Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

CC in the National Post

National PostHappy Birthday to me!

I've got a few exciting things to announce today.

First, one of my blog posts was picked up in the column Sense and Sustainability in The National Post:

The Green Gender Gap: Peak oil response is a case of he said, she said.

It is based on my blog post, Peak Oil - instinctual reactions.

Second, and much more exciting news, my husband came home from the hospital last night! We pretty much begged to have him released early and so they set it up so he can get his treatments from home instead of doing it in-patient.

So, hopefully we can keep him out as he recovers from his stem cell transplant.

Hooray!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Buy Nothing Challenge - August Edition

Batten down your wallets, it's that time again!

Y'all have had three whole months to wallow in your decadent, consumeristic lives and now it's time for a kick in the pants. Yes, folks, it's another edition of the Buy Nothing Challenge. If you missed out on it last time you can check out all the previous posts on how much fun (or withdrawals) everyone had.

We had over 225 people participating in April, so let's see how many we can get to sign up for the August edition. I'll be hosting the weekly Sunday Confessional again where you can attempt to justify your wanton purchases. So, just think about having to confess to the world why you couldn't contain your credit card.

Here are the rules (plus a new one), in case you forgot 'em...

  • No new clothes
  • No new gadgets
  • No new furniture or housewares
  • No salon services (except haircuts)
  • No new makeup
  • No new tools
  • No whatever the hell else people buy
  • No eating out (yes, this one is new!)
Once more, I'm only giving you one day to prepare so you don't run off and stockpile like crazy. You should be focusing on whether or not what you are buying is a necessity or something frivolous. Food, medications and other essentials are okay.

If you must absolutely acquire something non-edible or not essential to growing your own food, preserving or storing food for the off-season or for your survival, then you must borrow, barter, or buy it used (please note: canning equipment and supplies like sugar, pectin and jars are okay). If you end up buying something new, then spill your sins at the Sunday Confessional.

Since a lot of you are probably in buying back-to-school supplies mode, try to stick to what's on your supply list. If you have young kids who don't know any better, buy their back to school clothes at a thrift or consignment store. Feel free to torture older kids with it, too. No, really, it will be fun!

Those who participated last time took about a week to get into no-spending mode, but then were amazed out how much they saved. They were also amazed at how much they buy stuff they don't need.

If you want to sign up for the challenge, leave a comment on this post and I'll add you to the sidebar under the list of participants. For those of you who stumble upon this later, you can still join. If you want to put the graphic up on your blog, just paste the following code:

<a href="http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/07/buy-nothing-challenge-august-edition.html"><img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_8ndgSYbdkZ0/SI_0NRYmL7I/AAAAAAAABik/Uq53kGHqgGw/s320/banner.jpg" border="0" alt="Buy Nothing Challenge - August 2008" /></a>

Remember folks, there's safety in numbers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The shampoo dilemma solved

Random wet hair pictureBecause I posted on the whole coconut oil as hair moisturizer the other day, I thought I would follow up with an answer to the question people had on what I do for shampoo.

I've been planning on writing on this topic for months now. To start, I will describe what I'm working with here so you can get an idea if this advice will be at all useful for you.

I have long (not quite mid-back since I cut 4 inches off a few months ago, but a few inches shy of it), colored hair that is curly in front and straightish in back. If I were to blow dry it straight without a straightening iron, it looks totally crazy frizzy. I have an oily scalp so I need to wash my hair every day. The ends are mostly healthy (since I cut off the length) with few to no split ends, but the ends are dry (hence the coconut oil conditioning search).

Let me preface this whole discussion with the simple fact that no, I haven't tried the no-poo method yet, nor the apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse, and don't plan on it. I'm really not up for the transition time it takes for my hair to supposedly adjust. And, quite frankly, if I don't wash my hair, my scalp stinks.

Anyway, I've been using Aveda products for the last few years (Color Conserve for shampoo, Scalp Benefits for conditioner and Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment) and am aware that they use SLS (sodium lauryl sulfates - the sudsing and main cleaning agent) in their products. The issue with SLS is that there have been some studies showing they potentially have nasty effects in the body, particularly in the liver. Allegedly.

Additionally, there's the issue of plastic with the bottles. So, initially, I was trying to get aware from packaging and worrying less about the chemical content, but still aware of them. As a result, I tried out a few types of shampoo bars. All the ones I tried (J.R. Liggett and my own homemade soap with similar ingredients) left my hair exceptionally greasy in spite of washing it daily with the soap.

I tell you, I had real high hopes for them. They sudsed up like crazy, way more than my shampoos with SLS, and I thought "Hot Damn!" my hair is gonna be clean. After rinsing, my hair felt weirdly squeaky and difficult to deal with. Once it dried, it felt really soft and was a lot less frizzy except it never really felt clean. After 3 - 4 days, it looked like I had squeezed a bottle of Canola into the area near my scalp. I went back to my regular shampoo.

I have heard that people swear by using the ACV rinse to combat the squeak and the greasitude and it was all a matter of "adjusting" but, frankly, life is too bloody short to spend farting around with magic potions on the off chance that in a month maybe my hair won't look and feel like shit. But I digress.

I also tried shampoos like Burt's Bees Very Volumizing Pomegranate Shampoo. It doesn't contain any SLS ingredients and it shows. It smelled great, but the lather was less than impressive and I couldn't stand using it for more than a few days. It didn't feel like it cleaned my hair, I had the same squeaky action and it left my hair dried out. I went back to my regular shampoo.

Triple Tea Tree TreatSince the shampoo bars weren't working (I still have yet to try Lush's shampoo bar with sodium coco-sulfate although I suspect I'll still run into similar problems) it looked like I would have to reduce the packaging element by buying something in bulk. Luckily, my local store sells a couple kinds, one of which is Giovanni's Tea Tree Triple Threat (or Treat or Something) Invigorating Shampoo. To say "invigorating" is an understatement.

At first, the intensive mintytude of it was overpowering. I have not experienced something so damn minty that it made my skin actually hurt before, but since then I have either gotten used to it or I was overly sensitive the first time. Either way, this stuff is Certified Organic and uses none of the nasty chemicals like lauryl/laureth sulfates. They make other shampoos as well, so if I'm finding the tea tree oil to be too drying or the superpowered peppermint oil too annoying, I'll switch to one of the other ones they carry in bulk.

So, to make an incredibly long story short (or in this case, short story long). I have found a shampoo that lathers pretty well, cleans nicely, has no chemicals or packaging and I don't have to walk around looking like a giant stinky greaseball, mess with funky powders or liquid rinses in the shower or smell like a vinegar and oil salad all day long.

Phew! I hope that answers the question.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sweat Lodge

Keep Yer Cool ChallengeI know a lot of you (especially those in Dallas and in the South) are totally sweating your buns off this week, but I am up here freezing mine off. Tomorrow we are due to have highs of a whopping 65 degrees.

So, while I have no fantastic advice for you since I'll be cuddled up in my fleece blinky tonight when it drops to 55 degrees, I do hope the rest of you are handling the warmer temperatures okay.

What are you doing to stay cool? Are you turning your air conditioning up just a little or using some other techniques? Are you able to stick to your original goal?

What's your favorite technique to stay cool?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Going nuts for coconut oil

Super silkie chickenNow, using coconut oil will definitely not turn you into a Silkie Chicken, but it will turn you into a silky chicken. Let me 'splain.

I've been looking for a natural deep hair conditioner as the majority of good mainstream ones out there tend to be full of odd sorts of chemicals. Most of the so-called "natural" ones I've encountered so far have been heavy, greasy or just gross and didn't really do anything or were impossible to wash out.

Well, much to my surprise I stumbled upon a group of people who use straight up coconut oil for their hair. It's referred to as "oiling" and basically you just apply some unrefined (aka "virgin") coconut oil on dry hair before washing. You can put it on 15 minutes before shampooing, overnight or anything in between - whatever you prefer. Obviously leaving it on longer will allow it to work more, just know that it will leave your hair rather oily and you'll want to protect your pillow with a towel if you sleep overnight with it in.

So, what's the big deal with coconut oil? Well, I tried it (since I have a ton of the unscented kind for making soap) and it washed out really easy, left my hair very soft and, most amazingly, my hair is super shiny, but not at all oily. The other weird thing is that the curls in my hair are a lot more defined, probably because the cuticle is less frizzy.

Coconuts!How often should you use it? Well, I guess it depends on how dry and damaged your hair is. You can probably get away with using it twice a week although I'm sure once a week or month is probably a goodly amount. Many people also use a very small (and I do mean tiny) amount on their dry hair daily for shine and for controlling fly-aways.

How does coconut oil differ from something like jojoba oil? Purportedly, coconut oil is able to penetrate the hair shaft better than jojoba or sunflower oils. According to one study:

Among three oils [coconut, mineral and sunflower], coconut oil was the only oil found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product. Both sunflower and mineral oils do not help at all in reducing the protein loss from hair. This difference in results could arise from the composition of each of these oils. Coconut oil, being a triglyceride of lauric acid (principal fatty acid), has a high affinity for hair proteins and, because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, is able to penetrate inside the hair shaft.

For more information you can check it out here.

The other thing you can use coconut oil for is moisturizing your skin. It magically disappears into your skin and doesn't leave you feeling oily or greasy.

This morning I whipped together a little body moisturizer using coconut oil, cocoa butter and vanilla essential oil. Since both coconut oil and cocoa butter are solid at room temperature (but melt at body temperature), I microwaved the two briefly and then added in the essential oil. Cocoa butter tends to be a little waxy, so if you try mixing up this concoction on your own, go easy on the cocoa butter.

Friday, July 25, 2008

CC on Huffington Post

For any of you who are interested, The Huffington Post picked up one of my blog posts and wrote about it today:

Dining Out with Green in Mind

Here's my original article: Is Eating Out More Eco-Friendly?

By the way, my 100 Mile Vacation article is finally up on 5 Minutes for Going Green (can you tell how organized I am this week?).

If you sauntered your way over here from The Huffington Post, welcome! Please feel free to poke around...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

NW blogger meetup

Melinda (from One Green Generation née Elements in Time) and I have been talking about putting together some sort of get-together to, well, get together all the bloggers and interested readers from the Seattle area and beyond.

We are still at the pre-planning stages and wanted to get an idea of what, if any, interest there would be in getting all us peeps together for a meet n' greet.

So, both of us are posting today to get a head count and some ideas of the whats and wheres. Should this just be a social event or should there be an agenda? Indoors, outdoors, local food, suggestions, aversions?

We were thinking of doing this August 24th, but are flexible on that date.

So, what think ye?



If there are enough people interested I'll be hosting another poll to determine what kind of venue to have it.

100 mile vacation

5 Minutes for Going GreenIf you're interested, check out my post on the 100 Mile Vacation over on 5 Minutes for Going Green today!

If a "staycation" is not your speed and you don't want to go all-out on a trip to Rome you can still have a great time on a 100 mile vacation...

Jiminy - this is up finally!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Peak Oil - instinctual reactions

Peak Oil CampI promise this isn't going to be a Peak Oil blog all the time, I just wanted to put something down that I was mulling over in the shower. That is, why do people respond to Peak Oil in the way that they do? Why does it seem like there is a strong gender difference in how people react to the coming energy crisis?

Humanity has a great history and tradition of believing that their generation is the one that's going to bite the dust. Each generation has this belief that they will witness the next coming of Christ, the end of days, or some other catastrophe or apocalypse. For some, I think there's the idea that people have reached some point either because they've earned it or because, as my paranoid Grandmother used to say, "it's Sodom and Gomorrah out there".

The majority of people writing about Peak Oil and, therefore, proposing their version of the future are men. Perhaps it's the extremists that stick out and are what people remember, but I've heard many complaints about the whole prediction that Peak Oil = Social and Economic Armageddon. Several of you stated so in your comments to yesterday's post. I, frankly, think this prediction is ridiculously inaccurate. I like to think it's because I subscribe to a certain logic about how the world works. Others might argue that it's because of my gender.

Of the women writing about Peak Oil, the predictions are much more metered. The conversation revolves mostly around preparation. I find it similar in concept to that whole "nesting in" period right before a woman gives birth. It's like instinctually women know some trauma is coming and need to prepare by making the home comfortable and clean and storing up food and supplies. Nothing panicky, just getting things done. If the home is set up right, we somehow know that we can handle pretty much anything to come. Even if deep down we're scared shitless.

The male reaction must be based on something else because for many male Peak Oil writers out there, it degrades quickly into Ramboism. Load up the shotgun, honey, this is going to be bad! In fact, I would argue that many actually welcome this breakdown of society. But what could this be attributed to? Bear with me here while I stereotype half the population.

The human male, over the last several centuries, has been stuffed into a society where all their evolutionary self-preservation instincts are kept under lock and key. Not to reduce a gender to hormones (although I just did above with females), but over tens of thousands of years men spent their days physically fighting for power, physically overtaking women and killing other animals to survive. I would argue that modern society is a vast improvement over this, but you can't instantaneously remove thousands of years of genetics primed to succeed in this environment. Realistically, we're only a couple piddling generations out from this "lifestyle".

So, faced with the potential disaster of Peak Oil, why do some men so rapidly carry out the thought experiment to survivalist mode? There's a definite romanticization of living off the land, tribalism and protecting the women. Is it because the desire to unleash all those things that, presently, aren't socially acceptable is so strong? In these survivalist scenarios, the men get to scratch that evolutionary itch. I think it's safe to say that fantasy is one thing, but the reality is that most modern men are ill-equipped to deal with the violence that comes with anarchy.

Of course these are all just gross generalizations, but then again why am I hunkering down into gatherer mode, dehydrating strawberries and stockpiling peanut butter? I sure as hell ain't pregnant.

And now that I've completely stereotyped everyone, I admit that you can't reduce people down to instincts only. But, I do think it's important to see where people are coming from, what their motivations are, conscious or otherwise and take that into consideration when reading someone else's predictions. It's all a crapshoot as far as the future goes, but it helps to process the unknown when looked at this way.

What do you think about this? Did this help or do I need to lay off on the rum cache?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Peak oil and a poll

Gas pricesI usually focus mainly on environmental subjects with the occasional social topic thrown in for good measure. Lately, I've been lightly mentioning peak oil without really going into what it exactly means.

I know a lot of you read Sharon's blog and are either somewhat or well versed in all things peak oil, but I also bet many of you have no idea what I'm talking about or don't really understand much about it. I generally have left the peak oil discussions up to others, but lately I've been doing a lot of reading on the topic and am finding myself better equipped to tackle some of the more salient bits of the conversation.

So, my question for you is, would you like to see me take a more vocal position regarding peak oil on this blog? Would you like some more information on what it is, what is means for us a society and what to expect? Would you like me to debunk some of the colossally ridiculous facts floating around? As usual, I would keep it as entertaining as possible, when it's possible.

Of course, this calls for a poll.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food Not Lawns discussion (chapters 1 - 3)

Food Not LawnsWelcome to the first installment of the Food Not Lawns book club discussion post!

Let me first, right off the bat, state that I find this book both alternately inspiring and annoying. What do I find annoying? Mamble like the following:

"In the garden, by stepping outside economic and social constructs for a moment to envision ourselves in the cradle of nature, we can get to know the ecological self."

That kind of yammer just bothers me. And most of the exercises she suggests seem contrived. Particularly the water sports one. I don't envision myself cradling that one.

That said, I will ignore this kind of language and hooha and try not to let it distract me from the task at hand: discussing the actual content. Since this book's format is quite a bit different than the other ones in the book club, I won't be breaking it down by chapters, but just discussing a chunk of the book as a whole and throwing out questions where I see fit.

Okay, let's begin.

Lawns. Big ass lawns. Why do we have a culture of lawns? Well, the 18th century French aristocrats thought it good fun to rub it in the faces of the peasants that they were so darn wealthy than they could just grow grass. Not something functional, like food, but big swaths of green, grassy goodness. That cultural ideal has continued to modern America where a beautifully manicured lawn is equated with wealth and status.

I think of it as those covenants against laundry lines. Growing food, raising chickens and hanging out your laundry = poverty. Austere, pristine grassy nonsense = wealth. Put it another way, 58 million Americans spend about 30 billion dollars every year to maintain more than 23 million acres of lawn. Oh yeah, and use around 270 billion gallons of water a week. That's right folks, we're talking billions to maintain grass.

Let's not forget the incredible amount of pesticides and fertilizers being doused on those lawns that, ultimately, run off into the groundwater, evaporate into the air we breathe or run out into our waterways, poisoning our fish and aquatic life. The gas mowers, edgers and blowers don't exactly help either. Even if you don't water or fertilize your lawn, you still are preventing all sorts of habitat for critters by keeping a lawn.

So, what's an environmentally conscious citizen to do? Well, aside from the obvious alternative of returning the lawn to its natural habitat (by growing native plants and using permaculture techniques*), grow some food!

What to do if you don't have a lawn? Well, you have a couple of options. You can see if you can use a neighbor's lawn, rent a plot in a community garden, volunteer at a local farm (oftentimes they'll offer free produce to volunteers), garden in pots and containers, use the roof, depave a sidewalk or driveway, or (the most radical) take over a vacant lot.

If you do have the space you have some alternatives such as growing in raised beds, vertical gardening (growing up), or just reshaping your yard to take advantage of microclimates, rainflow and runoff and all sorts of other permaculture techniques*.

One of the discussion points in Chapter 3 is water-wise gardening. The author discusses mulching, irrigation, contouring and graywater. I'm a little unsure of the whole graywater thing as I believe it has to be done carefully (graywater can quickly become blackwater) and there are legal issues to be considered. She is extremely cavalier about this aspect, so tread carefully on how you want to proceed with using graywater.

After reading these sections are you inspired to tear up your lawn? What about the community aspects of growing food? Would you be willing to share you lawn with the neighbors for growing food for the community? Do you know your neighbors well enough to ask them to share their yard?

What about some of the suggestions she has for contouring your yard to grow food? Had you thought much about that when considering growing food before or was this new information for you?

Would you be willing to install some sort of graywater and/or pond system to irrigate your food crops or does it seem like too much work or too risky? What about rainwater capture?

Ok, that's it for now. The next book club post will be in two weeks.

*Ms. Flores goes into permaculture techniques in depth in the first section of the book, but I won't cover it here because I like to keep things somewhat briefish.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fighting the beauty ideal

America FerreraThe last couple of days I've been toodling about town without makeup. Maybe because it's summer and I'm not going to work for a while, but it just seems dumb to bother getting all dolled up to hang out at the cancer clinic. One thing that I've noticed is that, after getting over the initial shock of not seeing myself in makeup, I look just as good without it, just different.

I started wearing more makeup when I briefly lived in Southern California mostly because everyone else wore a lot and I felt really under-dressed in comparison. The beauty standard there is quite different than Seattle and the pressure to pay attention to your appearance non-stop is oppressive. For the most part, I generally wear noticeable makeup only when going out on the town which happens, oh, once a year. In other words, I don't wear much makeup or, at least, it doesn't look like I wear much makeup.

Roselyn SanchezSkimming it down is liberating. I save an extra 5 minutes and since I'm just letting my hair air dry, there's another 10 minutes in the morning. It strikes me as ridiculous those women who spend an hour doing their hair every morning. I'd rather be doing something else, but I'm sure some women can point to me and say that they'd rather be spending the extra 15 minutes every day doing something else. So, it's all relative.

There are some women who, admittedly, look better with makeup than without, but the majority of celebrities are trapped by the same beauty ideal, even though they look beautiful without makeup.

Eva MendesSo, who is driving this standard? Industry, other women, men or a combination of them all? Is it because it's what we expect women to look like that we set these ideals? Or are the red lips and rimmed eyes some evolutionary throwback that stimulates some part of our primate brain that signals beauty?

For the women reading this post, do you wear makeup and, if so, do you feel better with it on? Do you feel ugly without makeup or is there one or two things that you absolutely have to wear in order to go out in public? For the men (and I know you won't answer but I'll try anyway), do you prefer your significant other or just women in general to wear makeup?

If it's really just industry driving this, why are we willing to spend thousands of dollars on beauty products and potentially poisoning ourselves with chemicals just to achieve some arbitrary "look" when, in fact, no one cares? If we really are programmed to respond to this artifice, can we ever escape it? I'd like to hear the opinions of those who didn't grow up under this beauty rubric... if any still exist.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What's your water footprint?

Water footprintMy kids have been intent on standing at the bathroom sink lately and letting the water run, and run, and run. They think it's water-works time. Hand washing turns into washing whatever toys happen to be in there with them (usually Legos) and I find myself yelling all day long "Turn off the water! You're wasting water!"

Then I still need to physically go in there and wake them from their water-stupor. Usually when they hear me coming the water goes off. Since I can't tell half the time if they are actually washing their hands or screwing around in there, it gets a little difficult.

So, I've been expecting my water bill to be higher than usual. It wasn't. It was actually 26 gallons per day less than this time last year. This is even more astounding since it's been hotter this year and, truth be told, the Slip 'N Slide was put into miserly use a few weeks back.

When I read recently that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water a day I figured we'd be right up there. For comparison, the French and Germans use about 60 gallons a day and people in some tribal villages use less than 10.

So, how did we compare? We use about 45 gallons a day per person, which still seems high to me. What am I doing different than last year? Well, the kids are getting bathed a whole lot less and we aren't flushing the toilets as often. I am wearing some clothes a few times before washing them. I never water the lawn, but that's nothing new. We do a lot of laundry, but we have one of those front-loader water saving kinds, but that's not new either. So, I have to chalk it up to less bathing and flushing.

What's your water footprint? How does it compare to the average? What do you do or what suggestions do you have for reducing your water usage?

Finally, does anyone know of some contraption I could put on the kid's bathroom sink to, at the very least, limit the flow?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Plenty book winner

PlentyCongratulations to Just Ducky for her self-restraint. By some dumb luck, you actually won the drawing.

But, since you decided to be all mature and not sign up for the drawing, the book actually goes to Ave.

So, Ave, congratulations! You are the winner of the book Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally!

Email me at crunchychickenblog@gmail.com with your info and I'll get it out to you sometime this month :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life without oil - Part 2

Home heating oil price graphLast week, in Part 1 of Life with oil, I discussed what I was doing to reduce the amount of gas I use for transportation purposes. This week I want to bring up our other big use of oil-based products: home heating.

This is going to be more and more of a problem for us since we use heating oil to heat our house. Sure, we use BioHeat, which is a blend of biofuel and oil, so there is some environmental impact there on two fronts, but at least the emissions are less. I want to switch to something more sustainable long term as well as something that won't have huge cost run ups as the price of oil increases.

At our old house we had a natural gas furnace and it is a viable alternative for some people, but we do not have natural gas lines going through our current neighborhood and, since it is believed that we have already reached "peak" natural gas as well, I fully expect to see prices of natural gas going up, too. It may not be seen as quickly, but I don't want to switch to something new and then regret it in 5 - 10 years.

Burning stuff (wood, corn pellets, etc.) isn't very practical since most of the time there's a burn ban in the city and using wood doesn't seem sustainable for urban dwellers and I believe corn pellets are going to be harder and harder to come by and/or will go up in price.

So, what's left? Electric heat is an option. We are signed up for 100% Green Power, meaning that we are getting all our electricity from wind, hydro and the like. The only real issue that I see with switching to electric heat is possibly overtaxing portions of the grid, especially on cold days when the demand is already high. Of course, this is only a problem if everyone decides to jump onto electric heating. My super-frigid house temps aren't going to be taxing much of anything.

SolarsheatI'm really intrigued by these solar air heating panels where the energy collected is used strictly for heating the home and does not go into your electrical usage. It would be a cheaper solution than getting full-on solar panels since the energy is targeted specifically to home heating. It would be nice to eventually use solar for other energy usage, but I'm just not willing to spend the money on them yet.

I suppose we could switch to electric heat and then eventually look into doing full solar if the prices become more reasonable. That way we take advantage of cheap, green energy now and then can move to solar generated electricity later if that looks viable. That seems like a good option if other things don't pan out.

In the meantime, I'm going to look into the solar air heating panels since I think it would cost less than $5,000 for a home heating upgrade.

What about you? How do you heat your home? If you use heating oil or natural gas are you putting any thought into switching to something else when the costs run too high? What are your thoughts on wood and corn pellet heating?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Plenty book giveaway!

PlentyI won this book from Green Bean and I thought I'd pass it along to some other lucky winner now that I am finished reading it.

Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, is written by a Vancouver couple that, not too surprisingly, spends one year eating locally. Written in a similar vein as Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, this story is a little more apropos to those who don't have a lot of land or, really, any land to grow and store their own food.

Here's my mini review:

It was interesting reading how this couple struggled with keeping to their 100 mile diet and how they went about trying to find foods that fit within their criteria. On one hand it was admirable that they stuck to their guns (for the most part), but I was disappointed by the incredible amount of travelling they did during this time. Granted, much of it was work related, but still. It seemed to offset their efforts.

I found the format of authors switching between chapters confusing and half the time couldn't remember which one was writing when I picked up the book again. The crabbing about their relationship and each other was distracting and, even though it may have pertained to what they were experiencing, it came off as being really childish. I wasn't as inspired reading this one as opposed to the several other books out on the market that deal with the same content and the writing isn't nearly as good as with Kingsolver's, but that's a hard comparison.

I guess my recommendation is that if you haven't read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or The Omnivore's Dilemma, then you will probably like this book. It isn't as good as the other two, but if you can borrow a copy, then give it a whirl.

Now that I've totally turned you off from reading this book with my fabulous review I must say that it is still worth a look-see if you are interested in reading about other's experiences with trying to eat locally. And, hey, it's free! So sign up if you want to win this copy by adding your name to the comments of this post. This contest closes on Friday, July 11th at 6:00 p.m. PST.

Good luck!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Independence Days update

Independence Days ChallengeI haven't been very good about keeping you all up-to-date on my participation on the Independence Days Challenge over on Sharon's blog. I generally haven't had time to make updates and/or I can't keep straight from one week to the next what I've been working on. Call it early senile dementia.

Either way, here's what I've been up to in the last week. For those of you unfamiliar with the challenge, these are things I have done to be more independent of the standard American food chain:

Harvested:
  • Kale, lettuce, spinach, chard
  • Red onion
  • Lavender, sage, rosemary, mint
  • Strawberries, cherries
  • Rose petals

    Planted:
  • Peppermint
  • Grapes
  • Walla Walla sweet onion
  • Beets
  • Spinach, lettuce
  • Carrots, radishes
  • Anaheim pepper, Cayenne pepper
  • Meyer lemon tree (woohoo!)

    Transplanted:
  • Marjoram, oregano

    Preserved:
  • Vegetable stock
  • Dried rose petals
  • Drying lavender
  • Made 8 jars rose jam
  • Made 32 jars strawberry jam (more on that later)

    Stored:
  • Bought extra beans, pasta and water for storage. Will continue to buy extras every week to create emergency supplies in addition to canning

    I spent most of the afternoon yesterday canning strawberries. I made three different types of strawberry jam. I'll post the recipes up on my cooking blog once I get around to it, but for now, just know that I made:

  • Strawberry, Sangiovese and Spice Jam (cinnamon, clove, star anise, nutmeg)
  • Strawberry, Mint and Black Pepper Jam
  • Strawberry, Balsamic Vinegar, Vanilla Bean and Amaretto Jam

    I know these sound weird, but they are fantastic and are loosely based on some French jam recipes. Yum!

    Announcement: Tomorrow I'll be doing a book giveaway of the book Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and JB Mackinnon.

    Also, look for the first book club post for Food Not Lawns coming up next Tuesday!
  • Saturday, July 5, 2008

    DivaCup super fold

    DivaCup Challenge 2008For those of you participating in the 2008 DivaCup Challenge as well as you seasoned veterans, I am about to share with you something that will make you weep with joy.

    Behold... the DivaCup super fold, aka the push-down fold. If you have had problems with inserting and getting the cup to open up and create a tight seal, well, look no further. This folding technique will change your life. Really.

    Push down foldYou can thank me later. Now, go forth and fold. Try it even if you aren't having your period. It's okay, no one will know any different and I guarantee it will make you fall in love with this little fella all over again.

    Thanks to Madeleine at Lunapads for letting me know about this superior folding technique.

    Friday, July 4, 2008

    My country, 'tis of thee

    For such a young country, we certainly have a lot of history to ponder on this Fourth of July. I am a huge fan of early American history and, while there is a lot to be proud of in our founding fathers, there are a lot of warts to be overlooked as well. No generation is perfect and everyone has their faults, but there are a few big things that concern me as to where our country is headed.

    Our political process is so imbued with sensationalism, scandal and sound bites that no actual information is imparted by the general media. What happened to the Lincoln-Douglas style debates? Do you think the modern American would be able to stomach 3 hour long debates? Or really any real discussion of the issues?

    I used to believe that the rest of the world looked to America, not as just a superpower both in economic and military might, but also as a friend in need. A country that held high standards for itself and hoped to help others achieve the same as well. The kind of friend you look up to as a model of behavior, leadership and strength and someone to lean on for comfort or even protection.

    I haven't felt this pride in my country in almost a decade and it saddens me to see us slipping down even faster into the abyss of self-absorption and self-righteousness. I am, quite frankly, embarrassed by the current administration and how the rest of the world must view Americans. I only hope that others looking in don't think that all of us are the spoiled brats our popular media so loves to follow.

    More frightening than the lack of acknowledgement that we've stepped down as a global leader by the leaders of this country is the complete apathy of its citizens. It angers me that, as a country, we sit idly by, letting the privileged few decide the fate of this nation. Yes, I realize it's called democracy, but is it really democratic if hardly anyone bothers to vote? Or if those in power take advantage and erode some of the basic principles of our nation such as civil rights and right to privacy?

    When you think back to the blood, sweat and death that generations before us have endured to create a sovereign nation based on equality, freedom from religious persecution, and the right to achieve what is within our own abilities, it is a shame that our generation sits on our hands and, honestly, doesn't give a crap anymore as to whether or not these foundations are preserved.

    What about all those Americans that fought against slavery and for civil rights and for suffrage for all Americans not just the landed, educated or wealthy? Why don't we take advantage of this gift and vote? It's fairly ridiculous when you think about it. If we were to go back and tell those who so desperately fought for the right to vote that future generations wouldn't even bother voting for president, let alone local elections, do you think they would be incredulous?

    So, please, if you have any respect left for this country, pay attention to how we represent ourselves to the rest of the world. Fight to obtain information about how this country is run. Take advantage of the rights we have to make your say known in how you want this country governed. Then, and only then, can we instill a sense of ownership of our government, a sense of civic duty and participation and a pride in our country not just by its citizens, but by the rest of the world.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    The other white meat

    Let me out!Last week The New Scientist reported the results of a study regarding the disease rates in organic pigs versus ones raised conventionally.

    This is a no brainer, right? The organic pigs are by far going to be healthier, have less exposure to disease given their healthier living conditions and just generally be happier and shinier, right? Um, well, no.

    According to the study, done by researchers from the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, of the U.S. pigs that were tested, they found traces of Salmonella in 39% of the conventionally raised pigs (which are routinely given antibiotics) and in 54% of organic pigs raised outdoors without the drugs. Did you just snort those pork rinds out yer snout? Well, read on.

    Additionally, the study found that two of the organic pigs had signs of infection with Trichinella, our dear roundworm friend that can cause trichinosis when undercooked pork is eaten. Trichinella has been nearly eradicated in livestock in the the U.S. and Europe, although it still exists in wildlife. The rate they found it was 23 times the average frequency in conventional piggies.

    And, just to wrap things up, the researchers also found traces of the parasite Toxoplasma, which is carried by cats and other animals, in 1% of conventional pigs and 7% of free-range animals. For those of you who have been pregnant, you will recognize this as the parasite that can damage developing fetuses.

    Now, before you start throwing out all your organic pork products in fear for your life let me remind you that as long as pork is cooked thoroughly according to federal guidelines, the presence of these infectious agents in food animals should pose no risk to human health. So, what's one to do? Shooting pigs up with antibiotics prophylactically breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but not giving them drugs means more animals carry Salmonella and other nasties.

    Pork. It's what's for dinner.This doesn't, of course, take into consideration animal welfare or other environmental impacts, but if we were to look strictly at food safety this poses a huge conundrum. Does eliminating antibiotic pre-treatment create an environment for the resurgence of diseases that we thought were somewhat under control? What does this all signify and can the same parallels be drawn in other animal stock? Will we see similar results if organic poultry and cattle operations are similarly studied and compared against conventional?

    The obvious argument will be just to choose a vegan or vegetarian diet and you then eliminate all chance of meat-borne pathogens, but let's face it, that's just not a realistic answer.

    Now comes the biggest question of them all, if you dig deep into the bowels of the original study article in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease you'll find this gem: "This project was funded by a grant from the National Pork Board (NPB-04-108)."

    How significant is that? If you read the study it appears that the researchers are basically just reporting the numbers of animals found exhibiting the presence of certain pathogens, but we all know how numbers can be massaged to support one argument over another. How can we trust food safety research if there is the possibility of an ulterior motive funded by industry?

    In either case, we are in a bit of a pickle. On one hand, organic pork appears to have more contaminants. If this isn't actually the case, then we are being bombarded by food safety studies that are skewed to smear the organic industry.

    So, what should we do with this information?

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