 4 cups of stock and the gravy separator holds about a cup and a half). which was a whole lot of effort, and a whole lot of implements that needed to be washed. don't let this happen to you! go forth, procure a baster! also, tie up your herbs with twine or wrap them in cheesecloth so that you can just pluck them out in one fell swoop.

anyway, once it was all de-greased, i threw it back in the original pot, threw the bones back in, and put it on the stove on high heat to reduce. i also splashed in a litle more sherry vinegar, like the internet had told me to do. which, when i tasted the sauce a little later, i thought was a big mistake; it was really vinegary. but once it went on the meat, it was perfect. the meat is so rich, it really needs a sauce with bite to balance it out. then i made a quick faux-roux, by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in the microwave and whisking in a couple of tablespoons of flour, which i whisked in to the stock when it was just about reduced as far as i wanted it. it's right when it will coat a spoon like cough medicine. then i took out the bones, turned off the heat, and put the meat back in for a couple of minutes to warm back up.

all done! it was warm and delicious and just the right thing for a rainy, gross day.

oh, and i made some swiss chard to go with it, which was delicious. i used to go through a totally annoying blanch-then-saute song and dance with greens like swiss card and spinach, becuase somewhere along the way some cookbook or food show or something told me that you couldn't just saute the greens without blanching them first or they would get too oily by the time they were done. or too soggy. or something. i don't even remember anymore. anyway, when i was down in sunny port st. lucie, my mom just threw her spinach in the pan with a little olive oil, sauteed it for a couple of minutes, and it was perfect. huh. so i did that with the chard, sprinkling in a little water and salt too, and it was the best chard i've ever cooked or eaten.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

best thing i've eaten this week - charoset

even before i got a jewish best friend and a jewish husband, i had been to my fair share of passover seders. when i was little, my stepmom's friend judy kesselman would throw these enormous seders every year and we'd go and eat all the good food and ignore all the god talk (not that there was much; these were, after all, my stepmom's hippie jewish friends). so since my youth, i've loved me a good seder. and the best part of seder is the charoset (alternately spelled haroset, charoses, charoseth, haroses, and probably a dozen other ways).

i love it so much that in the last few years i have volunteered to make it for our seders with stephen's family so that a) i can make extra to hoard all to myself, and b) i can guarantee that it's going to be good.

so what the hell is (c)haroset(h)(ses)? ritual-wise, it's supposed to represent the mortar that the enslaved jews used to make the bricks that they built the pyramids with back when they were enslaved by the pharoah in egypt, before moses came and did his thing with the plagues and the parting of the sea and all that jazz. culinary-wise, it's a pitch-perfect mixture of grated apples, nuts, honey, wine, lemon juice, and cinnamon.

you can tweak the proportions to your taste, but the formula i follow is: about 6 cups grated apples, 1-1/2 cups finely chopped nuts, 1/3 cup honey, 1/4 cup wine, juice of two lemons, 1/2 t cinnamon. i use granny smith apples or a mix of grannies and another tart red apple like a winesap. for the wine, you want a light red, a little spicy is nice. this year i used a tinto roble. for the love of all that is holy do not use manischewitz.

i used to grate the apples by hand, but went for the food processor this year because i was making a double batch, and, well....i prefer the texture that you get when it's grated by hand, but if you're making a lot—and are looking for a way to involve a 2-yr. old—the f.p. does just fine. and if you've already got the f.p. in use, you can chop the nuts in it. then just throw all the ingredients together, and mix it all up with your hands. microwave the honey for a minute on low before mixing it in, makes it easier to disperse. then throw it in the fridge and wait.... it's better the next day, and will keep for a good long time (2 weeks? who knows. it doesn't last long in my fridge).

i've already bought more apples to make another batch....