Summer Picnics (with Less Plastic)

DSC_2648Words (or at least my words) cannot begin to express the rapturous joy with which we emerge from the bitter desolations of the subarctic winter and enter, with bare arms and faces pointed to the bright and finally warm sun, the glories of spring.

And what do we do in these precious days of warmth, me and little crew, but pack our bags in the morning with sunscreen, half a gallon or so of tick spray (a homemade concoction that includes citronella and geranium bourbon essential oils, hats, towels, extra clothes, water bottles, and enough food to count as lunch. Apples, bananas, pb&js, little pieces of salami, cashews, some type of chips if we have them on hand, etc.   And we go out for as much or the morning as remains after I have packed all of our sundry things, and we have a picnic for lunch. Once we manage to leave the house and set forth, I feel like a combination of the 1994 movie version of Marianne Dashwood going out for a walk on a soon-to-be-stormy day and Fraulein Maria going out with the children in their curtain clothes, with baskets and guitar. See that look on her face? This is basically us:

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Anyway, whatever your days look like this summer, whether frolicking through the Alps or tumbling down rainy English slopes or perhaps just hiking on whatever paths might be free and not subject to the oppressive taxation of the State, I hope they involve some form of eating food outside.

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I’ve been trying to use as little plastic as possible for these excursions and for life in general otherwise, and I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been using to pack food that don’t involve ziplock bags.  I have neither time nor inclination to expound here all the various evils of plastic,* but suffice to say: it’s ugly** and it’s bad for us and every other living organism on the planet. So we pack up our little snack lunches in various cloth bags, metal tins, etc. Here’s what we use:

My top 4 Reusable Things for Picnics (and Snacks in General):

  1. Water bottles. We use these Kleen Kanteen ones for the kids, with these (somewhat leakproof) green lids. The kids each have one and only one, so we keep good track of them and they go everywhere with us. I have a stainless mug that I carry hot tea in on cold days and cold tea in on hot days.
  2. Cotton zippered pouches. The pouches made for snacks are expensive! And lined with plastic! But mostly, they’re expensive. So after wanting to buy snack pouches to replace small ziplock bags for about 2 years now I finally bought these little canvas bags. (They come in various sizes– one version we bought is smaller, and has 2 separate zippered pouches, and the larger size has a little loop that is nice for little hands to hold on to.) These are not waterproof, so you know, they’re not for yogurt or spaghetti and things like that, but we weren’t really using ziplock bags for those things too much anyway.  They are great for grapes or pretzels or nuts and dried fruit, etc.*** Depending on the size, these cost $2-3 per pouch and come in sets of 4-6.
  3. Stainless steel containers of various sizes (similar to these) for stuff that might leak, and anything else, sandwiches (though we also put sandwiches in the cotton bags), leftovers for John to take to work, etc. We own four: 2 small circular ones, the large one shown in these pictures, and another one that’s about the size of a sandwich. (Here are some similar ones, with silicone lids.) They’re a small bit pricey– we’ve collected these four over the course of about a year, one at a time when they’ve gone on sale at Wegmans. I’m sure they’ll get lost at some point, but as with our stainless water bottles we make a point to keep track of them precisely because they cost a bit more, and it has never felt like a burden to do so.
  4. Cloth napkins. Buy fancy linen ones or find any old kind at the thrift store, or use cotton handkerchiefs. For wiping faces and hands and wrapping up a bundle of sandwiches, etc.

Before we had the pouches and the stainless steel containers I would wrap up our sandwiches and various things in cloth napkins or put them in some of our glass pyrex jars with lids. We generally pack finger foods so we don’t need utensils. I’m all about the cost effective fruit, so we mainly stick to apples and bananas.  Little ball jars with lids would make a good and inexpensive snack container. We usually don’t take a cooler, but if we’re bringing meat or cheese or something and it’s particularly hot out we might.

(We also used, and still sometimes use, ziplock bags of various sizes, but I wash all of them, even the small ones and reuse them. Because, see below).

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Anyway, I hope I haven’t been too preachy! Hoping, for us and for all two of you (hi mom and dad! I love you guys!), that this will be a spring and summer of picnics, mountain wandering, and Ivanhoe reading. And maybe a tiny bit less plastic.

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*i.e., the harm they do to animals, the harm they do to people, the fact that MOST OF IT NEVER GETS RECYCLED, or the fact that even if it DOES it takes an enormous amount of energy and creates an enormous amount of pollution to do so, and even when recycled, the fact remains that it’s still plastic, it still exists, and all that will happen to it is possibly be used for a period of time by people and then ultimately break or be broken down in some form, over some time period, into invisible molecules of plastic. Also, please consider the human beings who work in plastic factories. Can you imagine spending most of your waking hours in a ziplock bag factory, breathing in the fumes of melted plastic? Living next door to such a factory? Is it morally acceptable for us to use these things while other people are breathing in those fumes all day, every day? Just so that we can continue to bustle about in our frantic lives at faster and faster paces, tossing food into ziplock bags?

**If you’re not convinced by the envorinomental/human health arguments about plastic, please consider the aesthetic elements of it. We are affected and shaped by the things that surround us, at least to some extent, and if we learn from earliest infancy**** that food comes primarily out of plastic pouches or tucked in plastic bags, what does it teach us about the purpose and quality of food, about nourishment, both to body and soul, and about how we interact with the world around us? The latter part of that question, I fear, is becoming answered increasingly with choices of convenience and cheapness, reflecting that at heart, we care neither for the consequences upstream of our ziplock bags (what about the people who work in the factories who produce them; or downstream, after the plastic has served its fleeting purpose and we have thrown it into the trash, and our ziplock bags and baby food pouches and squeezable yogurts and coffee cups come to visit us and our children and our children’s children in the form of microscopically small particles of plastic in our water and all of our food.)

*** And yes, most of these foods come packaged in plastic. I know. I try to buy as much as I can from bulk bins, but many things are sadly more expensive to buy that way….. Perhaps more soon about my paltry attempts to make good choices on a tight budget in the grocery store.

**** This is going to sound really aggressive, but y’all it is possible to feed babies otherwise than out of plastic pouches. I fed two just fine with zero of them. Plastic is not healthy for us, and just because companies put baby food into it doesn’t mean that it’s safe and healthy for your baby to eat it. Even if the food inside the pouch is organic, it is now organic food with plenty of leeched plastic in it.  If plastic food pouches are your deal and it’s how you survive, then keep on with it, sister. I have used and still use plenty of plastic other areas. But astonishingly, miraculously, human babies have managed to be fed throughout, and even to survive, their infancy without such contrivances for millennia. But then, people also have managed to survive without cars, coffee, bathtubs, electricity, seltzer water, libraries, etc.., and I use those things plus others quite liberally. And most of the food I buy comes in plastic, even though I make every effort not to.

So anyway. here’s to muddling through, doing what we can do do whatever we’re doing. And here’s to picnics and summer, whatever the food might be packaged in. (Just this very day– this is a few days after I wrote this post originally, because of course I felt the need to edit it extensively– I took Margaret out to a park and she had a little snack bag of freeze dried strawberries from Aldi, so in essence no different than pouches, and if I calculated the price per pound of it it would cost more than gold. So much for all of my preaching about plastic and frugality.)

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Homemade Rice Flour and Licorice Exfoliator (& Some Books about DIY Skincare)

I wrote this post a few years ago, and since then I’ve been saving a ton of money by making a lot of my own skincare items.  I just cleaned our linen closet out, where we keep all of our extra bathroom things, and I’ve found several glass jars of various creams, one of which may or may not have been made out of tallow because of some crazy blog post I read a few years ago. And in the same clean-out I threw out the remnants of a probably $10 container of some organic exfoliator I had bought at the health food co-op last year. It just didn’t work very well, and I wish I had saved the $10 and just gone back to making my own exfoliator (recipe below).

I’ve been re-inspired about this after recently reading a few lovely books (Skin Cleanse and The French Beauty Solution) that both contain a bounty of skincare recipes by women who know their stuff. There are obviously about 70 billion blog posts written by random people with random make-it-yourself skin care ideas (of which yes, this is one), and I’ve used a lot of them. (I’ve used this recipe for deodorant for over 3 years now I think. Costs pennies, and uses zero plastic.) But I do think it’s helpful to have a book or two written by a somewhat qualified person if you really want to learn more about making your own skincare products.

ANYWAY. Adina Grigore, the author of Skin Cleanse compellingly lays out how companies market skin care products to us by making us believe that our skin is too oily, too wrinkly, our pores are too large, that we are deficient and ugly and we need their product in order to be beautiful. I think it is deeply important and good for us to learn how to care for our whole selves, skin and all, with gentleness and grace, and that sometimes skin care products are part of that. But for some reason, reading Skin Cleanse made it click with me that I do not want to literally buy into that whole scheme. I will NOT be a cog on the wheel of the mass marketing of skincare products. Also, I can’t afford to buy all that crap.  So I’ve been using some of the Skin Cleanse  and French Beauty recipes. Buying 90% fewer skin care products in stores.

Which made me remember this exfoliator, some version of which I’ve used off and on for years now.

So. One of my favorite skin care products of all time (which I have bought exactly once in my life, now over 8 years ago) is Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant.  It is a super fine powder that you mix with water and use wash your face.  It isn’t abrasive at all, and it made my skin feel unbelievably lovely.  It contained oatmeal, rice powder, and licorice root extract, among other things.  When I ran out all those years ago, I decided to make my own version of it instead of buying a new (very expensive) bottle.

The first time I made this I used my coffee grinder to grind brown rice.  Unfortunately, my grinder wasn’t able to get the rice fine enough, so I bought some rice flour at the grocery to use instead. I just kept the bag in the freezer and have used it for subsequent batches. (I also added goat’s milk powder, as it is part of the skin regimen recommended for oily skin in Absolute Beauty, a wonderful book on Ayurveda and health/beauty/skincare).  This stuff is wonderful, and has such a calming effect on the skin.  Here’s the recipe:

Rice flour and Licorice Cleansing Grains

Mix together 3 T brown rice flour, 3 T oat flour, 2 T milk powder* (doesn’t have to be goat’s milk), and about 1/2 t. licorice root powder (probably easiest to find in capsule form. I used 3-4 capsules, gently broken open (discard the capsules)).  Mix together, and put through a sifter if the milk powder is clumpy.  To use: Once or twice a week– Remove makeup first, if wearing makeup.  Mix about 1/2 t. powder with lukewarm water and massage gently over damp skin.  Rinse, and pat dry.  (You can also mix into a thicker paste and leave on your skin for 10 minutes as a mask.)

Store in a clean salt/pepper shaker for easy dispensing!

*Some people may be sensitive to the milk powder.  If you have a milk allergy, obviously don’t use this ingredient, and if you experience any irritation, discontinue use.

Licorice root is soothing to the skin, anti-inflammatory, helps with acne and eczema, and is often used in skin-brightening products.

Rice powder is also used to lighten skin and clear the complexion.

Milk powder contains lactic acid, which is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) which works as a gentle exfoliator, promotes the production of collagen, and helps improve skin texture.  It is also hydrating and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Helps to even out skin tone and diminish scars.

 

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I Almost Bought a Yogurt Maker, but Then I Didn’t (or How to Make Yogurt Without a Machine)

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So guys. A month or so ago someone posted a video about plastic on Facebook, and even though I have seen multiple documentaries about plastic already and considered myself to be pretty responsible in that area (I mean I usually bring my own bags to the grocery store for pete’s sake), for some reason it finally sunk in. Plastic doesn’t go away. It just breaks down more and more, finally into tiny pieces, invisible to the naked eye, and saturates the ocean, all the water everywhere, and our insides. And plastic is really not that great for our insides.

And I know there are a lot of other things, maybe even a lot more pressing things to worry about than the multiplication of plastic particles in our little world, but for some reason I just started caring about this. But if you are caring about something else and don’t have the energy to care about this, just do not worry about it. Or if you are using all your energy just to survive day to day, then please carry on and also do not worry about it. This is just where I am right now. So I have been on a quest to reduce the amount of plastic we are buying new. To live a slightly less disposable life.* (Because guys, recycling is not the answer. It might turn plastic into something else plastic that can be used a bit longer, but in the scheme of things, when you purchase plastic, whether you recycle it or not, you are contributing to the overall volume of plastic in the world. We shouldn’t really feel good about recycling, um does that make sense? It’s a huge bummer, I know! I’m sorry!)

I know no one is reading at this point except maybe my mom, because no one wants someone to tell them that recycling is basically as bad as not recycling, but I’m just going to keep on writing (hi mom! I love you!) anyway. Because, the yogurt maker that I didn’t buy.

Anyway, most of the new plastic I end up buying is food packaging! It’s really hard to buy food that doesn’t come in plastic! And knowing myself, my brain will explode if I think in all-or-nothing terms here. It would be next to impossible to eat completely plastic free (though i might try an experiment with that next month!), but I’m trying to just buy less. Less food in plastic. One of the first things I did was to buy a few of these bags, photo below, from this sweet woman on etsy! For buying things in bulk. (Both the natural food co-op and the Wegmans where I do most of my shopping sell a lot of things in bulk. I’ve bought all my herbs and spices in bulk for years, plus a good amount of grains and beans. It’s cheaper. But I’ve always used the plastic bags the store provides. Until I bought these little bags! I’m not trying to be all like, “Wow, I am so amazing because for the past two weeks I’ve used re-usable bags at the grocery store.” That is really not what I’m trying to get at here, y’all. What am I trying to get at, then? Well, that I almost bought a yogurt maker, but then I didn’t. So back to that story.)

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So anyway, one of the plastic things I buy fairly regularly is yogurt. Well, I mean, the yogurt isn’t plastic, but the container it comes in is. You know what I mean. Plain, full fat yogurt. In a big plastic container. So I decided that I would finally just buy a yogurt maker! I’ve wanted one for years, and I’ve tried so many times to make homemade yogurt without a machine, but always with disappointing results. Who has time for that?! So I started looking at cute little yogurt makers, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I didn’t want to spend the money, and where in heaven’s name would I put it (our kitchen is tiny, have I ever written about that here? We have one drawer in our kitchen. One. Drawer.).  And what is the machine part made of, anyway? Plastic.

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So I decided to give it one more try without a yogurt maker. I knew some people used coolers for this (because you have to keep the pre-yogurt milk, whatever in the world it’s called at that stage, at a certain temperature for at least 8 hours), so I thought I would just try it. One time. So I boiled some milk, let it cool, stirred in some yogurt I had bought (I bought fancy French yogurt in a glass jar for this! It was cheaper than a yogurt maker!), put it in a quart-sized glass jar, and filled up another quart sized glass jar with boiling water. I put both jars, standing up, in a little rubbermade cooler we have, with the top closed. Left it overnight and in the morning, yogurt! It literally couldn’t have been any easier or less messy. There was one pot to wash out.  I kept the yogurt in the same glass jar in the fridge. The second time I made it I may have forgotten that I was supposed to be bringing the pot of milk to a low, gentle boil and was doing bedtime things with children and heard a horrible hissing sound coming from the kitchen, which turned out to be the milk boiling over into the burner. So I turned it off, waited until it was cool enough & stirred the yogurt in and figured it would probably be a huge failure but I didn’t want to waste 4 cups of good milk. Then, into the cooler with the jar of hot water, and in the morning, yogurt. No plastic, no machine. See here for a similar recipe. (She pours hot water right into the cooler & uses a thermometer; I don’t use one, I just bring the milk to a low boil, except when I sometimes bring it to a high, scalding boil, and then cool it until I can leave my finger in it for 10-15 seconds.)

So anyway, here’s to baby steps of buying less plastic. I definitely know that no one is reading at this point, but if you are, maybe consider thinking about one small way to use a tiny bit less plastic? Try to remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery (or ask for paper instead). Buy something in bulk (spices, in particular, are exponentially cheaper if you buy them in bulk, and you can just put them in the empty jar of whatever spice you just finished). Wash and re-use ziplock bags! Even just try to buy the larger size of peanut butter or a bag of 16 tortillas instead of 8, and freeze the other 8 for another day. …….. Baby steps. Here’s my pinterest board “Life With Less Plastic.” Here’s a blog with some other ideas for using less plastic, if anyone is interested. And another blog with some good ideas.

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*Did I ever tell you guys the story about when Wendell Berry came to Duke when I was in grad school there? And how for some insane reason I didn’t go hear him speak, but I heard from other students that someone had asked a question along the lines of, “What’s the best thing that we as divinity school students can do?” (given what he had talked about in terms of farming, care for the earth, etc.). And how he said we should drop out of school and become stone masons. Or something along those lines. PLEASE nobody quote me on this, because my memory is horrible (and because I obviously wasn’t even there). But I don’t know, somehow is the spirit of Wendell Berry following me around and urging me to slow down enough to bake bread every once and awhile, or to make my own yogurt? (Ok, obviously not, but there’s something about planting gardens, and gleaning in fields and baking bread with oil and pulling up water out of a well for someone who is thirsty, making lunch for people who are hungry. There’s much about living in a way of peace and gentleness. And tending to all the household tasks because these are the things that Christ did for us.  Having enough time to partake of a meal and do the lowest kind of washing. I’m not trying to say that if you buy any plastic at all it such a terrible thing, or that trying to waste less is somehow the essence of the gospel. But I do think we have lost sight a bit of the dignity of ordinary things like washing dishes and making bread, and we usually are in quite a rush not to be doing those things.  So anyway, here’s to slowing down a bit, wherever you find yourself, whether you’re making yogurt or packing lunch boxes or sweeping the floor for the 4th time today. Slowing down enough to be gentle with ourselves & maybe just maybe also with the world. Because Love prepared us a feast and bid us with gentleness to sit and eat. And of course, she said it much, much better.

A Game Changer (Or, How to Get Kids to Eat Kale).

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Guys. I don’t want to be that person who’s all “This kale chip recipe changed my life.” But Y’ALL. This kale chip recipe changed my life. Although it’s not so much a recipe as a cooking temperature. 250 F. They won’t burn! (Ok, well they might if you really, really leave them in long enough.) I discovered this tip in a cookbook called Nourishing Meals that’s based on the blog by the same name. Her blog has a recipe for some sweet and spicy kale chips, a recipe that is also in the book, and the two times I’ve felt like making the sauce it has been so worth it. (I’m not going to write out the recipe, but check out the link for sweet and spicy kale chips above & just use olive oil and salt and follow the rest of the recipe, if you don’t want to make the sauce.)

The reason the kale chips are un-pictured is that they literally can’t survive long enough on the pan, let alone in a bowl or other container, for me to photograph them. Because all of us love them. (I didn’t even write about this when I originally posted this yesterday, but the main reason these chips have been amazing: The little people love them. LOVE THEM. Kale chip crumbs end up sprinkling the entire kitchen floor, but now that it’s warmer I’ll just send them outside.  Victory is mine.)

January: Some Good Things, a Fat Baby, Weather, etc.

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DSC_1879Life around here is so beautiful and so crazy. We all have terrible colds so I’m making little potions for us of cayenne pepper and honey and apple cider vinegar and kleenex are strewn about hither and yon in the way you’d imagine they would be in the home of an INFP mother of two babies.

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It has been a mild winter so far; we have had several days above freezing so far. Unlike last winter. But we won’t speak of last winter.

I bought plane tickets to take the children and myself to Nashville in late March, by which time the South will be all daffodils and sunshine and joy and low taxes, and Ithaca will be 14 degrees and miserable. I cannot wait. I’m flying by myself with a baby and a toddler and I don’t even care.

Some good things around here lately:

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Bullet journal!!!! I want to recite all of shakespeare’s sonnets to you every day.

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Making butter with some cream I found on sale at the co-op. Awesome toddler activity.

Watching lots of Jeeves and wooster with the toddler. He’s obsessed. It’s the best.

This baby:

There are lots of other good things I wanted to write about, but I am being clawed at by a toddler. More later.

Simple Supper for Cooler Nights

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We haven’t used our oven all summer.  Maybe once, on accident, early in the summer, when I forgot that using our oven=a 95 degree kitchen.  But the nights have been getting cooler– it was 45 the other morning when we woke up– and so last night I decided to roast up a bunch of our CSA gems.  I roughly chopped potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli, put them on two separate baking sheets (the potatoes needed a bit longer to cook), gave them a dollop of lard (leaf lard that I, a mother of two, personally rendered, no big deal) & a generous sprinkle of salt. I sprinkled garlic powder on the potatoes when they came out.

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We ate them right off the pans with some quickly stirred together mayo+mustard+honey (delicious, creamy, honey mustard sauce in an instant!). And that was dinner.  You could fry an egg or make some cheese toast if you wanted a little more protein, but we didn’t and all lived to see another day.  And Will loves dipping things into any kind of sauce, so he loved it. (Inspired by this wonderful book, I’ve been trying to make vegetables the backbone of our meals these days. Doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s good.)

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Good & Cheap: Amazing Cookbook for Small Budgets

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I ran across a blog post this week by a woman who feeds her family of 7 for $300/month.  So theoretically, I could be feeding my family of 3 for $150/month.  That is definitely not happening any time soon, but I am always trying to find ways to reduce our grocery budget. In her post she mentioned a cookbook by Leanne Brown called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. ($4/person, per day is about what is allotted under the SNAP program, i.e., food stamps.) You can download this gorgeous book for free! Free, I say! On Leanne Brown’s website, here.  It is gorgeous, and I love her food philosophy so far: buy good quality eggs, even if you are poor; eat much less meat and many more vegetables & beans.  And use lots of spices and make things taste good! Yes! And the pictures are gorgeous (did I mention that?). She includes lots of Asian-inspired dishes, a Filipino Chicken Adobo that looks incredible, and things like cornmeal crusted veggies, Mexican street corn, smoky and spicy roasted cauliflower, and six variations on oatmeal. Anyway, this is a beautiful book, which you can also pre-order on Amazon, here. (The first edition has sold out, and the 2nd ed. is going to be released in July.)