Archive for the 'food' Category

March of Time

Hello!  I have been selfish with my time lately, and away from here too often.  Perhaps I have been living alone too long, and my communication skills have deteriorated past the point of blogging.  I’m only taking one easy class this semester, my graduate school applications are all in (I’ll hear back anytime between now and early April), and work is busy, but not that busy.  It’s really just the selfish-about-my-time-thing.  Since I have so much of it back after the stress of last semester, I’m piddling it away on silly things for the sheer joy of having it to waste.

But, I am a month overdue on whatever challenge I was working on, and I’ll have some big life changes soon (this blog possibly won’t be partly Alexandria-related for much longer), and I do like the blogging life, and it has been a nice round two and a half years since I started this, so I have some nostalgia and plans and a few general thoughts to work through.  So!  Onward!

The January Challenge:  Eat all my food.  This was mostly a success.  I learned lots, anyway, like how I should just never, ever, ever buy milk.  No matter how small the carton, it’s not going to be drunk.  I’ve gotten the hang of finishing large bags of greenery, and looking in my fridge and pantry to finish fresh fruit and veggies before I just have cheese and crackers for dinner.  It’s been a good practice to integrate with trying to spend less on food, eat healthier, and prepare more meals for myself.  Not “cook” mind you, just “prepare meals”.

I’ve documented what I learned by creating a chart of “Foods I Eat” and listing foods that I can trust myself to finish all of.  This is helping me edit my grocery lists. For instance, buying avocados and peppers and apples are good, useful choices, but I shouldn’t buy potatoes or onions without a pressing reason, since I’ll probably forget to use them in time.

Forget a February challenge with the snow and such, my challenge was not going insane all alone in my apartment, and that pretty much worked except for a few days in the middle of the snowpocalypse week that were touch-and-go.

March is halfway over, and the challenge for the rest of the month is posting regularly.  Regularly will be defined as posting every other day at least.  This blog keeps me honest about my attempts to live more sustainably, and when I ignore it, my resolve slips.

As for the nostalgia part:  I’ve been writing this blog for two and a half years, during which time I’ve moved thrice (soon to be, er, fource?), switched jobs, begun a career change, and ended a relationship.  The blog is not responsible for all of that, but it helped me organize some thoughts on the career switch.  Following the Eco City Alexandria project got me thinking about planning more seriously.  This blog has changed the way I eat.  I’ve cut meat out almost entirely (though if I am a guest I eat what’s prepared for me, since my vegetarianism is not anyone else’s problem).  (And also sometimes I just want to eat a lamb.)  But I can go weeks happily avoiding meat, and this was inconceivable for me just a year ago.  I’m eating healthier because of it- just paying attention to what I eat causes me to consume more vegetables, which is a thing.

Typing through my environmental worries has also made me much more comfortable about setting my personal goals and boundaries.  There’s still plenty I need to work on- my relationship with water, some of the trash I create, my transportation methods- but I know now what’s easy for me to change, and I’ve changed most of that.  I don’t get a sense of paralyzing environmental guilt in grocery stores anymore when I see plastic packaging.  I’m happy trading off warmer, longer showers in winter for turning the heat lower.  I’m comfortable with my failures at gardening and composting- though I’m ready to try again, with time and hopefully help.  Also charts.

This comfort with my efforts and failures also leads me into ruts, yes, but I can work out of those.  By blogging more.  Starting now.

Valentine’s Day Wine Tasting

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Call your grandmother.

To help you pick a bottle to celebrate your loved ones today, I had a wine tasting this weekend.  Experimental Setup:  About a dozen people, five bottles of wine (to taste- there were some warm-ups), in my apartment, with a wine aroma guide to help us narrow down the smells and tastes.   I’ve managed to find most of the tasting notes my wonderful tasters left behind, and I’ve compiled them (at least the printable ones- descriptions got a bit creative) for you.

These were the wines.  Four of them are made from organic grapes, and the Bus Stop White is certified Fair Trade.  I got the Bonterra Syrah and Orleans Hill Cote Zero (no idea what grape combo that is- bottle has no clues) at the Harris Teeter near Foxchase.  They had a decent selection of organic wine, but hidden in with the normal wines, so you have to hunt.  The Vida Organica and Fairhills came from Whole Foods in Old Town.  The Badger Mountain is from a Trader Joe’s.  None of the bottles cost more than $16, and most were under $10.

In the order we tasted, then:

FairHills Bus Stop White, 2009.  Fair Trade Certified.  Like “getting punched in the face by a grapefruit”.  Lots of citrus fruits, and some people mentioned notes of grass and haystraw.  Best for sipping on a warmer day on a sunnier porch.  I can never think of anything to pair these citrusy whites with myself, but one taster suggested food in cream sauces.

Badger Mountain Chardonnay, 2008.  Organic Vineyard. Smelled of “crazybutter” (yes one word) with some sort of nut undertones (someone said cashews, but I’m pretty sure they were joking).  Nice creamy finish on the taste.  I think drinking it with a meal would pull out some other nice flavors, and it would pair well with spicy foods.

A note on the reds:  I should have let them breathe more.  All three were strong and spicy, and a few minutes of air or decanting would have mellowed them and brought out more flavors.  Note-taking had also, totally understandably, lost its novelty by this point in the evening.

Orleans Hill Cote Zero, 2008.  Organic.  Smelled strongly of alcohol, with various bits of cloves, pepper, tobacco, and raspberries (“like eating a cigarette while snorting a raspberry”).  Would go pretty well with a pizza or other garlic-y tomato-y things.

Bonterra Syrah, 2005.  Organically grown grapes.  We got lots of prunes, raisins, plums, and a bit of pepper here.  The finish was dry.  Seemed like a serious red for a meal of meats.

Vida Organica Malbec, 2009.  Organic grapes.  This is one of my favorites, but it divided the tasting community (at least the ones still paying attention).  Several of us who tend to like malbecs liked it, and others found it completely unappetizing.  More time to breathe would have helped, but we smelled lots of alcohol initially, and some noted green tea taste on the ending- a little dryness.  After plenty of swirling, the raspberry and other dark berry flavors came out, plus the spice on the finish.  The pro-malbec contingent advises you to pair it with anything delicious, since we remember it being really great, but we weren’t really getting very specific at that juncture.

Voila.  Hope it helps!  Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Update: Compressed Goals

It sure is.  And I haven’t filled you in on how my November goal went- the staying warm one?  Or told you my December goal.  I decided it must have been “sustainable holidays” since that seems likely, and because it’s still Christmas time for me- my family was in so many places this year that we still haven’t all gotten together for food and presents.  I get Christmas until Sunday at least.  Plus I posted on holiday stuff a couple times, so that will have to count.

The “staying warm” goal is working a little.  My apartment has very poor heat distribution- the bedrooms get no heat, and have nice huge poorly-sealed windows, so they’re about 15 degrees colder than the rest of the house.  I’ve been keeping a space heater on when I have to be in them, and the covers on my bed are a foot thick, and it’s getting better.  I’m wearing a lot of sweaters to bed.  Keeping the heat at 63 when I’m home (50 or 55 otherwise) and layering worked all through November and most of December.  This apartment loses so much through the windows that in this especially cold snap, I’ve turned it up to about 68 when I’m home, just to make it feel more like 63.

So, my toes have not fallen off (though there have been evenings where I would not have felt it if they had) and trying to stay warm is a lot easier than trying to cool off was last summer.

And December!  Holidays!  Here is a link to how to make origami boxes (scroll down).  Use your 2009 calendars pictures or something similarly classy.  Or tie up presents in fabric– easy, reusable, no bits of tape sticking to you afterward.  This is good info for me, I still have Christmas to do, but you can save it for other gifts (there are plenty of people with January birthdays that sneak up on you because it’s January, aren’t there?) or next year.

That takes care of 2009, then.  I thought of a new goal for the month (not to be confused with a resolution).  I will be working on not wasting food.  I throw away so many half-bags of gross spinach and moldy bread-ends and congealed milk, and I should not waste food or money that way.  I will clean out my fridge and start fresh, and consume.  I began this Monday.  I got a smaller bag of spinach than normal, and I have eaten from it every day.  On day one, I had a bowl of raw plain spinach- all my salad dressings have gone bad.  I didn’t know salad dressings went bad.  This led to a humbling realization of just how terrible I am to have in control of a kitchen.  But now I have some balsamic vinaigrette, so it’s not so hard to eat spinach.  I’ve had salads, a spinach and cheese wrap, a spinach and cheese sandwich…I still have more spinach left.  Those bags are deceptively full, but I think I can finish it this weekend.   On the upside, finishing the one (of three, urp) jug of uncurdled milk with require me to have a lot of hot chocolate in the next three days, so that will balance all the spinach.

In conclusion, Happy New Year!  Hope yours is starting out well.  Mine is starting out…leafy.

Tidbits

To tide you over ’til Thanksgiving.

Read up on how Italy already has a headstart on their Smartgrid.  Yeah, the same country that can’t take out the garbage.  They’re already saving millions though.  So much to ponder in this situation.

The Economist’s green.view advises fat cat money grubbing sell their own mother if they can get enough leverage bankers redeem their image by investing in rainforests.  So the next foreclosure crisis we’ll have pythons and pirahna defaulting on their mortgages?  Think it through, Economist.

Know how Alexandria’s wastewater plant is on Glebe?  This article is from NYC, but it applies here too:  when we get too much rain for the system to handle, we dump untreated sewage and other runoff into the Potomac.  As if two days of dreary damp weren’t bad enough- as if realizing I need to replace my windshield wipers on the Beltway in traffic wasn’t bad enough- this is plenty bad.

BBC reports on US research correlating conflict in Africa with climate.  Controlling for other factors like governance and population, conflict in the region escalates as temperature goes up.  This has a lot to do with food supplies, as well.  I’d like to see similar research for different regions of the world.

And check this by your local foodbank, but a reporter for the NYT suggests that you reconsider your volunteer  meal-serving plans this holiday season and do something more helpful for them instead.  If you’re stumped, donating some more perishables can’t hurt.

I’ll be back to give Thanks before the holiday, but until then, safe travels!

Review: Tackle Box, With a Side of Overdue Research

The Wednesday before last I had dinner at the Tackle Box with a visiting Uncle.  Technically a first cousin once-removed by marriage, but let’s leave it at uncle.  He emailed a few days in advance requesting good seafood, and I found out about them through WaPo’s restaurant guide- best-reviewed not-gaspingly-expensive seafood restaurant in DC.

Perspective:  I don’t like fish.  Well, live ones that I have to look at or let be anywhere near me.  Fish are ugly and slimy and might bite me.  In theory, I’m ok with living fish far away from me.   I’m usually happy if they’re fried in chunks without visible fish-resembling portions.  And I just finished reading Taras Grescoe’s Bottomfeeder before I left for NZ, which describes plenty of the incredibly destructive and disgusting ways most seafood is raised and harvested around the world.  More on this later.  In conclusion, eating seafood was daunting before, and now I find it possibly revolting.

Still, I happen to like this Uncle, so seafood it was.  Luckily, the Tackle Box (a less ritzy version of it’s big-sister restaurant Hook) has a big old section of their website devoted to their sustainable fishing practices, with earnest promises that they source local and smaller fishing operations and change their menu based on availability, etc.

I don’t know of any way to make sure it’s true.  That’s one intimidating thing about seafood- oversight from the fisherman to the table is more often than not lax, and fish are often labelled incorrectly.  But their website does sound earnest, and a little googling doesn’t reveal any scandals.  So, tentative trust, Tackle Box?

I had the bluefish with the sweet potato fries and asparagus.  I enjoyed the asparagus- crisp enough, well flavored, and the sweet potato fries could have been less oily, but were pretty good anyway.  Bluefish tasted fine, had some pleasing darker portions of meat.  Again I have no real fish experience with anything but fried slabs of the stuff, so don’t rely on my palate.  Uncle seemed to like it.

Afterwards (tonight), I looked up the species to see about overfishing issues.  I started at Wikipedia, but that was silly of me:  if you want to know more about fish that are safe and sustainable for your eating pleasure, go straight to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site.  They keep close tabs on this stuff, and they say Bluefish are a “Good Alternative” in their rating system- though they are overfished in the Atlantic and they contain lots of toxins, beign at the higher end of the food chain.  Whoops.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates fish choices as Best Choice, Good Alternative, or Avoid- and you can print out their pocket guides here or check out their website on your fancy internet phones.  A better choice at the Tackle Box would have been the tilapia- if it was farmed in the US.  Or the trout, if it were US-farmed Rainbow Trout and not so much the wild-caught lake trout.  The staff seemed very nice and informed- go ahead and ask them.

The more you know, hunh?  I’m printing out a guide for the next time Uncle comes into town.

Progress: Mmm-Hmmm, Now Changes

Hey there!  I’ve missed you guys!  I realize that that’s my fault for not posting, but be assured I missed you while I was avoiding you.  So after that vacation to New Zealand, I was useless with jet-lag for a few days, then the sniffle I brought back got worse for a few days (no, not swine flu, got it checked out, but I did get prescribed this amazing cough syrup for whatever it was), and then I got inspired for a few days, and now it’s now.  More on that later.  First my July goal.

In July, that sunny month of my birth, I had pledged to travel sustainably.  And I think I did a very good job.  Bought local, stayed local, ate local, considered the sources of things, etc.  Usual behaviour, only over there, not here.  And with souvenirs.  I will be posting on some the places I stayed- all of which have excellent green practices and were run by locals.  I’ll be posting on some of the environmental issues I noticed there- fishing (obliquely related, with a book review) and pest control (I think you’ll like that one!  It comes with taxidermy photos!).  And the food I can summarize here- I ate a) well, b) meat, and c) more vegetarian than I expected.

As you have gathered, my attempts at being vegetarian- even for a little- have been largely halfhearted and begrudging.  The first meat I had after the pre-trip veg was Air New Zealand plane food.  Not terrible, and if you forget how it looked, pretty good,  and served with free wine (refills available), so rock on, ANZ.  But ordering meat again in restaurants was strange.  It felt wrong.  Wrong and freeing, but still wrong.  One nice thing about meat in New Zealand is that it’s probably locally produced- a lot of cows and sheep and plenty of seas about, and your dinner doesn’t have far to travel.  They also have deer farms too- tried the venison a lovely terrine in a pub opposite Parliament.  It was very easy to stick to local restaurants.  But transportation isn’t the biggest sustainability issue with livestock, so that’s a small consolation.

I did my time on the North Island (Auckland, Napier, and Wellington) traveling alone and thus entirely according to my own whims, but in the South Island I was hosted by the dashing D, who has vegetarian proclivities of his own.  His excellent cooking and general good behaviour about picking restaurants with tofu on our road trip inspired me to try harder myself- buddy system.  We still ate meat (oh dear I do love lamb) on several occasions.

Coming home, though, I haven’t had meat since the last ANZ meal- lamb and oh that wine- and I feel good about that. I noticed my digestive system is happier without all the meat, too, especially the red stuff.  In-teresting.  But whether it’s just too hot out to eat anything ‘real’ or I’ve actually unfurled a new petal, I’m getting my kicks from lots of fruit and vegetables (and cornbread) these days.  Even making plans to get a blender and crock pot (craigslist!) to aid me in my attempts to prepare fruits and vegetables in new and exciting ways.  This is an unexpected and pleasing development.

Alright, that’s the goal summary, now the changes:  I’m not making new resolutions for August.  Or probably for a while after August.  I’m going to keep on posting about all the other things I’m trying (there will be compost changes shortly, for instance) but I won’t add things.  I am beginning the process of applying to graduate schools of urban or city planning for next fall, starting last weekend- and with that on top of the real job, studying for an exam that’s real job related, and architecture classes beginning in three weeks, I should not have the time to make any big new changes around here.  If I do, someone please tell me to get back to my homework.  I am very excited about all of this (ok not the job exam, but I am excited about passing that as a revenge for all the boring stuff I have to learn for it), and I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going.  So far I’ve got specialties of interest identified, a list of schools to apply to, a list of deal-breakers, and I’m starting the asking-other-people-who-actually-know-planning about it.  Not bad for three days, think I’ll take a month off.  Ha ha!  Ha.

Busy fall.  I planned it that way.  But I’ll be back, and soon, and you will see some opossum taxidermy the likes of which you have probably not imagined.  At least I hope so.

Recipe: Apple and Onion Pierogies

I used frozen pierogies, but if you know how to make your own, please do!  Then tell me how.  They’re pasta shells stuffed with potatoes and sometimes onions or cheese- tasty eastern european ravioli, basically.

Ingredients:

Pierogies

An onion

1.5 or 2 apples

If your pierogies are frozen, boil them until they float then transfer them to a big frying pan.  If they’re fresh, congratulations, now cook them until they’re almost done, then stick them in the frying pan.  Chop up the apples and onions to roughly similar size.  Dump them in the frying pan with the pierogies, add a little olive oil (or your favorite cooking oil) to the pan to lubricate things, then turn it on medium heat, toss the ingredients so the oil distributes evenly, and let it fry a bit. toss every 30s or so again, to let the pierogies brown, but not too much.  You’re done when the peirogies are looking pretty good to you.

Eyeball the amounts of onions and apples you put in with the pierogies.  I used big thin slices of both, which I think added a lot to the flavor and texture.

Enjoy!

Progress: It’s Been A While

Hey there!  I moved.  It took a while, because there was also a wedding and a class project in there too.  But the composter is humming away on my new balcony, my herbs are sitting in the window of my new kitchen, and I’ve got my very own separate gas and electricity bills are coming in, so pretty soon I can follow EcoCheap’s excellent example, and switch to wind power!

So, good start- I’ll post photos of the seedlings, which I expect any minute now.  I have checked three times in the past day- nothing yet.

Oh, also!  Biking to work?  I can, as soon as I mentally prepare myself to carry the bike down two flights every morning, then up the same stairs each night.  I’ll be in the weight room tomorrow morning, working on that part.  I imagine this will build me more character than muscle, really.

But the eating-my vegetables thing has been going really well.  I cooked a big vegetarian meal for the folks who came by to help me move- cheaper than pizza.  After the move, I’ve been living off of, well, cheese and crackers, but I’ve cooked two or three other big meals too.  I’ll post the recipe for my most recent tomorrow- pierogies with onions and apples.  Actually, that pretty much is the recipe, but I’ll flesh it out a bit for you, I guess.

The most important thing is, I haven’t purchased meat in a couple weeks.  And I still eat it when I eat out, and when other people cook, but I’m not missing it in my own food prep.  You can thank me later, environment!  Just make my plants grow.

New goals:  definitely gardening, this month.  I might also start harassing my apartment complex to working on the truly pitiful recycling options here.  They have three normal garbage bins for the hundreds of people who live in this complex, and they’re hidden in the back.  Now, I’d like them to fix a few things in my apartment before I get annoying, but maybe I can convince them to at least get recycling depositories in each building, or maybe even bins in each apartment!

Gonna dream big.

Organic Wine and Chocolate Tasting

These notes are compiled over several evenings of eating.  V and a great friend (she comments as “hater”, because she is very sweet) helped me out with the tastings- no, mom, I did not drink four bottles of wine myself this week, it’s cool.  Here is:

Wines

Red Truck Petite Syrah, 2006 (CA, $10.99) at Whole Foods)- Spicy and fruity, nicely drinkable on it’s own.

Yellow and Blue Malbec Mendoza, 2007 (Argentina, 11.99 for a liter at Whole Foods, as opposed to normal 750ml bottle)- Fairly typical red wine. Clean berryish flavor, but nothing too exciting.  Better with food. Comes in a Tetra Pack.

Natura Carmenere, 2007 (Chile, $10ish at Shoppers in Potomac Yard)- Dark and deep and Plummy, and spicy at the end.  “Unassuming”, according to my second tasting partner- it’s not overtly fancy, but it is quality.  “Would probably go well with chocolate…oh wait…” she continued.

Orleans Hill Cote Zero, 2007 (CA, $10ish at Shopper in Potomac Yard)- Blegh.  Unsatisfying mouthful, sharp aftertaste.  Perhaps this bottle has been skunked already?  But it doesn’t taste musty or completely wrong, just sour.  Suitable for mulling, perhaps.

Of those, the Natura Carmenere is the classiest, and the Red Truck was the spiciest.  Off the top of my head, the Vida Organica Malbec at Whole Foods is pretty good, and the Rabbit something Cabernet Sauvignon in a Tetra Pack at MOM’s on Mt. Vernon is quite solid.

Chocolate

Divine 70% Dark (Fair Trade): Very creamy with a slightly chocolate powder finish.  Brings out the cherry flavor in the Natura Camenere.  Definitely our favorite.

Green and Black’s 70% Dark (organic) : Slightly oily, bitter.  It’s not bad, per say.  Maybe we shouldn’t have had the one we really liked first.

Equal Exchange 71% Dark (Fair Trade and Organic AND Kosher)- Unannounced raspberryesque taste.  I would have appreciated it if I had been expecting it.  Without a warning, it was disturbing.  Slightly oily, powdery finish.

Whole Food 365 Brand Organic- Tasted a lot like the Equal Exchange, but creamier and sweet, with a little, entirely pleasing raspberry at the end, wand less oil in the finish.  So, like the EE, but a lot better.  Top 3, depending on how you like surprise raspberry.

Vivani 72% Dark (Organic)-  Good.  Very balanced.  Not exquisite.  Top 3, though.

If you’d like some other V-day advice, try the post I wrote last year– I re-read it, and I still heartily agree with it.

Much Love, call your grandma, and have a great weekend!

Weekend Travels: NYC

Central Park at 59th entrance

I spent a couple days this weekend in New York City, which ended up being a very mixed bag of a time, both in events and greenity.  I took a Chinatown bus up with the Gentleman Friend, with plans to eat sushi and see penguins in Central Park.  Unfortunately, he arrived with some sort of food poisoning, and wasn’t able to eat or move far for most of the weekend.  Best laid plans and such.

According to Canadians, bus travel produces the smallest amount of greenhouse gases in getting from city to city- and fortunately for people who want to travel frequently, buses are the cheapest way, as well.  Me, I go to New York to relax.  Relaxing is more effective when you have so many busy people rushing around to watch.  Nice to realize my chosen method of transport there is earth-friendly.

Not so my meals- poor, brave Gentleman Friend declared himself feeling well enough to watch me eat sushi after a long day of recovery, and I love him for that.  With plenty of restaurants up there, I like to do a little research or ask for recommendations to sort out good ones, and it never once occurred to me to check the sourcing of our food while I was at it.  And even though overfishing of lots of sushi-species is a huge problem, my main concern during that meal was just that the sushi wasn’t that exciting and could have been tastier.  (Overall it was a happy experience, with plenty of help from the staff on picks and my Gentleman Friend gallantly picking at a bowl of plain white rice while I tasted.)  Now that I review my decisions, I find three guides available from different organizations on the best and worst fish to order, based on fishing practices.  Just last night, I had two of the worst- eel and octopus (eel was ok, octopus was rubbery).  Awesome.  And apparently monkfish are a no-no, which makes me regret the cheeks at Restaurant Eve.  Drat!

Fine.  I make mistakes.  There’s an idea in the back of my mind that when one travels, the rules don’t apply, and that’s just a wishful folly.  Now, when you’re in a strange city and have less flexibility or information on sustainable choices, it’s one thing.  With the GF sick, I wouldn’t have dragged him across town for eco-fish even if I’d thought to do it.  But I should have thought.  Therefore, I’ll get a seafood guide from Monteray Bay Aquarium, and try to ingest wisdom for next time.  Maybe the GF will be able to get down more than rice then, too.

So my first travels of the year end in a draw.  The next installments will include turning in my passport application and some hippie fretting over whether I can be green and even contemplate boarding an airplane.

PS:  I saw penguins in real life for the first time yesterday.


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