Monday, December 14, 2009

Eating Healthier

Hello All! It's been a while since I posted, and I wanted to provide an update on what's going with me.

I'm still living a mostly plastic-free life, except I've recently made a few important changes to my anti-plastic pledge.

First, in an effort to do some serious weight loss, I've decided to forgo my plastic pledge in the rare occasion that being plastic-free forces me eat food that isn't the best for me.

For example, if I don't have time to make a lunch before work and I have to go to a restaurant to grab something, I have decided to choose getting a salad (even if it comes in a plastic shell) over a less healthy sandwich.

Second, I have also started buying bagged lettuce on occasion. I've been doing this because I want to incorporate more salad greens into my diet and I'm getting pretty sick of spinach, one of the only plastic-free leafy vegetables I can find.

When all is said and done, these few changes will not amount to much plastic used. Maybe one plastic clamshell (or less) and a few plastic bags per month.

Still, I'm unhappy to start using more plastic, but it's something I have to do for myself and my health.

Update: It's several months later, and I'm no longer buying salads in plastic shells or bags. Maybe I'm saying this because it's almost summer and the farmers markets are starting up, but who needs it!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Homemade Apple Butter

I made homemade apple butter for the first time! And I even canned it myself!

I made it in the crock pot using this recipe (but with half the sugar) and then used this page for instructions on how to can it.

The verdict? Apple butter is delicious and VERY easy to make—even for a newbie like me.

I just prepared an apple sauce the evening before, dumped it in the crock along with some cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and salt in the morning, and when I came home from work, my apple butter was almost finished. It just needed to simmer in the pot on high for one more hour.

The canning on the other hand was not so easy. I had never canned anything before, and I didn't have the right supplies. I figured, eh, I'll manage.

Bad idea. I definitely needed a wire rack for my pot to avoid upsetting the lids of the jars as I was lifting them out of the boiling water. I also needed some sort of funnel. I made a HUGE mess pouring the apple butter into the jars.

All said and done, though, I was successful and now have tons of delicious apple butter. And once it's all gone, I can re-use my jars again and again (which will hopefully help me get better and more efficient at canning). Yay!

Note: If you want to skip the canning stage, you can always make your jam and freeze in in freezer-safe Ball jars. It can't get any easier!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two Year Anniversary of Life Less Plastic!

It's been two years since I started writing this blog and trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use. It's been a crazy ride, filled with lots of ups and downs, including but not limited too...

The Ups
  • Successfully figuring out how to use less plastic.
  • Educating myself about plastic, waste, and other environmental issues that I never thought about before.
  • Experiencing endless support from family, friends, co-workers, and readers.
  • Watching the readership and comments on my blog grow and grow. It's been great to know that people are interested in what I'm doing.
  • Being featured in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, Positively Green Magazine, and on NPR, the BBC website, and Forecast Earth, the Weather Channel’s environmental website (click the links for the stories).
The Downs
  • Trying to figure out how to reduce the plastic I use. The first few months were really tough because I had to completely rethink everything I buy.
  • Using plastic, even though I write this blog. I hate it, but it happens on occasion and I usually feel like I'm deceiving people. It's just hard not to give into my weaknesses for coffee and fancy cheeses.
  • Being scared that people will think I'm a freak. Not conforming is hard, even if it's with something like not using plastic. For a long time a didn't even have the guts to tell my co-workers about what I'm doing.
Through all of these ups and downs, there have been many people who have supported me, which I have appreciated immensely.

The Thanks Yous
  • My family - Thanks to my Mom and Dad for always being interested in and supportive of what I'm doing, and thanks to my siblings for providing ideas, commentary, and general well wishes. Thanks also go out to my family for making the effort to create my first plastic-free Christmas and my second one.
  • My friends - Thanks to all of my friends who have put up with my plastic-free-ness. It's always appreciated. Additional thanks to a certain someone who had to put up with me when I was first figuring out what I was doing. I know it was annoying, so thanks for being patient!
  • My co-workers, who are also my friends - Why was I so scared to tell you at first? Thanks so much for all your support and positive feedback (and for not being too mad that I waited to tell you about this project).
  • Life Less Plastic readers - Thank you for all of your interest, as well as for your thoughtful and supportive comments. Some of you have been with me on this ride since the beginning, and I dearly appreciate everything you have contributed.
The Blog Contest
To mark my two year anniversary, I'll be hosting another blog contest in the near future. Check back soon for the details.

And thanks again to everyone!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Plastic-Free Cookies

It's a distant memory now, but long, long ago, I made my first attempt to avoid plastic at the grocery store.

It was an endeavor that changed my life and empowered me to do something different. To take a stand and to show the world (or a least anyone who happened to land on my blog) that creating so much garbage, plastic or otherwise, is not necessary. It's possible to live a good and happy life without sending 4.5 pounds of trash to the landfill each day.

I'm happy that I started my less-plastic experiment that day, but after almost two years of blogging about it, that must be obvious.

But now I feel I must also admit something. That day was also the start of a horrible reality. That's right. It was the start of life without cookies.

No Oreos. No Nilla Wafers. No Big & Soft Chocolate Chunk Chips Ahoy.

Life would be cookie-less, or at least I thought it would be until, soon after my experiment began, I stepped into my local bakery and discovered a precious secret—local bakeries make delicious cookies that can be acquired with little or no packaging.

That's right. A shop that might just be right near your house can provide you with delicious cookies that are better for the environment and help nurture the local economy. Who ever thought cookies could be so good?

The moral of the story: The next time you consider buying a box of Keebler Fudge Shoppe Mini Fudge Stripes cookies, put them down and pay your local baker a visit. You won't regret it (unless you eat too many cookies, which, actually, you might regret, but I can't help you with that).

p.s. You can also make your own cookies. Those are good, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

One Year of Plastic

A Life Less Plastic reader recently emailed to tell me about a project he undertook—to save an entire year of his family's plastic usage.

This is what it looked like:

































Scott, the plastic-saver, explains his endeavor.

"I heard all the talk about plastics being bad for your health and the environment but wanted to know what my family (single parent, twin daughters) was using. So the best way to do that was gather the facts, save the plastic, and see."

His result was a decent-sized, although probably much smaller than average, hill of plastic. He laments, "I'm fairly conservative with waste and I still got this big pile."

"I have [enough] plastic forks, spoons, knives, and straws to last a long time."

Quite enlightening. Thanks, Scott, for sharing photos and info on your project.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moving Doesn't Have to Be Wasteful

I have to admit something. When I was packing up my apartment back in June, I had a lot of I-should-just-throw-this-out moments.

You know what I mean. You're standing in your kitchen tossing utensils and cans of kidney beans into a box and you come across something you can't imagine bringing to your new place. Maybe it's a half-full box of pasta or a stray teabag. Who knows.

Either way, you're so exhausted that the very prospect of carrying eight ounces of pasta or a half-ounce teabag the thirty feet out to the moving van seems like a serious waste of energy.

I think it happens to everybody, but I'm happy to say that I resisted the temptation to trash everything and start over. Instead, I mustered up the strength, put everything I had into boxes, and moved it all to my new apartment. I didn't toss a single thing out...except for one mostly dead aloe plant that someone ended up rescuing anyway.

And I have to say, moving those extra few boxes really wasn't bad, especially when you consider that I probably saved myself a fair amount of money by keeping those useful things.

Mind you, I did give a lot of clothes and shoes to Goodwill, but I didn't ditch everything in the dumpster.

THIS, I must point out, is more than I can say for the guy who moved out of my building last weekend. I've never seen anything like it. The day he moved out, he scrapped the following:
  • a beautiful vintage couch (which got rained on before I could put up an add on Craigslist's free section)
  • an antique radio
  • curtains
  • sheets
  • a drying rack (this is mine now, I needed one)
  • books
  • nice wooden hangers
  • a bucket (mine now, too)
  • a plant stand
  • a cooler
  • and much, much more
It was ridiculous. He threw away things he surely could have used in his new home, like food and hangers, as well as things he could have donated or sold to other people. It was really sad.

But why be sad? Moving doesn't have to be wasteful because the following resources and organizations can help you make your next move more eco-friendly.

Resources
  • Freecardboardboxes.com - Connect with people who are giving old moving boxes away.
  • Usedcardboardboxes.com - Buy moving boxes that have been rescued from large companies that might otherwise recycle them or simply throw them away.
  • Freecycle - Give your unwanted things to others who will cherish them. Note that people give moving boxes away on this site ALL the time.
  • Craigslist - Sell unwanted items or create a post in the "free" section. You can even do this for stuff you're leaving in your alley.
  • Goodwill
  • Salvation Army

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Break is Over

My co-worker, Nick, won't stop asking me why I haven't blogged since May. Nearly every day his loud, annoying voice curls around the wall between our cubicles and grates at my ears.

What I hear is something like, "So, Jeanne."

It's not a question, but I know there's more to it. I know what's coming. I say, "yeeeaaaah?"

Then he asks, "So, when are you gonna write another blog post?"

"Uhh...I don't know!"

But that's not totally true. I do sort of know why.

I moved into a new apartment last month and was transported into an anti-blogging state of preoccupation, confusion, and plastification.

Excuse #1: Preoccupation
I spent a good portion of June packing up my old apartment and moving into my new place. Then I had to unpack (Secret: I'm still not 100% done. I have one box to left to unpack and I still haven't figured out how to organize my closets).

On top of that, it's the summer, and my usually-super-busy boyfriend has tons of free time, and I went to visit my friend's farm for a weekend, and I've been working on a new photo project. And, and, and.

Excuse #2: Confusion

It is not just the preoccupation. Now that I'm in a new apartment and location, I've had to figure out how to shop again. I had to assess the general plastic-free-ness of the products at my new grocery store and figure out the best way to get to a Whole Foods. I had to reform my routine—the exact routine that allows me to be (nearly) plastic-free in the first place.

Excuse #3: Plastic

I've used some plastic during this busy and confusing time, which left me un-motivated to write. Here's a list of the things I recall using:
  • A Starbucks ice coffee cup
  • Two coffee cup lids
  • A carry out container (from delicious thai food)
  • Blue corn chips bag
  • A few straws
  • Two plastic forks and two plastic knives (at continental breakfast while on a mini-break)
  • Plastic bag (from cherries at a farmers' market)
That's all I can remember for now. I know it's not so bad, but I felt terrible for each and every one of these things.

Summer Break Is Over
So that's it. Summer is over, and it's time to say "adios" to preocccupation, confusion, and plastic.

And it's time to say "hello" to my blog! HELLO BLOG!

Thanks to Nick for allowing me to make fun of him in this post. If you've got time, check out his marketing strategy blog, Never A Lack of Ideas.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I Love Dumpster Diving, Garbage Picking, and Other People's Trash

A few days ago, I stepped into the alley behind my apartment and beheld a wonderful sight: a pristine, white dish drainer sitting atop my neighbors' garbage can.

Heck yeah! This was a clear message from my neighbors. It read, "Hey everyone. I'm throwing this thing away, but it's in perfect condition, and I know one of you will want it."

They were right.

Immediately, my natural instinct to acquire perfectly usable stuff that other people are throwing away took over. I snagged the drainer and brought it back to my house, where it joined all the other things I've gained from garbage picking.

As I stowed my new-to-me contraption away, I happily thought, "How perfect! I really needed a dish drainer." (I'm moving to a cozy new apartment on July 1. The place doesn't include roommates with useful kitchen gadgets.)

Yep, because of my find, I was enjoying a nice little high--like the one you get when you chance upon a dollar bill on the ground.

But then all of the sudden my high started to wear off. And I got annoyed.

I got annoyed because people look down so much on dumpster diving. They think it's gross and dirty, but what these narrow-minded people don't understand is that it almost never is.

Just like my neighbors, many people leave the "good stuff" outside their garbage cans, making it clean and easy to grab things. That means you don't have to do anything untoward, yet you still get to enjoy all the benefits:
  • You prevent the pollution and resource waste that results from making new products
  • You divert "good stuff" from landfills
  • You get cool shit for free!
How amazing!

Below are pictures of things that were all once trashed. They are now my treasures. I hope they'll inspire you to do a little alley hunting yourself and to always leave your "good stuff" on top of your garbage can.


Isn't my coffee table gorgeous?














I keep this chair on my back porch.














I potted an aloe in a pretty dish I happened upon.














This antique wooden crate was a true find.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

San Francisco, I'm Green...with Envy

San Francisco is driving me to a perpetual state of jealousy.

The reasons are many, but today it is because the city has so many cool stores. For example, I just heard of a new place called Green 11 that seems super amazing.

Located on Union Street in the Cow Hollow neighborhood, Green 11 sells organic beauty products and household cleaners that you can buy and take home in your own reusable containers.

Specifically, the store is offering concentrated organic shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, liquid soap, kitchen cleaners, bath cleaners, and laundry detergent.

In Chicago, you absolutely can't get these types of products in your own containers. I swear if I had the cojones I'd open a store simply so I could get them.

Anyways, check out the additional pictures below as evidence of how cool San Fran is.

Darn you, San Francisco!





























Sunday, May 3, 2009

Walmart Demonstrates Green Washing With A Carpet Cleaner

Walmart recently put out a commercial that introduces some seriously flawed logic.

The ad starts out okay. They talk about protecting the Earth and show us a cute little Bissell carpet cleaner that's made from 50% recycled plastic.

Okay, I'm on board.

But then they try to convince us to buy said carpet cleaners by saying: "If every Walmart customer—all 200 million of us—bought one, it would be like recycling 2 million bags of trash. Now that is some serious cleaning power"

When I heard first heard that, I wanted to pinch my arm to be sure I was awake. I asked myself, "Did they seriously just say that? Seriously?"

Walmart is trying to convince people that buying 200 million new carpet cleaners made of 50% recycled plastic (a.k.a. 50% virgin plastic) is good for the environment?!?! You've got to be kidding me!

You know what would be better for the environment? Renting a carpet cleaner or borrowing one from a neighbor, or, dare I say it, buying one used.

But I guess I don't expect Walmart to share these types of ideas with people.

I do expect, however, that they don't run around telling people who don't need or want a carpet cleaner that the best thing they could do for the environment is to buy one.

I mean, seriously! That's just wrong.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The City Cart: The New Icon of the Environmental Movement

If you're still using the term "granny cart," I feel like I should tell you something. You're really not hip anymore.

I know. I apologize for insulting you, but if you were in any way fashionable, you would know that these wire-framed wonders are now being called "city carts" and are no longer just for grannies.

Indeed, trend-setting city folk all of over the U.S. are turning these city carts into everyday companions and using them to carry groceries, to haul laundry, and, of course, to transport 24-packs of PBR back to their apartments.

Since fashion dictates action (at least sometimes), I want to thank hipster city-dwellers for making the city cart fashionable and allowing it to blossom into its new role as icon of the urban environmental movement.

This may be obvious to many, but here's why the city cart can be an important part of living sustainably:

Reason #1 - City carts make it possible to go to the grocery store on foot. This means fewer people driving and could even mean fewer cars (I say this because trips to the grocery store are one of the only things that ever make me wish I had a car).

Reason #2 - City carts can help prevent food waste. If the city cart could help inspire the reestablishment of the local market as a viable way to shop for groceries, people could go to the store more often, making them less likely to waste food.

This is what happens in Berlin. There are grocery stores everywhere in the city, so people aren't forced to make unreliable predictions about how much produce or milk or yogurt they will need over the next week or two. Instead they can make quick stops to the market to buy only what they need for making dinner that night.

Food waste may not sound like a big deal, but according to the EPA, 31.7 million tons of food scraps were sent to landfills 2007. That's more than 63 billion pounds of food sitting in landfills and creating methane gas as it decays--the same gas that's helping to destroy our ozone layer and cause global warming.

Reason #3 - Less food waste means less packaging waste - 78.5 million tons of packaging were sent to landfills in 2007. Although I don't have statistics, a fair percentage of this is likely from food packaging. If we can cut food waste, we can also cut packaging waste, including plastic waste.

So you see, city carts have the potential to help us reduce the number of cars on the road and cut the amount of food and packaging waste we send to landfills.

Or at least I think they do.

My new boyfriend, Mike, on the other hand, thinks that I've got a thin argument and that I am trying to make city carts cool because I just got one of my own.

He's totally wrong—but if I ever hear someone referring to my city cart as a "granny cart," I'm going to be really mad.

Image courtesy of nona*

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Another Blog Contest: Announcing The Winner

The random drawing has been ceremoniously conducted, and I'm pleased to announce that the winner of most recent blog contest is Heather Lynne!

To claim your prize, Heather, just send me an email at lifelessplastic@yahoo.com.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Blog Contest

Today's my birthday, which means I need something to stop my brain from wandering towards thoughts of aging and mortality and other such delightful things.

Lucky for you, the best distraction seems to be another blog contest!

The prize: An assortment of ACME grocery bags ($50 value), sponsored by Reusablebags.com.

How to Enter - Just submit a comment that shares one of the following:
  • One new thing you plan to do to cut your plastic use (don't worry if you submit a repeat).
  • An idea on what we can do on a larger scale to cut packaging waste, be it through better packaging methods, better urban planning, etc.
  • Your favorite product on the Reusablebags.com website and what you like about it (an obvious thanks for their sponsorship)
To decide the winner, I'll do a random drawing from all those who enter.

The entry deadline will be April 6, and I'll post the winner the following day.

Good luck everyone!

p.s. I was just joking about the thoughts of mortality thing...sort of.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why the West Coast Is Magical and More Talk About Bulk Bins

The roar of an endless blue ocean, the romance of vineyards and fine wine, the beauty of mountains so large they seem to touch the heavens.

Ahhhhhh, the West Coast.

There are so many reasons to love it, but in my opinion, one of the most endearing things about that far away land is how so many grocery stores there sell food from bulk bins.

Being from the Chicago, I never knew the wonders of West Coast grocery stores until a few months ago when I took my covered wagon to Oregon to visit to my oldest sister.

There, I experienced an awe-inspiring sight, which I shall relate to you through the following pictures:

























































You have to agree, it's pretty impressive. At this particular store, there were aisles and aisles of bulk bins full of anything from pasta and cereal to honey and sesame oil. It was amazing.

And it wasn't just the froofy markets that had bulk items. Even Safeway stores had them.

Reflecting on what I learned while I was in Oregon, I feel inspired to write letters to my local grocery stores again to request that they install bulk bins. Here's the letter I wrote last time.

Maybe if enough people write letters, more stores will start offering bulk bins.

After all, why should the people on the West Coast have better grocery stores than us?!?!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Composting Success Has Me Shouting "I Made Earth!"

It wasn't easy, and it took me an entire year, but I did it. I made dirt!

I realize that making dirt doesn't sound that exciting, but consider this: I made it by composting my garbage, specifically old fruit and vegetable scraps and newspaper.

If this still doesn't sound amazing, please also consider that I live in the middle of Chicago, where composting is not so common and, one might argue, also quite difficult.

Here's the thing. Because of rodent problems in the city, you only have two composting options:
  • A worm bin - Will compost your waste very fast, but requires love and attention and a willingness to have worms in your house
  • A fully-enclosed compost bin or tumbler - Requires exact proportions of different materials to avoid odors and takes a long time, most likely because the batches are too small and the compost isn't getting enough air
I used a compost tumbler and found that it took a loooong time (a year) and smelled a bit unsavory (not horrible, but not great). Now, if done exactly right, a compost tumbler won't generate any bad odors and can be fast-working, but I'm going to defend myself and say that that's not so easy to do.

So here's the point of my story:

If you live in the suburbs or in a small town, you don't need an enclosed bin to prevent rodents. You can basically throw all of your organic waste into a pile and wait for it to turn into dirt.

Don't believe me? Here are some resources to learn more:

Composting Information from the EPA
Composting for the Homeowner, from the University of Illinois
Compost Guide - Composting Fundamentals

p.s. I know there are a lot of people in the suburbs who already compost. Kudos to you! Maybe you can train your neighbors?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Handmade Crafts

With all the adorable handmade crafts available on the internet these days, I don't understand why I'm not drowning in sassy earrings.

I also don't understand why my walls are not covered in screenprints dreamed up by local artists or why my couch isn't bedecked with funky, mind-altering pillows.

To address, and hopefully remedy, seriously confounding realities like these, I signed the Buy Handmade Pledge today and vowed to "buy handmade for myself and my loved ones, and to ask others to do the same."

I plan to buy handmade goods to support:
  • Local artists
  • Small-scale and local production of goods
  • Availability of original and interesting wares
  • The production of more environmentally friendly products, especially those that recycle and make the old new again
As I set out to buy more handmade goods, here are stores I'll be cruising:
And here are some blogs and such:
Well, I guess it's time to go shopping! Take the Buy Handmade Pledge today!

p.s. I have to admit that I don't make enough money to buy everything handmade, but I'm looking forward to buying at least a few pairs of sassy earrings and maybe even a funky pillow. My neck always hurts when I lay on the couch...

Image courtesy of Matte Stephens. Buy this print or one of his many others on Etsy.com.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Milwaukee, WI

Cheers to my Wisconsin brothers and sisters!

Life Less Plastic recently got a mention in a free Milwaukee circular, the Bay View Compass.

The article, Recalling Concerns Over Safe Food, Products, focuses on one woman's struggle as she learns about phthalates and the harm they might be doing to her child.

As she hears more about plastics, she finds easy questions becoming dilemmas: What cup should I give my toddler? What bowl should I use?

After buying a set of beautiful wooden bowls during a trip through Amish country, the author finds she's solved at least one problem.

She's concludes that now she's "searching for safer pots and pans and trying not to worry."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Being Positive Works Better

Every now and then, I get negative comments on my posts. I always try to publish them because I think it's important to allow everyone to voice their opinion. I also think it keeps life, and this blog, a little spicy.

Still, sometimes I get comments that are so negative that I'm tempted to delete them for all eternity. The following is one example. I went back and forth about what to do with it, and for some reason thought, "Heck. Maybe if I do a post about this comment, we can actually get something out of it."

So here it is as a reminder of why being positive is a lot more productive than being negative:

Explain to me how you drive a car or even brush your teeth without plastic ?

You can't even get on a bus or fly an airplane.


I bet for damn sure you've got unconscionable, unfathomable dimensions of plastic in your t.v,, your radio...


Wait a minute, YOU'RE USING A COMPUTER!


Your fake anti corporation, anti plastic b.s. is a direct stem of what is wrong with this country.

You need to find a man, get back in the kitchen and bake some damn pot pies, apple pies, casseroles

AND HAVE A PH*Kn Tupperware party, bitch! lighten up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Coffee Made Me Do It

It's all coffee's fault. It's so luscious and warm. It makes me do things I shouldn't. Bad, naughty things.

I remember the first time I tasted the dark, nutty flavor of my favorite beverage with striking exactness. I was 12 years old and at my grandmother's wake. In need of something to occupy my mind, I snuck over to the dingy funeral parlor kitchen and poured myself a steaming cup of coffee out of a giant pecolator. After adding a gallon of half and half and 16 packs of sugar to my java, I had my first sip. It was love. Or a caffeinated sugar high. But either way, it was amazing.

Ever since then, I've been hooked. I became a regular coffee drinker at 16, and now I get horrible, there-must-be-a-nail-in-my-brain headaches if I don't have at least a cup.

It's a bad situation, which brings me to my point.

My addiction to coffee has caused me to use plastic several times over the past few months. Specifically, I've gone to Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks without my travel mug and gotten plastic lids.

Arg! I know I could have avoided those plastic lids, but I'm so weak. Coffee is evil, but yet so heavenly.

Coffee, why must you make me do bad things? Why?!?!?!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still Using Baking Soda Deodorant

It's been more than four months since I officially ran out of deodorant and started using baking soda on my underarms to prevent odors, and all I can say is that it really works.

In fact, I've been doing aerobics classes four times a week and even after my hour-long workouts, my armpits don't really smell. I will admit that the texture of the baking soda does create a bit of friction during my workouts, but the irritation is not bad enough to motivate me to stop me from using baking soda.

Summary: baking soda deodorant is still amazing!

Update - 3.22.09 - At the suggestion of some readers, I am now using baking soda AND cornstarch mixed together (1:1) and I am no longer experiencing any irritation. Thanks everyone!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but this time around I've made several. I've decided to:
  1. Get 8 hours of sleep each night
  2. Give up alcohol for the whole month of January (too many parties in December)
  3. Eat healthier
I'm doing horrible at the first one and great on the second one.

And the third one? To be quite honest, I'm doing AMAZING!

As part of eating healthier, I've been eating a more Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables, beans, and whole grains. I'm also eating more yogurt, not only because it's healthy on its own, but also because it's supposed help me digest the veggies and beans I'm eating.

I make the yogurt myself, which I've talked about before; one reader recently asked me how I do this. Well, I originally followed the recipe I found on the Ruby Glen website, which I've edited slightly and pasted below. The recipe was originally written by Crystal Miller.

Homemade Yogurt

Ingredients
  • 4 and 1/4 cups milk, cow or goat
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk (this is optional but will make a thicker yogurt)
  • One envelope of yogurt starter (you can purchase this at Whole Foods or your local health food store. You may also be able to find it at those vitamin stores in the mall or around town)
Instructions
  1. Before you begin, find a way to incubate your yogurt during fermentation. I use a cooler and it works very well. Some people use a thermos or simply place their yogurt on a heat vent or in the oven (sometimes the pilot light keeps the oven warmer than room temperature).
  2. Also before you begin, wash 1 quart-sized canning jar or another container that will fit the volume of milk you're using.
  3. Pour your milk into a cooking pot.
  4. Heat the milk up to 185 degrees.
  5. Remove from heat and allow the milk to cool down to 110 degrees. The cooling takes approximately 20 to 40 minutes.
  6. If you want to speed up the cooling process put the milk outside if it's cold out (and if you're confident critters won't get to it) or fill your sink with cold water and place the pot of hot milk in the water and stir and stir.
  7. After the milk reaches 110 degrees add the remaining ingredients and stir until everything is dissolved very well.
  8. Pour this mixture into your container
  9. Put the lid on and put it into what ever place you are planning to incubate it.
  10. Leave it there for 10 to 12 hours. Try not to disturb the jar to much. When the yogurt is firm (or at least somewhat thicker) it is time to remove it and put it in the refrigerator. Usually 12 to 24 hours. If you make and incubate the yogurt during the day it can refrigerate overnight and be ready for breakfast the next day. (Note that my yogurt isn't usually what I would call firm before I put it in the refrigerator, but it firms the rest of the way up overnight)
  11. If you would like flavored yogurt you can add fresh fruit or a little bit of flavored jam when serving.
And that's it. It sounds like a lot of steps, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually quite easy.

Happy New Year and enjoy your yogurt!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas: Theater, Furoshiki, and Family

I remember vividly what each of my family members got me for Christmas last year because it was my first Plastic-Free Christmas, but I have absolutely no idea what I got the year before.

That's partly why I bought most of my family tickets for the Mary Poppins musical. It will be fun to go out for a night on the town together, and it's an experience we'll remember for a long time—possibly for the rest of our lives.

For the family members that don't live in the area or are too young to go to the theater, I bought a few regular presents. I got my sister a guitar strap made by the Chicago-based company, Souldier, and I got my niece and nephew clothes and books. I also got my niece a little monkey doll, which was one of the few gifts I gave or received with plastic on it (the doll was so cute, I couldn't resist).

I wrapped all of these presents using Furoshiki, which you can see above, and got several compliments from the family.

It was a great Christmas. My family got me many nice things, most of which were plastic-free, and since I gave almost everyone theater tickets, it was pretty easy for me to go plastic-free this Christmas, too.

Of course, Christmas was great for reasons other than the gifts. I spent days on end with my family talking, making jokes, and laughing.

But that's how get-togethers usually are with my family, which means I probably won't remember this particular holiday experience forever. Instead, it will just blur together with all of the other wonderful memories I have of my family.

They're a great bunch.