Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflections on month two

I still can't get over the initial reaction that most people have to my no-trash diet, “Wow, that must be so hard!” I can't stress enough how easy it is. It's a little weird how we're predisposed to think that we need waste to live our lives. It's crazy how quickly we reach for a disposable item without thinking if we really need it, or if we can use something else.

I was at the grocery store with a friend the other day. I had brought my own bags for produce, but not enough. He hadn't brought any. I quietly got what I needed and when I ran out of bags, I simply loaded the rest of the produce (things that were large and not fragile, like potatoes and bananas) into my basket without bags. The checkout people don't care. We met up a few minutes later and he commented on my free-floating produce, “Oh, I hadn't thought of that.” I'm not judgmental. I know how automatic certain things are, because it's taken me effort to program myself to think “do I need this?” before I use anything. I told him I do this all the time, and when the checkout person showed no signs of interest in the lack of bag, he accepted this practice as something to use in the future.

The same thing happens when I take my container to the bagel place. It starts a lot of conversations. Even the ladies at the local health food store have said my containers have made them think about their own disposable habits. As with everything, I'm happy to answer questions that are asked of me, but I almost never bring the issue up unless I need to.

I must make a small confession though. That rule about not eating out twice a week... hasn't really been super accurate. I like to grab a bagel before work sometimes. Not more than once a week, but it happens. I also like to eat at the farmers market. And I like to go out to the bar with my friends after work. So sometimes I go out more often. However, I have my container in hand at the bagel place, don't order bottled cider at the bar, and the farmer's market, well, I don't think I need to explain that there's not really a lot of waste involved with anything there, as compared with a restaurant or grocery store. I don't feel guilty, I just think it was not a very useful rule.

The trek continues.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fiesta Food! - Part 3 of 3

Red Chile

1/4 Cup water
2 T oil (I use olive for better flavor,but you can go neutral)
1 T flour (your choice, I use whole wheat pastry because it's what I have and adds no flavor)
4 tablespoons (at least) red chile powder
pinch of cumin
salt to taste

In a small sauce pan, combine water, oil and chile. Heat and mix until everything is combined fully. Add flour and cumin, heat until thick and bubbly. Add Salt. Adjust spices (aka, add more chile). Heat a bit more to bring out the heat. It should be thick and red and amazing and unforgettable.

In terms of what is “traditional” or not, I don't really care. You can email me and tell me I'm doing this all wrong and that it's not really traditional red chile unless you make it standing on one leg with a gila monster stuck to your head, but honestly, I don't care. If it's vegan and it tastes good, I'm eating it. That being said, you can make this sauce with any red chile powder, but if you really want something amazing, you'll make it with red chiles grown in NM. Specifically Hatch, NM.

Shit. I misplaced my gila monster again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fiesta Food! - Part 2 of 3

This isn't exactly fiesta food, but since I used it for tacos, it's fiesta food today.


1 cup vital wheat gluten
3/4 cup veggie broth or water (you might need more or less, so add slowly)
2 T soy sauce
Spices of choice (stick with powders and nothing chunky)

Mix up your dry ingredients in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour water in and mix by hand. Mix in soy sauce. Knead. And knead. And Knead for about 5 minutes. You MUST do this by hand. Let it sit for a few minutes, then knead again. Break up your glutenous ball of yum into three or four pieces and stretch them out as flat as you can. These will expand when cooking, so the thinner you get it now, the better. Bring a large pot of water or vegetable broth to a boil and drop these bad boys in. Simmer for about an hour. They're going to expand, so make sure the pot is pretty huge.

You can store seitan really well in the freezer. Just be sure to cut it up before freezing, which will make it easier to work with later.

Next post: Red Chile

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fiesta Food! - Part 1 of 3

I talk a lot about my job at the bookstore, but the truth is, that's a part-time job. The job that pays my bills is an office job I have for a non-profit. Things that I love about it include: schedule flexibility, no dress code, and we will accept any excuse to have a party at work. This month we lose our Urchin co-worker, Sarah. To see her off properly she would need a rockin fiesta. Sarah is my vegan partner in crime at the office, so I was ever so excited to make awesome seitan tacos for her.

I'm not going to post the recipe for the tacos, because it came from Terry Hope-Romero's cookbook Viva Vegan. It's an excellent book and you should all buy it. Also, I (not so) secretly want to be her. What I am going to post are three staples in my home that can be made with (little or) no waste: seitan, corn tortillas and red chile.

The only tricky parts about making this 100% waste free is the masa harina, a kind of corn meal that's treated with lime and is used to make corn tortillas, and wax paper. I can't find masa herna in bulk around here, but luckily I had a huge bag in my kitchen. If I run out before the year is up I guess I just cry. I also use wax paper with my tortilla press (instructions online always recommend plastic wrap, but that's just silly and wax paper can be reused much more easily). I use the same two bits of paper until they are totally ruined and I really can't get away with it anymore. I've had the same roll of wax paper for over a year and I'm only half way through it, so I can attest to the usefulness of wax paper.

All of these things are easy to make, and significantly cheaper and healthier than what you'll buy in the store.

Oh-my-god-easy Corn Tortillas

½ cup Masa Harina
1/3 cup water
Pinch of salt

Mix masa harina and salt in a bowl. Make a well. Pour water into the well and mix by hand for 2 minutes. Adjust if the dough seems too sticky or too crumbly*. Make into 4 balls. Heat a pan that is just lightly brushed with cooking oil. Depending on your pan, you can do this dry. You know your cookware better than me (I hope). Line bottom of tortilla press with wax paper, place ball in center. Place a bit of wax paper on top. Press. Toss into pan. Cook. Flip. Cook. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Done. Store in plastic in the fridge.

*Use cation when adding water and only add a teaspoon at a time. Too much water will create dough that sticks to everything but itself, is difficult to work with, impossible to please, and may even put bubble gum in your favorite pair of shoes. So easy on the water.

Make 4 tortillas. Duh.

Next up: Seitan

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Month one recap- Belated

Several people have asked me what the hardest part of this challenge has been so far. At one month in there's only been one big setback and that is eating out. Restaurants always want to give you napkins, there are always unexpected wastes like toothpicks, chopsticks and wax paper, and then if you don't finish your food, there's take out containers.

I had lunch in Albany just after this challenge started and quickly realized that I would need to bring my own container for leftovers and also my own chopsticks. I have both of these items now ready to go, the tricky part will be remembering them when I go out.
Napkins, napkins, napkins. I've asked at least one person to omit my napkin, but in most places they are already on the table. Chances are, if you ask that they be removed they'll just end up in he trash anyway. I think I've also mentioned my extreme discomfort with drawing too much attention to myself, or being anything other than completely forgettable two minutes after I've left a person's presence. I could say it would be nice to get over my fears, but it wouldn't. I don't like people who draw extra attention to themselves and I like not being one of them. I don't have a problem asking people to leave the napkin out if I'm a regular, but I might just have to deal with a stray napkin or two when I eat somewhere new.

I'm open to suggestions though. Maybe only eat at places that use cloth napkins? Pass it off as a serious napkin phobia and say that I've brought my own? Right. Right.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Farewell My Subaru by Doug Fine

I stumbled upon this book in one of Brattleboro's FIVE bookstores. It was on sale so I picked it up, thinking it looked like fun. Turns out you can judge a book by its cover, because fun it is. Doug Fine is a humorous writer and a great story teller. At 200 pages it's a quick and enjoyable read but still full of insight.

Fine moves to the New Mexican desert with the goal of kicking his fossil fuel habit and getting off the grid. He has no experience whatsoever with ranching, farming, or any of the things people need to be self-sufficient. To top it off, he's a Wal-Mart addict. But, he kicks his addiction early in the book and makes no secret of the fact that he asks for help whenever he can. He also buys two goats to help him get his other habit off-grid: ice cream.

A few solar panels, and one veggie oil run monster truck later and Fine is well on his way to reaching his goals. He plants a garden (several times, due to many crop-decimating hail storms), installs a solar hot water heater and gets himself some chickens. He almost makes the task seem simple (given the right friends and enough money, of course). He certainly makes it seem fun, especially with all of the humorous and well-placed recipes (rattlesnake stew when he discovers a rattlesnake near his home, although in this case the rattlesnake escapes unharmed).

The part that I found most interesting was his veggie oil car. I had all but forgotten about these little miracles with my secret (ok, not so secret) obsession with buying an electric car and powering it with solar panels. Of course a much cheaper option is to get an old diesel car and convert it to veggie oil. It's a great deal all around because normally restaurants have to pay someone to pick up their used oil and normally drivers have to pay higher and higher prices for their gas. The image of a massive fuel-guzzling truck roaring around town spurting out chinese food-scented emissions is almost too good to pas up!

My only criticism of this book is the lack of sources. Throughout the story Fine drops a few facts and figures having to do with energy and resource consumption, typical statistics to find in a book on environmentalism, but he sites no sources. Where did this information come from? There is no bibliography, no where to go for further reading. If he picked these facts up from the internet, what are the websites? Who did the studies? Who collected this data? I've never come across a book with facts that lacked sources and I found the whole thing confusing.

All in all, it was a great book and although it's not in my section at the bookstore now, it will soon.

Buy it Indie!