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.

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.

Hate Beets?

I am a reformed beet hater so I know what it’s like to be in the anti-beet camp.

But let’s face it: they’re highly nutritious and really good for us. They’re also very easy to grow.

They contain antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties. They’re high in vitamin C, potassium, manganese, vitamin B and fiber.

Not yet convinced to devour the red root vegetable?

Then here’s an idea from a beet-hating friend who wants the benefits but not the taste:

Cut, simmer, mash, strain through a cheese cloth and freeze in ice cube trays. Add the beet ice cubes to smoothies for an extra nutritional punch.

“I bury the taste so I don’t have to suffer,” she said.

So drink your beets!

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.

****

“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.

Composting for Dummies

The compost bin has arrived!

I’ve been yearning for a backyard compost bin for years so this is a big thing in my life.

When I lived in an apartment, my friend suggested I put one on my 11th floor concrete balcony. I instead decided to wait until I had my own backyard.

The first house we bought was a cute townhouse with a backyard the size of a large swimming pool. It was in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood that managed to successfully ban clothes lines for a number of years. (That ban was finally overturned in 2008.)

A neighbourhood that fights against line drying isn’t going to be receptive to composting and I didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the other homeowners.

Plus, we bought this home knowing that it was going to be a short term purchase.

Faced with three options, the choice was easy: move a big pile of rotting food, leave it for whomever buys our home or hold off on backyard composting.

So we waited.

Three years, and two babies, later we sold and moved to our forever home.

We upgraded our pool sized yard to a half acre. We ditched wall to wall neighbours for one neighbour and a farmer’s field. We moved to a place that never disallowed drying linens outside. We moved to a place where I could compost.

But we moved in November so I had to wait until spring.

Thanks in part to having months to scroll through Pinterest, I’d been secretly wanting a rustic DIY compost with two bins made of chicken wire and wood pallets. I could eventually put the chicken coop and bee hive nearby and tether the grass cutting goat on the side yard.

My husband does not share this vision. He’d be happier having nothing to with composting but he humours me.

So I was overjoyed when he went to the hardware store and picked up a compost bin.

It’s not the one from my Pinterest boards but it’s made from one hundred per cent recycled material so it’s okay by me. Compromise.

I assembled it and put it in the most compost friendly spot in the yard. It’s sunny and accessible and far away from our only adjacent neighbours.

I followed the instructions and layered twigs on the bottom to help with aeration. I then put a layer of “brown” or “dry” material, so mostly leaves. Then I layered the “green” or “wet” material, that’s where food stuff comes in.

Alternate green and brown waste. Et voilà. I’m a composting queen.

It’s pretty basic actually. We stick with the basics and only put fruit, vegetables, eggs and coffee grinds in the bin. I’m really good at the coffee grinds. Next year’s tomatoes are going to be coffee flavoured.

It’s surprisingly clean and totally odourless. It doesn’t even smell like coffee.

Despite our new found backyard composting ways, we are continuing with the city run composting program. We’ve been participating for a few years and it’s great. It takes items that are discouraged in our backyard compost: meat, oil, dairy, weeds and questionable leftovers.

We’ve been surprised by the amount of nighttime visitors our backyard receives. The local wildlife, probably raccoons, was getting the lid off the bin. I know that raccoon are clever but are they really able to lift the lid off that’s more than three feet off the ground? We must have really tall raccoons.

An impressive feat no doubt but not one that can be a regular occurrence. What raccoons don’t know is that we have an arsenal of bungee cord so I McGuyvered the lid and haven’t had an issues since.

With the pests at bay and the new routine of two separate compost bins figured out, all I have to do is wait until the old food turns to dirt. And dream about chicken coops and bee hives.

The Mystery of Unwanted Clothing

unravel

I think most of us are guilty of not giving a second thought to items we recycle, compost, sell or discard in the trash.

I certainly don’t ponder the fate of cans or boxes after they’re picked up by the recycling truck. I trust that they go off to the recycling plant and are crushed, melted or broken down before being turned into something shiny and useful.

But I am curious about the fate of textiles, particularly clothing. (And mattresses but that’s a topic for another day.)

I have a tendency to keep old ripped clothing that is unfit to be donated. I hope to do something magically crafty with it one day. I think it’s noble but apparently that makes me a bit of a hoarder.

One reason I do this is because I don’t know what else to do with it.

I won’t throw it out because it will sit in a landfill. I won’t donate it because it’s passing along broken junk that will probably get put in a landfill.

So it sits in a box in my basement next to my sewing machine that has had too little use.

I happily donate clothing that is in excellent condition. Those items will surely be sold or re-donated by the pre-loved clothing retailers or community services that receive them.

But what of the donated items that aren’t deemed good enough for that?

The old ripped shirts, sweaters with broken zippers, pants with worn pockets, socks that never found their mates and pajamas that have seen too many nights surely go somewhere.

But where?

Check out Unravel for some answers. It’s an award-winning short film about garment recycling and the workers behind the massive industry so many of us know little about.

It’s fascinating. Whether for good or bad, I’ll never think about donating clothing the same way again.

Happy viewing,

Jill