Thursday, February 28, 2008

Green On the Town?

I'm really lucky to be living in Boulder while I take on this project in a lot of ways. There are enough socially aware people here to create a market for natural foods (the three closest groceries to my house are natural or organic) and local products. We have a farmer's market in summer and fall, numerous artist co-opts, and two restaurants where all the food is organic and local. So there are a number of options I can feel good about supporting!

Take last night, for example. At the Walrus Pub, Wednesday night is Pub Quiz Night. We go every week. Now granted, my real motivation is the FREE beer and elevated status we get when we win rounds, but I'm also tickled pink about what KIND of beer we win: LOCAL!!!!

Boulder Beer is a company with plenty of yummy brews, and they're all on special wednesday nights! Not only am I saving cash, I'm also drinking local! My beer only had to travel 5 miles down the road before I drank it! Not as good as concocting my own in the tub, but close! (and less yucky)

If you want to find a microbrewery near you check out this Brewpub and Microbrewery Guide

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My beginning economic situation

So each month, i'll be posting a little chart of how the changes in my life to become more environmentally responsible translate into money saved. February is my starting point, and I can be so accurate in terms of averages because I never have cash, so I have itemized bills for all the crud I purchase for the last year and a half. I took out December, because Christmas gifting was a HUGE outlier.

Here is my AVG EXPENDITURE PER MONTH for each category going into the project:

1) CRAP (clothes, DVDs, paper napkins, laundry, little baggies, gawdy earrings, porcelean figurines, etc.) = 400$ (!!!!)

2) TAKEOUT/DELIVERY (a quick lunch I grab from the student union, salad prepared in plastic packaging for takeaway, pizza delivery, etc.) = 111$

3) OUT ON THE TOWN (Lunch, Diner, Happy Hour, Bar Bills ... But with real china, not paper cups) = 154$

4) GROCERIES/ESSENTIALS (Organic produce delivery and grocery bills) = 235$

5) RENT & UTILITIES = 775$

6) CELL PHONE = 60$

TOTAL = 1735$ --> This is 235$ MORE than the stipend I recieve for teaching each month, which accounts for my 3K in credit card debt, and the fact that I babysit and tutor student athletes 10-15 hours a week for extra cash.

Hopefully, by eliminating the takeout and the crap sections, and eventually lessening my expenditure for groceries as well I can apply extra money to debt reduction and be out of the hole by the end of 2008! I'd love to include stuff about conserving utilities, and perhaps I will include the HYPOTHETICAL money I could be saving, but as noted in my previous rant, I recieve no monetary compensation for saving the planet through short showers or turning off lights.

NOTE: If other people want to work toward getting out of debt, check out the Women in Red on MSN for great tips.


Ok, So I have decided on the first project rule to add to the Manifesta:


One of the scariest things about our environmental situation is that recycling doesn't really cut it. Yes it helps, but if we really want to make progress we need to cut down on the STUFF! Our economy is based upon the use and discard model. This past weekend I went to Target to buy deoderant and shampoo and ended up spending 70 dollars on crud I don't even REMOTELY need such as:

~A ceramic decorative ball (???)
~The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (It should be noted that I have a Netflix membership)
~Wash clothes that matched my bathroom rug (I already have 2 dozen)
~Chocolate Covered Pretzel Sticks - each individually wrapped in plastic!

This must stop!
Moving forward, I will buy less crap. IF I make the decision to buy anything (that falls outside the realm of food or personal care) I must:

1) Post my rationale for the purchase on the blog
2) Post a picture of the item on the blog
3) Leave myself open to rebuke in the comments

DIY Cheese (and bread!)

I read a Food and Wine article a few months ago about the possibility of making cheese in one's own kitchen and I was super curious. I love reclaiming culinary skills lost in the modern age!

So I bought a book: Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. It's amazing. For some of the more fancy stuff or the hard rind cheeses, you need special materials or ingredients to get it going. However, there are some simple soft cheeses that are super easy to make, and DELICIOUS. I've mastered ricotta, mozzarella, buttermilk cheese (tastes like cottage cheese but it's dryer so it's perfect to crumble over salad), and Paneer (Indian cheese that's pretty tasteless but works really well as a tofu substitute in Indian cooking) so far and my obsession continues.

Here's a pic of my first Ricotta drying in a cheese cloth:

I can't even tell you how satisfying it is to be able to make something like this! If you want to get fancy, check out New England Cheesemaking Supply for the stuff you'll need and recipes. But if you're interested in testing out the cheesemaking without any special stuff, try this recipe out:

Queso Blanco:

I gallon of whole milk (it should be pasturized, but NOT ultrapasturized)
1/4 cup vinegar (either white or apple cidar)

In a large pot, directly heat the milk to 185 or 190 degrees (you can use a candy thermometer or cheese thermometer for this measurment.) Stir often so the milk doesn't scorch. Then slowly add the vinegar bit by bit until the curds (the white, clumpy cheese stuff) seperates from the whey (yellow-tinged translucent liquid that's left over.) Laddle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin (if you don't have this, any thin cloth should do the trick pretty well.) Tie the corners of the muslin into knots to form a bag, and hang the bag to dry for several hours until it's the consistency you like.

This cheese works really well as an alternative to beancurd in chinese cooking or Panir in Indian cooking. It absorbs the flavor of sauces REALLY well. You can store it covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

And DON'T THROW OUT THE WHEY! Hot whey can be used to make really yummy Italian Bread:

1 c tepid water
2 packages active dry yeast
1 Tbsp honey
5 1/3 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
3/4 c hot whey
2 tsps salt
5 1/2 - 6 c sifted flour (use unbleached white or wheat or a combination of the two)
1 -2 tsps butter
Conrmeal, for sprinking
1 egg white, beaten lightly

Combine water, yeast and honey and let it stand until the yeast dissolves and gets all bubbly. Melt the butter cubes in the hot whey and let it cool a bit to lukewarm. Add salt and then the yeast mixture. Add flour a cup at a time while stirring vigorously. The dough will be sticky. Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and keep folding the dough with flour until it's easy to handle. Knead for 2-4 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then divide the dough in half, rolling each into a rectangle 12 x 8 inches. Starting on the wide side, roll the rectangle up tightly, pinching the seams as you roll. butter baking sheets and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place laves on the sheets and let them rise in a warm place for about an hour, until they're double sized. Preheat the over to 425 and cook those puppies 30-40 minutes. Let them cool on a rack and slice the bread while it's still fresh.

Making your own cheese and bread can be cost effective, but it's also really satisfying to be this connected to the food you put in your body.

The Gym is for suckers

It's always amused me how willing people are to spend hours (and thousands of dollars) on working out, but then hop in their cars and drive half a mile to the grocery store. A friend of mine recently confided in me that her mother is after her for concentrating too much time on yoga and not enough time on cardio. In response to that, I offer this pearl of wisdom:

Life IS cardio.

Well, an environmentally responsible life is. I don't have a car, which means leg power or public transit gets me everywhere I want to go (and occasionally rides in cars with friends, but since I've started writing this blog I feel morally obligated to cut back on those drastically). I don't have a blender, so If I want my fruit smoothie really smooth, there's some serious chopping that has to occur.

Save the money, save the time and just go outside! Walk to your errands. Suburban people seem to have a skewed sense of distance. 5 miles is NOT a distance you should be driving! Take a bike or walk it.

Save the planet and get thin to boot.

PET PEEVE: Flat-Rate Utilities!!

Like many in the under-twenty five bracket, I live in an apartment. It used to be NYC tenement apartments, now it’s Boulder house-converted-to-five-apartments apartments. Lots of things about my new city are different: the threat of mountain lions, the diseased prairie dogs, the unabashed hippies. But one of the most annoying things about apartment living still stands at the new address: I GET NO PRICE BREAK IF I CONSERVE UTILITIES!!!!!

I have “free” gas for the stove, “free” water, “free” garbage collection, and “free” power. By free of course, I mean it’s included in my rent already. So when I make a concentrated effort to turn my radiant heat down below 70, I don’t see another penny. When I turn off the power strip or unplug my phone charger when it’s not in use, I don’t earn quarters toward Friday night beers. IT DOESN’T MAKE A DAMNED BIT OF DIFFERENCE. So then, why should I bother? The stick-it-to-the-man part of my brain wants to turn the heat up to 90 degrees and wander around naked all winter just because I can and it costs the landlady money, not me.

I realize this doesn’t really matter to those of you who own your own homes, but as the economy gets more and more caustic, that is happening later and later in life for people.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cool Laundry Gadget - that saves $, time, and my sanity

I don't have my own washing machine, which means that I let my laundry go until the last possible moment, then nearly lose a digit or two while lugging the hamper weighing 48 metric tons across the street and through the parking lot to my laundromat. Granted, it's only a 5 minute walk.

But this doesn't change the fact that laundry blows. I never have 2 hours to sacrifice in the alarmingly-humid laundromat watching my clothes spin round and round.

And then there's the cost: probably 12-15 dollars each time I head over there.

Finally: the environmental impact. I don't air dry my stuff because there's only so much my shower rod can hold. Plus, there's a pretty significant yuck factor involved in trudging back across the street with a pile of wet (and therefore more heavy) stuff. Mildew. Ew. So I use the dryer, and I use a pretty high setting so as to be freed from this laudry prison as quick as possible.

There has to be a better solution, I think to myself.

I tried washing stuff in the sink, but it takes forEVER and it isn't really that effective. At least not how I was doing it. Plus, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was actually using MORE water than your average washing machine with the endless stream.

And so I start browsing websites. Enter the WONDER WASH!:

It's tiny, but works really really well in my initial tests. I fit 2 long-sleeved tees, 4 pair of undies, 3 tank tops, one pair of jeans, a hoodie, pajama pants, and a stowaway sock in the first go round. Then I pour in 6 quarts (3 gallons) of water* and twist on the pressure lid. Apparenlty it's this cool lid that creates the magic, because it causes the water and the detergent to shoot through the clothes really fast..... or something. You crank the knob for 2 minutes, and then drain using this cool little valve you pop in the bottom. Then, you either rinse in the machine (I put 4 more quarts in, rounding it out to 5 gallons per load) or by hand.

Voila! The load is the exact amount I can drape in the bathroom immediately, which is important while it's still cold out and I can't hang stuff on a line without it freezing. It cost around 40 dollars, doesn't use electricity, and uses less water than any other little guy I know anything about. The clincher: I can do laundry in my underwear at 3 in the morning. This may not appeal to everyone, but it does it for me. I figure it will pay for itself completely in less than a month considering the piles upon piles of clothes I have hidden in my closet waiting for a proper wash.

You can get it a bunch of places, but I found it here:

*The instructions say to use hot water, but I've tested it and unless your clothes are really really soiled, this doesn't seem to make a difference. Also, you can get away with less water if you are ok with cranking a bit longer.

A Poor Environmentalist's Manifesta: THE MISSION

I make less than 16 thousand dollars a year. It's not horrible: I'm single, in graduate school, and generally living quite well considering. However, I do have a problem when my economic concerns keep me from making the environmentally responsible decision! Check out all the new, cute, "green" gadgets out there. Do I have an extra 30 dollars to spend on a wind-powered phone charger to snap onto my bike helmet? No. And I would imagine a lot of other households in America don't either. Here's the bottom line:


Because if it is, we're all sunk. "Green" is being marketed to yuppies at an astounding rate. But the message is largely still the same: buy buy buy, just buy different stuff! This doesn't work for me, and so I set forth in this blog to chronicle how i'll force my lifestyle to be in sync with my value system. I want to explore how being environmentally responsible can be economically sound, because until that's the case for everyone, I doubt people will make the strides we need them to. Who cares if your car is emitting poisonous gases in the air if you can't feed your family? Further, who cares about eating organic or local if you can't feed your family?


I’ll try to show that is can be, and I'll let you know how it goes in terms of dollars and cents (sense?)

I'll add Project Rules as I think of them.

RULE # 1 (As of 2-27) --> I WILL BUY LESS CRAP! And If I make the decision to buy anything, I must post a picture of it and a rationale, thereby opening myself up to ridicule.

RULE #2 (As of 3-1) --> I WILL NOT USE DISPOSABLE FOOD CONTAINERS. No takeout, or delivery. And if I go out to dinner and can't finish my meal, I need to have had the foresight to bring along something to wrap it in.

PULE #3 (As of 4-23) --> I WILL NOT USE LIGHTS BEFORE SUNSET. It's so silly when the sun works much better!