Category Archives: going green

Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day! At work, we’ve been “celebrating” it all week, getting e-mails on earthy things to do and how to “green” our lives to better the planet. It seems like every year “going green” is pushed more and more, or being touted as the new thing to do. But I feel like we’ve been trying to conserve resources and live sustainably for a long time (is it just me?) So, in honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d list out some things we’ve tried to incorporate into our lives in an attempt to live green, live sustainably, or just live better.

  • A couple summers ago, I stocked up on round, plastic divider plates (they were, like, 99 cents each) and we tend to use those at our parties instead of paper plates. We still have a stock of paper (and Styrofoam) plates and bowls, though, so I also throw those on the table if they can be useful.
  • We’ve amassed enough pint glasses and other such drinking vessels that we don’t use plastic cups at our parties, either.
  • Every summer, I try to plant enough vegetables in the garden to feed us. I’m not always successful, but I think I end up doing a decent job. Last year, I canned 6 pints of tomatoes and froze many bags of Anaheim and jalapeño peppers.. I’m usually not successful with lettuce, but tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers I can do. I still buy fruit, since we don’t really have many fruit trees.
  • When waiting for the shower water to warm up, we catch the cold water in a bucket. That water is used on the citrus trees (which don’t have drip heads) or to supplement watering trees and plants during the summer when they might need a little extra. I don’t know how much we’re really saving, but it feels better to know we’re not wasting that water. I’d say over the course of a week we’ll fill up two 4-gallon buckets, give or take.
  • While I’d like to claim raising chickens is a sustainable effort, I don’t think it really is. Our chickens are for eggs first, pets second, probably never for meat. I was able to stop buying eggs once the chickens got into the swing of laying, but now that we’re down to one laying bird I’ll have to wait for the baby chicks to grow up. It was really nice not having to buy eggs and our chickens gave us some beautiful tasty eggs. Once we were done with the hard work of building their coop and securing the pen, they really weren’t much work to raise. Honestly, if you look at raising chickens on an operating cost, I think it’s pretty economical. A 50-lb bag of feed lasts at least 2 months for 2 chickens, plus whatever kitchen scraps you give them. If you assume one chicken lays 7 days a week and the other lays 6 days a week, it all works out to a little under $2 per dozen eggs. The caveat is that you have a potentially high capital cost upfront, with the feeders and coop. A lot of people are able to build a coop out of salvaged or cheap material, but I went for ease and convenience, which means I just bought a lot of stuff new.
  • I cook a lot of dinners at home. It doesn’t really fit into the “green” or “sustainable” category, but I think it’s healthier for us. It’s definitely cheaper, especially since most of our meals can be portioned out for work lunches later in the week. I think that definitely ends up healthier for me.
  • We have taken the step to replace any food storage container that might be heated up to a glass container. Dry foods still get stored in plastic containers, mainly because we already had them and I didn’t want to just throw them out. We also take our coffee to work in ceramic mugs with the silicone lids. So, trying to reduce our plastic.
  • Speaking of plastic, I’ve gotten a lot better at taking reuseable bags with me to the store. I keep them in the car, load them up, then hang them on a hook in the kitchen when I’ve unloaded the groceries. Then I just grab them on the way out the door in the morning.
  • I’ve been checking a lot of books out at the library. I can’t remember the last time I bought a book (aside from a cookbook) to read. I don’t always have the latest bestseller to read, but I’ve also found some books I might not have discovered otherwise. Some books I’ve found aren’t worth finishing, and then I don’t feel bad about having bought a book I didn’t like. I’ve also checked out cookbooks and found I wouldn’t ever use them, which prevents me from unnecessary purchases. The library system is really easy. You set up a request list online and they get placed on a hold shelf when they’re available. I get an e-mail when something new is on the hold shelf and I think you have a week to go pick it up. It usually works out that by the time I have books to return to the library, there’s something waiting for me to pick up, too.

Things we don’t do, for various reasons:

  • I tried converting Travis over to cloth napkins instead of paper, but it didn’t take. They weren’t as absorbing as paper, plus they had a tendency to pick up lint and sometimes fur going through the wash cycle. I didn’t like having to reuse napkins or having to keep a huge stock of them so we would always have clean ones. As a concession, instead of full-on paper napkins, Travis now takes half a paper towel and tears that in half again, so we’re essentially using ¼ of a paper towel as a napkin. I still use paper napkins at work, although if I was hard-core I could bring my own cloth napkin in along with my lunch.
  • All my exercise takes place indoors. We have both a treadmill and an elliptical machine. I know it’s better to be out in the fresh air instead of using electricity, but I prefer to get all sweaty in the privacy of my home. Plus, Travis doesn’t run with me anymore and I always had this fear of running by myself after work, especially since I would probably run the same route all the time. And this was before all the crazy killings that just happened.
  • I don’t buy all-organic foods. I do buy organic milk and I usually buy eggs from Trader Joe’s (which aren’t organic but do come from farms that don’t use hormones on their chickens), but that’s really it. Sometimes I’ll buy organic fruits or vegetables, but usually I just buy what’s on sale. Any meat I buy is from Costco, because they have great prices and the meat tastes good. I did buy organic (but not free-range) roasting chickens once, and they were 4 times more expensive than regular chicken and they tasted the same (at least, to us). I do buy wild salmon and not farmed salmon and the rest of our seafood comes from Trader Joe’s (who maintains sustainable seafood practices). I have not watched Food, Inc. and I probably won’t because, while I understand the current commodity meat situation, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on that wagon. True, we really don’t eat red meat often enough that buying more it from more expensive sources would hurt my budget, but the price jump is felt all the same. I’m sure we’ll get there at some point, slowly, but not just yet.
  • I used to have a worm compost bin to “recycle” kitchen scraps but have since found the chickens to be much more effective. Chickens eat just about anything and they eat it faster than worms do.

Have you made any changes to live “green”? Are there things you’d like to try but haven’t yet?

Also, congrats to Carol (CAB Cooks) who won the movie giveaway!  I hope you find the movie is worthy of some rainy-day popcorn munching.  If not, then I hope the soundtrack at least provides some good tunes!

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Share Something Sweet

I remember the first time I had a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.  I think my mom had brought one home and I thought it was the most intriguing pice of chocolate I’d ever had.  Creamy in the middle, but you had to bite through this crisp shell first, and then you were rewarded with a hazelnut.  It was like someone took Nutella*, added some crispy-crunchness, and then wrapped it all up in a gold blanket.  I loved them.  I swear, they used to be so hard to find, but now I see them everywhere.  I think you can even buy them at Costco during the holiday season (speaking of which, I am so disappointed that Home Depot has already filled their aisles with Christmas decorations and lights).

Ferrero has this campaign called Share Something Sweet. For the second straight year, the Ferrero Company has partnered with Share Our Strength, one of the nation’s leading organizations working to make sure no child in America grows up hungry.  Ferrero has already donated $150,000 to Share Our Strength and you can add to that donation in a few ways. You can donate money directly, or you can log on to Share Something Sweet and use it to “send something sweet” (a customizable e-card), and Ferrero will donate $1 per e-card sent, up to $10,000. And for every person that joins the Ferrero Facebook page, “Ferrero Lovers Unite,” Ferrero will donate another $1 to Share Our Strength (up to $1,000).  I mean, you’ve probably accepted every other Friend Request from Facebook, so what’s one more in the name of charity?

On the Share Something Sweet site, you can take a chocolate personality quiz.  I am a Ferrero Rocher chocolate; I guess I’m not seductive enough to be a Ferrero Rondnoir Dark Chocolate.  After I finished the survey, I signed up for a coupon for chocolate, too.  That’s pretty good incentive to see if you are dark and mysterious or fun and… um, hazelnutty?  You can also read more about the partnership and campaign program, read about their chocolates (I’ve never tried the Garden chocolate), and learn about the company in general.

I know there are about a bazillion against-world-hunger campaigns out there, but how many are paired up with a tasty chocolate treat?

* I just read that Ferrero’s first product was Nutella.  I guess that explains everything.  Also, the company makes Kinder chocolates and Tic Tacs!

Things of plastic

I am quite aware that plastic is the “evil” item of the year.  We are a green society!  A society that is making people buy tons of new products that are not made of plastic… which makes consumers throw away their plastic goods?  The latest copy of the San Diego Reader had a picture of a Target plastic bag on the cover.  I think it was promoting an article on why plastic bags are the equivalent of Satan’s treasure (or something), but it just made me sad to think they were targeting, um, Target.  I love Target.

The other day, we went out for some errand running and it was T who reminded me to bring along our reusable shopping bags.  I consider that progress.  It was also handy that he came along since he reminded me I have no more room in my shoe closet for a new pair of shoes.  Even though he conceded the new pair was, indeed, cute.  I totally would have bought them, gotten home, and been sad to discover I’d have to get rid of an old pair of shoes to make room for the new ones.  I mean, they weren’t that cute.

So, I’ve professed my love of the Reynolds Handi-Vac before.  It’s been praised and bashed on Chowhounds, but I still love it.  When T went deep sea fishing, we packaged his catch in quart and gallon-sized Handi-Vac bags.  I bought a huge bag of cheese at Costco and then portioned it out for the freezer using those bags (although, now I’m wondering if I’m going to end up with a big hunk of smushed shredded cheese when it defrosts).  I also bought a huge back of uncooked tortillas (from Costco) and put some in a gallon bag (those tortillas are awesome! but I totally don’t need 44 of them) and put those in the freezer.  Sometimes the seal holds; sometimes it doesn’t.  It seems to do a great job protecting my (Costco) steaks from freezer burn, though.

Ziploc seems to have jumped in the market with their own vacuum bags!  Their vacuum is a hand-pump – no batteries needed.  I wonder which one works better… I suppose it depends on the quality of the bag and seal point.  I would have a personal, in-depth review for you, but I was prevented from purchasing one when I saw it at Walmart.  My mom supposedly bought one for me, but it’s still in Vegas.  Maybe she will tell me how it’s working for her.  T just didn’t see the point in buying another vacuum, one that requires a different brand of bags, when the vacuum we have is working perfectly well AND we have fair stock of bags at home.  I guess I see his point.

Something that is also plastic is the salad container I take to work sometimes (because I’ve kind of gotten over the salad-is-so-fun stage).  I recently saw them in the regular plastic storage container aisle at Target.  Salad bowls, they’re not just for summer any more!  I still really like it, because I think it holds the perfect amount of salad and dressing. 

There are a lot of neat looking products coming out in the world, marketing themselves towards people who are “going green” because it’s now trendy and socially acceptable (as opposed to being tree-hugger hippiefied).  It’s a little sad because I like buying stuff, but I don’t want to end up with piles of stuff for the sake of having it.  You know?  We just went through the garage and cleaned things out because it was all taking up too much room.  And I’m starting to like all this new-found empty space.

Nothing in particular

I hate having to come up with witty “titles” for “posts”.  It takes up too much brain power.

Have you heard Ikea is considering selling solar panels?  Apparently, some Sam’s Clubs have kiosks to buy solar systems, too.  There are quite a few houses in our neighborhood that have solar panels.  The ridiculously expensive house next door (when it was for sale) used it as a selling point that the house could be operated by solar energy, drastically lowering your monthly bills.  Well, I looked at our electric bill and we spend, on average, $50 a month (not including the gas portion).  We actually use more energy in the winter using heaters than we do in the summer, since we probably turn the AC unit on a few days only.  Then I read about this website, RoofRay, that calculates the best place to put solar panels, the power you can get off that grid, and how much it will cost (roughly).  Basically, we learned that installing the smallest system to cover our electrical usage would take 18 years to break even.  It would cost $12,000 (after rebates and tax credits).  Now, if SDG&E gave you money back for excess energy you feed into the grid, we could totally recoup the investment faster.  Like, in less than 5 years.  So, basically, I learned that it is not economically feasible to install solar panels.  Which is good to know because now I don’t feel guilty about it.  Maybe if I had way too much money and had to use it somewhere, I’d install them because it would totally be cool to say you live “off the grid”, but I don’t.

Trader Joe’s is now selling mini jelly doughnuts and canneles.  I’ve made canneles before and it’s actually fairly easy.  You just have to wait for the batter to set – it’s definitely not a last minute baking treat.  I own a silicone mold, which works well but doesn’t get the crispy crust of a beeswax lines copper mold.  On the other hand, I don’t have to line anything with beeswax.  When T and I were in San Francisco, any time we passed a Bay Bread bakery I had to stop and buy canneles (among other tasty treats).  I bought the Bay Bread cookbook just for that recipe.

Anywho, TJ sells frozen canneles and I was extremely wary that they would be anything but odd (how could a frozen cannele end up tasting like a fresh one?) and despite my hesitations I bought 2 boxes (each box has 6).  Because if they did end up passable, I wanted extras in the freezer.  I also bought the mini jelly doughnuts (also frozen) but haven’t tried them yet.  So, I defrosted the canneles and opted to toss them in the toaster for a bit so they weren’t cold.  The directions say to just defrost and enjoy or microwave them for 20 minutes.  Anyone who likes bread and baked good knows that microwaves are evil in that regard.  So, slightly toasted defrosted canneles.  And?  They were actually okay.  Nowhere near as good as a fresh, warm one (even from my oven where they are substandard) but infinitely easier and they somehow had that crispy beeswax crunch to the crust.  The taste is pretty spot on and the ingredient list is as simple as they come. 

Verdict?  If you’ve never had one, you may end up liking these.  If you know what a good one tastes like, these won’t satisfy a craving but they make a decent treat with coffee or tea.  I’ll easily get through the second box, but I’ll probably end up pulling out a recipe and baking a fresh batch to make my memories happy.  All in all, though, I’m very pleased that Trader Joe’s managed to make such a decent version, in the freezer section no less!

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap

Every now and then I go on some product kick and enter a phase where I am totally 100% committed and involved and so into something that I believe I will single handedly change the world. Once, that phase involved my dogs and how I was going to feed them homemade food, full of goodness and real meat and crafted with love. I bought this book on holistic dog care that had recipes for dog food and explained how to crush eggshells to give you dogs essential calcium and whatnot. I made shopping lists of powders and vitamins that I would need to mix into the ground beef and chicken and eggs. And then the dogs ran out of Pro Plan dog food and I figured I would just solve the situation by upgrading to Eukanuba. I still have the dog food book. And a container of brewer’s yeast. But now I silence my guilty conscience by buying natural dog cookies and just trying to avoid commercial dog foods with evil poisonous Chinese wheat gluten (Eukanuba is good; as is Castor & Pollax organic food, and apparently the Science Diet natural food).

My latest feel-good phase involved being green, going organic, and eating locally. I was going to shop at the farmers market every weekend and support the small farms by purchasing the organic seasonal fruits and vegetables. Apparently, bananas aren’t really local or seasonal and the fresh, just harvested eggs were really good, but I couldn’t noticeably tell the difference between those and the ones I get from Trader Joe’s. I have compromised by joining a CSA, which takes care of most of our veggie needs. I still shop at Vons and Ralphs, though, and don’t feel guilty about it.

My green aspirations involved purchasing Method products, using canvas bags for grocery shopping, using compostable plastic doggy pickup bags, and getting rid of environmentally destructive cleaning products. Then Target stopped carrying the Method bloq lotions and such and I’ve never seen the dishwasher cubes on store shelves. I also kept forgetting to bring in the canvas bags when I went shopping, so I would just opt for paper bags when I could. We are still going through the Formula 409 and Palmolive dish soap, but I have a veritable hoard of Method cleaning products that will clean and be environmentally friendly. We get a plastic sleeve on the newspaper every day, so I use those for picking up after the dogs. I have switched to a biodegradable kitty litter, but that was mainly because it smells less kitty-litterish.

In the end, convenience trumps everything when it comes to my life.

One of the products I picked up while I was stockpiling green items was Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Trader Joe’s carries the peppermint version, although I hear Whole Foods also has the lavender version. The soap comes in a plastic bottle covered in messages, saying, directives, and other odd notes. It’s a concentrated soap, with different dilutions for different uses. You can use it for body wash, toothpaste, shampoo, dog wash, dishwashing, floor scrubbing, oven cleaning, etc. It’s sold in small bottles at camping stores because it is so versatile and is non-toxic. I had grand plans of cleaning the house from top to bottom using only this Magic Soap, and then the bottle sat under the sink, unopened, for months. Until the day we cleaned the vent hood in the kitchen.

If you’ve ever tried to clean the hood, you know it gets caked with grease, dust, more grease, and the more dust. It’s not like cleaning the counter; you usually end up smearing the greasy sludge around until pieces of the paper towl get stuck and you give up, rationalizing that no one ever really looks up there anyway. Well, T tried to clean it. He started with 409, moved on to some other spray, got to the Orange Clean and then was stumped. Digging through the cabinet produced a scrub pad and the forgotten bottle of hemp soap. Perhaps the “Magic” in the title gave us hope. I squirted some into a bowl with hot water and set to scrubbing the vent, one small portion at a time. The grease came off, but apparently so did some paint. I would advocate more dilution than one squirt to 2 cups water, for future reference. Once the hood was clean, I noticed the vent filter was pretty gross. I almost wish I had taken a picture so you could appreciate the years of disgusting that was on this filter.

My grandma used to clean the filter with a toothpick, paper towels, and dish soap or some cleaning spray. It would take her forever and get the filter only mostly clean. We started to clean it by dousing it with the rest of the 409. This didn’t do much, other than rinse off some dirt. If Magic Soap could strip paint off the hood, surely it could clean layers of grease off, right? The bottle says that the Soap doesn’t just clean, it dissolved dirt and grease. I filled the sink with hot water, added 2 generous squirts of Magic Soap, swished the filter through the hot soapy water, and then left for 15 minutes (in all honesty, the strong peppermint vapors were getting to me). I came back, fully expecting to scrub and poke and consider just buying a new filter. I came back to a shiny filter and sink full of cloudy water. Amazing.

I may not ever brush my teeth with this Soap, but I fully endorse it for cutting through awful grease jobs. You should go buy it, even if only to use for cleaning the vent filter over your stove.

Method goodies

Using Google Reader, I go through a lot of blogs and sites in a day.  Sometimes I read all the way through, in detail, carefully noting recommendations or marking posts for recipes to try later.  Sometimes I just skim the words, looking for anything of interest.  One of the sites I do read, The Kitchen, does giveaways on Thursdays and I entered… and won!

What did I win?  A nifty green tote bag along with some hand soap, all-purpose cleaner, dish soap, and laundry detergent.  I also have a second tote because I ordered some things off the website and sent in the form for one (I didn’t expect to win the drawing, and I really wanted a tote!).  You can usually find Method products at Target (it’s Target, not Tar-jay, just Target, okay?), sometimes even on sale, but I’ve never been able to find the dishwasher cubes (which, oddly enough, I can’t find on the website now) so I ordered some of those, some of the cleaning wipes, and some random other stuff.  If you buy a holiday kit, you’ll also get a green tote.  Their holiday scents are just delicious… the peppermint vanilla is my favorite, especially in the aroma sticks version.  I wish they had a refill for the aroma sticks, but until they do, I just buy the plug-in fragrance pill refill and empty the fragrance liquid stuff into the ceramic vase for the aroma sticks.

I really like the Method products (and am slowly trying to infiltrate the cleaning supplies with only Method goods) because their are environmentally-friendly, the packaging is recyclable, the scents are good, the body products are paraben-free (this is important because parabens affect your hormones and also build up in treated wastewater, accumulating in groundwater, streams, and waterways and therefore making it back into your water supply only to reconcentrate and do the whole thing over again), and the cleaning formulas are non-toxic so you don’t have to worry about walking over your floors barefoot or if your dog happens to lick the stove after you’ve cleaned it.

There are a plethora of environmentally-friendly, “green” cleaning lines out there, some better than others.  So I feel compelled to admit that the other reason my home is becoming so Method-centric is because the bottles look very cute and simple.  I haven’t gone so far as to purchase scents based on the color and whether they match the room they will go in, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

ps – as soon as I can get the pictures resized, I’ll show you what my pretty prize looked like!  For now, go look at the neat tote bag and go get one.

The plastic debate

The Kitchen: Apartment Therapy has a quick (but informative) blurb on plastic containers – what’s “safe” and what’s not. The Green Guide is listed as a good resource for making your life greener, not just as it relates to plastics. What I found the most useful, though, is the 1-page .pdf document that lists some of the more commonly used plastic containers and what to look for (in black) and what to avoid (in red).

Due to all the hullaballoo over plastics, leaching, and carcinogens, I had been considering tossing all our plastic containers and investing in a collection of glass containers. I looked at Ikea, since they are usually cheapest, and considered The Container Store, as it is a pretty cool store and I’l take any excuse I can get to go into one. We have many, many Gladware and Ziploc containers, in varying sizes, that we use to store leftover, transport cookies, portion out and freeze dinners for later, and just hold foodstuffs in general. We use enough of them that I would have had to purchase a lot of glass containers in varying sizes to replace the plastic ones. Then I had to consider the fact that glass containers don’t really nest inside each other like the Gladware-type and where would we keep them? Our cabinet barely holds the multitude of nesting containers as it is! I finally decided to take a hiatus on this debate and just make a conscious effort to not microwave anything in plastic. After all, how much chemical-junk can get into my food stored in the fridge or freezer?

So, when I read through the Plastic Guide, I was quite happy to see that our Gladware and Ziploc containers are made of #5-polypropylene (whew! Those organic chemistry classes paid off in spelling and pronouncing random chemical chains) and are on the “safe” list. Rubbermaid and Tupperware get a pass, too, except for the Tupperware Microsteamer and Rock n’ Serve containers. I’m guessing it’s still not a good idea to microwave food in #5-PP, though. The huge Costco-box of plastic cutlery probably doesn’t make the list (I’d have to check to make sure), but since we only use those for occasional parties, I’m not too concerned – healthwise, I mean. The environmental consequences of disposing all that plastic cutlery could be pretty bad, but let’s just focus on one disaster at a time, shall we?

Glad Cling Wrap and Saran with Cling-Plus (Handi-Wrap?) are okay; Reynolds Wrap or Saran Wrap (not to be confused with the Cling-Plus or Handi-Wrap) is not. Sadly, Stretch-tite is on the bad list (hi mom, are you paying attention?), which is unfortunate because that stuffs clings to surfaces like nothing else. I guess the #3-polyvinyl chloride will do that to a plastic wrap. Glad, Ziploc, and Hefty baggies are okay for storing goodies, so whisk those cookies into the lunch bag worry-free!

I’m glad I had procrastinated the plastic vs. glass decision, because now I know that there’s no rush to “green up” my kitchen (is that anything like “cowboy up”?). I try my best to keep things environmentally friendly in the house, but we tread a fine line between “green” and “convenient”. I’m also glad to see articles that take the time to explain why you don’t have to jump on the environment bandwagon 100% – some plastics are okay, not all organic food is a necessary purchase, etc. Yes, it is better to do as much as possible, but it’s reassuring to know that if you can’t go all the way, even a little bit of effort counts.