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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Food Waste Reduction report #3

Food Waste Reduction ChallengeThe third week of the Food Waste Reduction Challenge went well for me. Of course, it ended up with me choking down a few things I'd rather not have, but mostly because I'm still a tad nauseated from the strep/penicillin fiasco.

We did end up composting a few things, but the only stuff I was more or less "responsible" for was about a half cup of white onion. I was getting major heartburn from it and couldn't forsee eating it in the near future.

So, how did week #3 go for you?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Food Waste Reduction report #2

Food Waste Reduction ChallengeThe second week of the Food Waste Reduction Challenge didn't go so well for our household. I wasn't feeling too great from having strep and we had a few other stressful events going on (what else is new?), so I was being awful lax about leftovers.

So, forgive me starving people around the world, I threw out (well, composted) perfectly good food just because I was too lazy to do something else with it before it went bad:

  • About 5 tortilla chips with cheddar cheese (in all honesty, this was my daughter's leftovers, but there were untouched and I could have eaten them)
  • The ends of a loaf of bread
  • Four slices (butts) of sandwich bread
  • Most of one apple
  • Most of one pear
  • One cup of beans
  • One cup of pasta
  • 1/4 of an avocado, a few slices of tomato and onion

    I'm sure I've forgetting something, but that just about rounds it up. How was last week for you?
  • Friday, February 13, 2009

    Pharm animals

    Pharm goatPharmaceutical companies have been experimenting with using genetically altered animals to produce their drugs for them. On one hand, I can't help but marvel at how completely amazing this scientific feat is yet I also can't help but wonder of the potential dangers inherent in the production of animals to produce substances, medications at that, which could (and will invariably) end up in natural populations, no matter how strict separation of the animal populations are.

    What am I talking about? Well, let me give you a concrete example. One, which, is rather astounding. As covered in a recent NY Times article, F.D.A. Approves Drug From Gene-Altered Goats:

    The drug, meant to prevent fatal blood clots in people with a rare condition, is a human protein extracted from the milk of genetically engineered goats. ...

    Made by a company called GTC Biotherapeutics, the human anticlotting protein is produced by a herd of 200 bioengineered goats living under carefully controlled conditions on a farm in central Massachusetts.

    Proponents say such “pharm animals” could become a means of producing biotechnology drugs at lower cost or in greater quantities than the existing methods — which include extracting proteins from donated human blood or growing them in large steel vats of genetically engineered cells.

    The protein in the goat milk, antithrombin, is sometimes in short supply or unavailable for pharmaceutical use because of a shortage of human plasma donations. GTC Biotherapeutics said one of its goats can produce as much antithrombin in a year as can be derived from 90,000 blood donations. And if more drug is needed, the herd can be expanded.

    One goat = 90,000 blood donations? That's rather miraculous as far as I'm concerned. But what are the risks?

    Well, cross-breeding of the animals, albeit unlikely since these are highly controlled populations (not to mention worth a tremendous amount to the "manufacturer"), presents a risk. Concerns that the milk or meat might enter the food supply are generally unfounded given the controlled nature. But, all it takes is some mistake or nefarious employee looking to gain a few bucks to crack the system. I honestly don't think it is likely, but it does present a possibility.

    As the NY Times reported, "this is the first drug from a herd of genetically engineered animals created specifically to serve as living pharmaceutical factories." So, what issues does this bring up for you in regards to animal rights, environmental or public health risk?

    In other words, are you fine with this sort of animal "technology" or does it make you uneasy?

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Freezin' off my meats

    Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008It's been a while since I've checked in on everyone to see how you are doing with the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. We've had another cold snap and going outside has been dreadful - I was getting used to warmer temperatures.

    Now, it's not like we are having Arctic weather or anything, I'm just mostly unprepared when I go outside. And the strep probably doesn't help. I don't think I'm regulating my body temperature properly right now.

    I've still been cheating a little and keeping the temperature (when we are home) closer to 65 during the day (mostly because of the complaints), but at night and when we leave the house, we are still at 58. In fact, I've been overdressing going to bed that I keep waking up completely soaked in sweat. Like last night.

    And, if I let my husband control the thermostat during the day, the house becomes a veritable oven at 68 degrees. I can't handle it - it's too hot for me. I honestly start feeling queasy I'm so hot.

    If I keep this up, I'll have nighttime dehydration from loss of body fluids. Tonight I'll go to sleep in a t-shirt and fleece pants. I have a down comforter and a wool blanket (that I knit) on my side of the bed that I usually huck off about 2:00 a.m. because it gets too toasty.

    So, how are you handling your lowered temperatures? Have you acclimated yet?

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Planning a green Valentine's

    Green heart leafThis Saturday marks my husband and my 19th anniversary as a couple. Since we don't really have an exact date when we started dating (we were friends before), we arbitrarily use Valentine's Day as our anniversary. I still remember what we got each other. I'm hoping my husband will be healthy for our 20th one next year! Anyway...

    Before you go red for Valentine's Day, think green. There are several things you can do this Valentine's to tread a little bit lighter on the earth:

    1. The Dinner Out. Why not try dinner in instead? Shop your local Farmers Market (if you have a winter market going this time of year) or buy local or organic from your favorite independent grocer. Not only will eating at home save you money, but you have more control over the ingredients. And your sweetie will appreciate the extra love that went into slaving over a hot stove.

    If eating out is more your bag, try to find a restaurant that features local or organic products. If you don't have any in your area or you want to try a restaurant that doesn't focus on organic, then choose less meat-based items. The impact of your dinner will be lower and you won't feel guilty for the splurge. Now's also a good time to remind you seafood lovers of the Seafood Watch Program provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It lists which fish to order (or not) and why. Finally, if you are really into it, take public transportation, or walk or ride your bikes if you are eating out.

    2. The Flowers. Is there a better way to say "I love you" than giving your loved one flowers that are pesticide free? Who wants to breathe in the scent of all those roses if they are coated in toxic chemicals? Not to mention the danger to the workers processing the flowers. Instead, order your flowers from the many organic producers that are out there. And, if you don't believe me, rent Maria Full of Grace to see a fictionalized account of the flower packing industry, among other things.

    3. The Rocks. For some, Valentine's Day is the day to pop the question or to show a little appreciation through gems, jewelry and other baubles. You'll want to look for diamonds and gold that avoid the environmental and human-rights violations inherent in the industry. Even supposedly conflict-free diamonds are questionable. Why not try to find a more sentimental antique or heirloom quality piece of jewelry instead?

    4. The Chocolate. Now we're talking. Just make sure you look for organic and fair-trade certified chocolates. You both can indulge in some sweets without the worry. My favorite organic, local, fair-trade chocolatier is Theo Chocolates just down the street. It's a win-win situation around here.

    Love me, love my merkin5. The Nookie. Even if you and your partner have been around as long as Methuselah, why not put some spark into your relationship with some inexpensive at-home fun? You can start off by playing a "romantic" board or card game, watching a "suggestive" movie, or taking a "hot" bath together.

    And finally, don't forget to check out my take on Greenpeace's Guide to Environmentally Friendly Sex.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    The neurology of spending

    Have you ever wondered why some people are addicted to shopping? Why sometimes it is so engrossing and overwhelmingly pleasurable to buy something new and then deeply regret it later? What causes that excitement and urge to spend?

    Well, recent research out of Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon sheds some light on what's going on in your brain when you are faced with the decision to purchase. It is a fight between the pleasure of getting something new and the pain of spending money.

    Basically, what happens in your brain goes a little something like this. According to Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide:

    They discovered that when subjects were first exposed to the item, a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) was turned on. The NAcc is a crucial part of our dopamine reward pathway - it's typically associated with things like sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll - and the intensity of its activation was a reflection of desire for the item. If the person already owned the complete Harry Potter collection, then the NAcc didn't get too excited about the prospect of buying another copy. However, if he'd been craving a George Foreman grill, then the NAcc flooded the brain with dopamine whenever that item appeared.

    But then came the price tag. When the subjects were exposed to the cost of the product, the insula was activated. The insula is associated with aversive feelings, and is triggered by things like nicotine withdrawal and pictures of people in pain. In general, we try to avoid anything that makes our insula excited. Apparently, this includes spending money.

    By measuring the relative amount of activity in each brain region, the scientists could accurately predict the subjects' shopping decisions. They knew which products people would buy before the people themselves did. If the insula's negativity exceeded the positive feelings generated by the NAcc, then the subject almost always chose not to buy the item. However, if the NAcc was more active than the insula, the object proved irresistible. The sting of giving up cash couldn't compete with the thrill of getting a George Foreman grill.

    Apparently, stores know how to keep our NAcc fired up, yet keep the insula down. With the proposition of sales, deep discounts and the like keeping the insula in check, the NAcc can have a field day. It's like a pimp telling you his prostitutes are guaranteed to be disease free (or your money back!).

    What's interesting is that, with the current state of the economy, people are not as subjective to these marketing tactics as they once were, mostly because that pesky insula is super sensitive these days. Questioning your purchases, your need for something new and the like was something we did seriously during the Buy Nothing Challenges last year. But, it's easy to slip off the buy-nothing wagon, simply because you are fighting against your own brain and a flood of dopamine.

    Do you experience a "shopping high" when you buy something? Are your purchases ever tinged with buyer's remorse? Have you gotten better at questioning your decision to buy something before you purchase it or have your personal finances just made you more aware of what you are buying?

    Additional reading: Shopping Centers in the Brain (from the journal, Neuron)

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Food Waste Reduction Check-in

    Food Waste Reduction ChallengeSorry for the late post today, people, but I've got some sort of strep-like virus going on. Anyway, I wanted to let people have the chance to check-in today and let everyone know how their first week of the Food Waste Reduction Challenge went.

    I didn't get around to taking a picture but, for myself, I've thrown away (composted) a half a piece of bread and about 1/4 cup of bean dip. You'll have to visualize for yourself since it went into the yard waste bin already. I've been eating a lot of leftovers and freezing what can't be eaten in a reasonable amount of time so, aside from inedible food parts, there's not much food waste being generated.

    The kids, on the other hand, well, I don't even want to think about it. They both have been sick with various head colds, stomach viruses and other issues and so there's been a bit of food waste on their part. I did manage to reduce it as much as possible by only doling out a small amount of food at a time and reintroducing food that wasn't eaten at an earlier meal (within reason).

    How 'bout you? How was your first week? Feel free to add in links to your posts if you are posting about it on your blog so that others can read.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Cut the meat to curb global warming

    Planet meatWhat is, by far, the biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint? Stop driving your cars? Reduce your heating and cooling? Those are all generally touted as big tickets items to reducing your impact. But what about reducing or eliminating how much meat you eat? What affect does that have on the environment?

    This has come up a number of times, not only in the comments of this blog, but also in the news. In a recent article in Scientific American, How Meat Contributes to Global Warming:

    Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57.

    Beef consumption is rising rapidly, both as population increases and as people eat more meat. Producing the annual beef diet of the average American emits as much greenhouse gas as a car driven more than 1,800 miles.

    Basically, current production levels of meat contributes between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year [1]. That's a veritable shitload of gas. Beef is the biggest offender, followed by pork and chicken. In other words, producing the world's beef and pork intake creates more greenhouse gases than all of the planet's cars, planes and boats combined [2].

    Of course, the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) animals are going to have a much bigger impact than those raised in a more environmentally friendly way, so if you have to eat meat, choose pasture raised, pasture rotated, sustainably raised and local animals. All of the above, if possible. Just think: more chicken, less beef. Use less quantities of meat per meal and think of it as being a "seasoning" over the main part of a meal. This will save not only money, but greenhouse gases as well.

    But, all this begs the question: do you have to eat meat? No, not in modern society [3]. There are a number of alternatives to eating meat where you can have a very healthy, and tasty, diet.

    So, if you ate a vegetarian diet, your reduction in greenhouse gases is along the lines of 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year [4]. Switching to a hybrid vehicle won't even gain you that much of a decrease.

    What do you think of the meat issue? Are you willing to reduce or eliminate meat to reduce your carbon output? If you aren't and the statistics are correct, how do you defend your meat-eating?

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Going the extra green mile

    The Scientific American is also covering the no-fridge topic in today's post, Going the Extra Green Mile: No Refrigerator.

    Consumer Reports is also weighing in with their post, Greens Gone Wild! These folks have turned their back on refrigerators.

    So, if you just can't get enough fridge talk, check them out!

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    How to survive a recession

    I know some of you will argue that we're in a depression, but all the more reason to really look hard at how you are living and figure out how to comfortably ride out the bumps in the road.

    You don't have to look too far for help in finding some great ideas on how to save money and stay on a budget. There are numerous websites with all sorts of help on living frugally and getting closer to financial freedom. On top of that, you can look to our grandparents and others who lived through the depression to see what they did.

    So, let's address some of the necessities and see where you can get some savings.

    Food - This is one area where you can take advantage and save a lot of money. Growing your own fruits and vegetables, eating less (or no) meat, choosing inexpensive, but nutritious, ingredients and making/baking your foods from scratch can help cut your costs considerably.

    When you go food shopping, plan out your meals for the week (or more) and stick to your list! If there's an item on sale that you tend to eat a lot of, then it's a good time to stock up, but don't get sucked into buying things you don't use or need, just because it's on sale or you have a coupon.

    And, since we are doing the Food Waste Reduction Challenge this month, making sure that no food goes to waste will help out your pocketbook. Cutting back on eating out and eliminating those trips to Starbucks will also save you a bunch of money. It may not seem like much at the time, but those $3 splurges add up.

    Do It Yourself - Instead of forking over money to someone else to do big or small jobs around the house, do it yourself. Unless you have health issues that prevent you from physical labor or fine motor skills work, paying someone else to mow your lawn, weed your yard and scrub your toilets doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you can do it yourself.

    Don't know how to do a household job? Decide whether or not you can learn to fix that leaky toilet or install new downspouts. Borrow some fix-it-yourself books from the library and teach yourself a few new handy skills to have around the house. If something still seems too complicated, you might be able to exchange services with that handy neighbor of yours: maybe he/she is willing to do a little electrical work in exchange for setting up their computer.

    Cut Back on Optional Expenses - Do you really need all those cable channels, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, cell phone services, and the like? Try to cut out what you don't need or can replace online. You can read most newspapers in full online as well as many magazine articles. Same goes for many TV shows. So, perhaps your Internet connection can provide you with your all your media. If you must have a cell phone, think about getting rid of your house line and using your cell phone as your main phone number.

    Heating, Cooling and Electrical - I don't need to tell you that Freezing Yer Buns off during the winter and Keeping Yer Cool during the summer can save you a lot of money, particularly when energy costs are rising. Think about investing in or making your own solar cooker to reduce gas and electrical costs associated with cooking. Turn off and unplug things when not in use and line dry your clothes whenever possible.

    Buy Nothing - That's right. Limit your spending to only food and absolute necessities. If you do need some new clothes for yourself or for the kids, shop at second-hand or consignment shops. You'll generally find high quality clothing and some housewares for a fraction of the original price. Switch to cloth TP, napkins and the like to cut out paying for paper products. Invest in a DivaCup and/or cloth pads to save hundreds of dollars on your menstrual supplies.

    Reconsider your Transportation - Having your own private transportation is costly. Between car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking fees and tolls, getting to and fro can really cost and arm and a leg. While you may not be able to get rid of your vehicle(s) altogether, consider reducing the number you have or using it less often.

    Combining trips, carpooling and public transportation are alternatives that many people can live with. If you have the gumption to go for bicycling, walking or pogo-sticking, then by all means, trade out a few trips and save some gas, parking and wear and tear.

    Refinance - With mortgage rates at a record low, take advantage and refinance your home loan! (I'll be posting more on this soon.)

    Make a Little Extra - Now's a great time to go through your storage and sell those items you never use anymore. Craigslist is a great (and free!) way to sell that gently used sports equipment, old crib and other things collecting dust in your house or garage. It may not make you enough to pay the mortgage, but a little extra money to pay for groceries or invest in a money saving item (like a DivaCup or bus pass) is well worth your time.

    Go through all your bills and try to figure out where you can cut back, reduce expenses and save money. Use your savings to pay down consumer debt or reduce the principal on your mortgage. Finally, make a budget and stick to it!

    What of the above areas can you work on to save money?

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Safe cleaners for kids

    Cleaning with lemon and baking sodaEmma's taken a shine (literally!) to cleaning the sink in her bathroom. She's been spending a lot of time using the hand soap to clean in and around the sink and is very meticulous and excited about doing it.

    It doesn't matter if she cleaned it the day before either. She's very proud and feels a sense of accomplishment in her efforts.

    Over the weekend I thought I'd give her some real cleaning materials, but I didn't want to give her something that was at all toxic and even the Mrs. Meyers cleaning powder I use seemed a little too wrought with potential danger in a 5-year-old's hands.

    So, I hooked Emma up with one of my favorite cleaning combinations: baking soda and lemon. I like to cut the end off a lemon (we had some leftover lemons from the holidays) and dip it in baking soda, squeezing it a little to get the foaming action going. It makes for a great smelling cleanser and does a decent job of getting things clean. The lemon itself acts as a scrubber.

    She ended up making more of a mess than not, but after I wiped down the baking soda, the sink and the counter-tops were pretty darn clean. Now, if only I could get her started on the toilet.

    What kind of cleaning tasks do/did your young children do? What kinds of cleaning products do they use?

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Going solar in Seattle

    I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
    — Thomas Edison

    So, I'm doing a new series. Not that I need another one, but because I think my next step in sustainable living is to try something that is altogether new (for me, at least) and difficult (for us up here in the Pacific NW) and fun. And, that is, trying to go solar up here where the sun don't shine all that often. Basically, if I can get solar energy alternatives to work for me, it should work for anyone.

    I know there are plenty of people out there who are using solar energy for a variety of things, but they live in more southern or southwestern climes where it totally makes sense to use them. But, does it make sense to use solar energy in an area where it's cloudy most of the year? Does it work?

    Well, folks, I'm going to give it a whirl. So, starting in early spring, I'll be attempting to use the sun to provide some of my energy resources. Now, we may not have sunny weather much of the year, but we do get a lot of light and long days, so I'm hoping that makes up for the lack of intensity.

    I'll be starting off using a solar cooker (more on that later), moving onto solar hot water heating in July and perhaps even some solar lighting and recharging if it's in the budget. I'll be posting solar cooker recipes later in the year, after I figure out what works for me. And I'll be sharing my successes and failures with you as well.

    Now, before you think I'm getting all fancy with expensive some solar panel action, let me tell you that I'm going solar on a restricted budget. Not everyone (myself included) has $20,000 to spend on a solar set-up, so I'll be telling you how much my equipment costs and whether or not it's worth the purchase.

    So, are you using solar power for anything? What are you using it for, what do you have and where are you located? Are you interested in replacing some of your energy needs with solar power?

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    Food Waste Reduction Challenge kick-off

    Food Waste Reduction ChallengeNo, this kick-off has nothing to do with the Superfluous Bowl, but a much more important event - you reducing your food waste! Today is the first day of the Food Waste Reduction Challenge and this month it's your job to make sure you throw away or compost very little food that could have been eaten with better planning and use of ingredients.

    If you haven't started doing this yet, your job for this week (today if you have time) is to go through your fridge, cabinets and storage and throw out or compost the food that is beyond hope of salvaging. This way you start with a clean slate and will have a better idea of how well you are doing for this challenge.

    Once you've successfully completed Operation Clean Sweep, start doing some meal planning starting with this week and beyond, if appropriate. Figure out which foods need to be eaten within a week and meal plan to make sure that those foods get consumed. If you have items that have a longer shelf life, plan to consume those before they go bad, keeping a ranking of "first bad = first eaten".

    If you need help or suggestions on what to do with things that are starting to look sketchy, ask for it here! Last night I made a load of roasted vegetables with some Brussels sprouts that we hadn't gotten around to eating, half an onion that was going begging and some carrots.

    I didn't see a head of purple cauliflower hiding behind my husband's infusion grenades (a happy blend of toxic chemicals my husband infuses into his arteries twice a day), but I've got a plan to make Pioneer Woman's cauliflower soup. I also froze two bananas that were looking beyond help for a future banana-chocolate chip bread.

    For those of you wanting to supersize your food waste challenge, I hereby challenge you to the following weekly Sunday task: post on your blog (if you have one) a photo of your food waste for the week. You can take several photos or you can calculate the weight of only those items that you could have eaten but didn't (for alternative reporting).

    What I'm getting at here is don't include banana peels, egg shells and the like in the weighing or photographing. Accountability is key. So, each Sunday I'll be hosting a Sunday Supersize It! Foodwaste Confessional. This gives you an opportunity to link to your photo post or report how much food was wasted for the week. You can choose to just include your own food waste, our your whole family's.

    So far, I'm pretty excited about making sure that I don't waste food. I might end up weighing 5 pounds more at the end of the month since no one is eating the grasshopper pie my husband made Friday, but it's all in the name of conservation! By the way, it's not too late to sign up for the challenge. Just add your name to the comments of this post!

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