Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Plastic-Free Inventory

Things that I used to buy at the store, wrapped in plastic, that I no longer do.

  • Bread - my bread maker is an amazing asset to our house. I started doing it when the price of good whole wheat bread went through the roof (in my opinion). I was not about to spend $6 for a loaf of bread, when I could make it for pennies at home. Then when Max was diagnosed with an egg allergy, making my own bread allowed me to mix egg into it, which helped him to get over his allergy faster and felt better to me than making him cookies and muffins all the time.
  • Dishwashing detergent - I started mixing up my own. 1 cup borax, 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup citric acid granules, 30 drops of lemon EO. As I've written about before it is not perfect, but it is good enough for me.
  • Hummus - it takes me about 5 minutes to make hummus at home. I use a recipe I got from my Common Sense Kitchen cookbook. Very simple, I make it in the food processor while I'm making dinner usually. The key to good homemade hummus, in my opinion, is to let it process for a long time. Like several minutes. It still isn't quite as smooth as store bought hummus, but it is close.
  • Napkins - we have pretty much switched to 100% cloth napkins. Even for parties. I just get out a big stack and don't worry much about whether or not they match. I'm going to work on making more smaller napkins (like cocktail napkin size) out of some of the old fabric scraps I have.
  • Paper towels - I bought a few packs of flour sack towels to use when we have spills in the kitchen. Old cloth diapers work well if you need something really absorbent. I wash them with the diapers a few times a week so we always have them.
  • Sponges and brushes for dishes - I switched to this wooden dish brush. It has held up really well, and it has a replaceable head that is 100% compostable. I also use dishcloths to wipe down counters now. To scrub pots, I've switched to a copper scrubber for my cast iron. It works awesome, and you can recycle it when you're done. 
  • Toilet paper and tissues - I bought in bulk from Who Gives a Crap. They send it in completely recyclable packaging, and it's wrapped in paper, which you can obviously recycle. It's a bit more expensive than what I buy at the store, but not too bad.
  • Maxi pads and tampons - After Teddy was born I switched to a Diva Cup, and I won't ever go back. It is a silicone cup that you insert. It stays in place all day. You rinse and reuse. It's not as gross as it sounds, I promise. And almost no chance of TSS like you have with tampons. I usually wear my Diva Cup with a pair of THINX underwear. I wash them with my diapers and hang to dry, and they work awesome. And they are much more comfortable than the plastic maxi pads and panty liners I was using before.
  • Face lotion - I switched to using pure argan oil with some various and assorted EO mixed in awhile ago. My face is no worse for the wear, and I know exactly what I'm putting on it.
  • Cling wrap - I invested in some Bee's Wrap awhile ago, and I've been using exclusively that, or putting things into a reusable container ever since. I still have some on hand, because sometimes nothing else will do, but I've cut back on it quite a bit. Good news is, when your Bee's Wrap wears out, you can use it as tinder to start a fire. I've seen some tutorials online about making it yourself, though I haven't tried that yet.
  • Aluminum foil - I use parchment paper (which is compostable) or silicone baking mats instead
  • Shampoo and conditioner - I'm still using up the last huge bottle of shampoo that I bought at Costco, but I switched to conditioner from Plaine Products awhile ago and I really love it. They come in reusable aluminum containers. When you are running low, you order another one. They send it to you in plastic free packaging and you send back your empties. They clean, sterilize, and refill them. I've also used solid shampoo bars from Lush, which I really like for traveling. They lather amazingly well and you can pack into a carry on without any issue at all.
  • Body wash - I've been using bar soap for awhile now. So much cheaper, and you can get it to suds up with a washcloth or natural sponge just as well as body wash. I like castille soap, but I have a variety of different soaps I use.
  • Razors and razor blades - I switched to a safety razor last summer and really like it. I get a close shave, I almost never get razor burn or cut myself, and the blades are recyclable. They also last a lot longer and are dirt cheap. I just went to Walgreens and got what they have there. I shave with castille soap and have no complaints. But shaving with conditioner also works.
  • Plasticware from take-out restaurants - I bought a titanium spork on Amazon and  bring that with me in my purse wherever I go. When we have parties, I just get out the good old fashioned flatware. 
  • Yogurt - making your own yogurt is so incredibly easy. When you find out how easy it is, you will never want to buy yogurt in plastic containers ever again. The stuff I make at home I make with whole milk, and I think you really need to. The milk fat helps it to thicken. I don't know where the obsession with low and no fat dairy came from, but I think it's a racket. My kids need the full fat dairy for brain development, and full fat milk is only 4% milk fat. It's not that bad for you, the calorie difference is negligible (in my opinion). So I go full fat dairy the whole way and don't worry about it. But, I put a gallon of milk in a stock pot. Put my meat thermometer in there with a timer to alert me when it gets to 180 degrees. Then I let it get up to about 185 degrees. I turn it off. Then let it cool to about 110 or 115 degrees. Turn the oven on low. Then take a cup or so, and mix it with about 1/2 cup of plain yogurt that you bought at the store (with live and active cultures, of course). Mix it together until smooth. Pour into the larger pot, mix well. Pour the milk/yogurt combo into four quart size mason jars. Seal them up. Wrap the jars up in old bath towels (I wrap two jars in one towel). Turn off the oven. Put the jars in. Close the door. Go look at them again in 8 hours and, voila! Yogurt! You can eat it just like that, or you can strain it to make it thicker. The kids have an easier time eating it if its thicker, so I put two muslin cheese cloths over my colander. Pour the yogurt in there. After an hour or two, put it back into jars (you'll have 2-3 jars now). Put it in the fridge. It will stay good for quite awhile, several weeks in my house (if it isn't eaten up first). Remember to keep some back to start your next batch. I rinse the muslin cloths and wash them with the laundry. Reuse many, many times.
  • Straws - drinking straws seem to me to be something that was invented to eliminate a problem we didn't really have. You can just pick up the cup and drink from it. But some people have issues with sensitive teeth, or like to drink their soda through a straw. I generally just ask for a drink at a restaurant and tell them to hold the straw. I do have a collection of stainless steel straws that I'll use from time to time, but generally, I just skip the straw all together. 30 billion plastic straws end up in our landfills every year. That is a lot of straws!
  • Ziplock bags - I still have a bunch that I purchased before I started trying to cut as much plastic as possible out of my life. Even back then I would wash them out and reuse them. So I still use the ones that I had from before, and I continue to use and wash and reuse. And throw them away when their life is spent. But I don't use nearly as many as I used to. I've been putting more and more stuff in mason jars, in addition to other reusable containers. But mason jars work great for the freezer and are much easier to organize in there than ziplock backs anyways. 
I think that's a pretty exhaustive list. If I think of anymore, I'll add them on the end. It's a constant struggle to cut plastic out of our lives, when it is so prevalent in every aspect of what we do. And we have become a society that is OK with just throwing things out after one use. That is seen as a selling point. "Yeah! I just use it once and then throw it out! How convenient is that?!" So sad. A generation ago, people would have been appalled at that. 

If anyone else has any hacks of suggestions, I'm open to them!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lenten Sacrifice

It's been a long time since I gave anything up for Lent. A really long time. So this year, I decided to give up buying new things. Obviously groceries are OK. But other than that, nothing. I have to host Bunco next month, so I'll have to buy prizes for that, but it will be the only exception. Wish me luck, haha.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Seeds and Succession Planting

So now that both of my boys are a bit bigger (and therefore less work) I'd like to try to start some of my own seeds this year, and try to be more organized for succession "farming". The idea behind succession farming is that you start and plant things in waves, so that different things are ripe at different times, and some things (like root vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce) are planted more than once in a season.

Like I've mentioned before, I am someone who tends to go big or go home. In an all or nothing kind of way. One of my New Year's Resolutions this year was to try not to do that so much. Bite off what I think I can chew. And be OK with it if the journey is not quite what I wanted it to be.

Ideally I would have a little green house in my backyard and I would start all of my garden from seeds at exactly the right time and I'd transfer them at the right time and I'd harvest and preserve and none of it would go to waste. And then I would plant cover crops for the winter and work in compost in the spring.

And if all that happened I would have no time for anything else. Literally. I am not a homesteader, even if part of me wants to be (another part of me really enjoys vacations).

So, it's that time of year. Time to buy seeds for the garden. Last year I pretty much bought ever plant from Shop-Ko. I would love to not buy any from them. But in reality I don't have a place in my house to do that, and I've honestly not been that successful in starting my own seeds before.

So this year I decided to start small. Try to start a few things inside. Try to do it well. Set up a good place with good light and feed them like I'm supposed to. I decided to use Johnny's Selected Seeds this year. I bought the stuff that I often sow in the garden (peas, pole beans, carrots, parsnips) and a few things that I will try to start inside first (cucumber, squash, tomatoes). As I'm writing this I realize that I probably bought too many things to start inside, but it was a fraction of what I wanted to buy, so I'll call that progress.

I'm also using a book that I got for Christmas years ago and have never used - Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardner's Handbook by Ron and Jennifer Kujawski. In it they break it down for me, week by week, starting many weeks ago (I'm behind already!).

The succession farming is going to consist of hopefully doing more than one planting of carrots and parsnips. Because that has ever happened before. I always just do one really big planting. Then I pull them all at the same time. Then I have so many carrots I have no earthly idea what to do with them. One year I made them into baby food. Last year a lot of them went bad, unfortunately. But I also made some into carrot pickles. Which I haven't eaten many of yet.

That brings me to another tidbit. I'm going to try really hard to note what I plant, how much, and how much we used. And if you look into my pantry, it turns out we don't eat that many pickles. Or relish. I make it, we don't eat it. So, stop making so many pickles. Be honest with yourself that you don't really like them. But, the curried zucchini pickles? Need to make more of those. Many, many more. Because there is nothing that tastes better on a pulled pork or beef sandwich than a curried zucchini pickle.

So, seeds are ordered. None of the ones I bought need to be started yet. So that gives me some time to figure out the logistics.