Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Less Waste Wins / Losses + Salad Dressing recipe

In my quest to implement some of the strategies for generating less waste (from the book Zero Waste Home), I started going to stores with bulk bins more often.

I haven't quite gotten the energy to ask if I can bring my own containers and have them weigh them to subtract the tare.  However, I did realize that I tend to buy the same things over and over.  So there's another way!

Instead, today I went to Sprouts.  One of the things I regularly buy there is bulk oats (on sale 0.69/lb, regular price 1.29/lb).  The last time I bought the oats, I simply saved the plastic bag and the twist tie with the number on it.  I put this bag inside a container in my cupboard.  Today, I reused the bag and the twist tie.  I am hoping to do that with, well, everything.  At least until I figure out if I can bring my own containers.  I bought a large amount of 4-cup soup containers from Amazon a year ago, and they really would be perfect for bulk bins.

I also bought quinoa and pinto beans (in new bags that I will reuse).  I may or may not have saved the chocolate peanut cluster bag know, for future needs.

The final "reuse" of the day was the olive bar - I saved the plastic container from last week, washed and dried it, and reused it.  Of course I carried the groceries out in my reusable grocery bag.

As far as "refuse" goes, I refused to buy strawberries in a plastic container.  Instead I bought a cantaloupe.  I also didn't get a bag for the red bell pepper.

I'm eventually going to let the cantaloupe rind rot...aka, I'm going to start composting again.

This weekend I bought eggs at the farmer's market - I can return the egg container to the vendor and they will reuse it.

On the negative side, the baby cucumbers came in a bag.  They didn't have any loose ones.  My weekly veggie delivery was accidentally short this week, and we are running out.  Next week will be HUGE, which I was excited about.  Until I just found out hubby will be gone all week.  Oh well, lots more for me and the boys.

Finally, the bread came in a bag.  I really need to figure out if I can regularly make a sandwich bread at home that my husband likes.  We get so many damn bread bags.

After dinner I made another batch of salad dressing.  Making your own dressing is easy, healthy, and generates less waste.  While I haven't quite figured out how to get vinegar or olive oil in bulk (as in, bring your own container), I do buy 2L bottles of olive oil at Costco and buy vinegar in glass jars.

This salad dressing is my favorite.  It's so tasty, and this time of year, I get parsley and garlic and lemons every week.  Instead of buying bottled salad dressing and "recycling" (downcycling), I just reuse the same glass bottle every week.

The dressing started from this recipe from Beachbody.  I've altered it.  Because I get a lot of parsley.

Lemon-Parsley-Garlic Vinaigrette.
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 bunch parsley, washed and de-stemmed (a pain, but worth it)
1 tsp or so of honey or sugar.  I use local honey.  And I just scoop out some with a regular spoon.
1 tsp of mustard (you know I eyeballed this).  I use brown mustard, but dijon works too
pinch himalayan salt

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend!  It comes out creamy and delicious and very very green.  The vibrant green goes away over a week or two, but it still tastes great.  I don't skimp on this either.  I eat a large bowl of salad for lunch every day, and believe me, I'm not measuring out 1 TBSP of dressing.  I think my dressing container holds at least 2 TBSP.

Sometimes I use the immersion blender to make the dressing.  It's not as smooth.

This dressing will harden up in the fridge because of the olive oil.  Let it sit at room temp to thaw before you use it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Vegetarian Bean & Rice casserole with sweet potatoes and peppers

So, how did I avoid plastic and trash today?  Today I ran a race.  I took a water bottle, left it in the car.  I skipped the water stations (10k, didn't need it).  No cups.  At the end, I eschewed the burrito bowls, burritos, and plates of tacos.  Instead, had a few slices of watermelon, no trash!

For our weekly Potluck in the Park, I made a fruit salad (the raspberries came in plastic), and I wanted to bring a main dish.  At Costco samples day yesterday, I tasted their stuffed peppers.  Delish.  Instead of buying, I thought "I can make these!"  But I never did like stuffed peppers as a kid.  I googled "unstuffed peppers".  First I found this recipe from Budget Bytes.  And they linked to this recipe.  And of course, I combined the two and edited, because I had "stuff" to use.  And I didn't have any beef or chorizo.  So mine were vegetarian.  I love one skillet meals, but I did pour mine into a 9x13 and bake with cheese on top - it's just easier to transport that way.  Served with guac...delish!

Also, have I mentioned I miss bread?  I tested the waters this weekend with a couple of slices of pizza on Friday and a small donut hole today.  It didn't go well.  Sigh.  I had to pass on the homemade pizza at the potluck.  And the brownies.  I've been pinning all sorts of gluten free brownies and bread recipes.  This weekend, in fact, I made oatmeal banana waffles.  They were pretty good.

So here's the combo recipe, thanks to Budget Bytes for the inspiration:

Bean & Rice & Veg casserole
Olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 to 1 cup bell peppers, diced (I had baby peppers)
1 jalapeno, diced (I keep touching my face, argh!)
1 lb (approx) sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 cube vegetable bouillon
1 cup salsa
1 cup uncooked white rice
2 cups black beans
1 3/4 cup water (or more)
shredded cheddar cheese

Saute onion, pepper, jalapeno, and sweet potatoes in a large nonstick skillet until the onions are nice and soft.  Add the garlic, cumin, oregano and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Add the salsa, black beans, vegetable bouillon cube, rice.  Stir until well mixed.  Slowly add the water and salt.  Stir well. Bring to simmer, reduce heat and cover.  Cook 30 minutes or until water is absorbed.  My lid doesn't match my pan, so I needed a bit more water - after 30 minutes, some of my rice was still not fully cooked.

Scoop into a 9x13 pan.  Cover with shredded cheddar, as much as you like.  I put mine in the fridge, and reheated later for 40 min at 395.  The cheese got a little too brown.  Next time, I will lower the oven to 350 (hard tho, our oven runs cool).

Serve with guac, yum!  The good thing about this recipe is that you can really just use whatever the heck you  have.  And now I'm wondering if I can make it in the Instant Pot.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Plastic plastic everywhere

Pardon me as a ramble.  I've been thinking a lot about plastic and packaging lately. It's no secret that California has a lot of tree huggers.  It's one reason I love this state!  And a lot of decisions that I make are based on the environmental impacts - today and in the past. Some of those things I have lapsed on, because they are hard.

In any event, I've been reading a bit more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  I've also been reading more from Bea Johnson at Zero Waste Home.  Her book has been on my wish list forever, so I finally just bought it for myself for my birthday.

I took it all the way to Colorado on vacation and brought it back, unopened.  I finally started reading it.  The trip to Colorado was interesting.  We were meeting friends there who are definitely more environmentally conscious than we are.  We were all a bit disappointed in the lack of recycling in town (it's there, in some places...just not very many places).  As our friends drove there, they simply tossed all the cans and bottles in the trunk to take it back home to recycle.

We were relatively green there.  We ate breakfast at the hotel (which has real dishes).  We had our water bottles with us.  I packed lunches in reusable tupperware.  But there are some things that are just harder.

To start, I've been thinking a lot more about the packaging in food.  Which is probably what you'd expect, as this is a food blog.

In my own life, this boils down to a few big things:
- Gallons of milk
- Plastic bread bags
- Frozen veggie bags
- Plastic egg containers

All of this plastic just gets tossed.  The milk containers and egg containers get recycled, but it's really "down-cycled".  It's just better to avoid stuff in the first place.

What we DO do correctly
- Use reusable water bottles
- Buy wine in refillable growlers (yes I get bottles too)
- Drink bubbly water that we make using a soda stream
- Get most of our fruits and veggies from a subscription box, which means they just come in the box, no containers.  (We store them in ... our old bread bags.)

But there are more things that we can do.  I have to think about this more.  It's no secret that I try to keep the food budget down, and budget and environment will war with each other.  For example, I also buy boxes of lettuce heads to supplement our delivery.  You know, in a plastic box.  I also eat a lot of beans and rice, that we buy in bulk.

By "in bulk" I mean, in 5 to 10 lb bags. Plastic bags.  I could use the bulk bins at one of the many stores that have them, and simply reuse the bags.  Of course, the cost per pound is often double.  A little googling tells me that one of the stores will, for sure, let you bring your own containers if you measure their weight/ tare on the way in.  That may just be the way to go.

Then there are things like cheese and tortillas and salsa and marinara.  Frozen veggie burgers.  Meat. And those pesky eggs.  I'm not interested in getting chickens (my neighbors have them though.  And maybe we should get them.  We eat a lot of eggs.)  I could get 2 doz with our box, but then the cost for 2 dozen goes from $5 to $16.  (Of course the eggs from the box are local and of much higher quality.  And better for the environment.  But that's still 10 bucks a week, just on eggs.  $520 a year.) On the other hand, it's only $520.  What am I saving it for?  Oh yeah, college.  2 kids.

Stay tuned for my attempts at reducing waste!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The BIG RACE report

The race report!  As a reminder, this was an up hill half marathon.  Ya know, approx 4000 ft of elevation gain over 13.1 miles.

So, we got a heat wave.  It was supposed to hit on Tuesday and break on Thursday.  Well, it hit late (Weds) and didn't break until...afternoon of race day.  Boo!  In fact, the hottest day all week was race day.  No fog.

So remember those goals:
- Plan A (stretch goal) 3:30
- Plan B (totally do-able) 3:45
- Plan C 4:00
- Plan D - just finish! (This was the result.  I came close to Plan C, but couldn't pull it out).

So the weather: It was hot and muggy - about 75F at the start (6:30 am), and by the time I finished, it was 95F at the top. Most of the race was really really hot. It was easily 85 at mile 4. I melt in the heat.  Peak temp in town that afternoon was over 100, then we had a freak wind/rain storm that did a heck of a lot of damage, but cooled everything down 20 degrees.

It was interesting to see how it affected everyone.  My coworkers all did great...but they were probably off their goal paces by 1:00 per mile. My training team was similar.  Our leaders were off by 1:00 to 1:30 per mile (slower than normal).  One woman hit her goal dead on (sub-3:00).  The woman who usually runs a little faster than me beat her goal finishing time by 30 minutes.  In the heat. That's crazy. (She did a sub-3:00.)

My finishing time was off by about 2:00 per mile from what I might have been able to do in better weather.  But one of our group was off by 3:00 per mile.  She was having a worse day than me (still finished ahead of me though!)  There were several times that I didn't think I was going to finish.  After mile 9, it was really just "finish".  I drank a ton of water and electrolyte, but it was still miserable. Those last 4 miles took me >80 minutes.  (Of course, the two steepest mile-long sections are in there.)  I wasn't going to be a DNF.  It was so hot I didn't even know how hot it was.  Not until we got into the car to drive back down.  The other issue I struggled with was the tight hamstrings.  I usually do a run/ walk.  I had a strategy on the mountain for the spots when I would run.  But it was too hot to run in most of them.  Too much of either (running or walking) makes my hamstrings unhappy.

Am I going to do it again?  My neighbors up the street (husband has done it 2x) brought pina coladas that evening and asked me that.  Maybe.  If you had asked me last week I would have said "heck yea!"  The training program is great and I feel SO STRONG.  But I cannot help but be disappointed by the result.  My husband is super proud (and I am too), but it's still disappointing to look at that finish time and realize that it doesn't reflect the training I put in.  And honestly, that's because life sucks. Sometimes the weather sucks, or you get sick or injured, or you are just having a bad day.

Maybe my coworkers who always slept in later (and thus, did most of their training later in the morning when it was hotter on the mountain) were the smart ones!

The next day, aside from chapped lips and really sore toes (everything swelled up, including my feet - I shouldn't have sore toes from an all uphill half!), I felt great.  Still haven't lost any toenails, so win!