Monday, February 28, 2011

What I didn't buy

Every time I thought of something I want/need this month, I wrote it down. Here's the tally:
Week one:
A new throw rug for the kitchen $40; gift for a friend, just because $40; black skirt $70; Funnels $12; Shark Steamer $60; Egg beater (mine broke) $12. Total: $244
Week two:
Cute note cards for mailing swapped seeds $15 (Fail. Bought them after all); those neat cloth boxes at Target to sort my mittens, scarves and hats $60; Kindle cover $28. Total: $88
Week three:
Books! Seven new novels by my favorite trash authors (perpetually out at the library), Ripe by Arthur Allen, Word Press for Dummies, $68; soda siphon (for making carbonated water) $93. Total $161
Week four:
Fell off the wagon: $35 for a jacket from the resale shop; Computer mouse: $25. Lost my favorite travel mug, new one $20. Total $45.
Total cost of things that I didn't buy: $538.00. We did go out to eat five times, and went to the movies twice. Oddly, this is more than we normally eat out or go to the movies. Not sure how that happened.

Some of these things I wouldn't have bought anyway. My family doesn't tend to accumulate stuff, on the "we've lived without it this long" principal. Some things we didn't buy we really do need, and will now buy. Some of them we really don't need, or could get free, or have an adequate alternate already. But because we don't tend to buy stuff, even though I imposed the proscription on myself, I found myself arguing-- "not fair, I never buy anything, it's all those people with the $7,000 credit card debt that need to stop buying stuff."

There are pages and pages of articles, digests, and scholarly works on how to reduce credit card debt, avoid credit card debt, make credit card debt work for you; about what the average debt is, or what a "typical" family's average monthly credit card payment is. You can find out how much the average family spends on housing, or food, or clothes.

Nowhere can I find a statistic on how much NEW debt people are adding to their balance each month, or how much they are spending in cash. It's like we don't even think about what we are spending, but only about what we owe. You can find out what we buy and when we buy, but not how much it's costing us. We have accepted it as normal to be owned by someone else. We have little or no concept of doing without anymore.

Our culture has trained us to consider shopping as a right, if not a patriotic duty. We have elevated immediate personal gratification over community health and called it "personal responsibility." We need a new paradigm, one that rewards creation over consumption, and tribal or familial relationships over the superficial relationships of the marketplace.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Really not buying stuff

Last year, a couple of days into March, I found out about the Real Food Challenge at Not Dabbling in Normal. This year I'll be blogging about it there as well as here.

My experience last year was that our society has put up a lot of barriers to eating responsibly, or as I like to think of it, deliberately. First, bad food is cheap. This sounds like a good thing, but it has led to the consolidation of grocery stores into mega-centers with no connection to the community, and also putting a lot of small family grocers out of business. It has made the profit motive the main motivation for food growers, pushing millions of family farmers to the brink of ruin, or pushing them out of business altogether. (Keep that in mind when listening on the news to the current attack on the so-called public sector. You are the public folks. An attack on the public sector is an attack on you. /soapbox digression.)

Real food sometimes doesn't look "right" to us anymore as well-- real fruit, picked when ripe and grown for flavor and nutrition, rather than for how pretty it is, isn't, well, pretty-- it's bruised and misshapen sometimes. It isn't shiny because no one's waxed it. Real meat is meat colored--a rather dull grayish red-brown, but the last two generations of shoppers have been trained to think that healthy meat is bright red, because they treat it with god knows what.

So people switching to "real" meat think they're getting spoiled meat. Wrong. This is what meat looks like.

I was between jobs last year when I jumped into this so enthusiastically. I had time to figure it out and it took time-- well into the summer to really feel like I was getting a handle on it. Now there are so many things that I don't buy anymore; I either make them or do without. I don't buy bread, baking powder, mayo, jam, soda pop. I don't buy non-seasonal vegetables unless preserved locally when they were in season. I've learned to make crackers, cookies, cereal, microwave popcorn. (hint-- ALL popcorn is microwaveable. Biggest boondoggle of the modern food era. Orville's got a lot of splainin' to do.) Most of these things I make myself. If I don't make them, we don't eat them.

It was a commitment of time and intellect. I've always hated baking, but I taught myself to bake, and I'm getting better at it. If I'd done this with my kids while they were small, think of the head start they'd have now. Oh well. I take one day a week and do nothing but cook; on the other hand, since I get all my meat and staples from a home-delivery CSA now, I haven't been inside a grocery store in more than a month, saving me easily a day for baking and preserving.

On Monday I'll have a "slow start" guide over at Not Dabbling. For now, here's my attempt to get a better-rising, moister sandwich bread.

Honey whole-wheat yogurt bread
Combining aspects of these two recipes: and

4 cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup hot water

3/4 ounces bread or all-purpose flour
3 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1 2/ cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup water

1/3 cup honey
2 eggs

glaze: 1/8 cup milk, 1 teaspoon honey, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt recipe suggests: “Mix the hot water and whole wheat flour together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and set aside until around room temperature, at least 1 hour. My thought is that soaking the flour may help soften the bran and release some of the sugars in the wheat, though, truthfully, I don't know for sure if it does.” Make sure you mix the water in thoroughly with your hands til it resembles a coarse meal.

Heat the yogurt, water, and butter in a saucepan over low heat until the butter melts; the mixture should not be allowed to simmer. Check the temp; cool to 100F/38C (just stick it in the fridge or freezer, and monitor). In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the bread flour with the yeast, salt, and soda. Add the cooled yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and blend well. Beat the honey and eggs, mix well, and then beat vigorously by hand or using the stiff hook of an electric mixer at medium speed for 3 minutes. Stir in the soaked flour to make a stiff dough.

Knead the dough on a floured board (or work it in an electric mixer with a dough hook) until it is smooth and elastic - about 5 to 10 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky and should retain this slight stickiness and elasticity throughout kneading. Place in an oiled bowl and turn the dough over to oil the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, then knead and let rise a second time.

Preheat the oven to 350F/167C.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Form 2 loaves and place each in a well-oiled 8x4-inch loaf pan, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Put the glaze ingredients in a microwave safe dish and heat until the honey and milk easily blend (30-45 seconds). Brush on the loaves, then bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until bread is a rich golden brown. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where our sh*t goes

I was thinking about this recently, I won't tell you where I was, but one of the disconnects in our society is that we don't really care where our sh*t goes.

And by sh*t I mean, um sh*t. Our waste matter. You just flush it away and it's gone. You mostly don't have to think about it. For some reason, there are people who get jobs as sanitary workers and engineers, and politicians who run the Water District, but I'm guessing the ratio of them to us is fairly staggering.

Our sh*t is not our problem.

And this is exactly our problem. In a society where you don't have to worry where the nasty stuff goes, you also don't worry about where the old stuff goes, or the excess stuff, or the unused stuff, or the I-don't-need-it-anymore stuff. But it all goes somewhere. It goes to the communities where those sanitation workers live. It goes to incinerators that aren't sufficiently regulated, so that the children who live near them have life-threatening asthma. It goes onto barges and gets hauled to countries with an even more cavalier attitude toward regulation and no body politic at all, places where children feed their families by pawing through your old sh*t that you threw out without giving it a thought.

You need to think about your sh*t. You need to think about the food that goes into your mouth because it affects the environment when it comes out the other end. You need to think about growth hormones in your chicken and beef. You need to think about the drugs you ingest,or discard.

And you need to think about the clothing and packaging and appliances and books and electronics that we casually consume and discard. It all has to go somewhere.

I think the next challenge needs to be a month with no trash. Your body is going to produce a lot of sh*t in your lifetime. Your lifestyle doesn't have to.

Hipster Supported Agriculture and the Real Food Challenge

First-- sorry to dump challenge on top of challenge! Remember, this month- no buying. Next month- only real food. (I'll see what I can think of to torment you with in April.)

Last year I did a lot of growing things with young people-- in my own home garden and at the Peterson Garden Project. While I love the idea of growing things with kids, I, along with the other folks at Peterson, feel very strongly that non-gardening adults (and I define that from the teenage years on) need to be brought into the idea of sustainable living.

So I came up with the idea of Hipster Supported Agriculture (I need to take a page from the Dervaes' book and get that trademarked)-- gardening with young adults. I'll be doing a project with Peterson Garden again this year, working with troubled teens from a local group home in our Farm4Youth program. The exciting new aspect of the program this year is that they will be working with a nutritionist from Cooking Matters, who will be there from the start with planning the garden and will work with the kids to prepare the food they grow.

All well and good if you happen to have this kind of support system. But there's a generation of young people now who were brought up by a generation of middle-aged people for whom sustainable lifestyles weren't even on the radar, let along something they actively pursued. These newly hatched chicks, just coming out of college, are passionate about their responsibility to the planet, but they're the second or third or even fourth generation of people who think that soil is dirt, if they think about it at all. They have no skills, no home-grown knowledge, and grew up in a culture that made everything cheap by exporting its creation, from sneakers to broccoli. They lived through an era where home cooking was vilified in the name of commerce (and have you noticed that the ads proclaiming "as good as home made" have morphed into "as good as a restaurant"?)

So my daughter has agreed to join the Challenge this year, as a representative of her generation, to learn whether she can eat sustainably on a poor girl's income (yes, I'm that horrible mother that doesn't support her grown children with even the occasional 20 slipped under the table).

She claims that eating real is too expensive, and too time consuming. I maintain that if she stops eating the junk, she'll save money. We haven't worked out the details, but since she shares my car on Mondays and Thursdays, if she wants a ride home, she's going to have to cook first (she doesn't know this yet).

We'll see what other young people we can draw into our web. We make a lot of fun of the Hipsters (and I lump everyone between 16 and 30 into that group), but they are the future, and they GET IT. They just don't know how to do it.

So Hipster Supported Agriculture is joining the Real Food Challenge. It doesn't get much realer than that.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Looking at a squash

So that's what I'm doing this morning. I'm waiting for the coffee to brew and looking at a squash.

It's a butternut, locally and organically grown.

I bought it.

Of vegetables that I grow myself, it's the first one I've bought since last June, so it's kind of mythic.

Sadly, I often stare at food. When I first loaded up the freezer with all the preserved food I managed this year, I'd have to stop myself from going down to the basement to look at it. I did occasionally open up the little dorm fridge full of canned goods just to look at all the lovely little rows of jars. Every gardener knows the phenomenon of staring your seedlings into growth. Has anyone managed to make that work yet?

Staring at food is what food and garden porn is all about-- lovely pictures to look at, so you can imagine, "I'd make that/plant that/create that if I had that much time, those tools, that expertise." Apparently, staring at food also helps satisfy your desire for it, causing you to eat less, although I have not personally experienced this phenomenon. Somehow, staring at candy bars makes me buy them. People are trying however.

Meantime, here's this squash. Just between you and me, I think it's staring back.

Hide-the-squash-from-the-kids meatloaf
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground lamb or pork
1 cup diced roasted squash
1/2 cup bread crumbs
small onion, diced

sea salt
ground green pepper (black is fine if you don't have the green)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons mint

Peel and seed the squash, then dice enough to yield a cup (quite a small dice, remember, we're hiding it from the kids); lightly toss with olive oil and saute until soft. Roast the rest of the squash in the oven at 400F/200C and save it for baking, risotto, or soup.

My meatloaf, by the way is not for the squeamish. Get out a loaf pan and spray with cooking spray, or lightly coat with olive oil and bread crumbs (this is to aid clean up). Turn on the water in the sink, and let a warm stream run, you're going to need it. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together with your hands until everything is evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Form into a loaf and press into the pan. If you need to further disguise this from the kids, put a little ketchup on top as a glaze, but with the squash version, I like to leave this off.

Rinse your hands, then put the loaf in the oven. Roast for about 90 minutes, or until it is completely brown all the way to the center. If you are using cheap meat, you will need to drain the fat about half way through, but please don't use cheap meat. You'll just end up eating more of it and getting just as fat.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old stuff

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

When my daughter was in the second grade, she had a sweater. By which I don't mean she had a sweater that she liked to wear, or a favorite sweater. She had a sweater. Just one. So in the winter, she wore it pretty much every day.

She only had one for different reasons. Mostly, I'm the world's worst mom and have been known to do things like forget to bathe, clothe, and feed my children. (I have a key chain that says "Oh No! I left the baby on the bus!") But also, at the time, we didn't have any money. So we just didn't buy multiple items like a sweater for every day, plus she had all her brother's hand-me-downs if she wanted them.

Some horrible little princess asked her one day, rather snidely, why she always wore the same sweater. She answered that it was the only one she had. Shock! Horror! (My kids went to a private school on scholarship; Nordstrom's functioned as the corner store for these people.) When challenged by Princess at the inappropriateness of this, my daughter just asked her "well, how many sweaters do you need, anyway?"

It was at this point that I knew my kids would be all right.

We all have closets full of old stuff; basements full of old stuff. Fifty years ago there was no such thing as a self-storage industry; now it is the fastest growing sector in commercial real estate. When you enter "we have too" in Google, the top guess is "much stuff." Clearly, this is on people's minds.

We have too much stuff because we don't buy mindfully. We have too much stuff because we stuff our faces, so that our clothing size goes up and up and up and last year's clothes, or the year's before, don't fit anymore, so we have to reoutfit ourselves. We don't seem to be able to get rid of the old stuff. We get that it's irresponsible to abandon a coat simply because we decided we don't like the color.

But we don't use it. We want to use new stuff that we didn't need in the first place. Don't buy a new sweater. I have it on the authority of a pretty smart second-grader that you've got a perfectly good old one.

Two slaws: Basil coleslaw
1 small cabbage, shredded
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 carrot, grated
1/2 medium onion, grated


1/2 cup (homemade, see below) mayonnaise
1 T honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Toss the vegetables together. Whisk the dressing, and mix.

Traditional cole slaw
1 green cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, grated

3/4 cup (homemade) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
1 T honey
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery salt (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the vegetables together. Whisk the dressing, and mix.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Adapted from The Perfect Pantry via Little Blue Hen
Makes about 1 1/2- 2 cups

2 egg yolks, at room temperature
4 tablespoons warm water
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cup canola or olive oil, or a combination (using olive oil gives the mayo a pronounced olive oil flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1/4 lemo

Put egg yolk, water, and mustard in the bowl of a 3-cup food processor. Run the blade to make sure it catches the mixture, dribble in a bit more water if needed or stir up the yolk to get it to catch. Run the food processor until the mixture is pale yellow (about 30 seconds or so).

The oil must be added very slowly to ensure that the mixture emulsifies. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil in a narrow (pencil tip width) steady stream. You can tell the emulsion is working because you'll start to hear slapping sounds as the food processor runs. Some recipes recommend stopping when about 1/3 of the oil has been added, and then continue to add by teaspoonfuls, but I've found it works fine to just keep the steady stream going. Stop the motor and check the mayonnaise to make sure it is emulsifying. If so, continue adding the oil slowly until it is all combined.

When all the oil has been added, add the salt and lemon juice. The lemon juice will help increase its shelf life. I've had this mayo last 3 months in the fridge.

It took me about 3 tries to get my rhythm on homemade mayo, but it is so superior to even the best store bought that once you get the hang of it, you'll never buy mayo again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

My husband and I have never really "done" Valentine's Day. Sometimes he brings flowers, and occasionally we've gone out for dinner. When I was a working artist I made him a little sculpture or paper piece for Valentine's Day, but I have no idea if he still has them.

I don't mind. Neither of us is particularly romantic, although he can be rather sentimental sometimes. And by February 14 we're just on holiday overload because of family circumstances-- Christmas, the New Year, then our anniversary, then my birthday, then Chinese New Year, then HIS birthday, then Valentine's Day, all separated by no more than 10 days at a time. I'm done.

But in the spirit of don't buy anything, I felt like I had to create something this year, so I made these chocolate cookies. (He brought the Junior Mints, my favorite candy.)

Not that he really eats chocolate all that much.

Oh, well. Happy Valentine's Day anyhow, sweetheart (our 36th, which I suppose is the best Valentine's Day gift of all).

Sour Cream Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries, plumped

Preheat oven to 350 degree F.

Cream butter and honey. Beat in egg, sour cream and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in cranberries. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until set – do not overbake. They should still look kind of moist on top when you take them out. They will set as they cool.

Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How are we doing?

If you’re just finding this, I’m trying to spend February not spending money on things I don’t need. I’ve defined need rather broadly. This is not about spending no money. It’s about being aware of what you’re buying and why you’re buying it. It’s about stepping off the consumer treadmill, and insisting that we are more than Homo economicus. We are Homo sapiens sapiens—the creature that is aware that it is aware.

No Buy February’s followers have taken the concept to heart. Just Another Day on The Farm, amysflock, and Put the Fork Down hardly seemed to need to be reminded not to spend money.As my friend Sage at The Flowerweaver explains it, this is a phenomenon of rural living--it’s a lot harder to spend money when you have to drive 25 miles to do so. The suburban road less traveled also has it going on—from reading her, I’m not sure that she doesn’t actually have sheep tucked away somewhere on that surburban lot so she can weave her own wool cloth. (remember Good Neighbors?)

Chiot’s Run has added their own challenge, with Make-Your-Own how to’s on Wednesdays. These terrific folks also made our fantastic No-Buy badge. Grab it from my sidebar (haven’t been able to find someone to code it for me, or however you do that, so it’s just a pdf right now).

Chiot’s Run also blogs at Not Dabbling at Normal, along with several other wonderful sustainability and householding bloggers like Jen at Unearthing This Life. Jen helped get the challenge going by posting the No Buy February challenge at NDIN.

The World According to Julie has been tracking progress on a daily basis with wonderful humor. The post that starts “I made it out of [Costco] only buying food” kind of sums up the whole issue. Julie also posts her kids’ adventures in eating and some fantastic recipes at Just Eat It Already. Jenn’s Cooking Garden has been cooking, and growing, and, of all things, preserving lemons.

As for me, I’ve had some moments, some failures, some successes. I’ve started a list of the things that cross my mind that I “need” which I’ll post on the last day of the month. I’m not sure that I would have bought them anyway, even without the challenge to hold me back, but it’s astonishing the money that my animal brain wants me to spend. I was afforded dispensation by the community (such as it is) for what I thought of as my “foodie” grocery shopping (to which I’m going to have to add coconut oil, thanks to Chiot’s Run). I’ve been out to eat twice, just can’t resist my husband’s big brown eyes when he says we should go out to lunch.

And I confess, on the way to a party last week I couldn’t stand the old, unfashionable, slightly too small in the waist pants I was wearing for another second, and impulsively pulled into the mall and bought a pair of black pants that fit me.

It’s hard to resist the call of Homo economicus.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dark Days meal

I set out at the beginning of last summer to make it to January using only vegetables from my garden (of the ones I grow, anyway).

Well, here it is, well into February, and it looks like I'm going to make it all the way to my first harvest in June, with some to spare. I've still got plenty of tomato sauce and frozen tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant, loads of pickles, several jars of corn relish, one more quart of blanched chard, roasted frozen green and jalapeno peppers. I have plenty of frozen vegetable peelings for making stock. Just used the last of the raspberries, making me eye my non-bearing apple tree with evil intent: wouldn't that space be better used as a a berry patch? Hmmmm.

So here's a "larder meal," made from my stores (plus some CSA onions). Oh, also? Go Team Eggplant.

Pumpkin-eggplant soup with carmelized onions
1 roasted medium-sized eggplant, peeled and cubed
3 roasted medium-sized tomatoes, or 3 tomatoes blanched and peeled
1 quart pumpkin puree (approximarly equivalent to a can)
1 quart vegetable stock

1 large onion
1-2 teaspoons molasses

1 teaspoon whole coriander
a few green peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Put the first four ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, melt about 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet, turn the heat down to low and add the onions. When they start losing their shape, add the molasses and slowly sautee until the onions are completely soft and shapeless. Grind the spices (in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle) and add to the soup. Add the onions, draining any leftover butter into the pot.

Cool with a little cream or half-and-half when serving.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Are we frugal, poor, or just lazy?

One of the things I've found in trying not to buy anything, is that I don't really buy anything. I'm not really sure why this is. I've never been one of those people that hunts down bargains. (Talk to my brother in law, who once drove 30 miles to buy milk at $1.59 a gallon. In his defense he bought enough for everyone, and I mean everyone.) I don't clip coupons, mostly because they tend to be for name-brand extras that I don't use anyway.

We make a decent living. Yes, we're trying to put two kids through college with cash (one down, one to go), so that takes every dime of discretionary money, but the point is, we have discretionary money. If I buy an extra skirt, it's not going to put our tuition payments in arrears.

Which brings us to the most likely culprit-- it takes effort to spend money. Go to the store, go to the mall, stop off on the way home. Even entering all that initial info for "one click shopping" on line is often more effort than I'm willing to put in.

Which gives hope for everyone. If you're not naturally frugal, and you've got money to spend, you can still avoid the beast just by remembering that shopping is a pain in the ass.

The vegetable ingredients are all from my larder, frozen or canned last summer, but that's just me bragging. Feel free to buy these ingredients from your local CSA, neighborhood grocer, or even a chain or big box store.

Eggplant Chili

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound chorizo sausage, skinned and crumbled
1/2 cup eggplant puree
1 pint tomato sauce or loose paste
1-2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 cup salsa verde
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup dry mixed beans or 2 cups soaked or canned
chili powder to taste (at least 2 tablespoons)
sea salt

If using dried beans, the instructions will say "soak overnight" but I've found this is not enough. Boil your beans for 30 minutes in 2-3 quarts of water with a little salt, add another 1-2 quarts of boiling water and soak in the hot water at least 2 hours. Drain and discard the water (or pour it onto the compost).

To make the eggplant puree, slice one medium eggplant, dredge heavily in olive oil, and saute until it starts to fall apart. Peel off the skin, add about 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce, and whisk briskly by hand, or in a blender or small food processor.

Saute the onions in about a quarter cup of water, until soft; when all the water is gone (and not a second later, or the onions will burn), add a tablespoon of olive oil, then crumble the meat onto it. Brown the meat (don't worry if you get "burnt" meat on the pot-- this is good, it will flavor the chili. Add the chili powder and simmer a few minutes until thoroughly mixed.

Once the meat is browned add all the sauces and simmer until the browned residue has been released into the sauce, then add more chili powder if needed. Mix thoroughly and add the beans. Simmer at least 30 minutes, being careful not to burn it by stirring frequently.

(post moved, in case you found the old link and it doesn't go anywhere)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 5 is World Nutella Day

This week I bought a grilled cheese sandwich and a drink (on existing credit) at the rink, and a candy bar. As I was eating the candy bar, I thought, well, crap, I just bought something I don't need.

Which is what this is about--I just never thought about it. It was only a buck, I was bored, and I didn't even think. I knew that I would have to eat dinner at the rink; I could easily have packed a dinner here. I just never thought of it.

A bigger dilemma came from my husband, who wants to buy a jacket that's on sale right now. Nope, I told him, you agreed to do this with me. He argued that it's the perfect jacket, and it's on sale. It won't be on sale in March. I don't know if he bought it or not; I guess I'll find out when the credit card bill comes.

This is how we talk ourselves into things we don't need--it's just a dollar, it's on sale, I didn't know about this perfect jacket when I agreed to do this. Our culture is relentless in its quest to get us to acquire things.

Not buying things, oddly takes more forethought--make the nutella, plan the purchase, use what you have. Joe Salatin and others call our economy and culture "extractive"-- we take things out of it without putting anything in. It's very easy to acquire in our culture, much harder to create, harder still to forego.

Oh, and in case you don't believe me: World Nutella Day.

Nutella-Filled Sandwich Cookie Recipe
Adapated from 101 Cookbooks

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
2 large egg yolks + 1/2 the egg white
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream

Homemade nutella

Preheat oven to 350 - racks in the top 1/3 of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it is fluffy and creamy. Add the sugar and mix some more, scraping the sides of the bowl once along the way. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla extract, scraping the sides again if needed. Add the flour mixture a little at a time. The original recipe said do this by hand, but I used the hand mixer and it was fine. The dough will be dry, so add the egg white and dribble the milk in alternately with the flour.If the dough is on the dry side stir in the milk as well. With your hands, form the dough into a large ball , then divide it into four equal pieces. Chill for about 10 minutes (again, original said 30 minutes, but this made the dough too stiff to roll).

Flatten each ball and roll out the dough wafer thin, about 1/8-inc. Stamp out using the cookie cutter into bite-size or larger cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter (I used a donut cutter, so mine are a little big). Arrange cookies 1-inch apart on prepared baking sheets before sprinkling with a small pinch of salt and sugar.

Bake for about seven minutes or until the cookie edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack.

Smear about a 1/2 teaspoonful of the nutella on a cookie, then sandwich it with another. Don't use more chocolate than that, it overwhelms the cookie flavor.

Friday, February 4, 2011


You may have noticed that I like to cook. Here's what I ran out of this week, while I was snowed in with nothing to do but hang out in the kitchen:

Flour: unbleached, cake, oat, bread
Oil: sesame, walnut, canola
Rice: arborio, brown, wild mix
Mustard: stone ground, dijon

In addition to the items above, I did not run out of whole wheat flour or corn meal, olive oil, long grain rice, basmati rice, couscous, or pastina, and I always keep a jar of yellow mustard, as well as ground dry mustard. I'm guessing these are things that most people don't have in their kitchens and never miss. But I always have them, and never think twice about restocking when I run out.

There is nothing on that list that I can't do without. I can make perfectly good meals with olive oil and plain old white rice, and I really shouldn't indulge my taste for white flour anyway when wheat is so much better for you (plus you can't find organic white flour to save your life, plus I have plenty of wheat). Bread flour is just a lazy indulgence (although it does make better bread, I swear it).

I stood there with my shopping cart full of these items (and they aren't cheap either) and dithered and rationalized. I am, after all a cook. It's food, not luxury goods. I use all of these things all the time. Just because "ordinary" people wouldn't know a bag of wild rice if it hit them over the head doesn't mean I shouldn't get it. After all, it's ordinary to me. Furthermore, I haven't bought any vegetables in nearly 8 months, since I was so successful at preserving the harvest this year, so that balances it out, right?

Ah, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I skipped the wild rice and the stone ground mustard. Everything else is in my pantry now.

What's the verdict? Did I violate my rules?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Convenient stuff

I need a phone.

Mind you, I have a phone. In fact, several phones. I have a cell phone, as does my son, my daughter, and my husband. Then there's "Phone Henge," an archeological site of marginally functional cell phones that we mine for plugs, headsets, and exchanges. They need to be recycled, but recycling phones is another errand, plus my brother-in-law never lets us get rid of electronic items because he's convinced the evil-doers are out there just waiting to get into the memory chips and get numbers from old bank accounts, from which they will reconstruct our lives and steal all our money.

I also have two truly ancient old-fashioned wired phones and a wireless. They were all purchased for a couple of bucks at the resale shop. I consider wired phones a necessity. I always have phone service in emergencies, because the wired sets don't need either the house electricity or a cell phone grid. They work even when the power goes out. This is the number I give to stores when they won't accept "you don't need my phone number" or "000-000-0000."

But there isn't a phone in the kitchen anymore, because the resale specimen that was there died. When the phone rings and I'm in the kitchen, I have to go two whole rooms over to answer it.

I understand there are people who feel this way about tvs.

Peppery shortbread cheese crackers

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup corn meal
4 oz. of cheese (cheddar, gruyere or Parmesan) grated
6 T (3/4 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
about 3 T heavy cream
seasoning: 1 teaspoon each white and green peppercorns, 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, ground together, 1-2 teaspoons pepper flakes, or use the pre-mixed seasoning of your choice

Mix all ingredients except cream in a food processor; run the machine until dough forms a clump, adding the cream a little at a time to get a nice maleable texture. (I only have a 3 cup foot processor, so I had to divide the dough into thirds). Form into three 1 1/2 x 8" logs, roll in plastic wrap or wax paper and place in freezer until firm (a couple of hours). Slice into 1/4" or thinner rounds. Only have one log out at a time; leave the others in the freezer until you're ready to use them. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Update, Feb 27: Made these again using a pepper-jack cheese instead of the seasoning. Also good.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Buy February: The Rules

I jump started a discussion on My Folia (where I journal my gardening) and on my personal Facebook page, and discovered that there's a lot of anxiety about this idea of not buying stuff. "No Valentine's presents?" "Can I buy a heat mat for my seedlings?" "This is the one time of year when we splurge!" "Can I buy things that I use to make other things?" et cetera.

So on this first day of February (Imbolc or Candlemas in the celestial calendar, for those who keep track), I thought I'd try some clarifications.

1. What do you need? First and foremost, this is not about spending no money. It's about mindful spending. Don't buy what you don't need. If you have a major seed starting project for your summer garden, and you're out of fluorescent bulbs or starter mix, then this would be something you need, because February is seed starting month in a lot of places. If you're in Chicago and the sole comes off your boots, you need boots. Buy away!

2. When do you need it? I don't care if it's on sale, or you're afraid it won't be at the store in a month. You can't buy it if you don't need it now. So, no bathing suits unless you're heading to the Caribbean.

3. Do you already have it? Sole-less boots you can buy. A second pair of boots, no. If it's something you've been planning to replace, well, hold off for a month. Make it do, for now.

4. Can you make it? This is your Valentine's Day and February birthday category. Make a gorgeous dinner, a spectacular card, bake a cake, or paint a pot that you already have as a gift for the gardener in your life. You don't have to give up giving. You just have to give up buying what you (and your loved ones) don't need. For the cooks among you, or the really committed, I'll throw snacks in here. You can live for a month without buying potato chips.

5. Were you planning to buy it before you left the house? If not, then it's an impulse buy. Leave it on the shelf. Corollary to this, was it in the budget already. A completely self-serving rule, this would cover things like piano or, um, figure skating lessons for the kids. (Thanks, Gwen)

6. Is it from the Target Dollar Spot? Never buy anything from here again. Items from the Dollar Spot are unnecessary almost by definition.

7. Do you think you'll still be using it in 6 months (or if a seasonal item, at this time next year)? If not, then you don't need it.

In the end, you need to define this challenge for yourself. Don't let me tell you what you need. But that's the point. You shouldn't cede that power to the marketers, either.

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Loaf
Adapted from Orangette

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp rosemary, ground fine
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup water
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin purée (or cooked, puréed—until very smooth—winter squash, yams, or sweet potatoes), at room temperature
½ cup coarsely chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease (with butter or cooking spray) a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix water and flavor extracts. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds. Add honey, and beat on medium speed until lightened in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin purée, and beat on low speed until just blended. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the water-flavorings mixture in two parts, beating on low until smooth and just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Fold in almonds. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly across the top.

Bake about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for five or ten minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.