Coffee woes

My favourite beverage is the source of my morning discomfort after a CBC article is blaming convenient packaging, including single use coffee pods, for the increase of curbside garbage in Canada.

Canadians produced 9.6 million tonnes of garbage in 2012. That’s up seven per cent since 2004.

That’s a lot of garbage, Canada!

There’s a way to slow down this rapidly growing issue and it involves reverting to less lazy ways. There, I said it. We’re lazy and wasteful. And it has to stop.

If we started doing things for ourselves again, we’d produce a lot less garbage and waste fewer resources.

Take coffee, for example.

A French press is a brilliant little kitchen tool. It’s the size of your outstretched hand and costs around 10$. For that price, you can have one at home and one at work.

Add two teaspoons of ground coffee and boiling water. Wait a few moments and push the grounds to the bottom of the glass carafe using the handle of the plunger and voila! A delightful cup of coffee totally adjustable to your coffee drinking preferences. Compost the grains and you’re hitting it out of the ballpark.

I know the office world is mildly obsessed with k-cups. Sure they’re convenient but it’s time we redefine convenient. Saving a minute or two a day doesn’t quantify as a significant source of time savings.

Do I really think a French press is our sole solution to excessive garbage production? No.

I think replacing a package of convenience with a sustainable product is a great place to start the long road to shedding our serious dependency on throw away goods.

Start with coffee and the next thing you know, you just might find yourself living a little more mindfully everyday.

Little Victorian

I picked up this little beauty at a garage sale. I love the shape and detailing but it needed a little bit more loving.

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So my helper put herself to work sanding.

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It got a couple fresh coats of antique white chalk paint before I discovered a small peeling issue on one of the drawers that quickly turned into a major peeling issue.

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Luckily the problem was only on the inside detailing of the drawers so rather than strip the drawers and start anew, I thought I’d finally get to do something fun and creative with some pretty white and silver paper I bought a while back.

The paper was way too bright to look good with the antique white paint – kind of like using white out on a piece of paper from the turn of the century. Hmm..not a match.

All the paper needed was to be aged a touch. I added hot water to the leftover coffee grains in my French press and soaked the paper for a few minutes. After drying in the hot sun for just a few minutes, the paper was dry and the bright white and silver paper was perfectly muted.

The handles I had spray painted earlier were then far too bright to match the aged paper. I rubbed in a little dark creme wax on them and got the look I wanted.

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I added a little bit of creme wax to the flowers on the bottom of the nightstand to draw out the details.

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The trickiest part was custom cutting the aged paper to fit perfectly on the drawers. A little patience and a little utility knife did the trick. I used antique glue to age the paper just a little bit more.

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This piece has a muted Victorian vibe that I love.

Before & After

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To the garden

Stepping through the doorway towards an abundant garden screaming to be harvested is a moment filled with childlike anticipation.

What treasures await? What has grown ripe in the hours since I last wandered that way? Will there be enough to fill our bellies tonight? 

Greeted by carrots, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers ready to fill my colander, and our plates tonight, I smiled.

The seeds and seedlings have all come to their full potential. 

I’ve waited all spring and summer for these moments. And they’re finally here.

The Jana Project

Jana and I met when we taught at the same school in Seoul, South Korea. We lived the ex-pat life  — nights spent at the bar, days spent teaching ESL to kids who didn’t want to learn English, weekend trips around the country to escape the busy city life and trips to Thai beaches. There was even a trip to visit her in her native Texas between teaching gigs.

We didn’t see each other again after I finally made my way home for good in 2006 but we kept in touch over the years.

When I found out that she died two months ago at the age of 44, I was gutted. I cried for days.

There was no outlet for my grief. The memorial service was more than 2,000 kilometres away and all of our mutual friends are scattered around the world. I struggled to find even a sliver of closure.

Despite finding solace and joy in my children, taking the time to grieve is nearly impossible with two little ones in constant need of food and/or attention.

A couple of weeks after she died, I went to get something in the garage and ended up finding the solitude and space I needed to grieve. I had found my outlet in an old, nearly forgotten, cabinet in the garage.

I had been wanting to refinish it for a while but I could never quite decide what I wanted to do with it. So it sat and collected dust, waiting for inspiration to hit.

And it finally did.

I headed straight to the hardware store and bought aqua paint.

The cabinet would be a bright blue, like Jana’s striking eyes that everyone noticed and loved.

The evenings I spent sanding, painting and sealing were therapeutic beyond compare. I laughed, cried, smiled and reminisced. I listened to music we shared and songs I knew she loved.

It was one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had.

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With it’s new (and oh so very blue) paint and new knobs, this little cabinet is the pop of colour my entrance needed.

It’s not the same blue as her eyes but I think of her every time I look at it.

I love how this project helped me grieve. I also love how this cabinet turned out. And I love that a new hobby, blog topic and income grew out of my grief. But more on that soon.

This one is for you, JanaBanana. The world lost laughter when you left.

Be well and take care of each other,

Jill

Super Duper Double Compost Fail

We operate two different compost bins and they were both absolute disasters last week.

I’m only able to write about it now because I’m finally starting to recover from the experience.

Compost bin number one, the city run compost program, gets the dirty compost — the meat, the questionable leftovers and anything that has oil and/or dairy.

It lives in the garage. Between barbecuing, toddler activities in the driveway, gardening and outdoor chores, the garage door is often open. So the flies come visit.

The bin was covered in maggots two weeks ago. Ewwwwwwww. Luckily for me, my partner put himself in charge of cleaning it up. The maggoty compost had to go somewhere so it was stuffed into two, or five, garbage bags. It’s time like these that you give up on composting THAT pile and chuck it to the trash.

With a garbage pick up every two weeks, things just got nasty in the summer heat.

My poor partner had to “deal with it” a couple more times before the garbage was finally picked up.

At the same time, compost bin number two, the outdoor compost, was exploding with fruit flies. This is the one I dealt with.

I thought I had a good ratio down but I needed much more brown material (dry leaves, shredded paper, coffee grinds, wood ash and dirt) for the amount of green material (egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps) that I was putting in.

The fruit flies loved us.

So I remedied the issue and loaded the bin with much needed brown matter. Balance seems to be restored.

This week’s very steep learning curve made me question why I bother composting. The best answer I came up with was feeding nutritious earth to my garden and that’s only mildly motivating when dealing with two separate bug infestations.

As I heading outside with a bowl of vegetable scraps yesterday, my three year old said, “Are you going to the compost bin? Can I come see?”

And then it came back to me. I compost because I care where my food comes from and where it goes. I want my girls to care too.

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“And remember not to over think it. Everything rots eventually!”

Pickling Magic

Pickling is pure magic.

Not only does it extend the life of fresh food way longer than nature intended, it brings back my childhood memories of standing in my Memère’s kitchen while she made cucumber pickles.

It reminds me of a simpler time, when people preserved their harvest in anticipation of colder days and when ingredients were more natural.

Sure we live in modern times and buying pre-made items is easy.

But it seems that just about everything in a conventional grocery store is laden with questionable ingredients and made by just a handful of corporations.

The pickles that line the shelves seem so innocent yet they’re made with Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine.

Polysorbate is also present in influenza vaccines and used as an ingredient to make ice cream melt slower. Makes ice cream melt slower? Yup, there’s a chemical that does that and it’s in your pickles (and ice cream!).

Tartrazine, the artificial yellow food dye also known as Yellow  5, is commonly associated with asthma and hyperactivity in children.

Those are not things needed in pickles!

Since I like real ingredients that are pronounceable and in my pantry, I just make my own pickles now.

I’m mostly always short on time lately so I don’t have a day to dedicate to making pickles for the winter. I can however dedicate ten minutes every couple of months to make refrigerator pickles.

This recipe takes no skill, time or special ingredients. Two large jars can be filled in five minutes — if you’re quick with the cooking knife.

If you’re more patient that I am, you’ll wait four days until the pickles have sat long enough to reach their optimal flavour. I, however, eat half a jar as soon as the pickles are cool enough to pop into my mouth. Of course they’re better after waiting a few days but what’s the fun in that?

I find these pickles are especially satisfying when the garlic, cucumber and onion come from the garden.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 4 cloves thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Method:

  • Sterilize two large jars and lids
  • Mix cucumbers and onions in a large heat proof bowl
  • Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, ground red pepper, ground pepper    and garlic in a small saucepan
  • Stir well, bring to a boil and cook for one minute
  • Pour over cucumber and onion mixture
  • Allow to cool
  • Pour in sterilized jars
  • Let sit in the refrigerator for four days, or not.

Leave the Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine at the grocery store.

Happy pickling!

Jill

The Case of the Curious Skunk

That moment at dusk when you’re sitting at the kitchen table writing and out of the corner of your eye you see a skunk walk across your patio.

You send the following series of texts to your significant other: “THERE’S *#%ING SKUNK”, “DON’T COME UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!!!!!!” and “The [patio] door is open eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

And he comes upstairs anyways, ever so quietly, to sneak a peak.

When the skunk is finished smelling around, it turns to walk away, it’s pretty stripey tail bobbing along.

“It’s going for the compost,” he says, nodding his head.

We watch as it staunters across the yard towards the black bin.

When it gets there, he claps his hands loudly and sends it off scurrying in the bushes.

“It’s The Green Bin,” he says.

And he quietly walks away with the words “I told you so” on the tip of his tongue.

Small gesture, big ocean

I live about 14,000 kilometres (900 miles) from the Atlantic so I don’t get to inhale that raw power, endless horizon and calming breeze very often anymore.
I’ve dipped my toes (and sometimes more) in the Arctic, Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

But those places are pretty far from the place I call home.

So I was especially moved by a thoughtful act I witnessed not far from my own backyard.

I watched as a young lady plucked plastic six pack rings from a garbage bin. She cut each individual plastic circle and returned the plastic to the bin.

It was such a casual gesture that I was compelled to talk her about it.

She said she did it for the turtles and the dolphins.

She couldn’t bare the thought of potentially being responsible for the death, maiming or starvation of an ocean creature.

I found some faith in my fellow land locked man that day.

Maybe those plastic rings wouldn’t make it as far as the ocean, but if it did, no dolphin or turtle would be harmed.

Even those of us too far from the ocean can still be mindful of our impact on it. For such a small gesture, it certainly was grand.

Happy World Oceans Day,

Jill

And the garden is (almost) in

It’s been terrible spring to muster gardening inspiration and I feel like I’m terribly behind.

But fear not, dear reader! All is not lost.

Insane temperature fluctuations (we’ve hit 36°C and plunged to 0°C in the span of a week), lack of rain, heavy downpours, strong winds and frost will not keep this gardener down. It’s slowed down the planting process and stunted inspiration, but what’s the rush anyways?

I garden because I love it. Because I love being outside, having my hands (and sometimes feet) in the dirt, watching seeds find their way towards the sun, filling my watering can with the essence of life, harvesting beautiful food and connecting with the earth.

It’s the act of gardening that I love so it’s okay if I’m a little behind. I’m not paying the mortgage with my tomatoes.

And that’s a relief because most of my seeds failed this year. Despite planting seeds in March, only two crops survived the wacky weather: the beets and the lettuce. The poor baby tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, basil, dill and thyme didn’t make it much past a half inch of growth.

So to make up for the deficit, I had to buy a lot of plants this year. I’ll get over it……and done. I’m over it.

Between kids, a new house and trying to have a just a smidgen of a life, every gardening task seems to have taken a week to complete:

  • The raised bed structured were assembled Mother’s Day weekend.
  • The next weekend, the soil was brought in.
  • The weekend after that the plants were purchased.

And that brings us to today. I, along with my princess dress wearing toddler, managed to level the soil and and install square foot markers.

With my handy square foot gardening plan sheet nearly complete, I’m almost ready to populate my two 4×8 foot beds. I figure that I’ve got plenty of room to fail, experiment and hopefully succeed. It’s my biggest gardening project yet and I realize that I’m a little ambitious….especially for someone who is in a new house, and subsequently new yard, this year.

I’ll be planting corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, spanish onion, leeks, garlic, hot pepper, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and beets. I’m keeping my herbs in containers. And lettuce too — I’ve encountered lettuce loving chipmunks in the past and learned that bringing the container in the house is the sanest way to avoid playing head games with the greedy little vermin. Otherwise, the chipmunk always, always, wins.

I had moderate to low success with the usual suspects, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, leeks, garlic, lettuce and herbs, in my previous raised garden bed. It wasn’t in the optimal location but I had to work with what I had. In my new backyard, the beds are in a super sunny spot and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I’m just unsure what challenges the local wildlife will bring. My lettuce is doing well so it appears that the lettuce loving chipmunks don’t live nearby.

However, the tall raccoons are always around and still trying to figure out how to remove the compost bin lid. Hopefully they prefer the challenge of getting at the rotting stuff over the ease of helping themselves to everything in my garden.