Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you love shrimp...

...and I do, allergy notwithstanding.

But if you love shrimp, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not read this. It's titled, accurately, Why You REALLY Don't Want To Eat Shrimp by La Vida Locavore (awesome name!) and is frighteningly descriptive of the issues surrounding the production and/or catching of shrimp.

The only reason to read it? (Aside from that whole knowing-what-you-eat thing.) To feel better about an allergy.

Seriously. Don't read it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's My Carbon Footprint?

There is no doubt in my mind that I have a larger than average carbon footprint. Sure, we recycle (but we do not compost.) I keep a very tight control on our heating and air conditioning (but we have more computers and tvs than people.) But my main concern (for so many, many reasons) is that I have a reeeaaallllly long commute. Since I drive a hybrid car, I started wondering how much that offset my 50+ mile commute. As it turns out, there are lots of carbon footprint calculators. Lots. And none of them match.

Using the same basic information, I set out to see if I could get anywhere near the same results from them.

1) My result: 28.88 tonnes of CO2. They say the US National Average is 20.40. Not surprisingly, factoring in 2 commutes of 40+ miles was the major contributor here.Though, my longer commute in a hybrid car was half what shows for Jay's slightly shorter commute in a moderately efficient crossover vehicle. (As a note, Jay gets all the credit for the hybrid as it was his before I stole it for my long commute.)

What I liked about this site: They asked about lifestyle preferences. Vegetarian? It'll give you credit for that. Only buy organic produce? It factors that too. Also, if you wanted to off-set your carbon footprint, it links to a page that gives you several options, with descriptions of each organization. Their carbon off-set costs ranged from $360 to $700. Oh, and I did like the cute (but sad) graphic.

What I didn't like about this site: The final result is in tonnes, and sadly, it took me a little while to figure out that's the same as tons. My sister also tested this site and thought it was a little cumbersome, so I'd say this one is only for someone who really wants to spend the time to get [what I hope is] a really accurate picture.

2) The Nature Conservancy's Calculator: My result: 75 tons. They say the US National Average is 80.

What I liked about this site: I really liked that you were asked about changes you could have made in the home, such as efficient lights or Energy Star appliances. And that you can see the effects each of those things has on your score as you go.

What I didn't like about this site: Wow! Talk about expensive. They recommend a donation of $1500 to "help protect land, plant trees and measure and verify the amount of carbon that they sequester over the next 70 years." There is some great information about their group along with their recommendation.

3) EPA's Individual and Household Emissions Calculator: My result: 60,550 lbs of CO2 per year. They say 62,250 is the US average for a household of 3. I had to do the math to get to tons to compare with the others (2000 lbs in a ton, FYI). 30.28 tons per year for us, 31.13 as the natural average.

What I liked about this site: There's a section that walks you through positive changes you could make complete with the cost and energy savings from those actions, with labels (no cost, $, $$, and $$$) to show you the cost for each action.

What I didn't like about this site: There were no lifestyle questions, and no place to "get credit" for improvements to your house. No helpful links to places to off-set your carbon footprint either.

4) An Inconvenient Truth > Carbon Calculator:  My result 25.05 tons per year. They say the national average is 7.5 per person each year. That puts a household of 3 at an average of 22.5.

What I liked about this site: Quick and easy, this would be a great stop for someone wanting to spend 3 minutes to see where they are in comparison to the national average. Their link for off-setting your carbon footprint was the cheapest one yet - $294. A bargain for easing that guilty conscience!

What I didn't like about this site: Since there was no place to enter two cars, I had to do the calculator twice to get our household footprint. They also don't list any vehicle options after 2006. For me, there wasn't enough to it, but I can see how this would appeal to others.

5) BP Energy Calculator: My result: 24.8 tons per years. They don't list national averages, at least not in an easy to see place.

What I like about this site: It had fun flash animation. The questions are standard, with some lifestyle and household improvement questions.

What I don't like about this site: It's hard to have complete faith in the site when it's a for-profit energy company, but they do seem in-line with the others. No place to off-site your footprint, completely unsurprisingly.

Final thoughts - Most of the sites were somewhere in the same ballpark: from 24.8 to 30.3. Nature Conservancy was drastically different than the others, and their offset costs reflected this! Depending on the source, we're either just over the natural average, or just under. It makes me feel a little better about our ridiculously long commutes - just a little though! Now that I have a pretty good idea where our footprint falls, I can start researching ways to off-set it. I'll share that as I learn more!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Final Count: My accidental day of baking

I really didn't plan on spending most of my Sunday in the kitchen. But, after the pumpkin killing, I was on a roll! Cooked and pureed the pumpkin, resulting in 11 cups of yummy, fresh pumpkin puree. 10 went straight into the freezer for future (yay!!) cooking projects. The remaining cup sat on the counter awaiting its fate.

Meanwhile, I baked a loaf of the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day. I need to stop doing that though because that's a really long title to keep typing out! Once that was done, I popped a loaf of pumpkin bread into the oven. I used my grandmother's recipe (two more eggs down!) which is easy and really tasty. I did notice that the pumpkin flavor isn't as concentrated as the canned stuff. I don't think that's a bad thing, but for something like pie, you might want to cook it down some.

I thought I'd been done baking at this point, until I realized we needed to eat dinner. (Yes, this was a realization, sometimes I conveniently forget about dinner.) Since I had no plan and nothing thawed, I whipped up some pizza dough. I meant to use my favorite whole wheat recipe, but after adding half the flour, I realized I'd been adding white flour. Oopsie. Half the dough into the freezer for the future. (All this planning ahead! Oh my!) Monterrey Jack Cheese with  BBQ sauce. Totally hit the spot. And after dinner, I roasted up the pumpkin seeds.

It was a full day of baking, but everything turned out so well! I was tired, but really pleased with my results! Breakfast today was pumpkin bread, lunch was (store-bought) soup with Artisan bread to dip. Carving out a little slice of 'la dolce vita' each day...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Killer...

I did it. I killed the pumpkin. It turns out the farmer's market (Annapolis Mall) I planned to hit this afternoon (because I was too lazy to get downtown Annapolis for the morning one) has finished for the season. I headed over to Trader Joe's and it turns out, there were a bunch of cooking options there. I ended up buying a 5 or 6 pound Fairy Tale pumpkin.

Photo source (because I suck at taking blog photos!): The Pumpkin Connection

It was a bit of a challenge cutting the thing up. I kept imagining taking off my finger all for the cause, so I took it sloooow and steady. Scooped out the goop and seeds, and it's roasting in the oven. I took my cooking cues from The Pioneer Woman, who has a handy step by step guide for making pumpkin puree and roasting the seeds. You'd better believe I'm roasting the seeds later! I guess because my slices are bigger and there's more pumpkin to cook, her estimate of 45 minutes at 350 is WAY off.

This pumpkin was so vibrantly orange inside, it almost didn't look real. I cannot wait to try it!! Minor detail... I haven't quite figured out what I'm doing with it!

In the end, it's a California pumpkin, so it misses many of the qualifications I'm searching for. But, I gotta believe doing it myself is better than buying the cans of pumpkin (if you can find them!) at the store. C'est la vie!

I've also got dough rising - made from yesterday's Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day session. It's getting yum in here!

Edited to Add:
Submitted to Fight Back Friday! Check out the other Fight Back Friday posts!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A quiet, rainy day...

It's turning out to be a quiet, stay-at-home kinda day today. It's a little chilly, and has been raining off and on all day... definitely not the kind of day you want to be out in the world! It's too bad though, I had planned to hit the Riva farmer's market this morning to catch and kill a pumpkin! Maybe I'll run over to one of tomorrow's markets (downtown Annapolis or Annapolis Mall).

I've got my third round of bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day going. This method is brilliant. Really good bread with almost no effort! I switched to the 100% whole wheat recipe after my first try, and wasn't completely happy with it. So back to the master recipe! We all loved! the master recipe, so why mess with success? Even though the book was very clear that the flour used should be unbleached and not King Arthur brand (an issue with the gluten content, apparently), my first round used bleached King Arthur and it worked out just find. This time I've got organic, unbleached, so we'll see if it makes a big difference.

I'd had the first major issue with the dryer balls this morning. They only work if the last person to use them returns them to the laundry room! Not sure I can fault the product itself for this issue, but it does make it difficult to use them. Never had that issue with the dryer sheets! Hopefully they can be liberated from the "kid's" room sometime soon. I poked my head in and quickly ran back our for fear of infection or being attacked by something he's spawned in there.

4 eggs for breakfast, so 44 to go.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beef, it's what's for dinner?

I've been thinking quite a bit about food, particularly meat, and how to best approach it given my new priorities. I haven't really needed to buy meat for months because we've had a really full chest freezer. This is because last year, when I was laid off at the beginning of the year and didn't get a permanent job until Fall when we knew Jay would be laid off soon, I shopped the sales and stocked up as much as I could. We have been eating through that stock, because regardless of the impact caused by the production of said food, I can't believe that wasting it does anything but continue the problem. And with 2-3 of us here, we still have quite a bit.

But pretty soon, I'm going to run out of a couple key things. We might have 1 package of chicken breasts left, 1 whole chicken and no ham. We have plenty of ground beef, which makes me sad because that's the one thing I really want to purchase from safe(r) sources.

I recently found out there are two custom butchers in Annapolis. I'm pretty excited about this, even though I don't relish the idea of having to grill the workers about the source and methods of their products. I'm much happier to research online, but it's clear that's not always possible. I figured I'd go over there this weekend and see what I can come up with. (Even though really, I don't need to buy much if anything right now.)

But then I was reading this article and it has me questioning. Am I any better off at a local butcher than the organic (or even regular) options at the grocery store? As important as I know this is, sometimes I am tired at the work it takes to research all the foods we buy. But then I am reminded that that's exactly what the commercial growers and CAFO owners want.

The last PolyFace Farm delivery is coming up in November, and considering they've become the leader in all things sustainable farming, this had been part of my plan for months. Once it became clear that there was no. way. I would be finding a place for their bulk beef option (seriously, so. much. beef), I missed their ordering deadlines. We're coming up on their last delivery of the year, and I'm determined to get my order in this time. It's really hard trying to plan for what would likely be close to 4 months of food. I'll give it my best shot, and we'll see where we end up!

Story of 100 eggs

Well, not 100 exactly, but 67.

We had planned to go camping this weekend with a group of our friends. Leading up to the trip, there were many, many discussions about food and activities. Since a couple of our friends are vegetarians, it made the planning slightly more complicated. When we settled on eggs for breakfast for two mornings, I offered to get the eggs for the trip. 4 dozen seemed about right - 11 people, 2 days. Well, fast forward to this week, the weather looks awful and Jay's coming down with something. Of course, we realized this AFTER I missed the deadline to change this week's farm order. Thursday morning, the nice delivery driver dropped off 5 dozen eggs, 2 lbs bacon (also for the trip) and a half gallon of the best 2% milk ever. The driver politely, but firmly requested we get a bigger insulated bag in the future.

I already had 7 eggs in the house, so now we're lousy with eggs. I whipped up a frittata last night, reducing the total count to 60. I know this doesn't seem like a huge problem - too many local, organic eggs? I hardly expect a pity party... but still - what am I going to do with 60 eggs??

My coworker offered to buy a dozen off me. She wanted to try the farm order this week, but had planned to be out on delivery day.

48 to go...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dryer balls: a review, and an awesome sandwich

I've been slowly trying to move towards natural laundry products over the past year or so. This hasn't been that hard for me since my oh-so-sensitive skin has never allowed me to use any of the "fun" laundry stuff. Dryer sheets, fabric softener? Not so much. About 6 months ago, I started using vinegar in the fabric softener slot, and I've really been happy with it. No issues with smelling like a salad - at least not that anyone's mentioned to me!

We've still been using an anti-static dyer sheet though (with 5 cats, we need something!), which I don't like at all. Aside from the cost, it makes me nervous that I don't know what's in them. And, yeah, it's another thing to throw out, but the thing that really annoys me is that I find them laying around everywhere. Apparently it's very difficult for boys unnamed household members to pick them up when they're done with their laundry. So this weekend I picked up some Dryer Max™ Anti-Static Dryer Balls. I thought I was buying Nellie's brand, honestly, but hey, it's what I found at the store. I can't speak for the longevity of the product just yet (which was what the Amazon reviews didn't like) but I've been pretty pleased with them so far. I wouldn't say it stopped all of the static, especially on a fuzzy fleece pullover, but it's a pretty good alternative to dryer sheets so far.

In the meantime, I've been trying to focus more on local foods and seasonal flavors. I'm usually pretty terrible at this, my stomach wants what it wants. And it's usually pretty random and unhealthy. Seriously, for a few months, I was obsessed with Pei Wei (a PF Changs - version of take-out chinese) and I could (and did) eat there 3-4 times a week. Switching to local and seasonal foods is a lot like electroshock therapy re-training my stomach. I've started doing this by focusing on high quality ingredients. Last week I ordered an amazing smoked swiss cheese and some freshly cured, thick bacon as part of my weekly milk and eggs delivery from South Mountain Creamery. Last night, I thought about doing a simple cheese, crackers and apple slices dinner, but figured Jay would ask where the real dinner was after we finished. So, I grilled up some a paninis using the swiss, 1 1/2 slices of bacon each, thinly sliced granny smith apples and a teeny, tiny bit of honey. It was out of this world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A pumpkin of a problem

I read earlier today that there's a pumpkin shortage. I love pumpkin as much, or more, than the average person... but this doesn't seem like a big problem to me initially. Are we really running out of pumpkin? It seems to me that I can't go anywhere lately without running into (or falling over) them. Hell, I have 3 on my porch right now.

The problem seems to be a shortage of canned pumpkin. Um, I've only ever cooked with canned pumpkin. What about Thanksgiving? I'm hosting it this year for the first time. (Gasp!) Well, if worse comes to worst, I'll just make this year's Thanksgiving pie with one of them, right? I was sort of thinking about it anyway, actually.

Well, that article mentions that you can't eat the jack-o-lantern variety. I'm guessing that's what I have. This leads me to a question - is the problem that people just don't usually eat them? Or is there something inedible about them?

A quick Google search leads me to what I can only hope is good information. It seems you can eat any of the pumpkins lining the shelves, porches or streets these days. But you might not want to. Apparently they are stringy and not sweet enough. They'll serve for baked goods, but not for pies. For pies (or soup), you'll want a different variety. A smaller variety. 3-6 pounds seems ideal. I do have a smaller one on the porch, but there's really no way to know what variety it is. What's a girl to do?

This all leads me to the conclusion that I need to schedule a pumpkin-hunting excursion. I'll need to rely on the nice people at the Farmer's Market to point me in the right direction. And then? Then, I'm going to kill (and eat) a pumpkin.

And we begin again...

Ok, so here's the deal. I started this blog because it had become increasingly important to me to have a sustainable, local and mostly organic lifestyle, and I wanted to document my transition. Well, document my successes while I transitioned. It very quickly became obvious that it was harder than I ever realized. And since I wanted to talk about my success... well, I had little to talk about. It's not to say I haven't had successes, because I have, but I've had far more, um, lessons learned than I expected.

So I think from now on, I'll have to talk about the whole story. I haven't given up, not by a long shot. I'm just finding it harder than I expected, which was pretty naive to begin with.

Coming soon, I'll recap some of my successes (local milk? check) and challenges (local wine? um... not so much). Stay tuned!