The race to eat the soybeans

One of the great things about dried beans is that they have a long shelf life … and they’re certainly not something we worry about wasting.

Usually.

But, it looks like we’ll be making an international move later this year — and that means trying to use up pantry items that won’t make the move, and that we aren’t likely to be able to donate or give away. Like the soybeans … which we buy 25 pounds at a time.

Soy beans

So many to eat, so little time

So, for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out new ways to use the beans (aside from tofu and soy milk), with varying degrees of success. These are some of the recent attempts.

Soy noodle #FAIL

Usually we make our noodles the old-fashioned way: with eggs and flour. When the dough was a little too dry a few weeks ago, I tried adding a bit of okara, and that worked well. So, I figured I’d try a batch with just flour and okara. The resulting noodles were nasty and gooey when cooked. #FAIL

Soybean casserole

I’ve never cooked with just plain soybeans, and so went hunting for recipes online, and found this recipe for a soybean casserole, which I adapted with the veg we had on hand. This was a definite win, and the roux added a nice depth.

Banana-soy smoothie pancake

Instead of using milk in the batter for this pancake, I used a banana-soy smoothie (1 cup soy milk & 1 banana) which I soured with a tablespoon of vinegar — and instead of egg, I used a heaping tablespoon of okara. Along with that were the usual suspects (1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon melted butter). ‘Twas nice and fluffy.

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When life gives you lemons, make marmalade

We’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while, but a lot has been happening on the personal front. The biggest change for me has been with work: as of September, I am no longer spending half my life in Asia — and my carbon footprint has shot down to human proportions.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to our ratty neighbours and compost challenges, Bonnie Lee has gone on a quest to create a local composting solution for multifamily dwellings, which has led to two things: she is working with LA Compost to bring a solution to Palms, and has become a member of the Palms Neighborhood Council Green Committee.

We’re also both members of the Technology Innovation Council which the USDA asked the folks at Food Cowboy to set up.

With all that going on, maybe we can be excused for having allowed two lemons to start looking a little dry — two lemons for which we had no immediate plans. We also had a big, sweet navel orange sitting around, so decided to try our hand at marmalade.

Home made marmalade

‘Twas lovely with breakfast

Orange and lemon marmalade (about 3 cups)

Ingredients

  • 3 small lemons (two of which were looking a bit, but not overly, dry)
  • 1 large Valencia orange
  • 3 cups water
  • 2.5 cups sugar

Directions (in pictures)

Future marmalade

1. Cut each piece of fruit into 8 wedges. Remove the seeds and drop wedges in a pot. (Tip: hold each wedge up to the light to make sure you got all the seeds.)

What the bells of Saint Clemens said

2. Cover with water, and boil for five minutes.
3. Turn off heat, and let sit covered overnight (for at least 12 hours)

Boiling away

4. Remove wedges from liquid (and leave the liquid in the pot — you will need it).
5. Cut each wedge crosswise into thin slices, and return to the pot.
6. Boil for one hour.

Testing

7. Add sugar to boiled fruit mixture. Basically, you should be adding the same volume of sugar as you have fruit mixture, but we used a little less. We had 3 cups of mixture at this point, and used 2.5 cups sugar.
8. Continue to boil, occasionally spooning some of the mixture onto a plate, letting it cool to room temperature, and running a spoon through it. When you get something with the consistency shown in the picture above, you’re done.

Rats!

I know its been a long while, but I’ve not been myself lately. Firstly, I am now more involved with the community–attending my Neighbourhood Council’s Green Committee, signing up to become a member of Ocean View Farm, and seeing what other local steps we can take to help stop food waste from an individual consumer’s perspective. I stepped away from the computer and, more alarmingly, out of my home.

I was also mulling on a new problem: how to create a zero-waste kitchen when all signs point to a serious rat problem in our new neighbourhood. No, I am not being paranoid. We saw them.

First, on moving day, Pyx (one of our cats) and I were enjoying our new view when two brown/grey rats started frolicking in the patio below. I texted Jean-Francois and asked him to keep the compost bin in the garage, until I learn more.

This is the garden view from our balcony. Several birds, butterflies, squirrels, and rats call this space home.

This is the garden view from our balcony. Several birds, butterflies, squirrels, and rats call this space home.

Two nights later, Pyx is going nuts, asking to be let out and staring intently into the darkened air. Her fur ruffled, and tail fully puffed. Our Japanese Bob Tail was clearly excited.

Three weeks later, Jean-Francois and I saw nine rats playing in the garden below. NINE. Nine, happy, fat, playing rats. Some brown, but most were grey. Clearly, pets and vermin had formed a colony. And the colony was thriving.

This is our view of the garden below. The corner that the rats enjoy. Note the lovely garden on the other side of the fence. That is the home of the squirrel-whisperer.

This is our view of the garden below. The corner that the rats enjoy. Note the lovely garden on the other side of the fence. That is the home of the squirrel-whisperer.

It turns out, one of the other tenants feeds the squirrels. The rats benefit by eating what’s left. And we lose our composting option. Lest anyone suggests keeping the bin in the garage, it is not in the lease. I also suspect we might offend neighbours if we bring food scraps to a bin before our car as part of a nightly ritual performed by greenie-types who have gone off the deep-end.

Before we resort to scaring our new neighbours, we need to control the rats and find a better way of saving our scraps from the bin.

Hence I became civically active and started making friends with local groups. Santa Monica used take food scraps in bins, but they had to stop because of contamination. Apparently apartment dwellers are BIG liabilities–we are temporary residents with a weak connection to common goals. Elected officials work with the easy, visible winning programmes and blame tenants for failures. We are not invested enough, it seems.

Yet, there are options. Inconvenient ones, but solutions that do show commitment. You see, it turns out, that people in downtown Los Angeles have chickens and gardens and want food scraps to keep both happy and healthy. I learnt this at the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market. And, my mind raced. There are possible solutions that will require keeping our kitchen compositor, only, we will need to find a new home for our beloved (now dormant) worms.

The lesson I learnt about being more sustainably pro-active: Answers come when you step out of your door and start talking to your neighbours.

The moral of my story: Be annoying and persistent. It works.

Radio Programme: Food and “The World”

Starting today, PRI’s The World is looking at food production and consumption around the world. Those interested in finding sustainable solutions for food production as our global population soars, check out “What’s for Lunch?”. This news feature should run all summer, with different regions getting time in the spotlight.

The first episode looked at technology that will help Singapore break its dependence on Malaysia and other nations. They are working to produce more food locally, indoors, and on the vertical. According the report, these high-tech A-frame gardens are 10 times more productive and use fewer natural resources than regular farming. Next time I am in Singapore, I will try to get a closer look.

http://www.theworld.org/2013/06/to-increase-local-food-production-crowded-singapore-goes-vertical/

One way to reduce food waste: Campus Style

UC Davis Dining Commons Demonstration of what college kids waste for Love Food, Hate Waste in January 2013.

Two days ago, I saw a headline in my news feed that I nearly passed over. It read: “Elimination of trays decreases food waste in dining halls.” All I could think about were the opportunities to trip classmates struggling to carry their milk and dinner plates to a table. And then I decided to read on, and learned that in just two years Manchester University has saved:

  • 15,000 pounds of food from becoming waste, and
  • 200,000 gallons of water.

How? They removed trays from the dining halls. They removed convenience, and judging from the article it wasn’t a popular solution. But its makes a lot of sense.

If you drive to the supermarket, grab a big shopping cart, and have a lift to carry your groceries from car to home, then it is very easy to just pile unnecessary food into your life. If you have to think about how you are going to carry it all to the car and into your home, you probably make different choices.

I like that one simple decision has changed how an entire community consumes. It would be interesting to see if that same choice also helped students maintain weight. I mean, if not using a tray helps that freshman not gain infamous 15 pounds that many do gain in the first term, wouldn’t they willingly embrace the idea?

If the same could be said about using smaller shopping carts to lose weight, would people be more willing to embrace a small change?

It’s a joke, right?

Cover - Good Omens

Sometime around the time Jean-Francois and I started dating, he presented me with a few books to read. Some were his favourites (Kurt Vonnegut), two were books he picked because he wanted to show that he “got me”. One, Foucault’s Pendulum, was a literary historical suspense thriller by Umberto Eco. It had me researching references for weeks. The other was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a comedy about the Second Coming that was also lush in layered interpretation, jokes, allusions and generally good fun.

There is one joke in Good Omens that is like a latent virus in my memory. It flares in response to certain events or topics centred on food and nutrition. It is a joke about one of the four riders of the Apocalypse: Famine. In this novel, Famine is a ruthless 1980’s business executive in the food industry. His latest two projects, Nouvelle Cuisine and Highly Processed Fast Food, both so beautifully meet his primary goal, that he cannot help being a bit smug. His goal, starving humans to death.
Why does Famine keep coming to mind? Because I think anyone who works in the industrialized food industry worships, intentionally or not, at his altar. My reading list this week supports this theory:
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, looks at the science behind make food we crave–even if it is bad for us. I am on the second chapter of this one, and really loving his investigated challenge to these moguls. It’s like he wants us to ask them all: How could you not know that you are helping to make us all sick?
Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner is more about how the demands of our lifestyles created a market for processed foods that now is making us fatter, slower, and sicker. Combined these two books look at the relationship between our desire for convenience to enjoy the good life and our desire to make enough money to have the good life.
And then there is Just Food by James E. McWilliams, published in 2009. This book looks at how those of us trying to make smarter, healthier, and more sustainable choices about what and how we eat, is creating deep anxiety in regular people. Basically we feel guilty all the time.
Each of these books is well-written and researched. But the subject matter makes me flip between the three. Why? Because each reminds me of Famine, and his cool, clean, metro sexual smugness. Pratchett and Gaiman were joking, trying to remind us that not all food is created equal. So, why are we still choosing to grow, make, market, and buy foods that hurt us and some many of our friends and family? Famine is winning despite the availability of nourishing food for many of us. (Don’t get me started thinking about all the food deserts created by executives who put cost benefits above humanity when deciding where grocery markets should be located.)
Yes, Jean-Francois always did understand how to set my mind on fire. He still does.

Composting–one year later

About one year ago, Jean-Francois and I adopted a small colony of red wrigglers, following a sustainability session at the Natural History Museum. As proud parents, we immediately set about finding the best bedding, bins, and strategies for keeping our new arrivals happy. The biggest challenge for us, as apartment dwellers in a large complex with strict rules, was finding a bin that would pass as patio furniture. (Since we don’t consider compost trash, we assumed that the rule about trash did not apply.)

We settled on the Worm Factory 360. It looks enough like a Japanese Stone Lantern that it could be argued that it is decorative. We supplement our system with a bamboo compost pail for the kitchen. And, we spend an evening making our worms comfortable.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

Our worms get regular doses of coffee grounds and tea leaves, toilet paper rolls and scrap paper and linens. They also get a lot of egg shells, banana peels, okara (when I cannot find a use for it in time), and bread that goes mouldy.

And they are thriving. Sure, we are still trying to figure out the right mix of brown and green (see pdf below) to add to the mix, but we are learning.

This pdf is useful for helping us determine what browns and greens our worms needs.

At six months, we even expanded our bin by adding a new layer. All winter things moved along fine, albeit a bit slowly. But as Spring set in, so did culture shock.

  1. Our worms were reluctant to move to the new layer.
  2. Worms were escaping both the bin and the balcony.
  3. Other bugs started to appear.
  4. The worm castings on the second layer were WET. We could not get them to dry.

We are now trying to manage moisture, bugs and a growing ickiness-factor (at least on my part, Jean-Francois seems to enjoy mucking around in the compost). And, we have no way to share our worm tea or our beautiful worm pooh with gardeners. The grounds here are landscaped by a company that has no interest in going green.

Any thoughts on how apartment building and condo dwellers can help urban gardens and communities by composting? We are moving to a street lined with apartments, and I’d love to find a community solution that we can advance. It may also be a way to help people eat better and waste less food BEFORE it goes to the compost.

I am not alone either. Others have written about the challenges facing us Urban Composters and some offer solutions. If you are square foot challenged, and lack a green thumb, but really want to try composting, here are a few resources we have found useful:

BTW, I would not recommend the bamboo pail. It looks old and beaten up after two months and is also too soft a material for life on our kitchen counter.

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.

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.