Friday, January 30

Money, Honey, and Rutabagas?

So, last week I purchased a "companion" to More-With-Less, Simply in Season. This cookbook promotes environmentalism in the kitchen. The idea is that we can save a lot of energy by eating foods that are locally grown, and grown in environmentally-friendly ways. This means "voting with our dollars" and buying foods that come out of the ground /naturally/ at any given time of the year. The cookbook is divided into five parts - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and All-Seasons - and gives recipes that focus on produce that is available at that time of year.

I found the recipe I'd try first, and got the veggies during my Win-Co trip this week. I wanted to make "roasted winter veggies," and I bought two small beets, a rutabaga (which my grandmother used to make often, but which I haven't had since), a sweet potato, carrots, and an acorn squash. I also added in a potato, but we had those at home already.

I was shocked to discover that these veggies were 20-30% of what other, "out of season" veggies cost! Now, I haven't been cooking for myself long, but I bet that there are people who have who STILL missed this memo. So, let me say this again: SO CHEAP!

I roasted these lovely winter veggies, and they were SO GOOD. Seriously, they have driven me to use all caps to express my love. I have never eaten beets before, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think that cooking in-season will force me to widen my horizons, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.


I also purchased honey at Win-Co for future breadmaking. I found it amusing because the bulk containers were wooden and said, "Do not lift lid, or bees will escape." Wow.

The honey was quite expensive, but cheap compared to the cutsie teddy bear containers. I think that the extra expense is worth it because it doesn't have processed sugar. I had to put it in a plastic container that they provided, but I will take mine back when I need to refill.


I made chocolate chip cookies yesterday, and they were the best I've ever made (I think). I mixed whole wheat and regular flours, and I actually only used 70% of the sugar that the recipe called for. I am going to continue to reduce the amount of sugar until I find out what the like..."bare minimum" that I can stand is. : P


Also, I have other news. I knew, coming home, that recycling would be harder because we live out in the country and they don't collect recycling this far out. I also didn't know whether Jan would be receptive to me collecting things in our house to recycle.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. I cleaned out the utility room simply because it needed cleaning, but in the process found room to put some boxes for collecting recycling. I called our center to find out what they collect, and once a week I have been taking the stuff down to the "transfer station," from which the City will collect recycling. The transfer station is actually only a couple of miles from my house, and I can take stuff down there on the weekends.

We can "downcycle" all sorts of plastic tubs (butter, sour cream), jars (coffee) and bottles. We can recycle cardboard (corrugated and not), and mixed paper. The transfer station also takes magazines, phonebooks, and glossy paper, but I'm not sure how much of this actually gets recycled. I know that the best way to go is to not buy things in plastic in the first place, but I really appreciate that we can downcycle what we can.

It's kind of nice to have my aunt constantly asking me what can be recycled, because it has been a learning experience for both of us.

Monday, January 26

Baking & Breaking Bread

Today, I made my first loaf of home-baked bread.

Last week, I tried to bake bread with a breadmaker at my aunt's insistence. I failed twice, and I failed because the machine had been sitting on a shelf for five and a half years and apparently can no longer be relied upon to do anything but make a cake-y mess and a lot of noise. The breadmaker's cookbook had also warned me that baking bread was tough, and that yeast was super fragile, and that I would never manage on my own because I am a Naive Human Being.


Today, I used More-With-Less' recipe for Honey Whole Wheat Bread. I kind of integrated information from the old standby in our house, Joy of Cooking. Here is how it happened, and why:

Reading and Mentally Preparing

I read More-With-Less and wanted several things out of baking my own bread: I wanted to feel that I could do it and know that I could be independent from store-bought bread, I wanted to avoid the packaging and production waste associated with store-bought bread, I wanted to make sure that only "good" ingredients were going into my bread, and I wanted to give my family the gift of home-baked bread again. It has been five and a half years since my uncle died, and he was the last one to use the breadmaker.

I decided on the Honey Whole Wheat recipe because it looked easy, and didn't require any processed sugar. I love wheat bread, and this seemed like a great place to start.


Karen and I went shopping at Win-Co, and we found all of the ingredients in bulk. I can also draw a wheat kernel now on demand, because Karen had an illustrated explanation for me of what wheat germ was. At Win-Co, I can even get honey in bulk.

I did not get soy flour, but adding some into my recipe would have added nutrients to my bread. I chose not to do so because Karen freaked me out with all of her baking science talk, and I just wanted something straightfoward. Having actually succeeded once now, I may experiment with flours. Win-Co has like...a billion kinds of flour.

Recipes and Reality

This morning, I spent a good long time thinking about yeast. Joy of Cooking told me that yeast is a prima donna and that she does not like a cold dressing room. Okay, thanks, Joy of Cooking. I divvied out all of my dry ingredients, and warmed up my liquids. Then, somewhat holding my breath, I dove in.

1) I dissolved the yeast with some sugar and warm water. I created a "sponge" a la JoC. I let the sponge "rise" in front of the wood stove, because the rest of the house is about sixty degrees. Then, I kneaded in the rest of the ingredients.

2) I turned the kitchen sink into a lovely "bread sauna" because, like I said, the house is at about sixty. Then, I started running out of time.

3) I pulled the bread early from its first rise (at about 45 min, instead of letting it fully double), because I had to make sure that it rose again before I had to leave. I pressed it out by hand, and then rolled it (by hand, again). I tried my best to seal the edges. I put it into the pan and made sure that the short ends touched the short ends of the pan, because JoC assured me that this would help the bread rise. Then, I refilled my "bread sauna" and let the bread rise again.

4) I had to leave, and so did Scott, so I couldn't put the bread in the oven. With my heart in my chest, I wrapped it in an old produce bag that my aunt had washed and saved, and stuck it in the fridge.

5) When I came home six hours later, I pulled the bread out to warm up for fifteen minutes or so. Then, I baked as normal.

The Results

The resulting loaf was dense, but lovely. I think that I will definitely make this a habit, as I ended up liking my loaf much better than store-bought. All of my ingredients were very inexpensive except for honey, but I'm pretty sure the whole thing is still under the $1 we pay for a generic wheat loaf at the store.

I only made a single loaf today because I was afraid that I would mess up again, but I will definitely bake two next time in order to make better use of the oven space.

I will also give my bread more time to rise next time. :)


I think that everyone should try to bake bread. It wasn't hard; I just followed the directions very carefully. I think that this is one small way that I can take ownership of what I eat, and I want to continually seek those opportunities.

Thursday, January 22

Bulk Foods: Nature's Burger

At Win-Co last night, I found a few surprising items available in bulk. The Win-Co in Corvallis is larger than the one in Moscow, so it feels like I will always be finding something new. Last night, I shopped for various staples to make bread, whole wheat pasta, and curry powder. I knew I'd find these things in bulk. However, I also found a garden burger mix.

Nature's Burger comes as a powder, and you mix it with equal water. I was dubious about how the flavor of the burger would turn out, so here's what I did:

1/2 c mix (enough for two patties)
1/2 c water
2 spoonfuls of dry vegetable soup mix (also available in bulk)

The result was quite delicious. I made patties, but I will probably use the mix to add texture to casseroles and things. The mix was very inexpensive (I paid about $2 for enough mix to make 6-10 patties, which places the expense WAY under buying packaged, pre-made garden burgers), and it seems like it will be very versatile. I will also experiment will adding garlic or lemon pepper to the stuff.

The other thing that I found, but did not get, was a mix for hummus. I will get this next time, as hummus is wonderful for all sorts of things. I love hummus, and I like to add tomatoes or garlic to mine.

I almost had a completely plastic-free shopping trip, except...

Apparently Shop N Kart here in Lebanon has stopped selling lemon juice in bottles, and ONLY sells the little plastic lemon containers. My aunt was very upset that she could no longer buy a glass bottle, or any kind of bottle for that matter. At Win-Co, I couldn't find glass bottles either, but a large plastic bottle uses less plastic than many lemon containers, and can be downcycled at the end of its life.

Tuesday, January 20


Back in November, I was published as a guest columnist in my university's newspaper. About a week ago, a representative from MaryJanesFarm, a magazine out of Moscow, contacted me about reprinting my article. I gladly said yes, of course!

I would love to write for a magazine like this, so maybe after the first-run I will submit another article and see if they'll print it.

Sunday, January 11

Marine Life and Micro-Pollutants

I went to the coast on Friday with Karen, Brett, and Jesse. We went to Newport and visited South Beach, as we have done dozens of times. This time, I was on a mission; I knew what I was looking for.

I deluded myself into thinking that it would be difficult to find plastic pellets - broken down from larger plastic pieces and worn smooth by the ocean - on my beautiful Oregon beach. I was wrong. The picture shows what I found within a matter of five minutes. I bent to look at the sand - truly look at it - and the truth was clear as day.

These plastic pellets are beautiful: shiny and smooth, like sea shells or sea glass. However, do not be fooled by their beauty. These are micro-pollutants, and they are dangerous. These are what fish and marine life are ingesting, these are also making their way up the food chain.

The truth can be as difficult or as easy to see in this world as these plastic pellets are to find on a beautiful beach. If you are looking at the whole picture, it seems untainted and perfect. But if you get down to the details, the truth is easy to see: this is the result of our poor stewardship of the earth.

What next?

Monday, January 5

Bulk Foods

One of the things that I worried about as I returned home to Oregon was the lack of Win-Co. Win-Co has provided me with bulk food bins within a ten-minute walk; here, the nearest Win-Co is about half an hour's drive. Now tell me: how "green" is it to drive half an hour to reduce the packaging I get with food? It was a dilemma that plagued me.

I saw three options:

1) Combine the Win-Co run with other Corvallis goodies, such as weekly ballroom dances. Perhaps I could carpool with others.

2) Utilize Vital Health's (a local co-op type place, with limited bulk goods) stale and often empty bins.

3) Do without bulk goods.

Then, today, I found out something amazing: the Fred Meyer in Albany has bulk foods!

Albany is still a fifteen-minute drive, but I will be going there once a week for my French class anyway. I can easily combine these trips. I am very excited to have this possibility available. Granted, Freddy's does not have as many bins as Win-Co, but I think it'll work out fine. They have a variety of grains and beans that form the foundations for healthy cooking. They don't so much have chocolate chips. Sigh.

Also, in light of this new "needing to cook" situation, I realized that I would need to buy more than a couple of things in bulk. I have been recycling three or four paper bags to get bulk goods, but the other day I bought some muslin (really cheap and utilitarian) and busted out a bunch of produce bags. I can use them for veggies or anything from the bins.

Karen and I are going to Corvallis tomorrow for other stuff (Michael's and Twilight, woot!), so I will get some of the stuff from Win-Co that Freddy's didn't have.

Saturday, January 3

Water Allocation

Yesterday, the Gaggle and I met at LCC and had wonderful conversation and coffee. The most important thing that we talked about was water shortages, water rights, and an inexplicable apathy that seems to be pervasive in the affluent. What I mean is that many people who have an abundance of water don’t think twice about it.

Claire researched global water shortages for a class, and she set the scene: the Colorado River supplies water to parts of seven U.S. states, and then moves into Mexico. However, by the time it gets to Mexico, the water is polluted and must be very, very processed to be made drinkable. Also, the river is nearly dry at the delta.

The specifics of this situation are not necessarily important. What is important is to ponder some overarching questions: who owns water? What is a water right? And lastly, when does it become our problem?

Is it acceptable that seven U.S. states signed a compact deciding the fate of this water, and Mexico did not?

Who gets to determined how the water is used? Do homeowners have the right to use water as they wish? Is it acceptable for Mexico to have to pay higher fees for processing, if the U.S. inhabitants polluted the water?

Is it acceptable and appropriate for people in L.A. to have huge swimming pools and take thirty-minute showers when people at the other end of the river have no drinking water?

Thoreau writes, “if [the machine of government] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

If we passed a thirsty man on the street, surely we would stop and give him water. Why, then, do we feel free to abuse our water privileges while people in the world are drinking polluted water? This is not a matter of a “right,” but a matter of human decency. As far as I’m concerned, we should be foremost concerned with the basic needs of every human that we can. Only at that point can we begin to think about swimming pools.

The big question that I am grappling with is “why don’t more people care?” I mean, why have we set a cultural standard for green lawns, no matter what the time of year or part of the country? Why are we running the shower water when we’re soaping up? Why do we flush the toilet after every use at the expense of eight gallons (average) of potable water?

And why aren’t more people clamoring for change?

Thursday, January 1


Environmentalism is an exercise in being alive and awake.

Last summer, I read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and began to realize that we are all caught in a current called Culture. I didn’t choose my culture, anymore than I chose my hair color or eye color. Still, unlike those things, I can change my culture in a very real way by practicing constant wakefulness as I begin to step out of the current.

Quinn has a metaphor for this current. He calls it “Mother Culture,” and she is constantly rocking us to sleep and humming lullabies. Her primary motive is to get us to stop crying and to stop thinking for ourselves. She has a vested interest in moving us away from wakefulness. Our culture is one of capitalism and consumerism, and so our Mother perpetuates these goals.

As far as Environmentalism goes, I see this awareness as a way to examine some interesting facets of our cultural current. Our cultural current is particularly strong when we live with “disposable” norms. Out to eat? Grab a plastic fork. Cell phone a little touchy? Get a new one. Our Mother wants us to believe that these things are disposable, and croon us to sleep as our fourth grade science class teaches us that plastic never biodegrades…

We need to wake up. We need to see “disposable” as a lie, and force our way out of the current. We need to examine our habits, and change them. Just because naiveté is convenient doesn’t make it right.

My environmentalism did not start today, but I grasp this opportunity for a fresh start to share my thoughts with the world. When Thoreau left the woods of Walden Pond, he knew that he needed to share his ideas with others, lest they be worthless. I am leaving my own woods (university), and I need to make my ideas known in a new way.

I am an environmentalist, a socialist, and a spiritualist: I love the environment, people, and the rhythms of the universe. This is a thought journey, but also the ins and outs of daily life now that I’m keen to the Matrix. This is my journey into wakefulness.