Tag Archives: kitchen

Stuff I Like: FloWorks Drying Rack

So much handwashing.  I have lamented the state of handwashing in my house now that my focus the past six weeks or so has been the reduction of single use plastics in things like school lunches.  What this really translates into is eliminating single use zipper style bags for sandwiches and grapes.  Two lunches equals four bags per day which works out to twenty bags per week.

Seven or so weeks into the school year and we have already saved approximately 140 bags from making their way into the landfill.  However, this has meant a change in the evening ritual.  For me it means an additional four things to wash by hand and leave to dry for the next day.  Unlike water bottles or coffee mugs, reusable bags are kind of a pain to wash and dry.  The drying aspect is especially troublesome.

Enter the FloWorks Drying Rack:

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This thing works and does not look like a refugee from a baby supply store.  It claims to be made from repurposed birch and ash wood and plywood scavenged from furniture makers in Canada.  Good on them, eh.

The whole thing also skinnies down to a cylinder that can be stored in a normal size utensil drawer:

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This is super handy when you are spending a day cleaning the kitchen counters and want everything out of sight.  I am not going all Marie Kondo in my kitchen, but I do love it when there is a place for everything and the clutter is eliminated.

It may not be the biggest change you make this year, but eliminating the disposal of plastic bags on a daily basis is a good place to make a dent in your consumption of single use plastic items.

Note: I purchased the FloWorks Drying Rack with my own funds and receive nothing in return from the manufacturer.  I also receive nothing in return from the linked store, which in this case is Amazon much to my chagrin.

The Downside of Ditching Single Use Items

When you decide to ditch single use items in your daily life there is a downside that no one ever mentions in those cutesy Buzzfeed click bait lists of “15 Items to Get You to Ditch Disposables.”  The downside is so many dishes.  And almost all of it is hand washed.

Replace your children’s disposable sandwich bags with reusable silicone bags?  Get ready to hand wash four of those things with a bottle brush every day, five days a week.

Replace water bottles with Hydro Flasks?  Get ready to scrub those out every couple of days for fear that the insides will begin to resemble a middle school science experiment gone wrong.

Replace paper coffee cups at work with a stainless steel mug?  Get ready to bring that home every couple of days to wash out the gunk from whatever that coffee is in the communal kitchen.

It just adds up to so many dishes.  Combined with a maniacal focus the past six months on home cooked meals and I feel like my life revolves around dishes.  Not cooking meals, but cleaning dishes.  A family of four trying to not use any single use, disposable items goes through a ton of dishes.  Like running the dishwasher and hand washing a pile of stuff every day.

However, the addition of kitchen work pales in comparison to what you might have been throwing away.  Just think about the plastic bags in my kids’ lunches.  A week would equal 20 disposable bags.  That is over 80 disposable bags per month.  I might only be on week 3 of using a reusable alternative, but I think it is worth it.

Don’t even get me started on the stainless steel coffee mug that I have been using in the office since 2001.  Yes, my coffee mug is old enough to head off to college.

A Meatless Burger from Aldi?

There is a trope in economics about a product or technology getting to a “China price” or an “India price.”  The idea being that it is one thing for a product or technology to be affordable to American or European consumers, but to be truly transformative something needs to be affordable to the billions of consumers in China and India.

Like most popularized economic wisdom this is a little simplistic and overlooks much of the nuance that makes a product or technology transformative.  However, there might just be a corollary for meatless hamburgers.  I propose the “Aldi price.”

Flipping through the weekly flyer that comes in the mail while I waited for my daughter to finish her weekly piano lesson I saw several meatless foods advertised in the Aldi flyer.  Normally, I do not shop at Aldi.  It has little to do with the offerings and more to do with the fact that I just don’t seem to understand shopping at Aldi.  From the quarter deposit for a cart, the odd way the store seems structured, and so on.  It is just not my bag.

However, for approximately $3 I was able to buy a package of four meatless burgers under the Earth Grown label:

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This is half the price of what a Beyond Burger goes for in the grocery stores around here.  Heck, you cannot even buy the Impossible Burger for home consumption anywhere yet.  On a per ounce price basis the Aldi Earth Grown meatless burger is cheaper than decent ground beef.  At this price there can be little argument that a meatless burger is both an economic and environmental winner.  At the “Aldi price” a meatless burger is a burger that anyone can afford.

The question remains, does anyone really want an Aldi meatless burger:

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There is a definite disconnect between what is shown on the box and what comes out of the box.  I would guess that the patties—which come four to a box—are about half the thickness of the patty shown on the box.  Furthermore, the texture is less ground beef analog—which is what the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are going for—and more improved veggie burger.  This is an improvement on the lifeless Boca patties of your late 1990s backyard party.  This is not, however, a patty that will sit in the uncanny valley between actual hamburger and veggie burger.

It is amazing that we have come to a time and place regarding meatless hamburgers where we are arguing if the product is enough like actual hamburger versus is the product barely edible.  For anyone who soldiered through eating crumbly black bean patties or bizarre quinoa creations in the early aughts this is a revelation.

Friday Linkage 10/5/2018

A little light on the links this first week of October.  I think almost everyone has been glued to the circus that is the Trump administration.

On to the links…

Chuck Grassley Plans to Take Trump’s Federal Farm Bailout Cash, Calls it ‘Equal Treatment’—Nothing says fiscal responsibility like making sure you get your bailout cash from an unnecessary trade spat.  Where was Chuck Grassley when homeowners were taken advantage of by mortgage lenders in the mid-2000s?  Where was Chuck Grassley when people lost their homes to illegal foreclosures?  People in Iowa would elect the corpse of Chuck Grassley.

Trump’s Plan to Scrap Mercury Regulations Won’t Save Coal But It Will Cost Lives—This is America under Trump.  It is a hellscape of increased deadly emissions from ageing power plants propped up by government largesse to line the pockets of a few coal barons.

Trump Administration, EPA say Radiation is Good for You—It is getting downright Orwellian.

U.S. Power Producers’ Coal Consumption Falls to 35-year Low—Every new solar photovoltaic array and wind turbine that I see is another shovel of dirt on the grave of coal.  If we can weather the interminable Trump storm of the next couple of years we can truly put the United States on a clean power path.

Germany’s Coal Habit Proves Hard to Kick—Germany wanted to transition away from coal and to renewables.  The problem with this plan was that Germany also wanted to eliminate its reliance on nuclear energy as well.

Banks turn their Back on Coal amid Emissions Concerns—Modern commerce runs on credit.  If banks are unwilling to lend most schemes are incapable of operating at any scale.  This is bad for coal and good for the planet.

China to Add 259 GW of Coal Capacity, Satellite Imagery Shows—This is bad.

Our Fertilizer Is Killing Us. Here’s A Fix.—Synthetic fertilizer has allowed for billions of people to escape famine.  It is also one of the drivers of bad global impacts like dead zones.

More than 1 in 3 Americans Eat Fast Food on a Typical Day, and We Eat it All Day Long—Is our fast food consumption a cause of our modern problems or is it a symptom?  Do we eat fast food because our modern lives do not allow enough time or flexibility to eat actual food?  Or, do we eat fast food because it taps into some primordial desire for salt, sugar, and fat?  Either way, it is bad for us all.

14 Food Waste Facts That Might Change The Way You Cook, Shop, And Eat—I believe that in order to get our planet right, we need to first get our households right.  The first step to get our households right is to fix our kitchens.  Victory is in the kitchen.

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

In Defense of So-Called Unitaskers

Unitaskers are loathed by the kitchen cognoscenti, but I am here to come to the defense of unitaskers.  As someone who spends a lot of time cooking at home I have come to the realization that there are certain tasks best left to a specialized tool.  It is ironic that specialized tools for the kitchen receive so much scorn when specialized tools for many other endeavors are given little consideration as an affront to skill.

Here are two unitaskers that may have you scratching your head:

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On the left is a Kyocera ginger grater and on the right is a Le Creuset pie bird funnel.

Just get a knife to dice your ginger, says the guy who watches Top Chef and thinks he is suddenly a sous chef for Thomas Keller.  Suck it.  I cook with fresh ginger at least a couple of times a week and this little ceramic disc is godsend.

Instead of spending the time dicing, I simply peel about half of the ginger root and gently rub the peeled end along the abrasive middle section of the ceramic disc.  It takes maybe thirty seconds or a minute at most to get the ginger you need for almost any recipe.

The pie bird funnel is a something else entirely.  It does a single task that no other item can perform.  What does this cute little red bird do?  It redirects the steam from the inside of your pie, in my case usually it is an apple pie, and routes it through the mouth of the bird.  Amazingly you will not have any more bubbling messes around the edges of your pie and the shoulders of the bird support the top crust amazingly.

Yes, the pie bird funnel is an extreme unitasker.  However, like having the right tool for a certain job there is nothing that it can be compared to when doing its intended purpose.  You cannot remove an external bearing bottom bracket on a bicycle with a crescent wrench, you need the specific tool for that particular job.  If you want to make amazing apple pies at home with a full top crust then you will need to get a pie bird funnel.

Here is the thing, anything that helps us spend more time cooking meals at home with our families as opposed to spending time and money on going out is a good thing.  If there is a task that you hate in the kitchen that is an impediment to more home cooking then by all means find the unitasker that makes that task simpler.  I do not think it is wrong for people to use a garlic press to make a quick pasta sauce on a weeknight when the alternative is freaking take out.

NOTE: I receive no compensation whatsoever if you click on the link and buy one of these products.  I bought them with my own money and I am promoting them with no benefit to myself save knowing that people will use more ginger if they have a ginger grater.  Or bake more pies.  How could the world not be a better place if people were baking more pies?

Refocusing on a Home Based Economy

2009 seems like a long away.  It’s has been “just” eight years, but as Donald Trump continues to be an international embarrassment on a daily basis it makes me wonder about those halcyon days when we waited for Barack Obama to take the oath of office.

2008 was a bear for a lot of people.  The economy literally seemed like it was going off the rails completely and no one had any idea how to fix things.  It turns out the “masters of the universe” in the high finance world had figured out a way to spread the risk and damage from low-grade securitized mortgage loans to almost every aspect of the American economy.  Amazingly, this contagion also spread to the global economy because as much as closed minded right wingers would like to believe the world is not interconnected globalization is a fact of life.

The buzzwords in the winter of 2008 and into 2009 were things like urban homesteading, frugality, DIY, canning, etc.  You get the idea.  We were collectively abandoning a consumer lifestyle focused on buying a plasma television a few inches bigger than the perfectly fine working plasma television in the basement of our home that was half again as big as we needed.  We were all wondering if maybe we had lost something in the pursuit of more square footage, solid surface countertops, nine foot ceilings, and crown molding.  Well, how times have changed.

Or has it?

After eight decent years of economic recovery, which has been uneven and much slower than prior economic recoveries, experts are beginning to wonder if the new era of Trump will also coincide with a recession.  Despite the major stock indices hitting new highs on a seemingly daily basis there is ample evidence that maybe there is just a little gas left in the tank and recession is waiting on the doorstep.

What to do?

My solution is to turn inward and focus on a home based economy.  It’s sort of in line with my theory that the most subversive thing that we can do is nothing.  [LINK]  By focusing our efforts inside of our homes the emphasis is no longer necessarily on the things we buy to consume.  It is inward facing and not concerned with external judgment.

Maybe it is about mindfulness.  Maybe it is about frugality.  Maybe it is about all of those things that we pay lip service to in conversation but forget to act upon the minute we get an email touting the latest sale at REI.  I am as guilty of this behavior as anyone else and it is the single thing that I am trying to break myself from over the course of the next few months.  It is my hope that by focusing on the economy of the home that I will slowly begin to break my own cycle of consumerism.  In the process I hope to solidify household finances and achieve some measure of greater satisfaction.

That sounds great, but what does it mean in practice?

Take a look at the image below:

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This is for the average “consumer unit,” so in reality you will spend more or less on items as your personal circumstances dictate, e.g. I do not smoke so I do not spend $323 per year on tobacco.  However, as a thought exercise it gets you to think about where you spend your money.

It’s easy to key in on the largest single unit related to “housing.”  Yet, for most of us our housing situation is somewhat inflexible because we have a mortgage, lease, etc.  It is easy for some blogger to scream “downsize” but the costs associated with that may actually make the option prohibitive.

Now, look at some of the other categories.  Transportation eats up the next largest portion.  Well, if you start basing your life around your home you will probably drive a lot less.  Trust me, once I started thinking about every mile driven being $0.50 tossed out the window I began to think about every trip I took by car and how I could reduce those miles.  Stay at home and you do not spend the money on transportation.  Yes, you will still spend money on insurance and tags for your vehicle but every mile not driven is less you spend on fuel and maintenance.

Food is the third largest contributor and another place where a home based philosophy can really make a difference.  Modern Americans spend a smaller share of their income on food than at any other time in the country’s history yet we still spend a lot of money both in and out of the home.  Plus, we throw away a lot of food.

The common thread throughout is by focusing on living a frugal life at home the expenses in a lot of these categories can be ameliorated.  If you are buying less stuff you are spending less money and producing fewer carbon emissions.  Like I said earlier the greenest thing you can do is nothing.

Friday Linkage 9/18/2015

Tom Brady supports Donald Trump. Peyton Manning is starring on the field as a weaker armed version of the Hall of Fame quarterback. Jay Cutler is doing Jay Cutler things again in Chicago. You could say that I spent some time this last week watching football and just plain zoning out. Go Hawks!

On to the links…

How Much Of Your Retirement Fund Is Tied Up In Fossil Fuels? Now, You Can Find Out.—A person’s 401k will be one of the two largest investments in a portfolio, with a home being the only competitor. How much of that money is going to support fossil fuel interests?

Half Of California’s Electricity Will Come From Renewable Energy In 15 Years—California passed a major climate change related bill recently. Although it was watered down by fossil fuel interests at the last minute there is still a lot of good things in the legislation.

A Third American City Is Now Running Entirely On Renewable Energy—It is still one the most pretentious ski towns in the world—go Steamboat Springs!—but it is now 100% fueled by renewables. There is a lot of marketing involved in the effort, but it is commendable nonetheless.

Meet the New National Geographic and Weep—The same people who bring you the sheer horror that is Fox & Friends will be the same people who publish one of the most amazing magazines in world history. Rupert Murdoch ruins everything that he touches and National Geographic will be no different.

AB InBev plans takeover bid for SABMiller—You want to talk about mega-merger. This is it. Nine of the world’s twenty largest breweries would be controlled by a single entity. Now, a lot of that volume would be made up of junk macro beer that has seen flat to declining sales for the past decade. So, maybe this is a doubling down on a losing bet hoping for a nag to come through.

National Grid CEO: Large Power Stations For Baseload Power Is Outdated—The distributed model—think the internet—has supplanted the traditional centralized model of most industries save for electrical power generation.

Siemens Looks Toward Next-Generation 10–20 MW Wind Turbines—Think about a 10 to 20 MW wind turbine for a moment. At the mid-range it could be the equivalent of 10 GE 1.5 MW turbines that dot the American landscape. Wow!

The Palm Oil Plantations Powering Communities and Tackling Climate Change—Why aren’t all large scale agricultural operations taking such a holistic approach to their energy use and lifecycle? The number that got me was reducing the diesel use from 2.8 million liters per year to under 500,000 liters per year.

10 Ways to Get Rid of That Awful Smell in Your Kitchen Sink—If you cook a lot in your home you are quite familiar with the strange odors that can come from the disposal drain in the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid soap and hot water. It takes care of any funk lickety split.

8 Things to Never Bring into Your Home—We are always looking for those quick hit things to make our homes a little bit greener. Here are eight easy things to avoid.

25 Things you Should Start Adding to your Compost Pile—How many of these things do you throw away that could be put into the compost?

This Southern State Made A Big Commitment To Start Teaching About Climate Change—Welcome to the modern age Alabama. Roll tide!

These Two Genius Tricks to Improve School Food Have Nothing to Do With What’s for Lunch—Simple and cost effective. These are the changes that we can make on the local level that will really impact our children’s lives.

Cleaning up the Kitchen

For some reason I felt like conducting a purge this weekend. It rained for most of the day Saturday and when the rain stopped the humidity made it feel like someone was steam pressing your shirt while you wore it. So, I milled about the kitchen cooking a few things and just kind of staring at the accumulated detritus of various recipes and ideas gone wrong.

Why did I have so many packages of extra butter microwave popcorn when my family usually just eats a bowl of Tiny But Mighty from the Whirly-Pop? Never mind that the stuff might actually be hazardous to your health.

What were we doing with various containers of frosting and decorating items that had expiration dates as far back as three years prior? The mini M&Ms, chocolate stars, whipped fudge frosting, and strange confetti cake mix all went into the trash.

Before long I had discovered I had filled an entire tall kitchen bag with food that was long expired, potentially bad for me, or just plain mysterious. It felt good in the same vein as spring cleaning or taking all the stuff out of your garage to really get at the accumulated grime.

However, things took a decidedly unexpected turn this morning. We woke up to a refrigerator that had ceased to cool food sometime in the past twenty four hours. The freezer was okay, so it is likely just to be a problem with the defrost cycle or ice buildup near the ducts that blow cold air into the refrigerator. Regardless, we spent a good portion of the morning chucking room temperature yogurt because we had no clue how long it had been in that particular state.

Like the pantry I started to wonder why I had so many condiments and how old some of those sauces really were? What does one do with a quart of Panda Express orange sauce? I do not know nor do I care to discover an answer because that gloppy stuff went right into the trash. Ditto the various salad dressings that no one could remember purchasing. Really, when did I buy that Honey Dijon Wasabi salad dressing?

Looking at a completely bare refrigerator is an odd experience. One, it’s a great opportunity to clean all the drawers and shelves that rarely see a scrub brush. Two, it’s a great chance to really think about what food you keep around. Some social theorists believe that our refrigerators make us fat because we keep high calorie foods in easy to consume vehicles—think cheese sticks which should really be called little fat twigs—which would be impossible without huge refrigerators. As I restock my refrigerator over the next couple of weeks—assuming that it is as easy a fix as my friendly appliance repair person thinks it will be—I will be intrigued to see what makes the cut.

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

Somehow, I found myself with a bag of onions that were starting to get a little soft and I was looking at being away from home for nearly a week.  Throwing the onions out seemed ridiculous, but no one wants to come home to a pile of rotting vegetables on their counter in the heat of summer.

Enter the slow cooker.  Using the slow cooker, a person can caramelize a batch of onions with no effort outside of maybe 5 or 10 minutes of chopping and a quick clean out of the pot eight to ten hours later.  Plus, caramelizing onions on the stove top properly takes a long time and some measure of attention.  Please do not listen to your recipes when they talk about getting onions golden in 5 or 10 minutes.  45 minutes maybe, but no less.  The sweetness takes time to develop and the slow cooker specializes in taking its time.

I just filled the crock with the onions I had on my counter and topped with a stick of butter cut into thin pats:

Onions Before

Set the slow cooker on high and leave it alone for eight to ten hours.  The end result is a pile of perfectly caramelized onions:

Onions After

One word of advice, put the slow cooker outside if you have a good place.  If you do this inside you might end up with a revolt form your family members because the smells can get pretty intense.

I usually keep a small container of the finished product in the refrigerator and freeze the rest in small batches.  Caramelized onions are the perfect flavor blast for so many dishes: breakfast burritos, burgers, grilled fish…