Putting Up the Pickles

Though I've been a terrible blogger, lately, I've been doing pretty well on the green front. Today being Earth Day, I thought I'd drop off a few notes about pickling.
My first foray into food preservation has been a series of trial and error, with a few edible creations along the way. I began with Smitten Kitchen's brilliant pickled carrot sticks. Delightful in every way! Not only were they beautiful to look at, but they tasted just sweet and tart enough to curl our toes and tickle our tummies. And they were remarkably easy to make!
Step 1: heat vinegar and spices in a pot
Step 2: pour over cut carrots
Step 3: let the carrot-vinegar mixture cool before sticking in a jar and stuffing them into the fridge
Step 4: duh, eat! (with better taste after a few days)

I used a combination of regular orange and some pretty blue carrots and that resulted in... pink pickles! They were so pretty and we shared them with coworkers and with TheBoy's parents and sister in San Francisco.
My next pickling adventure didn't go so swimmingly. I found a simple recipe for refrigerator pickles online, but it called for what I thought would be too little vinegar, so I used about the same amount for the cucumbers as I used for Smitten Kitchen's carrots... not thinking that, duh!, carrots absorb way less vinegar than cucumbers. The outcome was an unpleasantly vinegary mess of squishy pickles. Again, they came out a funny color, but this time from using red onions.. pinkish cucumber pickles are less cute than pink carrot pickles. Result: total, abject failure.

Next, I winged it. I picked up some pickling spices from the bulk bin at a local store (NatureMart Bulk Bin near the intersection of Los Feliz and Hillhurst). I poured in some vinegar, some water, and threw in a few teaspoons of spices and, when that mixture was good and hot, I tossed it over some "choice" Kirby cucumbers. Kirbies are generally great for pickling, but I didn't get around to the vinegar until almost a week after buying the cukes.. needless to say, they were a little soggy by that point. And the resulting pickles reflected that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem with these pickles that ultimately went in the garbage (even the worms wouldn't eat them!)... they were really gross! Apparently, the spices I picked up were for bread-and-butter pickles, not the Kosher dills we crave. They looked so pretty! And while it was such a shame to throw them out, we just couldn't stomach them.. something about the pungent smell of vinegar combined with the flavor of cloves and cinnamon? I wonder if maybe I got mulling spices and not pickling spices!

With all these failed pickled experiments behind me, I'm thinking I'll maybe cave and buy some pickling mix from the grocery store, or follow another recipe online. After doing some research, though, I've found that it seems like all pickle recipes call for clove and cinnamon... why is this? The New York Times, Chow, and even David Lebovitz want my pickles to be yucky. Is there a gross-pickle-conspiracy growing among the interwebs.. or am I missing some vital pickle mystery?


20 Sustainable Pasttimes for Martin Luther King Day

Winter is list season, so how about a list, in no particular order, of my favorite sustainable practices?

  1. going to the farmers' market
  2. baking bread (with organic flour and multi-using the oven)
  3. feeding the loyal pet worms/saving snacks for said pets
  4. container gardening (look for a post soon about basil)
  5. drinking delicious, guilt-free coffee all the way to the last drop
  6. volunteering (at church to teach the 4-year-olds, for me... how about you?)
  7. shredding old bank statements into pet bedding: the worms love PNC paper.
  8. selling/giving things away on Craigslist
  9. donating things for which I have no use (those ugly bowls, that sweater that was so cute a few years ago, that slightly battered but still good carry on... all to Out of the Closet)
  10. knitting
  11. staying in to watch Netflix-ed movies, eating stove-popped popcorn drenched in homemade butter
  12. hanging out in the sun -- walking to work, picnicking in the park, doing the laundry
  13. taking photos (remember that old scouts camping slogan: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints? excellent advice!)
  14. taking the bus: I get tons of stuff done on the bus and get to people-watch the most interesting section of the city.
  15. taking advantage of the library. what's better than free books, movies, and audio? TheBoy gets free audiobooks (some valued as high as $80 on amazon, I get my bread cookbooks, guilty pleasure foodie-reading, and hard-to-find weird movies)
  16. saving wine corks to eventually make some fun craft, like a trivet.
  17. incidental workouts. like that time I had sore arms for days because my bread dough was really dry and needed 15 minutes of hard kneading to turn into the delicious ciabatta it ultimately became.
  18. reusing things. I love saving money and showing off pretty purchases, so reusing glass spaghetti sauce jars is a no-brainer for storing popcorn, same with the salsa jar: lentil storage.
  19. snuggling instead of turning the heat on.
  20. watching important news on WashingtonPost.com or CNN.com instead of buying a TV. alternately, watching junk-food shows on hulu instead of buying a TV.
Hummingbird drinking in a friend's yard


Worthwhile Conservation: Obstacles and Enablers

Over at Tiny Choices, there's been some talk about boogers. Not just any boogers, though.. these are the kind that find sustainable disposable in handkerchiefs.
All this talk about disposable tissues vs. reusable hankies got me thinking... why is conservation so hard? What obstacles do conservors face.. what people?
I got my first hankie out of Gramma's basement -- it looks like (probably is) a doily and functions beautifully. I carry it, or another hankie, with my almost all the time, regardless of whether I have a cold or not. Not only do I use it to wipe my nose, but it functions as an impromptu napkin, blotter, and apple core saver (if you can bring restaurant scraps to a dog, why not cores to the worms?). Don't worry, I was my hankies frequently. VERY frequently. Gramma still makes fun of me for my doily hankie, but my mother mocks the very idea of a handkerchief. To her, hankies are for stuffing suit jacket pockets, only -- merely decoration for stuffy (ha, pun!) occasions. My mother is an obstacle to conservation.

Mom grew up during a transition time: born in the mid-sixties, Mom was blissfully unaware of the peace movements and political strife. What she saw was my Gramma slowly canning tomatoes in a water bath and diapering children with cloth. To my mother, these were needless inconveniences. Why can your own tomatoes when tin at the store costs so little and requires so little effort? Why bother with cloth diapers, swishing them in the toilet and laundering with extra hot water, when you can buy a disposable. The easy access to disposables and easy-fixes: obstacles to conservation.

But, those are valid questions. Why, indeed? How about a few more questions, while we're at it. Why hand-knit socks? The yarn wasn't any cheaper than buying from the store and it surely wasn't as easy as finding a nice pair from a seller, but I made them. Thought and time and love went into them. Last Christmas, when I gave Gramma a specially machine-made pair of diabetic-friendly socks, she was thankful, of course. This year, she demanded I help her into her new, handmade favorites. Her nursing home friends all see her prize gift and she beams with pride for her talented granddaughter.
The same goes with my homemade bread. It doesn't take that much time, though, or love to make a decent loaf, but it surely involves more than buying some Wonder bread from Wal-Mart. Of course, nothing beats the smell of a loaf emerging from the oven, but it's more than that: TheBoy prizes my whole wheat loaf over any fancier store-bought version because I made it. He doesn't care if it's soggy inside or turns stale in just two days -- it's the bread specially made for him and him alone.

The point of this ranting? Making things at home, or just making do requires your effort and love. You can't buy love? Well, you can't just buy effort, either. And those cloth baby diapers: they leave fewer rashes on baby's bums. Those home-canned tomatoes: totally organic at a time when pesticide use was on the rise and DDT was still pretty common. Worthwhile.
What do you think: is it worth the effort and love expenditures to make things homemade, to conserve while you can? Or, are the obstacles of convenience and ridicule too difficult to overcome?

Incidentally, I'm not trying to judge here. I buy into tons of convenience items, I just happen to make bread at home (and now butter, check into my food blog soon for a post). For a bit of uplifting thought, how about the conservation enablers in your life? Farmer's Daughter recently posted about the wonderful impact of her family's matriarchs and it got me thinking about enablers and obstacles. Who helps you "make do"? Who hinders you?


Blatant Theft

On Friday, I might start a series of "blatant theft" posts wherein I steal from other bloggers and follow their great ideas. Some might criticize this as what it is -- theft -- but optimistic others merely see it as sharing of ideas and community. I leave you to take it as you will.

Back to business, though. Reading! Chile over at Chile Chews proposed a wonderful challenge: read some science books. Put down that trashy romance and put away that fantasy fiction. Fantasy, really? (Just kidding, I read my fair share of fantasy.. but no romances. Uck!). Instead, pick up some educational duds and dive into a science (or science-related) book. Ars Hermeneutica (an anti-anti-science organization) is hosting a Science Book Challenge urging readers to read three non-fiction science books this year and share notes and reviews about each work.

I'm happy to say that I'm definitely participating. Here's my list (plus one!).
I'm cheating a little because I started The Way We Eat a few days before hearing about the challenge, but I've got four other totally valid books, too!
Do you have any recommendations? How about science-y books that you're reading/have read/might read if you get around to it? Tell in comments!


Green Resolutions

Crunchy Domestic Goddess, one of the many wonderful green blogs that I follow, issued a fantastic challenge: share your green goals for 2009. One thing that I love about the blogs I've lurked around is how open they are to followers, commenters, and general participants -- there's a real community in the green blogging world, and I think it's wonderful how bloggers can lead each other to fresh ideas.

How about a review of 2008's successes? I didn't have a really green agenda at the beginning of the year, so this is really just a list of things I'm particularly happy about from the past year.
  • Stepped up farmers' market patronage significantly (now only shop at grocery store for flour, sugar, and some other necessities not available/affordable at the FM)
  • Cut out most paper towel usage (I still haven't bought any, but future MIL keeps supplying)
  • Baked bread at home
  • Switched to "green" cleaners like vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and Clorox's GreenWorks cleaner
  • Didn't buy a car, even in car heaven (i.e. I use public transportation, walking, or biking)
  • Slowed down unnecessary purchases
  • Cooked more at home
  • Greened up the office (more recycling bins, healthier/less packaged snacks, more annoying reminders to recycle)
  • Started worm composting
  • Increased knitting skill (+2 intellect, +3 dexterity, -4 exercising time)

And now for this year's goals:
  • Learn to can (like Crunchy last year, I'm a novice to "putting things by," but I love the idea of making my own apple sauce and preserving it for Southern California's brief off-season)
  • Completely ditch paper towels
  • Completely ditch unhealthy cleaners (that bottle of 409 has got to go)
  • Increase knitting skill further. More specifically, complete a major project (sweater, blanket, or stockings) before 2010.
  • Start a container garden.
  • Join the local CSA. This is unfortunately a long-term goal because the annual sign-up isn't until autumn.
  • Seriously reduce consumption.
  • Plan a green wedding (I'm getting hitched in June 2010).
  • And, finally, get out an enjoy this beautiful country. I have so much to see in the U.S. and I am aiming for 2009 to be a good time to accomplish some seeing.
I hope that everyone else is successful in their New Year's resolutions... I certainly hope I am! Do you have some green resolutions? Share them in comments.


And Back! BookReview

I hope everyone's begun a wonderful, healthy, happy new year. I'm finally back from my seemingly endless, 8-day venture "back east" and ...I could use another vacation. We saw tons of lovely people, I had a delightful breakfast with my bridesmaids, and TheBoy and I spent a great deal of time just bonding and getting along together.

Over the vacation, I made some progress on a number of eco-related things, chief of which included finishing "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." Kingsolver's book really urged me to look hard at the way and things I eat. Unlike Pollan's, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which really only made me feel guilty about eating, Kingsolver's uplifting views challenged me to work toward a positive, wholesome food outlook.
Now, I loved "The Omnivore's Dilemma," but I felt that Pollan only presented negatives -- what not to eat -- a completely valid piece, but his only positive options were too inaccessible for me. "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" could easily have been equally inaccessible, considering that it takes place on a rural farm in Appalachia, but Kingsolver worked hard to bridge the considerable gap between temperate Virginia and my home here in Southern California, land of the endless growing season.

Book Summary: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food Life" is, as the title suggests, primarily about food. The author's family moves from Tuscon to Southern Appalachia to ahcieve a year of local-only eating, with all the necessary steps involved in that decision. Kingsolver presents a concept of the "vegetannual," a fictional everyplant that represents all stages and seasons of plant production. We move from the seedlings and greens, in the vegetannual's spring, to fruits in the summer, to roots and squash in the autumn. The winter season bears harvests "put by" in cans along with dried and frozen goods. Kingsolver animates their year of food life with highlights from a family vacation, a Tuscan second honeymoon, and generous dashes of good humor.

There are no bananas in the Kingsolver kitchen, but this delightful book provides plenty of interest with husband Steven L. Hopp's brief, on-topic essays about ecology and where to find more information along with daughter Camille's fantastic recipes and youthful interjections. The book is light-hearted and interesting, reads clearly and with pleasure, and provides a wealth of knowledge along with completely approachable topics. The accompanying website provides an index to the book and also a complete listing of all the recipes, including the 30-Minute Mozzarella (pdf) that I'm dying to try out.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in getting more involved with their food, food choices, and health. "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is a wonderful book brimming with knowledge and good taste.

Incidentally, I'm not the only one to read books about food lately -- TheBoy is embarking on the audio book version of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Farmer's Daughter reviewed "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" on her ever-delightful blog.


Holiday Hiatus

Here in Tinseltown, we believe in long, drawn out, unpaid vacations. Because this (frankly unwanted) vacation time will impinge upon my constant computer vigilance, I will be updating less frequently until the beginning of January.
In the meantime, if there's anything you'd like to see written about in this blog, post a comment and I'll cover it. Otherwise, look forward to local food lectures, ideas for green decluttering, and eco-friendly snack ideas.

Happy holidays, everyone! Enjoy your snow, mistletoe, and other optional holiday accouterments.

In case you thought this post would be without pictures, allow me to prove you wrong. May I present our mushy-lovey wannabe Christmas card photo: