Monday, December 31, 2007

Save Your Trash

Just read an AP story about Ari Derfel, a Berkeley caterer, who saved his trash for a whole year, composting food scraps. He apparently kept every tissue, every receipt, plastic bottle, and wrapper and put them in bins in his apartment. Here's Mr. Derfel's saveyourtrash blog. I just emailed him to ask if he would do an interview for the blog.

Got the photo from Mr. Derfel's blog via The San Francisco Chronicle (photo by Kim Komenich)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A List for Disney

I'm starting to make a list -- okay, I'm starting to think about a list, but it will have chex trail mix and wet naps on it. Because, I've discovered, if you don't want to pay the kingly ransom for food, snacks, and even cold, bottled water, it's best to bring your own containers of the stuff. While the kindly security officers look down on bringing in coolers to the parks, they do not mind a large baggie of chex trail mix and your own containers of water, discreetly tucked into a satchel. I think it must be some policy about meeting the dietary needs of their guests, as in, "my religion requires that I and my family stuff ourselves with a 1/4 cup of chex trail mix at 15 minute intervals. Same with water."

Still haven't heard from the good folks at Environmental Initiatives, possibly fogged in at their perch on Tom Sawyer Island -- we've had a lot of fog lately in this part of Florida, so I'm thinking something similar is brewing in Orlando.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2008 Slingshot Organizer is here

Got to Goering's fast enough to get one of the large, spiral-bound Slingshot planners. It's snazzy and, once again, it's red. If you didn't read the original post on the planners, you can see it here. Go here for a list of bookstores what sell it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More About Seitan

Here's the update: The seitan was a mess by the end of an hour's cooking time. A goopy, stringy mess. There was, maybe, one chunk that was vaguely reminiscent of what seitan looks like. I tasted it -- it's darn good, but I don't know if it's going to stand up to the rigours of turning it into wheat meat stroganoff.

While doing the first post on seitan I had come across this bulletin board where someone was whining about how they got dumplings out of their seitan brew instead of meaty chunks. Well, now that I'm the one whining about it, I'm going back over my searches in an attempt to find it again. In the meantime, I ran across this intriguingly named site, The Hillbilly Housewife, who has all sorts of tips about making seitan. I think the tip I will use in the future is using vital wheat gluten, eliminating the rinsing of the dough.

Okay, here's the thread from The Vegan Forum where advice is given on the making of seitan. I think wheat gluten is the way to go.

Oh well. I scooped out what I could into a container, and then threw the rest of it, broth and all, into the pot I'm making lentil/barley soup.

Update: I have to say, the soup turned out really, really good. The leftover chunks of seitan that I couldn't scoop out of the broth also went into the soup, giving it a good texture. I'm almost halfway done with this batch and am really enjoying it!


Nothing says "Christmas" like a big batch of good, old-fashioned seitan. Also, I had some veggies that were about to go completely bad.

I used the recipe for seitan from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson, but here's a seitan recipe
from Allison Wunderland that's very similar but doesn't really provide amounts. Here's another recipe through Associated Content that has actual amounts, if you're into knowing that sort of thing.

Also, the Vegetarian Resource Group has a nice little intro to seitan which provides a fair amount of information on its origins, and some really tasty-looking recipes.

The Vegan Planet recipe calls for a big amount of flour -- I just happened to have a bag of whole wheat flour that was languishing in our pantry -- and calls for a simmering broth made from your classic stock-type veggies like carrots, celery, garlic, and onion, and some soy sauce and bay leaves. The house smells like soup!

I made seitan once from a mix, so this is my first foray into making it from scratch. Apparently some recipes call for mixing spices right into the seitan, like poultry seasoning for chicken-flavored, or fennel and pepper for sausage-flavored, etc.

Just checked the seitan in the pot -- it still seems kind of gooey and it's about half-way through the cooking time. I hope I did it right. We'll see. If it turns out well, I'm going to make the fam some seitan strogranoff, combining the recipe from Vegan Planet with the one from the Vegetarian Resource Group. That was what we made with the from-the-mix seitan and it was so tasty.

More about Christmas Trees

In the midst of all the Christmas magic the past 2 days, I looked at the tree in my mom and dad-in-law's house and realized I was being really humbug about the whole live tree vs. artificial tree. They have a live, potted, pine tree that they keep indoors for a couple of weeks and decorate. After Christmas they plant it in their backyard and, in a couple of years, they cut it down and haul it back inside. It still ends with terminating the tree's life, but it seems more sensible to me than buying a cut tree every single year.

I read in O Magazine (yes, my mom-in-law passes them on to me) that in 2006 Americans bought 30 million cut trees*. There is apparently a crisis of where these trees go after they have served their purpose, but it seems there are a lot of opportunities to mulch the trees. The article also said that a tree can take up to 30 years to decompose on its own.

I just called our public utility and asked them what they did with old Christmas trees. I was happy to learn that Waste Management picks them up and turns them into mulch.

O Magazine (and this issue was just full of tips) also talked about the live Christmas tree concept and got their information from the Iowa State University's Department of Horticulture.

Here's an alarming blog piece from Scientific Blogging about the pros and cons of both artificial and live trees. I did not know that a lot of artificial trees can shed lead dust and that some artificial trees come with warnings because of lead content. Also, artificial trees are made from nonrenewable petroleum -- something I did know but prefer not to think about.

Now, what does this mean for our family? Well, I'm not sure. I have to get some florist's tape and do some repair work on some of the branches of the artificial tree we have, but after only about 4 years of use it's kind of falling apart. I still don't believe in cutting down trees just to keep in your house for a short while once a year, but I'm wondering if maybe the g-rents have the right idea; buy live trees each year, plant them out and then after one gets big enough, cut it down and bring it back inside for the next season. It will take a few years for this to actually work, but it might be worth a try.

Here's a link to Agricultural Marketing Resource Center's online discussion of the Christmas tree industry.

Here's a link to an article in the NY Times that discusses the debate of real vs. artificial, with some information on the history of Christmas trees.

* The reference for this article is: O: The Oprah Magazine, December 2007, Volume 8, Number 12, page 20 of special section "Green for the Holidays," entitled, "Treecycling."

Picture from Balsam Hill Christmas Tree Company, via Associated Press, via NY Times article referenced above.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Theme Parks and Carbon Footprints

It's official -- the fam is going to Disney for an overnight trip. I'm not going to say what day it is because it's embarrassing to admit you are a Floridian going to WDW on one of the busiest days of the year; in my defense with planning this trip, it was the only day (ironically enough) that we could get a room at the Florida Resident rate.

After our last trip to Disney, which I chronicled here, I've been thinking about how we could reduce our carbon footprint while at the park. I really did go to the TerraPass website to see if they had a "theme park" category for carbon offset; alas, I was disappointed.

Apparently, Universal Studios made a big to-do about their own efforts to reduce carbon emmissions with a "Green is Universal" festival in November. According to Green Living Online, Universal is the first theme park to "convert to green fuel and will be reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 260 tons annually." In addition to using biodiesel and ethanol in their diesel and flex-fuel cars on the property, Universal is also looking at ways to use the vegetable oil they're recycling in other vehicles. Universal is going to have vegetable oil-powered vehicles! That's so hippy-dippy, it's amazing.

So why isn't Disney doing the same things? I don't know if they are or not, so I went to the Disneyworld website and finally, after a little hunting, found a FAQ about just that question:

Q.What does the Walt Disney World Resort do to help the environment?
A. Environmentality is an attitude and a commitment to our environment, where we, as the Walt Disney organization, actively seek ways to be friendlier to our planet. We're committed to making smart choices now to preserve our world for the future. We encourage environmental awareness among our Cast, our Guests and the community.
For more information, please contact:

Environmental Initiatives
Walt Disney World Co.
P.O. Box 10,000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
I don't know if "environmentality" is a word, but I guess it is now since Disney flaks have used it in a FAQ. So, anyway, I wrote them a letter and sent it off yesterday:

December 19, 2007

Dear Environmental Specialists,

Our family will be traveling to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World on XXXXXXX, and will be staying overnight. I would like any information you have regarding your environmental initiatives and what ways our family could make less of an environmental impact during our stay. In the interests of disclosure, I write a weblog on environmental living and will be chronicling this trip as part of a series of posts regarding carbon footprints and theme parks.

Thank you for any information you can provide and have a happy holiday.
We'll see if they can get it together to send me something in the next week -- I realize that's kind of asking a lot of Environmental Initiatives at WDW because they're probably located in a broom closet somewhere on Tom Sawyer Island and have to walk all the way to Main Street USA just to make a copy or send a fax, much less send information on living green at Disney. Also, we're coming up on "The Hammock" as the old man calls it -- that week between Christmas and New Year's day where any semblance of a workplace sort of disintegrates (at UF they just close the entire campus). I'm sure Disney, as anywhere else in the U.S., is similarly affected by "hammock-itis."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finger-Eating Christmas Trees and Other End of the Year Busyness

We're finally in the midst, on the doorstep if you will, of Christmas. DJ and I put up the tree on Sunday while the old man was shopping for dinner. Now, when DJ was born, I had already decided long ago that we would have an artificial tree. I don't believe in cutting down a perfectly good tree just to sit in my house to die for a month out of each year. I know that sounds humbug but I grew up with an artificial tree and don't feel like I was missing out. I see no need to change. And DJ doesn't care either way -- he enjoys decorating it and getting to plug in the lights.

This tree, however, as artificial as it seems, is really quite treacherous and has almost taken off a couple of fingers -- good ones, too, I might add. The genus -- arbor artificialis chinaexis -- is well known to pinch or otherwise disable many a good finger in its annual construction. Its goal? To render all human hands useless so that it may remain standing until at least March, when said hands are out of various traction devices.

Move to Virtual Real Estate
I've been trying to move the blog to a domain -- no, I should rephrase that; I've been meaning to move the blog to a domain, but have been thwarted by home, school, and crippling procrastination (I don't know if procrastination can be crippling, but it's more dramatic when you say "crippling" about anything, no?). Anyhow, in the last couple of days I've been looking at ways to move the posts to the new site quickly and cleanly. I'm hoping to have the new site up and functioning by the end of the year. I don't know if this is bad or not, but I'm going to keep the blogger site for now and cross-post, and see how it goes.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another Book Crossing Update

After leaving my first Book Crossing book on the table in the 1st floor lounge of Library West, I decided that, instead of notifying Book Crossing about the non-existence of the other drop area, I would just create my own. That's the beauty of Book Crossing -- it's endlessly surprising where you can leave books on campus. The crook of a tree, a low brick wall near Century Tower, or a place that evidently exists in an alternate universe of Library West. So, I just made a new drop-off area of Library West, near the entrance of the 1st floor lounge, across from the buck of stars.

The first book I put there was scooped up within hours. There is apparently also a way to sign up for an email alert to releases in your area. A wise move if you want first crack at the new items. I did that and it's fun to see the other places on campus or in town where people leave stuff. I'm almost finished with a book (I'm not going to reveal title or author for shame of how trashy it is, but will definitely be a restorative after a busy semester) and it will soon be swimming in the Book Crossing Stream of Life.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Need-a-Bag? Project Update December

Well, it's been almost two months since we started Need-a-Bag? at the Alachua County Farmers Market. So far the project has gone really well; people are starting to understand what we're trying to do. So, instead of saying, "oh, but I have a million of those at home," when offered a free tote bag for their purchases, they now only say, "no, thank you." That's a big change and definitely a growing opportunity for all of us.

Leaving the bags, signs, and drop box by the fence along the front of the market for people to take as they need them has been a real boon; each weekend we find more missing and occasionally find some in the drop box. There is a rhythm beginning to take shape, I think.

Erika, the citrus woman and one of the farmers market organizers, has fully embraced the mission and goals of the Need-a-Bag? project and has given us her endorsement in a recent email letter, a little of which (the most important part pertaining to us, that is) is reprinted here:

*Protect the environment!* We will continue to provide plastic bags for your produce, but please consider recycling your grocery bags by bringing them to the market for your own personal use. Last year, we distributed over 1000 plastic bags during our citrus season. Tote bags are also a great item to store in the trunk of your car to use as shopping bags.

If you have visited the market recently, you may have been introduced to a new program created by two of our rather fabulous customers! Michele and Susan decided to take it upon themselves to reduce the number of plastic bags utilized by customers of our 441 market. Each Saturday morning from approximately 8:45 to 10, Susan and Michele pass out tote bags they have thrifted (and washed) to the crowd and/or hang available tote bags on the fences outside the market. If you are in need of a tote bag, please take advantage of this program and use one of their bags. If you are so inclined, please return the cleaned tote bag to Susan and Michele at the market the following Saturday.

If you have tote bags at home that you do not use in your everyday shopping, please consider donating to Susan and Michele (contact info in the ad section below). If you cannot locate Susan or Michele at the market, but would still like to donate your totes and/or tank tops (read their blog), you are more than welcome to hand them to us at our booth (#4) between 8:30 and noon. We will ensure the bags arrive at their destination.

The market still hopes to sell its very own tote bags in the future, but this is an excellent program that we hope you will support.
That was so awesome. And Erika and her dad sell some mighty sweet oranges, too, I might add. I was intrigued by her idea that shoppers should return the bags clean the following Saturday. I really hadn't even considered the idea that people take some responsibility in all of this. We'd probably just wash them again, anyway, since we wouldn't know which ones were already laundered. But it's definitely the direction we'd like to take it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Post-Partum Parade Depression

I’ve been feeling kind of “blah” the past couple of days and I can only assume it’s related to the parade being over. I mentioned on this blog about a month or so ago that I was gearing up to gather area cyclists to participate in the High Springs Christmas Parade in a show of support for cycling as a fun and healthy activity for the whole family. The centerpiece of my plan was the introduction of Queen Bicycle 2007 in her capacity as goodwill ambassador for all cyclists in Alachua County, and her attendant entourage.

And so, the parade came to pass on Saturday night and we actually pulled it off, but not without its share of mishaps. Part of the reason I’m feeling down is that I didn’t organize the getting-to-the-parade part of the whole deal well at all, and so lost the Gainesville Cycling Club who were going to turn out in their cycling finery, I’m sure, to help promote our cause. But I’ll never know what they wore, because they couldn’t find me, and vice-versa. As I found out later from the GCC organizer, they ended up with the High Springs BMX Club, and so paraded with them. Thank goodness they were able to participate, but it doesn’t alleviate the guilt I feel in not getting them to the right place.

We had still not found a rider for the Royal Pedicab (a bicycle rickshaw) transporting Queen Bicycle 2007 by the time of the parade start, but at the last minute our friend, Frog, took on the mantle of Royal Pedicab Driver. This was no small feat. Being a shy, retiring type, he was looking forward to just riding his low-rider chopper bike in the parade but was unable to get it to the truck in time for our departure. In despair, he was about to bail on the whole enterprise when DG stopped him and said, “Frog, you have to go to High Springs and ride the pedicab.” This is not something I’m sure Frog had counted on; like I said, he is a shy and retiring type and did not want to be thrust into the spotlight as Royal Pedicab Driver. He also did not want to really leave the city limits; I think it took him more than a couple of rich, chocolatey Ovaltines to get him into the Royal Volvo Stationwagon to drive the 20 miles to High Springs.

But he came through, God love him. And he rode the whole parade route. Even though Queen Bicycle 2007 herself is a lovely, wafer-thin creature, the pedicab was pretty darn heavy. I know, because I rode it home 3 miles from the pickup place on Friday night, with DG trailing behind me in her car to make sure I wouldn’t crash the darn thing. My upper thighs are still wailing at me. Frog came through, though, and he is a hero in my book.

As we came up the main drag, I realized that I do not like throwing candy at people. I had purchased a passal of SweeTarts, Starlight Mints, and Brachs assorted candies to give to people, not throw at people. I tried that a few times and almost put a couple of eyes out. I ended up just kind of skipping the candy like stones in front of the children screaming “Merry Christmas!” – I sussed that that was the code for “give me candy, now.” DG found the happy medium of handing the candy to individual children by the handfuls, and then when she ran low she would go to individual children at random like, “I choose you!” and give them one candy each.

We got to the parade announcer’s podium and I heard our group’s little introduction over the PA: “Alachua County in Motion was formed in 2006 to promote cycling as a fun, healthy activity for the whole family.” And, at that moment, my son and another child were performing some primitive form of bicycle jousting, using their helmets as the jousting poles.

And then it was over. We turned the corner and suddenly we were meandering back to the parade origination. We had circumnavigated the entire Main Street of High Springs, Florida, and completed our first parade as Alachua County in Motion. I hugged everyone and thanked them profusely, not the least of which was my husband, who patiently endures my crazy ideas.

I feel a little better blogging about it; I’m trying to shake off the blues, here, and writing always helps. We’ve already chosen our Queen Bicycle for next year and perhaps there will be some sort of coronation before then. As I try to snap out of this downer I find myself in, there is a glimmer of thought in perhaps putting in an application for UF’s Homecoming Parade. And maybe have a fleet of pedicabs for all the children who want to ride in the parade, to alleviate the bicycle jousting. And thank goodness the UF Homecoming Parade doesn’t allow candy throwing.

Thanks to Stacey for the great photo!