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.

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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

Weekend food waste roundup – 6 January 2012

Dumpster Diver TV: Austrians Cook Up Food Waste Reality Show | The Salt : NPR Dumpster diving goes prime time in Austria. “Although I was prepared for large amounts,” the director for the project, David Gross, says, “the amount of waste left me speechless.”

Tiffins for all: Food cart owner wants to wean Vancouverites off disposable takeout containers | The Vancouver Sun – One Naan Kebab food cart owner wants to wean everyone off of disposable containers, Gandhidham style. The motivations and logistics aren’t the same in Vancouver as in India, but he thinks there is something to be learned from tiffins and dabbawalas.

Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. | Slate – A big turnaround by Mark Lynas. The full text of his speech is here, or, if you prefer to watch it, I’ve embedded it below.

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

Adding a little zest to the holidays

Now that the Mayan calendar’s 14th Baktun has started with no hitches, it seems that there’ll be a 2013 after all – and the really good news (assuming the Values Institute at DGWB is better at predicting things than doomsday sites) is that food waste consciousness will be the top 2013 trend (with “meatless mainstreaming” coming in at number 4). Beth Hoffman, in an article she wrote for Forbes, seems to concur, listing food waste, humane animal treatment and food labelling as three issues of great importance that have finally made it into mainstream American consciousness.

It’s about time.

So, now that we’re all on the cusp of heightened food waste consciousness, I expect a few people will want to be making New Year’s resolutions to waste less, and if you’re looking for ways to do that, this article on CNN.com is a good place to start.

One food that the CNN article doesn’t mention, is citrus peels. Peels almost inevitably get wasted, which is a shame, because a little zest can add a great accent to sweet and savoury dishes, mulled beverages, teas, chutneys, pickles, cocktails and more. So why do so many peels end up in the bin? Simple: people rarely have cause to use citrus peel on the same day that they use the fruit … and on days that they do use zest, they often end up wasting the fruit.

It’s about timing.

In 2012, we decided to do something about that in our home, and started freezing peels whenever we ate citrus fruits. That provided us with a handy supply of zest throughout the year, with a big surplus at year end – perfect for making holiday candy.

We made our candied peels with some brandy, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. The peels last for several months, and are versatile. They can be used in baking or as garnish, eaten straight or dipped in chocolate – and make a nice seasonal gift during the holidays.

Candied citrus peels

The extra bonus was the simple syrup infused with spice and citrus that was a byproduct of the process. It came in handy when we opened a bottle of red wine that was not as tasty as we’d hoped. We heated up the wine, and added one tablespoon of brandy along with two tablespoons of our new instant Glühwein syrup (patent pending) per serving – and, just like that, bad wine was transformed into very Christmasy mulled wine. I’m guessing the syrup will also be good for making spiced tea and cider.

Candied peel (8 cups)

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of citrus peels, sliced
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 cups sugar
  • ½ cup brandy
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 slices star anise

 Directions

  • Thaw peels (if needed) and slice into various shapes. We used a combination of thawed orange, blood orange, lemon and lime peels, as well as the fresh peels of a red pummelo and an oroblanco grapefruit Bonnie Lee had just used in a savoury fruit stew. The fresh peels were very thick with pith, and ended up having a texture similar to gummy bears, with great grapefruit notes.
  • Submerge peels in water, and bring to a boil. Drain. Repeat. Repeat again. This removes some of the bitterness from the pith.
  • Mix sugar and water. Boil for 10 minutes or so, until the syrup reached the thread stage (i.e., until syrup dripped from a spoon into cold water forms thin threads).
  • Add in the brandy, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and peels, and simmer until the pith is translucent. This took about 2 hours for our batch.
  • Let peels dry on wire rack until they are no longer sticky (this can take up to a day).
  • Roll peels in sugar, if desired.
Fruit stew

The fruit stew that sparked the candy making.

Thawed peels

Thawed peels

Peels being candied

Peels being candied

Rolling peels in sugar

Rolling peels in sugar

Instant Glühwein

Instant Glühwein (patent pending)

Weekend food waste roundup – 16 December 2012

Food waste in the news

16 December 2012

Household Food Waste: Opportunities for Companies to Provide Solutions | Reports | BSR – An overview of solutions companies can pursue to help consumers reduce household food waste.

Food waste needs government lead | FOODmanufacture.co.uk  – Government and big business needs to show they have “broken the back” of food waste recycling before foisting it on householders.

CleanWorld opening second biodigester system to turn food waste into natural gas, electricity – Sacramento Business Journal – Organic waste recycling center will turn Sacramento food waste into natural gas, electricity and soil amendment products.

Universities join effort to reduce food waste, turn scraps into compost – Cronkite News –  Committing to the Food Recovery Challenge organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona’s three public universities have pledged to reduce food waste on their campuses by a minimum of 5 percent over the next year.

And a useful resource

StillTasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide – Save Money, Eat Better, Help The Environment

Thanksgiving leftover roundup

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I’m happy to report that the only waste that resulted from our feast was a baked wonton stuffed with vegetables – one that I would have eaten had it not turned into a soggy, slimy, scary mess. (It’s probably worth noting that I was properly chastised for letting it get to that state.)

I tend to cook just enough for one meal, so figuring out how to turn leftovers into new meals is a rare challenge – and kind of a fun one. I didn’t do anything wildly creative or exotic, but every meal managed to feel different from the one before, which was the goal. That being said, I was happy to see the last of the turkey and Brussels sprouts go.

The shots below are an abridged photographic record of our Thanksgiving leftovers. (People were spared such displays before the Internet came along.) Hopefully they will inspire someone out there to repurpose the leftovers from their next holiday feast rather than trash them.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner was step-5 turkey with bread stuffing, cranberry sauce made with the juice and zest of an orange and honey, pastry stuffed with a vegetable medley and a purée of roasted cauliflower & garlic, and mashed potatoes ‘n gravy (made out of the turkey giblets). It was a small turkey (8 lbs), but way more than the two of us could eat in a single sitting…

Turkey wonton soup

We stripped the meat off the turkey on the day after Thanksgiving, and made a broth, which ended up in a few soups. This turkey wonton soup was the best of them, and featured wontons stuffed with leftover veg and cauliflower purée. The wontons lacked a bit of structural integrity, but somehow it all worked.

Turkey hash

We used the meat in a few different ways. Some ended up in soups and sandwiches, and one thigh ended up in a baked turkey hash with a stuffing topping. We used up a lot of the veg in the hash as well, and flavored the white sauce with the last of the gravy.

Vegetable medley

This vegetable medley had a lot of great flavours and colours, and found it’s way into just about every meal for for several days. In addition to the hash and the soup, it was used in omelets and a frittata – and made for a good side dish all on its own.

Brussels sprouts with apple

We entered the holiday weekend with an embarrassment of Brussels sprouts, and had to get creative to get through them all, while still maintaining a little variety in our diet. Two dishes that stood out were some Brussels sprouts tacos and this dish made with Brussels sprouts, apple, shallot, garlic, apple cider vinegar, a bit of honey, salt and red pepper flakes.

So what did you do with your leftovers?

Marching comfort food down the food chain

My handy desktop dictionary defines comfort food as, “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

I would add to that definition this: comfort foods, at least my comfort foods, are all warming. They are the equivalent of food hugs. And although not all my comfort foods are associated with childhood or even home cooking, they do share one trait: they are all tinged with nostalgia. Many of them are foods from Japan that I can no longer get easily, like udon – a bowl of which I always indulge in whenever I have a stopover in Tokyo, even if it’s in the middle of the night.

Of course the strongest nostalgia, and the warmest hugs, come from childhood foods – but often those are out of step with how we like to eat. Shepherds’ pie (a.k.a. pâté chinois in my family, and junk in Bonnie Lee’s) is one of those foods. Meat doesn’t cross our threshold very often – and when it does, it is for an indulgence, like our recent Thanksgiving meal – so Shepherd’s pie has been off the menu for a very long time. For day-to-day meals, we like to eat a little further down the food chain.

That’s why I was really happy to see this recipe for vegan shepherdess pie on Kellie’s Food to Glow (and endless source of food inspiration). I was on a trip when I saw it, and I knew it was something I’d be trying when I got home – and I did. It didn’t disappoint, either. The blend of umami and mashed potato, the textures, and the warmth led to a perfectly nostalgic moment, and the grown-up touches that my childhood palate might have missed (like the celery root in the mashed potato) added just enough of a twist to make it interesting.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

So, I’m curious. What are your comfort foods? Have you adapted any of them to be more sustainable?

Weekend food waste roundup – 25 November 2012

The Food Movement Takes a Beating – NYTimes.com – A look at how the food movement fared in the recent US elections.

Why Greek Yogurt Makers Want Whey To Go Away : The Salt : NPR – Wheying in on traditional Greek yogurt?

Meeting will explore food waste reduction | Burlington Free Press | burlingtonfreepress.com – Vermonters are preparing for a phased-in ban on dumping food wastes in landfills. Would be great to see this implemented across the country planet.

Porcine furnaces make many meals of food waste – Crookston, MN – Crookston Times – Crookston, MN – Every year, about 23,000 tons of food scraps are fed to 5,000 hogs in Anoka County.

Pig, beer & lanterns

Harmonise food safety regs for ‘huge difference’ to food waste – Does erring on the side of caution lead to unnecessary waste?

Tips for Reducing Food Waste | 3BL Media – An interview with Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland and wastedfood.com.

Food waste site sparks opposition – News – getsurrey – Residents see biogas as a necessary and ecologically useful method of waste disposal, but not in their neigbourhood…

Weekend food waste roundup – 11 November 2012

Some interesting ideas

11 November 2012

Portion-mania: problematic for waists and waste. But could McDonald’s be on to something? | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC – Is it possible that McDonald’s is doing something right?

Removing trays from dining halls cuts food waste – Khaleej Times – A simple strategy to reduce food waste.

Be a Hero! Help Stop Fresh Food Waste and Get a Green Wallet with the New Green Savings Hero Partner Program from the Green Refrigerator Machine by Ozonator – Yahoo! News – Ozone technology in the Green Refrigerator Machine extends the shelf life of perishable foods, gives families more time to eat their fresh foods.

A reminder for the holidays

Reducing Food Waste During the Holiday Season | Worldwatch Institute – A few things to keep in mind over the holidays, when we tend to waste even more than usual.

Food recovery initiatives

Hilton Hotels to Share Food Waste in Hungry Egypt | Green Prophet – Hilton Worldwide has launched a pilot program to distribute surplus food to community organizations that feed the poor in Egypt.

Students turn waste food into meals – Wilmette Life – The Campus Kitchen Project is a nationwide non-profit with 33 participating colleges and high schools.

Composting initiatives

Composting option resolves some companies’ waste woes | The Tennessean | tennessean.com – Turning waste from breweries into compost.

City looks to expand composting program | The Columbia Daily Tribune – Columbia, Missouri

Bennington Banner: Vermont towns plan for new solid waste guidelines – Bennington Banner

222 million tons mentions

Food Apps that Help Reduce Waste During the Holidays, from Special Grocery Lists to Restaurant Deals and More – The Daily Squeeze

Weekend food waste roundup – 28 October 2012

For those of you in L.A., this is just a small reminder that I’ll be speaking at Westfield Century City on Tuesday as part of the CODA Electric Vehicle Speaker Series. If you’d plan to attend, RSVP to concierge@codaautomotive.com by October 29.

And in other news…

Students taking action

JM Gets a New Hydration Station – Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School installed its first “Hydration Station” at the school last month, and paid for it from savings the school achieved by diverting food waste and turning it into electrical energy.

Business Rx: Food Recovery Networks seeks steady income stream – The Washington Post – Student-run Food Recovery Network seeks revenue stream to make it financially self-sustaining in the long term.

The ups and downs of food waste?

Brazil favelas maid fights food waste with ‘viagra’ in Italy – The Malaysian Insider – Regina Tchelly teaches others how to reduce waste in her cooking classes, by showing them how to make such dishes as banana peel brigadeiro. She claims that her trademark dish, watermelon rind risotto, has viagra-like properties. I suppose that’s just as true of my watermelon rind chutney, which has the benefit of lasting longer.

Bengaluru drowning in its own waste | GulfNews.com – Greater wealth has spawned more garbage, and the managers of the country’s development have been unable to handle the load.

A Rise in Food Prices Could Stem the Tide of Food Waste · Environmental Management & Energy News · Environmental Leader Is cheaper always better?