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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Depletion and Abundance lending library

Sharon, the fine author of our next upcoming book club, Depletion and Abundance, has kindly offered three books for a giveaway.

Since a lot of you either can't afford to buy the book, it isn't in your budget or you don't have access to it through your local libraries, Sharon thought it would be fun for some of you to be able to read it with the rest of us rather than just following along with the discussion posts. This got me to thinking... rather than just give the books away, what about trying out an online book lending library for these books?

So, here's the deal, people. If you aren't able to buy or borrow the book and are interested in "winning" one of three copies to read, participating in the discussion posts and then returning to me for further lending, sign up in the comments to this post.

The three book recipients will be chosen at random on Friday, October 3rd, at 6:00 pm PST. What you need to agree to when signing up is sending the book back when you are done. This should be a fairly minimal cost (unless you live abroad) since you can send it USPS via media mail for rather cheap. Then I can run the lending library "giveaway" again for those who don't have access to the book.

If you're interested in borrowing the book, sign up!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Natural deodorant trial report

Three months ago I reported that I had switched over to using The Rock, aka crystal deodorant. At the time I was quite pleased with its performance particularly since I have a history of issues with finding an anti-perspirant / deodorant that was effective.

I have always had problems with staining in the armpit region and have learned over the years never to wear white. So, it was with great excitement and pleasure that I reported how successful my initial experiments with the rock were.

But, what about summer usage? I figured if it was effective during the heat and sweat and stink of summer then surely it would be super effective during the cooler months of the year. As such, I'm here to report that for the last three months I have only used The Rock and have been very pleased with its performance. I only had some stinky problems once after working in the yard on a particularly sweat inducing day but it must have been somewhat of an unusual day because since then I have used it under much more sweaty conditions and haven't had any odor problems.

Since it doesn't act as an anti-perspirant, I'm sweating like I should be. Frankly since I've been using anti-perspirant since I was 12 I didn't know what to expect. On some days I had some underarm sweating issues, but since it's not clogged with chemical build-up, my shirts dried pretty quickly. And, I'm sure that it actually kept me cooler. Now, I'm not talking giant sweat rings or anything, just a little more dampness than usual.

Finally, and most importantly, I no longer have a permanent film or build-up or waxy irremovable patch on my shirts. In fact, I have even purchased a few white shirts since I no longer have to worry about yellow staining. That alone is worth a huge "holy crap"!

A number of you have written to me stating that you have had success and, even better, your spouse or husband had success with the crystal. I'm glad I'm not alone in witnessing the miracle that is The Rock.

Any other success stories (or failures) out there?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Keep Yer Cool wrap-up

Keep Yer Cool ChallengeSeptember's going out with a bang - well, as much as it does around here. Sunny skies and mid 70s. But, nothing to sweat too much over.

We don't have air conditioning in the house so there was zero temptation to use any there. There were only a couple nights where it was too hot and, now that I think about it, I never did bring the fan up. We kept the house cool by closing blinds and opening/closing windows at the appropriate time of the day to take advantage of natural heating and cooling effects.

There were a couple times where I used air conditioning in the car mostly to prevent arriving dripping with sweat for a few important functions particularly since I stopped using anti-perspirant and the sweat was more pronounced. Otherwise, open windows (except at freeway speeds so it doesn't impact mileage) were de riguer.

Over the last week or so, we've been moving into cooler temperatures sometimes waking up to mid to low 40 temperatures. So, in spite of the spike in temperatures over the next week, I'll be gearing up for another year of the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, which I'll be starting soon.

How did this summer's Keep Yer Cool Challenge go for you?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall Book Club: Depletion and Abundance

There's just nothing quite like curling up with a good book when fall is in the air. And, because it seems rather unanimous to begin a new book, I'll be hosting a new book club starting in October.

We'll be reading none other than our very own Sharon Astyk's first book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front. Since this is a new book don't expect to find it in your library yet, although it doesn't hurt to ask or make a request for it. There are some used copies floating around, but not enough to satisfy all you voracious readers out there.

What's this book about you ask? From the publisher:

Climate change, peak oil and economic instability aren't just future social problems - they jeopardize our homes and families right now. Our once-abundant food supply is being threatened by toxic chemical agriculture, rising food prices and crop shortages brought on by climate change. Funding for education and health care is strained to the limit, and safe and affordable housing is disappearing.

Depletion and Abundance explains how we are living beyond our means with or without a peak oil/climate change crisis and that, either way, we must learn to place our families and local communities at the center of our thinking once again. The author presents strategies to create stronger homes, better health and a richer family life and to:

  • live comfortably with an uncertain energy supply
  • prepare children for a hotter, lower energy, less secure world
  • survive and thrive in an economy in crisis, and
  • maintain a kitchen garden to supply basic food needs.

    Most importantly, readers will discover that depletion can lead to abundance, and the anxiety of these uncertain times can be turned into a gift of hope and action.

  • As per usual, book club posts will be on every other Tuesday starting October 14th. I know a lot of you already own the book and have started reading it, but many of us haven't yet so I'll start out slow. I'm sure Sharon will be weighing in on the comments to our questions so this should be a most exciting book club this time around! I'm very excited to read this book and I hope you all enjoy it as well.

    If my poll software were working, I'd be running a poll right now, but they are all out of commission at the moment, so you'll have to let me know in the comments if you are interested in this book club, if you plan on reading it as well or if you are going to just follow along by reading the discussion posts, but not the book.

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    DivaCup drops the environmental ball

    I'm sorry to announce that Diva International has recently updated their policies regarding their DivaCup product.

    You should know by now that I'm a huge DivaCup proponent and believe that every woman should at least try it to see if it works for them. Not everyone loves it, but the majority do and it saves an incredible amount of natural resources and cost for women over using disposable menstrual products.

    What's different in their policies? First off, they no longer offer returns or refunds for trying their product out. I can understand this from a business perspective, it is expensive to adhere to this policy, but I don't believe that reusable menstrual cups have hit a "critical mass", so to speak, that women are ready to give it a try without having some sort of reassurance that they are not out the money for what many consider to be a very expensive product.

    Of course, if it works out for you, the cost is negligible over time since you'll be saving a ton of money over having to purchase disposables, but sometimes it takes a little financial incentive to give it a try. I'm sorry to say that I think that this change in policy will reduce the number of women willing to give it a try. In other words, it's an expensive experiment for many.

    The second policy change is that Diva International is now saying that the lifespan of the cup is only one year. "Due to government standards and the personal, hygienic nature of the product, a menstrual cup should be replaced once a year." Now, unless your dog has chewed it up, you microwaved it until it melted or you insist on using it as a beer bottle opener at parties, it's unlikely that your cup has been damaged in the course of one year to warrant replacement.

    If you are worried about bacteria, then boil the damn thing. It's silicone for crying out loud. It's going to last longer on the earth than you will. I understand regulations and all, but I think this policy change is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

    Most importantly, this second policy change completely undermines their claim of being a Green Diva. If I were to replace this giant silicone thimble every year (along with all the packaging), I suspect the environmental impact will be as much as, if not more than regular disposables. At the very least, it won't be much better than using organic cotton non-applicator tampons.

    The main environmental point that I was drawn to about this product was its lifespan. How can I convince new users to try this for environmental reasons anymore? Their FAQ claims that "women, on average, experience a lifetime menstruation span of 41 years (11-52)." Aside from the fact that this may be an overestimate, let's just assume for the sake of argument that a woman would expect to blow through approximately 40 DivaCups in their lifetime. At least tampons and pads biodegrade to some extent. That's a whole heap of DivaCups that I would not be willing to recommend women send to the landfill.

    Needless to say, I'm quite disappointed. Again, I can understand the business and regulatory reasons behind these policy changes but I believe that, in the end, DivaCup is not only doing their customers a disservice, but they are damaging their own business in the process.

    For more information on the DivaCup policies check out the FAQ page on their website. Many thanks to Lunapads for alerting me of these updates.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    How do you wipe?

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2008It's day two of the 2008 Cloth Wipe Challenge and I wanted to check in with y'all on how things are starting out. I suspect that, like last year, many of you started even before yesterday. It seems like once you get hit by cloth wipe fever, there's no stopping you!

    Any questions come up yet? What kind of system are you using for storage and washing? How are you liking things so far? Do you think you'll make it until the 30th? Are you in cloth wipe heaven, hell or purgatory?

    Just out of strange curiosity since we're discussing wiping and all, here's a poll that will provide much needed entertainment in these challenging times of political craziness, economic turmoil and end of days talk. What could be more fascinating than how you wipe?



    I'm always intrigued by people's personal hygiene habits (in case that wasn't totally obvious by now) and not just from a scatological perspective. There's the cultural aspect of bathroom behavior, of course, but it all comes down to: how did you learn how to wipe? Does anyone ever even remember? Were you shown or did you just figure it out?

    I imagine this post will get me some weird traffic. Again.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Food Not Lawns follow-up

    Food Not LawnsOh, dear. I certainly did drop the ball on the Food Not Lawns book club, didn't I? One whole measly discussion post and then not a peep.

    I could give you all sorts of excuses like stem cell transplants, work, kids and whatnot, but I guess I have to admit that I'm just not excited about reading this book. The hokey fluff that encompasses some of the content in the first few chapters just turned me off even though there was a lot that also got me excited.

    It's like the experiments where you get electro-shocked when reaching for the candy instead of the monkey kibble. Eventually you stop reaching. Anyway, that said, I am willing to slog, I mean, move forward with the book club if there's sufficient interest out there. So, tell me people. Are you interested in finishing this book or, say, starting a new book?

    For a new book, I'm suggesting Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front well, because I already have a copy of it, I'm mentioned in the credits (thanks Sharon!) and it will be so much fun making fun of it. Just kidding!

    What do you want to do? There's also the option of finishing Food Not Lawns and then going straight into D&A.

    So, what's it going to be?

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Drying herbs for idiots

    ParsleyMy herb plants are getting totally overgrown and are encroaching on my other plants. So, I took matters into my own hands and bushwacked them back.

    I didn't want to just huck the clippings onto the compost bin, so I decided to try to dry the herbs that are annual. Things like rosemary, sage and other plants are perennial around here, so I don't worry too much about not having them year round. Particularly the rosemary. It's almost viral it grows so big and gets out of control so easily.

    I wish I had taken the time to dry some oregano before I chopped the hell out of it and transplanted it elsewhere earlier in the year. Same thing with the marjoram (which I ended up killing). Oh well, next time I'll know better.

    So, what did I end up drying? A ton of Italian flat leaf parsley and some sage just for sport (even though it sticks around in winter). The sage is handy to have on hand inside since sometimes when it's dark, pouring rain and cold out I don't like to poke around in the yard when I'm making dinner trying to scout out decent herbs.

    Dried parsley in an oregano jarThere are a couple different ways of drying herbs. You can put them in the traditional dehydrator and go that route. I was afraid they'd stick like crazy (like my strawberries) and didn't feel like spending hours scraping little paper thin leaves off the grates. You can also freeze them dry and store them at room temperature. Allegedly. I'm still not convinced that freezing works without molding up.

    Lastly, you can dry them in the microwave, which is the method I chose. Basically you place your herbs (I washed and then dried them between kitchen towels) on a paper towel and then nuke them in the microwave until they are dry and crispy. For my microwave it took about 2.5 minutes for the parsley. The sage took closer to 4 minutes since they are so thick.

    Once they are crispy dry, crush them with your hands and then store them in small jars. I had some old spice jars that fit the bill, so I loaded them up using a small funnel. The color is phenomenally more vibrant and the herbs have a much more fragrant smell than anything you can buy from the store.

    Now I can save the summer bounty of my herbs and have them available to season my foods in the dead of winter. And it's so damn easy you have no excuse to not try it yourself. By the way, drying your herbs is also useful for when you buy too many herbs and want to keep them out of the compost.

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Binge knitting

    Cozy, warm wool binkieHoly crap, the weather has gotten cold here. As such, I've whipped out a knitting project that I started a few years ago. We have since moved and it got packed in a box and thoroughly forgotten about. It is a wool blanket with this most awesome (and expensive) yarn that I bought a few years back - Crystal Palace Merino Frappe.

    I'm using a fairly large size needle (11) in just a basic knit stitch, nothing fancy, since I like to space out when I'm knitting and not pay attention to where I am in the row. Because it's extra fine merino wool, it's extremely warm even though it's super lightweight. I've got a bit more work to do on it, but since I'm doing it in pieces (I know, weird) I can use the middle section as a throw.

    Anyway, this yarn is really soft and wonderful to work with. If you are afraid of wool because you think it's super scratchy and stinky, this yarn will totally change your mind. And, if you like to knit and want to make something fun, check out this Vegan Fox pattern from Fuzzy Galore.

    Got to get meself all ready for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge which, apparently, is going to start before I know it! Summer? It's noon and only 55 degrees. My poor tomatoes...

    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    A woman in the White House

    As much as I should be excited about the possibility of having a woman in the White House, it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm. Sure, one can easily argue that Sarah Palin is smart, has an interesting background and story and she sure can motivate the base, but I have qualms about that background and her conservative stance on a number of issues.

    Of course, one can also argue that (and several people have in the comments of this blog), regardless of who is in office there is the potential for not much changing going on. One can point out that during the last week, in regards to the financial industry's falling off the deep end, McCain is now trying to reach out to the middle class with promises of $5,000 to cover health care and additional child tax credits.

    [What's missing from this promise is the fact that the (also mentioned) increased taxation on companies for the health care benefits they do provide, encourages said companies to drop or reduce those same benefits. Most companies shell out over $10,000 per individual. Try finding the same sort of coverage as an individual for $5,000. It's farcical. But, I'm digressing here.]

    Anyway, if it doesn't necessarily matter who is in office, then what's the problem? Well, wanting to have a female in office is a great thing, similar to wanting to have an African American in office. Some say that either way, minorities win.

    But, as much as I'd like an Hispanic in office too, I'd have problems with the ticket if Cheech Marin were selected as somebody's running mate. Sure, he fits the bill as Hispanic. He has an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts and he's a maverick to some extent, but is he really the most qualified Hispanic for the job? Of course, this is a gross analogy, but you get the point.

    In other words, let's not get caught up in the potential "firsts" in this presidency and not settle with "good enough". We need people in the White House that can really affect change and get this country back on track. So, make sure you know what your candidates stand for and try to avoid the hyperbole that is flying around on all sides.

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    What's growing?

    Sugar pie pumpkinsI know y'all probably don't care too much about what I have growing in my backyard, but I'm pretty excited about it and wanted to share. Plus, this acts as a recorded catalog of what I have so I can look back on it later. And, I really need to update the sidebar list.

    Anyway, I generally announce here and there what I'm planting so I thought I'd create a complete list so you can see how it's possible to squeeze in a bunch of stuff into an urban lot. I still have quite a bit more yard to work with and quite a bit more lawn I can put raised beds into so there are always plans for the future if I want to expand the volume.

    Okay, here we go! These are listed in no particular order.

    Vegetables
    Black Krim tomatoes
    San Marzano tomatoes
    Sweet Million cherry tomatoes
    Napa cabbage
    Viroflay spinach
    Nero Di Toscana kale
    Purple top globe turnips
    Bulls blood beets
    Mixed mustard greens
    Broccoli raab
    Black beauty zucchini
    Cucumbers
    Leeks
    Early Italian purple garlic
    Yukon Gold potatoes
    French Fingerling potatoes
    Oregon sugar snap peas
    Anaheim peppers
    Cayenne peppers
    Sugar Pie pumpkins

    Fruits
    Tristar strawberries
    Meyer lemon
    Dwarf fig negronne
    4 x 1 cherry (Rainier, Lapin, Bing, Sweetheart)
    Bluecrop blueberries
    Olympia blueberries
    Catawba grapes
    Pinot Noir grapes

    Herbs
    French tarragon
    Genovese sweet basil
    Italian flatleaf parsley
    Dukat dill
    Berggarten sage
    Rosemary
    Dark leaf oregano
    English lavender
    English thyme
    Bay laurel
    Spearmint

    Whew! I think I've got them all. I ripped out a huge rose bush yesterday and hope to plant a dwarf Honeycrisp or Akane apple tree in its place. I still have a bunch more work to do in the yard to get it where I want it, but at least this is a start!

    I'm going to try to keep the winter produce going this year. It just takes a lot of daily planning since we tend to not go out back when it's cold and it gets so dark early during the winter that I generally don't want to rummage around out back to get food and herbs when I'm making dinner.

    Speaking of winter vegetables... what's your favorite winter vegetable?

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Potty Talk: Your cloth wipe questions answered

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2008First off, I wanted to address a few questions that came up in regards to the upcoming Cloth Wipe Challenge at the end of the month. I'll be getting into some more nitty-gritty fun factoids in a later post.

    The whole famdamily issue
    If you are dubious about washing cloth wipes for six people in your household, then just try them yourself. No one said you had to drag family and friends into this. In our household, the kids don't use cloth wipes yet as they are too young and we would be spending far more in plumbing bills than we would be saving by having them use cloth.

    Maybe when they are a little older and pay more attention to what should and shouldn't go in the toilet we'll have them use cloth. In the meantime, we risk just flushing the benefits down the toilet. So to speak. Anyway, just start small and see how it goes.

    Shared bathrooms
    If you live with other people who aren't as enthused about it as you, it's a little more difficult, but not undoable. You just need to be a bit more sneaky and run a covert cloth wipe operation. I would suggest going for #1 only - it will be easier to hide. Find a container of some sort and hide it under the sink somewhere. You can always go for some cammo patterned cloth remnants.

    Even if someone asks you what it is, it won't be readily obvious what you're doing. Feel free to tell them, or just say you use them for cleaning your armpits or some other misdirection. It won't totally gross them out but it will keep them from fiddling with your wipes.

    It's going to create too much laundry
    Umm, unless you are repurposing ship's sails in their original size, you won't be generating much laundry. For #1 use for two people, we wash the "pee pads", as my mom calls them, a couple times a week. We just throw them in with the rest of the laundry and they don't take up any more space than a small t-shirt. The water usage and soap is negligible. You'll find you won't need a very big piece to do the job as cloth is way more absorbent than TP.

    Why don't you try the "hand and water method"?
    By gum, if you've got spunk enough to do that, be my guest. I just have a few words for you: fingernails and fecal matter. Someone brought up the whole drying after the rinse cycle issue and, unless you've got time to air dry, you're ending up using a cloth to dry, no?

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2008

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2008Oh, it's that time of year again. Last year this time, I held a Cloth Wipe Challenge and a number of you faithful readers jumped on the bandwagon and pledged to change the way you wipe. Your butts.

    Yes, folks, for those of you still not on the cloth wipe bandwagon, you've had a whole year to think about it. Now's your chance to join in with a group of intrepid wipers and make the switch.

    And, once again, the rules are soooo simple.... it's as easy as wiping your, ummm, ass. You can choose to just use them for #1 or you can go all out and clean up for #2 as well.

    I'll be going over the details again this time around but if you want to get a jump start on what to expect, you can read all the posts from the last challenge here.

    I estimate that we've saved about $180 in toilet paper over the year since the challenge started (we normally get the Seventh Generation 100% recycled toilet paper so it's a tad more expensive). We only use it for #1 so the hassle is a lot less, it's a lot more comfortable than scratchy recycled TP and we're saving on tons of paper products.

    This year's challenge will only be a week long, so you have no excuse to not give it a try. To sign up, just add yourself to the comments. I know this is a tough one for you guys - there are a lot of mental and cultural barriers to making the switch, but I guarantee if you just give it a try for #1, you'll be hooked!

    If any of last year's participants/converts want to add your encouragement, please do!

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Anal retentive organics

    Organic? Are you sure?It's back to school time and with that comes cooperation with other parents in a group environment. At Emma's preschool there is a demand by one of the parents to only provide organic foods for snack time. We've known this family for several years and every year it's the same, although this year the pressure on the rest of the parents is more intense. From the school:

    We are also striving to make organic choices for our snacks. Snack items such as dairy and meats (for non-vegetarian families) have specifically been requested to be organic, so if you are able to buy organic foods please sign up for those.

    On one hand, I applaud the fact that they are moving to providing only organic snack items. But, some of the parents are completely freaking out about providing snacks now. For some it's a cost issue, but for many, they just don't generally buy organics so they don't know what to get.

    One thing that I think gets lost in the shuffle is the whole concept of organic as being the only healthy choice. Organic food items coming from China and South America do not follow the same stringent (albeit watered-down in recent years) rules as produce and food products manufactured and/or sold in the U.S.

    So, while it may appear to be "organic", how does that compare to a local producer who follows Oregon Tilth organic practices yet doesn't or can't afford to become certified organic? Some producers may even choose to not be certified on principle yet follow stringent organic and permaculture farming techniques.

    The important thing is to take into consideration all factors when choosing your food, particularly for our little ones. Buying organic food from Walmart or the like does not necessarily guarantee that you are getting a better product when compared to something seemingly conventional.

    You can also look for labels such as Certified Ecologically Sound, Food Alliance Certified, or local (state) certifications for sustainably grown food. So, there's one more reason to shop at farmers markets or at stores where you get to know the grower and find out more about how your food is produced.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Planting a fall and winter garden

    Chiogga beets and their edible leavesJust because summer is almost at its end doesn't mean you have to shut down your gardening opportunities. If you live in a very cold northern clime, hoop houses, row covers and cloches can help to extend your season. If you live in a warmer clime, well, this post probably isn't too applicable, but I'm sure these vegetables will grow where you live as well.

    There are two things to keep in mind when planting crops for fall and winter harvest: temperature and number of hours of daylight. You can only fool some veggies so much before they just decide to either give up or overwinter.

    Yesterday, I prepared one of my beds for my fall and winter crops. I dug out all the radishes (most were too puny and bolting to keep around) and all the red onions for storage. I left the row of tomatoes in the back as they are still going strong. I added in a couple inches of compost and then went to town planting my winter hardy crops.

    Since our first frost date around here is at the end of November, I found the vegetables that had a growing period of 60 days or less to make sure they were mostly "finished" before frosty weather arrives. I also ordered a number of winter hardy types last year and got those out.

    Purple globe turnipsWhat I ended up planting were some Napa Cabbage that I bought as seedlings over the weekend as well as spinach, kale, purple top white globe turnips, beets, broccoli raab and sugar snap peas.

    I'm curious to see how successful they'll be. Since we are still having warmish weather at least for a little while longer I'm hoping they'll get off to a good start. Early next month is when I'll go totally bonkers planting garlic. It was such an easy success last year that I want to plant a whole lot more for next summer's harvest.

    I also am freezing the tomatoes (for making sauce later) as well as shredded zucchini (4 cups from the one I picked yesterday) for making bread when it's not so hot out. I just need to remember that I have them in the chest freezer.

    By the way, here's an interesting article from the New York Times last week about finding local wheat and growing it yourself: Flour That Has the Flavor of Home. It makes me want to plant a patch of wheat in my front lawn.

    Anyway, are you planting anything for fall/winter? If so, what?

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    The Sweat Lodge - Keep Yer Cool Challenge

    Keep Yer Cool ChallengeWe are finally getting some summer weather after having a very cool, cloudy August, which is quite unusual for Seattle. Normally, it's cloudy and cool most of June through July, but then it gets awfully hot during August and September with very little rain.

    I don't know if this is just an exception year or if this is indicative of what's to come with climate change. It is believed that this area will start to have more overcast summers with more rain than is "normal" for this time of year, with milder winters and less snow pack. So, who knows if this is just a fluke or not.

    Either way, it's been absolutely glorious around here with temperatures in the 70s and 80s with sunny skies and beautiful autumnal-like sunshine. Has anyone else noticed how large and prominent the moon has been in the sky lately? It's really cool.

    Anyway, the temperatures have been still mild and there hasn't been a ton of sweating going on since we live near the water and get lots of marine breezes in our neighborhood.

    How's summer rounding out for you? Are you still sweating like crazy or is fall making an early appearance in your neck of the woods?

    I'll be wrapping the Keep Yer Cool Challenge up at the end of the month and starting the 2008 - 2009 Freeze Yer Buns Challenge at the end of October. This year I'm planning on seeing a lot more participation since y'all got your feet wet with it last year and heating costs are much higher this year. So, stay tuned for more info on that.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Latitude defying lemons

    Meyer lemonsI've always been jealous of my family's tropical fruit trees. Mind you, they live in San Diego, so the climate is just a tad bit different than up here in Seattle.

    I never thought I could grow lemons up here until I ran across an ad for a Meyer Lemon tree. I had been mulling over the idea of getting one for a year before I finally plunked down for one early this summer.

    It's a little bitty guy and has about 6 or 7 lemons on it. When I bought the tree, the lemons were all green - in fact, everyone thought it was a lime tree and I found myself accidentally calling them limes, too. The color and look overwhelmingly made them look like limes. Well, in the last week or so, they've started turning yellow and some of them are close to being ready for harvest. They've also been sporting these neat little white and purple flowers for the last month or so.

    Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross of lemons and sweet mandarin oranges, so they aren't as tart as your "classic" lemon and have a fragrant, edible skin. It is native to China and is commonly grown potted as an ornamental plant. The benefit to this is that, in colder climes, you can take it inside during the winter to protect it from low temperatures. So, even though it is cold tolerant, it needs to be inside during the winter to prevent damage.

    If you are interested in growing your own Meyer lemon tree, but don't know what to do with them, then check out this list of "100 things to do with a Meyer lemon" from the L.A. Times. If you can't find a local nursery that carries these trees, you can readily find them from nurseries online. Meyer Lemon Cardamom Ice Cream anyone?

    Now, if I can only figure out how to grow an avocado tree and I'll be set.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    Political poll and a pig picture

    Olivia smear campaignI just realized that I haven't had a poll in, like, forevah! And, I haven't gotten you grinding your crackers on the political front in a whole week. What is wrong with me?

    So, I thought I'd throw in a political poll, thereby killing two birds with one stone. That and, well, I don't have a whole lot of time to write a post, but I've got some more serious ones in the hopper. I just need to find the time to write them.

    Anyhoo, since we've all had time to recover from the national conventions, it's time to take the pulse of the Crunchy readers. I framed the question to allow non-U.S. citizens to participate as well. Since we are all part of this here global community and all.

    Let the people speak! Or, rather, click!



    Unfortunately, my freebie polling software limits my choices to seven, but one thing I wanted to include but couldn't was whether or not people were voting for "their" party based on platform even though they weren't too pleased with the people running.

    Finally, I'm quite upset at all the fuss over the Olivia smear campaign. Leave this children's book character alone! She's just a pig for crying out loud!

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    What to do with all those apples

    Apples!Apple season is upon us and last night I went to a course and tasting on Washington apples at The Dahlia Lounge (thanks to my foodie brother, Darryl).

    So, while my mind is wrapped around apples, let's discuss some of the fantabulous things you can do with all dem apples. Don't be shy - make this year the one where you buy a bushel or two.

    Of course, there's the myriad ways of cooking and baking with apples, but I'm assuming you can eat only so many apple pastries at once so I'm going to focus on throwing out some ideas of things to do with apples that you can store and enjoy throughout the year.

    Drinks
    Well, first off there's the beverage selections. You can press your own apples and make apple juice or apple cider. You can home pasteurize these juices by boiling and then freezing the juice to make sure that nothing unwanted grows in your liquids. If you are real excited, you can make your own hard apple cider. You can even make your own apple cider vinegar if you let your hard cider ferment until it becomes vinegar.

    Don't forget! You can boil down the juice or cider to make an apple syrup which can come in handy for making apple-flavored cocktails among other things.

    Canning jams, jellies and whatnots
    Next up are easy ways of preserving the apple bounty by using your trusty canner. You can make apple jelly, caramel apple jam, applesauce, apple chutney and apple pie filling.

    Don't forget! You can make your own pectin from apples for use in your other canning projects.

    Drying and freezing
    A great, fast and tasty way of preserving loads of apples is by dehydrating them. You can dry them with or without the skins on, just know that it takes longer to dry them if you leave them on. By doing this at home you avoid the sulfur-laden ones from the store.

    It's easy to freeze apples. You basically just slice them up, toss them with ascorbic acid and freeze. Another thing I like to do is prepare apple pie filling and freeze until ready to use. You can also freeze the pie filling (inside a large freezer bag) in a pie plate if you intend on going straight from the freezer to the oven.

    Storing them straight up
    If you are lucky enough to have a cellar or some sort of cold storage, you can store your apples until you are ready to eat them. Thick skinned apples are better at storing than others, just make sure they aren't bruised otherwise they'll all ripen faster. It's the old "one bad apple" adage.

    Downed apples
    If you don't know what to do with all those windfall apples that get blown off your trees (or your neighbor's), check out this article from Mother Earth News, What to Do with Windfall Apples.

    I hope this has given you enough ideas of what to do with your apples. What's your favorite method to store or preserve them?

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008

    My future as a human popsicle

    Frosty goodnessAs we get close to fall, I'm still racking my brains about what to do about home heating this year. With heating oil costing 40% more than last year will we be seriously freezing our buns off this winter?

    What's the long term solution to this problem? I have discussed solar heating panels and, as much as I am intrigued by them, they don't seem to be as effective at heating in cloudy locations and I don't want to invest in a huge system that isn't ideal. Well, nothing is ideal, but we have limited time and resources right now to contemplate anything too fancy.

    So, we'll put off the decision for a while and limp along for a few years. If that means that we'll have arctic conditions inside, then so be it. It's not like Seattle gets that cold that we couldn't employ some old-fashioned methods of staying warm. I am considering a space heater so we don't torture my post-transplant husband any more than necessary. Throw in some additional insulating measures and hopefully things we'll be tolerable. I guarantee you'll hear about it one way or another.

    In the meantime, there are some nice advances coming along with solar technology. According to Mother Earth News, "Industry analysts think the price of photovoltaics will drop to $1 per installed watt by 2010. That’s a magic number because it’s the point at which solar-generated electricity becomes competitive with electricity produced from fossil fuels."

    This may very well turn out to be too good to be true, but I guess we'll all just have to wait and see how the increased demand in the alternative energy market drives prices. I know it's difficult to think about since many of us are still sweating our buns off and can't even contemplate freezing temperatures, but it will be on us before you know it.

    For all of you facing much higher heating costs this season, what are you doing?

    Monday, September 8, 2008

    Reducing school bus emissions

    School bus fumesThis month you'll see all sorts of posts regarding back-to-school issues and environmentalism. I'm sure many of you are already sending your kids off to school with eco-friendly school supplies and healthy, organic lunches packaged in reusable containers. Additionally, many school districts are mostly on top of issues regarding lead in the drinking water of old school buildings and asbestos related problems.

    But what about the enormous health and environmental impact of those yellow school buses? Over 99% of the U.S.'s 600,000 school buses run on diesel fuel, placing millions of children at risk each day.

    Few districts seem to be doing anything regarding the inherent dangers of diesel school bus emissions. Regardless of whether or not you have kids in school this is a community issue and one that affects everyone living in it. Because the exhaust just doesn't harm kids but also other citizens that breathe it in. People with asthma or other lung issues are particularly susceptible to increased air pollution.

    It's that time of year where the school buses are out in force, but it's also a good time to actually try to do something about it. Not all school districts have the money or the resources to switch to using biodiesel, but the more we ask the more they will listen. I'm sure all the grease being used in the school kitchens for those extremely healthy school lunches could be used for waste vegetable oil driven school buses. And, at the very least, you can request that the bus drivers do not idle and that they implement an idling reduction program.

    EPA schoolbus programSo, where do you start? If it feels like one little voice isn't going to affect much change then getting parents together to demand clean school buses is one way to go. Discuss the issue with other parents while you are waiting to pick up your kids, at PTA meetings or even sending out information to your child's classroom email list.

    Don't know what to say once you get organized? Well, here's a sample letter with some statistics for you to use to make your case. If you want to send it to your school district or local representatives, just replace the [XX] with the appropriate information for your region.

    ------------------------------------------------
    Dear Superintendent of Public Instruction,

    As a parent and citizen of [XX], I am deeply concerned of the impact that [XX] city school buses have on the health of not only the children riders and bus drivers, but on the community as a whole. School bus emissions have been directly linked to problems such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, retarded lung development, and increased emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses. After long-term exposure, diesel exhaust can cause cancer.

    Aside from the health issues resulting from school bus emissions, diesel exhaust also contains pollutants that contribute to ozone formation, smog, acid rain, and global climate change.

    There are a number of changes that can be employed to reduce the amount of exhaust emitted from diesel school buses. From the obvious switchover to alternative fuel types such as biodiesel to policies reducing idling and technologies like diesel particulate traps and filters, it is imperative that our community look to reducing this very significant health and environmental threat.

    Based on a 2001 study, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that, "for every one million children riding the school bus for 1 or 2 hours each day during the school year, 23 to 46 children may eventually develop cancer from the excess diesel exhaust they inhale on their way to and from school."

    Please help protect our children and community by looking into making changes to the district's fleet of school buses. If you would like to learn more about the issues surrounding school bus diesel emissions as well as information regarding reducing idling and retrofitting school buses, please refer to the US EPA website (http://www.epa.gov/oms/schoolbus/index.htm). If steps are being made to reduce diesel emissions, I would like to be informed.

    Thanks in advance for your consideration,

    John Smith
    123 Main Street
    Anytown, ST 12345
    john.smith@gmail.com
    ------------------------------------------------

    So, as your kids head back to school, take a moment out of your day to help address this very large problem so we can all breathe easier.

    Friday, September 5, 2008

    Why I love Sarah Palin

    As the Republican National Convention wraps up I thought I'd take a moment to publish this list. I think it's very enlightening.

    Top 5 Reasons Why I Chose Sarah Palin as my VP
    by John S. McCain

    1. She knows how to cook a mean wolf steak with polar bear sauce

    2. She's young and hot and well, who knows whether or not Cindy will be in a disfiguring accident - it's good to have a backup plan

    3. When I go hunting with her, I don't have to worry about getting accidentally shot in the face

    4. She's good at eliminating, I mean, firing people, so I don't have to get my hands dirty if someone doesn't, well, work out

    5. Cindy, Sarah and I would make a great threesome

    Thursday, September 4, 2008

    The biggest environmental threat

    Where will they go?What constitutes the biggest environmental threat to the world today? Is it climate change run amok or the gutting of the Endangered Species Act? Is it China's coal-fired power plants? How about destruction of the Earth's oceans resulting in record low fisheries, oxygen depleted areas and great swirling hoards of plastic? How about deforestation of the world's "lungs" and carbon sink by removing forests in order to plant biofuels?

    I'm going to argue that the biggest environmental threat known to man right now is the John McCain / Sarah Palin ticket. How can I be so bold as to say such a thing? Is it really all that ridiculous? Bear with me a moment while I try to explain.

    Yes, all those things I mentioned above do present a threat to the health and balance of our environment. But, the entity that has the single most power to influence how the U.S. and, in the end, the world go forward in maintaining, repairing and reducing humanity's impact on the environment is what is represented in the oval office.

    Now, of course, this sounds probably a little too high and mighty for those living outside the U.S. and they would argue that the U.S. influence has slipped considerably as of late. But, it is with the U.S. economy and military machinery that we influence the rest of the world and the environmental aspect of it is no less important. How we stand and deliver regarding our environment influences much of the rest of the world.

    John McCain and Tina FeySo, having an environmentally unfriendly president in the White House means a great deal for environmentalists as well as the environment. Or pretty much anyone who lives on Earth. You can just take a look at the last 8 years to get a feel for that. Now, add to that an additional 4+ years with an even more conservative, more environmentally unfriendly platform and what does that mean?

    We are at (and have been for a while although the government has been sitting on its hands for years) a crossroads in terms of global climate change and energy issues. How we move forward to resolve those issues is led out of the White House.

    Now, I'm not going to argue that the Obama/Biden team is proffering itself up as being incredibly environmentally conscious. But, what it does have (an interest in environmental and clean energy issues as well as an interest in partnerships with the rest of the world) and what it doesn't have (ties to big oil) certainly makes them the more environmentally friendly choice.

    So, regardless of their stance on abortion, religion in schools, immigration and a whole host of other concerns, when you look at their policies regarding the environment and energy, the McCain/Palin ticket is the biggest environmental threat we've got going.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008

    Final scoop on NW Meetup

    For those of you who are interested in the NW Blogger Meetup that Melinda from One Green Generation and I have arranged, here are the final details:

    Date: Sunday, September 7th
    Time: Noon to 4pm
    Location: Meridian Park {Click here for a map}

    Details: Potluck Picnic!
    Please bring a dish (appetizer, main dish or dessert) made from local goodies to share. Plus BYO drinks, reusable utensils, plates, and napkins.

    The park has plenty of open space and a play structure where children can happily frolic. The park is also right next to Seattle Tilth and a lovely community garden for strolling.

    The weather forecast for Sunday is in the high 70s, maybe 80. So, it should make for a glorious day in the park.

    Transportation:
    If you're taking the bus, you can find the Seattle Metro schedules here. If you would like to carpool, please email me, and I'll put you on our email tree. If you're traveling by car, you can find driving instructions using this Google Map.

    Several people have expressed interest in carpooling. If you are from Portland or the Eastside of Seattle, please consider it!

    Spread The Word: Please spread the word on your own blogs - the more the merrier!

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