Wish you were here

One of the great tragedies in life is that we often don’t truly appreciate people until they’re gone. As I reflected on my recent eulogy for our three cup Cuisinart, I realized that the same is often true of appliances – and that’s a shame.

That’s why I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge our immersion blender, a plucky little orange kitchen warrior that is often called upon to help out with a meal – and one that I am truly missing this week, as I try to make meals in a kitchen equipped with a Teflon-coated wok and a wooden thing that is neither spoon nor spatula. There is also a bowl.

Now here’s a fun (and germane) fact about vegetables: if they’re a little limp, any dish that calls for them to be pulverized probably won’t suffer. So when I see a vegetable that’s a little less turgid than I’d like it to be, one question I ask myself is: what would happen if I took my orange friend to it?

The most recent meal old orange and I made together was a refreshing cold cucumber soup – a favourite at our place that, I should hasten to point out, can be made with limp cucumbers. It’s one of the recipes in Bright & Bold collection on the 222 million tons app, but you don’t need to buy the app to get the recipe. It’s right here:

Cold cucumber-yogurt soup (serves 1)

Cold cucumber soup

Ingredients

  • ½ cucumber (turgid or limp)
  • 1 scallion (turgid or limp)
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro
  • ½ jalapeño pepper (turgid or limp)
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 4 oz plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp salt, or to taste

Directions

  • Chop the cucumber, scallion and cilantro coarsely.
  • Remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapeño pepper, and chop coarsely.
  • Crush the garlic.
  • Using an immersion blender, blender or food processor, blend all of the above with the lime juice, olive oil and salt, until it looks like soup.
  • Put the soup in the refrigerator to chill.

Weekend food waste roundup – 30 September 2012

It seems that food waste is getting a bit more attention these days, and so I’ve decided to share information on Twitter and Facebook as I come across it, with the occasional round-up here. Some recent finds follow…

Consumers want it. Now is the time to act on food waste | Comment & Opinion | The Grocer – It’s nice to see that there’s some dialogue about food waste in the grocery industry.

Grocery Chain Figures Out How to Stop Wasting Food | Care2 Causes – If you make money selling food, it makes good business sense not to waste it. Stop & Shop has bucked traditional supermarket wisdom and made that discovery.

From Farm to Landfill – NYTimes.com – As we struggle to find ways to grow more and more food to feed more and more people, one obvious way to increase the food supply is often overlooked: waste less.

Chuck Newcomb: Avoid wasting food by buying what’s needed, storing it properly – A little common sense advice on how not to waste food.

Lessons from the animal kingdom

There’s a lot we can learn about better ways to interact with the environment from our fellow creatures. Edo and Pyx, much to our amusement and edification, make it their daily challenge to find new ways to reuse old things.

Caught hiding in their new fort

Our tireless feline upcyclers

As imaginative and dedicated as they as they are, they can’t hold a candle to Norman.

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

Supermarket periphery cereal

I’ve always been a big fan of cereal – and as a kid, there was no cereal I liked better than Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries™. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about these newfangled GMO blue, green and purple crunch berries. I’m talking about the original red ones – the ones that grow on crunch berry trees, and are coveted by the likes of the infamous Jean LaFoote – natural crunch berries, that grow wild. Man I loved those berries … the way they stained the milk pink … the way they kind of cut the roof of my mouth.

The great tragedy for us Canadian kids was that crunch berries were only available for a brief period – just long enough for us to fall in love with their subtle charms. Then they simply disappeared. It was a dark time.

We kids knew they still existed just south of the border, as we could see ads for the cereal on US channels, taunting us through a translucent veneer of white noise. But, for whatever reason – perhaps an embargo on the import of tropical fruit – they couldn’t cross the 49th parallel.

Fortunately, I had family in Massachusetts that I stayed with for a few weeks every summer. A highlight of those trips was always heading to a US supermarket – a magical place with an entire aisle of brightly coloured, plastic-toy-laden cereal boxes. Fortified with niacin. I was always allowed to choose a box of my favourite, and that favourite was always Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries™.

Funny thing: now that I live in the US, I never even walk down that aisle. Aisles are where the processed food lives. The packaging alone represents a level of waste that is hard to justify – never mind the fact that it often involves multiple stages of processing and transportation, and the waste associated with the creation and use of additives and preservatives that humans can easily live without.

But, damn it, I still love cereal.

Fortunately, I married Bonnie Lee .. and, fortunately, a few months after we got married, she made her first batch of granola. It gave the milk a lovely brown tinge and caramel tone, had a satisfying crunch, and best of all was made with ingredients we could find in bulk at the edges of the supermarket (plus oil and honey). When I had my first bite, I knew it was love.

Granola has been a staple in our home ever since (except when we were in Japan, and had an oven the size of the bottom third of a shoebox). The recipe is never the same twice, so we don’t get bored, and it keeps well in the fridge. The recipe for Bonnie Lee’s latest batch is below.

July’s batch of granola

Granola

Ingredients

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1½ cups shredded coconut
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup flax
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • ¾ cups vegetable oil℉
  • ¾ cups honey
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 300℉.
  • Place rolled oats, shredded coconut, and sliced almonds in the largest glass baking dish you have.
  • Place the baking dish in the oven, and toast the ingredients for 15 minutes, stirring them every 5 minutes so that they toast evenly.
  • Remove the baking dish from the oven, and increase the temperature to 375℉.
  • Mix the flax and pumpkin seeds in with the toasted ingredients.
  • Heat the oil and honey over low heat or a microwave. The goal here is just to make the mixture a little less viscous, so that it blends well.
  • Stir the honey and oil mixture into the dry ingredients, until they are evenly coated.
  • Return the baking dish to the oven, and bake until the granola is nicely browned (about an hour), stirring it every fifteen minutes or so.
  • Remove the granola from the oven, pack it down, and let it cool.
  • Break the granola into chunks, and add in the dried fruit.
  • Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Granola & Thai pickled cherries

Granola & Thai pickled cherries – probably not so great when eaten together.

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

A tall glass of celery

In Japan, celery is not cheap. It’s not sold in bunches; it’s sold by the stalk – and a stalk costs about a dollar.

Celery-ginger limeade

Really the real thing

Strangely enough, I miss that.

I don’t miss the price so much (though it did have the virtue of discouraging waste), but I do miss being able to buy just what I need. Maybe it’s my imagination, but bunches of celery seem much bigger than they were 15 years ago – and buying that much celery makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if I’ll be able to use it all before it shrivels up and becomes unusable. When you’ve thought in terms of individual stalks for so long, the thought of half a bunch of celery in the bin feels … well … just a little bit obscene.

So, since I’ve moved to the US, I’ve spent some time experimenting with things I can do with celery that has lost its crunch (besides throwing it out). One of the easiest is to toss it in a blender with some water, a bit of sugar or honey, and something to add a little extra flavor, like lime, ginger or vanilla.  It’s better tasting than a soft drink, better for you, and better for the planet – and if you miss the fizz, you can always get a soda maker.

The recipe for the version I made yesterday (which was pretty tasty) follows.

Celery-ginger limeade (2 servings)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 6 stalks celery (about 18 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • I lime, peeled and quartered
  • 1 piece ginger root about the size of your thumb, coarsely chopped
  • 2.5 Tbsp sugar (or to taste)

Directions

  • Blend ingredients on highest speed until liquified.
  • Filter through a cotton kitchen towel, or wire mesh strainer.
Fun facts
Celery per serving 3 stalks
Length of celery per 12 oz serving, if stalks laid end to end about 99 inches
Average distance from the Earth to the moon 238,855 miles
Number of 12 oz servings it would take to use up the amount of celery which, if laid end to end, would span the average distance from the Earth to the moon 152,867,200
Amount of celery-ginger limeade every American would have to drink to save that amount of celery from landfill 5.8 oz – ½ of a 12 oz serving
Average annual consumption of soft drinks per person in the US 57 gallons – 608 12 oz servings

Eating green

Last April, I bought some carrots.

I had just moved to the United States, and unlike the thick, woody carrots at our local market in Japan, these were small, organic, and topped with lush greens. They smelled earthy and fresh, and in the tradition of millions of grocery unpackers before me, I twisted the greens off to keep the carrots fresh longer. I was about to throw those greens away when a question stayed my hand:

Are carrot greens food?

Moving to California (a land of cheap, fresh food sold in massive quantities) had made Bonnie Lee and I keenly aware of how easy it would be to waste food here — something we were determined to avoid — and a quick search on the Internet told me that carrot greens are one of the many foods most people feed to the bin rather than to themselves. It’s a shame. Although they lack many of their bright orange roots’ charms, carrot greens have a distinctive bitterness that can add an unexpected accent to a meal, and which balances nicely with other strong flavours.

The first bunch of carrot greens I rescued ended up in some chicken soup stock — and that’s the way I use them most often. They add a layer of complexity to stock, and a healthy greenish tinge, though you still end up with solid waste when you use them that way.

My latest experiment with carrot greens was the Purée of the Whole Danged Carrot Soup (recipe below) that I made for lunch yesterday. I balanced the bitterness of the carrot greens with a good dose of white pepper, and some cider vinegar and honey. I decided not to blend the soup completely, so that little specks of green and orange would still be visible. That gave the soup a bit of crunch and freshness that I liked, but I can see some folks being put off by the texture. For a smoother version, I would suggest throwing a couple of ounces of cooked potato into the mix, and blending the soup more throughly.

Carrot greens also make a good addition to salads, and there are a few recipes for carrot green pesto out there (though I’ve yet to try those). Feel free to share any carrot green recipes, or improvements to my recipe, in the comments.

Purée of the Whole Danged Carrot Soup (1 serving)

Ingredients

Carrot greens are food too

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 oz carrots (diced finely)
  • 3 oz onion (diced finely)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Greens from carrots used above (diced finely, except for 1 sprig to be used for garnish)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • ⅛ tsp salt (or to taste)

Directions

  • Sauté the garlic, onions and carrots in the olive oil over medium heat, until the onions are translucent.
  • Add in the chicken stock and carrot greens, and heat until carrots are tender.
  • Remove soup from heat, and purée using hand mixer or blender.
  • Add in the honey, vinegar, salt and pepper; stir well, and warm soup back up to serving temperature.
  • Plate and garnish with carrot greens.
Associated reduction in the 222 million tons of waste produced annually
Per serving about 1 oz (the weight of the greens, assuming you would have eaten the carrots anyway)
If you eat this once a week 3¼ pounds per year
If everyone in the US eats this meal once over 9,500 short tons
If everyone in the US eats this meal once a week close to 500,000 short tons per year