week 04: actions speak

In short, it was an exhausting week… the political landscape has been nothing short of distracting, and contemplating the effects of certain actions is a true exercise in empathy. I personally fall into the category of people that wish to stay informed, but also maintain my sanity. News story after news story leaves me feeling a bit helpless. The rhetoric is brazen, it is harmful, and it is loud.

But we must remember that actions speak louder.

This weekend I was driving home, listening to an NPR interview with a relative of the family sent back to Syria upon arrival in Philadelphia. Over the course of the interview I shed a few tears; it’s gut-wrenching to hear the story, to hear what this family had invested to make this move, to hear about their anticipation of reuniting with family in the US – only to hear about how it was snatched away at the last moment possible.

However, there was a small, encouraging moment amid this. Upon being asked how the family was doing, the relative explained that, while they first felt helpless, knowledge of the uproar and protests & that the American people stand with them has produced a glimmer of hope.

I was also uplifted by efforts here in our community to reach out when called upon. Our local bulk-produce distributor, The Produce Project, posted on their Facebook page that a friend had been hosting a Syrian refugee family, and they were in need of car seats and some other supplies for the children. Within 30 minutes, an outpouring of support produced the 2 car seats, $250, and numerous offers of other supplies if or when they are needed.

Our actions mean something. If only making a difference for one moment, or for one family, I think it’s worth it. To those of you out there that are writing letters & postcards, making phone calls, painting signs, organizing & attending protests, and having conversations with or helping your neighbors: those actions matter. They may not be high profile or part of a clear, direct cause and effect, but they absolutely have impact. Remember that.

Also this week, James and I met up for lunch to partake in Triangle Restaurant Week, in which restaurants in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) area participate in a “celebration of culinary excellence”. Afterwards, he presented me with part of a promised birthday IOU that I never really followed up on: an instant film camera.

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While I was thrilled by the gift, I was even more appreciative of the effort put into it. He knows how important it is to me to be conscious of what I consume, and he went the extra mile to find a pre-owned camera via Amazon & film via Craiglist – the seller had bought the wrong size and was looking to unload the package. Even the wrapping paper was saved from a gift given to him & repurposed for this occasion. I think he felt a little strange giving a used gift, but I applaud him for fighting that discomfort and doing it anyways. To say it meant a lot is an understatement and, once again, those actions spoke volumes.

But I digress. This week also had a few things to mention pertaining to consumption habits:

Plus:

  • Got to take advantage of a DIY cleaning & beauty products workshop at the Well Fed Community Garden. It was fun to take a couple hours away from the hectic-ness of everything and make something while sitting in a room filled with like-minded people. We came away with recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, lotion, and body wash.
  • Made pasta by hand using the pasta press I acquired a few weeks back. I was pleased to find it wasn’t nearly as time consuming as I’d anticipated, and it was pretty successful for a first attempt. There are some things I’d tweak in the future, but all in all an enjoyable, tasty experience.

Delta:

  • If you’ve been reading these last few weeks, you’ll recognize that it’s not truly a weekly update without some mention of yogurt. This week I successfully made yogurt for the second time, but decided to store it in a container that I previously used to hold salsa. The lid was apparently still a little onion-y, so my first few servings of yogurt had some, uh, extra flavor…

I hope you all are doing well. Here’s to lifting our voices a little louder, or perhaps finding them for the first time. Keep it up.

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

 

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

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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 »

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.

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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

 

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