Saturday, 31 October 2009

Simple, Green, Frugal and Festive

by Francesca

Can we be simple, green and frugal, but also festive?

skeleton costume
~ We make our own costumes. This is a skeleton costume I made for my son some years ago, from a long-sleeved T-shirt, an old pair of yoga pants, and various scraps of white fabric. We studied up on human anatomy a little, turning our costume-making into a fun science project ~

This question occurs to me today, as Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, and a season of celebrations begins. And it’s a question that I’m posing to the readers of this blog, which aims to explore ways to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle. How do you celebrate your holidays in a festive fashion that's also simple, green and frugal?

~ We don't actually carve pumpkins: our local variety are too tough, and far better for dinner than for decoration (the flesh is great in soups, and roasted pumpkin seeds, lightly sprinkled with sea salt, are a favorite snack). Last year, my sons painted a Jack o’ Lantern on them instead. Pumpkin peels are compostable ~

First of all, some facts:

In the US of A (the country for which data is available), Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday after Christmas, and has spread to many other parts of the world (here in Italy, for instance, enthusiasm has skyrocketed in the last fifteen years, and is now serious competition for Carnival).

According to the National Retail Federation, the average US consumer will spend $56.31 on Halloween this year, for a total of $4.75 billion nationwide (you can read the complete report here). The NRF says this money will be spent on three main categories: costumes, candy, and decorations. The impact on the environment will be heavy, considering that countless candy wrappers, plastic decorations and Jack o' Lanterns will end up in the landfills.

Can this be what Halloween, or any other holiday, is really about? I don't believe so. One of the wonderful surprises about living a frugal and green lifestyle, we've found, is that simplifying our lives doesn't bring hardship or privation, but actually helps us to concentrate on the important things.

wild boar skull
~ This summer, on one of their walks in the woods, my boys found this wild boar mandible in a stream bed: the perfect decoration for Halloween this year ~

As we prepare tonight to knock on the doors of neighbors we rarely see otherwise, our houses imaginatively decorated and our children thrilled with wearing special costumes, it seems to me that Halloween is a tradition that celebrates community spirit, creativity and fun for children and adults alike. All of which, we’ve found, can easily be achieved for far less than $56.31 per person, and with almost zero waste.

Wishing you a simple, green, frugal and very festive Halloween, wherever in the world you are!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Eat Healthy with Cheap and Wholesome Foods

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Dietary related illnesses are much in the media these days, being notably epidemic in the US and other industrial nations. Many of us want to eat a more healthy diet. Many of us are also feeling the need to cut costs wherever we can. So I thought I would put together a little list of my own "superfoods" that cost very little but provide excellent nutrition. Here are ten great foods to keep on hand in your pantry or kitchen.

Oats - Most commonly called rolled oats or oatmeal in the US, this simple staple comes in many forms and is known by many names in other countries. These whole grains are accessible even to those who cannot tolerate gluten, and they can be used in many ways. Excellent in cookies, as porridge, or added to breads for texture, pin oats (fine cut oats) also appear in a hearty soup called brose, in Scotland. Few foods are so easy to prepare, so universally appreciated, and also so very economical. Hot oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit is a mainstay winter breakfast in our home. Buy oats in bulk quantities if you can, then use them up.

Beet(root) - A nutritional superstar with a natural earthy sweetness. Plenty of people love to hate beets, pickled or otherwise. But just as many are won over by these marvelous root vegetables in roasted form, especially spritzed with fresh lemon juice straight out of the oven. Beets are an excellent source of Vitamin C and several key minerals. I love them in borsch and in pyttipanna. They're also wonderful simply boiled, peeled, grated and then dressed up with a dollop of mayonnaise, and a bit of finely minced garlic and parsley. If you're lucky enough to find beets with fresh looking leaves still attached, snap them up and then treat the greens as you would cooking greens.

Eggs - One of the most perfect sources of complete protein available to us, eggs are an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly when the hens that laid them had a healthy, diverse diet. If you can obtain eggs from hens kept on pasture or truly allowed to free range out of doors, you will be wise to buy them. Such eggs are lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in many essential vitamins and minerals. Learn to eat these eggs in place of costly meat. Eggs might turn up at the evening meal as often as breakfast in our home. Recently I enjoyed a dinner of Philippine garlic fried rice with an egg and some greens on the side.

The cabbage family - the brassica or crucifer family has long held a lowly status among the vegetables. This is quite fortunate for those who want to save money and yet get good nutrition from their food. Cabbage, kale, turnips, kohlrabi, mustard greens, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and even radishes are all part of this nutritional powerhouse of a family, and at least one member of this family is usually available for a pittance at any produce market. Cabbages not only store exceptionally well, but they can also be prepared in a huge variety of ways: slaws, soups, stuffed, casseroles, roasted, and as sauerkraut. I especially love it in colcannon, a traditional dish of the British Isles that pairs cabbage with potatoes. German and Eastern European cuisines have quite a touch with the cabbage family as well, so look to those areas for plenty of good ideas. Another favorite recipe of mine is Tuscan kale over pasta in a creamy tomato sauce.

Potatoes - I'm hesitant to include this wonder food only because of how heavily they are dosed with fungicides and herbicides in conventional agriculture. If you are able to find organic potatoes, or better still, grow your own, potatoes are a wonderfully versatile pantry staple. They pair beautifully with almost any fresh herb, and can either anchor a meal (stuffed baked potato, potato soup) or play sidekick to a main course (mashed, roasted, boiled). Few foods are priced to deliver so many calories so cheaply. If you refrain from deep-frying them, they're a reliable and healthy starch on which to base a winter diet. If you can find and store a 50-pound bag of potatoes, and use it up before they sprout, you can save even more money.

Homemade broth or stock - I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that everyone with access to a kitchen should aim to make broth or stock from scratch at least once per month. If you regularly eat meat, select cuts which include bones and save them until you have a good stash. Otherwise you can obtain chicken backs, necks, or wings quite cheaply from a good butcher shop. Homemade broth is cheap, nourishing, and intensely comforting. So long as you're at it, make as large a batch as is feasible, and consider making it double strength if storage space is limited. Freeze or can it in quantities that will allow you to enjoy it weekly. Nothing serves as a better foundation for homemade soups or bean dishes. (Tips for making stock at the end of this post.)

Homemade salad dressing - Though not a basic food, I'm including salad dressing here because it is a weekly or daily staple in so many homes. Purchased salad dressings often contain additives and even, at times, rancid oils. Then they are sold at exorbitant prices compared with the cost of the ingredients. Learn to make a good vinaigrette, or a small repertoire of your favorite salad dressings, and you will save money month after month. Good olive oil, vinegar, and a smattering of flavorful ingredients such as prepared mustard, shallots, freshly ground pepper, and lemon juice can create delicious, wholesome, and cheap dressings for your daily salad fix.

Peanut butter - Okay, most of us associate peanut butter either with childhood, or with dangerous allergies. If you're not allergic though, peanut butter could stand to be revisited. I won't deny I love it on a sandwich with good jam once in a while. But I also love the many Thai noodle and curry recipes that use this healthy source of fat and protein. Many African dishes also call for peanut butter in a main course, grown-up dish. I prepare peanut rice noodles with vegetables at the height of summer when using up the garden produce requires daily strategizing.

Garlic - Although most of us don't tend to eat garlic in large quantities, it is an essential pantry item in most homes where people cook from scratch on a regular basis. Aside from its wonderfully irreplaceable flavor, garlic offers many health benefits too. It lowers blood pressure and may help prevent damage to blood vessel walls from plaque. It's also credited with antimicrobial powers, and so is commonly believed to help guard against food poisoning and other ailments. Garlic by the head is usually well priced at the grocery store, and it's also been a great success in my garden for the past two years, with no pest damage at all. Apparently, only humans eat garlic.

Popcorn - While it's most commonly thought of as a snack food, popcorn is also a whole grain. How many snack foods can make that claim? If you buy popcorn in its simplest bulk form without paying for nasty chemical flavorings or microwaveable bags, this whole grain snack can be quite economical. And there's something downright convivial about a freshly popped bowl of popcorn. No one eats a bowl of popcorn alone if there's anyone else in the house. Here are some foolproof directions on preparing absolutely perfect oil-popped popcorn. Popcorn is another item to look for in bulk food stores.

Well, there you have my list. Do you have another favorite food that you rely on for cheap but healthy meals? Let us know in the comments. Or share with us your favorite way of using the foods listed here. And bon appetit!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Time to Plant

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Really! I know the photo doesn't look like normal planting weather. I woke up this morning to a dusting of snow. Autumn's definitely here, and winter is just around the corner. The snow melted away by mid-day, but it reminded me I need to get back out in the garden soon. It's time to plant my garlic and shallots.

They grow best like tulip bulbs - planted in the fall, after the soil cools off but before it freezes solid. I try to have a bit of finished compost stashed away, and add a bit of my all-purpose fertilizer mix (equal amounts of bone meal, blood meal, and greensand), to dig into the soil before planting. My soil leans a bit to the alkaline side, but if yours is acid add a dusting of wood ash too.

You can start with garlic and shallots from your local grocery, and then, if possible, save some of your harvest each year for future planting. I put aside my biggest, prettiest bulbs when I harvest each summer's crop. Doing this year after year means I now grow garlic and shallots perfectly adapted to my own particular micro-climate.

Garlic comes in soft and hard neck varieties (elephant garlic is a member of the leek family, but you can plant it the same way). Softneck garlic usually has multiple layers of cloves of differing sizes. If you want to braid your garlic, you'll need to plant a softneck variety. Hardneck garlic makes just one layer of similarly-sized cloves around a stiff inner stalk. That inner stem also grows up into a (usually) looping seed stalk called a scape. Garlic scapes are good eating on their own, so if you want to harvest scapes too you'll need to plant a hardneck variety.

Wait until you're ready to plant to break apart the garlic bulb, and then push each clove into the ground, pointy end up and an inch or two beneath the surface, six to eight inches apart. Bigger cloves will make bigger bulbs, so I take the littler cloves back into the kitchen. Shallots are planted the same way, but each shallot bulb will multiply into a clump of six to eight shallots, so they need a 12" spacing.

For the two of us for a year, I plant about four feet of a three-foot wide row with garlic, and another four feet with shallots (and then in one more four-foot section I'll scatter spinach and arugula seeds - they'll winter over and be up and growing very early next Spring, giving me a much better yield than Spring-seeded plants). Everything gets a couple inches of straw mulch, and then a flat piece of wire laid on top to hold the mulch in place and keep the birds out. Winter snows provide enough water, and by March the first sprouts pushing up make a lovely start to my real gardening season.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Used or New?

written by: Chiot's Run

I've been trying to simplify my life in order to save money and to use fewer resources. This year I've really been focusing on buying used items. When you buy a used item you're keeping it out of a landfill and extending it's useful life. You're also cutting the amount of manufacturing and limiting the pollution that stems from making a new item. Most used items also come without packaging so you limit waste that would end up in the landfill or use resources to be recycled.

Canning Jars at Auction

Buying used however is not for the faint of heart. You really have to learn patience and the art of waiting. You learn to enjoy the search for that perfect item as much as having the item when you finally get it. It takes a little more time, particularly if you're trying to find these items locally.

Household Goods

So how do I go about finding used items? We look through our local paper for auctions and go to secondhand shops in the area. We have found however that our local Goodwill is not a great place to buy used items, they're overpriced (they sell single canning jars for several dollars each). After a few trips you'll discover which second-hand stores in your area are worth your time. Garage sales can also be a great resource, although I don't frequent them, I find auctions to be a better use of my time. Craig's list and Freecycle are both local sources and E-bay is an easy resource since it's searchable, although the item most likely won't be local and will require shipping. It is the perfect place to search if you need something specific or you need it right away. Salvage stores like ReStore, by Habitat for Humanity and other local places are great for finding used building supplies and furniture.

Saved Nails

There are some things that I buy new, however, like shoes, undergarments, socks and most of my clothes. I could buy used clothes, but I find the time needed to seek them out is often not worth my time. In these areas I focus on buying a few well-made pieces that will last for years. We also often buy new when it comes to small power tools and items that diminish in quality as they're used.

Do you buy used or new? What's your best resource for used items?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Five Fall Crops Worth Mentioning

Posted by Thomas, from A Growing Tradition

When our family moved to our new home in late July, I was a bit disappointed that we had missed out on being able to grow many of the traditional summer crops that seem to dominate seed catalogs these days. While other gardeners were tending to their tomato, cucumber and melon plants, I was breaking ground, raising fence and sowing my fall garden. Looking back, I was glad for the experience. Here in New England, many of us are so focused on getting our summer crops to mature in September (and rightly so) that we often overlook the extended bounty that a traditional fall garden can produce. I experimented with many different types of fall crops this year. And while I've had my fair share of failures along the way, I've learned that all of the planning and effort that goes into growing a proper fall garden is well worth it.

There are many things I look for in a good fall vegetable - quick maturity dates and cold hardiness to name a couple. Instead of listing them all, I thought I'd highlight five crops that I believe exemplify many of these characteristics. In no particular order:

1. The Obvious - Cut and Come Again Lettuce

lettuce mix
30 Days to harvest - Fall lettuce/salad mix is the ideal gift that keeps on giving. I can appreciate a crop that will allow me to harvest from it over and over again until a mighty November frost intervenes (longer if you give it some protection). Cooler weather offers two added benefits - 1) you don't have to worry about your lettuce bolting unexpectedly and 2) certain greens (such as arugula) that would normally be too sharp for my taste during the summer months develop a milder flavor. Finally, I consider a fall harvest of salad greens to be the perfect break between the succulent vine-ripened crops of summer and the hardier root vegetables of winter.

harvesting lettuce mix

2. The Esteemed - Hakurei Turnips

hakurei turnips harvest
40 days to harvest - I cannot speak highly enough about this vegetable. Those of you who dislike conventional turnips might appreciate this mild and crisp variety from Japan. Prized by top chefs around the world, Hakurei turnips can be enjoyed raw in a salad or lightly cooked. When steamed and tossed with a bit of butter, these turnips taste like the best cauliflower I have ever had (but much easier and faster to grow). Hakurei turnips are best harvested golf ball-sized and produce tasty greens as well. Sow seeds every couple of weeks from mid-August to mid-September to ensure a steady crop throughout most of the fall.

turnips and carrots 2

3. The Humble - Radishes

easter egg radishes
30 days to harvest - I will admit that radishes are not high on my list of favorite things to eat. However, what they lack in taste, they more than make up for in color, which can range anywhere from brilliant to radiant. This humble vegetable grows easily in cool weather and small-type varieties are very quick to mature. Harvest small-type radishes young as they tend to get hot and pithy the larger they get. I enjoy them raw in a salad or pickled.

radish bouquet 2

4. The Tender and Sweet - Chinese Broccoli

flowering brasscia
45-50 days to harvest - Most Asian greens thrive in cooler weather, and out of these, many are exceptionally cold hardy. The disadvantage of growing Asian greens is that most are susceptible to the same pests that plague other brassicas. Therefore, protection in the form of row covers is generally needed. The advantage is that they usually have relatively short maturity dates. One variety that performed very well for me this year was a flowering-type brassica known as Green Lance, more commonly referred to as Chinese broccoli. The stalk, leaves and flower buds of this plant are all edible. In particular, the stalk (like asparagus) is very tender and sweet. I will continue to grow this vegetable in place of fall broccoli as it is faster to mature, more productive, and in my experience, much less vulnerable to pests.

flowering brassica 2

5. The Nutritional Powerhouse - Spinach

Fall Spinach 3
40 days to harvest - There are several varieties of spinach that are exceptionally winter hardy. While other fall greens slowly succumb to frost, spinach will remain surprisingly resilient with a bit of added protection in the form of a cold frame or row covers. The variety that I am growing currently is called "Space". Spinach, like lettuce and most Asian greens, can be harvested during most stages of development, making them a particularly reliable fall crop regardless of how quickly the weather turns cold. And if that is not enough to make you want to grow spinach, its nutritional value should.

Fall Spinach 2
I hope you consider growing some of these vegetables in your fall garden. One final peace of advice - please bear in mind that precise sowing dates are much more crucial when planning a fall garden (sow too late and you will end up eating mostly baby greens). You can mitigate this somewhat by utilizing row covers. To be on the safe side, add a couple of weeks to the maturity date listed on the seed packet to help ensure a harvest. If you have any fall crops you particularly love that I have not mentioned here, or have any fall gardening tips that you would like others to know, please share!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Wanted: Simple, Green and Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone!

With only 8 weeks till Christmas, it seems to me that talk everywhere is starting to turn towards gift ideas. There seems to be one major difference with the talk this year (at least in my part of the world). It seems to me that more and more people are starting to think more mindfully of presents and wanting to avoid over-consumption.

Whether its the GFC or its a heightened awareness of environmental issues, it seems to me that more people are wanting to make more of an effort to have a more simple, green and frugal Christmas.

So I thought this community here would like to compile a list of simple, green and frugal gift ideas!

I'll start!

1. Give a Charity Gift - This is my personal favourite and first choice for Christmas. You've probably heard of this type of gift as "gifts of hope". This is when you buy a cow or school books for those in dire poverty and you get a card about your gift and you give that card to someone as their Christmas gift. These type of gifts range start from around $10. My charity of choice for this type of gift is Oxfam Unwrapped. Perhaps all the adults in your family would like to go in together to buy something "big" and have the card as part of a communal Christmas photo album/journal? The idea of the album/journal is that every year, you have the Charity Gift card and everyone who put in for it writes down their hopes for that year and their general thoughts about Christmas. This album/journal then gets passed around every year and everyone can review their hopes and hopes together.

2. Use saltdough to make figurines, game board pieces or air fresheners. Salt dough is something the kids can help make as well.

3. Hamper of homemade recipes. This can range from the edible biscuits/cookies or jams to non-edible. I especially loved Heather's idea of giving an all natural cleaning supplies basket as a gift!

4. Make paper. You can give this as stationery or use the paper for cards. Its easy and a great use for all those spare bits of paper lying around in the house!

Homemade Stationery Pack I gave as a gift to a friend.

I'll turn this post now over to you.

I've added a widget below so you can post directly on to this blog post. Where it says "Link Title", just type in your simple, green and frugal Christmas gift idea. You can add your blog or a link to more information about that item as your url.

So, what is your simple, green and frugal Christmas gift idea?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Hardy Kiwi in the garden

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Not one for planting much in the way of exotic fruits, when Hardy Kiwi's became available about 20 years ago, I dove in head first. I loved the taste of the fuzzy kiwi, but the crop was hit or miss in my climate, the tender plants preferring the warmer temperatures of California. However, the Hardy Kiwi plants can withstand winter time temperatures down to -25F.

I moved mine several times, never really giving them a chance to excel. They have been in their final spot for 7 years now. I originally had two females, and one male, but one female has died, so now I have just the couple. It is recommended that the male plant is needed for pollination, but my male and female never bloom at the same time, and there is always a heavy fruit set. the variety I planted was Anna and I purchased the vines at One Green World in Oregon. Our organic inspector was a kiwi hobbyist and she experienced the same thing, that Anna (also sometimes known by her full name Annanasnaja) would put on copious crops without pollination. It is recommended however, to buy a male and female. Another great nursery with many unusual edible fruits in Raintree Nursery. And if you're so inclined the hardy kiwi propagates easily from cuttings taken during late winter. So if you have a friend that has a kiwi you have been coveting, ask for some cuttings and you will be in business!

Usually when you think of kiwis, food comes to mind. But, I think this plant is under-rated as an edible ornamental, it can be very useful in permaculture type applications. The plant's rapid growth would very helpful in shading a porch, the dark green heart shaped leaves are beautiful in their own right, and the fragrance when the vines bloom is delightful. The pollinators love it too, the vine is always abuzz with bees and hummingbirds. When fall arrives the leaves provide ample color on gray days, and in our land of conifers, any fall color is appreciated.

The plants are pest free in North America, lending themselves to organic gardening, and are relatively low maintenance. After they are established, all they need is a application of compost each year and minimal irrigation. And they also thrive under neglect. I only apply stable manure once a year to mine, never water them, and proper pruning for heavier crops has escaped me. I can't imagine having a heavier crop, actually. They are very prolific!

But back to the food aspect, who can resist these smooth skinned beauties that you can just pop in your mouth? High in Vitamin C, with flavor like a blend of strawberries and pineapple they make a great addition to the fall fruit diet. Great in smoothies, made into jam, or ... . The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Since they are an unusual fruit and expensive to buy if you can find them, I make kiwi jam for Christmas gifts. It is always a pleasant surprise in a gift basket, and very tasty.

To make the jam, just remove the blossom end and stem.

Chop kiwi. If you're using the hardy kiwi you can just cut in half. If you have fuzzy kiwi, peel and chop and dice. Or if you are like me, or have small children, after measuring you can just squeeze them with your hands like you're making wine. I made two large batches of jam yesterday and by the time I was into the second batch, I was cooking dinner at the same time and didn't have time to cut all those kiwis, or to take pictures of the smooshed ones! And the usual warning applies - make sure the kiddos have washed their hands thoroughly before the smooshing fun begins.

After a brisk cooking, the jam is ready to ladle into jars.

Water bath for 10 minutes.

Summer goodness put away for winter enjoyment.

Kiwi jam cooling. The rings will be removed, jars washed and labeled before putting in the Christmas cabinet for gifts or just for stocking our pantry.

KIWI JAM from the Ball Blue Book of Preserves
Yield: about 4 half-pints

3 cups chopped and *peeled kiwi
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
1 package of powdered pectin
4 cups of sugar

Combine kiwi, powdered pectin and pineapple juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Adjust two piece caps. Process 10 minutes boiling water bath.

*Peel only if using fuzzy kiwi, and the easiest way to do that is to actually cut the kiwi in half and just scoop out the flesh instead of peeling. Hardy kiwis have tender skin so no need to peel.

Most jam recipes are too sweet for us, and don't let the flavor of the fruit shine. So I cut the sugar quite a bit in my batches. The result is a softer jam, or spread, but the trade off is well worth it. We just have our biscuits on a plate and if no one is looking we lick the plate if a little jam escapes!

My changes:

6 cups of chopped kiwi
2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
2 packages powdered pectin
2 cups sugar

These changes are mine and since this is a high acid product it is perfectly safe for canning. Low sugar pectin or Pomona's Pectin are good choices too. But I had the powdered pectin on hand and wanted to use it up.
I almost forgot. There is one more use for kiwis in the home orchard :)

Proper pruning would alleviate this "problem" if you so desire.


Could hardy kiwi be in your future?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Indoor Gardening

by Lynn at Viggie's Veggies

The growing season is well over in Wisconsin. As someone who just finished her first growing season and recently made the decision to urban homestead, I find the whole thing very frustrating. I want to be out there preparing all the new and expanded garden beds for spring.

Depressed about the change in seasons, I turned to planning next years garden layout and picking vegetable varieties. While surfing seed sites, I discovered something that cheered me up immediately. There are a surprising number of dwarf and patio varieties out there! I came to the shocking realization that gardening didn't have to end during our frigid winter. I could bring it indoors with me.

dwarf citrus in bloom

I started out with some dwarf fruit trees in my south facing window. They only get 3-4 feet tall and after a month the largest is already flowering for me. I was able to find end of season clearance sales with some nice self watering pots. These were filled with leftover lettuce, spinach, bush bean, and even cantaloupe seeds. I also ordered some seeds just for this cucumbers, patio zucchini, strawberries, and a cascading tomato that can be grown in a hanging container.


My only real issue so far has been cat damage. But I will be building a nice growing setup into a spare clothes closet shortly and that will fix my furry pest problem. Time will tell how this experiment in indoor container gardening will go, but the results so far are encouraging.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Learning To Be Green

By Frugal Trenches

I've shared here before that the quest to be simple, green & frugal has been a real journey for me. I've shared that I was very hard on myself initially, feeling I had to accomplish it all in a short period of time and feeling I'd fallen short because there was simply no way to accomplish it all, unless anyone wants to give me an acre or two ;)

But lately I've been thinking about some small steps I have taken that have reduced my carbon footprint and acknowledging those changes have really affirmed to me why this journey is so important. Furthermore it has helped me see that small changes really do add up!

I thought I'd share some of the teeny tiny changes I've made and would love at the end if you could share some of yours to!
  • I've switched to low energy light bulbs
  • I've requested electronic bills instead of paper bills
  • I've begun buying fair trade items of food whenever possible
  • I've started buying local produce as much as possible
  • I've switched from shopping at a big supermarket and instead first go to my local fruit & veg shop
  • I've recently had to purchase a couple of gifts and needed a new item of clothing, I went to several charity (second hand shops) and found just what I needed
  • I eat vegetarian meals four days a week
  • I did a small google search on ethical shopping and found out which shops are the best for paying decent wages to their workers in developing nations
  • I purchase green alternatives to washing up liquid, clothing detergent and soap
  • I purchase green friendly toilet roll
  • I purchase vinegar and baking soda to clean
  • I use the library instead of buying books, or purchase them second hand if need be!
  • I take my trusty reusable bags with me wherever I go
  • I try to leave my car at home at least two days a week

These are all very tiny changes, none have made a significant difference in my life but I know they will make a real difference in someone else's life and the lives of future generations! I'd love to know what little steps you've taken and whether they make you feel greener?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Anyone For a Habitable Planet?

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I don't often get political or promote environmental activism on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, and usually leave my opinions to my own blog, The Greening of Gavin.  However as the UN Climate Change talks at Copenhagen are now only 44 days away, and it is my belief that these talks may be humanity's last chance to come to a global binding agreement to reduce green house gasses, I thought I had to speak up and reach as wide an audience as I could.  I am an IT Risk Manager by occupation and therefore assess risk for a living.  In this post I will drop the emotional debate, and approach climate change from a risk management perspective.

Whether you believe that human activities are causing the climate to change from the norm we have experience during the last 20,000 years or not, the argument is really about mitigating risk.  I will give you four risk scenarios for you to assess;

Scenario A
Lets just say that climate change is real and human induced, and we choose to do nothing or don't reach agreement at Copenhagen and do a half hearted effort.  Well, the science says that we will have global temperature rises and polar ice melting that equates to sea level rises.  These rising oceans will displace hundreds of millions of people from their homes and countries and they will become climate refugees.  Other countries will have to take these populations on adding to their already strained resources due to other affects of climate change, like food shortages because monsoons or seasonal rains don't happen when they are supposed to over the food bowls of Asia, Australia, or the Americas.  Or that the glacier fed rivers that run throughout the world run out of feed water because it has all melted at the source.  These are only are few of the things that could happen.  So that would be bad, right?  This should be assessed as an Extreme risk scenario.

Scenario B. 
Lets suppose it is not man made and the few climate sceptics are right and we do nothing.  That would mean that the last century is an anomaly and the climate will stabilise at a level that humans and other species can survive at.  But here is the rub.  Our planet would soon run out of resources anyway because of overpopulation, and the air would still be polluted due to our continued fossil fuel use, as would the oceans, seas and rivers.  Sounds like a pretty sad place to living in and this should be assessed as a High risk scenario.

Scenario C.
Lets suppose that it is not man made and the few climate sceptics are right again.  However, we make a commitment at Copenhagen and do all the work to reduce consumption and green house emissions because we err on the side of caution and take positive action.  We will have resources for generations to come, and we will have clean air because we chose to change our energy supply to renewable technologies and stopped using fossil fuels.  Not so bad, and good honest work never hurt anyone.  We would have a cleaner place to live, and be able to live in harmony with the planet we occupy.  This is a Low risk scenario.

Scenario D.
Lets assume that we believe that the science is right and we achieve the CO2 target that the climatologists  propose of 350 parts per million.  Climate will stabilise, weather pattens will normalise, but probably will not be quite the same, however we will be able to easily adapt, as will all other species on Earth.  Because we took positive action as recommended, we will have resources for hundreds of generations to come, we will have clean air because we chose to change our energy supply to renewable technologies and stopped using fossil fuels.  We would have also adopted the cradle to cradle approach to manufacturing with zero waste, just like it occurs in nature, and we might even learn to live in peace and harmony at least with the planet.  This scenario, as in scenario C is Low risk.  The result is the same either way you look at it.

So from a risk management point of view, which is the best action to take?  Is it A and B (Extreme and High risk), and put our heads in the sand and do nothing, or will it be C and D (Low risk) and we do take affirmative action, reach a global agreement and lower our fossil fuel usage, lower consumption and reach the CO2 atmospheric targets that the majority of climatologists recommend. 

By taking the emotion out of the climate change argument, and taking a risk management approach, it looks to me that C and D are the best scenarios, and so whatever you believe about climate change lets make these two Low risk scenarios happen. 

So what next?  Here are a few suggestions;
  • Raise awareness in your local community, 
  • have a look at the site for more science facts and join the global campaign on October 24th 2009.
  • Look around you for other things that you can do to lower your carbon footprint, do a bit of research.
  • Have a look for the newly published "Suzuki's Green Guide" by David Suzuki and David R. Boyd.  It is full of great tips and sound information and starts on a high by describing all the great things humans have done so far to take action against climate change.  This is just one book that will help you, and there are many others.
  • The Simple Green Frugal Co-op and their personal blogs are full of low carbon and simple solutions to living a sustainable lifestyle and the low risk scenarios.
Al Gore once said, "changing light bulbs is useful, but it's more important to change laws."  Copenhagen is the law changing event. 

Now for a bit of the emotional stuff.  I am personally convinced of human induced climate change and so is my family.  You just have to read my blog and the climate change posts to understand how firm that belief is.  I am not fanatical, nor confrontational, however I try my best to set an example of how to live a sustainable lifestyle so that others may become inspired and try a few of the things that our family have achieved. 

I have even gone so far as founding the Melton Sustainable Living Group Inc., which is a merry band of eco-warriors who just want to make a difference in our local community.  We have 11 members and many concerned friends who help out with various educational programs for our community, to help spread tips on how to save money by lowering their personal and family carbon footprints.  So far we have had encouraging success since we became a non-profit group in May 2009.  We are taking baby steps, mainly because that is the only way I know how to convince people that living simply and as sustainably as you can will make a difference and if more people went from just being concerned about climate change and started taking personal action, then the groundswell would be gigantic and solving the problem would be a cinch!  Changing laws are a quicker way to achieve these goals, so my hopes lay with the negotiations at Copenhagen.

I am doing my best to adopt the low risk scenarios of C and D.  How about you?  What do you think of my risk based approach to climate change?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Two new writers

by Rhonda Jean

Hello everyone! I'm here today to introduce you to our two new writers - Lynn and Amy. Lynn's personal blog is viggiesveggies and Amy writes hers at Progressive Pioneer Both these women are living well and truly in the spirit of the co-op's values and I am happy to introduce them to you. Lynn's first post here will be this Saturday and Amy will follow up on Monday, 2 November.

While I have this opportunity, I'd like to thank our team of writers here. They write interesting, relevant and thought provoking posts that teach, inspire and motivate. Thank you for your continued work here. And to Sharon, who keeps everyone informed and organised with the roster, thank you Sharon. It's a remarkable team.

Monday, 19 October 2009

From our woods

by Francesca

picking chestnuts

Our little northern Italian village is set in the midst of dense forests, and we’ve always tried to teach our young family to be aware and mindful when they walk through the woods. Not only to appreciate how rich and complex an environment it is, and how important it is to respect it, but also how, if they’re patient and keep their eyes open, they can find any number of natural healthy and free treats.

This summer, in fact, we made a conscious effort to learn together the basics of foraging, trying to pick and gather everything from the woods that we knew was edible (and good!). Among other things, we harvested wild cherries and strawberries (here), elderberries for jam and other Mediterranean berries to eat fresh, including the unusual strawberry-tree berry - which, confusingly, isn’t at all the same thing as a strawberry (here). We’ve also picked and salted capers (here), and have harvested borage (here). And we’re constantly bringing home herbs to use in cooking, like rosemary, sage, oregano, calamint, and laurel (here and here).

chestnuts 2

These days, as the carpet of brown fall leaves grows thicker and thicker on the forest floor, we’ve started gathering another of nature’s gifts. In the silence of the woods, we can hear them fall from the trees and hit the ground with a thump. They’re chestnuts, dropping from the chestnut trees that grow here and there in the woodlands, a sound that means autumn (fall!) in our woods.

chestnut hut

Until about forty years ago, this sound was eagerly awaited hereabouts. Back then, when foods in this remote part of the world were all locally-grown and the farmland on the terraced hillsides was too poor to grow grains, chestnuts were one of the main source of carbohydrates. They were also an economic mainstay, and saved many rural communities from poverty. Our elderly neighbors still remember carefully combing through the autumn woods to gather the chestnuts, then bringing them to one of the stone drying huts that still dot hillsides. After drying the chestnuts over a wood fire, they’d grind some into flour to make pasta, lasagna, polenta, breads; others they'd just cook in milk, creating a simple meal. Chestnuts fed local families for months at a time.


Chestnuts are still a central part of the cuisine in many parts of northern Italy. They’ve also been rediscovered recently by nutritionists for their impressive dietary qualities: they’re primarily made up of complex carbohydrates, they’re gluten-free and high in fiber, and unlike all other nuts, they’re very low in fats (the most comprehensive table I found on chestnut nutrition is in Italian, here).


Nowadays, the most common use of chestnut flour in Italian cuisine is castagnaccio, a very simple sweet flat bread that is fragrant with Mediterranean flavours.


500 grams chestnut flour
pine nuts, a handful
raisins, a handful
olive oil

Mix the chestnut flour and a pinch of salt with enough water to create a liquid batter. Pour it into a pizza pan greased with olive oil. Sprinkle pine nuts, raisins, and a little rosemary over the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes in a hot oven until it forms a crust. (There are many regional variations on the castagnaccio recipe.)


Fresh chestnuts can also be roasted in a special skillet with holes in the bottom (see photo), over a high gas flame. Just make sure to make a cut across the shells before you roast your chestnuts, so the steam can escape, and to peel them while they're still hot, or the shells will stick to the nuts. When we come back from our walks in the chilly autumn woods, roasted chestnuts that we've just gathered make the perfect warming and healthy snack.

Do you find chestnuts in your part of the world? What else do you gather in your local forests and fields?

If you'd like to try chestnuts or chestnut flour, but live in an area where they are not available, here is a US producer (their website has also many, many recipes).

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How To Roast Vegetables Simply

by Melinda Briana Epler
One Green Generation

When I bring my lunch to work, or I tell people what we had for dinner last night, people are often impressed with my roasted vegetables. "How do you do that?" I'm often asked. Yes, I remember before my husband went to cooking school, I had no idea how to roast veggies, and it sounded really difficult!

Well I'm here to tell any of you who don't know how, that it is one of the easiest things to cook when you have a busy schedule like mine. Basically, you do a very small bit of prepping, and then you set it and forget it.

How To Roast Vegetables Simply

The following is Matt's awesome recipe - enjoy!


  • Seasonal Vegetables
  • Cooking Oil (we prefer olive oil)
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400. Matt says, “Set it and forget it, don’t listen to recipes that give different temperatures for everything.”
  2. Chop the vegetables into large pieces (photos above).
  3. Put the vegetables in a large bowl and coat in oil (we prefer olive oil). For the amount of veggies above, we used 2-3 tablespoons. Don’t be afraid of over-oiling - the extra will just pool at the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Toss!
  5. Salt heavily. I throw in a small handful of salt.
  6. Toss!
  7. Pepper the vegetables well, but don’t over do it.
  8. Toss!
  9. Place the vegetables on baking sheet, without over-packing them. The vegetables should lightly touch, but not pile up on top of each other. If you’re roasting a lot of vegetables, put different vegetables on different baking sheets. If you’re roasting vegetables of very different cooking times (eg, potatoes and broccoli) you can put them on different baking sheets and stagger the timing - or just throw it all together like we often do.
  10. Give the veggies a good stir with a metal or wooden spatula about 15-20 minutes in.

Total roasting time is between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on what you're cooking. Taste to see if it's done - you may like it crispier or you may like it just barely soft. (Or if you like them a bit browned, you can switch to broil at the end for some quick extra color.)

That's it! Serve as a snack, as a side dish, or as a main dish over couscous, rice, bulgar wheat, farrow wheat, or some other tasty whole grain.

Variations are plentiful. We often add fresh herbs. For example, rosemary and potatoes go well together, thyme and carrots go well together, sage and cauliflower go well together. You can also try different oils - canola oil has a lighter flavor. A little lemon juice or orange zest gives it a bit of zing. Matt likes to sneak in a few cayenne pepper flakes for a splash of heat.

Veggies That Are Good For Roasting

Our favorites are potatoes, corn, summer squash, winter squash, garlic, peppers (hot and sweet), eggplant, onions, scallions (put them in toward the end), carrots, beets, bulb fennel, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Others we've successfully roasted include tomatoes, string beans (put them in toward the end), lemons, greens (right at the end, put them in for a minute or two), garlic scapes.... We haven't roasted anything we didn't like, so have fun and experiment!

What Do You Like To Roast?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The 50 Things Project

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I don't know where I first heard about the 50 Things project. But I liked the sound of it immediately. The idea is to get rid of stuff, not just your everyday recycling, but things that either have some value to someone else, or are simply taking up space because you haven't found the motivation to get rid of them up till now. It doesn't matter whether you donate it, sell it, give it to a friend, freecycle or craigslist it, repurpose it, or recycle it. Just get rid of fifty things that are serving no purpose in your life. The hardest things (for us anyway) to address are the things we've held onto for sentimental reasons, but which we have, in fact, very few sentiments about.

This seems like a good project to me for several reasons. We have a "junk room" which could really be a useful spare room or guest room if we could only get the stuff in there sorted. That irks me enough that I usually try to pretend that room simply doesn't exist. I'd like it to be otherwise. And I know we have things lying around that we'll probably never use that other people could find value in. If we have less clutter and others have things they can use, it sure seems win-win to me.

I've been mulling this project for a while now, and since the gardening season is just about winding down, the time seems ripe to begin. I thought I'd post here as a jump start for myself and perhaps to motivate some of you to begin 50 Things projects of your own. Some groups of items, such as books, or a group of things I donate to one place, I'm only going to count as one item on the list. See, I really am ambitious!

Here's my first list of just ten things, as a start:

  1. Spare dish drying rack, coffee maker, kitchen items - donated to a battered women's shelter
  2. Old iMac desktop, still functional - looking to donate to a school or charity
  3. Leftover toxic lawn care stuff from our home's previous owner - disposed of via the city's semi-annual hazardous waste collection day
  4. Ceramic butter dish we just don't particularly like or use (but pretty nonetheless) - given to friends
  5. Books - a batch donated to our local library
  6. Books - a collection of old travel guidebooks, recycled
  7. CDs - sold to a used music store
  8. DVDs - sold in a batch (less work that way) on eBay
  9. My childhood stamp collection (not very impressive) - looking for a dealer to evaluate/buy
  10. Miscellaneous junk cleared out of two drawers in my old desk - thrown away
Well, there's the first of what I hope will become five such lists for me. All but two of these have actually left our house already. And it feels good! I sense that it will be more and more difficult to find things to get rid of as this project continues. But I'm up for the challenge, even if it takes me a while.

How about you?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Smoking Chipotle Peppers

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Earlier this year when posting here about my pepper pantry, I mentioned that I would be growing extra jalapenos this summer to replenish my chipotle (che-POAT-lee) supply. I promised I would post instructions for putting together a make-shift smoker, and turning jalapeno peppers into chipotles.

Start with ripe jalapeno peppers, ideally those that have turned completely red. This year, we had a late spring, reasonably cool summer, and snow the first week of October. Only a couple of my jalapeno peppers had just started to turn red when I had to pick everything (the golden ones on the left are habaneros - they too were picked green, but are faster to change color).

No problem. Peppers, like tomatoes, will continue to ripen after they're picked if left unrefrigerated. I let the peppers set out on the counter for a couple of weeks. They can set for quite a while, but try to process jalapenos before the stem starts to separate from the body of the chile. Some peppers with thinner walls will continue to ripen and then dry, but jalapenos are too fleshy - they tend to rot before they'll dry. Smoking them is one way to preserve your jalapenos - canning them as nacho slices, or freezing them whole, sliced, or stuffed with a cream cheese mixture to turn into poppers, or whipping up a batch of jalapeno hot sauce are other options (that link also has a recipe for my habanero-orange hot sauce - my absolute favorite, and why there are also habanero peppers ripening on my counter).

But I digress. We're supposed to be making a smoker to turn jalapenos into chipotles. Commercial smokers, that have been previously used for meat, can give a greasy, and later rancid, taste to the chiles, so it's best to use something just for the chipotles. Unless you're planning on going into the chipotle business, a temporary smoker made from easily acquired items is the way to go. The main thing to remember is that you don't want to cook the jalapenos, but rather let the smoke waft away the moisture in the chiles as it also infuses them with flavor. The best way to do that is to make a separate firebox, and then connect it to your smoking box with a piece of pipe. Of course, the firebox portion has to be able to withstand fire, so I've used some cinder blocks and a piece of steel pipe. I used some crumpled foil to fill in the areas between round pipe and square blocks, but it doesn't have to be perfectly airtight. The smoker section, on the other hand, only has to hold the chiles suspended in the smoke while it acts as an offset chimney, so a cardboard box works fine. In the past, I've found taller boxes (that held a windshield, or a washer) but this year I just picked up a couple of smaller ones. They were two different diameters though, and instead of trying to fit them together, I found a piece of roof vent flashing, set that on the bigger box, then the smaller box, and taped the flaps of the bottom box to the upper box, just in case the wind came up (and notice that there are bricks holding down the flaps of the bottom box for the same reason). For a more primitive option, depending on your soil type, you could dig a firepit and smoke trench, covering both with metal or even rocks, and then add your cardboard smoke box.

Next, you need some way to suspend the peppers in the rising smoke. A pan poked full of holes could work, but isn't ideal - the peppers would tend to steam in their juices more than dry. In the past, I've strung the peppers on lengths of string, and hung that draped across dowels poked through the box. That's not too bad, depending on how you want to use your chipotles. If you're just dropping them whole into a pot of soup, it's ok, but if you're planning on grinding some into powder or making some in adobo sauce the string can be difficult to deal with. A wire basket or a rack that won't allow the chiles to drop through is best. I bent a piece of hardware cloth into a tray, supporting it with the (cut-down) cardboard divider inside the box plus a couple pieces of coat hangers stuck through either end of the box.

The best woods to use for smoking the chiles are from fruits or nut trees. If that's not possible, hardwoods are the next best. You just don't want to use pine, mesquite, or other resinous woods. I lost a nectarine tree to borers this year, and always save the prunings from my fruit trees, so I had a nice supply of smoking wood. The night before, I soaked half the wood pieces so they'd burn slower and cooler. Be aware that once you start up with the smoke, you will be perfuming your entire neighborhood. But smoking chiles smell like food, not smoldering leaves, so the neighbors just might drop by with their mouths watering to see what's going on.

It's always best to be prepared when playing with fire, so I pulled the hose over, on at the faucet and closed off with a twist valve. Aries also brought the fire extinguisher out of the garage, just in case. I started a small fire in my firebox, and while I waited for it to get going, I pulled the stems off the jalapenos and loaded up the basket. I used all my red ones, those partially changed, and then some of the green ones with white corking (very desirable in chipotles - don't ask me why).

Once I had a nice little bed of hot coals in the firebox, I added a couple handfuls of soaked wood and then put a piece of metal over the top, held down with a couple smaller bricks. I sat out to watch for a while, just to make sure everything was holding together ok. Every hour or two, I'd add more wood, and turned the chiles a couple of times.

Low and slow is the way to go with chipotles - both for the best flavor and to ensure ones that will last in storage. It's better to stretch it out over a couple of days than to try and hurry up the process with more heat. Let the fire burn out overnight, and start it up again the next day. I smoked my chiles all day, but rain was forecast for tomorrow. I just pulled the cardboard boxes away from the pipe and set them in the garage for the next day and a half. The photo above is after another afternoon of smoking, and I have them going again this afternoon. If you're in a hurry, the jalapenos will dry faster if cut in half and seeds removed. You can also dry them in a dehydrator or your oven until wrinkled but not stiff, and then smoke them (doing it in reverse will also work, but your house will smell like smoke for days). Finished chipotles are hard, lightweight, and dark brown in color. Ones that are still leathery won't store as long. Once the chipotles are dried, store them in jars with a rubbery seal or in an airtight plastic bag.

To use, drop one into a pot of beans or soup, and remove after cooking (or dice the rehydrated chile and stir bits into the pot to taste). They add a rich, smokey, bit of heat. If you want to grind them into powder, they might need to be dried further, until they can be broken in half. I use lots of mine to make a big batch of enchilada sauce (pressure-canned) every couple of years. Or make up a batch of chipotles in adobo sauce, rehydrated chipotles pickled in a tomato-based sauce.