Update and Menu (9/23 to 9/30)

It has been almost exactly a year since my last post, and I have definitely enjoyed the break! Life has changed a lot since last September - I've started two jobs (and ended one), moved twice, traveled a fair amount, and finally feel that life is no longer in a state of flux. It really is amazing how much things can change in a year. Finally, I feel that I am in a place, physically and otherwise, where I will spend the next 3 years (*knocks on wood*). And, let me tell you, it is a happy place!

One the pieces of finally "settling down" (at least for me) is renewing my love of cooking and doing it much more often. I signed up for a CSA box, which definitely forces me to try new recipes, and I have fallen in love with the flour aisle at Rainbow Grocery. Always the planner, I have also started a routine of mapping out where the week is going (at least culinarily) once I get the list of veggies in my latest box. So why not share it? Here's what I ate last week (plus a few days from this week):

    Wednesday: Polenta with fresh tomato sauce

    Thursday: Nobody's home! Leftovers/eat what you will

    Friday: Pizza! Sausage and olives

    Saturday: Sara's working until 6 or 7...
    So she's making breakfast instead!
    Leftover sausage
    Oat Bran Pancakes

    Sunday: Squash Polenta
    Roasted Chicken
    Mixed Greens Salad

    Monday: Leftovers

    Tuesday: Cabbage
    Mashed Potatoes

I hope this will inspire you to have fresh, seasonal fun in your own kitchen. I'll post more in-depth about the squash polenta later - it was delicious! And eventually I should be up and running on flickr again, with some great pics to supplement the not-so-descriptive menu above. In the meantime, happy eating!

A Broad Abroad

The last few months have been rather busy, and I am happy to report that I am taking a break. A European break.

Yes, I leave Friday afternoon for Germany, where I will stay for a few days before heading on to Copenhagen. The trip isn't all for pleasure, though. I am presenting my thesis at the Association of Internet Researchers annual conference, my first real conference presentation.

My mom is flying half way across the world to attend my panel, which makes me feel both slightly embarrassed and incredibly supported. I think I need to realize that growing up doesn't mean that your parents stop being proud of you. Mom never got to go to soccer games (an athlete I am not), so I am happy that she can come and support me at my academic events. Hmm, do we need a new "mom" demographic? Academic mom? Scholar mom? As long as it's not hockey mom.

Zeph and I are going on this adventure together, which means that the adorable kittens are being cared for by a tag-team of our roommate and a friend. Between the two of them (the people, that is) the kittens will surely get fed and their box will get cleaned. But it is so hard to leave the little furballs behind!

I will be traveling with a computer, however, so the blog will hopefully be updated a few times. I won't confine myself to topics that fit the green mission of this blog, but I am interested in seeing if Europe is the environmental utopia that American's always think it is.

Auf Wiedersehen!

My Carbon Addiction

I've already admitted I don't own a car, and I'm not ready yet to delve into the carbon cost of food, so what carbon am I talking about today? The kind in your soda, of course!

Yes, always a fan of the double entendre, this post is dedicated to the carbon emissions required to produce and ship carbonated beverages. Carbon, carbon everywhere, even in your drink.

The onset of my addiction happened just about the same time Zeph and I started shopping at the farmer's market. We were still making trips to the grocery once a week for the "essentials" that we couldn't buy at the market. My "essential" was carbonated water - crystal geyser lemon water, to be exact. I went through about two liters a week, and at my worst I bought two of the small four-packs. This had to stop.

"Why?" you say? Let's talk about the energy in my carbonated water (without getting too exact with the numbers). There is energy required to make the bottles my water came in, as well as the little plastic ring that held together the bottles if I bought the four-pack. Then the bottles need to be filled, and of course they need to be carbonated, which requires more energy.

Then the bottles have to be trucked from heaven-knows-where to the store, where I purchase them. I don't drive my groceries home, so that's the only step that doesn't use carbon-based energy in this whole process. The water get stored in my refrigerator until I drink it, after which the bottles get picked up at my house and taken to the recycling plant, using more energy to turn them back in to new plastic bottles.

As you can see, this process is a bit problematic.

I could just drink still water out of my tap, but that isn't nearly as enjoyable. Plus, still water does not a good mojito make. And, honestly, I refuse to give up my little pleasures in life. All that does is create a bunch of grumpy people who bemoan how hard it is to live a greener life. It doesn't have to be hard people! You just have to find creative solutions.

As is the case with a majority of green solutions, I looked to the past. Gin and tonic has been around for quite some time, so I knew that fizzy water existed before the invention of the PET bottle. I poked around and found some seltzer bottles, but most of them require small cartridges to carbonate the water. Trashing a metal cannister every time I want to carbonate my water doesn't seem all that environmentally friendly.

So I poked around some more and found a company called SodaClub that manufactures counter-top carbonation devices. I did some research and found that the carbonation systems sold by SodaClub were preferred over other seltzer bottles by far, so I decided to go ahead and give it a shot.

The only decision left to make was which model to get. The cheaper model has larger bottles, but they are still made of plastic. Not exactly the route I wanted to go. The more expensive model doesn't carbonate as much water per bottle, but the bottles are made out of glass - glass that, unless I break it, will never have to be replaced. That appealed to me. A lot. Decision made.

My penguin arrived a few weeks later, and I had it set up and ready to go in a few minutes. I filled all the bottles and put them in the fridge to chill (apparently chilled water carbonates better) and waited patiently until Zeph got home so we could play with our new toy.

First, we made lemon water, flavored with a wonderful citrus fruit we sliced and juiced ourselves. It was delicious. Next we tried one of the soda flavorings that came with the machine. It pretty much sucked. Then, the piece de resistance, we made mojitos with our new water. Fantastic. Lately, when I crave a coke, I make an Italian soda instead. I'm finally not supporting Coca-Cola anymore!

After two months of daily use the penguin is still going strong. We replaced our Co2 cartridge once, but I am happy knowing that it will be refilled with air and sent to a new customer. Best of all? Drinking lemon water is a great way to keep the cat's nose out of your beverage. Pesky, curious kitties.

What if the Cat Barfs?

Ever since I moved into my apartment a roll of paper towels has continuously hung from my kitchen cabinets. Not the same role, obviously, but you know what I mean. When the last roll was wearing down to the tube I made a conscious decision not to replace it.

The decision was made easier by the fact that there weren't any other rolls in the house; my Costco-size stash had been reduced to nothing. The environmental me wanted to stop the paper usage in an effort to save the forests, and the lazy me just didn't want to get off my butt and go buy another roll. And, well, decisions are always easy if there is laziness involved in sticking to them.

So, for the last week, the members of my household have found alternatives to using paper towels. Zeph and I used cloth napkins at mealtime instead of a paper towel split down the middle. I used the sponge more often to wipe up messes, even the ones from the floor. In fact, there is now a dedicated sponge for floor use because wiping the floor + wiping your dishes = gross. After use, the towels get thrown in the washing machine and wait until there is a big enough load to start the cycle. The sponges get rinsed like crazy and placed on the back splash, not still filled with water in the sink where the germs can propagate like rabbits (I am so OCD about my kitchen).

But the one question that has been running through my mind all week is, "What if the cat barfs?" It's not such a hypothetical question either, as the cat does indeed barf on a semi-regular basis. Don't worry, she's not sick. She just eats way to fast and then runs around too much and her little bloated belly can't take it. But enough about my cat's digestive habits...

Last night my pondering became a reality when, after a particularly energetic round of chase the invisible bug, the cat retreated under the futon and did her barfy business. Did I mention she always climbs under the futon? Why must she do that to me?

Zeph and I groaned and went into action, pulling the futon away from the wall, grabbing the bottle of cleaner, and reaching for the paper - oh, wait, there aren't any paper towels! So, instead, I grabbed a few cleaning rags (pieces of an old sheet that I ripped apart) and mopped up the mess. Some of it got thrown into the compost bin, and the rags got thrown into the wash with the other soiled towels.

And, because I don't need my house to smell like cat barf, the washing machine cycle was kicked off. I'll work on the my water consumption issues in a week or two....

Admiring the View

Seasonal views from the outhouse at StoneLake Farm. I think this means a fall trip is necessary.

View from the Outhouse

View from the Outhouse

view from the octagon's outhouse

TBP (to be photographed)

Bring Me on Home

About a year ago, after much cajoling, Zeph moved to San Francisco. He brought with him his comfortable bed, his ugly coffee table, and his Audi A4. Now that a year has passed, one of the three belongings is no longer with us. Unfortunately, it's not the coffee table.

After about three months of waking up way too early to move the car for street cleaning, storing it in Mom's garage, and generally not using it due to the hassle it caused, we started crunching some automotive numbers. It turns out it was cheaper for us to rent a car for one weekend a month (about as often as we used the car) than to pay to own, maintain, and insure our own vehicle. Who knew?

Zeph found some poor soul to take over the lease, and that was the end of the car. And, honestly, our lives have barely been impacted by its departure. Driving in San Francisco is a pain and a half, parking is nonexistent, and having to drive means that somebody doesn't get to drink. Where is the fun in that?

So how do we get around without the car? Bus, mostly. Zeph takes the bus to work, we take the bus to get our groceries (and manage to do just fine with what we can carry home), and we even bring all of our beer-making supplies home on the bus (more on this later). I am lucky to be close enough to my office to walk, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance as well. We do just fine without a car in San Francisco.

The problem is when we want to leave. Although my mom and her side of the family are slowly migrating to San Francisco, my dad and Zeph's parents live in the Sacramento area and Nevada County (respectively). We also have plenty of friends who still in that general area - friends who like to throw parties that we like to attend. Like I said before, we figured out that renting a car for the weekend (about $30 a day) is cheaper than keeping a car sitting in Mom's garage. And renting was what we did for many a weekend.

Then, all of a sudden, summer pricing kicked in and rental prices went through the roof. Not to mention the fact that after almost two months of not driving I almost had a heart attack when we went to fill up at the pump. I knew gas prices were soaring, but $60 for a tank?! When I started driving I could fill up for $20, and I'm not that old people.

Our weekend excursions went from an affordable $60 to a shocking $150. A change of plan was needed.

Amtrak is how I traveled home throughout college, and Zeph used to commute by train a few times a week. But, at $25 each person each way, the rental used to be more economical. Well, that has all changed, and $100 for a weekend with family isn't that much more than the gas alone would cost. Plus, you get to drink wine on the train. Try doing that in a car. Well, legally, I mean.

Nowadays we ride the rails often, and we have a new rule for staying with friends and family: You want to see us, you pick us up at the train station. And you know what? It hasn't been a deal breaker yet.

I promised in my previous post that this blog would be more accessible than its predecessors, so I will take a quick moment to acknowledge that part of the reason I can live without owning a car is because of the excellent public transportation in San Francisco. I couldn't have even come close to getting around without a car in my hometown of Roseville - the city just isn't designed for pedestrians.

But, there are steps you can take to use your car less. Try finding a coworker to carpool with, buy a bike for medium-distance trips, and if the drive would take less than 5 minutes, walk. Your pocketbook will thank you in the long run.

And, if you're feeling really empowered, go to a city council meeting and ask why the town is designed for automobiles and not people. Who is paying taxes, anyway? Tom, or Toyota?

Declaring my Independence

The title of this post could have many meanings considering I just graduated from college and now have to pay for everything, but I am talking about only one type of independence in this post: oil (foreign and domestic). Why not "dependence," the word politicians like to throw around these days when talking about oil? Because my quest is to achieve independence from oil and gasoline, not talk on and on about my dependence.

I've been thinking about "independence" for the last month or two, and I have decided it is time to blog my thoughts and actions. I know that my post is not the first of its kind to to grace the blogosphere, but maybe it can be different. So many of the models proffered as great examples in green living are unreasonable, unlikely, and sometimes downright unattainable. My goals are to make changes when and where I can, share my triumphs and failures, and still maintain a lifestyle one would consider "reasonable."

This means that I am not going to give up toilet paper, but I will watch which brand I buy. I am not going to try and grow all my own food, but I will change where I buy it. I am not going to give up all means of fuel-powered transportation, but I will make wiser choices when traveling. There will be other changes, too, but I don't want to give away the weeks worth of blog posts stored in my head. :-)

I know that some people might think that the more extreme examples of reducing one's carbon footprint are more inspiring, more likely to incite others to change. Indeed, part of the reason I did start to change my habits stem from what I have read about the changes others have made. But why compare yourself to an example that you will never be able to achieve? I love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I don't see myself relocating to a farm in the near future. No Impact Man seems to be have changed his outlook on life, but I'm not ready to be that evangelical. I'm just an ordinary gal in an extraordinary city looking to live a life that is better for me, better for my fellow humans, and better for the globe.

Why don't you join me?


For those of you with an RSS reader, the blog just got a bit of a face lift. I am still working out some of the finer details, but I am happy with the direction things are going in. Let the blogging re-begin!

Checked Out/Checked In

Checked Out:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


Back from the Land by Eleanor Agnew

I got caught up in reading other things, so this is still on the shelf. The first few pages weren't enough to entice me away from my other reading.

Checked In:

Margaret Cho Assasin

Not the best Margaret Cho stand-up I have seen. Her new style is very political, which would be ok if it didn't sound like she was just whining the entire time. And I miss the jokes about her mom.

The Mormons

The second part of this documentary was way better than the first. In fact, it references the important sections of part 1 with enough detail that you could skip it altogether and not be lost. A very good piece on contemporary Mormonism. Of course, if you are a total history nerd, you'll want to watch both parts.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Ok, so part of the reason I never got around to reading Back from the Land is that I got caught up in reading this book (and I also got behind on my blogging, which is why this book appears in this post twice). I love the writing, and I love that she uses the extreme example of her family to show how more middle-of-the-road households can make smaller changes in their lives. It's not overly preachy in its message, but it does cause one to think about where our food comes from. While I am not ready to trade my city digs for a farm in the Central Valley, I have made a trip to my local farmer's market and thought about alternative ways to feed (drink?) my soda water habit.

Blogging Documents from Connect

USF uses an online service for students called USF Connect, a service which I am sure exists in many different forms for many different universities. Part of this service is USF Files, a place for students to upload and save their documents. It also works well as a make-shift file server, which allows documents to be linked to blogs.

Here is my quick tutorial on how to post links to documents on a blog by using USF Files.