Friday, June 27, 2008

Garden Update

GARDEN: The tomato plants seem happy - I have to get out there and check on the grow, re-tie them to stakes and such. The basil is starting to take off. I picked up a few small plants on Sunday - zucchini, lettuce, a red bell and a habanero pepper and planted them all before work on Wednesday. The peppers went into pots and I put the zucchini by the fence on the driveway so it can spread out -- I want to have some yummy fried, stuffed zucchini blossoms since James won't let me eat his!
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Zucchinis taking off, but the ladybugs are sticking around!

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Lettuces are slowly starting, container garden not as big as ground garden.

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Tomatoes are growing like gangbusters!

CSA: The CSA is coming along with problems every week -- they allow customization and print these great labels, but the team in the packing room disregards the labels. I keep getting stuff that is on my "do not send" list. Today, I got more summer squash (still have some from last week), rosemary (two plants is enough, thanks!), and lettuce (I still have some from James' garden). And I did not get strawberries or plums which were on the list to go to my house. One more week -- if next week has too many problems, I'm going to give up and go shopping at the store or Farmer's Market for my produce like I did before. Boo!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Early Season Fires

The last two days in Oakland have been bonfire scented. The air smells like someone's burning a bonfire -- and the air is hazy grey.

"Wild Fire" a big fire north of here, burned some 4,000 acres and an outbuilding. It's listed as 100% contained today. Check out a map of early season fires in Northern California.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shampoo, Lush & Inner Beauty

Recently, I read a rave review of Lush's "Jungle" bar conditioner in a comment on someone's blog. I started off reading about reducing plastic consumption by going to bar shampoo and hair products so went to Lush to buy some of their stuff.

I love that Lush sells their stuff with little packaging -- though the bags they use were an issue in the past, but I was informed that all the bags are biodegradable, corn-based products. So, last May I bought some of the bar conditioner and shampoo, and a few other items. This morning someone posted a review on SustainLane about Lush and I thought, "Hey, I know they use natural scents in a lot of products." So, I looked up the products I purchased. Lo, and behold - SLS and SLES.

This morning I returned those products (shampoo, conditioner, bubble bar, and soap to Lush and they told me that in about a month, all the products will be SLS/SLES free!

In the intervening weeks since my purchase, I came across this article on going without shampoo. That, of course, kicked off a research project about the "No 'poo" movement. Did you know that the first shampoo was created in 1930 by Breck? Conditioner followed 20 some years later. People generally did not wash their hair all the time. There are several branches -- including "no poo + conditioner." To summarize:
  1. Shampoo strips your natural oils and causes your scalp to overproduce.
  2. Your hair will look terrible until your body stabilizes production of oil in response to less soap.
  3. Don't blow-dry your hair.
  4. Don't brush your hair when wet (not new for me).
  5. Use natural bristle brushes & wooden combs to distribute oils properly.
  6. Rinse with 1-2 TB natural apple cider vinegar in 1 qt of water.
  7. Use baking soda on your scalp if the oil gets too much - but tiny tiny amounts.
The results are that you have stronger, shinier, healthier hair. You aren't using a lot of packaged products, and you aren't using chemicals with unpronounceable names. You're not contributing to a huge manufacturing process, either.

I even joined a LJ longhair community where folks talk about going "no 'poo" as a way to make your hair grow longer/faster/better.

Swimming several times a week, however, means that I do need to get the chlorine out in an effective and convenient way. My plan is going to be:

  1. Shampoo on swim days.
  2. Conditioner or ACV rinse on non-swim days.
  3. Blow dry only in cold weather (gotta get the water out of my head).
  4. Use wide tooth comb (need to get a wooden comb) & natural bristle brush more.
  5. More diligent about taking supplements for making my hair grow.
A coworker, Reenita, has loaned me copies of her two books: Inner Beauty: Discover Natural Beauty and Well-Being with the Traditions of Ayurveda and Ayurveda. I plan to review those here as soon as I finish with them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A quilt for Matthew

I should have finished this a year ago but... I took a vacation instead. It was about 8 months between slicing up all the 2" strips for a trio of "use what you've got" quilts and actually getting started on the blocks. Since I was using a lot of leftover fabric, it was a bit challenging to get the 2" strips - even with even seams - to turn into equal size blocks.

Lots of wiggle and putting the blocks together was tough. I'll have some ripples when I do the top quilting -- but the first challenge is going to be -- where in the heck do I put this thing together since I don't have enough floor space?

Surprise Radishes!

This morning, I found these three lovely radishes wrapped in a plastic bag on my porch. No note and no e-mail (yet) - I wonder who left me this gift?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Green Genes?

Earlier this evening, someone posed the question to me about where I had my inspiration for my interest in sustainability and the environment. Like most people, it's been a long transition and awakening and much of my life experiences have steered me to the place where I live today, intellectually and emotionally, on environmental issues.

As a child, my parents decided they wanted to raise their kids in a place in the country where they could have animals and be outdoors. This was during the energy crisis in the 70s, which overlapped with a multi-year drought in Northern California and the oil crisis. As I child, I remember a constant barrage of messages about conserving electricity by shutting out lights and turning off appliances, reducing what you threw in the trash, and the incipient term "ecology." I participated in I was a Camp Fire Girl and an occasional 4-H member (though we had cats, dogs and a pony - no real livestock).

For many years, my dad and mom "built" the house and we had no electricity (PG&E didn't have enough customers in our part of rural Napa County at the time + neighbors who were miffed at not being able to purchase our lot = kerosene lamps, gas generator & batteries). Because of the drought, we didn't even have a well -- we used an old fire truck to haul non-potable water to a tank above the house and had gravity fed water for showers and washing dishes. For drinking water, we went to pipes sticking out of the rocks on the side of the road (which now have signs "non-potable water") and filled big 5 gallon jugs with cold spring water. We used an outdoor toilet that was cleaned regularly by the sanitation company. We didn't even have carpet indoors.

We had a creek running through the property and lots of animals (domestic and wild). We collected all our cash deposit bottles and cans and took them into town. But we burned our trash. My brother was always the most enthusiastic to execute this chore, though we all relished the opportunity to play with fire. My father would dig a big hole with his backhoe and we'd put trash in there for weeks and then burn it and cover it up. As far as I know, he still burns his trash. I always remember thinking, "There's something wrong with this."

After my parents divorced, we all lived with my mom's parents for the better part of a year. We loved this idea - we always loved visiting them on their urban homestead. They had a 150 year old house in a Cleveland suburb that was near a Metro Park and in the middle of a big tract of undeveloped trees along with a few other houses. They had walls of blackberry bushes that kept us busy for hours in the summer.

My grandmother's experiences in frugality during the Great Depression -- being in a middle class family that had to economize, nicely complemented my grandad's working class (think coal miners from England) Quaker upbringing. They were frugal, considered how they were going to use things, preserved and conserved food, material, and everything in their environment.

My grandad kept bees for honey and to pollinate his big vegetable and flower gardens. His was not just a garden - but a big, extensive garden intended to provide most of the vegetables in the warm months and supplement as much as possible in the cooler months. He kept root vegetables in the root cellar, saved seeds and sprouted his own seedlings. My grandmother canned applesauce from the two apple trees.

My grandparents never just threw things away. They always sorted their waste -- they composted all food scraps. Any clothing not fit for wear became rags, scraps for quilts or went to charity. My grandmother never threw out plastic containers -- she saved them relentlessly (even after she was in assisted living, she saved them "just in case"). She baked and canned, clipped coupons and every few weeks they would go fill up gallon glass jugs with natural spring water in a park as their "Sunday Drive." They bought in bulk when they visited friends and family in Amish Country.

My stepdad was also a good influence with a strong practice of frugality and conservation. We kept the heat low, turned out lights and turned off appliances to keep energy bills down. We did not waste food (though incoming mail sometimes ended up in the freezer).

Through college, I lived with someone who was a hunter and in the building trades -- we were surprisingly compatible on issues of conservation and preservation of nature. My studies through college were focused on developing nations with a lot of focus on workers rights, sustainability, grassroots movements, the environment and politics. After grad school, I got into "the Internet" after moving back to the Bay Area. I remember the first time I saw someone reusing plastic bags for bulk food purchases -- my friend's sister Marina and her partner were getting ready to head to Rainbow sometime in 1997 and I thought, "wow! what a great idea!" (it's true - it all starts with the bags!).

In the past year, I have converted my landlord to put all his food waste into the green bin and am slowly educating him about what goes into the recycling bin, and my boyfriend now keeps a pail in his kitchen for food scraps and has gotten very gung-ho about his own garden.

Earlier this year, I discovered my neighbor Beth's "Fake Plastic Fish" blog and have been exploring a whole world of green blogs. In the last couple of months I have been learning a lot of ways to cut down on the amount of plastics that I consume, from buying bulk toilet paper wrapped in paper to making my own liquid laundry detergent and even some changes in the hair washing department are imminent. Crunchy Chicken even has me going along with one of her crazy challenges for fertilizing my garden.

Everything is a learning process - you can't learn everything all at once. I even find that if I do a bit too much exploring, it can be really depressing and will make my head explode.

We're in a fix - and there are a lot of things we can do to improve the situation of the planet. If I've learned anything it is that people are more easily lead gradually and on their own than by being dragged. I just wish we could get thing stirred up a bit more quickly...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

DIY Laundry Detergent

One of the things I have always disliked about laundry is the expense and the waste of time. I'm fortunate to have a washer and dryer in my current apartment -- though the dryer is electric and I only use it as a last resort in the winter to dry sheets and blankets (everything else is hung on hangers around the apartment). Most of the year, I hang my clothing to dry on the line.

Detergent is always expensive - liquid detergent is a waste because you're basically buying water - powdered detergent comes with its own issues. I read about making your own laundry detergent several months ago and have been planning for the day when I finally used up my box of Biokleen powdered detergent.

While the ingredients are all basically the same - bar soap, borax and washing soda -- proportions vary widely as do the amounts you use. One powdered recipe recommends using only 1T or 2T, and the liquid detergent recipes vary between from 1/8 to 1 cup. One of the biggest variables in the liquid detergents seems to be the amount of water added -- recipes calling for 2 gallons are around 1/4-1/2 cup soap for a load, and recipes calling for a 5 or 10 gallon bucket have you putting up to 1 cup in the wash. I live in a small apartment - the idea of using a small 2 gallon bucket (with lid) that fits under the sink appeals to me.

Since I am cutting down on driving (like to 200 miles per month average since December), I like to link trips as much as possible. Yesterday I drove into San Francisco and left my car for an oil change (prematurely - at 6K miles, I'll wait until 10K or next June), then I went and did errants. I picked up Borax ($5.29 for 76 oz) and washing soda ($0.60 per lb) at Rainbow Grocery. They no longer carry Fels Naptha, so I picked up a couple bars of Kirk's Coco Castille (saponified coconut oil) "just in case." My brother helpfully checked around and informed me that the Pastime Ace on San Pablo (where I planned to find a bucket) carries Fels Naptha -- so I picked up James and we went back to the East Bay to the hardware store.

So, I invested in a bucket with a lid -- buying more plastic was not part of the general idea of making my own laundry detergent but my last bucket only lasted 12 years and died a month ago. I ended up buying a second bucket for floor cleaning and watering the garden. This morning I realized I need some kind of container to store my fertilizer ingredients per Crunchy Chicken's gardening challenge (and watering the garden is going to be another experiment - I have to visit my friend Dave about the 55 gal drum/spigot gravity drip hose with a battery powered timer system he uses).


Costs (including tax):

Bucket & Lid $7.01

Ingredients (per batch)
  1. Borax ($5.73 for 76 oz box = $0.07 per oz) 1/2 c weighs 2 7/8 oz - $0.20
  2. Fels Naptha ($1.40 for 4 oz bar) 1/3 bar - $0.47
  3. Washing Soda ($0.65/lb = $.04 per oz) - 1/2 c weighs 5 1/8 oz - $0.205
Total Cost for 2-Gallon batch of laundry detergent: $0.875

64 loads at 1/2 c. soap per load:
$0.014 per load.

If I include the cost of the bucket, my first batch comes to $0.11 per wash (or less if I use 1/4 per load).

The powdered soap I was using costs something like $0.11 and liquid soap costs a bit more.

  1. Dissolve 1/3 bar grated Fels Naptha soap in hot water.
  2. Add 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup Borax to hot water.
  3. Pour hot tap water and soap mixure into bucket and stir. Let sit overnight before using.

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Tip Nut has about 10 recipes
Crystal Miller has a recipe with detailed instructions and pictures
See also recipes from: Suite 101, The Frugal Shopper, Recipezaar

Friday, June 13, 2008

CSA Box for June 13

Originally uploaded by jennconspiracy
Pretty good combination - some fruit to make up for the overripe fruit I got last Friday (cherries had mold on them, peaches were brown and mushy).

Lavender was in this week's box - something else to strike from my list as I have some growing in the yard (and almost 1# dried lavender blossoms from my herbs purchase!)

Dobson inspected the box and we were both puzzled that my request for "no plastic" resulted in every item being enclosed in plastic!

Customer service was very good - she is going to make sure that it's all in paper next week. Click on the photo for more pictures of Dobson's CSA inspection process.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Salsa Suggestions

Summer veggies and fruit are in full force! For your amusement - here are some of my favorite salsa combinations:

Early Summer Salsa: honeydew melon, cilantro (and a little mint), lime, jalapeno, white onion and toasted pumpkin seeds, and something a bit tart (pomegranate if in season).

Mid Summer Salsa: roasted red pepper (in broiler, peel and remove seeds), fire roasted corn (in broiler), roasted pasilla pepper (same as red pepper) & white onions, pan seared tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime, jalapeno

For this one, use a VERY sharp knife to cut the corn off along the rows. Once you get the first 1-3 rows out, it'll be fairly easy to pry out the rest of the kernels.

Fall Salsa: persimmon, jicama, parsley, habanero pepper, red onion (soaked in vinegar to soften) and toasted pumpkin seeds

Mango Salsa: mango, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, lime and finely minced red onion and jalapeno.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

vegan chocolate peanut butter cups


Before you begin, you'll need
  • mini-cup candy mold, mini-muffin mold (optional for "Quick & Dirty")
  • candy thermometer (optional for "Quick & Dirty")
  • double boiler
  • kitchen scale
  • small pastry brush or (new) paintbrush
  • rubber spatula, measuring cups, bowls
  • parchment paper

SustainLane - Peanut Butter Centers

For the filling:
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup natural crunchy peanut butter (no added sugar)

1-2 Tb coarsely ground pink Hawaiian sea salt (big crystals for effect)

  1. Make your centers by sifting the powdered suger through a wire mesh sieve or flour sifter to break up all the lumps.
  2. Blend the filling ingredients in a bowl using a stand or hand mixer, until it resembles cookie dough. Depending on your ingredients, you may want to add more or less peanut butter or powdered sugar. Feel the filling with your fingertips - does it hold together enough (too sticky or too crumbly are not good).
  3. Optional: Add your coarse pink sea salt - this adds a great burst of flavor that goes really well with peanut butter and chocolate.
  4. Make all your centers before you melt your chocolate. Measure out about 1TB for each center - find a spoon or gadget that works. A melon baller makes just about the right size and a shape that fits into the cups perfectly. If you don't have a mold or mini-muffin tin, roll out the centers into balls -- leave them round or press them into patties.
For the chocolate coating:
1 pound chocolate couverture

NOTE: I recommend Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates for vegan, soy-free dark chocolate

Melting chocolate doesn't have to be complicated or intimidating. It's true that if you don't temper chocolate correctly, you'll have light gray-ish streaks and it wouldn't be fit to serve on a plate at a fancy restaurant. Let's face it -- you're going to eat it anyway.

TIP: The important thing is not to add water to chocolate (that ruins it) and don't over cook it.

tempering the chocolate HPIM4191

  1. Set up a bowl of ice water that will hold your double boiler or heatproof bowl. This is where you'll cool down the chocolate to stop it from cooking while you are working with it.
  2. Put a cup of water in your pan and start it to boil.
  3. Put about 12 oz of your chocolate in your double boiler or heat proof bowl over the boiling water. Let it melt and keep an eye on the temperature - you don't want it to get over 118 degrees.
  4. Once the chocolate has melted, take it off the heat and add the remaining 4 oz of chocolate. Stir gently until it melts and then put it over the cold water bath.
  5. Once the chocolate has cooled to 90 degrees or so, dip your centers and lay on waxed paper OR use your brush to cover the sides of your muffin tin.
  6. Don't use too much chocolate or it will just drip down and become uneven. If it drips down into the bottom right away, your chocolate is still too warm. Once the sides of your mold are covered in chocolate, coat the bottoms.
  7. Chill the mold a bit in the freezer or refrigerator - check for areas you may have missed and give another coat of chocolate. Chill again to set if necessary but don't chill to the point where the chocolate is cold and will crack.
  8. Add your centers to the mold, press gently -- you don't want to crack the chocolate.
  9. Once all the centers are placed, brush the tops with chocolate - sometimes you can dribble it off the spoon back. You may need to rewarm the chocolate a bit if it has cooled too much. You might even be able to top each one with a goji berry or two...
  10. Cool the chocolates -- in the refrigerator or freezer. Once they are set, turn them out onto a clean dish towel. These will keep for weeks in the refrigerator or longer in the freezer.
Chilled homemade chocolate peanut butter cups make a great summertime treat!


Though I confess to the occasional chocolate bacchanal, it is best enjoyed in moderation with deliberation. Life is too short for cheap chocolate. With summer here, many of us are facing bathing suit season with a pledge to eat healthier and exercise more. For some of us, that means giving up junk food and chocolate is often mistakenly miscategorized in that group despite its numerous health benefits.

Chocolate is not just delicious, it's also nutritious and contains vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E, as well as potassium, sodium, iron, and fluorine.

Many don't realize that chocolate is a plant-based food - just like all those fruits and veggie recommended for a healthy heart. Chocolate is made from theobroma cacao - literally, "the food of the gods." Cacao is typically grown in hot, humid climates in Africa and South America.

For centuries, chocolate has been used as an aphrodisiac and to treat all sorts of human conditions, including depression and PMS. Chocolate contains the same antioxidant phenol -- this is the "feel good" antioxidant also found in red wine. In fact, a dark chocolate bar contains greater amounts of phenol than wine!

Studies have shown that dark chocolate provides the greatest health benefits. That doesn't get us off the hook for an all chocolate diet! Make sure to balance the caloric content of chocolate with changes in the rest of your diet: 1 oz contains around 150 calories and can be up to 50% fat. Raw cacao is a great tasting alternative if you are interested in the benefits of chocolate without the sugar found in most chocolate candy.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Vegetable Revelations

A bouquet of collard greens is good for over 1 week in a Hull beanpot - then some of the leaves get kinda yellow, so I chopped up the rest of the leaves and made some killer collard greens on Monday night (thanks Erin & Dave!).

I paired the collard greens with a really decent curry (and tumeric/bharat seasoned quinoa) that included all my leftover veggies from the party weekend before last and stuff from Friday's CSA box: Nantes carrots, green beans, peas, 1/4 of a cauliflower, two small yellow potatoes, a red onion, mushrooms, raw cashews (browned), garlic, and the remaining 4 frozen cubes of tomato juice and 4 TB of frozen tomato paste. I added a pile of garam masala, a bit of hot curry powder, chili flakes and a bit of water at the end to simmer and soften up the carrots and potatoes more. It turned out fantastic. That was lunch and dinner yesterday, and lunch today.

I also used up the radishes from the CSA box and the red leaf lettuce to make up four salads for lunch for the week -- turns out that Dobson really really likes radishes. My cats keep acting like they are starving -- Dobson is going to the corner house and entering the kitchen when their door is open to eat dog food (much to the astonishment of Frankie, a small black dog about Dobs' size but much taller due to his long skinny legs) and George is foraging around backyard grills and bringing back chop and steak bones (into the HOUSE!).

After I made the salads for the week, I left a pile of radish, lettuce and carrot peels for Dobs - it was all gone by morning.

This evening, I wanted to have some fruit juice -- but I didn't have any in the house. Sitting in my fridge was a small yellow watermelon -- it was a bit overripe when I got it, hauling it to Black Sand Beach and back on Sunday probably didn't help. I cleaned it and put it in the blender with water and agave, strained half of it and now have a pitcher of gorgeous refresco. Though my favorite is agua de melon, I'm very happy with my yellow agua de sandia!

Tonight's dinner was pasta with sauce - I used up some olive tapenade, 8 oz of cremini mushrooms, a small shallot, garlic and a can of plain 365 tomato sauce. I threw in a couple of cubes of frozen arugula-basil pesto and - voila! Killer pasta sauce in under 30 minutes. The key is to carmelize the onions and mushrooms first -- that makes the sauce rich and tasty. Much cheaper than buying a jar of prepared sauce. Pictures forthcoming...

Garden is coming along nicely - the tomato plants that went in a few weeks ago are really picking up steam. I'm a bit worried about the pepper sprouts and the other tomato sprouts - they don't seem to be doing quite so well (yet). The basil sprouts are also looking poorly. I found something to put over the parsley seeds to keep the boys from digging them up again. The catnip plant is high up on top of my shed in a pot -- my mom suggested growing it in a hanging basket -- might make more sense given the agility of the kitty who was most attracted to the fresh catnip -- George is a leaper.

The chard is really perking up and the arugula is just a day or two away from being a salad or pesto. Time to put in more arugula seeds!