Urban Composting

Posted in Being Green on May 25th, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off

I would think that on everyone’s “going green bucket list” is composting, but when you live in an urban area with limited outdoor space, you will either give up or get creative.  I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to introduce a compost bin into our lives without it taking up too much real estate on our tiny back patio (I know…something in Texas being small? Wha?). While engaged in this research, I’ve come across some pretty good to know stuff about compost–there’s so much great stuff to learn. Enjoy!

Happy composting!

Gulf Coast oil spill

Posted in Being Green on May 24th, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off

Colin Beavan pretty much sums it up: Is there even anything to say?

Oil Cleansing

Posted in Being Green on April 25th, 2010 by Lacey – 8 Comments

I’m going to now tell you a story. This story may be very scary for some of you,  so please be prepared. This is the story of how and why I stopped washing my face with soap and started washing my face with…

Oil.

Yes, oil.

About 2 months ago, I was doing some research on facial cleansing for acne-prone skin. For the most part, since my mid-20s, my skin has been pretty good.  After we moved to Houston and before I became pregnant, I noticed my skin started breaking out at the temples with these patches of hundreds of tiny little whitish blemishes…they weren’t deep, but they were persistent and itchy. I couldn’t make them go away, either. Then, I got pregnant, and they went away.  I figured it was hormonal.

About a year after I had my daughter, they came back…except this time, they were all over my face–forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw…everywhere.  The interesting part about this is that anytime I leave Houston for a few days, they start to clear up, so it’s something about living in Houston.  I was wrong about it being hormonal after all…there is some bacteria in Houston that doesn’t get along with my skin.

Anyways, I was doing this research and came across a site that says basically the only way to get rid of chronic acne is to slather your skin with concentrated doses of benzoyl peroxide. Since I’ve tried a lot of products/methods to treat my acne (the latest being Proactiv, but over the years I’ve used just about everything and don’t want to start that over again) and am unwilling to take oral medicine to kill it (such as Accutane), I thought I’d give it a go. I mentioned it to my husband and he just looked devastated. “Really? Are you sure? That much benozyl peroxide can cause cancer.” I had no idea about this, so I did some more research. As it turns out, benzoyl peroxide is quite toxic. Sigh.

After some moping around, I decided to do something radical and go in a completely different direction. I found a site with an article about cleansing your skin with a blend of oil. I know–sounds nuts–because I’ve been using all these products for the past year trying to get RID of the oil, but that was my own misunderstanding.  But because my skin was already broken out, I thought I’d give it a shot.

In one of my old Dermalogica containers I blended 1:1 olive oil to castor oil, and added a few drops of tea tree oil. I slathered it on my face, used a washcloth to steam for a few minutes, then wiped it off.

After doing this twice a day, then once a day, and now once every 3 days or so (I just clean with water and/or steam at morning and night)for a few months now I can confidently say that while I still have acne, my breakouts have neither intensified nor lessened.  BUT, the quality of my skin is much better and I haven’t had a dry patch in weeks. In other words, benzoyl peroxide was hurting me more than it was helping me after all.

The moral of the story is this: there are so many mainstream ingredients and products that we use all the time that are actually completely toxic. These products are so mainstream that we don’t even know what to do without them, what the alternatives are. Think about how humanity has survived this long without these chemicals and ask yourself if there’s some simpler way to get the job done. Then do it. :)

Kale Chips, Vegan Kitchen

Posted in Being Green, Food and Recipes on March 29th, 2010 by Lacey – 3 Comments

Kale about to be oven-baked where it will turn crispy and you will forget it ever started as kale.

Since I started cooking more seriously last fall (I should say, since I started cooking last fall, period), I’ve discovered there are several things I’d consider staples to our vegan food stash. Here’s a partial list of things I keep on hand at all times. But before you read that, first admire this tray of innocent kale, about to be baked into a delicious treat known as kale chips. Now I know you know that I have lost my mind but I swear–THIS IS SO GOOD. There are so many recipes out there, but here’s your crash course recipe: preheat oven to 400. Take a bunch of organic kale, wash it, cut off the ends, and tear into bite size pieces (as you see here). Toss to coat (lightly!) with 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil.  Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and lay the kale on the parchment (if you don’t have parchment, don’t sweat it). Bake for approx 10 min until it’s papery-sounding when you poke at it. Remove from oven. Enjoy!

Now, the list of things you can’t live without!

Proteins:

  • organic tofu
  • tempeh
  • variety of canned beans (garbanzo, black, white, etc)

Grains/pseudo-grains:

  • quinoa
  • brown or red rice
  • all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour (and also all the other usual baking stuff–baking soda, powder, organic sugar, vanilla, etc)
  • smattering of other stuff–flax, barley, amaranth, millet, whatever you’re in the mood for trying

Produce:

  • some variety of dark leafy green (swiss chard is my favorite right now, but kale and spinach are also usually in there, or you could try mustard or collard greens)
  • onions-red and white
  • small or medium organic potatoes
  • fresh broccoli
  • frozen corn, okra, green peas, snow peas, and organic edamame (for soup)
  • frozen stir fry veggies
  • 28oz can of cooked, diced tomatoes (for soup)
  • one or two varieties of whole fruits such as oranges, bananas, organic apples, or plums

Misc:

  • nutritional yeast
  • olive oil
  • powdered vegetarian boullion (yes, I know it has tons of salt, but it’s good for so many things)
  • Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • Veganaise
  • various seeds such as pepitas

Myk and I are going to try to start buying our produce at farmer’s markets on the weekends here in Houston. We really are in one of the few places in the country that has a year-round growing season, so we are going to try to take better advantage of that.

A note on cooking: I’ve been cooking a lot from Vegan Brunch lately, but I will also cook pretty much anything from Veganomicon. I find their scones and muffins especially worthwhile in that book (my personal favorites are the lower-fat banana bread and the pumpkin cranberry scones), but everything I’ve tried has been pretty good.  I also hope some magical elf will leave me How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman someday–I’ve immensely enjoyed learning about food in How to Cook Everything, so I think it’s vegetarian counterpart will be awesome.

Now all I need is a bigger kitchen!

Notes from SXSWi

Posted in Being Green on March 28th, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending SXSWi for my day job (as an interaction designer). I can’t decide if it was good or bad fortune, but the conference grew 40% in attendance this year over last year, so it was quite a different experience than what I’ve had in the past (I’ve attended since 2008).  One good-turned-bad thing that happened was that I wasn’t able to attend as many tech-related sessions due to them being completely with crowds spilling out the doors, but this gave me the opportunity to attend some “greener” sessions held at the same time.

Austin really is the perfect place for this conference, what with all the greenery, the bicyclers everywhere, the healthy eating, and the Whole Foods flagship store (my favorite!).  People had some GREAT eco-geeky ideas, mostly benefitting society as a whole.

Charging Station This is a Sol Design Lab charging station, one of several set up around Austin for the crowds of SXSW.  The founder explained that the project is a result of her MFA program. The panels are solar and the charging stations are repurposed retro gasoline pumps. Quite the fitting (and dignified) tribute to Texas oil, if you ask me.

I also learned about leading a zero-waste lifestyle (which would involve a lot of sacrifice to me, so I’m trying to find something that’s more sustainable) and about dozens of awesome start-ups (such as Recycle Match) designed to help people and the environment.  Mostly, things designed around recycling, upcycling, and connecting people who need things (whether they realize it or not).  I was pretty excited to see the VP of marketing for Patagonia among the attendees, but there were really some stellar ideas floating around and I was humbled by all the ingenuity.

Cheezy Quinoa Casserole

Posted in Food and Recipes on March 10th, 2010 by Lacey – 3 Comments

The casserole, pre-cheeze

Whenever I describe vegan cooking or baking to others, it sounds disgusting. All the things that are actually delicious to me just sound gross. The wost offender, of course, is nutritional yeast. Even it’s nickname, “nooch,” isn’t much better.  What’s also amusing to me is that people seem to think vegan cooking/baking is “healthier” somehow. It won’t save you any calories, but it certainly is a healthier way to live, long term.  This recipe is definitely not health food.  You have been warned.

That being said, I’m going to just forge ahead with this recipe in hopes that you will look past all the weird things it’s asking you to do, make, and eat, and just enjoy the fact that it’s pure, delicious, and will make your tummy happy.

Cheezy Quinoa Casserole

You will need:

  • 1cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 cups parboiled broccoli
  • 1 cup sauteed mushrooms (or canned, if you’re lazy…no shame)
  • 1 package extra firm organic tofu
  • 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (optional)
  • 1 batch of the cheeze sauce from VeganYumYum (holla! Great recipe if you ever want mac and cheeze. Which I do. Frequently.)

Preheat your oven to 350F and spray a medium-sized casserole dish (or souffle dish). If you don’t have spray, don’t sweat it–just lightly grease with olive oil. Or, if you don’t want to do that, it’s not the end of the world. Just have a dish ready.

Bust out the rice cooker and put your quinoa in there with 1 1/4c of water. Alternately, put 2 cups of water and your quinoa on the stove and boil, covered, until the little white circle forms around your quinoa. If the white rings don’t form throughout the quinoa and you run out of water, just add a bit more. In my experience, it’s much harder to overcook quinoa than rice. Also–about quinoa–I really like Alter Eco red quinoa more than the white kind. It’s really full-flavored and delicious…and ethical! Also, because of the color, it’s easier to see when it’s done because those white rings pop right out.

Next, prep your cheeze sauce. VeganYumYum does a pretty good job of walking you through all the steps. Obviously, just make the sauce and omit the mac part.  I’d like to mention that my daughter is allergic to sesame seeds, so I replaced the tahini with almond butter and it worked very well. I’m sure I’m missing some of that great nutty tahini taste, but it’s better than a trip to the hospital and the epi-pen, right?!

Next, prep your tofu. Now, I have discovered the secret to having fun while cooking tofu and/or tempeh. The secret, friends, is an iron skillet (side note: my friend Cinnamon just wrote a cookbook praising the iron skillet–hooray Cinnamon!). It’s darn fun to cook on one of these things because you don’t worry about scraping it, burning it, or denting it otherwise. It’s just a straight-up, honest to goodness cooking tool. Use it. Love it. Here’s how I cook my tofu, and it’s based on a beloved favorite restaurant from college, The Grit in Athens, GA. First, drain the tofu and shake off the excess water. Slice the tofu into either cubes or triangles (I am a fan of the triangles because it’s so cute to hear my toddler identify them). Then, take 2tbsp of olive oil and heat it on med-high in your skillet. Once it’s hot, place your tofu in the pan. Turn the tofu periodically using a metal spatula and let it get a lovely yellow color on every surface. You may need to add a little bit (maybe another tbsp) more oil during this process. If you’d like, you can also add the optional splash (or squirt/spray, as the case may be) of Bragg’s in there at this time. Take the tofu out of the pan once golden, wipe out your skillet (carefully, iron skillets stay really hot for a while) with a paper towel. At this point, you can roll your tofu in some nutritional yeast to cover it. Heat your skillet again, place 2tbsp of oil in there, and repeat what you just did. Your tofu should be nice and brown and not nearly as wet as when you started. My mouth is watering just writing about this.

Next, parboil your broccoli. It will only take a couple of minutes, and you basically just want to make the broccoli bright green and barely soft. I put about 1/2″ of water in the bottom of a pot with a lid, boil it, put the broccoli in, wait a couple of minutes, and then it’s done.  Also at this point, you can sautee your mushrooms until they exude a juice, remove from heat. Or, open the can of mushrooms and drain.

Now comes the fun part: LAYERING. Take your beautiful red white-ringed quinoa and layer it on the bottom of the casserole dish. Then, take your broccoli and mushrooms–layer those next. Then, the tofu layer. Then, take your cheezy sauce and carefully pour it over the top of the whole concoction. It’ll seep down in between all the delicious bites of tofu and broccoli and will touch the top of the quinoa. YUM. O.

Bake at 350F for 25 min until it’s bubbley and the cheezy sauce it slightly browner than it was before. Remove from oven, allow to cool, and serve.

Bye-bye “eczema”

Posted in Being Green on February 10th, 2010 by Lacey – 2 Comments
California Baby bubble bath

California Baby Overtired & Cranky bubble bath

My toddler has struggled with eczema for as long as I can remember. There have been red, rashy patches behind her knees since she was a tiny baby–I was told it was environmental and some kids just have it. I have faithfully applied Cetaphil lotion after every bath (every other day), have avoided overbathing her, have avoided using steriod cream to keep her from itching…it just seemed like it would never get better.  I’ve been using what I thought was the simplest, mildest bubble bath available.  Oh, how I am a sucker for advertising and a cheap pricetag.

While in Target recently, my eye was caught by the “Overtired and Cranky” (heh) label on the California Baby bubble bath and thought despite the $13 commitment that I’d give it a shot.

And wouldn’t you know–after a week and two or three baths, no more “eczema,” which I’m guessing was actually a skin allergy to the chemicals in cheap soap. No red patches. No more waking up itching. No more “Mommy, itchhhhyyyy!” Completely gone! An added irony is that in the product description for this great stuff, it says, “California Baby® non-drying (extremely) biodegradable gentle bubble bath strictly avoids the use of synthetic fragrances and harsh bubbling agents. This product was developed to avoid irritation (that is typical of other bubble baths), and we never use Sodium lauryl sulfate, DEA, or numbing agents.” I believe it!

Big, huge thumbs up to California Baby. Thank you and you’ve got a customer for life.

Valentine’s Day crafts

Posted in Being Green on February 4th, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off
Heart memory game via Scrumdilly-do!

Heart memory game via Scrumdilly-do. This project completely rocks!

I love Valentine’s Day. Cliche? Yes, because I said “love” (wah-waaaaah). But I think this holiday is the perfect excuse for DIY-ing some cards, decorations, and gifts. Something about the personal-ness of v-day makes it especially appropriate to make your own tokens of appreciation for that special someone.  I’ve been seeing a ton of cool and fun projects come through my feed reader lately–projects that can be accomplished using materials you probably already have in your possession.  Some of these are more kid-centered but that’s to be expected–we all need an “excuse” to make a Valentine heart lei.

And if you are a Baha’i, you can keep these decorations around or repurpose them for Ayyam-i-ha. Neat!

Vegan Whoopie Pies

Posted in Food and Recipes on January 27th, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off
whoopie pies

Whoopie pies! So delicious. Sorry for the crappy picture...I will take a better one next time I make these.

Earlier this week, we had a bake sale to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. The bake sale was a huge success, raising $1100 for Partners in Health which is then going to be matched by the company I work for, the matched money going to the Red Cross.  Cool, eh?

For this bake sale, I baked vegan whoopie pies, recipe courtesy of Hannah Kaminski. Why whoopie pies? Well, why not?! I was organizing the bake sale so I knew no one else would be bringing them and hey–who doesn’t like the sound of whoopie pies. This recipe and the accompanying video were so good that my whoopie pies turned out PERFECT. I also took the time to invest in the correct tools–a cookie scoop (like a mini ice cream scooper–to get all the cookies the same size), a reusable pastry bag for the icing/filling, and an oven thermometer because our oven runs hot (by 50 degrees I now know). Anyways, the whoopie pies received really good reviews and people never suspected they were *gasp* NOT EATING SOMETHING WITH EGGS AND MILK.

As a relevant tangent, I made little table tents for the bake sale out of cardboard cereal boxes I had stacked up waiting to get taken to the recycling center and then I put paper samples I had in my stash in the middle for the actual label. Trying to liven up what probably would have just been an impersonal post-it note that, likely, would have just been thrown away in the end. We recycled all the tents, don’t worry.

I’ll have a rant about that another time, but I would just like to say that vegan food is so misunderstood.

The Ethics of Being an Environmentalist Vegan; “Eco-friendly?”

Posted in Being Green on January 23rd, 2010 by Lacey – Comments Off

Part I: I’ve really been struggling a lot lately with priorities. Namely, is it more important to be an environmentalist or to be a vegan? I am starting to think it’s impossible to be both without some level of give. For example, if you are a vegan, you don’t consume animal products on any level–your clothing, housewares, or food. That means you’ll likely choose an artificial material as a substitute (for let’s say, shoes or a belt) which is, most likely, derived from oil (not a renewable resource). In the couple of months that I’ve been avoiding all animal products both in food and in lifestyle, I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that even though I didn’t kill an animal, I’m probably creating more of an environmental impact (negatively) by wearing or using this whateveritis.  From here on out–I’ll just be doing the best I can, probably buying anything leather first as a seconhand item, and then as a firsthand purchase if I am out of alternatives.

I know there are alternatives to this choice and if I just try harder, I’m sure I can make it work. But what I’m thinking is that as busy as I am and being middle class–I simply can’t afford it.  Also, I did this as an experiment because people are very sensitive about the label “vegan.” Meaning–vegan is not just the way you eat. So, I’m calling myself a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy/eggs. There ya go.

I’ve decided that my focus, instead of being vegan, needs to be my consumption of renewable resources.  Say what you will, but animals are technically a renewable resource, and my personal ethical beliefs are that animals are beneath humans on the food chain and that they can lead very nice lives in certain circumstances before being consumed. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start eating animals, but I’m going to be open to ethically-produced animal products, such as leather.

We are happy to serve you

We are happy to serve you ceramic mug

Part II: Here’s a story I found amusing this week: a coworker was showing me her new Copco To Go Cup, which touts itself as “eco friendly” because it’s reusable and you’re not throwing away a similar-looking coffee cup every day.  Now–this cup is BPA-free but is still plastic. A better alternative might be the I Am Not a Paper Cup, the Eco Coffee Cup with double porcelain walls and a silicone exterior (serious coffee business there!), or the single-walled porcelain Eco Cup.  I’d love to test run all these since I’m a regular coffee drinker, so we’ll see what can be arranged.  But honestly–if you recycle your #5 plastic lid (Starbucks lids were #5 last I checked), your paper cup is renewable. So in certain circumstances, I think throwing away or recycling your coffee beverage is just fine. Better than throwing away a plastic cup–or even recycling it!

My point though: just consider what might be “eco-friendly.” It’s such a hot thing right now that people are calling all kinds of stuff eco-friendly.  I don’t consider something eco-friendly just because you can reuse it–we should all be reusing things as a regular habit of life. I do consider something eco-friendly if it is made of eco-friendly materials (such as porcelain which is, essentially, made from mud), can be reused, and then can be recycled after you’re done with it.

To close, I just had to share this adorable NYC-esque ceramic cup.  Want!

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