Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cooking with Cabbage

Cabbage Heads
Made with the outer leaves of a head of cabbage, a fun recipe the whole family can enjoy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Good Dogs. Good Dog Food.

Dog food recipe
For Ansel and Dixie. With love.

It's not as cheap as dried dog food, but I think it's a better value for the health and happiness of my dogs. They get dried half the time. Homemade, the other half. (If I were rich, they'd get homemade all the time.)

Basic recipe:
1/3 protein, 1/3 vegetables, 1/3 carb. Sometimes I drizzle some olive oil over it.

This batch:
1 lb fried chicken gizzards
1 lb thawed frozen mixed vegetables
3 cups cooked white rice (brown would probably be better).

About 2 bucks, enough for 2 happy, medium-sized dogs for 2 days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Gallon Drought Dish Washing

Drought dishwashing
Drought Dish Washing at the Debi Cates Home

I enjoy washing dishes. Good thing, too, since I don't have a dishwasher. The machine, non-me kind anyway.

My little house was built probably in the late 40s or early 50s. There are lots of challenges for modern living in an older home, especially one just 800 square feet. I have a heck of a time finding furniture that's sized moderately enough not to look like a gorilla stuffed in a shoebox. And don't get me started on the stingy number of electrical outlets. Thank heaven for power strips because otherwise I'd be writing this blog on a manual typewriter. Then there's the time I tried to install a clothes washing machine in the back add-on room with its badly done peer and beam floor, a funny story for the scrapbook...

Where was I? Oh yes, hand dish washing. You won't find it surprising then that my house does not have a dishwasher installed. Here are five steps I've been perfecting to conserve both water and the energy to heat it, yet to get dishes as clean as humanly (this human) possible.

1. Fill each side of the sink with one gallon of hot water. You read right, just one drought-thrifty gallon per side. And I only do dishes once per day  depending on how much I cook but never more than once a day. The third gallon is to pre-rinse while waiting to wash (see hints below). Until this method becomes second nature to me -- it's not yet -- I've been using a pitcher to measure the water.

2. Do not put dish washing soap in the water. Instead I directly squirt my dish scrubber, the round green one in the photo. My daughter crochets these scrubbies out of tulle. They're my favorite, soft enough not to scratch cutlery and strong enough to scrub pots. Not putting a big squirt into the water, I'm using a lot less dish soap. A penny saved is a penny earned.

3. Wash the items that touch your mouth first.  I learned this rule from my mother, at the tender dish-washing age of six. That would be your glasses and silverware, the dishes you'd like the most clean, washed while the water is hottest and cleanest.

4. Scrub out of the water. By washing each dish in my hand, not in the sink, I can give it a dunk in the wash side which isn't made wildly soapy by directly washing there. Then ready for the crystal clear rinse in the left side. Doing this also reduces even further the amount of soap I use since my sudsed-up scrubber never goes in the water.

5. Continue washing from cleanest to dirtiest. Common sense, I know. The wash water will get inevitably dirty as you go along, but here are a few things that might help:
  • Scrape: I use a rubber spatula to scrape plates and bowls, which to my delight gets them as clean as pre-wash possible. For pots and pans, Pampered Chef sells three nylon pan scrapers for $3. They work wonders and will outlast you. I've used the same one for over 15 years and it looks new. Also good for scraping off mooshed-in gunk on floors.
  • Soak: Between washing, I keep a one gallon mixing bowl by the sink full of water. I pre-rinse dishes in it, or soak things I know will set hard as rock, like eggs and breakfast cereal. On days I'm not lazy, I will even pour that dirty water outside onto the compost bin which in my desert clime, always needs watering.
  • Grease or Oil: I have a septic tank so am especially aware the bad effect grease has on drains and sewage systems. I haven't yet devised a good method for responsibly disposing of cooking oil since it is one of the things I don't compost. I try to use as little as possible, throwing away used oil in the trash. In any case, not having excess oil or grease on the dishes is helpful.
  • Pink Cup: I have this one small pink plastic cup, an odd man out. Since I'm not using much water, and when the sink is full of dishes, it's sometimes hard to fully rinse. I use that cup to scoop and pour rinse water when there's not enough room to dunk. 
After years of washing dishes with a full, sudsy sink and after years of always rinsing under running hot water, it's a big step for me to perfect washing with less water, less expense, and hopefully less effort to boot.

What hand dish washing hints do you recommend? For those with dishwashers (the non-human kind), feel free to share your best green hints as well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Top Three Lessons for Shopping at a Farmer's Market

On Saturday, my daughter, grandkids, and I took our first trip to the Midland Downtown Farmer's Market. Here are the top three things I learned while there.

Cucumbers, eggplant, and beets1. Be friendly.
Everyone is super friendly, even by Texas standards! But I was especially thrilled to see in person Seiko and Hoven of Milagro Farms in Ft. Stockton, Texas.

You see, we had already "met" in a manner of speaking, hanging around some of the same like-minded circles on Facebook, and then friending one another too. From their photos, I've been following along as they've transformed their West Texas family plot with beautiful cacti and rows and rows of healthy food. A photo of Seiko behind a rototiller is quite something to see.

Next time they are in Odessa, Hoven wants us to show them around our thrift stores and I want him to look at the insulation in my attic to see what he'd recommend. You know, real friends and friendly stuff.

Wildflower and mesquite honey2. Bring that extra $20.
I'd suggest you bring a little extra money because you never know what you'll find there that you have been desperately wanting.

Me, I had been searching for locally grown honey for ages. I almost kissed Dave and Marta when I saw their Golden Bouquet Honey. For more than thirty years their bees have been working local wildflowers and mesquite blooms. When offered taste samples, I tried both. They really do taste different! Wildflower honey is robust, rich, whereas the mesquite is delicate and fragrant. Clever bees.

Actually, I wish I had brought two extra $20s, one for each flavor. (It will come as no surprise to my regular blog followers that I went with wildflower honey. $19.50 for a colossal-size jar.)

Red potatoes and garlic3. Next time, arrive at 9 a.m. sharp.
The expression "farm fresh" is truly meaningful at a Farmer's Market. The freshest things sell out, even more so if it is the first time they are available. And sad as it might be for tardy buyers, you gotta be glad hard-working folks are succeeding so splendidly.

On the far right is Matt Hanson, aka "Farmer Matt," founder and visionary of MDFM. Currently, he is scouting for even more local farmers to meet the area's growing interest and excitement for local foods. He also invites you hobby gardeners with extra to sell to contact him. And it's not just veggies and fruits, y'all. He's looking for other kinds of local producers, like those who can provide meat, cheese, milk, and eggs for example. Or bakery items, salsas. Anything yummy. If you make it, they will come.

Some of what I boughtLastly, I thought you might like to see my reusable produce bag filled with colorful bounty from its inaugural field use. Another Farmer's Market tidbit I observed: most everyone brings their own bags, but in case you forget it's no problem. Everyone there has plenty plastic bags -- don't we all -- saved and brought to use.

A big thanks to Farmer Matt and all the Wonderful Vendors! I'm sorry I couldn't get around to everyone's table to see, smell, and tout your wonderful wares, but rest assured I'll be back for more wholesome goodness.

My first reusable produce bag

Reusable produce bag

Here is my first reusable produce bag, sewn from materials on hand. The bag is made from nylon wedding tulle, and the drawstring from one ply teased out of a three-ply nylon cord. It is extremely lightweight and is washable. Another plus is it will be convenient for the grocery clerk to see the sticker code for keying it into the register. That's the good news.

The bad news is nylon is plastic. :(

But, like I've been saying over and over again to myself, one must start somewhere and every little bit helps. By using materials I had on hand, no gasoline was burned by shopping. I predict this bag will last a long time, preventing the use and disposal of a hundred of those thin plastic bags from the grocery store.

For my sewing friends, here's a tip on working with net, which is like trying to sew air. For a stabilizer, I used regular paper which I was able to tear away easily when done. Used envelopes, flattened out, would work very well for this purpose.

I used a stitch on my sewing machine that was similar to zig zag, but even more ziggy and zaggy, number 21. I'm sure that won't mean much unless you also have a Brother CS-6000i, so here's a photo (click to see larger).

Today my daughter and I are headed to the Midland Downtown Farmer's Market for the first time! I wish it wasn't 30 miles from here. Still, that's a fraction of the distance most produce must travel to get to my local grocery store, I'm sure.

Time for me to sign off now. I'll be bringing my reusuable shopping bag and this one little produce bag I've sewn so far. :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Do One Good Thing Today

Bowl of tomatoes, limes, and peppers

Food. It doesn't get much more basic than that.
Government. Sadly it doesn't get much more basic than that, either.

Right now there are two bills going through various stages of the U.S. legislative process, one from the Senate and one from the House. The driving force is ostensibly the government sees a need to make our food safer.

How will they do this? It's the age-old answer. The government solution is to impose difficult and ridiculous one-size-fits-all regulations, but not until they are complete with, ahem, "pork" barrel spending and crazy exemptions.

Who will find this difficult to do? The small American food supplier, like those at Farmer's Markets. These are hard-working people who feed their families not only from their farm income, but also put the very same food they grow and sell on their own tables. Ironic. The ones who will be hardest hit are the ones we can already trust most.

Who will pay? You. Taxes will fund the new administration of these programs. After that, you'll pay again to suppliers who must pass on the cost of complying to you on your grocery bill. You will pay in other ways, too. For example by having fewer choices.

Today, if you do one good thing, I hope it will be to contact your federal government legislators (enter your zip code at that link). Encourage them to nip this in the bud, so to speak. I sent several emails this morning and this is the one I wrote to my 11th district Congressman Mike Conaway who visits our area often. You are welcome to modify it to suit your needs.

Honorable Congressman Conaway,

I'm writing to you today to urge you to vote against legislation that would impede American access to locally grown food. In particular, I am concerned with S.510 and HR 2749.

This proposed legislation comes at a time when independence and sustainability are at the forefront of American conversations. This bill makes little sense with scant to no evidence supporting security or health vigilance at this level. I see these bills as having the contrary effect of making American families more dependent on centralized food sources (those entities that can afford to meet standardized regulations) resulting in larger vulnerabilities and risks for our country. In addition, more regulation will raise food prices, and give imports an undue advantage not having to meet these on-going inspections.

Next time you are in Midland, I hope you'll visit the Midland Downtown Farmers' Market. Last week they offered free ice cold water, summer produce including squash, tomatoes, onions, garlic, bush beans, and more. The market is growing in popularity and is a fine example of a West Texas unfettered can-do attitude.

Please vote no against over-extending legislation that does no service to the American public and damages our proud self-reliance.

Respectfully yours,
Debi Cates

Join me. Write your congressmen. It really couldn't be more basic.

I urge you to read more about these bills. I recommend this May 6th article from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Easy Peasy: Retractractable Laundry Line

Indoor laundry line
New indoor laundry line that I installed myself :)

Another simple step that's begun working for me is this retractable laundry line I installed in my shower. I don't yet have a big outdoor wash line, but this one is keeping up with my t-shirts, dish towels, and other light laundry that I've been doing by hand.

To help speed dry, I keep the bathroom window open and the bathroom door closed. Too hot this summer to do otherwise; it's been over 100 degrees almost every day this June.

8 ft retractable laundry lineInstalling was easy, but I had to build up nerve to drill screw holes in the shower wall. I did some thinking ahead and purposely put the line container part furthest from the shower head, and higher too. That way it's less likely for water to get in, or worse, inside the wall through the screw holes.

The device cost under $10 and, as the name indicates, I retract the line in the morning for my shower. After that I pull it back out, hang a few pieces of laundry, and that "load" is dry by the next morning.

I figure the few items each day equals a load each week, saving electric-usage for both the washer and dryer. Plus I've been getting some stains out that I know would have stayed otherwise. Yay!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Song of Myself: Stalks and Stems

Today is my birthday. To celebrate I wrote a poem to myself this very early morning, a flagrant self-indulgence, a much shorter personalization of a very famous one*.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.
As I am, I deserve to be. I am no victim of life because I am life.

I embrace my unironable wrinkles, etched by cycles of sun and clouds.
I embrace wild strands of gray hair, coarse and no longer repressed by the comb's convention.
I embrace the sagging chin, worn loose from keeping up.

I've heard the talk of beauty and blooms, of fecundity and fear.
But I do not listen.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.

There never was so much beauty as now among stalks and stems.
Blooms bud, brighten and wither. Fruits swell, sweeten, and fall.
All grass and stars.
All grass and stars.

Where are you off to, lady?

I dare not loafe.
Let me fill my baskets with the destiny of a woman's labor,
part of the ceaseless folding and unfolding.

I do not call aloud to invite my soul.
Nor do I despise the priests, nor those that consult them.
Let me wash without worry,
My soul follows like the shadows on the line.

I, now fifty-one years old, simply am.
Hoping to cease not till death.

* Walt Whitman (1819-1892) Song of Myself

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Wicked beauty

What is it? It's the interior of a freshly changed "tall kitchen" trash bag, so tidy. Beautiful, even.

Um, maybe more like a beast.

Fossil fuel energy is used to make plastic like that bag. In addition, plastic itself is made of petroleum. At every stage of production and use, plastic releases toxic by-products. News stories are revealing more and more frequently the frightening health effects from those chemicals, chemicals now found in our bodies.

Not only that, the plastic from this bag will still be around in the year 2510, or maybe 3010. No one knows exactly how long because, well, it takes so long to biodegrade.

Burning plastic to be rid of it, isn't a good option either. My son-in-law is a fireman and could tell you about the noxious plumes from a home filled with a standard amount of plastic when it burns.

Come on, this is just a bag and I'm only using one a week. That's 52 bags a year for me, one person. And 52 bags per person in the U.S. would be 16,089,372,000 bags a year. Sixteen billion bags just to throw away stuff. And since it doesn't biodegrade, what about the plastic from last year? Or 1990? Or 1950?

Every bit of plastic ever produced still exists today.

What can a person -- transitioning or not -- do to move away from petroleum-based plastic?

I could keep reducing my garbage, ultimately using fewer and fewer of these bags. There is no warning on the box, so one bag can't be all that bad. Wait, there is this one label on the box, in small print: "Not recommended for food storage." Why? Because it would leach bad stuff out into your food. Not good for food, not good for the ground, not good for you.

I could buy the oxobiodegradable plastic bag. Or I could buy biodegradable bags made of tapioca. In any case, I looked for them in my local grocery store, 2 miles from home, but they carry neither. It doesn't makes sense to me to drive across town for them, nor to indirectly burn gasoline by having them shipped to my doorstep from Amazon either.

Even if I could find some locally, a bit of googling revealed that the tapioca just entices micro-organisms to eat that part of the bag, then seeds the environment with polyethylene fragments. And the oxobiodegradable has additives that make them breakdown, releasing carbon dioxide and methane far more quickly, contributing to greenhouse gasses. Besides, I don't trust the corporate guys to tell all they know. Or even to know all they should know.

In desperation, I could at least re-use the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags that I bring purchases home in. Then I wouldn't be encouraging more plastic to be made. Since I'm currently sewing cloth shopping bags, my days of having a plethora of plastic bags are numbered, though.

I then looked in my garbage for the solution.

Monitoring my trash these last weeks, I noticed something. I throw away plastic bags. There's the plastic bag popcorn comes in, the big plastic bag toilet paper comes in, the plastic-coated bag dog food comes in. There's a bunch of them each week and not made of the kind of plastic taken by my recycle center. How ironic is it that plastic bags fill up my trash. Why throw them away in yet another bag?

Yep, I like this idea and I've begun saving my "trash" as trash bags. It will work both toward my goal of reducing my contribution to the landfill and reducing fuel consumption. Well, at least for as long as the stuff we buy is mostly, sometimes only, available packaged in plastic.

It's not a solution against the many health dangers of plastic. It's not as tidy as the bag above. It certainly won't be beautiful. But you know what I'm thinking? Those 16 billion white, tall bags bulging with garbage couldn't possibly be tidy or beautiful either.

® declaration of dangerous chemicals not used in their production. What is their stuff made of? It's not answered. Probably for a reason.
CNN's article "5 toxics that are everywhere: Protect yourself."
CNN's video "One woman's mission to be plastic-free."
The animated Internet sensation, "The Story of Stuff."

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Budding Greenthread

Greenthread bud
Greenthread bud, Thelesperma megapotamicum
April 14, 2010
West Odessa, Texas

I like the common name of this wildflower, greenthread. Its name and this image of it budding caught me today as a lyrical title, going well with the small green steps I've been attempting lately.

Wednesdays are garbage pick up day on my street. The volume of garbage I produce is an excellent way to gauge my consumption. I set a recent goal for myself to produce only one "tall kitchen" bag of garbage per week. I've done that for a few weeks now, and today my bag is even only 3/4 full. I'm making progress.

I couldn't have done it, though, until I started taking recycling seriously, plus continuing to compost. Without doing both of those, I would produce three to four times as much landfill-destined waste.

Like everything, I tried to make my recycle system as easy as possible. I know myself well enough to know if it's complicated, I'll get lazy. Now I have a lightweight plastic bin right by the trash can. Before I throw anything away, I first see if all or any part of it is accepted by our recycle center, and a lot more of it is than you might think. I don't sort at home. Once a week when I take the plastic bin to the center, I sort the contents there.

My compost system is also simple -- an enamel mixing bowl in the kitchen for scraps and a pile outside in the back for the actual composting. Everything except meat and dairy scraps go in it. I even dump liquids in it, like my cold coffee. Recently, I began using a rubber spatula to scrape the dirty dishes, which then helps make dish washing easier, too. I dump the bowl every day or two, covering it with a plate when not in use.

I put my compost pile at the edge of my garden, closest to the back door because in the 110 degree days of summer or the few freezing days of winter, I don't want to go trekking across the country-side. A person can do all sorts of things to make better, faster compost but again, I don't make it complicated. As they say, "compost happens." I dump it, I leave it. I don't worry about it attracting wild critters because I have two outside dogs. Ansel and Dixie, on the other hand, are free to eat what they will from it. And surprisingly, they do like certain fruit and vegetable scraps. At last, when I need compost, I shovel off the chunky, least-composted top layer to reveal the black gold beneath.

Now, back to my one bag per week landfill-destined garbage: there are some problems with it. I'll cover those tomorrow with some solutions I'm considering. Maybe you'll have some even better suggestions for me. =)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Transition Culture

Remember when I told you I was becoming a transition person, based on Transition Towns? I'm including a video below that explains it beautifully, an interview with the idea's co-founder, Rob Hopkins. He's such a nice guy!

In brief, transition culture attempts to put into action the answer to "How might our response to peak oil and climate change look more like a party than a protest march?"

Whole towns right now, today, are transitioning away from reliance on fossil fuels, ahead of when that energy will no longer be cheap. (Oil industry experts predict the painful increase is beginning now, many years before oil actually runs out or costs more to drill than it produces.) These towns are trying out various solutions for themselves, not waiting until things will be frightening and panicky. That's the "transition."

And, you know what? Instead of feeling overwhelmed, saddened and manipulated by forces outside of myself, I'm feeling empowered and capable. By golly, it's even fun.