Zero Waste Week – Day 2 – What Makes a Soup?

Growing up I only knew one kind of soup. It required chicken, white rice, carrots, celery, corn, cabbage, salt, pepper, comino, garlic powder, and part of a can of tomato sauce. That was the only soup I knew, so if I had planned to make soup for dinner and didn’t have one of those ingredients on hand, I ended up eating something else instead.

Well, that was just silly. Soup can be made from anything, and it’s a perfect way to use up random veg in your fridge.

So today, into a pot half-filled with water I added veggies that I had on hand: carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, and corn. At the last minute I also discovered a potato hiding away and threw it into the pot. There’s so much potential for food waste prevention here. I had a couple of bell peppers, so I chose the one that was slightly softer to add. (Sometimes bell pepper seeds add a nice texture, but unfortunately my pepper today was not seed-rich.) Got ugly carrots? Slicing and boiling them makes those cosmetic blemishes totally disappear.

For seasoning, I added the standard salt and pepper. Plus some red pepper flakes (I have a ton of flakes from pizza lunch leftovers at work), comino, coriander, and oregano. If I had other seasonings in my pantry, I’d use those instead. Just don’t add something like cinammon unless you’re really adventurous. We’re trying to keep food out of the trash, remember?

Did I need chicken? Not quite. Strangely, I saw two of them walking through different parts of the neighborhood on my way home from work today, but I wasn’t tempted to slaughter them for dinner.

Of course, if you have a half-eaten chicken leg in the fridge or other random leftovers, throw those in too. It’ll only add value.

Some people use mushrooms as a meat replacement. I had some in the fridge, as well as some chickpeas that were ready to go. I totally forgot about them. Did the soup suffer? Nope, it was still delish. (The shrooms and chickpeas will get eaten later this week, no worries.)

For carbs, I added a bit of everything–brown rice, wild rice blend, and also barley for texture. Every once in a while I’ll throw in a bit of quinoa because my husband loves it. Other times we’ll just throw in some kind of pasta. Pretty much anything will work here. The only thing is if you use something that generally cooks fast, wait a bit longer before throwing it in to keep it from getting too mushy.

That’s it! Water and whatever else you have on hand. That’s what makes a soup.

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So good I ate most of it my bowl before snapping a picture. 🙂

What recipes do you have to help prevent food waste?

 

Zero Waste Week – Day 1

Today was the easiest day of zero waste week because it was a holiday and I wasn’t tempted by the junk food at work. Instead around lunch time I made a huge pot of vegan chili full of various diced veggies. FYI, this is also a great way to use up random veggies that would otherwise go bad. To start out the week, I’ll share the foods I stocked up on this weekend in preparation for this no-fast-food week. Not perfectly zero waste, but fairly close.

I knew I would need plenty of sweet fruits to avoid the week without regressing to soda so I picked up some peaches, pears, and holiday honeydew (maybe?). Plus there are a few canary melons in the backyard which are almost ripe.

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Fresh grub from the farmers market

Likewise, plenty of bread for satiety.

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Package-free bread and bagels

More carbs and plenty of nuts, plus peppercorns for good measure. (I’m already fully stocked on beans).

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No mason jars required!

Extra veggies, with a few stickers just to taunt me. I got these pears before getting the farmers market pears shown above and probably should have skipped these. And I know avocados aren’t the most eco-friendly item to buy these days, but my husband is so happy to eat the occasional avodado.

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Non-local produce
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Mixed greens and garlic that somehow avoided being in the previous photo

Then of course, there are the weekly wasteful things. Milk is a necessity for my husband and he’d be rather upset if I didn’t get him any… and then go out and get it himself. As for the toilet paper, well, at least the wrapper and cardboard core will be composted, and I imagine some of the tissue particles will wind up in Dillo Dirt.

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The wasteful things

To make up for that waste, though, I did something adventurous to make sure the pumkin blooms in my backyard weren’t going to waste. This morning there was both a male and female flower open, so I pulled off the male flower, stripped it down to the stamen, and showed that female flower a good time. I’m usually less concerned about wasting future food, so this is my first lesson learned for Zero Waste Week.

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Well, that’s it! Time to get to sleep early so I’ll be less tempted by the caffeine tomorrow.

Zero Waste Week 2016

Could you go Zero Waste for one week?

Could you go for one week without disposable cups, straws, napkins, bottles, or other single-use disposables? Well great news! Next week, September 5-9, is Zero Waste Week.  Sign up to participate. Or just try it on your own.

I, uh, drank a can of soda today and also picked up some fast food for lunch with significant packaging so I definitely have some room for improvement. For at least one week I can be prepared with bringing my lunch every single day! I’ll make sure to stock up at the market this weekend so I don’t fall to other temptations later in the week. And who knows, maybe it’ll really stick this time.

Zero Waste Week 2016

Every year they have a theme for those who have already mastered the previous years’ challenges, and this year the special theme is “Use it up!” You may hear a lot about plastic waste, but food waste might just be the worst waste of all. We’re talking about food that uses up good land and water, pollutes other water sources with artificial fertilizers, and so much more. And all that for food that doesn’t even get eaten!

So even if you feel like you can’t get away from disposable napkins for a week, consider some of the other things that you may be able to do to help reduce your food waste:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Have a no-new-food day or two, and just eat leftovers or whatever other perishables you may find in your fridge. Consider making this a regular thing.
  • Learn a new recipe like how to make older apples into applesauce.
  • When you go grocery shopping and you see a wonky carrot with two legs, buy it instead of letting it get tossed out by the grocer later.

There are more less-waste ideas on the Zero Waste Week website.

So what do you think? Are there any Zero Waste changes you’re interested in trying out for a week?

Everything Has Value

Every time I see a beverage can littered somewhere, I think of can collectors. Yes, the men who would go around collecting cans in a large cart or large bag to take to the cash-for-cans machine. Why don’t I ever see them anymore? Why are so many areas totally littered with cans? Is it because they no longer have any value? Is there too much other trash to wade through everywhere? Or is it just not convenient enough to be worthwhile?

When I was younger, my family used to save our cans and take them to a cash-for-cans machine at the supermarket. We saw it there regularly, and the big “CASH FOR CANS” sign made it obvious that cans had value.

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An ugly version of the cash-for-cans machine

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen one of those machines in a long while. These days cans are just a nuisance and once they’ve served their purpose they all too often get tossed into a trash bin, on the ground, or even in the creek. 😦

How do we make it obvious again that things have value and shouldn’t just be thrown away? Should I start a business with these cash-for-can machines to drive awareness? Maybe those states that have a deposit fee are on to something?

Anyhow, my point is that everything has value. If something is laying on the ground, it can still have value. Even if most people can’t see it, those cans are valuable resources. The plastic bottles too. Even the polystyrene foam cups.

… Although even I don’t bother trying to find a recycling home for those. If it’s foam, I just throw it in the trash can. I may feel a twinge of disappointment, but that’s my limit at the moment.

But to close on a happier note, I’d like to share the story of one resource whose value I have done my best to honor. I have previously shared some examples of reusing old tshirts by means of tshirt yarn creations, but I’ve since learned to take it one step further.

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Disassembling the seams

By practice disassembling tshirts to make tshirt yarn, I’ve discovered that there’s a way to undo the hem such that you can often salvage longer threads for reuse. And I now have several different colors in a baby food jar either for necessities or for embroidery practice.

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Bonus thread!

Just this week I used some of my tshirt thread to hem up my most recent jeans acquisition. Sure, these little pieces of thread wouldn’t have maxed out the landfill but being able to find another purpose for them sure felt good.

Things I Didn’t Buy

Because I have better things to do than make another trip to the store. Because I want to be more respectful of the things that I do own. And because I don’t want to waste more of the Earth’s resources than I already do.

A Lawn Refuse Bag

After some lawn cleanup this weekend, we had a large pile of grass and weed clippings. Some folks around here buy lawn refuse bags, stuff them full of grass or leaves, and let the city collect them in huge trucks for municipal compost. No way! I raked it onto a piece of burlap to get it over to the compost bin, dumped it in, and someday it’ll be beautiful compost.

A Book

With a lot of book clubs, every member buys a brand new copy of the book. (And sometimes don’t even read it!) But like many participants in the Talk Green to Me book club, I checked out a copy from the library. The library website shows that someone else has a hold on the book and is waiting for it, so I’ll make sure to finish and return it by the end of the week too.

Random Crap

I’ve been near Goodwill stores a few times recently and have resisted the urge to go in. There isn’t anything in particular I need, so it’s likely if I go in that I’ll come right out with some impulse buy that I’ll soon regret.

Jeans

I posted earlier about patching up an old pair of jeans that were getting worn out. Apparently, I should have done symmetrical patching because before I knew it an actual hole had developed in the other side. No worries, because I had a needle and thread and some scrap denim and now have another almost entirely invisible inner patch to keep those jeans fully functional for a while.

A Bathroom Vanity

The bathroom vanity in our new house isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world. For a while, every time I looked at it, it tempted me to replace the whole thing. My husband was even more convinced that it had to be trashed. But now after a coat of (recycled) paint, it looks decent enough that I no longer have to deal with that temptation.

A Car

No temptation here. I have a monthly bus pass which gets me anywhere I need to go beyond walking distance, and I can read my library books on the way. I may be able to get places a little faster with my own car, but nah, I can live without the cost, the maintenance, and the stress of driving around in busy traffic.

A Happy Day: Library + RRFM + ZW Food

Sunday I made my regular monthly trip to East Austin for the Really Really Free Market. I dropped off a couple of items I decided not to keep from my last trip and just a couple of other things I no longer needed. Fortunately, most of the crowd had already been through all the bins to find their treasures so I had plenty of space while looking through the tons of clothing to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage.

This month turned into a fairly large haul and I went home with:

  • a new-to-me pair of jeans that fits me properly (finally!)
  • tshirts for Wheatsville and local bakery Easy Tiger (they make delicious pretzels)
  • a polo-style shirt to try out
  • one extra pair of socks to replace the one I’ve just worn big holes in (the socks aren’t exactly the same length but close enough)
  • some lovely fabric for my yo-yo quilt or another project

The Wheatsville shirt is a cotton-poly blend, and I’ve been trying to stick to natural fibers. But, hey, I’ll take it because Wheatsville is awesome!

Unfortunately, this also means I now own 23 shirts! Sounds like this weekend it’ll be time to pick out a few to get down to my limit of 20 and decide whether they end up going to the next free market or recycled into tshirt yarn. It’ll be nice to get back that little bit of free space in the closet again. A few shirts can make a world of difference.

Also this month, I finally realized that in.gredients is only a 15 minute walk away from Chestnut Pocket Park where the RRFM is held, so I wiped off some of the sweat dripping from my face and headed over for some zero waste and local foods. Another dragon fruit, a canary melon, some walnut bread (from Easy Tiger!), dark chocolate discs from the bulk bins, and more. Total success!

Combined with a stop at the library and some engaging reading on the bus, this was my idea of a divine weekend. This’ll definitely be a monthly zero waste tradition for me now that I know how easy (and satisfying!) it is to do both. Sorry for all the exclamation points in this post, but I had a great day and can’t help it. 🙂

Zero Waste Popcorn

I failed at many of my Plastic-Free July resolutions, including staying away from bagged popcorn at the office. But the journey doesn’t end with the end of July! Today I popped up some popcorn from the bulk bin to my own to satisfy my carb urges tomorrow.

It all starts with some a bit of oil in a saucepan. I love the occasional dab of butter, but popping with it hasn’t worked well for me as walnut and olive oil have. I’ve discovered by experimentation that this particular pan can handle six tablespoons of popcorn kernels, so I measure those out while the oil starts warming up.

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Stored potential

My mom has a specialty popcorn pan with a handle you can turn to keep the kernels from burning, but it’s totally not necessary. I grab the handles and lid of this pan with a dishtowel (so I don’t get burned!) from time to time and give it a good shake. Once it starts popping vigorously, it doesn’t really need to be shaken any more because of all the action going on inside.

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All popped!

If you have a glass lid for your pan like I do, it’s especially easy to see how much of your popcorn has popped. But the real determination for when it’s done is when a few seconds have passed and you haven’t heard any popping or if you start to smell anything resembling burnt popcorn. Yup, if you put in more kernels than there’s room for things can go bad. And as I mentioned before, my recent experiments with using butter for popping resulted with mostly unpopped corn. 😦

Anyhow, that’s it! You can season your popcorn if you like. Most of the time I just add a dash of salt and the popcorn disappears soon enough.

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This jelly bean container once had that nasty popcorn-flavored jelly beans. Now it contains delicious real popcorn!

For tomorrow, though, I stored most of it in this reused container. And for once, I will avoid the evil bagged popcorn, oh yeah!

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Popcorn–the condensed and expanded editions

P.S. – I know a lot of folks have always prepared popcorn this way, but I was raised on microwave popcorn and the occasional Jiffy Pop, so this is for other folks like me. For a while I also tried switching to popping the kernels in lunch-size paper bags which worked pretty well, until one day I left the popcorn unattended while it was popping and…

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Microwaved popcorn disaster

I freaked out when I came back into the kitchen and saw the microwave power was off, and then even moreso when I opened the microwave door and saw the popcorn bag on fire. This is what it looked like after I quickly grabbed the un-fire side of the bag and threw it into the sink to put out the flames. The microwave still seemed to work after that incident, but I’m much more comfortable with the stove now. And it’s way more fun to watch through the glass lid and see the kernels expand and pop all around.

Compost – a better land fill

In 2014 we were staying with my mom while saving up for a house, and there was a large backyard used mainly for the exercise of mowing the lawn. But then, I learned about composting. It was incredible. The onion skins, the carrot tops, the apple cores that were filling up the trash can every day and making it all stinky could instead be thrown out into the backyard. After the labor of raking up a yardful of leaves, instead of stuffing them into brown paper bags for yard waste pickup, they could just be piled up in the backyard messily.

Even though my mom’s not a gardener, composting piles were immediately useful as there were some dips in the yard and a couple of holes where shrubs had been dug up and wouldn’t be replaced. All the compostable material went right into those spaces. It would mound up for a while, but then it would break down or compact. Then more could be heaped on top and eventually that would flatten out also. Of course, this is similar to the concept of sanitary landfills, but without having to put all the produce trimmings in plastic bags first and then sealing them underground forever where they wouldn’t benefit the soil.

Fast forward a couple of years to this February. My husband and I had just bought our own house. One of the very first projects on my agenda was to set up a compost bin so I could have plenty of rich humus for future gardening projects. Being frugal, I found some hardware cloth that had been abandoned in the back yard, secured it into a cylinder shape with some twist ties (my husband has a whole collection that he’s saved), shoveled the grass off of its new location, and “planted” it. Success! All the food scraps we had, all the yard waste, I just threw it in there for our first five months without ever turning it, watering it, or whatever else it is that people do with compost piles.

From the outside it hasn’t looked like much has happened and I didn’t really expect much when finally turning / moving the compost to a new bin this weekend. But I was hoping, and was rewarded with this.

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Rich on the inside!

Although the outside was dry and didn’t sustain any kind of life, some of the inside was rich, moist, and full of bugs helping to break it down further. So now I understand why you’re supposed to turn the pile, to get some of that other material on the inside and benefiting from this goodness. Maybe in the future I’ll turn it more than once every five months. We’ll see.

As for the new compost bin, I needed one that was just a little larger. Strolling around the neighborhood during bulk pickup week turned to my advantage when I found a perfect-sized portion of chickenwire, which I’ve used as my new enclosure.

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The new compost pile

You can see a bit of the mess I made shoveling out another section of grass and some of the heavy clay soil underneath. I should probably add that back into the compost. The pallet was used for a gardening project earlier in this year, but it had bugs around it that looked like termites so into the compost it went too! At least it’ll help serve as a support. The new bin is about half-filled from the contents of the other full compost bin. And I’ll start filling up the old bin again (it’s closer to the house) while this one breaks down. If I wasn’t so lazy, I just might have compost for the fall garden. But, meh, I’ll settle for spring. 🙂

Interested in learning more about composting in your backyard? Zero Waste Chef has a great post on Composting for the Lazy.

A Visit to Zero Waste Grocery Store in.gredients

The Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle Meetup is all about getting people to try new zero waste activities, and getting food is definitely one of my favorite activies so I was excited to see this as an upcoming meetup. Today we met at the in.gredients grocery store, with the intention of learning more options about buying without packaging waste. Of course, this idea stemmed in part from a recent book club discussion with Josh Blaine, manager of in.gredients.

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Welcoming entrace to in.gredients, with seating for eating 🙂

As we settled in I checked out the grounds and was pleasantly surprised to find a Little Free Library.

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Bonus books at the grocery store

And then had a look around their on-site garden. Maybe one day mine will look similar.

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Groceries in the making

Inside the store, there was plenty of local food stuffs to make your mouth water. And they had bulk options for all the basics like flour and salt and chocolate-covered almonds, laundry detergent (no longer available at Wheatsville unfortunately), pet food, and even a soap log that you could cut your own bar of soap from.

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I still have enough soap for forever but really want to try this next time I need some

Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I was already stocked with groceries but tared one jar by the door for something special.

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Tare sticker. The only packaging waste I took home from this shop.

So, what did I get? They had samples of dragon fruit (so strange! yet delicious), which I was then sure my husband would want to try also. I managed to avoid the chocolate and grabbed some unsweetened coconut flakes to fill my jar. (Not a local option I’m sure, but they’ll come to good use.) Plus, I grabbed some long beans because they looked really good. I was already at the checkout when I spotted the package-free breads behind the register and took home a loaf of sourdough (in what was formerly a shoe bag).

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Groceries from in.gredients without waste packaging

Afterwards, the meetup organizer Melissa shared a bit of her kombucha, which was awesome for two reasons. One, because it was on tap and she was able to get it in her growler with no additional waste. And two, because in.gredients provides real cups to use when dining on-site. (They wash them of course.) This was my first taste of kombucha, and it struck me as tasting a lot like natural ginger ale. I may have to try more of that in the future also.

So all in all a successful meetup. And I’ll be back!

Staycation Day

Yes, Plastic-Free July was on my mind even on holiday. I don’t know if you can call this a staycation if it’s a single day, but my husband and I both had the day off from work and were eager to go out and see the town.

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A hearty breakfast at 24 Diner

We took the bus downtown to start the day with brunch at 24 Diner. I’ve been there before and the food is consistently delicious. With real plates, real glasses, real silverware, and cloth napkins, this place is great for a plastic-free meal. I even remembered to ask for no straw although I think that’s their default. And to be a bit more healthy I opted for the veggie sausage instead of bacon or conventional sausage. It wasn’t my favorite and they were rather large patties but I managed to eat one and fortunately my husband was game to eat the other so no nutrients went to waste. As a special bonus, 24 Diner sources their food from local farms.

Afterwards, I stopped in at the Whole Foods across the street to get a brownie to snack on later during the day. Using a clean cloth napkin from home, I was able to take it from the display case without any single-use packaging. And it was delicious. 🙂

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 Bob Bullock Museum (stock photo)

We were stuffed from the large brunch and decided to pass up a visit to the Capitol, instead heading straight for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. As a native Texan who has frequently been right across the street from the museum, visiting is something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long while, but amazingly it’s never happened until now.

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Museum admittance stickers 😦

I should have guessed that getting in would require some kind of plastic, but I didn’t even think about it until we were told to wear these stickers as proof of admittance. Fortunately, they were pretty small so not as much plastic as it could have been.

My favorite part was the mini-theater with clips from the Austin City Limits shows since 1974, but there was also a (non-Texas-specific) exhibit about food waste that caught my attention. They had a ceiling-height column filled with boxes and plastic food depicting the average amount that gets thrown out by a family each year. It’s really tragic. I’m not perfect about using up every bit of food, but I take some relief that my husband and I have made a lot of improvements on this front in the past couple of years.

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Huge screen at the IMAX theater (stock photo)

After browsing all the exhibits, it was time for a show. We had tickets to see the new Ghostbusters movie in IMAX 3D as a special treat. By filling up at brunch, we had no problems passing up the bottled beverages or boxed candy. The ginormous screen and how close we were sitting to it was kind of intimidating before the movie. The previous time I tried to watch a 3D movie gave me a bit of a headache. But this time it all worked out great. Nothing distracted me from the movie, and when it was all over we returned the 3D glasses for washing and reuse. No plastic wrappers or single-use anything.

And if you’re wondering about the movie, well, if you’re a fan of the original Ghostbusters you’ll probably enjoy this reboot. Even with the characters and plot changed around a bit, it’s very true to the franchise with plenty of goofy comedy, dangerous weapons, and original ghosts (plus Slimer, of course). If you’re not a fan of the original Ghostbusters, I have no idea what you’ll think.

After this, we headed back home on the bus with me humming Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” most of the way. I gave into some cravings to end the day with junk food as we ate a Little Caesars pizza (no plastic tables in the box) for dinner while watching the original Ghostbusters. Not perfect, but all in all a great day with minimal waste. Even the pizza box will be put to good use feeding the compost.