Saturday, May 31, 2008

Praise for Pullet Eggs

I'd never had pullet eggs until Bill, my friend the egg farmer, gave me over a dozen of them last week.

I have become completely enamored of their size combined with their full pastured taste. I have had three "eggs in a basket" in the past three days: bread lightly grilled, two small holes cut out, eggs cracked and put into holes, season, cook until it's time to flip, flip, cook a bit more, flit yolk side up again onto the plate, then enjoy the warm yolk and the nutty grained bread.

They fit like a good worry rock in your hand. Holding them makes you understand how folks can become so intreiged with creating exactly miniature houses, boats, airplanes. This is a perfect miniature egg, 50% scale.

And they're perfect for when you don't want as much as a full egg.

I'm sure there's poetry somewhere about pullet eggs. If not, then there should be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How giving up late night eating can save the world

OK, so my giving up late night eating CAN'T save the world, I know that. But that's what I've decided to do for June in answer to Chile's latest challenge.

It may not be obvious how that's related to local and sustainable living (even to me!). But here's my thinking:
  • As she puts it, "think about how hard it may be to have to give up multiple things at the same time. It will be tough! Maybe you can ease the transition later by learning to live without some things now."
  • Related to that, a big part of what I'm trying to do with this whole journey comes down to self-discipline. I need to have the self-discipline to do the extra work it takes to eat fresh, local foods, to preserve local foods for the winter and off-season, to grow my own foods, to do without many things that aren't available locally, to live my life as if there's less to have, even though at the moment I could have far more.
  • Let's face it: I'm fat. I carry 185lbs on a 5'2" frame, which is a lot more that my body needs. I am politically, morally and deeply emotionally opposed to "dieting" as defined by current society's norms, and yet I fully realize that I will be a healthier person if I eat smaller portions of healthier, real foods. To give myself credit, I'm doing SO much better during the day -- my portion sizes have gone down dramatically, and the foods I eat have gone up substantially in quality and freshness. But not only is what I eat late at night food that I honestly don't need, it's normally crap food. And even on the nights that I have things like a bowl of oatmeal or last night's incredibly delicious fresh pheasant eggs (which I got from a friend who is a local egg farmer) , I don't need those things late at night!!
  • Food waste is part of the overall global problem, and putting food into my body that it seriously doesn't need is every bit as wasteful as dumping it into the trash.
So that's my goal for June: One month of no eating anything after 11pm. I've been talking about needing to do this for a long time anyway, and if I can't do it just for myself, perhaps now I'll be able to do it as part of a bigger long-term goal of living a sustainable lifestyle.

(editing to say that I'm not going to promise to not eat after 11pm on the night I'll be hanging with my sibs at my parents or staying with my brother... there's too much of a tradition of staying up late, talking, and munching. Realistically I need to make this challenge "no eating after 11 when it's just me alone.")

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inspiration and Addiction

I am a voracious reader by nature anyway, and now I try to read as much as I can related to this particular path I'm on. Books of course, by the dozens at times, but also blogs galore.

One of the blogs that I read regularly is Chile Chews, "Eclectic musings on sustainable living, food, health and human-powered transportation... with a few rants thrown in for balance." Not only does what she write inspire me, she also offers up very specific challenges that just... well, they just make sense. They are things that I read and say, yes, this is something I want to address in my life.

Today's challenge is one that I most definitely want to address, though it's likely to be much harder than her last challenge of getting organized. This time she's challenging us to address our addictions, the ones that are barriers to learning to live the type of sustainable life that folks like me who regularly read her blog are presumably striving to live.

(ok, well I just re-read her post and she hasn't officially made the challenge YET but she wants us to start thinking about it, so I'm going to write about it anyway!)

She doesn't give any of us an easy out. I can sit here all smug about my lack of addiction to cigarettes, alcohol or fast food, about how we've learned to let yellow mellow and we wear clothes multiple times and only wash full loads and we never go to or rent movies and we're not addicted to spending and live well within our means with no debt and relatively generous deposits each month into retirement and emergency funds, blah diddy blah blah blah.

But what about some of the things that I enjoy but don't truly NEED in my life, like iced tea and sugar? Or about things that I take completely for granted that, in a totally collapsed economy or with dramatic oil shortages, might not be available - like *gasp* toilet paper?

OK, I may hyperventilate a bit over the idea of going without toilet paper, specifically the extra-soft TP on which I splurge because of my particularly tender hiney, but I recognize that it is possible to live without it. After all, I'm from strong Appalachian stock and I grew up around real, actively used outhouses. Granted, by the time I was around to use them they were all regularly supplied with rolls of white paper, but I also know that there was a time in my Granny's history, back in the holler, where there was no TP. In fact, history tells us that somehow -- in ways I don't even want to THINK about -- folks used *shudder* corn cobs to clean off stuck poop. Most definitely not something I want to consider if I don't absolutely have to.

But I do recognize that this overall lifestyle change I'm taking on is a process. I may not be anywhere close to considering giving up toilet paper (I'm a SLOWWWWcavore, remember?) but there are certainly many things that would put me one step closer towards living in a way that would benefit me in the long run.

So back to this challenge. What addiction am I ready to address, at least for a month? I want to take this seriously, but at the same time I know I'm not going to succeed with any addiction that I'm honestly not ready to let go of, like black tea or sugar or toilet paper.

Right now she's asking folks to just think about it, and thinking is something I can do. I have some limits, since though there are some things that I might be willing to take on if it were just me, I know that Partner would totally not buy into it, so I want to choose something that I can do without requiring the same commitment from others who aren't ready to go there.

So, just off the top of my head, here are ten things that I will consider as my challenge project:
  1. Paper towels. This is a tough one for me because I'm a bit phobic about food nastiness, especially chicken goo or other things that might harbor nasty bugs that might make me sick, so I tend to wash my hands frequently while working with meat and dry them with paper towels just in case I missed something that I don't want to get on a real towel, plus I wipe up frequently with paper towels so that I can then throw it immediately away. Could I go a month without using any paper towels or napkins?
  2. The garbage can. I'm still not recycling or composting anywhere close to as much as I could. What would it take for me to not put a single thing into the trash that wasn't truly trash?
  3. My car as transportation to my job which is only a mile away. Then again, I have three more days of work before summer break so this isn't exactly one that I could realistically take on now. Scratch this one for now, but if I don't readdress it in the fall I have no damned business keeping this blog.
  4. Keeping things powered on. I don't want to have to wait for my PC to boot up, the cable box to re-initialize, or to dig the charger out of the drawer. Plus we have lots of things charging at any given time that are, in our current lives, necessities (ok, ok - addictions): Cordless tools, cordless vacs (who knew how much pugs shed?!?), rechargeable batteries (though that's overall a good thing, right?!?), cordless string trimmer... What would it take for me to do some serious unplugging?
  5. Sloth. Honestly, tonight I should have worked on the bathroom wiring, cleaned out the fridge, built my compost bin, or done SOMEthing more productive with the six hours since I've been home than cook dinner and make phone calls for a surprise thing that I don't want to name just in case the person who it applies to is reading. If I set some minimum amount of time each day to accomplish things that need to be done, at least on average, I could combat this addiction to inertia.
  6. Late night eating. Of all of my eating habits, this is the one that is likely the greatest contributer to my over-weight, and the one that involves the most things that I really should not be eating. This so far seems like the strongest contender, though I've attempted to address it before with little luck...
  7. Clutter. I have to admit that despite some significant gains in this area, I'm still addicted to clutter. I honestly almost need it around me. I'm not sure how to truly measure this one, though.
  8. Procrastination. In a limited-resource world, procrastination could mean the difference between eating or not eating. There are a lot of things that I've been putting off for way too long that I could do. Perhaps I could make a list of things that I've been procrastinating on for weeks, months, years, and set some minimum number that I must accomplish during the month of this challenge.
  9. The Internet. This is a tough one because, just like you can't totally give up food because you need it to survive, I can't totally give up the Internet because I need it for my work, plus it's my primary means of communication with most of the people who are important to me (family and friends), and it's a primary means of learning about the things that are the very reason why I'm considering this challenge in the first place. But then again, I know I spend way too much time just surfing from blog to blog, checking and rechecking forums, researching this and that, wiki-ing, wooting. Another tough one for setting a measurable goal.
  10. Negativity. This could be an interesting one to take on which I truly believe would benefit me in all aspects of my life. What would my life be like if I stopped complaining, stopped ranting, stopped saying negative things about other people, stopped putting myself down, stopped staying "I can't," stopped making excuses?
Obviously I need to take on every one of these and many dozens more - eventually. But in the next few days I will choose one, and give it a shot, give it a month, see how I do.

Edited to add: I just realized that in order to address this realistically in the specified time period (or at least I think it's supposed to be done in June), it has to be something I can do while taking two full-day road trips (to and from western NC from Delaware), two half-day road trips (to and from Atlanta from western NC), and staying at my folk's house for two weeks while they're on a 50th anniversary vacation, including one week with Partner there and one week alone. That makes a lot of my list pretty unrealistic for that specific time period, but there are still obviously some things that I can do.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wal-Mart vs. Bringing Your Own Bags

While I'm doing the best I can right now to eat locally, and I buy as much as I can of other things from the local natural foods market, regular grocery stores are still a necessity for me. And where I live, that means Wal-Mart, since there's nothing else within 10 miles.

I've just started bringing my own bags to Wal-Mart. Yeah, you can bet that gets me a lot of strange looks, but I don't mind being considered the town tree-hugger. I mean, come on, in our wee town I already get double-takes as the Town Jew, and Partner and I are already known about town as the Town Gay Couple (though in a positive way - we've had all good experiences, but that's not the point of this post), so why should it bother me to get strange looks for entering Wal-Mart lugging a bundle of Trader Joe's bags?

It's such a PITA to check out there with your own bags, though, that it would easy to give up if it wasn't at the same time so funny.

My first attempt, I thought it would be easier to use the self-checkout lines. Bad idea. The self checkout lines weigh your item as you put it into their bagging area, which is not big enough to set a self-pack bag, and it yells at you and requires you to press extra buttons if you bypass the bags, then screams for help from the attendant if you press those buttons too often. Attendant was losing a wee bit of patience with me after about the twentieth (no exaggeration) time of having to reset my register, but she was far more patient with me than I was with the whole situation.

My next attempt I went through a regular cashiered line. It was an unusually empty night, so I thought it would be fine. The attendant, though very pleasant, just. didn't get it. At first she wanted to pack my things in plastic bags so that I could then put those plastic bags inside my bags. Uh, no. Not the point. Then she would scan an item, hold it out to me, and wait until I took it from her until she scanned the next item. Even though there was no one behind me in line, that clearly wasn't working for either of us. Finally she started just setting the item up on the teeny tiny little area on top of the bag carousel, which made the most sense overall, but also made it clear that I really should bring Partner with me for large shopping trips since the attendant scanned things really really fast, and I couldn't keep up with both unloading my cart and packing my bags, and I ended up making some poor packing decisions resulting in some squished hamburger buns in my haste to keep up.

Today's experience was the funniest though. I detoured into the garden area to pay for a tank of propane for the grill, which I planned to pick up once I finished the rest of my shopping. There I saw an amazing sight: A box of nice sized well constructed $1 each reusable shopping bags, marked something like "Paper or Plastic? Neither!" with Wal-Mart's name on the bag. I grabbed two to put in my cart since I needed more bags that fold up small and have a nice flat bottom, plus I'd forgotten to bring any bags with me. Then a short while later, in the "20 items or less" aisle, I started by asking the clerk if she had something I could use to cut the tag off the bags. No, she didn't. So I asked her to scan them first, then I'd use them to pack the rest of my stuff. She scanned them -- then started to put them in plastic bags. I stopped her, "no, I'm going to use them to pack the rest of my stuff." Clearly puzzled, she handed them back to me, the proceeded to start to pack the rest of my stuff in plastic bags. "No, please hand me the stuff after you ring it up so that I can pack it in these bags." Then here's the clincher: Sounding genuinely concerned and clearly wanting to be helpful, she said, "OH! Um... I don't think you're allowed to do that. I mean, you can do that but if your stuff's not in a Wal-Mart bag they'll stop you at the door and make you take everything out to check it against your receipt, so you really should just use the regular bags."

Sometime very soon I'm going to write to the general manager of that Wal-Mart, commend them on offering reusable bags, and strongly suggest that their next cashier training involve some information about how to deal with folks who have their own bags. [Edited to note: I wrote that letter on 5/30]. And since they seem to regularly reorganize the layout of their checkout area anyway, I'm going to suggest that some of their checkout lanes be set up to make it easier for folks to use their own bags.

Update: Check out what happened while I was out of town, hopefully as a result of that letter!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The good, the bad, the embarassing

The good:
  • I picked up three lovely pasture-raised chickens and met the delight Ms. Carolyn of, as she simply calls it, The Farm.
  • I did not slice open my hand, my countertop, or even any parts of the chickens as I fumbled around dissecting them into quarters (well, sixths if you count the neck and back that are now in my stock bag). We already had a whole bird in there, and I figure for summer grilling the pieces would be a much better choice.
  • I blanched and froze five bags of various greens, with visions of wintertime greens & beans, spinach quiches, and kale and potato soups wandering through my brain. My freezer is starting to fill, and this is a really lovely thing to me.
  • Dinner last night was a somewhat local meal: stir fry (brown rice from CA - I want to find some from NC), with carrots and garlic from PA, and turnip and tons of greens from the farm. No idea where the ginger was from.
  • Tomorrow's bbq bash for Chas's 2nd birthday will include an all-local salad. Chas is TWO! Two years ago she was born at 28 weeks and weighed 2.5 lbs and she spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU. She's now healthy and beautiful and delightful. Here she is at the farm:

The bad:
  • I haven't had any soda in months, and today for whatever reason I had TWO. WTF?!?
  • I've had sinus ick for a month but no fever, finally broke down and let my doc give me antibiotics, now 8 days into the treatment I have a fever of 100.5. Again, seriously, WTF?
  • I meant to have Farmer Tim bring me six lbs of hamburger for tomorrow and I forgot, but it gets worse. I didn't even get the regular walmart make my own patties stuff. I got the frozen pre-pattied crap, and nathan's hot dogs, to go with the bucket of potato salad and the four bags of chips and five boxes of sodas. If I'm feeling ambitious I may make a slaw-type thing with one of the things I got today from the farm, but that ambition is not something I can count on. On and I meant to have him bring me 3 doz eggs so that I could make deviled eggs. No, no no. too much work.
The embarrassing:
  • How easy it is to fall off the local foods bandwagon.
  • The stack of plastic cups and cutlery
  • The box mix cake, white with artificial color dots interspersed, artificial vanilla flavored canned icing, sugar and artificial color dots to sprinkle on top.
  • That I'm way too tired to edit this and make it make sense.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Catching Up

Long time, no post. The end of the semester always kicks my ass down hard, and this one was one of the worst ever.

I'm totally backlogged with greens of all varieties (lettuces, asian greens, spinach, kales). I made the big mistake of buying a huge number of greens the first week they were available, not thinking that the following week was the start of my "value program" CSA delivery, AND that the next few weeks were the end of semester madness, during which I cook a lot less than usual. I get stuff from my CSA in two ways: Full Choice, which means that I pay a deposit and then order whatever I want from what's available all year round (this is how I put in my first big order), plus the Value Plan, which gives me six months of weekly produce deliveries.

So tonight's dinner will be based on whatever greens look the least fresh, and then I'll blanch then freeze all I can, since tomorrow night I'll be getting even more.

I'm going today after work to pick up three local pastured broilers. I didn't ask, but I'm really hoping that they're not frozen so that I can cut them up into individual pieces instead of having to always cook a whole bird at a time.

We had our first totally local meal last weekend, and we didn't even plan it that way: Steak (which was beyond delicious), plus a huge salad. OK, so the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in the dressing weren't local, but everything else was, including the herbs. And I still have a bit left to eat of a mostly-local crustless quiche: Local milk, eggs, greens, onions, and herbs. The only thing not local was the cheese and roasted pepper that I added.

And my meager garden is on its way: Peas are climbing, and I have six different varieties of tomatoes in the ground (5 heirloom, 1 hybrid) plus one pepper plant.

I want to remember to write more about a story I heard on NPR yesterday about how chemical fertilizers are getting so expensive that farmers are being forced to *gasp* use manure, instead of paying someone to haul away their mountains of animal poop. I was amused by a comment about folks buying poop from "as far away as Delaware." I was not amused to hear that because of this, natural/organic farmers are finding it harder to get the poop that they've used all along.