homemade greek yogurt

If I’m being honest, yogurt has historically weirded me out a bit. Among other things, this is likely attributed to a wariness of dairy prompted by a babysitting experience in middle school during which I unknowingly opened a sippy cup of curdled milk sitting out. However, I stand by the rule that you “can’t knock it til you try it, and try it again” when it comes to new foods and have come to enjoy plain greek yogurt mixed with a little fruit. The great thing about plain yogurt is you can add whatever you want to it and not have to accept the loads of sugar packed into pre-flavored varieties. If you truly consider yourself a purist, you can take this a step further and just straight up make yogurt from scratch. Not only can you control the sugar content, but you also have the final say in the source of milk.

For those who are specifically in to greek yogurt, you make your own by simply straining regular, off-the-shelf plain yogurt. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and have some time on your hands, you can make your own yogurt with little more than a jug of milk as outlined here.

I’ve done this twice now – once with whole milk and once with lowfat. As might be expected, the whole milk makes a creamier, richer yogurt, but both kinds work perfectly fine for the process. Shoutout to my roommate, Hannah, for being totally cool with me setting a slow cooker wrapped in a towel out on our counter overnight & later occupying a fair amount of counter space with bowls of straining yogurt. She’s the real MVP.

The yield is dependent on how thick you like your yogurt. Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt because it has more whey liquid strained out of it. This “more concentrated” yogurt explains the higher protein content of greek vs. regular yogurt. The thicker the yogurt is made, the less it will yield, but conservatively estimate half of the milk volume initially put in (ie. 1 gallon yields 8 cups yogurt). If you’d like to make more or less yogurt, the recipe is easily scaleable – just adjust the milk & yogurt starter proportions accordingly.

Homemade Greek Yogurt
Makes 8-10 cups

0128172029a_hdr2.jpg.jpg

Ingredients & Materials

  • Slow cooker
  • 1 gallon dairy milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt with cultures
  • Food-grade thermometer (instant read, meat, candy, etc)
  • Large towel
  • Colander + large bowl + straining material

Directions

  1. Pour milk into the slow cooker, cover, & heat on high until the milk reaches 180°F. This could take anywhere from 2-4 hrs depending on your pot & quantity of milk. (It took 2 when I used a half-gallon, but closer to 3.5 with a full gallon the second time around). This temperature is apparently the threshold required for the milk to properly thicken.
  2.  Turn the slow cooker off and wait for the milk to cool to 110°F. Again, this could take another 2-4 hours.
  3. Once the milk has cooled, remove approximately 1 cup and combine with the plain yogurt. Stir carefully (not vigorously) until thoroughly mixed. Add back to the slow cooker and once again stir carefully (strokes instead of circles) until well combined.
  4. Replace cover & wrap the slow cooker in a towel and let stand for 10-12 hours. This is when the magic happens. You could go to bed with a swaddled slow cooker of warm milk sitting on your counter and wake up to a swaddled slow cooker of yogurt – how about that?
  5. Strain the yogurt by placing a colander over a bowl and lining with straining material. I’ve used both coffee filters & paper towels, though I think a nut bag or fine mesh strainer would probably be ideal. Fill with the thin yogurt mixture and let stand until it reaches near your desired consistency. I found that, once refrigerated, the yogurt thickens a bit more, so don’t worry if it’s not quite as thick as you’d like it when standing. Again, this is another 2-4 hour process depending on your consistency preference.
  6. Scoop out & store your yogurt. I imagine it would keep for a few weeks in the fridge, though mine absolutely will not last that long seeing that I’ll eat it first. Be sure to save some to use for the cultures in your next batch of yogurt, kind of like Amish friendship bread I suppose. I’ve set some aside in a separate container so I don’t forget and eat it all…

So yes, it takes a little while, but requires little effort. If you start around 4 pm, you should have fresh, homemade yogurt by lunchtime the following day.

Notes

Slow Cooker: A fantastic, common thrift store find. I have a 6 qt. Crock-Pot that I got from the repackaged clearance endcap at Target a while back, but have seen them frequently at secondhand shops. If you find one with a tacky, outdated pattern on the outside, consider repainting with chalkboard paint – it’s great for potlucks!

Straining Material: There are a lot of options here. Since part of my goal for the year is to not buy anything new, I’ve been testing out materials I have around my apartment. Coffee filters were sturdier than the paper towels – I was afraid I would tear the paper towel when scooping out the yogurt once it was finished. Ideally, I think a nut bag or other fine mesh strainer would work nicely.

Whey: The question remains: “what should I do with the strained whey from the yogurt?”. To be honest, I haven’t done much but let it sit in my fridge looking like a jar of lemonade, but apparently there are a number of uses. If you’re into smoothies, you can add it there, or use it (to some extent) in soups & baking. Here are 18 ways to use whey that may come in handy.

Read More »

the kitchen

Humor me as I indulge in a tangent here.

This post is adapted from a piece I originally wrote in July 2015, and I’ve been reminded of it as a result of the strange coexistence of both unity and divisiveness that seems to have intensified over the last week or so. The kitchen is often a hub of activity, but also a polarizing subject, especially in conversations of equality. Perhaps it is also place in which we can gather & learn more about each other.

There’s no well-defined purpose of sharing this here. But I will say that reflecting on the role of the kitchen in my life generates warm, positive feelings – and I think I could use a little bit of that right now.

0126171528b_hdr.jpg

Read More »

ice cream bread

Back in October, we lost power for 3 or so days as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Inconvenient for sure, but only mildly problematic as we had access to university resources to shower, charge electronics, use wifi, etc. We kept our perishables in our closed fridge for as long as deemed safe, then were fortunate to be able to transfer them to some real estate in a friend’s chest freezer. Our ice cream had melted a bit (not completely), but didn’t re-freeze to the same creamy, scoopable consistency. That made it a prime candidate for this recipe.

Our local grocery store occasionally has “buy 2, get 3 free” deals (yes, you read that right) on different items, which has the potential to yield an excess of ice cream. I think I’d be a little wary of buying ice cream exclusively for the use of baking – ice cream may make bread better, but I’m not so sure that bread can improve upon ice cream. However, this is a quick, not-too-sweet recipe that is good to have in one’s back pocket.

There are a number of variations of this recipe floating around online already, but figured I’d report what worked for me. I used chocolate cherry bordeaux & mocha almond fudge flavors. To be honest, the mocha almond flavor had a little bit of an almost burned taste, perhaps from the coffee flavor, but the chocolate-cherry was super tasty and the cherry flavor certainly came through. Plus, I’m a sucker for nearly anything chocolate…

If I were to do this again, I’d definitely opt to add chocolate chips for a little something extra.

wp-1485354148166.jpg

Ice Cream Bread
Makes 1 loaf (10 slices)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ice cream
  • 1 1/4 cups self rising flour*
  • Add ins, as desired (chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, etc)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease the bottom & sides of a loaf pan.
  2. Combine ice cream and flour, mixing until combined.
  3. Stir in any add ins, if desired, then add batter to loaf pan.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a fork comes out clean. I recommend cooling before slicing.

Yep, it’s that easy! If you find you’d like something a bit sweeter or richer, serve slices with ice cream or peanut butter.

As a side note, it was a little tricky to get out of my pan, but I cut around the edges and used a fork to pull up one end, then turned upside down and shook until the bread separated.

*If you don’t have self rising flour on hand, you can make your own by adding 1 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/2 tsp salt to 1 cup of all purpose flour

Anyone out there have strong opinions about their favorite ice cream flavor?

week 03: come together

I must say, this week was incredible.

At the onset, driving through Houston, I felt small and insignificant. The city sprawl was a reminder of the immense number of people living there, still only a minute fraction of those that populate the globe. Glances out the window fed the little voice in the back of my mind suggesting that my ideas & efforts do not matter and will not amount to anything. A drive down stretches of highway lined with oil refineries was a reminder of where the resources I use originate, and of the communities located in the surrounding areas that indirectly experience the effects of my decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting Houston, but time spent taking in this new, foreign place did lead to a few moments of near paralyzing examination.

However, I concluded the week as one of millions standing united as part of the series of Women’s March on Washington events worldwide. Though one of many, my presence among such crowds did not generate a feeling of insignificance, but instead one of empowerment. If so many people of different backgrounds & beliefs could come together to recognize similarities and cultivate empathy, perhaps more than I imagined is possible. Every single person who participated was present as the result of individual initiative or action (save some small children, I suppose), meaning that the power of millions is provided through the culmination of countless single efforts. And that sure is something.

0121170944_burst01.jpg

I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many engaged women & men, and I value the conversations had before, during, and after. I left feeling further motivated to continue to critically evaluate my habits and make small changes in my own life that could, directly or indirectly, lift up others. If those who came out recognize this convergence as a beginning, then I feel we can approach the next season with a little more confidence and optimism.

On the consumerism front, here’s what all went down:

Plus:

  • I finally made yogurt & was blown away by the results. More to come on this, but I’ll say here that it tasted great & was incredibly easy. While making yogurt takes a fair amount of time, very little is active time – the rest is heating, cooling, and straining. I ended up borrowing a thermometer from a friend, which I should have done in the first place. So yes, after all that trouble, mine didn’t work. Sigh. Moving forward, I hope to make this part of my routine.
  • Let’s hear it for carpools! Five of us piled in to Hannah’s sedan to make the drive up to the Women’s March in DC. Though planning was a little hectic, things fell into place at the last minute and the drives included some great company & conversation. With all the driving I’ve put in this last month, I rested easier knowing that together we saved on gas & simultaneously provided an opportunity for a few friends to get to experience history.

Delta:

  • When it comes to single-use items, like take-out boxes and packaging, travel is tainted. Same with lunch workshops & community meals. Perhaps I am becoming more sensitive to the amount of packaging I encounter on a regular basis, but on-the-go meals and snacks that are part of being on the road sure generate a lot of unnecessary waste. Moving forward, it could be wise to carry a collapsible cup or plate when possible for certain occasions. Not trying to go overboard here, but if I continue to find myself tossing out plates & cups all the time (well, not “all the time” but too often, in my opinion) it would be well worth the funny looks.
  • This week has been bookended by travel, and January has involved more time out of Raleigh than probably any other month in the last year. I’m ready to settle into a routine and spend some time checking out local shops & trying out some new recipes in my (likely evaporating) free time.

Did any of you encounter something especially motivating this week?

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

bigger in texas: houston

We descended on Houston for the annual Houston Marathon: in a whirlwind weekend I spectated the running of 26.2 miles and got a glimpse of all the city has to offer.

The beauty of travel & visiting friends is that it affords and opportunity to focus on people, moments & food, not things, while also contributing to a local economy. Not buying new things isn’t an attempt to completely remove myself from the exchange of goods and services, but to reevaluate what goods and services are truly necessary, build up communities, and acquire fewer material things.

what we saw
With effectively only one full day to see Houston, we did our best to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Houston Marathon: An annual event not for the faint of heart (literally), this race draws thousands of runners ranging in ability from novice to world-class elites.
  • Water Wall (Pictured): The Water Wall is an Uptown Houston landmark and public park near the Galleria shopping mall. This massive urban waterfall is dizzying to look at, but quite impressive.
  • San Jacinto Battle Monument: As someone who had never visited Texas before, I think this stop highlighted the fervor of Texas pride. The monument commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto – critical in winning Texas’ independence from Mexico – but, according to to monument, also altered the course of world history. In true “everything is bigger in Texas” spirit, this monument stands 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument.

0116171003e_hdr.jpg

what we did
While there’s an endless supply of things to look & soak in here, it was also good to actively engage with what Houston has to offer during our visit.

  • Played Games at Agora (Pictured): If you need a dose of hipster coffee shop, drop in here to get your fix. We spent part of an evening playing board games we brought along amid an incredibly diverse (and caffeinated) crowd. Agora serves both coffee & alcoholic beverages, making it a worthy stop by day or by night.
  • Ran at Hermann Park: Hermann Park is home to nearly 450 acres of trails, green space and gardens, as well as a little train if you need to entertain a kid (your inner-child totally counts) or get off your feet for a bit. Outdoor concerts and performances are held at a covered amphitheater on the premises. Just across the street from the park is Rice University & its gorgeous tree-lined streets – also worth a visit.

0116171757_hdr1.jpg

what we ate
The diversity of Houston inevitably means the presence of a multitude of delicious, authentic international cuisines. One could likely visit this city for the food alone, but in our short visit managed to hit up a few different eateries.

  • Guru Burgers & Crepes: An unlikely, but tasty combination. Admittedly, there were no burger-crepes or crepe-burgers, but the menu catered to vegetarians & omnivores alike. Guru places an emphasis on local ingredients where possible, which gets a thumbs up from me, as did my salad & house-made quinoa bean burger. The brussels sprouts were also tasty.
  • Amy’s Ice Creams: A stop for local ice cream is a necessity on any trip, in my opinion. Full disclosure: full from dinner, I only had a taste, but it was delicious. We watched one of the employees carefully craft a monster banana split, which was a tempting purchase, but we opted for one of their 350+ other flavors on rotation. Originally from Austin, there’s a San Antonio location in addition to Houston.
  • Kolache Factory: Picture, if you will, a bagel shop, but instead of bagels, the behind-the-counter shelves are stocked with filling-stuffed rolls. Kolache Factory is, admittedly, a chain in select markets, but a great (inexpensive) stop for a quick breakfast or lunch. I’d never actually had a kolache before, and boy was I missing out. They also can ship kolaches to you! Dangerous…
  • Addis Ababa (Pictured): The culinary highlight of the trip, by far. Thought it might fit the description of a “hole in the wall” establishment, this Ethiopian restaurant impressed. Food is served communally and eaten with the hands using injera (spongy bread) as the utensil. Not only does it taste great, but is conducive to conversation as we shared our opinions on our favorite dishes. We happened to be the only customers at the time we went, and spent some time speaking with the owner, a refugee from Ethiopia who is in year four of owning & operating the establishment.

0116172123b_hdr.jpg

Are you from Houston, or have you visited before? What are some of your favorite sights & stops?

why bother?

Part of putting thoughts into writing is the fact that the expression of ideas breathes life into them. No longer confined to one’s mind, they have been made available for discussion and critique. While I’m not afraid of critique – it is both healthy and necessary – I find myself concerned that those who read what I write here, particularly people I know, will simply think “why?”.

The last thing I want is for my objective to be infantilized or patronized, implying my goals are “cute” or “silly”, or my efforts futile. Perhaps those who ask why may be thinking “why go through all this trouble?” or “why turn from habits and patterns that have been established to make our lives arguably easier and more efficient?”, both of which are valid questions. But I will admit, I am scared of the why-question because, superficially, I think it implies some kind of selfishness. It could imply that perhaps I am trying to change my actions to shift blame or guilt associated with my consumption and point fingers elsewhere. While I want to take better responsibility for my actions and prompt others to consider theirs, I by no means want to cast a cloud of guilt on readers that don’t share my perspectives or objectives.

So, to those questions I have this to say:

  1. “Why” is a question with an ever-evolving answer. I hope that the accumulation of what I address here continues to speak to why I think it is important to not passively consume. Consider joining me, even if that means reading only at this point.
  2. I could respond with my own question (admittedly borrowed from Thoreau via Wendell Berry): why should anyone wait to do what is right until everybody does it? I don’t need the blessing or permission of others  to change my habits and act in a way that I see fit – ideally better for myself and others. You don’t have to wait either. So once again, consider joining me, even if that means reading only at this point.

I understand the need to think big, to make a different through changes in our energy grid, to build smarter, to demand sweeping change from our leaders. I see how that perspective may render my efforts ineffectual. But these large scale problems grow out of the additive effect of small scale causes. An engine doesn’t suddenly improve its function because we implore it to, but when each component is attended to, maintained, and replaced as needed.

I can worry and whine about the prospective damaging changes that may be on the horizon on the eve of our presidential transition – I have and I will. But I am doing this to tackle a problem I see at its source – our individual lives – the best way I know how:by critically evaluating and making changes.

So why bother? Simply because I should, and because I can. And if I can, perhaps others can too.

week 02: houston, we have a lesson

Last week when I sat down to write my first weekly update, I was nestled into my couch in Raleigh amid pretty bitter winter weather. This time, I’m coming to you from Dulles International Airport in Virginia en route to Houston – after a few days of 70°F weather back home.

This week, amazingly, involved next to no purchases. Hannah and I picked up our weekly produce box, I bought fuel for the drive up to my parents in DC to catch this flight, and I stopped in for a pint of cherry tomatoes for my mom from Wegmans to add to a salad.

However, the yogurt saga continues. As you may recall, last week I began gathering supplies to make my own yogurt, including a (used) instant-read food thermometer. The thing arrived this week, however, the battery inside was dead and corroded. Naturally, it was a unique button battery only available online or at Batteries Plus, so I needed to order another one. Only after getting the new battery will I find out if the corrosion has rendered the thermometer unusable. This brings me to the matter of buying used: functionality.

I inherently harbor the notion that “used” equals “better”, that an item that is available for resale is well-built, well-loved, and predates the era of planned obsolescence. I suppose that, while young, I subscribe to the idea that “they don’t make things like they used to” and therefore prefer certain used items over new equivalents. Perhaps you’ve heard stories of changes in the composition of Pyrex cookware, rendering it more temperature sensitive, or the substitution of plastic mechanical parts for those that once were metal.

However, this position can get me into trouble sometimes, as with this thermometer. The fact of the matter is, used means, well, used; there’s no guarantee of whether or not an item will work as intended or work at all. While I may like to think they will, that’s simply not always the case. Also, take a used car for example: at some point, maintenance costs begin to outstrip the benefits of having an older vehicle. After getting the batteries, I’ll likely have spent the same amount I would have on a newer, nicer thermometer and, while I don’t regret that (recall, I’m trying hard to not buy new things for a variety of reasons), it’s a reminder of the perhaps overly optimistic view I take on used goods. The point here is – buy used when you can, but try to avoid the purchase of used good sight-unseen.

So in summary for this week:

Plus:

  • Very few purchases were made this week!
  • I have still managed to largely avoid the grocery store. My farmers’ market purchases have tided me over through this week, and the overabundance of arugula I picked up has encouraged me to make salads more consistently.
  • It’s almost time to start planning my summer garden, so I’ve been thinking about what seeds to start & when. It’s a welcome sunny, warm thought for cold, damp days.

Delta:

  • I’ll feel pretty silly if this thermometer doesn’t work and I have to buy another one. It’s also a race against time with the milk I bought, currently sitting in the fridge. The yogurt saga has taught me a lesson similar to the one that my mom gives when it comes to baking: get all your ingredients out before you begin to make sure you’re prepared. This thermometer is the equivalent of a middle school baking adventure in which, halfway through making brownies, a friend and I realized we only had olive oil, rendering the final product a bit.. olivey. But a lesson is a lesson – note taken.
  • Part of my decision to pare down my purchases is environmentally motivated. Which brings me to the sticking point of air travel. As highlighted in this New York Times piece, the average American generates 19 tons of carbon dioxide per person, and a flight from NYC to San Francisco could produce 2-3 tons per person. And I’m flying from DC to Atlanta to Houston and back this weekend. Ouch. As someone who studies life-cycle assessment, I’m aware that all the figures about what diet or habits are better for the environment can vary widely based on how you slice & dice the calculation, but it stings a little to think that perhaps one weekend could cancel out a number of the other actions I consciously undertake. More on this at another time, though.

For a week with few purchases, the delta list is more substantial than I anticipated, but I’m glad to see that there are things to reflect on regardless of how much I may or may not be consuming.

Have any of you learned something new this week?

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

sweet potato sage pasta

I imagine many of those who know me would accuse me of having a “science-y” mind, but I think that that lends itself well to cooking; the kitchen truly is part lab, part studio. I love the experimental nature of cooking – some of my proudest cooking moments have come prior to moves, where I need to clean out the fridge and freezer and make do with what I have. Jam and brie cheese pizza is one highlight, apple pie eggrolls are another. It’s great when the product of one of these trials tastes good, but there’s a secondary sense of contentment that comes with diverting or preventing what would otherwise become waste.

After returning from holiday travel I needed to come up with something for dinner, but, in holding to making an effort to shop more at the farmers market, held off on visiting the grocery store. Somehow, inspired by a few teeny-tiny-beginning-to-shrivel sage leaves my roommate left on the top of our counter compost container, I ended up with the surprisingly tasty pasta using things I already had. I’ve adjusted the recipe a little to add a bit more flavor (more sage would have been better, so the recipe reflects that). It’s pretty simple, but thought I’d share.

0104171857_hdr.jpg

Sweet Potato Sage Pasta
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 medium to large sweet potato
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil (or oil of choice)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 12 oz. box of tricolor rotini (or pasta of choice)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Yellow squash, optional
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1/2″ cubes. Finely chop the rosemary.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the sweet potato with oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, mixing until the potatoes are evenly coated.
  3. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes – until the potatoes are fork-tender
  4. Cook the pasta according to the directions. As the pasta cooks, dice the onion and mince the garlic.
  5. When the pasta is finished, strain and set the pasta aside. It may be helpful to reserve a cup or two of the pasta water to use to keep the pasta from sticking to itself as it sits.
  6. Return the pasta pot to the stove and sauté the onion and garlic 3-5 minutes – until fragrant and the onions begin to get translucent. (If you choose, you can also sauté the yellow squash if you’re looking to add more veggies).
  7.  At this point, the sweet potatoes should be finishing up. Add the pasta back to the pasta pot along with the potatoes. Finely chop the sage leaves and combine. Add the feta just before serving. Add in some more salt, pepper and/or oil to taste.

If you give it a shot, or have other ideas & potential improvements, I’m always open to your thoughts and feedback.

 

week 01: can i blame barbara?

January is now well underway. As I write, it’s a chilling 12 degrees outside and everything is coated in a substantial layer of ice. Serious winter weather in Raleigh is a big-to-do as it’s not a common enough occurrence to warrant undertaking the same preparation as cities in the Northeast, but I frankly find it much more dangerous as any snow is usually bookended by an onslaught of freezing rain & ice.

In any case, I’m generally pleased with how this first week has gone. I’ve managed to not buy anything new, but have acquired some new (to me) items that, on some level, seemed a little ridiculous: a pasta press & kitchen thermometer.

I’ve began the year under the spell of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I wrote about last week. So much of the book resonated with some of my “do it yourself” spirit, which informed a couple of my purchases.

I had some thank you notes to send out & needed stamps, but the post office was closed for lunch when I arrived. I killed some time wandering through the nearby shopping center and found myself in the thrift shop looking for some cloth napkins to supplant my use of paper ones, but instead came away with a $10 Atlas pasta press. Did I need a pasta press? No. Was I imagining a bustling kitchen of friends on a chilly evening cranking out pasta and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor? Yes. So I made a deal with myself that I’d work to make that image a reality and bought the thing, with a small twinge of regret.

I’ve also been inspired to make my own yogurt – apparently it’s relatively easy.  I can get milk in returnable glass bottles at the grocery supplied by a local dairy (their ice cream is excellent), cutting down on waste. This, however, requires a thermometer to ensure the milk heats enough to thicken properly, and I found one on the used section of Amazon after scouring craigslist and some other forums. It was due in this weekend, but the weather has postponed the delivery. I also need some kind of straining material, but instead of buying cheesecloth or a nut bag, I will try an old t-shirt or a tea towel first. There’s one purchase averted (for now)!  I’ll let y’all know how the yogurt making adventure goes.

In both cases, these items were certainly not necessities. However, they are both a means to an ends, reusable, and purchased with a purpose and intent to use. The goal of this project is not to facilitate a sense of guilt when purchasing certain things (or things at all) so I can’t let that feeling become a shadow over every transaction I make.

Here are a few more thoughts from the week:

Plus

  • Visited the farmers market and spent a while speaking with Suzanne, the matron of a meat farm in the area who was running the market-front for a small cooperative selling meat, milk, eggs, and some of the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted.
  • All but one of the food items I purchased this week came from the farmers market, our produce box, or the bulk section of the grocery store
  • I largely avoided using paper towels
  • Didn’t run out to the grocery store immediately after getting back to Raleigh and instead worked with what I had. I surprised and impressed myself with a tasty sweet potato sage pasta.

Delta

  • Probably should have sprung for the Chobani single size yogurt cup I bought as a starter for my homemade yogurt attempt (forthcoming) after learning about the company’s efforts to help with refugee resettlement.
  • Felt that the pasta press was a frivolous purchase, but do intend to use it and know that it’s an item from which other experiences and memories may come (wow, that sounds cheesy). Plus, it was an incredible find.

Hope your 2017 is off to a good start! If you have any New Year’s resolutions (consumption related or otherwise) I’d love to hear them.

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

s&s: animal, vegetable, miracle

Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life | Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen L. Hopp & Camille Kingsolver

I thought I was going to go vegan in 2017.

I’ve been vegetarian for four years and generally eat a “whole foods, plant based” diet as they say. I suppose I’m a pretty standard vegetarian-that-might-turn-vegan candidate: I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, but don’t buy eggs; I would be okay giving up cheese – though pizza would look a little different then, wouldn’t it? I’ve teetered on the edge.

But, the book:

Before Christmas, I went and visited my grandmother and aunt to aid in the annual Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza. My grandmother’s Christmas cookies are a longstanding family staple, concocted from German family recipes passed down over the years. Their Thanksgiving arrival signals the beginning of the winter holiday season. This year it was my turn to help, as my cousins had gone the previous couple years.

As the three of us worked in the warm, fragrant kitchen, my grandmother & aunt began discussing this book, recommended it to me, and – lo and behold – it found its way into my Christmas package this year. And I’m so glad it did.

In summary, the book is a memoir of sorts, detailing the farm-to-fork adventures of author Barbara Kingsolver and her family. For one year, they vow to only consume food they either grew themselves or could obtain locally after moving to a farm in western Virginia. The book beautifully melded so many things I love or care about: communities, food, plants, conscious consumption, environmentalism & policy, to name a few.

Kingsolver et. al. highlighted the value (necessity, really) of investing in our local food economies. My vegetarianism was inspired by a desire to “eat more efficiently” by consuming foods lower on the food chain, thus requiring fewer resources to produce. However, I’d largely turned a blind eye to where those foods come from – which is often halfway around the world. Reading this book convinced me that I could “do more good” in my own eyes as a locavore vegetarian than a vegan, as there is not an abundance of easily available protein sources year round to support a vegan diet where I am. Obviously, everyone is free to make their own dietary decisions, but maintaining a vegetarian diet with a better focus on local foods seemed like the fit for me.

The authors weave this discussion of food economies with that of general consumption, and raise a number of great points as they get to know the people & fellow producers in their community. A common theme was the externalities of consumption, or the effects of an exchange experienced by a third party & not accounted for in the cost of an item or transaction:

“We have the illusion of consumer freedom, but we’ve sacrificed our community life for the pleasure of purchasing lots of cheap stuff. Making and moving all that stuff can be destructive: child labor in foreign lands, acid rain in the Northeast, depleted farmland, communities where the big economic engine is crystal meth. We often have the form of liberty, but not the substance” (152)

There was also a beautiful depiction of the love, care, and art associated with food production, and the intimate experiences we can have with our food through knowledge of or participation in its production. Their decision to eat seasonally meant that not all foods were available at all times, bringing new meaning to each season and the natural gifts that accompany them:

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing” (287)

Lastly, the book had an inherent call to action of responsibility at both the individual and collective level:

“Global scale alteration from pollution didn’t happen when human societies started using a little bit of fossil fuel. It happened after unrestrained growth, irresponsible management, and a cultural refusal to assign any moral value to excessive consumption” (345)

I really do think there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this book: those who garden, those who farm, those who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from, those intrigued by the intricate web of consumer transactions & policy, and most importantly those who eat. There are no all-or-nothing directives, simply lots of information incorporated into an enjoyable narrative.

If you’d like to learn more, there is a website associated with the book on which you can also find seasonal recipes and get a virtual tour of the farm.

Shelf & Screen is a series of reflections on various books & media addressing matters (directly & tangentially) associated with consumption & consumerism