Thursday, February 27, 2014

Package of Meat (or, why we started using a meat CSA)

We joined a fruit and vegetable CSA about a year and a half ago, back when we moved into our condo. While some people argue that you can get better deals on produce at the Farmer's Market, as graduate students we have found the convenience of delivered veggies to be irreplaceable. For those in Northern California who are curious, we use Farm Fresh to You. The big reason why we chose them is the ability to completely customize the delivery schedule. Depending on how busy we are in a given month, we get deliveries either every other week or every 3 or even 4 weeks (filling in with visits to the Farmer's Market between box deliveries). We also enjoy the discovery of new vegetables we might not otherwise try, and I enjoy the challenge of eating with the seasons and using up everything we have. Without a CSA box, would I have learned so many ways to eat leeks? I doubt it.

Recently we joined another CSA group -- a meat one. These are not as common as the produce CSAs, and it took quite a bit of research to find one that met our needs. (If you're in the Bay Area, the one we settled on is Marin Sun Farms.)

Why did we decide to sign up for a once a month delivery of meat? We have been discussing on and off the problems with conventionally raised meat animals. The horrors of factory farms turn my stomach and make me sad. I completely understand why some people choose to become vegetarian, but, while I frequently will do meatless days, a completely meatless diet isn't for us.

I was buying organic chicken at the store, and organic grass fed beef...but while that helps, distributors still try to keep costs down for chain grocery stores so it's not always the most humane choice.

We started buying meat at the Farmer's Market, which was nice because we could chat with the farmers and know that the meat was organic and came from animals who were allowed to free range or pasture. But, again with our unpredictable schedules, sometimes we couldn't make it to the Farmer's Market. Or we would get there later and the more cost effective cuts would be sold out.

our first meat box delivery

We had been researching meat CSAs on and off for months, but finally made the jump with the new year. Here are the points that caused us to choose Marin Sun Farms:

1. Local, pasture raised livestock. While their farms are not certified organic (which can be costly for the farm) they do guarantee that their livestock are never fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Most importantly for us, the livestock live in pastures for most of the year, and are treated humanely.

2. Ability to get only the amount of meat we need. Some meat CSAs use the old model of customers paying an upfront sum, then receiving a half a cow when processing time comes. This wouldn't work for us, since we only have a small freezer! With this CSA we get about 6lbs of meat per month at a monthly rate. If we know we won't be available to pick up our box, we can call ahead of time to cancel that delivery.

3. Variety. This first box, we received about 1lb each of ground lamb, pork, and beef as well as a small leg of lamb, a pork butt shoulder and two pork chops. I like this variety because we will never get bored with the meat in the freezer. And who knows what we will receive next month?

Here's a good article about meat CSAs : link

Another benefit of this CSA is the reduced packaging. Yes, everything is vacuum sealed in plastic. But there are none of those extra Styrofoam trays, or the weird absorbing things that sometimes are packaged under meat at the grocery store. The cardboard box everything comes in is recyclable or reusable. So, per pound of meat, we are throwing less in the garbage than if we were buying conventional meat at the grocery store.

Those are my thoughts on our meat CSA so far. I'll be digging into the ground pork this weekend for our Baked Eggs with Kale dinner, so I'm quite excited about that!

Do you have any experience with CSAs, produce or meat? Please share in the comments!

*Neither Farm Fresh to You nor Marin Sun Farms has anything to do with my writing of this post. Eating locally and Community Supported Agriculture is just something that I've become quite interested in and I wanted to share my experiences thus far.*

Monday, February 24, 2014

Conservation Monday #4: Reducing Waste in the Bathroom

Once again, welcome to my weekly Conservation Monday series!

In keeping with last week's focus on the kitchen, I decided to focus on conservation in the bathroom this week.

In my posts about conserving water, I've already discussed the idea of reusing the shower water for plants. Today, let's look at a few other changes you can make to conserve resources in the bathroom (listed in no particular order)

1. Toilet paper. 
There are a few different ways you can reduce waste with regards to toilet paper. Some people have adopted the idea of "family cloth" which is a washable wipe rather than disposable toilet paper. (The linked website has a good explanation of family cloth.) This is not something I'm personally willing to do at this point, due to laundry situations in our building, and the fact that with grad school thesis I really don't need yet another cleaning chore around the house!
However, I do look for brands that use minimal packaging. I don't need each roll individually wrapped! In some areas you can also find toilet paper with a certain percentage of post-consumer recycled material, which can be a great choice. My rule for buying toilet paper from eco-friendly brands is that it must be just as soft and efficient as my preferred "standard" brand. If I have to use extra sheets of the eco-friendly brand because it's not doing as good of a job, it's not really saving resources.

2. Brushing teeth.
If you are one of the people who still run water the entire time you're brushing your teeth, take this moment to finally stop the water waste! Personally, growing up in California where we have always been taught to be water conscious, I've never met someone who runs water the whole time. I just wet the toothbrush at the beginning, then use water to rinse at the end. So I'm not sure if it's something that is still done, but if you do this is seriously one of the easiest ways to conserve water!

3. If it's yellow, let it mellow.
This may be more of a drought-specific tip for the bathroom, but it can save some serious water! Please excuse the details (but hey, you've made it this far in a post about the bathroom) but on days when I'm feeling fully hydrated I can pee multiple times, and it's fairly clear. Gallons of water just to flush down some nearly clear pee? No thank you! I'll be saving that water.
Now, when I have guests over, I do make sure to flush before they arrive! Since we're not on water restrictions yet I figure politeness can trump a single flush.

4. Shorter showers.
If you're in an area with limited water, learn to take "Navy showers" where you turn the water on to get wet, then turn it off while you soap up. Turn it back on just to rinse off, then hop out.
Droughts are no time for luxurious long showers or baths. I miss a relaxing bath as much as the next lady, but unless you're bailing all that water out into a garden afterwards it is wasteful in these conditions.
Even if you're not suffering from California's current drought, shorter showers can still save you water and money. Shave just one minute off your shower, and you can save about 2 gallons per day! That's 14 gallons in a week that isn't running down the drain.

5. Ditch the disposable cleaners.
Disposable wipes have become ubiquitous. Their ads claim that they are more sanitary than reusable rags, but what so many commercials fail to take into account is that you're supposed to toss used rags into the laundry rather than use a soiled cloth to wipe down your baby's high chair!
Honestly, since simplifying my cleaners and swapping out for primarily organic options, we have been sick even less. I use rags for every cleaning job, hang them up in the shower to dry out then toss them in the laundry basket. Rags get washed together (with paint clothes) roughly once a week in hot water. It's simple, keeps worn out clothes from heading to the landfill, and prevents all those disposable wipes from ever entering our house.

What other tips do you have for reducing waste of any kind in the bathroom? Please share in the comments!

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Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan 2.23.14

It's time to share my weekly meal plan!

There were a few changes to last week's plan during the week. Last Wednesday I was supposed to make Broccoli Cheddar Soup, but we had too much leftover soup in the fridge so we ate that up instead. But since we still have a ton of broccoli (thank you CSA!) the Broccoli Cheddar Soup is back on the menu this week. And since we're out of leftover soup, it will actually get made this Wednesday!

Sunday: Slow Cooker Tomato and Brown Sugar Pork Chops & salad

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: Spaghetti with leftover marinara sauce & salad

Wednesday: Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: Winter Salad with Butternut Squash

Saturday: Baked Eggs with Kale - subbing out sausage for ground pork & reducing number of eggs

What are you eating this week?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Conservation Monday #3: Reducing Waste in the Kitchen

Welcome back to Conservation Monday at Living Design!

While this series was inspired by the drought situation here in California, I want to take a break from the water tips and focus on another way to drastically reduce waste: the kitchen.

When Sean and I first started living together, I was fresh out of college and he had been living at his parents' house for a year since his own graduation. I was used to sharing a fridge and pantry with two roommates; he was used to not thinking about the kitchen at all! The first few months together, I found we were constantly going to the grocery store because I knew nothing about grocery shopping to feed two people. Looking back, I know we generated more waste than necessary due to our inexperience with cooking for two, and with meal planning.

I know we have a long way to go still, and these days some of my frustration comes from the lack of green waste pick-up at our condo building. (We have a worm bucket, but when we do large fruit harvests we have to throw most of the compostable discards in the garbage because it's too much for our worms to handle.) I love reading Zero Waste Home to get even more ideas on how to reduce our waste.

Today, though, I want to share with you 8 ways we've changed our habits to reduce waste in the kitchen.

Living Design: Reducing Waste in the Kitchen

1. Stop buying individually packaged servings. 
For instance, both Sean and I eat quite a bit of yogurt. At first, I bought individually packaged cartons of yogurt. Easy to grab, right? Well, after a while we noticed that if I bought the fat-free variety with aspartame Sean would get headaches. Then I started learning about cutting out artificial thing led to another and now we only buy the large containers of organic, plain yogurt. Whereas we used to recycle 6 to 8 little plastic cartons per week, now we reuse or recycle one large carton per week.

2. Buy dried goods from bulk bins.
If you can buy dried goods like beans and rice from bulk bins, this is a great way to eliminate packaging. Instead of buying canned beans, which take up a lot of room when stored and may have BPA in the cans, or buying dried beans in boxes or plastic bags, I use the bulk bins at our local grocery store. I'm not at the point where I bring my own bags to put them in yet, but at least the bags provided by the bulk bins get reused to clean the litter box.

3. Don't throw away those veggie scraps.
I keep a gallon sized bag in the freezer into which I toss any edible but undesirable veggie scraps. The leafy parts of celery, the stem end of a carrot. Even an unused leftover onion, since you don't want to store cut onions in the fridge too long. When the bag gets full, I dump it all into the crock pot, fill with water and let it sit on simmer overnight. The next morning, I strain the vegetable broth into glass jars, let them cool, then freeze. No more store-bought vegetable broth in cans or paper cartons! (The veggie mush that's left after straining gets fed to the worms.)

Living Design: Reducing Waste in the Kitchen

4. Don't throw away those bones.
Along the same vein as the vegetable broth, I never throw away bones! When I cook a full chicken, I dissect the whole thing that night as we're putting away the leftovers. I typically cook the full chicken in the crock pot, so I leave all the leftover juices at the bottom. Any onion or herbs I used for the chicken stay in the crock pot too. Then, as I put away the leftover chicken, I pull the bones off and toss them back into the crock pot, along with any skin that peels away or pieces of cartilage. Fill with water, set to simmer, add a small dash of apple cider vinegar to help leach the calcium out of the bones and into the broth. Just like the vegetable broth, it sits on simmer overnight, then gets strained into glass jars in the morning. (Unlike the remains of the vegetable broth, the remaining bones have to go in the garbage since worms can't break them down and we have no green waste pick up.)
Use the same method for making broth out of any leftover bones!

5. Learn to eat the whole vegetable.
When we first signed up for our CSA box over a year ago, we had no idea what to do with all the extra greens! Carrot tops, radish greens...these are things you rarely see in the grocery store. I was able to find some recipes online, but my favorite resource has been Root to Stalk Cooking, which I received for Chanukah. Every recipe I've tried from the book has been delicious, and I love that she often combines the "normal" part of the vegetable with the "extra", such as the Carrot Top Pesto I recently made, which is served over roasted vegetables including carrots. Don't ever throw out those "extras" again!

6. Plan a leftovers night. Or two.
One of the tricks of cooking for two is that most recipes are designed for four or more. This means there can be a lot of leftovers! Sean is great about taking leftovers to work, but I don't always have the option of leftovers for lunch (depending on where I'm working any given day.) So, I typically plan a "leftovers night" into our meal plan. If you're following along with my weekly meal plans, you'll notice that Mondays and Thursdays are typically leftovers; this is because for this semester, Sean has class Monday nights and I work longer days on Thursdays. So for right now, those two nights make sense to devote to easily reheated leftovers.
Depending on your own family's needs, the number of leftovers nights might vary. But no matter the family size I think it's a great solution to excess food and busy schedules. Wouldn't leftover pasta be more delicious and healthy than the drive-thru?

7. Use cloth napkins.
Growing up, we had always used paper napkins. As soon as I was buying them myself though, I realized how wasteful they were. Sure, the worms can eat them, but why use a fresh paper napkin with each meal when you can use a cloth one? Cloth feels nicer and can even feel luxurious. It's easily tossed into loads of laundry I'm already washing. And if we don't make too much of a mess, a single napkin can be used for a few days before I decide to toss it in the laundry. Eventually, when they wear out, they will be turned into rags. Far more eco friendly than even recycled paper napkins!
To be fair, we do still keep some paper on hand for things like buffalo wings...there are some messes I'm not ready to deal with on cloth. But with the rare instances we do use the paper, the worms make quick work of it!

Living Design: Reducing Waste in the Kitchen
 cloth napkins look beautiful, and help reduce waste at mealtimes

8. Use rags for clean up.
Once you stop using paper napkins, stop using paper towels as well! This one has taken a bit more getting used to, especially on Sean's part. He was so used to just reaching for paper towels that switching him to rags has been a bit of work. But it helps that I don't freak out about it -- I just remind him that we have rags for that job, next time. And we have drastically reduced our paper towel usage over the last few years. Most people can't believe I haven't purchased paper towels since before Sean and I got married!
I haven't done any of those cutesy things you see on Pinterest, with the cloth wipes sewn to fit onto a paper towel holder. I just have a pile of cut up old T-shirts and worn out socks. But really, they do the job just as well, and since no one else needs to see them, there are plenty of other craft projects I'd rather be doing instead of making my rags "cute".

How do you reduce your kitchen waste? I'd love to hear more tips in the comments!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan 2.16.14

I did really well at sticking to my meal plan last week, so here we go with another!

We have a few instances of "if this, then that" this week, but since I have plans for whatever we end up doing, I think I can still stick to my meal plan this week!

What we'll be eating for dinner this week:

Sunday: black bean tacos with homemade tortillas (friends coming over for dinner?)

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: either butternut squash lasagne or dinner out with a friend (plans to be solidified)

Wednesday: broccoli cheddar soup

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: swing day -- if we went out to dinner on Tues, I'll make the lasagne on Fri; if we made lasagne on Tues, maybe another leftover night?

Saturday: Dad's birthday dinner

The last time I made butternut squash lasagne back in July. Definitely time to make it again!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Garden Update: February 2014

We have some new additions to our balcony garden! Sean and I helped some friends rehome fruit trees at a property scheduled to be bulldozed (sad, but yet so wonderful that the owners reached out to rehome the trees instead of just cutting them all down) and we came home with one blueberry bush, one rose and one gardenia.

The gardenia was a bit out of control for our narrow balcony (forgot to take a picture before I started pruning) and I read that they can do well indoors, so I was considering putting it in the living room. We were in line at Ikea, having found the perfect pot for our living room decor that wouldn't break the bank...and then we thought to double check whether or not gardenias are toxic to cats.

They are.

Bummer. No gardenias indoors for this household.

Living Design: February 2014 Garden

I guess this gardenia may need to go live in my parents' yard.

The blueberry, however, is happily potted next to my herb planter:

Living Design: February 2014 Garden

It's dormant right now of course, but I can't wait to see some growth. And then to pick fresh blueberries off our balcony...

Our other winter/spring plants are doing well. Here are some radishes:

Living Design: February 2014 Garden


Living Design: February 2014 Garden


Living Design: February 2014 Garden

And lastly, the new rose bush tucked away next to the lemon tree (dormant strawberry plant hanging over it)

Living Design: February 2014 Garden

Soon I'll be starting my tomatoes, beans and sugar snap peas. And of course our green onions continue to thrive at ridiculous sizes...I need to get a new picture of them up here because you probably wouldn't believe how big they are unless you saw them!

Do you grow a winter garden? What do you grow? Any helpful hints for container gardening? Share in the comments!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Twin Accordion Lamps for Twin Desks

One of our projects before the start of this semester was to install new desk lights in the office. This was our setup:

accordion lamp office desk

Two desks side by side, flat file in between. We have one overhead lamp with a paper shade that gives some nice diffuse light, and we used to have an old floor lamp with multi colored shades. We gave the multi colored lamp to some friends when they moved since it really wasn't working for our space (too much glare on Sean's computer screen) and the colors didn't work in our space anyway but it was perfect for the kids' new room. Below is the multi colored floor lamp where it used to live next to my drafting table:

Those pink, green and purple shades are now much more at home in a shared girls room!

I had been eying some  accordion wall lamps like these for some time. It's more than I've ever spent on lighting, but they also look so nice! And after talking about it with Sean, we decided it was worthwhile to shell out the money for beautiful, functional desk lamps.

Here they are after installation:

accordion lamp office desk
(please excuse the poor light balance -- it was rainy so the room wasn't getting any natural light)

Here they are with more accurate light balance:

accoridion lamp office desk

Close up of one of the lamps:

accoridion lamp

We love that they pull out from the wall and move so that we can get direct light anywhere on the desk. We can also angle them in such a way that we get indirect light when working at the computer -- no glare!

Now we just need to finish rehanging the art and diplomas...and I have another small office update coming for you next week. I'm finally making lots of great progress in this room!

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Conservation Monday #2: Reusing Water

Welcome back to Conservation Monday at Living Design!

Last week I discussed 5 simple changes to make around the house that can passively reduce water consumption. This week, I want to share some ways you can reuse water (grey water). Grey water is water that has been used once for washing, but can be used again for irrigation or toilet flushing. If you have the ability to install a grey water system to do this automatically, wonderful! But if you can't change your plumbing, due to being in an apartment/condo/rental or due to local zoning regulations, these ideas can help you use that grey water no matter where you live.

1. Reuse your shower water for watering plants! Once a week I put a plug in the bottom of the tub while I shower and collect the shower water. (For a larger yard, you probably would need to do this more than once a week.) I make sure to only use eco-friendly products when I do this, since I don't want to accidentally water my plants with chemicals. The water cools down as I get dressed, and then I bail the water into my watering can. So far, no complaints from my plants!

2. The kitchen is another place where water gets used all the time. Try catching rinse water from fruits or vegetables in a bowl, then watering plants with it. Or put a bowl under the colander while you drain pasta to save that water.

3. Pet bowls. This isn't grey water, but another source of water for your garden. I've noticed that my cat will sometimes get hair, food, or other grunge into an otherwise fresh bowl of water. Instead of constantly dumping the water down the drain in order to freshen the bowl, dump it out in the garden!

Between all of these methods, I have been able to keep my balcony garden watered and happy. We reduce our overall water usage by taking short showers and then reusing that water for the plants.

What do you do to save water? If you're in California, what are you doing differently because of the drought?

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan 2.9.14

I have been working on getting the hang of meal planning. I've found that when I truly stick to a plan, we have less food waste and we stay on top of our budget better. Naturally, keeping to the plan is easiest when I do things to hold myself accountable, like writing it on the kitchen white board so that if we deviate I see it!

It is also easiest to keep on track when we aren't busy and stressed. As the new semester (our last!) of grad school picks up, I thought I would try what so many other bloggers are doing and post my meal plans online. This will force me to actually make the plan each weekend, and I'm hoping that by putting it out there for the world, I will have one more layer of accountability.

So, without further ado, here is the dinner plan for the week of February 9 through February 15:

Sunday: Grapes of Wrath strike (Sean eats leftovers, Cheryl eats at the theater)

Monday: bake bread during day; leftovers for dinner

Tuesday: baked pasta with spinach, ricotta and prosciutto

Wednesday: cauliflower soup

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: kale and sausage soup

Saturday: crock pot pork chops

Monday, February 3, 2014

Conservation Monday #1: 5 Simple Ways to Save Water

Welcome to my first Conservation Monday post! I plan to post new tips and ideas on conserving resources every Monday. Please feel free to share your conservation ideas in the comments.

I'm starting these posts in light of California's current drought situation. Our governor recently declared a state of emergency, and some cities are already implementing rationing limits. While my city has not yet mandated reduced water use, I think it is a good idea to start implementing some conservation techniques now. It never hurts to save, right?

Living Design: 5 Simple Ways to Save Water

Let's start with five basic water saving measures that anyone can do, whether you are dealing with a drought or not.

1. Low flow toilets. If you have an older toilet (before 1994 for U.S. homes) it can use roughly 3.5 gallons of water for every flush. All toilets manufactured since 1994 fall under the general category of "low flow," meaning they use 1.6 gallons or less per flush. Newer models use water pressure to achieve better flushing action using even less water. According to the EPA, the average household can save $90 per year by switching to low flow toilets. Less than half the water use and money savings? Sounds like a win to me!

2. Low flow shower heads. Have you ever stopped the drain during a shower to see how much water you're using? If you're using a traditional shower head, it can be quite a lot! Low flow shower heads restrict the flow of water, often using air to make up for the lost pressure. This is a change that can take some time to get used to, but will save water and money in the long run.

3. Be vigilant about leaks! Take care of leaky faucets immediately. It saves money and water, as well as the headache of knowing a home repair is waiting for you.

4. Wash only full loads. This goes for clothes and dishes. Running a full clothes washer or dish washer is more efficient and uses less water per item than doing small loads. Just remember not to over fill the washing machine with clothes -- stuffing so much in that nothing can move around can actually be detrimental.

5. Do less laundry. We have a bit of an obsession with cleanliness. So much so that we spend time and water washing clothes that aren't really dirty. My husband wears undershirts everyday, but he used to put both the undershirt and the button-up or polo into the laundry basket. We were washing shirts that hadn't even touched his skin! Now, he hangs his shirts back up to air out, and gets at least one more day of wear. An added bonus -- washing less often is good for the fabric too!

If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments! Next week I'll be going into more drought-specific tips (like reusing shower water for plants).