Monday, December 3, 2007

Lights Out America

I just came across a great initiative called Lights Out America. It's an attempt at organizing an hour of only essential lights being on in cities across the US, and for every household to install at least one Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb. The organization behind it just did something similar in October in San Francisco, after over 2 million Australians turned off the lights for Earth Hour in March.

The plan is to turn off all non-essential lights on Saturday, March 29, 2008 from 8:00-9:00pm, and for every household to install a CFL bulb.

Sounds like a good plan. Even if your city isn't signed up (so far only 11 large cities are listed), you can still participate as an individual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beer Brewing update

Just racked the Big River Brown ale that I brewed last weekend. It will now sit in the secondary for a couple of weeks before bottling. Gravity was 1.020, which when combined with the original gravity of 1.040 means an ABV of about 2.5%, which is disappointing, but it may of course attenuate a bit further in secondary.

The sample tasted quite good, though, so it should probably work out Ok in the end...

Now I get to relax and enjoy the fruits of a previous batch - the Winter Ale, which has turned out very well indeed, and is the perfect end to a hectic day.

Fall = Leaves

How do you deal with all the leaves that just fall in your yard? Around here, the city will come to your home and vacuum them all up and drive them to a field that gets a healthy layer of composting leaves over the winter.

But one of our colleagues lives in a town where the city doesn't do any pick up. So, we take their leaves and will compost them for them.

I'll run them through my Toro blower/vac that shreds them into smaller pieces (running them through twice breaks them into small enough bits to quickly be decomposed. Sunday, I picked up about 20 garbage bags of leaves. Some of the shredded leaves will go directly in the garden beds, others will be composted. I may also use some as mulch in a couple spots.

How do you deal with your leaves?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Great Baking Ingredient: Flaxseed Meal

You may know flaxseed - the small brown seed that are full of fiber (and a good amount of oil as well). I was looking through some of the specialty flours at the store recently and came across something called flaxseed meal. It's basically ground up flasxseed. The neat thing about it is you can substitute it for oil or shortening in any baking recipe.

So far I've made some zucchini/carrot rolls that turned out great. But I'm really pleased with it in my weekly pizza. The crust turns out more crispy and tastes better than with olive oil. And each slice has about 1.5 grams extra fiber and 1 gram less fat, and 15 fewer calories. Not bad!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Press Release: Keeping it local

Sorry for just throwing an unedited press release out, but the topic of this meeting just fits perfectly with what we're trying to do, so it seemed to make sense:

A northeastern Wisconsin local food co-op forum will be held on Friday, November 16, 2007 from 1pm to 4pm at Moraine Technical College, Fond du Lac in room A111. Margaret Bau, Cooperative Development Specialist, USDA Rural Development will provide information on cooperatives, the histories of cooperatives in Wisconsin, cooperative trends, and how to start and organize a cooperative. In the second half of the program Anne Reynolds Assistant Director of University of Wisconsin Center of Cooperatives will present successful local food cooperative models in Wisconsin and nationally. She teaches in the Center’s Director Leadership program, works with boards on governance issues, leadership, evaluation, and strategic planning. She has led research and cooperative development projects in the areas of board governance, cooperative education for emerging leaders, value added agriculture, housing, and home health care. She served for four years as an Advisory member of Home Grown Wisconsin, a cooperative that markets local produce for 25 farmer members. The forum is sponsored by Glacierland RC&D, Enlightened Schoolyard Project and Eastern WI Sustainable Farmers Network. It is free to the public. Advance registration will assure enough materials for everyone. For more information and registration please contact, Fred Depies 920-418-2718, Dean Malloy 920-251-6036 or e-mail

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Carbon Offsets

Today is Blog Action Day, so we write about the environment. Last year, we chose to sign up for the NatureWise Renewable Energy Program through our electric utility. This lets us buy 900 kWh of renewable electricity per month - close to our actual consumption. The program works by adding $1 per $100 kWh onto our monthly bill.

However, we still drive cars, and use natural gas, and have been wanting to offset those. We did some research, and found three organizations that offer carbon offsets: CoolDriver, TerraPass, and CarbonFund. Here's a mini review of each of these, and their web sites.

The offset market is really complex with lots of different non-profit and for-profit organizations involved, so it's important to do some research, and not buy offsets from the first company you come across on a Google search. So, what should you look for when buying CO2 offsets?
  • How are the offsets made? Projects vary from buying wind power, to planting trees, to capturing methane from cows. Some people question the value of tree plantings to adequately offset CO2, as it takes a long time for the trees to mature, and when the tree dies, the cO2 goes back into the atmosphere.
  • How much do you pay per ton of CO2 offset? Can vary widely - one article found a range of $4.30 to $12 per metric ton.
  • Do you get a certificate? I'd like to get a physical certificate (maybe if we display a decal on our car, others around us will be inspired to offset their CO2 consumption as well).
Our Carbon Nation is a web site that provides profiles on 34 different offset providers. The profiles are only available as PDF files, so you can't compare the different providers directly.

I will compare the three web sites' in terms of offsetting our two cars ('98 Ford Escort (avg 25 mpg) and '00 Dodge Grand Caravan (avg 20 mpg)), which each drive 12,000 miles annually.


CoolDriver is a partnership between Clean Air Cool Planet, based in Portsmouth, NH, and Native Energy.
The web site has a pleasing look with a picture of a cow with the odd speak bubble: "You don't have to stop driving to help stop global warming." It has a simple calculator where you input miles driven and mileage. They offset with wind energy projects and methane capture projects at dairy farms.
(all measures are in metric tons).
  • Caravan: 5.3 tons/yr
  • Escort: 4.3 tons/yr
  • Total: 9.6 tons/yr
  • Cost: $132/yr ($10.8/ton)

Included in the price is also a bumper sticker and a mini certificate.


This is a for-profit company based in San Francisco that funds projects in wind energy, biomass, and industrial energy efficiency. The web site is pleasing, and has an advanced calculator where you pick your specific car, and it then tells you the carbon footprint of the car.
  • Caravan: 4.6 tons/yr - $49.95 to offset 5.4 tons
  • Escort: 3.2 tons/yr - $39.95 to offset 3.6 tons
  • Total: $89.90 to offset 9 tons ($9.98/ton)
With purchase you get a bumper sticker and two different decals.


This is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which means that your off-sets are considered charitable contributions and may be tax-deductible (Nice twist to get the IRS to kick in towards offsetting your climate impact). CarbonFund supports projects in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation. The calculator is a bit more advanced than the other two sites, as it allows you to calculate for several cars at a time, and then offset the actual consumption.
  • Caravan: 5.07 tons/yr - $27.88
  • Escort: 3.33 tons/yr - $18.29
  • Total: $46.17 to offset 8.39 tons ($5.50/ton)
The calculator is nice, but then when I click Offset Footprint Now, I don't get to offset these precise calculations, instead I can either just make a contribution of a certain amount, or choose to offset generic cars, bringing the cost up to $49.83 ($5.93/ton).

You can choose to only get electronic receipts or physically get a decal and certificate. When checking out, you get the option to support specific types of projects or the total basket of projects they have.


CarbonFund had the most advanced calculators and significantly lower prices. Despite the web site not always having a logical design, I was able to buy offsets for both of the cars we own!

Happy Blog Action Day!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Wisconsin Apple Season?

Went to the grocery store last night for the weekly shopping trip with fruit on the list. Coming off of the Eat Local Challenge, I checked the apple labels carefully to make sure I got some that were local. After all, apples are right in season now in both Wisconsin and Michigan.

I was dismayed that the best looking apples (Braeburn) were from New Zealand. There were several apple varieties from Michigan, but they frankly looked like they were last year's harvest. Several were bruised and some were even visibly rotting. Had they been on sale to move them quickly to make room for the current harvest it would have been understandable, but prices were just as usual: expensive ($1.20-$1.75/lb).

I just couldn't bring myself to pay that much for bad apples, so I ended up buying just a few bananas from Nicaragua for 45 cents per pound. At least they looked good, and had traveled less distance than the New Zealand apples - and I saved quite a bit.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Oshkosh-Style Stir-Fry

As the eat local challenge is drawing to a close, we decided to throw together a stir fry made up of mostly local fare. Here's the recipe:
  • 1.5 pounds sirloin steak
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 small beet
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 chili pepper (not too hot)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1 Tbsp Toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1/4 cup Soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
  • 2 cups Water
  • 2 Tbsp Corn starch
  1. Cut meat into thin slices. Slice vegetables thinly. Cut onions into wedges.
  2. Heat oil in skillet or wok.
  3. Fry meat while stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to separate platter, and keep warm.
  4. Add vegetables to skillet or wok, and fry 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Transfer vegetables to separate platter. Keep warm.
  6. Heat sesame seed oil in skillet.
  7. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and water, and bring to a boil
  8. Dissolve corn starch in cold water, and add to sauce while stirring.
  9. Let boil for 3-5 minutes until thickened, and adjust taste as you see fit. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  10. Return meat and vegetables to skillet and heat through with the sauce.
  11. Serve with white or brown rice (we did basmati tonight, as the brown rice would have taken too long and the kids won't eat it).
It was a bit of an experiment with potatoes and beets in a stir-fry, but it worked out nicely. The potatoes added extra volume and a nice mellow taste, while the beets added sweetness. Our version did not havec a lot of heat. You could try add more hot peppers and more ginger, wouldn't hurt either. We also served it with home-brew beer (Fuggles IPA).
How local was it? All the vegetables were from our garden, the meat was from Cattleana (our local meat CSA), and the beer was brewed at home. The water chestnuts, the rice, and all the ingredients for the sauce were standard supermarket items, so who knows where they came from. But I think this still qualifies as a nice local meal - it certainly used some of our veggies, which is always nice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Great Gardening Resource

If you're gardening in Wisconsin (or surrounding states), UW Extension in Milwaukee has a great resource: The Wisconsin Almanac, which is a monthly newsletter with tips on what activities to carry out that month. For instance, September's version showed us we should be OK with our late lettuce planting. But we could probably also consider dividing and moving some of the perennials that are in unfortunate spots.

It's not just organic advice, so organic gardeners should be careful. But the advice is solid none the less, and references all the great Extension publications on gardening.

We keep a monthly reminder on our calendar to check this site. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there's an archive of previous months, so you'll have to check back every month.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Second Plantings

Weather was super great this weekend, so we spent some time in the garden, cleaning up a few beds and replanting some garlic in one. Garlic has a two-season cycle, so these should be ready to pick and eat next fall. They will hopefully sprout this fall, die back over the winter, and then come back in the spring.

Garlic is about as easy to grow as can be: Take the individual cloves, stick them in the ground about an inch deep. Cover with soil. Stand back. Wait. Water, Etc.

We also got some bare lawn patches over-seeded. We've had some trouble-spots on the terraces where the sprinklers have a hard time reaching and in one area, we've had a snow plow or school bus go over the curve and really make a mess of things. But this is a great time to sow grass: Temperatures are lower than in mid-summer, but the soil is still nice and warm. And usually there's dew at night to keep the seeds moist until they can sprout. You can usually count on some rain as well. Even so, we'll keep the sprinklers going on the area as long as possible.

Over Labor Day weekend, we planted some more lettuce. You can plant lettuce every 2 weeks over the summer and then have a continuous supply. We had started some lettuce indoors over the winter that was planted out in the spring and produced nicely - 5 or 6 heads, but we hadn't doen any successive plantings, so we've had to buy lettuce. This late planting is a bit of a long shot - will we get enough to harvest before the frost kills it all?

Another long shot was sowing some buckwheat in a couple harvested beds as green manure. They really should have been sown in July according to package directions. Next year we'll have to research a little more to find a more suitable winter cover that will be able to sprout if sown in September.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Native plant dilemma

We have planted a bunch of native prairie plants in many parts of our yard and are happy with them. Last fall we were impressed with the sunflowers we saw growing in some empty lots around here and dug a couple up and put in a spot that needed more plants. Throughout the spring and summer we watched the plants come up and up and up - at least 10 feet high. But no flowers. Then all of a sudden we got an explosion of 4-inch sunflowers - very impressive display.

Only problem is, we did some digging, and it turns out they are sawtoothed sunflowers, which are native plants, but also very aggressive. And while we like how they look, and would love to keep them around all winter as bird food, shelter, and wind break, we also are not interested in these plants completely taking over. So, this weekend they will likely be dug up and composted...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Eco-friendly coffee practices

Now that the health benefits of drinking coffee are well established (as long as it’s regular, black coffee), here are some ways to improve the sustainability of your coffee practices (and save some money):
  1. Beans. It all starts with the beans. Obviously it’s hard in most places to get truly local coffee. Do the next best thing and buy beans that are certified fair trade. Fair trade ensures that the coffee farmers are compensated fairly and ensures sustainable growing practices. If you can’t get fair-trade, go for organic, and if that’s not available go for high-end like Starbucks coffee. These are generally all shade-grown.
  2. Brewing. Use a standard drip coffee maker instead of individual-serve makers (unless you’re just making a single cup a day). Make all the coffee you will need for the entire day, so you only need to brew once. As soon as the coffee maker is done brewing, pour the coffee into a thermos (ours will keep coffee reasonably warm all day).
  3. At work. Bring your home made coffee along in a sturdy steel thermos or thermal mug – this way you know you’ll get good coffee instead of that bitter office coffee that’s been simmering for hours! And you will save time and money from running to your local coffee joint.
  4. At the coffee shop. If you’re unable to bring your own coffee (traveling, meetings etc), bring your own thermal mug to the coffee shop and ask them to pour your coffee in there. At Starbucks, you’ll save 10 cents per cup, and you’ll save the environment from all the paper or Styrofoam cups. I haven’t checked other coffee places (I don’t go to them often, because I bring my own coffee), but you can probably get a break if you ask.

What do you do to minimize the environmental impact of your coffee habit?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Eating Local Update

Whew - semester and school start really took some time away from more leisurely pursuits like writing blog posts!

So, welcome back to school and all the fall activities like harvesting, canning, etc. We have spent some time over labor day weekend preparing our jams (strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and blueberry). We now have quite a large number of jars and have even sold the first few jars to a friend - a nice way to extend the local eating to later in the year and to other people - anybody buying our jam around here would presumably save buying a jar of Smuckers from ... who knows where? All the berries for our jams are either grown in our yard or within 30 miles from our house (oh, except the blueberries - they're from Michigan). So we think it's pretty local. Of course, we have no idea where the sugar came from... Might have to investigate that for next time.

In terms of meals, we have really been doing great at eating locally. Of the five meals in September, we have had at least 75% local ingredients in four of them. Of course it helps having the start of the Eat Local Challenge coinciding with a garden where tomatoes are ripening in record numbers along with cucumbers and bell peppers. The potatoes also have been doing well and we've been eating those on a regular basis along with the carrots. And when you belong to a meat CSA, that takes care of a major portion of the meal as well.

Summary of meals made this month so far:
  • Friday (Sep 1): Homemade pizza. Local veggie toppings, local cheese (we're in Wisconsin, duh!). Homemade beer.
  • Saturday: Grilled ham steaks with veggie skewers. Local meat, and veggies from the garden (potatoes, onion, beets). Australian Wine.
  • Sunday: Beer-can chicken with grilled and roasted vegetables (Roasted Beets and potato skewers). Chicken from CSA.
  • Monday: Hamburgers and corn on the cob. Had to buy the meat from the grocery store because we forgot to get something out of the freezer, but the corn was local. More Australian Wine.
  • Tuesday: Easy Shepherd's Pie (didn't take too long, but when the recipe calls for a roux and simultaneously having three pots going, it's a stretch calling it 'easy'). Almost entirely local. Served with homemade pickled beets and salad.
So far, things are going well (although we did drink a good amount of Australian wine - more on that later...)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Homebrewed Beer

I have been brewing beer since last October, and it's been a lot of fun. And the beer hasn't been half bad. In fact, of the five batches we've tasted so far, all have been praised by those who tasted them.

The work involved isn't too bad. There's work on each batch three times over the course of 3-4 weeks. I have so far been using pre-measured kits from Midwest Supplies in Minneapolis. First, on brewing day, you actually make the beer, which involves steeping grains for about an hour in a couple gallons of lukewarm water, then bringing the water to a boil, and adding malt extract and various hops. This process takes another 1-2 hours, after which the wort (beer without yeast) needs to cool down before the yeast can be added along with extra water to make about five gallons of beer. Then the beer sits for about a week in a food-grade pail after which it gets transferred to a glass carboy for conditioning. The transfer and cleanup can be done in about 45 minutes. Two weeks later the beer can be bottled. This takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of the bottles (less work with larger bottles - 5 gallons needs about 50 regular 355 ml (12 oz) bottles). Then the beer sits for 2-4 weeks before it can be enjoyed. So, it doesn't take that much effort, but you have to be patient.

The initial equipment purchase was around $100, and the ingredients for each batch will run around $30-$40 including shipping. The cost per beer is definitely higher than regular canned beer from the grocery store, but only about half the cost of specialty and imported beer, which is what it should be compared to. If all you want to do is drink Miller Light, then don't worry about making your own beer, but if you enjoy Bass, Newcastle Brown Ale, Guiness, and any other great tasting beer (especially ale), then you should give homebrewing a try.

Right now, I have two carboys in the basement. I'm hoping to be able to bottle the Fuggles brew today (we need it ready before we run out...). The other is a Holiday beer that was brewed back in June and will need another month or so before bottling. Then it will sit about 6 weeks in the bottle before it is ready in time for Halloween. It should be a Happy Holiday this year!

When you brew your own beer, there are two environmental benefits: First, you can reuse the bottles, which is far better than recycling (it takes quite a bit of energy to turn glass into glass...). Second, only the ingredients need to be transported (10-15 lbs), and in my case only from Minneapolis, as opposed to shipping both bottles (40 lbs), and water (42 lbs) from a brewery that's much farther way. Some of the styles of beer you can make with homebrew, could otherwise only be obtained from imported sources, so the transportation would add significantly to the equation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Quick Tip: Turn off the lights

Whenever you leave a room, remember to turn off the light.

(just like your Mom told you to!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Weekend canning update

Sunday was really busy at our house! We harvested 75% of our beets - they really did well this year! And pickled enough for about 14 quarts. We should have enough for a few years now.

We also made about 30 pints of raspberry jam. Between our own consumption, selling some, and giving some away, that should last us through next year. We had about 3 pounds of berries from our own canes. Pretty good considering this was just their second season. I think we may be able to harvest 3-4 times that amount next year. The rest of the berries we picked ourselves at a nearby farm.

Sunday night we sat down to a very local meal: Grilled porkchops from Cattleana Ranch, Twice baked potatoes (own potatoes), roasted beets (obviously our own beets), and a green salad (just a few lettuce leaves weren't from our yard).

Any ideas what to do with 20+lbs of surplus beets?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Recipes in a Web 2.0 world

Flickr for Recipes?

I came across RecipeZaar the other day while trying to figure out what to do with some of the zucchini bounty we have in the refrigerator (looks like we'll make Zucchini Moussaka next week).

The site is pretty cool, it lets you collect recipes in personal cookbooks and upload your own recipes. It also has some pretty neat features when you're looking at individual recipes, such as a Nutrition Facts table for each recipe, scaling of the recipe to the number of servings you need, and conversion between US and metrics units. In addition there are features to create an entire menu and a shopping list based on the recipes you're looking at.

But what makes the site really cool when you're interested in social networks and web 2.0 sites, are the community features. Members can easily rate each recipe and describe their experience preparing and eating it. In addition, the site allows for sending messages to other members, so for each recipe, you can send a message to the person who created it. Some of the features require a premium membership ($25/year) , but the site is plenty useful with a free basic membership.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Harvest Time

Our tomatoes are finally starting to ripen (they got in a little late this year, and was probably planted a bit too close). But now they are here, and we get to have the best-tasting fresh tomatoes around!

We grow some cherry tomatoes that are really great just off the vine (or a few packed in a lunch). They will keep producing until the frost kills the plants, probably sometime in October. This year we'll have an extra abundance of these, since they are pretty good at self-sowing, and we left some of those plants instead of pulling them. Looks like we'll have plenty.

We've already harvested all the raspberries and strawberries. They were mostly frozen along with some we picked at a local farm. We also have rhubarb in the freezer. This weekend we'll be making jam. Probably quite a lot (we did pick about 40 pounds of strawberry alone!).

We should also have time to pickle the beets. If you aren't keen on store-bought pickled beets, try pickling some yourself. It's really worth the effort. What are you canning/pickling/preserving this harvest season?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blog Action Day - October 15

October 15 has been designated as Blog Action Day, where many bloggers around the world will post on a single topic and/or donate one day's earnings to a charity. With our focus on sustainability and the environment, it seemed only natural to join this event. If you have suggestions for a specific topic, let us know by email or in the comments.

My Commutes

I feel extremely fortunate that I live close enough to my workplace that I'm able to bike to work in about 20 minutes (only 5-10 minutes more than by car when parking time is factored in). Not only that, most of the way, the view looks like this picture. I follow the WIOUWASH trail, which is an abandoned railroad track, so there are no hills and the trail goes alongside a lake and river the entire way. I routinely see half a dozen rabbits, squirrels, and one morning I almost ran over a daredevil chipmunk! There are also plenty of butterflies and birds.

Have you considered biking to work? It's a great workout, and may not take much longer than taking the car. Even if you just do it once a week, you're still getting a good workout and will use less fossil fuel.

As much as I like to bike, some mornings my commute looks like this:

Those are the days I telecommute. This is particularly nice to do on rainy or snowy days. Your employer may very well let you telecommute a few days per week. If you frequently get interrupted at the office, you may find that telecommuting is more productive than going in to the office.

Eating Locally

We've been reading about the Eat Local movement recently. We will probably join the September 2007 Challenge at Eat Local Challenge. Of course, we already get a fair amount of our food locally. We buy locally raised meat from a local farm (Cattleana Ranch in Omro, WI). And we have a fairly large garden where we grow potatoes, beets, carrots, squash, tomatoes, onions, and quite a few other things. We are buying milk from a local dairy (not too difficult in Wisconsin, though!) - we get ours at a local supermarket from Lamers Dairy in Appleton, WI. But for a lot of stuff, we have no idea where it comes from. In the following weeks, we will take an inventory of where the things come from that we eat. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lawn watering

Quick! What's the best way to water the lawn?

If you answered 'Deep and Infrequent' you are following what a million web sites (actually 1,030,000 but who's counting?) and countless County Extension offices have been telling you to do for decades.

But there's some research out of Michigan State University that indicates that light infrequent watering in the middle of the day is the best approach. I first heard about this listening to the Environment Report. The research is conducted at the Turfgrass Institute, and is covered in two different publications.

The guideline for the strategy is as follows:
  1. Determine how much water your lawn needs per week (typically 1-2 inches, but varies by grass type).
  2. Divide amount by seven.
  3. Figure out how much your irrigation system delivers in a specific period of time.
  4. Water your lawn for this period of time every day just at the beginning of the hottest period of day (around 2:00pm).
What this does is helps keep the grass cool, and only waters the fairly shallow area that grass roots actually grow in. There's no sense to watering a foot down when grass roots only grow down 2-3 inches.

We switched to this strategy a few weeks ago and have seen significant improvements in the lawn despite having had quite hot weather. According to the articles this should also save water over deep frequent watering. For us, I think it's a wash, but the lawn is greening up nicely. You would need a timer system for this to work. An in-ground sprinkler system is of course the best choice for this.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Organize the Kitchen

LifeHacker has a nice post referring to a LifeOrganizers post on 5 Steps to Running an Efficient Kitchen, including
  • Start a Grocery List. We have a dry-erase board on the wall where we write everything that's needed as we run out. The kids have even started using it (although their priorities are not always the same as ours...). We also try to buy stuff when we use the second-to last item (i.e. buy a new box of coffee filters when you open the last one). Then you're pretty sure not to run out.
  • Do a Weekly Menu Plan. Kim does an awesome job planning our meals every week. She uses a notebook with the menu for a week on one side and the grocery list on the other side. She shops every Friday after work while I cook pizza. As someone commented on Lifehacker, shopping once a week does have drawbacks in terms of freshness on some items. For us, though, our shopping options for real fresh items like seafood are limited anyway - not a lot of fish here that's caught even this week! And let's not even get started on the quality of the baked goods! (maybe fodder for a new post). But it sure cts down on time to shop once a week. And tracking expenses is easier too.
  • Cook Ahead and Freeze. We do this all the time. Sometimes by accident when the kids won't touch a recipe, we'll freeze enough for the two of us to eat a second meal. We also will bring leftovers to work - much cheaper than buying lunch.
  • Do Advanced Prepwork. Not sure I see the point here, unless it's just working smart on making the meal you're working on. No doubt you have to take chopping time into consideration with some meals.
  • Clean As You Go. Keeping the sink filled and wash everything as you go, so there isn't a big load of dishes to do afterwards... I dunno. Seems like it would use much more hot water than doing them all in one batch. And I'm typically too busy making the meal to worry about washing as I go. I do try to put stuff away as I'm doe with it to avoid having a lot of cleanup at the end.
Another thing we do is work on several things at the same time. For instance I will bake bread and make dinner in the same batch. Breadbaking has lots of downtime where dinner can be prepared, and letting something rise an extra 10 minutes is usually not a big deal.

Organizing the kitchen with the things you need in easy reach is important as well.

How about you? What do you do to work efficiently?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Recipe: Home-Made Pizza

Every Friday night at our house the menu is for pizza. And not just any pizza. This is Dad's Pizza, and it's the best in town (well, after Pappa Johns, the one my youngest had at a friends house, ...), and anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight :-)

So, since it's Friday and I'm about to make those pizzas, I thought I would blog along with cooking. So, here's the annotated recipe:

This batch makes two 16-inch pizzas. We like a thick crust (this one's a little less than an inch thick). If you prefer thinner crust, make more pizzas or cut portion size in half.

Crust ingredients:
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1.5 Tbsp dry yeast (2 packets)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 0.5 Tbsp salt
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2-3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary or lavendar, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried) (optional)
Dissolve yeast and honey in water in large mixing bowl. Let stand a few minutes until yeast foams. Add oil, salt and whole wheat flour. Mix well. Add unbleached flour a little at a time while mixing well with sturdy spoon (I use a large wooden spoon). When you can't mix with a spoon anymore, knead dough on lightly floured table. Add flour as needed and knead until dough is elastic. Let dough raise in oiled bowl for 20-30 minutes. It doesn't have to quite double in size, but should raise some.

Divide dough in two equal balls, and roll out on two pizza stones or cookie sheets. Let rest 10 minutes.

Pre-bake at 175C (350F) until pizza is slightly golden (about 15-20 minutes). Remove and add toppings (sauce, cheese, and whatever else you like). We tend to make a kids version (tomato sauce, cheese, and one type of meat) and an adult version (tomato sauce, cheese, onion, peppers, and whatever else we have lying around). Toppings is really your chance to experiment and improvise. Make it your own! Try fresh tomato slices, basil, and feta cheese.

Bake pizza for 8-10 minutes at 500F until crust is brown and cheese is golden. Tale care that the crust doesn't burn.

Simple Sauce (for one pizza):
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce (8 oz)
  • Paprika
  • Italian seasoning
  • Garlic powder (or crushed fresh garlic)
  • Pinch of sugar
I never measure the herbs and spices. They just go in as I feel - experiment. Add all ingredients to microwave safe bowl and microwave 2-3 minutes. Stir and let stand for a few minutes.

Rustic Sauce
Makes enough for one pizza

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 regular can of diced tomatoes (14 oz)
  • paprika
Sautée onion and garlic in oil until clear. Add remaining ingredients, and simmer for about an hour. Challenge here is to get the consistency right. It tends to become a bit watery. If it doesn't work out right, you can add a little tomato sauce.

If you make this, leave a comment with your impressions.

How to Get Started

Lighter Footstep has a great articles for those just getting started on becoming environmentally aware. It lists the first 10 steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Here they are with my commentary on what we've done:
  1. Compact Fluorescents (CFL): When we built our house a few years ago, we put in CFLs in many places, but still could have more. Garage and basement have incandescents, but we will probably move to CFL there as well. Garage may be an issue with the cold in winter.
  2. Thermostat (LF advice: Up 2 degrees in summer, down 2 in winter): We haven't done this, but have programmable thermostat that we monitor quite often.
  3. Clean or replace your air conditioning filter. Our thermostat control includes reminders to clean/replace filters. In fact I need to do that this weekend.
  4. Unplug idle appliances and electronic devices. Haven't done this too much. We have too many computers running too much. I like the idea of turning off appliances with powerstrips. Just need to be careful with some that have internal clocks.
  5. Buy a low-flow shower head with a shutoff valve. Our showers all have dual controls for flow and temperature, so it's not a big deal to turn off water mid-shower (although we rarely do it). They're all low-flow though.
  6. Drive smarter: Keep tires inflated (check - most of the time), don't idle (check), drive less aggressively (check - I think).
  7. Get an annual tune-up for your car. Need to look into this ($300 sounds like a lot)
  8. Ride your bike. I've been riding my bike to work most of the summer. It's great (especially early in the morning when it's not too hot yet).
  9. Go meatless once a week. We did this a while, but got away from it. May make a veggie pizza tonight, though.
  10. Buy local; buy in season. Went to the local farmer's market earlier this summer, and was disappointed - all the stalls had largely the same 5-6 different types of produce at pretty high prices. We do belong to a meat CSA so most of our meat is local. We buy milk that is from a local dairy and is delivered in reusable glass containers. We also grow a fair number of our vegetables ourselves (anyone need any zucchini?)
What about you? What have you done?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Paper or Plastic? .... Neither perhaps?

As you get ready to pay for your groceries, you often get one of several questions
Which do you choose? On one hand, plastic will end up in landfills, but it takes more water and energy to produce the paper bag. But it can be reused more easily for other things, and finally recycled to make new paper. The grocery store has largely answered the question for you, the plastic bag is far cheaper, and has captured 80 % of the market. But where we live there isn't a good recycling option for plastic bags, and you can only use so many to line trash bins.

But there is another option: bring your own bags. Even though we don't experience the rush of paying $15 for a bag that you can't get a hold of anyway, we can still participate. We have at least at two local grocery stores, and the brilliant part is that the store gives $.05 rebate per bag - not a lot, but it all adds up (8 bags per week, for 50 weeks is $20). If you bring sturdy canvas bags you can reuse them hundreds of times. Keep them in the car between grocery trips so they're always available.

We also keep a small cooler in the trunk of the car to hold the most delicate frozen items on hot days.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Green Energy

One of the larger decisions we made earlier this year as a response to the climate changes was to switch our electricity use to renewable energy. Our neighborhood covenants prohibit setting up solar panels and windmills, so we opted to use our energy company's option of buying blocks of renewable energy. The program is called NatureWise and lets you buy electricity in blocks of 100kWh at $1 per block per month in addition to the regular charge.

We downloaded our 2-year history of electricity usage from Wisconsin Public Service's (WPS) web site and calculated that we averaged about 900 kWh per month, so we signed up for 9 blocks, making our entire electricity usage renewable for $9/month, and cutting our carbon emissions by 4,644 kg (10,238 lbs) CO2 per year.

The program works by committing WPS to purchasing the blocks of electricity from renewable sources (wind, solar etc) to be added to the grid, thereby lowering the amount of fossil fuels WPS uses to generate electricity. The specific electricity coming to our house hasn't changed and comes from whatever source is closest (or however the electricity distribution works...).

Welcome to Green-Savvy

So we decided to start a blog to write about how people living in typical suburban America can make more sustainable, eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives.

We live in Oshkosh, WI on a reasonably large lot (1/3 acre), but have no public transportation, and need two cars just to get by. However, we garden, do a lot of canning, belong to a CSA, and generally try to do a lot of things for the environment. We're not perfect, but we try to improve and do as much as we can. We hope this blog can help others learn from us, and that it will help us stay focused on being as earth-friendly as possible.