Category: Green Dreams
I’ve decided to blog rather than nap during quiet time this afternoon. Is this wise? Well, I was out with friends till midnight last night, and dragged myself out of bed to make last-minute school lunches this morning, and I hung today’s laundry while it was actually raining (spitting, more accurately), so I’m not sure wisdom is the word of the day. But getting ‘er done is. (Um, that phrase just insisted it had to be used). So, I made it through the morning with two exuberant children and nothing that a cup of coffee couldn’t fix, the big kids left with delicious nutritious meals in their backpacks, and the sun is now shining. This speaks to the luck of whim and of deliberately not making detailed plans.
So, I know that many of you are already making your own yogurt (and a big thank you to all who have offered tips and instructions!), but for those of you who aren’t, or who are curious to try, I am here to tell you: It is easy! I’ve been making four litres of milk into yogurt (four litres of milk equals four litres of yogurt). This lasts our family about a week and a half. We eat the yogurt for breakfast; we eat it in place of sour cream on beans and rice, etc.; and I’ve been combining it with strawberries to make above-average popsicles.
What you’ll need: whole-fat milk; yogurt starter; cooking pot; candy thermometer; insulated container; jars with lids.
Directions: In a large pot, gently bring four litres of whole-fat milk to a simmer (or try a litre if you’re experimenting and nervous about potentially spoiling that much milk). Heat the milk to 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally to spread the heat, and to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. This takes some time, and I have not rushed it yet; and have had good results. For consistent results, I recommend using a candy thermometer affixed to the side of the pot. Meanwhile, “sterilize” several quart canning jars by pouring boiling water into them and letting them sit for a few minutes (I realize this does not actually sterilize them, but it’s as strict as I get in my kitchen; if you do something else, please let me know). The boiling water can be re-used: when you’re done sterilizing the jars, pour the hot water into a large plastic jug (or other container), and place the jug into an insulated cooler (which in this instance will be a heater).
When the milk has reached 180 degrees F, remove it from the stove, and cool. This goes faster if you set the pot into a sinkful of cold water. When the temperature has dropped to 110 degrees F (or more precisely is below 120 degrees, but above 90), stir in the bacterial starter. Translation: stir in some fairly fresh yogurt. You can freeze yogurt in ice cube trays for this purpose. I’ve erred on the side of more is better. I put in about 1/4 cup per litre, or even slightly more.
The Home Creamery is a good reference book on making all things milk-related, and it recommends 1/4 cup of starter per quart of milk.
Now, pour the prepared milk into jars leaving some space at the top, add lids, and place into the warm innards of the heated-up cooler. Don’t lift the lid for seven or eight hours. In the wintertime, you may need to check that the water is hot and the temperature approximately 90 degrees F; right now, not so much.
What you’ll get: And when you do finally peek, it will look like a little miracle has taken place right here in your own kitchen. Yogurt! Firm, sweet, tangy, creamy yogurt.
It is easy to keep making something that tastes this good, and is as good or better than anything I can buy (my homemade bread falls into this category, too). On the other hand, it is rather less easy to keep making things that are less popular with the children (and with us) than storebought. So, I must confess that I’ve shelved a Green Dream or two, and have not made crackers since the first batch, which seemed to wane in popularity after a day or two; and we bought graham crackers for our firepit cook-out; and I haven’t pursued making pasta or cheese or …. you name it. Much food continues to come into our house packaged in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. SIGH.
I started this post two days ago. It’s all about food. I’ve been wondering whether my growing obsession with non-packaged, home-produced food is a starry-eyed version of head-in-the-sand behavior: as if, by removing plastic from my life I will somehow right the innumerable wrongs that continue to be committed in the name of consuming, convenience, and self-contentment. I still drive a vehicle that burns gasoline. I still use a computer that runs on electricity, much of which comes from a coal-fired plant. Have you seen footage of oil gushing into the blue blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico? I am culpable. I’ve been wondering whether my desire to control what we eat is a simplistic attempt at atonement, at optimism, a desire to do something–anything–to stem the flow; an act against hopelessness, or stasis.
Well, if it is, so be it. Here are some recipes that we’ve been enjoying.
Creamy “Ranch” Dressing
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
Mix together in a bowl: 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, several pinches of salt; 3/4 cup plain yogurt; the juice of one lime (or 3-4 tbsp cider vinegar); chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional); several finely chopped green onions; ground pepper to taste.
Particularly good over a taco salad, or a spinach and steak salad, or served on the side as a veggie dip.
(adapted from a recipe found online … like this one will now be …)
Combine in a bowl: 1 and 1/2 cups rye flour; 1/2 tsp salt. Add 3 tbsp butter. Blend together with a fork or pastry cutter till butter is incorporated (like biscuit dough–it will look and feel crumbly). Add in 1 and 1/2 tbsp seeds: caraway, fennel, sesame, poppy, whatever your liking, or in combination. Stir in 1/4 cup water, or slightly more or less, till you’ve got a stiff dough that holds together but is not sticky. Roll out thinly on a dusted countertop, and place onto ungreased cookie sheet sprinkled with fine cornmeal, or rye flour (I did the rolling and placing in stages, not all at once). Score with a knife into cracker shapes. Will approximately fit onto one tray. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes.
These turned out! I made wheat crackers awhile back which did not. I would not recommended substituting whole wheat or white flour: the rye flour is essential to the flavour. (I also found a semolina and olive oil recipe online that looked yummy; but I didn’t have semolina; another time). My conclusion is: the tastier the flour, the tastier the cracker. I must add, however, that these “turned out” because I am not picky about shapes and sizes, and some of the crackers ended up being a bit wonky looking. It would have taken way more time and effort to create the Perfect Cracker. These were quick and easy to make, plus the kids like them. Next time, I will double the recipe and make two trays.
Finally, a list of Non-Pre-Packaged Snacks, for future reference, produced after much brainstorming, and with suggestions from you:
– tortillas rolled up with hummus and spinach; or cream cheese and jam
– leftover pancakes or waffles
– cheese with apple slices, or crackers
– whole washed apples, oranges, or other fruits
– homemade trail mix: raisins, dried cranberries, nuts or seeds, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips
– homemade muffins, cookies, brownies
– boiled eggs
– tortilla chips or homemade pita chips with yogurt dip, or bean dip
– cut-up veggies with or without dip
– dried apple slices, or other dried fruits
– yogurt and/or/with pearsauce or applesauce
– summer sausage
– seaweed (seriously: my kids love eating ripped off bits from a sheet of seaweed)
– popsicles (for home use only; and here’s an awesome tip from the folks at Bailey’s Buying Club: make popsicles by spooning pearsauce or applesauce into popsicle molds, and freezing; you can stir some yogurt into the mix, too.)
Here’s what’s going into our snack pack for piano lessons this afternoon: brownies (Leah’s oatmeal banana recipe); washed whole apples; apple slices (for CJ, who spits out the peels, usually into my hand); cucumber slices; cheese; homemade rye crackers. Will they enjoy it? Why not? Albus actually said, while I was brainstorming some of these ideas out loud, “Those sound like awesome snacks!”
So that’s what I’ve got for today. A little snack pack that represents what-the-heck-else-can-I-do? Seriously. Tell me, and I’ll try. Send some green dreams this way. ‘Cause I need more.
Green Dream # 6 Front yard veggie patch.
Green Dream # 7 Re-purpose household items (ie. found this old curtain from our last house, hiding in the bottom of the linen closet, and it fits our front door; better yet, it replaces the lace curtain that has been there since we moved in SEVEN YEARS ago, which never ever felt like ours.)
Green Dream # 8 Wash, dry and re-use plastic bags. We haven’t bought new for years. When these run out, I am considering making/buying cloth bags instead. One question: for freezing food, especially liquid food, what would replace the plastic bag?
Green Dream # 9 Reusable mugs and water bottles. Milk in glass containers.
Green Dream # 10 Cloth wipes. We haven’t gone the no-toilet-paper route, however (as per No Impact Man). The used cloths are stored in a diaper stuff sack, (a welcome re-purposing that marks the end of our cloth diapering days). I launder them every other day.
Green Dream # 11 I just wanna ride my bicycle.
This morning the house is Friday Quiet. Ah. I actually sighed while typing that last sentence–a good sigh, a cleansing sigh, as one might put it in yoga practice. I am drinking my ginger-garlic cold fighting brew, because apparently spring ain’t sprung without a touch of the ague. CJ caught it first, and I coughed all night long. Would I choose to set my internal alarm clock for 5:40am, or would I skip early morning yoga? My alarm went off (it’s inside my head; I set it when I’m falling off to sleep by picturing the numbers on the clock–the time at which I’d like to wake; and it almost never fails me). Turns out, I wanted that time for myself; how could I sleep through it? I couldn’t. I leapt out of bed.
Guess what? I’ve been biking to morning yoga. It takes less time than travelling by car, at least on the way there, because it’s downhill and there’s little traffic. Coming home takes more effort and attention (focus, blissed-out yoga brain, focus!), but I don’t lose more than a few minutes in the commute. I am riding Kevin’s old mountain bike, and the front-riding baby seat is perfect for stowing my bag; but I’m coveting a more upright ride that would fit my body better. Add it to the (short) list of Things I Covet.
(Also add: fire pit for the backyard).
As I tinker with a slight re-design for this blog, I’ve changed “Eco-Attempts” to the friendlier and more optimistic “Green Dreams.” Riding bike is going on the list. I fully intend for that to be our family’s main summer transportation. My only concern is that the roads are not terribly safe for cyclists. Apparently a bike trailer was recently struck in the north part of the city, resulting in a broken arm for a small child; and the driver fled the scene.
Our cities are designed around cars. As Michael Enright put it, in a recent editorial on The Sunday Edition (a three-hour radio show that airs on CBC Radio One): There is no war on cars; the war was won ages ago, and we already know the victor: the car. The Walrus recently ran a fascinating article on green cities in Europe (Chris Turner’s “The New Grand Tour”), and the author’s description of cycling around Copenhagen on rented bicycles, one of which included a double seat on the front into which two children could be strapped … well, count this reader as pretty darn envious. He and his family cycled the city on lanes exclusively designated for bike traffic; they never felt safer.
In our city, we have a few paths on which only cyclists and pedestrians can travel, but the paths are broken by busy streets, across which one must dash without any marked crossing or traffic signals. I frequently let the kids bike on the sidewalk, and wrestle with biking on the sidewalk myself, considering that I’m pulling two vulnerable children behind me in a carrier.
I spend a lot of time coaching my children on how to be smart and safe pedestrians: no, it’s not fair, but even if a car is doing the wrong thing (ie. running a stop sign, or not giving the right-of-way to the pedestrian at a crossing, or swooping around a right-hand turn without checking for pedestrian traffic), the walker has to let the car do what it’s doing. Because in human versus car, car wins, human loses.
I wonder whether that’s an apt description of the peculiar lives we’ve built on the altar of car. Car wins, humans lose. Think of everything we sacrifice in order to propel ourselves inside our own individual motorized compartments. Think of the oil gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico, right now. Consider the air we breathe. Remember what it feels like to walk and talk, to exercise, and meet our neighbours, and take time. Cars give us convenience, without question. There are jobs that could not be done without cars (ie. midwife). But a lot of us don’t really need to use cars, not as often as we do, or think we do.
In thinking about my Green Dreams, I recognize that many of these choices and changes demand time. Hanging laundry to dry every day does take more time than throwing it into the drier–not a great deal more, but a bit. So does washing the dishes by hand. Baking my own bread. I’m still trying to figure out how to make snacks more convenient without falling prey to the ease of the prepackaged treat, grabbed as I dash a pack of hungry grumpy children to piano lessons. All of this extra labour would cut into my productivity, if I were employed at a regular job. But part of where I’m headed, I think, is viewing this home-based production as valuable on a number of levels. It doesn’t fit into the stock market. It doesn’t work comfortably with capitalism, but I’ve got a few problems with capitalism anyway; nothing in nature grows indefinitely, and it seems like madness to base a businesses’ success on eternal growth: it’s a recipe for corruption.
This work is valuable because it keeps me humble. It’s valuable because it’s my offering to the earth. It’s a small and humble offering, but so be it. I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.
Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.
Experiencing the immobility of disorganization. How can it take so little to throw me off? I stayed out late last night, after rising very early for a wonderful run with a friend, and the more tired I am, the more likely I am to order a second drink. I’m not saying the second drink did me in, but I’ve been fuzzy-headed for the better part of today. I even forgot to finish drinking my coffee–it languished on the counter till I discovered it cold, at noon.
I am prepping for a birthday party tonight (cooking for 14), and another tomorrow (three boys overnight), and out-of-town guests arriving tomorrow at noon as well. I feel overwhelmed. All of my careful planning is thrown out of whack–no babysitting possible tomorrow, and, there, I’ve lost half of a week’s worth of writing time … the downside of not working for a living, just working for the sake of it. It feels like my time is therefore disposable; and I resent that. Can you hear it in my voice?
I must get to early morning yoga tomorrow; perhaps that will return me to a sense of balance.
Here’s what needs to happen in the next couple of hours: wash all dishes; clear all counters; and prep any food that can be prepped in advance. Tonight’s menu: nitrate-free local hot dogs on buns, with sides of baked beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and avocado salsa, and cake and ice cream for dessert; I am currently stalled on the critical decision of whether to top the cake with whipped cream, or with whipped cream AND homemade chocolate sauce; this is what I mean–I’m stalled on the most insignificant of details, to the point of inertia. I look at the counters and the big dining-room table and go … what is that stuff, and where does it belong? It appears to be, largely, homeless debris that migrates from surface to surface till it gets recycled, or claimed, in which case the kid carries it to another surface, usually not very far away from the first one, and deposits it again.
Update on Eco-Attempt # 1: Make your own laundry detergent! Do it! It works! I mixed equal parts Borax and baking soda in a glass jar with a lid, and shook it to combine. I dump two tablespoons of the powdery mixture directly into the washing machine (I have a front-loader; use twice as much with a regular machine), and pour liquid soap into the detergent dispenser tray. The liquid soap is Dr. Brommer’s Lavender Castile Soap, which is expensive on first glance, but needs to be heavily diluted to use. So I’ve filled an old detergent bottle with several squirts of Dr. Brommer’s and diluted it with several litres of water. Voila. I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of LAVENDER, other than it smelled heavenly to me; but does Kevin want to wear lavender-scented socks? Hopefully so, because the Dr. Brommer’s is going to last for a year, I suspect, though it can also be diluted and used around the house, for dish washing and hand-washing, etc.; I may do that. It doesn’t completely solve my too-many-plastic-bottles problem, but it will cut down on how many we throw away in a given year.
Eco-attempt # 3: We made vanilla! It’s easy. You buy a couple of vanilla beans, split them, place them in glass canning jars, and pour rum or vodka or some other light alcohol over top, and let them sit for a month or two. Again, relatively inexpensive and will save a lot of little plastic bottles.
Eco-attempt # 4: List of things I intend to store for this coming winter: 1. Garlic! The sad news is that these are our last three local garlic bulbs; but the good news is that my stores of garlic have lasted this long. I bought them in bulk last fall, and stored them in paper bags in our cold cellar. More garlic this year! 2. Also easily stored are potatoes: again, in paper bags, in the cold cellar. 3. Apples wintered well, there, too. 4. Squash was pretty good, though I wouldn’t try to store squash for more than a few months (a pumpkin started to rot). 5. Cabbage kept well in the cold cellar, too, as did 6. carrots, especially in the mid-winter months when the cellar was coldest.
In the freezer, I am now dipping into the last of the frozen 6. plums and 7. apricots. I highly recommend freezing bushels of these. I cut them in half, pit them, and place them into plastic bags and freeze them right away. No sugar pack, nothing. Take them out when you’re ready and use them right away, or they will discolour. I stew them with a little water, and serve them over waffles or for my own breakfast of ground seeds and yogurt (don’t ask; or do, if you’re really curious). I let myself start eating the apricots and plums in January, when a body’s longing for summer’s tart fruits, and last summer’s batch has lasted up till now. I also plan to freeze 8. peas and 9. corn cut off the cob, and 10. tomatoes, in addition to 11. canning more tomatoes or tomato puree. 12. Strawberries also freeze easily, as does (13.) rhubarb, though rhubarb season is usually when I discover that last year’s rhubarb is still hanging around in the bottom of the freezer.
The photo of the kids in their new hats represents the fun time we had at Zeller’s, of all places, with the three youngest kids, up past bedtime, earlier this week. Seriously, who in her right mind would be shopping with children at Zeller’s at 8:30pm? We were looking for Albus’s birthday gifts and ended up having a hoot of a time trying on hats and sunglasses and checking ourselves out in the tiny mirrors. I was in the moment, and it was so freaking fun.
I seem not to be in the moment right now … How can get there? Remind me.
I’ve promised Fooey that I will help her make cards. And then we’ll clear the tables and the counter! Wish me luck. Or better yet, focus.
Lentil Barley Picnic Salad with Ginger-Soy Dressing
Cover with salted water and cook together in a large pot the following ingredients: 1 cup green lentils; 1 cup pearl barley; 1/4 cup wild rice; 1/4 cup brown rice. (Or use whatever combination of legumes most inspires you. Leftover rice can be added to the salad afterward, too; it’s a very flexible salad). Simmer for about an hour, or till tender. Drain. Place in a large bowl with a tight lid.
In a small food processor, puree together the following ingredients: 1 clove garlic; 1 teaspoon salt or to taste; black pepper to taste; 1/4 cup cider vinegar; 1 square inch (or so) peeled fresh ginger; 1-2 tbsp tamari; 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil; and an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of canola or other vegetable oil. A touch of honey or sugar can be added as well.
Pour the dressing over the legumes, and mix. Add leftover rice, if desired. Add your choice of seasonal veggies, such as: grated carrot; chopped cucumber; thinly sliced red peppers. Squeeze the juice of one lemon or lime over top of the salad. Add crumbled feta or queso duro blando, if desired. Taste for seasonings. Cover and store till picnic-time.
This salad is popular with all of the kids, believe it or not. I’m making it for tonight’s soccer-side picnic, and will also serve tortilla wraps with tuna salad or hummus, and spinach; apple slices, and disgustingly mushy brownies on the side. (In fact, the brownies were such a flop, I despair of ever making good brownies. Anyone have a good recipe? I substituted sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds for nuts; maybe that was the problem).
Update on the two-week early rising challenge. I accomplished my goal: rose early to practice yoga on M/W/F of both weeks. And I got up this Monday morning and did the same, though part of me resisted. Part of me always resists. I love my bed. I love dreams. I love sleep. But what amazes me is how much I also love being awake in the quiet house, hearing the birds, and starting my day with exercise. It just takes a nudge to push me across that line from oh my bed how I love you, to hello good morning! I return home awake, energized, and operating much more efficiently than I would had I spent an extra hour and a half in bed. (It has been my habit to rarely get out of bed before 7am, and it’s a rule in our house that no one else is allowed to either). I would like to substitute a run on one of those mornings, but plan to stick to the basic early-rise-and-exercise, three mornings every week.
Eco-confession: I’ve been driving to my early morning yoga class. It’s located embarrassingly nearby. Yes, I have a bicycle. Where is my helmet, where is my lock, why am I never organized at 6 o’clock in the morning? I could get organized the night before. It would take me an additional two or three minutes to bike rather than drive. There is no excuse.
Eco-attempt # 1: I made laundry detergent this weekend. I’m washing the first load right now. If it works out, I’ll post the recipe.
Eco-attempt # 2: We’ve been buying milk in glass bottles. Nice, organic milk. Only problem is, we might have to choose between buying this nice organic milk in glass bottles and sending our children to university. It’s that expensive. But I’m appalled by all the food-related packaging I purchase. Recycling isn’t enough. Ideas?
The house is quiet. I love Monday mornings …
Photos above by AppleApple, who took them from the back seat of the truck on our way home from a soccer game. She took about seventy photos at that game. The rule is that I get to edit as I choose (translation: erase). But she says she doesn’t mind. It just makes her happy to take pictures.
Deep breath. Confession. I just drove the kids to school. Okay, and worse. It made my morning so much easier. Baby CJ slept in, so I didn’t rush to wake him and feed him and change him so he could endure a half hour in the stroller. I just let him sleep. Popped him, pajamas and all, into the car seat. The big kids are big enough that I don’t need to walk them to the school doors and see them inside. I just hopped out and helped them cross the street, and kissed them goodbye (not Albus; he’s too big for kisses–in public, at least). Then we drove home. It was still early. No one was cranky and complaining about being stuck in the stroller.
Oh dear. It was so darn luxurious that I’m actually glad we only have one vehicle so that I will be forced to keep walking the kids to school in the morning (afternoons are different–it actually seems easier to walk than to join the crowd of vehicles being irresponsibly driven and parked on the snowy sidestreets surrounding the school). I wonder why I feel better about my life when I’m doing things the hard way, and guilty when I’m taking shortcuts. Balance, balance. It’s a kind of comfort to know there’s never perfect equilibrium, and therefore always something more to strive for.
Here are my excuses for carbon-burning this morning. One, Kevin is in Ottawa and I am all on my own today, and seeking ways to make the day that much more survivable. Two, CJ was up most of the night, off and on, with a terrible croupy cough, and wide awake at 5am for a good hour. He needed that extra sleep. Three. Umm, apparently I don’t have a third excuse. I wanted to drink my cup of coffee while it was still hot? I wanted a few extra minutes to Blog? In any case, we have a pile-up of other errands to run this morning, all within walking distance (long walks, but nevertheless) … and I’m considering, maybe, just this once … driving. (Something tells me that “just this once” could become my winter phrase, as long as a vehicle is available to me. Slippery, slippery slopes.)
On another subject: boy are we partied out. We had such a blast with Apple-Apple’s butterfly birthday on Sunday, and another good family party last night; but there’s been enough cake eaten and enough thoughtfully chosen gifts opened and enough candles whooshed out to thoroughly mark the (truly significant) occasion. Six years old. From precocious baby who walked early and talked early (how fascinating to hear what was on the mind of a 14-month-old; she looked up while nursing one afternoon and said, “Daughter”), to determined toddler, insisting on potty-training herself at 20 months, through the process of learning to be a kind and helpful big sister (not easy!), to becoming a schoolgirl and revelling in her independence, in learning, and in being a helpful and thoughtful group participant. My equal parts serious and silly child. My French-language-delighting, yearning-to-play-piano-and-learn-to-knit, Little-House-loving-girl. Six years old.