Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Tube, The Box, The Telly, Oh My

By Frugal Trenches

Yesterday I wrote a post on my own personal blog about my current television fast! A brief explanation is I've not had a television for two weeks now and it will be at least January if not longer before I make the decision whether to own a television once again. On my current laptop it is not possible to watch TV either, so this is a real television fast, so to speak. I know there have been some other great posts here about background noise, but I thought I'd share my experience and hopefully gain some insight from you too!

I have to say that I never really thought about my TV consumption. I love to read, I am mad about good quality radio listening (in the UK it is BBC4, when in Canada it is CBC and NPR in the US is pretty good too). I volunteer two evenings a week, usually meet up with friends or family another two evenings a week, have a policy never to record anything I miss and while I do enjoy TV either as a bit of background fluff, to learn a new skill (I'm a bit obsessive about some British cooking shows) or for a good piece of news, I never really thought about my television consumption!

A few of my readers emailed me to say they were shocked that I admitted that I was a TV watcher which made me wonder whether my watching of TV (probably 7 hrs a week admittedly I knit through most of that) went against my simple, green, frugal lifestyle? On the one hand it would be easy to say it does, there is a lot of junk and consumer advertising on television, but I am selective about what I watch and mostly watch channels with no adds. I enjoy my BBC cooking program on Saturday morning and a good period drama on Sunday evenings. I enjoy a finance program and news mid-week and I admit the old me used to enjoy a tad more than that.

So I thought I'd bring the question to the very educated, analytical and purposeful readers found on this blog. If you are trying to live a simple, green and frugal life, can you own and enjoy television? Have you ever stopped watching and found you gained something from that experience? Can you be selective with TV watching and actually gain something from the experience?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Learning to Make Cheese from the "Queen"

by Badhuman

the finished ball of mozzarella, originally uploaded by cafemama.

Generally speaking J. and I try to live a frugal life but we also believe in spending time and money on learning useful skills. So it was with great pleasure that we set aside a weekend to go up to Massachusetts and learn to make cheese from the self-professed Queen.

I first heard about Ricki Carroll in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" where the author talks about making mozzarella from one of Ricki's kits. Shortly thereafter my husband bought a kit and we had our own at home mozzarella experience. At the time we were living in Colorado and couldn't afford to fly all the way to New England for a six hour class but once we moved to Pennsylvania we immediately signed up. She only offers classes half the year and those fill up quickly so we ended up in the very last class of the year!

The day was jammed packed with far more information then anyone can be expected to learn and retain in a day so your class fee includes a DVD and a couple booklets of recipes for you to take home. Over the course of the day you will get to taste a dozen or so different cheeses and yoghurts and they are all good. You will get to do some hands on work but I honestly think this could be cut out entirely. When Ricki started these classes they were geared towards individuals intending to become cheesemakers. The class size was capped at six individuals and I imagine there was a lot of hands on activities and individual attention. Now the classes are filled with people hoping to make some simple cheeses in their kitchens with store bought milk. There are also a lot more attendees- almost 50! We were crammed on an enclosed sun porch with ten people each crowded around folding tables in metal folding chairs. By the end of the day my butt was sore from the hard metal but I will say I didn't notice it during the class when I was too distracted with everything going on.

I did have a lot fun and I did consider it well worth the $150 per person that we spent but there are some things to keep in mind. First off I wouldn't go to the last class if you can avoid it. Ricki and her husband were in a good spirits but you could tell (and they admitted) that six months of classes virtually every weekend had taken its toll. Trying to teach 50 people and allow them to do hands on activities is not easy. As soon as Ricki gave us a set of instructions everyone wanted to leap into action and not let her finish. And when she needed our attention back it always took awhile for everyone to settle down. Personally I think you could take the hands on portion out entirely. I know people like to touch and see and do but the cheese we made at our tables was one that has to cure so it wasn't like we could eat it at the end of class and because we weren't paying strict attention to the temperature it wasn't even edible.

The pace of the class is quick and its easy to lose track of what cheese you are tasting when there are three floating around the table simultaneously. I suggest taking notes on the booklets you are given. The instructions in the class will not always match the book because Ricki continues to adapt her recipes. You will want clear notes on what has changed and if you don't write them right beside the correct recipe it's easy to get confused. Don't get too stressed out about this though, they offer lots of assistance on their website and through email.

You get a 10% discount on purchases the day of the class (I don't remember being told this before attending the class). So if you plan on buying supplies look at their catalog and try to figure out what you want before the class day. Otherwise you will end up trying to figure out what you want during or immediately following class along with 30 other people.

If you are even remotely bothered by dairy or cheese you are probably going to upset your stomach. You are eating a lot of cheese in a small amount of time so take small portions.

Lunch is included and they had a nice variety of cheese (not surprising!), vegetables and protein. And though I admit being skeptical that there would be enough to feed everyone there was in fact plenty of food.

You can bring a camera and take photos but you probably won't think of it during class when you are to busy listening to Ricki. I would suggest leaving the camera in the car. Like I said the class room is small and you are moving around so there really isn't a convenient place around the table to store your stuff.

I would recommend the class to anyone interested in making cheese for fun. The class is incredibly informative, Ricki is a great teacher, and the class is a lot of fun!

Has anyone else taken a class like this? What did you think?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Green Transportation

written by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin.

I don't know if this subject has ever been covered at the Co-op, so I thought that I would list a few methods that I know to help you get around in the greenest way possible in order of lowest to highest emissions produced;

1.  Walking or Aka Shanks' Pony - The most obvious method of green transport but probably the least used in western society.  I say this purely based on observations of my surroundings, because I see so few people walk in the suburbs (more on that later).  I have even seen people who live only 500 metres from the corner shop get in their car and drive there and back.  I could leave home on foot and still beat them there!  This oddity of human nature to take the easy way out is a contributing factor to the increase in medically diagnosed obesity rates.  Certainly another reason to get out there and walk, not only for exercise and to live longer, but to lower your greenhouse gas emissions.  I have read somewhere that we should all walk at least 10,000 steps a day to remain healthy in body and mind, and as it is the greenest form of transport known to mankind, I am all for walking to get from A to B.  Sure, there are GHG emissions created when we add fuel in the form of food and water into our bodies, however this is a lot lower than all other transportation methods.  So if your journey is only a few kilometres, then consider walking to your destination.  Not much fossil fuel burnt in the process and it is very cheap as well.

2.  Cycling - It has been said that the bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation ever invented by our species.  You can travel further by bike than you can by walking using the same amount of energy.  Not only that, you can carry heavier loads than when walking.  If you need to transport more items than you could normally carry in a backpack, then I suggest fitting saddle bags on your bike, which help balance the load.  For even bigger items, you can fit a small trailer to tow behind your bike.  It is quite amazing what you can add to your bike these days.  The embedded energy that your bike contains is quite low considering that the average bicycle will probably last a few decades with a bit of tender loving care.  Easier to fix than a car, and much cheaper to run as well.  So for that quick trip to the farmers market, consider taking your bike.  Some cities even let you take your bike on public transport so you ride to the station and then on to your destination at the other end of your journey!  A few cities even have a bicycle sharing scheme.  I believe the one in Paris is very popular.

3.  Animals - Now I realise that this is a bit out there and not everyone has room for a horse, camel, oxen or donkey, but look at it this way.  No embodied energy concerns, they are a very personal means of transport, mostly friendly, and you only have to feed it and have enough land to house the beast.  It has been a long time since I rode a horse, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun.  Who knows what may happen in the future as the age of cheap oil comes to a close.  We may have to rethink how we get around.  I can see one of the benefit for avid gardeners in the form of lots of manure!  The only drawback is the current use of fossil fuels in growing sufficient amounts of feed stock for the transport animals and therefore GHG emissions are produced.

4.  Public Transportation - If your town or city has an accessible and reliable public transport system, then consider this option next time you need to travel further than you would normally on a bike.  Not only is it much cheaper than the average running costs of maintaining a car i.e. fuel, insurance, registration, drivers license etc., it is better for the environment due to the lower emissions per passenger-kilometre.  The following graph is presented from the Public Transport Users Association (2008) and includes emissions from public transport in Victoria, where I live.

Transport mode
Energy use
(MJ per
(g CO2-e per
Petrol Car
Ethanol (E10) Car
Electric Tram
Diesel Bus
Ethanol (E10) Bus
Natural Gas Bus
Electric Train
Diesel Train (V/Line
250cc Motorcycle
1000cc Motorcycle

(It is assumed that the factors identified for Victoria will be similar to that of other states.  This is because the electricity factor for trains and trams in Victoria, Australia is similar to that of most other states and fuel use from buses should not vary much at all.)

So, a very good comparison regarding emissions from different types of public transportation mode and much greener than your average car and motorbike. Trams, Buses and Trains win hands down for green modes of transport per passenger-kilometre.  The more people you can pack into a vehicle and the more fuel efficient it is, the lower the MJ per passenger-kilometre.  It makes sense really!

5.  The motor car - If you must drive, and most of us do, think about the way you drive.  Fast acceleration burns more fuel, as does travelling above 100 km/h (60mph).  I remember reading that the main reason that the speed limit was dropped to 55mph in the US during the 1970's was to save fuel during the oil embargo.  For more ways to save fuel and therefore GHG emissions have a look at this previous Co-op post titled "Hybrid miles from the car you already own".  If you are in the market for a new car, take into consideration the fuel economy of each vehicle.  The less fuel you use, the less emissions (and smog) you are pushing out the exhaust pipe.  Hybrid and Electric cars are hitting the market with increased regularity.

6.  Air travel.  Well, suffice to say, one short haul trip can wipe out all of your emission reduction savings for an entire year.  Even though aviation is a relatively small industry, it has a disproportionately large carbon footprint.  It is estimated that it presently accounts for 4-9% of total global CO2-e man made emissions.  Compared to other modes of transport, such as driving or taking the train, travelling by air has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances.  So, I choose not to fly at all.  I do not condone air travel completely, but if you do need to travel by this method, consider offsetting your carbon emission for your flight with a reputable carbon offset provider.

In conclusion, throughout the western world, many parts of our newer cities are designed specifically for the motor car, without taking into consideration other forms of greener modes of transport.  Take the suburbs for instance.  A good many suburbs lack easily accessible public transportation systems with many light rail systems being ripped at the start of the 20th century, to make way for the car.  You are now forced by design to travel any distance by car, which again will not bode well with the age of cheap oil well and truly over.  To really reduce emissions in our transportation, either public transport will have to be retrofitted, or the suburbs will need a makeover, big time.  Air travel will also have to become cleaner and produce less emissions if we are to continue to travel long distances quickly.  Things will need to change sooner rather than later, if we are to reduce global emissions with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change.  Read about what I think may happen if we do act in time at my post titled "Path towards Zero Carbon"

So, do yourself, your children, grandchildren and future generations to come a favour by choosing your method of getting around this big blue marble in a more environmentally friendly way.  Please.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Extra-virgin olive oil: Why pay more

by Francesca


Our neighbor, an elderly farmer, speaks lovingly about the olive oil he makes from his trees. He likes to call it “a fresh-squeezed fruit juice,” because it’s the only vegetable oil that comes from a fruit, and not from a seed or a nut. This fresh-squeezed fruit juice has been a key ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet since the late Bronze Age.

Olive oil contains a remarkable range of nutrients and has many healthful properties. In fact, recent medical research has shown it to be beneficial against conditions ranging from coronary heart disease to Alzheimers to colon cancer. But only one kind of olive oil has these characteristics: extra-virgin olive oil, the highest grade, which is made from fresh, healthy fruit that’s been expertly harvested, pressed, extracted and bottled.

picked olives

Harvesting olives is a lengthy and labor-intensive job that in our part of Italy begins this time of year, in the cold days of late November and December. Although there are mechanical ways to pick olives, much of the work is by hand, and it’s hard. To produce one liter of oil you need over 5 kilos of olives, sometimes more. Olives must be picked when they reach just the right level of ripeness, and milled within hours, before the olives start to decompose.

With all this labor to pay for, making extra-virgin olive oil is pricey. Even in an oil-producing region like ours, a bottle of extra-virgin bought in a store can’t cost less than about €10 ($14).

olive nets
olives on nets

In fact, lots of olive oil is sold in stores at half that price, or less. Most of it is labeled “olive oil.” This is an inferior grade to extra-virgin, made from over-ripe olives that have fallen from the trees and collected in nets on the ground, where they’ve started to decompose. The oil extracted from these olives can’t legally be sold as food, only as fuel (it’s called lampante, or “lamp-oil”). So it’s taken to a refinery, where it’s industrially treated, then mixed with a dash of extra-virgin olive oil, and sold as “olive oil”.

Then there’s “pomace olive oil,” which, despite its name, isn’t olive oil at all. It's extracted with solvents from the crushed olive pits, skins and flesh left over from the milling process. Not only does it have almost none of extra-virgin oil’s health benefits, but it also often contains toxic substances. It’s to be avoided at all costs!

You should definitely pay a little more for extra-virgin olive oil: in olive oil, even more than in most other foods, you get what you pay for. (You can read a more detailed discussion of olive oil production, trade and fraud here.)


We live in a prime olive growing area, and my family is the proud owner of an olive grove consisting of … well, only one olive tree! We’ve been putting off the idea of an olive grove until we have our own land. But we’re lucky enough to know the best local producers, and we buy our extra-virgin olive oil, made from the local Taggiasca variety, which has a delicate fruity taste, directly from them – buying from a known source is the best way to make sure you’re getting quality oil. Also, as part of our efforts to forage whatever we can eat from the wild (like the chestnuts I posted about earlier), each November we head out to pick some olives from the old, overgrown, abandoned olive trees that grow on hillsides around our house. I put them in brine for several months to cure them. Meantime, we dream of the day when we’ll produce our own extra-virgin olive oil.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Setting Goals

by Lynn of Viggie's Veggies

One thing I know already about urban homesteading is that there is a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. All too often while reading a book, browsing a forum, catching up on my blogroll, or chatting with one of my homesteading friends I hear of some new project idea or skill to learn. It can be a bit overwhelming.

What I decided to do was use the site 43things. When I hear something I think I could benefit from doing, I just add it to my goal list. Some are small like learning to cook with cast iron, some are for expanding my urban homestead like raising angora rabbits, and some are personal challenges like daily exercise. I've come up with some great ideas by browsing other peoples lists, and would have never learned about and implemented some of the flylady routines to stay clean and organized had it not been for the site.

sprouting again :)

The pictures are of two of my current projects, giving sprouting a try again for fresh greens during the winter and learning to make tortillas. I had forgotten all about both useful ideas until I saw them on my list this fall. I've accomplished a lot of my goals using this site during the last 2 years.With it I can list and prioritize, make entries to track my progress, and start planning my budget to allow for anything I may need to complete the next goal (cast iron pans!).

bean and cheese quesadillas

I like using the site for a lot of reasons. It helps me stay organized and keeps all of these diverse goals visible. There's also a social aspect that allows you to network with people with the same interests and cheer on others pursuing their goals.

How ever you decide to plan your future, I hope it motivates you to strive for knowledge and personal growth the way mine has.