Plastic Free July

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Looking at my garbage bin and recycling, you would think I was failing at my attempts to reduce plastic use in honour of Plastic Free July. Go on, and take a gander, I know you want to. You will find plastics off all kinds in there. I would almost feel guilty BUT… I came up with an idea a couple years ago. Instead of looking at my abundance of plastic bits and pieces in the refuse bin and feeling rather glum about just how much plastic I bring into my life I decided to make a few changes that would be sustainable in reducing my plastic use for the whole year!

Ta Da! Fanfare please! This year I decided to buy two sets of washable cloth sanitary napkins and a set of stainless steel straws. I also started using a washable bin to take to the gleaning project I volunteer for so that I can carry home my rescued produce without squishing it into single use plastic grocery bags which later would need to be thrown out. Woot! I think that this is very exciting and sustainable news!

In past years I bought stainless steel coffee mug for when I was in the States and able to use it at the coffee shops I frequented, I also had cotton bags for buying my  bulk products in and upcycled bag made of polyester sheers to replace single use plastic bags for produce. I have a stainless steel container for takeaway leftovers, and I have converted most of my food storage containers to glass mason jars. I no longer buy plastic cling wrap (and the wrap I do have has been the the drawer forever. I use reusable containers for leftovers instead of baggies (still plastic but no longer single use and they will eventually be replaced with glass as I can afford it). I also stopped using Teflon pans for cooking and switched to cast iron instead. I make my toothpaste from scratch (eliminating plastic microbeads and packaging) and I use baking soda to wash my hair. I buy bar soap that is not wrapped in plastic packaging as well. I also buy my lentils directly from the supplier in paper sacks.

What are my future plans? I would love to find a place that sells goat’s milk in glass, and I am going to contact the company that makes my coffee and ask them if I can buy beans directly from them in bulk.

Are you feeling inspired? What changes big or small can you make to reduce the amount of plastic that is taking over our planet?

Saving The World One Bite At A Time

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Remember when your mom said to eat all your veggies because there are starving children? She actually was onto something.  Our Western society wastes enough food to feed the world. From the food wasted in the field, to the food that does not meet standards of beauty when being sorted and the food lost in shipping and the food tossed before they even can make it to grocery store shelves, our food system is a wasteful one.  When fresh produce in supermarkets no longer are visually at their peak, they usually get removed from the store shelves. This is often referred to as culling. Most stores throw out culled produce which adds to greenhouse gasses, some donate the food to charities and others sell it at reduced prices to consumers willing to overlook things like nearing expiry dates, blemishes or ripeness.

What happens when we rescue food?

  • For starters a lot of resources go into growing food: time, water, fertilizers, pesticides, land and more. When we throw out food we are wasting all the resources that it took to grow or make that food.
  • If that food is disposed of in landfills, the decomposition can add to greenhouse gasses as organic matter breaks down creating methane gasses that are released into the atmosphere.
  • For every piece of fruit or veggies displayed on a grocer’s shelves, many more pieces of food were rejected. When food gets culled off the shelves, it isn’t just that one piece getting wasted, it is all the pieces that were not chosen in order for that item to make it to the store.

What can you do to make a difference?

  • Don’t waste food. If you buy it, eat it. If you cannot eat it before it spoils, process it (can, freeze, dehydrate etc.), If you do not have time to process it before it spoils, buy less and shop more frequently.
  • If stores offer culled food or marked down food as it nears expiry date, buy it and use it.
  • If stores do not offer sales of culled food or food marked down as it nears expiry date, ask them if they would be willing to give away or sell you the food at a reduced price.

One of the local supermarkets in my area offers culled produce for sale in $1 or $2 bags. Whenever I am in town I make sure to check out their discount rack to see what they are culling. On one particular day I bought the below list of items for a total of $14.

  • 4 x 56 g packs of fresh basil
  • 4 zucchini
  • 6 heads of lettuce
  • 1 broccoli crown
  • 1 bunch (32 spears) of asparagus
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  •  1 acorn squash
  • 1 giant bok choy
  • 10 beets
  • 1 english cucumber
  • 8 baby turnips
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 chayote
  • 9 roma tomatoes
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 35 radishes
  • 33 celery sticks
  • 1 sui choi

These items were in good, edible condition and even were able to be kept longer in my fridge without spoiling. So why were they culled? They were culled for different reasons depending on the items. Celery sticks are tossed because they get separated from the bunch, the acorn squash had a blemish from  being nicked with a sharp object, the tomatoes were not in their original clamshell so either the package was damaged or maybe a few in the container spoiled, the prepackaged basil was at the best before date, the greens from the radishes wilted and needed to be trimmed for aesthetic reasons, some items were not as plump or had minor signs that they were not as fresh, but overall the food was just as usable as anything else on the shelves and by buying it, the food would not be thrown out.

 

How I Cut My Utility Bill In Half (In The Middle of Winter)

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Not all of us want to live off grid, but I am sure most people would be happy to pay less on their utility bills. I am going to list the steps my household took to cut our bill nearly in half. I will also add other helpful suggestions to bring down the charges on the other bills. Some are not noticeable (meaning completely painless changes), some require being mindful, some will be a bit of a sacrifice and some will take money to save money. Conserving energy is about more than just lowering your costs, it is about saving valuable resources which should make you feel warm and fuzzy (even if you did just turn down your thermostat a couple of degrees!)*

  1. Turn off lights when leaving a room
  2. Turn off electronics such as computers and televisions when not in use
  3. Unplug the beer fridge
  4. Keep the main fridge and freezer set to the appropriate temperatures as per the manufacturer and filled to capacity
  5. Unplug the microwave when not in use
  6. Place the electronics in the home theatres on a surge protector and turn it off when not using the equipment

 

Yup, that is it. Just six changes brought down the Hydro bill by HALF! So I was thinking, what else could we do to lower our committed expenses? Here are more ideas to spend less! These ideas focus on lowering the gas bill, the water bill and the electric bill only.

  • Turn down the hot water tank a few degrees
  • Use an insulated hot water tank blanket (you can get them at the hardware store)
  • Turn down the furnace (we are in the middle of December and have yet to turn the heat up past 14 degrees)
    • Use hot water bottles to keep beds warm
    • wear socks and slippers in the house
    • put on extra layers
    • use blankets
    • drink warm beverages
    • wear wool (natural fibres work better to keep you comfortable than synthetics)
    • get cleaning! Physical exertion will make you feel warmer
  • Use carpets or throw rugs to insulate floors
  • Stop drafts by sealing leaks around doors, windows, electrical sockets, vents and attics
  • If you have numerous ways to heat your home, choose the least costly option
  • Use heavy drapes to keep cold out at night and open them during the day to take advantage of passive solar energy
  • Cover windows or doors with blankets to block drafts and insulate
  • Switch light bulbs to LED as they use the least amount of power
  • Do you really need that light on? Limit the amount of electricity you use, including watching less TV
  • Charge laptops and cellphones only as necessary and if you can, do it in the car. Do not overcharge and unplug after use
  •  Dry loads of clothes back to back to keep dryer drum warm, or better yet hang clothes to dry. Another option is a junction box installed on the exhaust pipe that directs warm dryer air into the house in winter and outside during summer. This can be bought at the hardware store and installed with limited tools
  • Wash and dry only full loads of clothes. Do not over fill. Use only cold water for washing
  • Wash dishes in dishwasher only when load is full
  • Air dry dishes rather than using the dishwasher heat setting
  • Close heat vents to rooms you are not using (just make sure they are dry and get enough air circulation to not get moldy)
  • Heat only the rooms you are in at that moment with space heaters
  • Have candlelight dinners more often or watch TV in the dark
  • Use electric tea kettles to boil water rather than the stove top and boil only the water you need
  • Make use of crock pots or toaster ovens that use less power
  • If you do use the oven cook multiple items at the same time and make sure to leave the oven door open after you are done cooking to make use of the heat to warm the kitchen
  • Use tools that do not require electricity. Example: Instead of an electric blender use a manual egg beater. There are many non-electric tools. Read books instead of using E-readers. Every time you unplug you save
  • Flush your toilet less. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”. Use something to displace water in your toilet tank to waste less with every flush. Use grey water from your tub or bathroom sink to flush
  • Play board games rather than computer games
  • Go outside to play. You will use less utilities if you are not at home
  • Don’t keep the fridge door open while deciding what you want to eat
  • Don’t leave the water running when you lather your hands of brush your teeth
  • Catch rainwater to water plants outdoors
  • Get rid of your lawn so you don’t need to water at all
  • If you have to water your plants outside, water when it is not as hot and use watering systems that reduce evaporation. Also mulch or make rainwater gardens
  • Sweep hard floors rather than vacuuming
  • If you have a fireplace, learn to build a more efficient fire that burns better
  • Take shorter showers and turn off water when lathering
  • If you take a bath, don’t fill the bathtub right up
  • Buy appliances that are more energy-efficient
  • If you wash dishes by hand, figure out ways to reduce your water usage
  • Don’t wash clothes that are not dirty. Things like pants and even shirts can be worn more than once without washing. See if they are dirty before tossing them in the machine. Use bath towels more than once and hang them up to dry
  • Rinse dishes right away so you use less water to clean them. Caked on residue takes more water to come clean
  • Use cast iron for cooking. Often you do not need to wash your pan with every use
  • Don’t toss water used to boil veggies, save it for soups or toss in garden
  • Rearrange furniture in rooms to take advantage of natural light
  • Have a “power outage” night in and use candles and do things that require no energy
  • Use solar power to dry clothes on a line, cook food in a solar oven, dehydrate in a solar dehydrator. Not all solar power needs fancy equipment to reap the benefits. Things such as sun tea are an easy way to use free energy
  • Vacuum  your fridge coils, furnace vents and dryer vent hose regularly, make sure you change your furnace filter too
  • Have no cook meals like salad, sandwiches or wraps, veggies and dip or cold soup

There are lots of ways to make small changes that benefit everyone. We assume electricity is just there for the using, but it had to be created. Even with more natural methods like hydroelectric, fossil fuels play a role. When we turn on the water there seems to be an infinite amount, so much so that we flush our toilets with potable water, but many place around the globe are parched. As a global community it is our responsibility to reduce our consumption of resources.

Every little change can make a cumulative and positive impact.

What do you do to save?

 

*Some of the suggestions listed here will affect the gas or other bills rather than the electric bill depending on how your home uses incoming utilities

Hot Buttered DKC 36-28 RIB Corn

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There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
An’ it looks like it’s climbin’ clear up to the sky.

Chorus:
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

Music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II

One of the anticipated moments of summer is hot buttered corn on the cob. When I have family over for a barbeque shouldn’t I be able to tell them if I am serving hot buttered Pioneer, Mycogen or Dekalb corn? If GMO corn is so amazing why is it I cannot go to the store and ask for it by name? Why is a superior and safe brand not willing to advertize each product they create?

GMO food always seems like an over there concept. You read about it in the news; Monsanto, splashed across the headlines, but when you finish the article, what then? What does it really have to do with you beyond a seemingly arbitrary choice between conventionally grown and organic food whilst perusing the supermarket aisles? It is easy to villainize a company without truly understanding the issues beyond the catchphrases we are spoonfed. We hear constantly that GMOs are no good, but how does that really affect ME? Without being able to identify a genetically modified organism isn’t it easier to turn a blind eye or to blame a faceless and distant company rather than be accountable for what we feed our families? If you knew the long list of chemicals applied to your food and in what quantities would you still eat it?

It is easy to become fully removed from the journey your dinner has taken from the farm to your plate. The part that has left me disillusioned is at what point did we become part of the feedlot? You may be asking yourself what I mean by that, and it is simply, at some point we stopped eating just food and now we are eating the same fillers as all the other feedlot animals. Corn and soy are in almost every processed food item we consume.  As an example, I recently bought a box of cookies and there was over fifteen ingredients in it that were derived from corn. The number one ingredient in the cookies was corn syrup, not flour. The third ingredient was soybean oil shortening. Why? And to what effect? PBS has a short list of corn derived ingredients available in PDF. Live Corn Free also has a very comprehensive list. In an article done by Time the top ten GMO crops in the U.S.A. are as follows:

  1. Corn
  2. Soybeans
  3. Cotton
  4. Potatoes
  5. Papaya
  6. Squash
  7. Canola
  8. Alfalfa
  9. Apples
  10. Sugar beets

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma written by Michael Pollan, the question of what’s for dinner? evolves into more thought provoking questions including what is it that we are eating for dinner? Our plethora of choices in the grocery store seem to be nothing more than an illusion. GMO corn and soy in so many incarnations all which end up on our dinner plate. Cows eat it. Pigs and poultry too. Even trout you catch at the lake could have easily have been farmed knowing GMOs in their diet before their release. If eating a varied diet really breaks down to eating a diet filled with genetically modified corn and soy, how do you feel about that?

Different countries, different names, definitely delicious chickpea flatbread recipe

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I was surprised to find the first recipe for this chickpea flatbread was from France rather than India as I originally expected. In Nice it is served as a street food called Socca. It has different names in different countries and although I have not discovered the true origins of the recipe, I have found this to be a delectable treat.

This recipe will satisfy almost any dietary requirements. Dare I say it is toothsome? Oh! most definitely.

RECIPE

One cup water

One cup chickpea flour

Olive oil for pan

OPTIONAL SPICES

Cumin

Oregano

Black pepper

Salt

Za’atar

Anything that would tickle your fancy

METHOD

Mix chickpea flour and water in a bowl (add a few spices if you so desire)

Let mixture rest on the counter for a couple hours

—————————————–

Preheat a cast iron pan with olive oil on the top of the stove

Once the pan is hot, pour in the batter so that it thinly covers the bottom of the pan

Place cast iron pan in oven on high broil until top of flatbread is golden and begins to form charred spots (about 5 to 10 minutes)

Remove from oven and serve as is or with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plain yogurt, spices, or your favorite dip

 

 

Guilt Free Chocolate Chip Cookies Everyone Can Enjoy

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With everyone having so many dietary requirements are you having a more difficult time feeding people? Seriously, going to a potluck almost requires a degree in nutrition nowadays. These easy chocolate chickpea cookies are a decadently moist chocolatey treat that are high fibre, high in protein, gluten free,egg free, vegan and low in sugar making them practically guilt free.

Let’s get right to the recipe shall we?

GUILT FREE COOKIES

Makes 12 cookies

1 can of 19 oz chickpeas drained (540 ml)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup nut butter (I used a brand that was just made with peanuts)

1/2 cup chocolate chips (although carob or other alternatives would work too)

1 tsp cocoa (you could also use cinnamon instead or as well)

8 pitted, dried dates

1 tbsp chia seeds

METHOD

By whatever means you have blend the chickpeas and dates smooth. I used an immersion hand blender.

Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix until blended

Form neat little balls and push them down onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper so they look like cookies (I found that this recipe did not “melt” into a cookie shape)

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until lightly golden

These cookies do not firm up with cooking, you will need to wait for them to cool. They will be soft but hold together nicely!

Each cookie contains about 7 grams of protein and almost 4 grams of fibre!

 

Oregon Grape Jam

I was going to write my own blog on making Oregon Grape jelly, but when researching recipes, this blog post I found was brilliant for trying out for my first time!

A Gardener's Table

Oregon grapesJelly isn’t much in style these days, I’ve noticed. Many people consider it too sweet, otherwise bland, and nearly devoid of nutritional value. I feel that way about many kinds of jelly myself. Who would choose strawberry jelly over strawberry jam, raspberry jelly over raspberry jam? Why throw out all of the fruit’s fiber and sacrifice the appealing texture that fiber provides?

Some fruits, though, are too fibrous or seedy for a mashed jam. When they also have high levels of pectin and acid, they are perfect for jelly. Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is one of these fruits.* I love the dark, tart, spicy jelly I make from the Oregon grapes growing beneath the bigleaf maple near our chicken house.

Still, some people would always choose a jar labeled jam over one labeled jelly. So, last summer, for the first time, I decided to try making Oregon grape…

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