About Bonnie Lee

I am curious and passionate about science and its ability to shed light on the under-explored connections that govern life. I strive to understand how biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics shape the haphazard elegance of our existence and to share those discoveries with any pair of willing eyes and ears.

Cords, adapters, disks, and leftovers

I stress about things. Not like most people, but with such a degree of obsessive focus that I can forget all about the bigger picture. This tendency gets worse when I have deadlines or when Jean-François is in Singapore. When both hit during the same week, I become a crazed hermit-like creature who mumbles to herself and forgets to brush her hair.

Such has been my life for the past week or so. My current obsession: reducing the amount of stuff in our closets and cabinets as we prepare to move. I even created a daily routine with a task-based schedule so I do not miss a beat.

My “Move Routine”

  • Wake up
  • Prepare Coffee, when I run out, switch to tea.
  • Eat breakfast. (Strategy: Finish Oatmeal first, then cream of wheat, then use up flour making biscuits.)
  • Pack one box of books.
  • Test one computer and two hard drives.
  • Test four computer cables.
  • Lunch: start with fresh veg and fruit in lower bins. Serve with steamed rice (couscous when rice is gone, other grains when that is gone) and use ingredients on door in cooking.
  • Do my job for 6 hours.
  • Dinner–Veg and herbs with pasta. Use cheeses and condiments for sauces. When pasta is gone, make cheese plates with veg, biscuits.
  • Do 2-4 more hours of work.
  • Visit clothes pile–sort by season first, then toss/donate stuff not worn in two years.

So far, I have stuck with the routine, but I am getting tired of rice and pasta. Oddly oatmeal is going down well. With luck and persistence, I may get our food stock to near zero before  moving day.

But any pride I might feel for not wasting food fades when I look at all the computer and IT stuff that we need to send to recycle. It looks like we replaced food waste habit with an e-waste habit. Just look:

Two Japanese-English electronic dictionaries, three external hard drives that are no longer compatible with our computers, cables galore, speaker for iPod that does not work with newer models, several electronic mice, and electronic toys.

Two Japanese-English electronic dictionaries, three external hard drives that are no longer compatible with our computers, cables galore, speaker for iPod that does not work with newer models, several electronic mouses, and electronic toys.

We have six notebook computers (seven if you count the Dell that Jean-François needs to drag around for one client). Two 27-inch monitors. Two bluetooth keyboards for notebooks, two for our iPads, one for my mobile phone. One raid storage, one server, six external hard drives, three mobile phones from Japan that we no longer use, one from Singapore, two point and shoot cameras, two flip video cameras, two DSLRs, three robots (two are cat toys and one a flying thing we just had to have), cordless phones for a landline that we do not have, a recording pen, an old digital voice recorder that is not compatible with newer computers… I could go one.

To be fair, we both work from home and the monitors, iPads, phones and three notebooks are always in use. One of the DSLRs travels with Jean-Francois, the other I use when he is travelling, sometimes. But the bulk of this stuff is junk. These pieces are too old, or broke during the move from Japan, or do not provide enough speed or capacity for what we think we need. It is easier to upgrade than fix.

And this may be why I am annoyed. What good we are trying to do by changing how we consume food is more than offset by our nonchalant attitude to our digital assets. We are tech-gluttons and I am sure there is a special place in hell for people like us.

The four on top have battery life issues (no life at all, really). And no, we don't have a Mac-gadget addiction. No, not us. No sirey.

The four on top have battery life issues (no life at all, really). And no, we don’t have a Mac-gadget addiction. No, not us. No siree.

Any thoughts on what we should be doing to stop the insanity? Better yet, anybody want a free, 5-year-old 1TG hard drive with all its cables? Or a free Nikon D70 with two lenses?

[Sorry for the off-topic rant, but it has been all I have been thinking about for days now.]

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Weekend Round Up: 7 April 2013

paint roundupWe are moving next month and now I have two new food waste related goals. First, I  want empty the current kitchen without wasting any food. Second, I want to find ways to make sure the next kitchen becomes a “Zero-Waste Kitchen”. It seems the key to success is better planning. Here is the round-up of what I learned:

Tips on wasting less in the kitchen

The Nourishing Gourmet recently published 7 waste-reducing tips on her website. These are more conceptual tips with one real exception–date your leftovers. I mean this is two ways. First, she recommends writing the date on all leftover containers. And, she recommends including a leftover day/night in your week to clean out the bits and ends of the week’s meals. Dating leftovers? Yes, rebound relationships do work, after all.

For more practical ideas, look at the Reader’s Digest slide deck. This presentation has over 13 tips for wasting less food in the kitchen, many of which are practical, easy, and clever. For example, did you know that you can regrow scallions? All you need to do is cut the ends, drop them in glass with water, and give them some sunlight. They also recommend keeping lettuce in brown paper bags, using citrus peels to ward off ants and mosquitos, and re-crisping celery with potato slices or lemon juice.

The Green Cycler also had general tips for creating a zero waste kitchen, but the one Jean-Francois likes best: Get A Chicken – a hen to eat food scraps, provide eggs, and terrorize our little cats.

And how do you set up a kitchen for zero waste?

This answer is going to be harder to find, but I fell in love with one site that I am going to lose hours on. The Kitchn website has a whole section with ideas for setting up your kitchen. True, the goal there is for ease of use, but a number of these ideas are inspiring for a girl with a container fetish.

If clutter is your challenge, you may want to check out Sue Rasmussen’s website. She provides tips for de-cluttering each activity that takes place in a kitchen.

And finally, Real Simple has approaches to organizing your kitchen based on the type of chef that you are (daily, gourmet, Sunday-only…).

But what about all those jars of spices?

This is the real issue in my chef’s (a.k.a. Jean-Francois’) kitchen. He is search challenged when it comes to looking for ingredients on the spice shelf. We’d love a solution that keeps our spices out of the light, but easy to find. If anyone can point us to good ideas, I will send Jean-Francois to your home to cook you dinner.

7 April: World Health Day

Yesterday Danielle Neirenberg sent me an email telling me that 7 April is World Health Day and that the focus for this year is high blood pressure. Her email had me thinking all day about nutrition, our health and the food we eat. Let me be clear: I have never met or spoken with Danielle, but I always read her emails when they grace my inbox because she and her organization, Food Tank, have a mission. She wants to feed every person on this planet. No, “feed” is the wrong word–she wants to nourish each and every one of us.

The distinction is important. Her email explains why. Our food is not as nutrient laden as it once was. High yield agriculture and other practices (like sending food to landfills rather than composting) have altered the “nutrient life-cycle”. Her email came a few days after I read “Modern chicken has no flavour” in Salon–which laments the sad reality of high volume food production. It robs our tongues of pleasure by stripping our food of its sensuousness and its purpose.

Rooster profile

The Salon article talks about the science of additives to make our food taste the way it should, often using vegetable by-products to increase nutritional content and flavour. Which, if you think about it, is doubly wasteful. I mean, why not just eat the vegetables and let the flavourless chickens live?

Danielle’s concerns are different. She argues that what we are feeding ourselves is making us sick, harming our planet, and making it harder for us to nourish the 7 billion people who live on this planet. In her email, she outlines nine things we can start doing today to be healthier and kinder to ourselves, our neighbours, and our planet.

This is what she recommends:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  2. Encourage farming practices that keep essential nutrients in the soil.
  3. Learn how our food nourishes us. (How many sources of calcium can you list?)
  4. Eat whole grains.
  5. Eat at home more.
  6. Opt for organic produce whenever possible.
  7. Support family farms that are more likely to produce foods that are more nutrient rich than commercial farmers.
  8. Choose meats from grass-fed, pasture raised animals. (Anyone know where I can find pasture-raised fish?)
  9. Support farms that cultivate indigenous, heritage, and heirloom plants and livestock.

Okay, so none of this is a surprise. But the question buzzing around in my head is: Are we starving ourselves by eating processed foods and could that be one of the reasons for the alarming rise in obesity we are seeing in developed nations?

The spice of life

Aside: Thanks to the Salon article, I plan to read Pandora’s Lunchbox next week. If anyone has read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts about this book and any others that have been published recently about the quality of our food supply.

Avoiding “Dinner Party Aftermath”

We rang in 2013 with an Epiphany. More precisely, we celebrated the 12th day of Christmas with a gathering of friends, a mound of good (mostly vegan) dishes, and an embarrassing amount of alcohol. We celebrated decadence.

The epiphany? That a decadent feast need not be wasteful. We simply needed to plan with an eye to repurposing the leftovers. This we did–but only after we had identified the  signature dish for the meal.

The Hook

Our dinner parties usually begin with a single idea. It can be a new dish, a technique, a flavour, or a beverage. (Yes, we once planned a five-course meal entirely inspired by our homemade Dark-n-Stormies.) Our desire to feed others is almost always triggered by one event. The trigger for our epiphany party? Veggie-based dips and spreads shared by some of the amazing chefs we’ve met through this blog, Two Spoons and Food to Glow.

On 19 December, Two Spoons posted a lovely instructional guideline for using vegetables to make flavourful spreads and dips. And the ideas are clever. I made two dips using ideas from her post that relied on winter veg, nuts, olive oil, and mushrooms.

And then there was the Spinach Pkhali with pomegranate and fragrant fresh herbs that Food to Glow posted on 13 November. We’d found a prettier, and tastier, version of the nut crusted cheese loaf.

Spinach Pkhali

We served four dips:

  1. Spinach Pkhali (vegan)
  2. Roasted mushroom, walnuts & feta
  3. Roasted carrot with miso and maple (vegan)
  4. Pistachio, olive oil, carrot greens & feta

One week later, these dips (and the rest of the food on the menu) were fully enjoyed. None of that meal went into the bin.

How? It helps that one of our guests was vegan and snapped up most of our vegan remains in his doggie bag, including the two non-cheesed dips and the two remaining okara falafel.

The pistachio  dip was used as a pesto over pasta. I put the mushroom dip on toast (like a terrine), used it as filler for wonton ravioli, and included it in an egg omelette. I suspect there is are many other ways to incorporate the dips into soups, salads, biscuits and muffins. But I ran out of dip before I could test the theory.

For those who are interested, here is our menu from that party. We’ve shared the recipes for the falafel and ginger beer in previous posts. The others, I will share in the coming weeks.

The Menu

  • Jamaican-style ginger beer (homemade, with a much stronger ginger punch than the commercial varieties) and rum cocktail,
  • Dips & cheeses served with crackers and crudités
  • Fenugreek, red onion, grapefruit and pomelo salad with a tangerine, tarragon dressing
  • Okara falafel with tahini
  • Roasted cauliflower tossed with homemade curry and other spices
  • Vegan tagine with couscous
  • Roast pork with a jerk rub and mango salsa

Country pork rib jerk

  • Stir fried rice pudding with flambéed shredded pineapple and raisins, shredded coconut, nutmeg and orange zest (the most decadent thing you can do to leftover rice)
  • Raw cheddar, goat cheese, gorgonzola and camembert

Frozen Food Month: Celebrating with Bananas, Rhubarb, & Strawberries

My task list and I have a passive-aggressive relationship. I look to my Reminders app to help me remember things I must do, but get angry each time a reminder pops up on my calendar, iPhone, and tablet. I mean, the app is stalking me. Nagging me.

It nags me to write-up the recipes for the dips and dishes we served at a party way back in early January. It reminds me to take photos of our Japanese lantern inspired compost bin (inside and out) and write about lessons learned. It reminds me … sorry, I am sure you don’t care about my relationship with my task list. I never seem to cross things off. With each new, yummy success, I find it harder and harder to revisit the meals and food waste ideas we tested last December and January. But I will get to time someday.

But today’s entry is based on a treat that is too good to wait. And seasonal. It combines a springtime favourite of ours, rhubarb, with strawberries and frozen bananas. Its vegan. It healthy. Its easy. And, its yummy. What is it?

Mock Vanilla Ice Cream with warm Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Mock Cream with Compote

Make the compote first. If you are fans of rhubarb, make lots. It can be used on toast, mixed with yogurt and muesli, added to muffins and smoothies, and served with pork and chicken. We also make a crumble with the compote that Jean-François devours. The compote is a great way to save fruits and berries that are showing their ages.

Also, we freeze bananas. Every banana that enters our home is immediately stripped and frozen. This is a great way to keep fruit flies at bay and have bananas on hand when you need them for pancakes, smoothies, breads, and mock-ice cream. If you do not do this, put one unpeeled banana per person in this freezer at least three hours before making this  dish.

For the compote:

  • 8 oz. fresh Strawberries, washed with tops removed, and quartered
  • 6 stalks of Rhubarb, washed and chopped into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 cup fresh Orange Juice (with lots of pulp)
  • 3 tablespoons Coconut Sugar (Honey would also work if you are not vegan)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cover and let sit for 2-3 hours until the rhubarb sweats and the strawberries begin to release their juice.

Bring fruit mixture to a simmer on medium low. Simmer until rhubarb is very soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Mock Vanilla Ice Cream

To make the mock-vanilla ice cream:

  1. Remove one Banana person from the freezer
  2. Slice Banana(s) into 1/2 inch discs. (This is highly advisable, or you risk damaging a beloved household appliance.)
  3. Add Banana(s) to food processor, mini-prep, or blender with a good dose of Vanilla (we added 1 Tablespoon per person) and a tablespoon of the juice from the compote.
  4. Pulse until creamy.

Spoon the mock-ice cream into bowls. Top with compote. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Weekend food waste roundup – 24 March 2013

Weekend RoundupI found a few good stories on food waste this week, but one has so completely captured my thoughts that I want to give it centre stage.

Let me set the scene. About two weeks ago at a dinner party, I adamantly argued that the Good Samaritan Law protects any business and individual in the United States that wants to donate leftover food to non-profits working to feed the hungry. By adamantly, I mean I was dogmatic and unwavering in my opinion. (Any one want to place odds on whether or not I will be invited back?)

Well, the Los Angeles Times published an article this week that makes me wish I had been less pig-headed that night. The Good Samaritan law protects donors, but it does not, it seems, protect the non-profits who distribute food from local health and safety codes.

This strikes me as odd. I mean, the caterers must abide by the same codes, so why would the non-profits refuse food? Because, they cannot afford to be shut down because of a violation or lawsuit.

I am annoyed enough about the red tape and obstacles facing food redistribution that I want to learn more. If any of you know of communities that have found ways to work around these codes, or change the laws to help donors and charities get food to people who need  it, I’d love to hear from you.

Is it still edible?

Found a nice resource from Eat By Date that answers that question for many of the foods we buy.

In our house, “Best Before” and “Eat by” dates are taken with a grain of salt. For foods we are less familiar with, they provide guidelines, but they are not hard and fast rules. But, we rarely base on judgements on anything scientific, preferring to tempt fate by relying on our senses of smell and taste.

Others live by these dates, thinking that science has already answered that question for them. The end result: a lot of good food ends up in the bin. This online resource attempts to save Jean-Francois and me from ourselves and a great deal of food from the bin at the same time.

Eat By Date’s mission is to answer one question: How long does food really last. And with what they have learnt, they have created a useful resource that goes beyond the date. Along the way, they give us more insight into common foods and help us be smarter consumers.

Take their entry on Lettuce, for example. Not only do they provide a table showing the leafy veg’s shelf life in the fridge, but they also share tips for longer storage (like rinsing and drying lettuce before it even goes in the refrigerator) and give insight on how lettuce fairs in a prepared dish (like that take-away Chinese you ordered three days ago).

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

The site is clean, easy to use, and informative. If more people refer to this resource or others, I am sure less food would make it into the bin.

How Long Does Food Last? Shelf Life & Expiration Date Guide.

Feasting on Leftovers: A little pesto goes a long way

Jean-Francois arrived from Singapore on Saturday last with renewed energy and a clear goal: Complete our vegetarian cookbook in six weeks. But that requires a clean kitchen and an empty fridge. To prepare, I made all our meals with an eye to waste nothing and have no food in our home by the end of the week.

For the most part our meals at home are vegetarian. Not vegan, but meat is rarely on the menu. This week was no exception, save for an evening of miso-glazed halibut (wild caught from Alaska, approved by our Seafood Watch app) and served with flavoured rice and lemon roasted brussels sprouts.  I only mention this meal, because it is the trigger for what follows.

I had leftover rice and sprouts from that meal, so for last night’s dinner I wanted to give these morsels a second chance to dazzle. And use up some aging produce. Here is what I did.

Menu, Leftovers for two:

Pesto Blessed Leftovers

  • Vegetarian Meatballs  with okara (not egg) (recipe from The Meatball Shop)
  • Asparagus with lemon butter sauce (14 stalks)
  • Pesto Fried Rice with brussels sprouts, peppers, and onions
  • Blue cheese basil pesto

Everything but the asparagus was either a leftover or on its way out the door. (Note: I made the meatballs about six weeks ago and froze them in batches of 6, we thawed our last bag for future meals.

1. Warm the meatless meatballs.

Preheat over to 350F. Place meatless balls in baking dish, cover tightly to prevent drying.  Heat in over about 20 minutes, until heated through.

2. Prepare the pesto, add:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup of cashews
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 oz. blue cheese

To food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse paste. Set aside.

3. Start the rice, Cook:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

In a skillet with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, until onions start to brown. Add:

1 1/2 cups leftover rice (no need to be exact) and leftover brussels sprouts. Stir until hot. Add:

  • 2 gobs of pesto
  • Salt to taste

Set aside until ready to serve.

4. Pan-fry prepared asparagus in a bit of olive oil over medium heat

Until browned, about ten minutes. Turn off heat and add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon butter and toss until sauce coats stalks evenly. Serve.

The pesto also serves as a dipping sauce for the meatballs. Jean-Francois topped his rice with the lemon-butter sauce.

Comments on the meal: 

  • We thought the blue cheese might over power the pesto, but the two were very nicely paired. We will use the remainder of the pesto with pasta on Saturday.
  • The rice was rather tasty.
  • We had enough fried rice leftover to make an egg hash for breakfast. Just add two eggs.
  • Those meatballs are very dry, made more so by the freezing. Considering the long list of ingredients and the time required to prepare them, you will want to make sure you find ways to “pimp them out”. The recipe makes 24 balls, which is a lot for two people. And since I am not a fan of lentils, I doubt I will be making these again.

All told we managed to eat every bit of veg in the fridge. When we shop on Saturday, it will be like starting with a new fridge.

On another note: I am in search of muslin cotton for making tofu and soy milk. My supply has turned to rags and I cannot find any cheesecloth here that is fine enough. If anyone can point me to a decent vendor, I would be over the moon. We miss our tofu and milk. Thanks.

Jars of Shame: An Uglier Side to Food Waste

Food shopping is one of our greatest indulgences. Whether browsing the wares of the shops and stalls at Atwater Market in Montreal or the produce on display in groceries and markets in Japan, Jean-Francois and I enjoy the hunt for new tastes and flavours.

To be honest, we used to horde ingredients. Jean-Francois would chant “In-Greeed-i-ants!” like a possessed madman in a bad horror movie as we shopped. Along the way we  amassed large numbers of jars, bottles, plastic bags of spices, sauces, and other flavours that delighted our tastebuds and encouraged our multicultural gluttony.

But, unlike hoards of books and magazines and trinkets, our collection required regular purging before the refrigerator burst. And we poor hoarders agonized over the forgotten meals, lost experiences as each jar was held up and we asked “What have we used this for recently?” and then poured the insides down the drain.

True, we are better now. We make most of our sauces from scratch, but we occasionally lapse back into bad habits. I took these photos today to show you what I mean.

JarsofSin

37 colourful jars of tasty, wasteful flavours

Just the top two shelves of our refrigerator have 37 jars of our most essential ingredients. They include: maple syrup (used weekly), birch syrup (used three times), rice vinegar (daily), ponzu (weekly), cider vinegar (weekly), two types of soy  sauce (often), 3 tomato based ketchups (often), 3 mustards, two jars of horseradish (??), two salad dressings that we loved in Japan, soup base for emergencies, and a host of chili sauces and chutneys.

The top two shelves, laden with ingredients.

The top two shelves, laden with ingredients.

A chutney, one horseradish, and a few of the smaller jars have exceeded their best before dates, but the remaining bottles are still youngish. Still this is food waste, and it is a part of the food waste problem that we rarely think about. And considering the distance travelled by these jars to please our pallets–I am ashamed of us.

This week, it is time for us to rethink our need for ingredients. Just because we miss eating Okonomiyaki with its special sauce, doesn’t mean we need to run to Little Tokyo and buy a plastic bottle of it (as we did a few weeks ago). I googled. I learnt. We can make some with soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. We can even get fancy with sugar, dashi, and cornstarch. All of which we have in the pantry.

Starting today we are going to renew our efforts to reduce our refrigerator’s burden. We will not buy another sauce, mustard, ketchup or jarred treat until we have:

  1. Googled to make sure we cannot make it ourselves.
  2. Found enough creative food ideas to use the sauce up in less than two months.
  3. Asked each other if we really need to feed the nostalgia itch.

And, because temptation can be tricky, we will never shop for new ingredients alone.

Weekend food waste roundup – 16 March 2013

Recent articles on food waste.

The tone of news stories about food waste shifted a week or so ago. For nearly a month, news outlets and bloggers seemed so overwhelmed with the size of the problem, that few bothered to dig deeper. But, those rehashed stories on the amount of food wasted in developed nations are now becoming more nuanced.

According to the USDA, the annual cost of food waste for an average family of four in the United States is $2,275.

My interested in waste management was piqued by an investigation onthe life cycle of our food waste once it has been collected. This story focuses on a community that already requires food waste to be separated from other waste. For those who need to see the magnitude of food waste we generate each week, call your local waste management centre. Many waste and water treatment plants offer tours for the public.

Another report claims that LED lighting might slow food decay in grocery stores and save about 300,000 tonnes of food waste, simply because LED light do not burn as hot as incandescent lights. (Of course, the study was funded by Sedna LED, so more research is needed, but it may be a way to work with local grocery stores to help find new ways to reduce their costs and reduce food waste.)

Massachusetts is leading the way in the United States, with two approaches to reduce the amount of food that ends up in land fills. The state now requires businesses in the food industry to compost their organic waste, the goal is to expand this requirement to every home in the state.

But there is a more interesting approach to managing food waste that might be even more efficient. A province in Korea has implemented a mandatory “pay-as-you-throw” system charges households for throwing food in the bin. What appeals to me about this approach is that economic cost of wasting food becomes more transparent and big wasters pay more for being wasteful than those who are frugal.

And, finally, it looks like the plastics industry is jumping into the food waste debate and looking for ways to help reduce food waste with better packaging. This report has me wondering about other landfill issues, but we work hard to reduce packaging waste  at home too, so I may be a bit biased.