The Great Pumpkin

In October 1992, we bought a pumpkin.

Now, I don’t remember every gourd-like squash I’ve ever purchased, but this one was special. It wasn’t the first pumpkin I’d ever bought, and it wasn’t the biggest. In fact there was nothing remarkable about it at all, except this: it was the first pumpkin that I ever bought as food.

In the past, I had only procured pumpkins with the intention of carving faces into them. When I shopped for them, I looked for ones that were vaguely evil looking … sinister pumpkins, that looked like they would just as soon shoot me as look at me … soulless pumpkins that exuded quiet rage.

That all changed one afternoon in 1992, when we happened upon a pile of pumpkins at our local vegetable shop. In that moment, it struck me that pumpkins were food too … and remarkably inexpensive food at that (important, as we were saving for our honeymoon). And, as I looked at one pumpkin in particular – a tantalizingly plump and inviting one – I realized that it could feed us for a week.

We bought it, and embarked on what was to become a fun, week-long project: finding as many ways to eat our pumpkin as we could think of (this was in the olden days, and Mosaic was still a year in the future, so we had to rely on our own wits and knowledge). I still remember many of the things we ate that week: roasted pumpkin, pumpkin mash, roasted pumpkin seeds, spicy pumpkin stir fry, pumpkin soup (with a hint of maple and a dash of nutmeg), pumpkin pie and pumpkin quick bread. It fed us for a week, as predicted, and only the peel and stem ended up in the bin – something that felt like an accomplishment, somehow.

This year, there was no jack-o-lantern, but we did buy a little pumpkin, which Bonnie Lee turned into one of the most incredibly moist quick breads I’ve ever had, thanks in part to the addition of okara (soy pulp, a byproduct of making soy milk – more on that magic ingredient another day). The recipe is below…

Insanely moist pumpkin bread

The wet stuff & spices

  • 1½ cups pumpkin flesh (roasted then mashed)
  • 1 cup okara
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cups sugar
  • ½ cup soy milk (unflavoured, unsweetened)
  • ½ cup birch syrup
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground cloves

The dry stuff

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 350℉.
  • Grease two loaf pans (we use glass ones).
  • Mix the wet stuff and spices in a big bowl.
  • Mix the dry stuff in another big bowl.
  • Mix the dry stuff into the wet stuff.
  • Fill the loaf pans ⅔ full.
  • Bake for one hour, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean.
  • Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on rack.

Weekend food waste roundup – 21 October 2012

Jack-o-lanterns: a scary amount of food waste

Smart Suzy: Ready for pumpkin-carving? Cut down on food waste, go green, deals | Our Smart Money — In this entry, Smart Suzy talks about creative ways to carve pumpkins, and about food waste, but doesn’t link the two topics. So what will you be doing with all that pumpkin flesh to keep it out of landfill?

Easy listening

On The Point: GMOs, Food Waste, and Food as Entertainment | Slow Food Los Angeles — Interesting and thoughtful discussion, and a timely one for those in California who will be voting on prop 37.

Dumping food waste – ABC South Australia – Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) — This audio program, with two Aussie Food Waste Experts, shares tips and recipes to help reduce waste and save money.

And in other news

Study Finds That Cutting Food Waste Could Feed One Billion Hungry People | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building — In inhabitat (an online magazine that promotes sustainable design), Kristine Lofgren reports on a study that our current approach to feeding 9 billion people may be short-sighted. This study found that approaches that cut food waste, rather than increase food production, could feed 1 billion people.

Anger over waste scheme (From The Northern Echo) – Is Politically speaking, it is still hard to convince communities to embrace food waste solutions

Modern alchemists

Food waste is one raw material we have way too much of, and there are plenty of schemes to turn it into usable products.

30,000 TPA Food Waste to Biogas Facility for Edinburgh – Waste Mangagement World — Edinburgh plans to turn 30,000 tonnes of food waste in biogas each year

Waste could prove a money-spinner – Taipei Times — Entrepreneurs in Taiwan have developed new technologies to make the wasted sorghum grains into value-added products.

Starbucks turns food waste into plastic | Green Futures Magazine — Meanwhile, Starbucks is looking to turn food waste into plastic.

Composting in the Valley Cuts Down on Food Waste — Black Bear Composting is helping restaurants turn waste into compost for local farmers. I’m not sure this is helping reduce food waste, as the title claims, but it is a good way to divert it.

Composting—Turning Garbage into Black Gold – State of the Planet — Food waste is now collected at 25 GrowNYC Greenmarket locations and many other sites in New York City for composting.

Let Us Compost helps apartment dwellers, restaurants be more green | Online Athens — A new start-up that is providing a solution to help urban dwellers compost.

Lebanon news – NOW Lebanon -Food for thought on World Food Day — Two great causes that go great together: food recovery and composting.

Levi’s Launches New WasteEcouterre – OK, this one isn’t about food waste, but thought I’d throw it in here anyway…

222 million tons app mentions

4 Mobile Apps Helping Minimize Waste in the Food Industry | Sustainable Cities Collective — This article seems to be making the rounds.

Apps Only Apps » 222 Millones de toneladas …. — A Spanish app review site. My high school Spanish lies abandoned corner of my brain, but I remember enough to be happy with the words “222 Millon Tons es una brillante idea (creo yo)…”

Weekend food waste roundup – 14 October 2012

We didn’t see very much about food waste in the news this week, though it was great to see the 222 million tons app mentioned in one of the articles we found, as well as a call for action in Singapore (my home away from home much of the time).

I’ve also included links to a couple of blog posts in this week’s roundup, from two of my favourite bloggers who go the extra mile in the composting department.

In the news

Mobile Apps Can Help Reduce Food Waste

Eagles recycling extends to the parking lot

TODAYonline | Voices | Food is to be eaten, not dumped

Composting - going the extra mile

Stealing Trash – A New High « Dirt N Kids

Hair cuts = compost | Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household

Weekend food waste roundup – 7 October 2012

This week’s roundup has a tips on preserving food (including using etheylene absorbers to prolong the shelf life of produce) and reducing waste (including an article on reducing Thanksgiving waste – timely, if you happen to be Canadian), as well as a couple of articles about the issue of food waste.

Tips for preserving food and reducing waste

How to Absorb Ethylene Gas | eHow.com

Budget Tip: How To Vacuum Seal Food Without a Vacuum Sealing Machine | The Kitchn

Save Your Food: Canning and Freezing 101 – Earth911.com

Cooked Apple Recipes Great for Fall, Baked Apples, Apple Crisp and More – AARP

7 ways to reduce household food waste –  News – MSN CA

Tips from the pros on cutting Thanksgiving waste – The Globe and Mail

More on food waste

UN Says Europe Wastes 50% Of Fruit And Vegetables — And America Isn’t Much Better – Forbes

Radio Prague – Study maps makeup of Czech household waste

Refreshing, but fatal

This blog entry is a eulogy – and like all good eulogies, it starts with a poem.

     Gone after twenty years,
     With one soft and fatal gasp.
     My kitchen partner, who knew no fears…
     Gone! After twenty years.
     A void, and yet there are no tears,
     And to my neck I raise no asp.
     Gone. After twenty years.
     With one soft and fatal gasp.
.

What words can I use to describe my long time kitchen companion? Reliable? Tireless? Efficient? All of those, and more. Yet, now that I think of it, undeniably more sluggish lately; struggling to do what had once been so easy … so effortless.

Now those struggles are over, and my kitchen helper is still and lifeless. And, here, my confession: it was all my fault. I alone am to blame. Dessert was my idea, and it was the dessert that was fatal.

Mea cupla.

The recently departed, dear, little three cup Cuisinart was a wedding gift, and over the years it made falafel with us, velvety soups, dips, salsas … too many things to list. It wasn’t the biggest Cuisinart in the world, or the fanciest, but it was always there.

Reliable. Tireless. Efficient.

Easy to clean.

It was killed by two frozen bananas, which have become staples around here. An early commenter on 222 million tons shared this tip, “Sometimes I wait too long for my bananas to get that perfect balance of yellow and brown, so I freeze peeled bananas and then use it later for milkshakes! No need to add ice-cream or sugar to make it slushy or sweet.” It was wisdom we incorporated into our lives, to the detriment of our trusty little appliance. Mami, if you read this blog still, know that you have blood on your hands too. Cuisinart blood.

The silver lining on all this is that our marriage has outlived yet another wedding gift; another milestone has been crossed. We now know that our love is stronger than a three cup Cuisinart, romantic words that may well end up on the family tombstone – a lyrical epitaph indeed.

Garbage ulesAnd now to practicalities. We will need to dispose of the body; of the sad, tiny Cuisinart corpse. In Japan, that would have been easy. There was a shop that bought old appliances that could be salvaged for parts, and if they didn’t take it, the prominent poster over our garbage bin had information to steer us right. Here we’ll have to do a little research. And of course, although it’s a little soon to talk of such things, we will need a replacement – and if any of you have tips in that department, please share them in the comments. It may sound disrespectful, but we were ready for an upgrade anyway.

As a final act of remembrance, I feel I should share the recipe that killed the Cusinart. Usually, people refer to this treat as “one ingredient ice cream”, but in our home it has another name this week.

One appliance ice cream (serves 2)

One ingredient ice cream

Ingredients

  • Two frozen bananas
  • One Cuisinart

Directions

  • Remove bananas from freezer.
  • Slice finely with a heavy knife.
  • Place slices in Cuisinart and let sit for a few minutes, to give them time to soften (especially important if your Cuisinart is on it’s last legs).
  • Pulse on high until the bananas have the consistency of soft serve ice cream, or until smoke comes out of your Cuisinart.

This simple dessert is rich, refreshing, loaded with potassium, made with no animal products, and potentially fatal.

The last picture of it before it died.

The last picture of my kitchen helper before it passed on. RIP, little friend.

Thai pickled cherry tofu anyone?

When I got back from my last trip, one of the first things I did was try some of the Thai pickled cherries we made in July, and I wasn’t disappointed. The flavours are complex and interesting, and blend perfectly. The first thing that hits the tongue when you have one is the lemon grass, but that’s quickly followed by a strong cherry taste with a hint of hot spice, and the finish is pure lime. There’s something strangely satisfying about them, and they add an interesting accent to plate of (strong) cheese & crudités.

We’ve been making our tofu with nigari, the traditional Japanese coagulant, but wanted to try something a bit different, so decided to make a batch of firm tofu using the brine from the pickled cherries – just to see what would happen.

For the uninitiated, making firm tofu is straightforward; all you have to do is:

  • Slowly add your coagulant to hot soy milk until curds begin to form. If you made the soy milk yourself, remember to strain it through a cheesecloth first in order to remove the pulp, otherwise you will make very gritty tofu.
  • Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
  • Scoop the curds into a tofu mold lined with cheesecloth (or just pour everything in there). Tofu molds have holes that allow any liquid to run out, so you’ll want to put the mold in the sink first.
  • Once most of the liquid has drained out of the curds, fold the cheesecloth over so that the tofu is completely wrapped.
  • Put the lid on the mold and give the tofu a good squeeze over the sink.
  • Put the tofu mold in a dish (to catch any water that comes out as you press the tofu).
  • Put a weight on the lid, and let it sit for two hours.
  • If you’re not going to use the tofu right away, submerge it in water and put it in the fridge.

Fresh tofu

Fresh off the presses

We used about a quart of soy milk fresh from the soy milk maker, and it took 5 tablespoons of brine to make it coagulate. That made about 8 oz of firm tofu.

Using vinegar resulted in a somewhat less creamy texture than nigari does, and there was only the slightest a hint of all those great Thai cherry pickle flavours from the brine. Conclusion: there doesn’t seem to be much point in using a complex vinegar, but vinegar does give a good result. Even if you can’t find nigari, you can still make better-than-supermarket tofu at home using vinegar. The planet will benefit from your efforts by having a little less plastic in its landfills, and a little less CO2 in its air – and one thing’s for certain: if you take the time to make your tofu from scratch, you won’t be throwing it away.

Tofu frying

Tofu in wok

We used this particular batch of tofu to make Pad Thai, which we served with a few pickled cherries on the side. We used seitan instead of shrimp, though the meal wasn’t 100% vegetarian thanks to a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce.

Pad Thai with pickled cherries

Pad Thai with spicy pickled cherries

Past and future tofu

I fell in love with the neighbourhood my first night there. I was in the new apartment, which was empty except for the blanket I was sitting on and a small lamp. It was early evening; I had settled down with a good book.

Bonnie Lee was still in our old place in Fukuoka, and I expected to have a quiet evening at home … but then the music started. It was traditional Japanese music, played on wood instruments, and drums, and it was coming from somewhere nearby.

Kosugi shrine

Kosugi shrine

And so I left the apartment, and followed the sound to our local shrine, which was teeming with people and activity. Food stalls lined the edges of the main open area, and in its centre, women clad in summer kimono danced the bon odori around a wooden scaffolding. As I worked my way through the crowd, I felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a Bond film, minus the two guys chasing me.

Bon odori

Bon odori

It was a good place … and one that we would stay in for 10 years, the longest either of us has lived anywhere. The apartment was next to a park, which itself was next to a river. The city museum was a short walk away, as was the little centre around Shinmaruko station, with its restaurants and shops. It wasn’t long before we discovered the local tofu shop, which made fresh batches of all it’s products every morning, and only stayed open until the day’s stock was sold out. Everything they made was fresh and rich and somehow decadent … and all that soy-based goodness spoiled us for lesser goods.

Like the stuff we get in LA.

So, after more than a year of eating stale, somewhat bean-y tofu and soy milk, we decided to take matters into our own hands, and get ourselves a soy milk maker and some soy beans. I doubt that we’ll ever make anything that comes close to what we got at our little shop in Shinmaruko, but it is bound to be fresher than what we can get locally – and there are other reasons why this makes sense. One critical one is very dear to my heart: it will lead to less waste. We can make what we need when we need it – and the soy products we make will not need to be packaged in plastic or transported.

The day after I got back from my most recent trip, Bonnie Lee showed me how to make soy milk – nothing could be easier. You just need to soak the beans overnight, pop them in the soy milk maker with some water, push a button, wait while the machine heats the water and grinds and seeps the beans, then filter the product through cheese cloth. You can drink the milk as is, or add a coagulant and make tofu with it. And there’s a free bonus in every batch: the pulp that you filter out with the cheese cloth (called okara) is edible and versatile.

The soy milk we’ve been making is much lighter and more refreshing than the store-bought variety (which is thicker and often sweetened). It’s been very nice over our  home-made granola, and makes a great smoothie. As for the tofu and okara – I’ll save talking about what we’ve been doing with those for other posts.

In the meantime, if you’re curious you check out some of my shots of the old neighbourhood on flickr.

A pig with a problem

The video below is the tale of a wee, sad pig with a nasty addiction, along with some of his reflections on life and food waste … the product of me spending way too much time on long flights and alone in hotel rooms, I suspect.

Warning: in addition to being a gripping yarn, the video is plug for the 222 million tons blog & our iPad meal planning app … though, after this entry, we’ll return to our regular programming: things to do with stone soup broth & veg that is on it’s way out, vermicompost updates, etc.

222 million tons: the App

The idea behind 222 million tons has always been to spark conversation and change – and to do that by sharing tips, tools, and resources that help people waste less food and eat well. So far, that’s only been through this blog, but as of last week, we have an iPad App in iTunes.

The App is a publishing platform for weekly menus and shopping lists. The recipes all work for a single person (though through the miracle of technology, they can be scaled), and use up all the fresh ingredients on the shopping lists.

The idea was Bonnie Lee’s, and emerged out of her frustration over the amount of food she was wasting when she first moved from Tokyo to Los Angeles. She was overwhelmed by the quantities that food was sold in, and had no idea how a single person could use it all before it spoiled. In Japan, there are home economics magazines that help people save money by providing weekly shopping lists and recipes, but she couldn’t find anything like that in L.A. – and all the recipes she could find served 6 to 12 people. Bonnie Lee doesn’t like leftovers … so she issued me a challenge, which led to this App, built by our friends & partners at bluejava: Glenn & Makiko.

The first collection of recipes is called Bright & Bold, and was written by me (more on that another day), but my hope is that the 222 millions tons App will become a platform on which a large community of home cooks shares recipes – and if anyone reading this is interested in becoming part of that community, let me know via the comments below, or through any of the community platforms listed on my Gravatar profile.

The key to reducing food waste at home is planning – and as I wrote Bright & Bold, I came to appreciate the challenge of planning whole weeks for a single person with both variety and zero waste. So, if you don’t have time to plan meals, but hate waste and like to eat well … well, now there’s an App that can help.

What happened to the pizza dough ball?

It’s a Montreal thing–and a darn clever one at that. It’s simple, practical, sustainable, cheap, and edible. It is a ball of pizza dough, placed at the center of the pizza before cooking, that protects the pizza from the cardboard cover. And yet, it hasn’t caught on. Instead, people gush over something that is wasteful, unsustainable, and proprietary: a plastic tripod that is made in China and shipped to pizza shops all over the United States.

Pizza with plastic tripod

There is a better (and tastier) solution

Yes, I know. Take-away pizza is hardly the smart choice to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Those boxes they come in (not to mention the fuel to bring your cheesy pie home) are sinful. But, at least the box is compostable–that plastic tripod has no redeeming feature.

The expense of those tripods alone puzzles me. Its almost like we want to be wasteful.

Yet there is a simple, sustainable option: the pizza dough ball.

And so, while waiting for my pizza at Fresh Brothers, I found my calling. I am going to nag, pester, annoy, and shame pizza shops–starting right here. So, I asked the store manager about the store’s sustainability practices. I asked if he had heard of the pizza dough ball. I searched my phone to find an image of a pizza dough ball. I asked how much those plastic bits cost, and about storage and transportation.

The manager humoured me, took my email address and promised a response. I am still waiting. I think, I could use some help.

Unless you really believe that the bottom of the pizza box really that much more sanitary than the lid that we’d need to insert a plastic tripod in the center of our pies, would you help me convince pizza joint owners all over the world to change their practice?

Especially since that cooked ball of dough is rather tasty with a little bit of salt and parmesan.

(To see what the dough ball looks like, visit http://benlefthome.blogspot.com/2011/01/pizza-update.html)

Looking for other wasteful creations for your pizza? Look right here: http://www.yankodesign.com/2012/02/15/neat-pizza-fingers/

and here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-3-big-advances-in-the-technology-of-the-pizza-box/242116/

And if you don’t believe that people gush about those tripod things, just read an excerpt from this book: http://books.google.com/books?id=m6QsJPZcWUUC&lpg=PA7&dq=pizza%20box%20tripod&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q&f=false